St Govan’s chapel Pembrokeshire

A few weeks ago I had a fantastic holiday exploring parts of  Wales  and England. One of the  most amazing places I visited  was a tiny medieval chapel called St Govan’s chapel in Pembrokshire, Wales.

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St Govan’s Chapel Pembrokeshire Wales

St Govan’s chapel is located at the base of a cliff, a short distance from the village of Bosherston. The site  has an Irish connection as   Govan is  supposedly an Irish saint.

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Cliff top above St Govan’s church

The present chapel dates to c.  the 13th century and it may have been built on an earlier structure.  The chapel can be accessed from  the top of the cliff by climbing down a series of steep steps.

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Steps leading to St Govan’s chapel

The church is a small single single cell room built into a rock cleft  and it has  a vaulted ceiling.

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West wall of chapel

A stone altar  is built against the west wall and a number of steps lead into a small recess in the cliff face . Folk tradition says the marks of the saints ribs are visible  on the rock face (see plan church below). 1-Trip wales Galaxy S5 427

The interior of the church is very plain,  in the south wall there is a piscina  and a window.

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View out of window of the south wall.

Traces of plaster remain on the north wall.

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Plan of church taken site notice board

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East wall of chapel

Tradition holds that an Irish monk called St Govan founded a hermitage here in the 6th century. While sailing across the sea  he was attacked by pirates.  During his escape  the cliff opened up  enough for him to hide until the pirates left. In gratitude, he decided stay here and live as  hermit.  St Govan lived within a small cave in the cliff. The current church is thought to be built over the cave and the saint’s body is reputedly buried under the altar.

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Exterior of St Govan’s chapel showing the east and south walls

The chapel floor once had a holy well which has dried up. Below the church  are  the remains of a  second holy well also dedicated to the saint.   The spring is now dry. In the past pilgrims visited the site as the  waters of the wells were reputed to cure eye complaints.

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St Govan’s holy well

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View of chapel from holy well

The location of St Govan’s chapel is amazing and there are spectacular views of the sea and coastline. I really recommend a visit  it is a truly special place and I know you wont be disappointed as this site has really got a “whow factor” that you dont find too often.

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View of St Govan’s Bay from the holy well.


Site Notice Board.,3530,3566,3569,3574

2013 Pattern day at Old Leighlin Co Carlow

Last year I attended the pattern/patron day celebration in honour of St Laserian  at Old Leighlin, Co Carlow.  I had planned to write this post the following day but life got in the way as it so often does, and before I new it days, weeks, months and over a year had gone by.  So better late than never.

Old Leighlin is a small sleepy village  a short distance from Carlow town.  St Gobban founded a monastery here in the  7th century.  He was succeeded by St Laserian  also known as Molaisse , who became the patron saint of the site and surrounding area.  In 630 AD, during Laserian’s  rule, a synod was held here to consider the correct time for the celebration of Easter (see my post on the Easter Controversy). Laserian died in AD 639 and tradition holds he was buried  here  and it is likely his grave was visited by pilgrims from an early date, although the site of his grave has long been forgotten.

Following Laserian’s death the  settlement  prospered and grew in strength and influence, becoming one of the foremost churches in Leinster.   By the 12th century it became the see of the diocese to which it gives its name. All that remains of the  medieval settlement are  the medieval Cathedral church, a holy well, bullaun stone,  two early medieval cross slabs and early medieval stone cross.  Following the reformation the Old Leighlin Cathedral came into the possession of the Church of Ireland and  it continues to function as a place of worship.  I will discuss the medieval and post-medieval evidence for pilgrimage  at a later date.


St Laserian’s Cathedral church at Old Leighlin, much of the fabric dates to the late 13th century.

Modern Pilgrimage

Today as in  medieval times St. Laserian is the focus of a yearly pilgrimage at Old Leighlin  on the 18th of April.  The modern pilgrim celebrations at Old Leighlin  takes place each day  on the saint’s feast day, when an ecumenical  service  is held at  the Church of Ireland Church (medieval cathedral of Old Leighlin) followed by a procession to the nearby holy well dedicated to St Laserian. This year in 2014 the feast day fell on Good Friday and it was held Easter Sunday.

