Of Shrines and Holy Wells – Lough Avalla

Mullaghmore, The Burren, Co. Clare

The small sign “HOLY WELL” is situated beside a gate just a few yards from the well itself and no other directions are to be found in the area. I stumbled on it a few years ago when I was out walking with friends but now is part of a walk sign posted “Lough Avalla Farm Loop” near Mullaghmore in the Burren.

The best time to visit is after abundant rain and as you approach the spring you are greeted by a musical symphony of water cascading in a chamber hidden inside the rocks. Further down the water appears into the open to join a stream that goes meandering through the wood.

At this spot somebody has recently left a holy image with a medal while, hooked on a straight branch of hazel, Harry the keeper of the place, has hung two glass mugs so that visitors can drink from the well in style.

The water of the well is said to cure diabetes provided you drink it in situ over six consecutive days.

Harry, the Dutch farmer who manages the land at Lough Avalla tends the place with great care and welcomes people provided they respect the place with the same reverence that he does.

You are likely to meet him clearing paths, fixing fences or checking on the the cattle. He’s always ready for a chat and has an extensive knowledge of the area as well as some original and interesting theories on the “Fulacht Fiadh” the ancient Irish cooking or bathing pits.

The secluded well and its surroundings are so beautiful that I’ m drawn back to it regularly and spend much time wandering in the wood and along the stream. I feel my way through the branches and by trunks that are wrapped around by wonderful sleeves of thickly knitted moss.

The older trees have grown into gnarled and contorted shapes that spiral around each other creating a truly magical setting.

Over time during my repeated visits the desire to paint or draw the place grew stronger. Often I would sit at my favorite spot just looking at the trees and listening to the water.

When I felt that I “knew” the place well enough I brought with me a board, paper, soft pastels and a flask of tea. I sat on a mossy rock and worked steadily and undisturbed until the drawing was finished.

All along my mind was calmly  focused on lines, forms and textures as I tried to capture the atmosphere and render the myriad of greens illuminated by the sunlight shining through the wood.

Only when the picture was completed I allowed myself  a cup of tea and sat there comparing my work with the original subject and feeling happy with what I had done.

The picture now hangs in my house and is a lovely reminder of a magical afternoon spent in the woods.

"At the Well" by Jole Bortoli