Of Shrines and Holy Wells – R476

Holy Well on the R476 between Corofin and Kilnaboy, Co. Clare, Ireland


My fascination with Irish holy wells continues. I guess that I am strongly attracted by them because they are often situated in special places, are generally not sign posted and therefore very elusive even when found along busy roads, like the one photographed above.

At the moment I am tracking the ones in the geographical area known as the Burren, from the Gaelic word Boireann, a magnificent  place of limestone rock covering, majestic hills, and tranquil valleys full of streams, rivers and lakes.

The Burren, County Clare

This is a place where the ever-changing light plays beautifully on rocks, water and fields creating a sense of suspension and magic. The presence of numerous megalithic tombs, dolmens and early christian churches underlines the importance that such a place had for the spirituality of early civilizations.

One of the features of Irish Celtic cosmogeny is the power of place. This, to an earth-centered religion (i.e. goddess as opposed to the god in the sky), means that certain places possess power that is curative and regenerative. This power of place in Ireland is an essential element of the sacredness of the holy well.
Many myths surround the sacred springs or holy wells, including the theme of erotic love, intoxication as wisdom, the location of such springs as being in the Otherworld, which can mean both the land of the dead as well as the land of eternal youth. The Otherworld is perceived to be a source of power and of wisdom and is thought to be located under the earth, hidden in a mound, beneath the sea, in the far west, on a plain hidden in a mist. These elements can be found in the Fianna Cycle, the Brown Bull of Cooley, Niall and the Hag at the Well among others. Always, the emphasis among the Celtic peoples (earth-centered culture) was of cyclic regeneration rather than the linear movement or evolution of the historical culture. Even today, the “rounds” made at various of these holy wells has tradition rooted in antiquity.’  Suzanne Barrett

The holy well on the R476 is dedicated to the Virgin Mary who’s statue stands behind glass in a brand new white painted shrine. A bunch of  plastic flowers is tied around the trunk of a tree.


The new shrine

At the foot of the tree there is the round well surmounted by slabs of stone to form a protective roof. To look inside the well you have to kneel and in doing so you notice that, where the roof rests on the well’s wall many pieces of papers with prayers printed on it are wedged in.

After your eyes adjust to the dark you also see that a little statue of the Virgin is resting on the wall. The water in the well is pure and clear.

Inside the well

The well and the tree stand in a green area surrounded by a low wall and it is in one corner at the base of the wall, that I find the discarded old shrine. It is shaped like a little house with no door and the back wall is painted like a sky; a small Brigit’s cross is nailed on it. Although the roof and the side are protected by sheets of metal, the bottom is rotten. Whoever is taking care of the place  is doing a good job in replacing the old with the new.

Yet I am very taken by the old wooden shrine. Like all abandoned objects or ruins they retain a special aura that the weathered effects of faded paint, mould and moss makes beautiful.

So I lift the box  and I know that I want to take it home, restore it, touch it up and give it a new life. I look around to see if somebody is around to ask for permission to take it but nobody is in the fields or on the road, only fast passing cars.

I decide to take it anyway and deal with the permission later on. I know people from the area I can enquire with. I put the box in the car and drive home. I put it in the shed to dry up and start thinking how to work with it during the Winter days and get it ready for Spring.

P.S. As I was looking up on Wikipedia for the origin of the name Shrine (Latin: scrinium “case or chest”) I came across this beautiful painting by J.W. Waterhouse.

'The Shrine' by J. W. Waterhouse