The service is normally presided over by two bishops,  the Anglican Bishop of the United Diocese of Cashel , Ferns, Leighlin, Lismore, Ossory and Waterford and the Catholic  Bishop of Kildare and Leighlin, highlighting the importance of St Laserian within both diocese.


Doorway in the south wall of the cathedral nave.

In 2013 the ecumenical service was held  in the evening  at around 7.30pm.  The Cathedral which is dedicated to St Laserian  is a very beautiful structure.


The cathedral with a magnificent stained glass window behind the alter.

The Cathedral has many interesting features such as a  magnificent stain glass  window designed  by Catherine O’Brien, in the east gable.  The window depicts Irish and Universal saints  Moling, Bridget, Fiach, Canice, Patrick, John, Paul and  Laserian.

The 2013  service was presided over  by Right Reverend Michael Burrows, the Anglican Bishop of Cashel, Waterford, Lismore, Ferns, Ossory and Leighlin, as the Catholic diocese of Kildare and Leighlin was without a Bishop at the time.  As well as commemorating St  Laserian  with prayers and hymns, 2013 marked a special occasion for Old Leighlin, with the unveiling of an icon of St Laserian that had been specially commissioned for the Cathedral.


The unveiling of the icon of St Laserian in 2013

The Old Leighlin pilgrimage is one of only a handful  of modern Irish pilgrimages that incorporates a procession.  Following  service all of  those present lined up and walked behind  by the bishop(s) and clergy of both churches in a  processional walk, from the Cathedral along the main road which skirts alongside the north wall of the Cathedral graveyard  to St Laserian’s  holy well.


Pilgrims leaving the church following the ecumenical service.

The procession began outside the church leaving via the main church gates and on to  St Laserian’s  holy well a  few hundred metres to the west of the church.


2013 processional walk to St Laserian’s holy well.

As the procession approached the holy well a  band who had been waiting patiently in the car park, beside the holy well, began to play music as the pilgrims approached.


Procession as it approached the holy well.

The well is located within a landscaped green  field that slopes  sharply to the south.   The  clergy gathered at the well, located at the base of the slope.  Most pilgrims  gathered at the top of the slope  with a second group  standing around the rag tree near the holy well.


Pilgrims begin to gather for the blessing of the waters.

Once everyone was assembled a short prayer service then took place and the waters of the wells  were blessed.


Blessing of the waters of St Laserian’s holy well.



Pilgrims gathering for the blessing of the well.

Following the blessing of the water, and despite the rain  most of the pilgrims  assembled at the well to drink  or take home its water.  Many pilgrims had brought plastic bottles with them to carry the water home.


Pilgrims taking water from St Laserian’s holy well.


Pilgrims taking water from St Laserian’s holy well.

The  evening ended  on a very social note  with most people  heading to the nearby local community hall for a very welcome cup of  tea, cake and a chat.

Each summer from mid June until the end of August  the Old Leighlin Cathedral is  open to the public from  Monday-Friday from 10.a.m. until 4 p.m  so I hope this post might encourage some of you to visit, as it is an amazing place.    I plan to write another post about  history of the Cathedral the  more ancient  pilgrimage traditions at the site  later in the year so watch the space.


Links to information on Old Leighlin



The Pattern day at Durrow Co Offaly

Last Monday the 9th of June I  attended the pattern day celebrations in the parish of Durrow Co Offaly.

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Banner of St Colmcille/Columba.

Durrow is a small village about 5-7 km outside of Tullamore town.   St Colmcille/Columba is the patron saint of the parish  and the local community celebrate his feast day on the 9th of June each year.  Tradition holds the saint founded a monastery here in the 6th century close to the holy well.  Durrow was an ecclesiastical settlement of great importance  and part of the  early medieval Columban federation of churches.  I will discuss the  history, the archaeological  remains at Durrow and the medieval evidence for pilgrimage in more detail in a later date.  This post will focus  only on this years pilgrimage.

Modern pilgrimage

Each year  the people of Durrow continuing on a centuries old tradition,  commemorate the feast day of  St. Colmcille.  It is also the traditional day that   the children from the parish make  their first communion.

This year the communion mass  was held at 10 am and a second mass in honor of Colmcille was held at 12am.  Following mass the community walk in procession to St. Colmcille’s holy well and  after  all the religious celebrations  a sports day  was held in the afternoon .

