I have often said that there as wells dedicated to Brigid in most counties in Ireland and I’ll stand by that statement (although the paper I discuss below mentions Patrick Logan’s “The Holy Wells of Ireland”, which outlines 15 wells dedicated to St. Brigid in 11 counties. It also mentioned there are probably more undocumented, so my initial thoughts might be still valid…
Some, however, are a bit more famous than others. St Brigid’s Well in Liscannor, Co. Clare is one such. Now my mother grew up not far from the well and she has mentioned in the past the days when the crowds would come to the well, from the Aran Islands and all over Co. Clare (and I’m sure elsewhere as well) but until I was in Clare a few summers ago (thank you COVID), I didn’t realise how big an insitution it was. We had the (mis)fortune of driving by on the Feast of the Assumption (my grandad’s birthday) and getting stuck in the traffic jam. Honestly – it’s a quiet country road usually, but it took us a good hour to go a mile… my own fault really, I should have been paying attention to the date!
Anyway, over the last few days, following on from my delight over the Brigid Shoe Shrine in the last post, I was doing some mooching around academia.edu and came across a wonderful paper called Saint Brigid: Holy Wells, Patterns and Relics by David W. Atherton and Michael Peter Peyton. It explore Peyton’s memories of the regular Pattern or Patron Days at the well, and he maintains there were four times a year when people would visit the well en masse: St. Brigid’s Eve (31st January), the Saturday and Sunday of Crom Dubh (the last Sunday of July and the vigil) and the Feast of the Assumption, as mentioned above is the 15th July. Now at another time I’d like to come back and visit the connection to Crom Dubh, but I’m forcing myself to put that aside for now.
The paper refers to the “Catholic authorities” being concerned about the morality of these gatherings, given that there was drinking and dancing and all sorts of things going on – even, God forbid! “those practices that involve a striving to have children and such, since such practices smack more of superstition than devotion“. Ah yes, the striving to have children and such??? Anyone else wondering what the “and such” entails?? All in all though, as many a good Irish Catholic will tell you, when the priest is warning you off a party, gathering or event, it’s usually a good sign it’ll be worthwhile going! Things had calmed down a bit in the mid-20th century, and I have to say I saw no signs of debauchery of any kind when I was driving by a few years ago, although it was in the middle of the afternoon. Maybe I should have gone back that night…
As well as the commentary on the morals of the gatherings, the paper includes the “rounds” or the practices to go through to gain the saint’s favour or help in your endeavour. Now, they say they got these from Wikipedia, but I can’t find them on there, which is a bit annoying. On the other hand, as far as prayers go, I don’t see any issue with using this one and the rounds are very well described in the paper. I’d suggest reading the paper to get the full extent of the rounds, as they involve the upper and lower sanctuary and are something I will be doing myself when next I’m down there. But I’ll reproduce the prayer here:
Go mbeannaí Íosa duit, a Bhríd Naofa,
Go mbeannaí Muire duit, is go mbeannaím féin duit,
Chugat a thána’ mé ag géarán mo scéil chugat,
Agus d’iarraidh cabhair in onóir Dé ort.
In English, this is: May Jesus bless you, St. Brigid/ Holy Brigid, May Mary bless you and may I myself bless you. It is to yourself I have come, voicing my complaint and asking your help for the honour of God.
Now I can understand that this is a fairly Catholic prayer and sure the well is devoted to St. Brigid these days, so there’s no surprise there, but there are ways to alter it to a more pagan option. I’ve done my best below.
Beannachtaí an lae ort, a Bhríd,
Beannachtaí an oíche ort, is mo bheannchtaí féin ort comh maith.
Chugat a tháinig mé ag géarán mo scéal chugat,
agus d’iarraidh cabhair ort.
In short, this translates as “blessings of the day to you, Brigid, blessings of the night to you and my own blessings as well. It is to yourself I have come, voicing my complaint and asking your help”.
The prayer isn’t necessarily tied to St. Brigid’s Well, Liscannor of course and could be adapted, as could the rite, to any well or water really in my opinion.
Finally, the Irish for well is usually taught these days as tobar, but in the paper, the well in Liscannor is consistently referred to as Dabhach Bhríde. And dabhach has other meanings in Irish as well, which I found interesting: copper, tank, trough, vat. And this had me thinking of the forge again, because coper, tanks, troughs and vat are likely to be found in a forge. PURE UPG alert here, folks, this is my brain rambling and making connections that may or may not be there. But I’d like to think that the well had some connection, at some point to the older versions of Brigid, in her forge, hammering away.
And now, I want to go explore Crom Dubh and see why people would be going to St. Brigid’s well on the Sunday of Crom Dubh, so I’ll leave it there!