Getting out of Dublin for a Day: A Holy Well & an Ogham Stone in Ireland’s Ancient East
There is so much to explore beyond Dublin from Newgrange with its haunting megaliths, Avoca where Irish weaving has imbued stunning colour into a range of Irish products. Then there’s Powerscourt with its outstanding gardens, Monasterboice and Kells where you can step back in time and see the power of Ireland’s religious history. You can explore Dublin’s neighbourhoods and all the sites to see within the city but don’t neglect some incredible sites just beyond the City. County Meath is home to Ireland’s most sacred Holy Well & an Ogham stone, just outside Kells, in Carnaross, you will find one of the most sacred of Holy Wells in Ireland. Even before it became a Christian shrine the well was believed to be a centre of pagan rituals. According to The Parish History of Meath by Mrs. Margaret Conway, N.T., Moattown, Kildalkey and Secretary of Meath Archaeological and Historical Society. (published in The Meath Chronicle in 1957):
“There is a legend about Nuada-Neacht, the poet-king of Leinster in the first century, who possessed a secret well from which no-one but himself and his cupbearers were allowed to draw water. If anyone defied the ban, the well water would surge up and blind the thief.”
Boann who was the goddess of the Boyne and Queen of Ireland was said to have defied the ban and walked around the well, which flooded and drowned or blinded her depending on the legend. In the legend of her blinding she fled towards the sea which drowned her. In another, it is said that when she ran away from the well she became the beautiful Boyne River.
Anthropologists believe that holy wells were originally pagan sites and that when the Christians arrived they blessed the sites and the waters became sources for baptism. This is relatively typical of most pagan sites that became incorporated into Christianity in order to encourage the pagans to adopt the new religion.
It is said that if a pilgrim sees a fish in the bottom of the well their prayers will be answered or a cure will occur for their ills. It is believed that the monks (who were essentially, pescatarians) kept a fish pond at the bottom of the enclosure to have a food source and that the village folks believed that these fish were sacred. If you would like to read about some more magical sites check out the Fairy Bridges and Wishing Chairs in Bundoran on the Wild Atlantic Way.
Even today pilgrims and visitors have maintained the custom of leaving offerings at holy wells. If a tree hangs over the well (and there is almost always a tree) it is considered sacred as well and pilgrims will tie a scrap of cloth to the tree with their prayers, there is also a holy stone which many believed cured warts once touched. The best known of these ‘rag wells’ was at Clonfad, where the bush or tree. It can be found in an old graveyard outside on the old Galway Road.
“In the bedrock to the southeast of the well is a feature known as the chair. To sit or lie in the chair would bring the person a cure for ailments of the back. To the right of it is a bench where people sit with their feet dangling in the small brook that flows down to the river, this must be for foot problems. Further east is another rock feature known as the healing well, pictured right, believed to cure stomach disorders, toothache and warts. On the top of the hill towards the north of the well is a christian shrine and another rag tree.”
Situated in a farmers field in County Meath, the site of the monastery at Castlekeeran is a haunting sight. The monastery was founded by Saint Ciaran, who died around 770 AD. The monastery was raided by the Vikings in 949 and later burned by Dermot Macmurrough. The Ogham Stone is situated in Keim Churchyard. The stone was found by someone digging a grave in the cemetery, it has been placed on a ledge, against the wall of the old church the inscription reads ‘COVAGNI MAQI MUCOI LUGUNI’. This writing is translated as: Cuana son of the people of Lugh.
Ogham is the earliest form of writing in Ireland, it dates to around 4th century A.D. and was in use for around 500 years. The Ogham alphabet is made up of a series of strokes along or across a line. Ogham is sometimes referred to as the “Celtic Tree Alphabet” as a number of the letters are linked to old Irish names for certain trees. The alphabet was carved on standing stones to commemorate someone, using the edge of the stone as the centre line. They normally read from the left hand side bottom up, across the top and if need be down the other side.
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