Procession durrow

Processional route from Durrow Roman Catholic Church to St Colmcille’s holy well ( map taken google maps)

When I arrived in Durrow  it was about 12.2o and mass was underway.   The church  was decorated in bunting and flags.


Roman Catholic Church at Durrow.

Following mass  everyone assembled  at the church gates and  fell into line  behind a banner with an image of the saint.  The parish priest and other  clergy from the diocese and two musicians walked in front with the rest of the pilgrims following.


Pilgrims beginning to assemble outside the church gates for the procession.


Musicians John Buttivant and Dick  relaxing before the procession. There are normally joined by a piper who was unfortunately not able to attend this year due to illness.

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The procession as it leaves the church and turns soutj down the N52.

The procession heads from the church gates south along the N52 road .  The event  literally stops traffic as the community walk along this busy road.   St Colmcille’s day is very important to the local community and one lady told me that  many people will take the day off work  to attend.

Everyone was in good spirits  as they walked along  oblivious to the lorries and cars behind them, thankfully the an Garda Síochána were  also present to regulate the traffic.


The procession as it heads down the N52.

After walking for approximately  0.5 km the procession leaves the N52 road and heads  into Durrow Abbey Demesne.

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The procession as it enters the N52.

The next stage of the procession, which is about 0.6km in lenght,  could not be more different from the first section of the walk.  The pilgrims  proceeded down a leafy driveway that leads to the St Colmcille’s Church of Ireland and Durrow Abbey House.


Pilgrims walking along the road within Durrow Demesne.

The procession continued past  St Colmcille’s Church of Ireland


St Colmcille’s Church of Ireland at Durrow.

and  along a small  trackway which leads  to a D shaped , tree covered marshy area known as the island.


Pilgrims walking down the trackway leading to St Colmcille’s holy well.

St Colmcille’s  holy well is located at the center of this area.

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St Colmcille’s holy well at Durrow.

Everyone  congregated around the well and tried to avoid the more marshy areas.  Some boards had been placed towards the entrance to make access easier.  Once everyone had arrived a  number of prayers were recited blessing the well and those present.


Prayer being said at St Colmcille’s holy well.

Following prayers many people  went to the holy well to take home water in plastic bottles and milk cartons.   A young man  and woman  stood by the well and  filled bottles with water for the pilgrims .


Pilgrims taking water from St Colmcille’s holy well at Durrow.

Durrow was certainly one of the most stylish pilgrimages I have attended, probably because it coincides with communion day and everyone looked great in their suits and dresses.   This  event has such a great community feel and its really a  great social occasion too.

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Pilgrims chatting at St Colmcille’s holy well.

As I headed back up the trackway towards the church, which houses the 9th century high cross (will discuss in another post),  I could hear singing  and when I went to investigate further   I found a fantastic choir  who were singing within the church.


The choir singing within the church at Durrow.

I really enjoyed my time at Durrow and it was really lovely to attend such  a vibrant pilgrimage.




19th century graffiti on the graveyard wall of Cloyne Cathedral

Last summer  while working on the  Spike Island Archaeological Project a colleague  told me about some old graffiti in the town of Cloyne, Co Cork.  I had visited Cloyne   a few weeks previous and had been singing its praises.  At the time  I was also undertaking a small social history project supervising  a group  students in the  recording and documenting of the prison graffiti left by the  modern inmates at the education block known as  Mitchell Hall on Spike Island.   I was immediately curious and took  another trip to Cloyne  later in the summer.

The Cloyne  graffiti looks like it  dates to the 19th century. It is  found on the exterior of the eastern graveyard wall. The wall defines the edge of a small little laneway that runs alongside the graveyard.  The graffiti is found on various stones from the top of the lane beside Church Street to where the lane starts to bends.  Many Irish medieval monuments  such as castles and churches  have graffiti left by people who lived in the 18th/19th century  such as  Trim Castle Co Meath.


Lane on the southern side of Cloyne Graveyard

My visit here was only a short one but  I noticed most graffiti consisted of people’s names.  I also noticed a possible maltese style cross design on one of the stones.


I could make out the initials J B; R B; W F on this stone

Below is a stone located towards the east of the lane, with the initials N R.


Stone towards the east of the lane with the initials N R.

