Tobar: The Irish Holy Well


Dear Brigid
With Brigid
Dear Brigid
With Brigid
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This portfolio is a study of Ireland's holy wells. Holy wells are natural springs. They are ancient, venerated not only for their healing powers since pagan times, but also as quiet places to connect with the divine. The ancients, seeing the earth as a feminine entity, believed the wells emanated from the earth goddess, and were her gifts to them, capable of bestowing wisdom, creativity, health and answers to prayers. Today many wells have saints' names and Christian rituals attached to them because the early Church could not stop people from visiting these pagan sacred places, so they were "christianized". People still seek them out.

Wells can a range from a small patch of water in a field with little to mark it, to an active flow of water surrounded by a protective wall or an elaborate structure. Some wells are marked from the roadside, but many can only be discovered by getting onto the back roads, and asking locals for directions. Most importantly, an active holy well is a living entity, a keeper of history, myth, and symbol deep belief. The spirt of place is considered to be present at the well. Wells not afflicted by too much modernizing, are usually surrounded by natural features and in quiet locations favorable to reflection and prayer,

At well sites, one may find a vast variety of objects including personal notes, coins, photographs of loved ones, religious imagery and cups for drinking the spring water. Small bits of cloth or ribbon, called clooties, symbolically containing the prayers and askance of the person leaving them behind, may be tied to a nearby tree.

For me, visiting the wells is a way of embracing a larger concept of time. Developing a relationship with the past, with others both here and gone, creates a better sense of what it is to be human.


Fine art by Patricia Delker