The History of Holy Wells

As a rule, all the Irish saints have one or more blessed wells dedicated to their memory in the immediate neighbourhood of the churches which they founded. Indeed, the church was never founded except near a well. Pure water was necessary, not only for Baptism and for the Holy Sacrifice, but also for the daily needs of the holy men and women whose lives were given there to the service of God. What wonder these became holy wells - blessed for Baptism, used at mass, giving daily drink to generations of saints, who, with pure and grateful hearts, blessed God who gave them those crystal springs.

We believe that some of their (ie the saints) ancient holiness still lingers round our blessed wells, that their holy patron's still pray in a special for those who frequent them in a pious and confiding spirit, and that God often hears those fervent prayers and grants special requests to the faithful suppliants through the fervour of their faith and the merits of the saints.".

Source: - Extract from "Holy Wells of Ireland"  by Most Rev. John Healy, D.D., Archbishop of Tuam

It is not known with certainty when pilgrimages to the Holy Wells of Ireland began. Some historians hold that the springs from which St. Patrick and the early saints of Ireland took water to baptise their converts were held in veneration by the early Christians, and were regarded even in those early times as places of pilgrimage. However, it was only when the persecution of Catholics began after the Reformation that large numbers began to assemble for devotional purposes at such wells.

When Catholics were forbidden under the Penal Laws to assemble for mass in churches, altars were erected beside these wells and mass was said there in secret whenever possible for the assembled faithful. If no priest could be found, private devotions were carried out by a lay leader of the people.

All Holy Wells in Ireland bear a striking resemblance to one another. Each well is usually found in a quiet place, sheltered by trees, and covered by a flat stone slab to preserve it from contamination. Round the well a circle is traced and there are "stations" or resting places for prayer and meditation at regular intervals along the outline of the circle. Close to the well there is a crude altar beside a tree trunk on which a crucifix in wood or stone is hung. On the branches of the trees in the vicinity, small pieces of cloth may be fastened. These are memorials of pilgrims' visits. At the close of the visit, the pilgrim may drink some water from the well out of a vessel secured by a chain to a nearby stone or wall.

Source: - Extract from "Sight Unseen" Programme  Bernadette Players, 1958

St Dermot

Dermot (Diarmaid) - an Irish abbot. This 6th century saint is said to have been of royal blood and a native of Connaught. A famous teacher, poet, writer and preacher in his day,  around 530 St Dermot (Diarmiad) founded the great monastery of Inchcleraun (Clothran) on an island in Lough Ree.  Wishing to found an oratory far from the day-to-day distractions of civilization, he selected the isolated island associated with the memory of Queen Medbh, Inchcleraun.

Here his fame soon attracted disciples, and is said to have trained St Kiernan of Clonmacnoise. On the island seven churches are traditionally said to have been erected, and the traces of six are still in evidence, including Teampul Diarmada, or the church of St Diarmiad. This oratory, eight feet by seven feet, is said to have been Diarmaid's own church.

The monastic school he founded kept up its reputation for fully six centuries after his death, and the island itself was famous for pilgrimages in pre-Reformation days. An ivory statue of the saint was removed from the island during the Reformation to avoid destruction.  He also founded the monastery of Caille-Fochladha, Lough Derryvaragh, Co Westmeath, where there is a holy well dedicated to him.

St Diarmaid's nickname was 'Diarmaid the Just'; he is sometimes confused with an earlier St Justus who was both baptizer and teacher of St Ciaran of Clonmacnoise. He was a friend of St. Senan, Abbot of Iniscathy and he composed metrical psalters, among which is "Cealtair Dichill".

He died on January 10 at Inchcleraun and his feast is celebrated on that date.

He was buried on the island, which became a centre of pilgrimage. The remains of six of his churches survive there to this day.

Source:  Independent Catholic News


St Dermot's Holy Well Portrun