Some of the stones have a surname followed by the placename Cloyne which suggest much of this was written by people native to the area.


Cloyne is written in the bottom right hand corner of the photo.

The stone below has the inscription J. Barry Cloyne


Inscription J. Barry Cloyne

Some of the inscriptions are more difficult to read and will take some patient deciphering.


Two stones with graffiti

I hope to come back during this summer and do some more detailed photographing and recording. As I walk down the lane I couldn’t help wonder about the people who wrote on this wall. Why did they do it? Did they sneak out  at night?  Did anyone get caught while writing?  These carving which were  probably seen as vandalism at the time provide a lasting link to past and individuals who lived in the town such J Barry of Cloyne.


Large stone with a lot of graffiti mostly initials such as JB Ed and a circle at the centre found at the western end of the laneway

I will keep you posted on any further discoveries.  If you are interested in ancient graffiti  I have put some links to some really interesting project happening in Ireland  and Britain that are worth checking out.

References Medieval Graffiti Projects


A day trip to Medieval Cloyne

I started this post last summer but I am only now getting time to finish it I can’t believe its been a year already!!!!

Last May I headed to the town of Cloyne which is in my opinion is one  of the best hidden gems of east Cork.   This sleepy town  was once the centre of a large early medieval monastic settlement  and  in the later medieval period the seat of the bishop  of the medieval diocese of Cloyne.


Round Tower on Church Street in Cloyne

The  placename Cloyne  which is  Cluain in Irish, means meadow or pasture (  In medieval texts the  area  is often referred to as Cluain Uamha  or  the  meadow of the caves  This name derives from an extensive limestone cave system in the surrounding countryside.

The  early monastic settlement at Cloyne was founded by  St Colmán mac Lénín in the 6th century.  According to the annals Colmán was born around AD 530.  He had trained as a poet before  joining the church.  He was rewarded with the lands around Cloyne by the then King  of Munster Coirpre mac Crimthan, whom he had accompanied into battle and for whom he had  cursed the King’s enemies (Cotter  2013, 6).  Colmán found a monastery at Cloyne and resided here until his death.  In the following centuries Cloyne grew in size and strength and the annals tell that the monastery was plundered a number of times by the Viking between AD 822 and 916.

During the reorganisation of the Irish church in the 12th century, Cloyne was recognised as  an ecclesiastical see at the synod of Kells-Mellifont, in 1152 and it have jurisdiction over 133 medieval parishes. The first Norman bishop of Cloyne was Nicholas of Effingham (1284-1321) (Gwynn and Hadcock 1988, 65).   In the 15th century  the Diocese of Cloyne  expanded further when it was united with the see of Cork, a union which lasted from  AD 1429 to  1747.

Following the reformation the cathedral church at Cloyne came into the ownership of the Church of Ireland and the  centre of the Catholic diocese moved to Cobh. Since 1769 the Bishops of Cloyne, with the exception of Dr. Murphy, resided at Cobh (formerly Queenstown) on the north side of Cork Harbour. For a full discussion of the history of Cloyne diocese see the excellent book   A History of the Medieval Diocese Of Cloyne by  Paul MacCotter.


Ancient tower at Cloyne  1856 by Edward Gennys Fanshawe ©National Maritime Museum, Greenwich, London. All rights reserved.

As you approach Cloyne the skyline is dominated by a large early medieval round tower.  The tower  is 30m tall with seven storeys  and  is located on Church Street, separated from the  footpath  by a low wall. The tower is the only upstanding evidence for  an early medieval church settlement  to have survived.


Round Tower on Church Street

The tower is entered through a square-headed door at the 1st floor level and wooden floors within are access by ladders at each level. Unfortunately due to insurance costs the tower  it’s not open to the public but it can be admired from the street.


Square headed doorway in Round Tower

The  top of the tower has a vaulted roof with battlements which were added after the tower was struck by lightning in 1748/9.

St Colman’s Church of Ireland  sits across the street. This building   has a modern appearance  but much of its fabric dates to the  medieval period.  The church was originally built c.1270-80.  It has a cruciform plan with an aisle-less choir, a nave with two aisles, two transepts and a chapter house projecting from the north side of the choir.


