by Tommy McGrath

The accepted term for holy well in the Irish language is either ‘Tobar Beannaithe’, meaning holy well or ‘Tobar Naofa’, meaning saintly well. The surviving names of so many wells are a direct translation from Irish of pre-Christian era to present day English. Many of them are named after local saints for example, in West Clare; St Senan, St Martin, St Cuan etc. One time there were thousands of wells throughout Ireland reputed to cure varying illnesses through the power of ritual and prayer. It was also believed that on special days this power was stronger.

The ritual, called ‘rounds’, differed from well to well but all involved walking around the well while praying. The number of times, the direction, drinking or bathing with the water, leaving gifts or mementos or even articles of clothing all varied with the particular well. In some wells it was also believed that satan or devil lived close by and if you wanted to put a curse on someone you completed the round in reverse. It was believed that death or serious illness could befall the victim of such a malediction. However, if the intended victim did not deserve such a fate the curse backed –fired on the invoker. This probably reduced the numbers of curses! The use of water from a holy well for domestic or agricultural purposes was forbidden and if deliberately used would cause the well to dry up or mysteriously move to another location.

We know, from Irish mythology, that water worship and water cults were very important to the Irish especially in time of religious repression when church or chapel was not permitted. Then holy wells were substitute places of worship. With the coming of greater religious freedom churches became centres of worship and attendances at holy well ceremonies declined. Many holy wells are now in a derelict condition and some on the coast will soon cease to exist due to coastal erosion and neglect. Before it is too late, the wells which are now in danger of disappearing should at a minimum have their location suitably marked so that future generations will be aware of their existence.

The following is details of 12 holy wells around West Clare with a location map, photo of its position and photo of the well itself.
























NOTE: To insert a lot of photos in a post you have to use the gallery feature. Click on the Add Media button above the button bar and select to create a gallery. I have already created a small gallery below. You can click on the photo thumbnails below and then click on the pencil icon to edit this gallery. You can then add or remove photos and re-order them. For this article you could create a gallery for each holy well and add a header 3 above each gallery to describe the gallery. You will find more info about image galleries on my support website here:

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