St. Attracta’s Holy Well

Wakeman drawing of St. Attracta's Holy Well, 1895

Wakeman drawing of St. Attracta’s Holy Well, 1895

A visit to an Irish holy well allows you to delve into pre-Christian Ireland when it was believed that the wells waters were connected with ancient gods and goddesses, who imparted wisdom or healing on those who drank or bathed in its waters. The introduction of Christianity in Ireland seen the conversion of these wells to Christian monuments in a bid to convert the Irish population to Christianity. These wells were now deemed holy and can be found all over the country with many still visited by devout Catholics today. They are visited in the hope of finding a cure from the saint associated with the well or as penance to be released from sin.

St. Attracta’s Well in Clogher, Monasteraden is still in use today and is only a 10min drive from Ballaghaderreen. It is located on the Ballaghaderreen to Monasteraden Rd. It is accessed by a small road just off the N5 and it is visible from the main road. According to local folklore, St. Attracta killed a serpent resulting in a holy well erupting from the ground! In ancient Ireland a serpent was said to be a fertility symbol and along the top of the well are 13 water worn stones, known locally as the serpent’s eggs but many also believe these stones may represent the 12 apostles and Jesus. This well was used by women who wanted to have children, the woman would take one of the stones from the well and after her child was born the stone was returned. There is also a bullaun at this well which is a small hollow in a boulder. The water in this stone was believed to cure children with rickets.

Mass at the Holy Well,  Echoes of Ballaghaderreen, 1997

On Sunday, 10th August, 1997, history was made in Monasteraden when the Bishop celebrated the eleven o’clock mass at St. Attracta’s Holy Well in Clogher. This was the Sunday nearest to the traditional pattern day, her feast day on 11th August, and it was Fr. Durkan’s last Sunday with us, so it was a fitting climax to his ministry in Monasteraden. He had commissioned a new alb with the Clogher Cross from the holy well embroidered on the front, most beautifully carried out by Phil Downes and this was used for the first time.

We were blessed by good weather and a large crowd attended. The surroundings of the well have recently been restored by the men working on the Fas scheme who are to be congratulated on the beautiful walls.

The pattern day has a long history. A memoir of Rita MacDermot, a Sacred Heart Nun of a hundred years ago, remembers as a child ”the rows of stalls with ginger bread women, sugar sticks half a yard long, rosy little apples near bunches of dillisk, cakes with currants (more akin to biscuits) and comfits” as well as ”huge holy pictures brought for a penny at a holy stall and hung over ones bed to stimulate devotion”. There was also a licensed stall for liquid refreshment.

At other periods there were sports on the day (long ago alas faction fights). Recently the Rosary has been recited but this is the first time mass has been said there in anyone’s memory. We hope it will not be the last.

The date on the stone beside cross is 1668 believed to have been erected there by Irriel O’Gara, but the well itself has been venerated since time immemorial and is still in constant use today.