West wall of St Colman’s Cathedral Cloyne

The chancel/choir area of the church is still used for public  worship. The east window with its elegant reticulated tracery  could be early 14th /15th century in date but the stain glass in the window is  modern.


Chancel of Cloyne Cathedral with its eastern window with reticulated tracery.

The nave is very spacious and has two  aisles with five bays .


View of nave of church facing towards chancel

In 1642 the building was extensively repaired,   over the centuries additional  alterations were carried out with the building being repaired and restored on  at least five occasions between 1644 and 1893-4. If you look around there are still many medieval feature to be seen within and outside of the building.

Within the church there is  a double piscina (a shallow basin placed near the altar of a church, or else in the vestry or sacristy, used for washing the communion vessels) close to the entrance to the chancel.


There are numerous funerary memorials within the church   including  an alabaster effigy  George Berkeley former Church of Ireland bishop of Cloyne and renowned philosopher, located  in the  north transept.


Effigy of George Berkeley by Bruce Joy 1890.

A memorial to Bishop John Brinkley (c.1763-1835)  a celebrated astronomer and bishop of Cloyne is located  in the north aisle of the church. Also in the nave a large  carved limestone font and two late medieval grave slabs.


Limestone baptismal font

The  stone font was removed here from near Aglish, in Muskerry; it has an octagonal base, shaft and font, with plain panels and it is possibly late 14th/15th century in date ( Roe 1968, 13).

The grave slabs are set in the  floor of nave.  One has a  Latin cross, the second has a floriated cross  with  inscription and date 1577.   Local folklore holds that the marks of the devils feet are to be seen on the latter.


Late medieval grave slabs in nave of church

As you walk around the outside of the building more medieval feature become visible, two examples of which are  described below.  In the  north wall there is a pointed  hooded doorway of 13th/14th century date which provides entry into the church.


The door has a number of carvings including human face and  a flower located towards the apex of the door.


The exterior of  south wall of the south transept has  an elaborate  medieval window now blocked up. The remains include hood mouldings, foliate label stops and carved heads, all still visible if you look closely.


South wall of the south transept

The carved medieval heads includes what appears to be a bishop wearing a mitre


Below the bishop are  the  heads of a woman with a medieval head-dress and a man wearing chain mail perhaps representing  patrons of the cathedral.


Above Possible head of woman wearing headdress, Below   head of a knight.1-DSCF5724

Surrounding the cathedral  is a very fine  historic graveyard, with some lovely 18th and 19th century gravestones, many of which have  elaborate decorations. The graveyard has been recorded by Historic Graves  and you can find information about the inscriptions on gravestone at this link in the reference section.


Grave stone of William Leahy died 1805 aged 63



Grave stone of Michael Cralty who died April 2nd 1787



Power, D., Lane, S. et al. 1994. Archaeological Inventory of County Cork. Volume 2: East and South Cork. Dublin: Stationery Office.

Killanin ,L. & Duignan, M. 1967. The Shell Guide to Ireland.  London: Ebury Press.

MacCotter, P. 2013. A History of the Medieval Diocese of Cloyne. Dublin: The Columba Press.

The Rag Well Clonmel

The Rag Well  is a small well located in the townland of Knocklucas, on the southern outskirts of the town of Clonmel.  The well gives its name to the surrounding area which is generally referred to as the ‘ragwell’.  This is not a holy well   it is more of a wishing well  and there is a long tradition of people coming here and  tying rags to a white thorn tree beside the well  to make a wish .

Location map of the rag well taken from Bing Maps

Location map of the rag well taken from Bing Maps

While writing my last post on St Patricks well at Marlfield I came across some old photos of the Rag Well  in the National Library of Ireland online photographic database.  I became very curious about the well, its history,  if it had changed  or had been refurbished.

So last weekend I paid a visit to the site with my uncle Eddie who grew up in the  Old Bridge area of Clonmel town  and as a child visited the site.


The landscape of the site  at the end of the 19th- early 20th century

In 1841 John O’Donovan records that  the well  as being  known as Tobar na Gréine / the well of the sun.  Although he refers to it as a holy well, he makes no mention of pilgrimage or an association with a saint.  By the early 20th century the well was known as the Rag Well and  continues to be  known by this name  to this day.

The well is an underground stream which flows into a stone lined channel.  At the time the photo below was taken in the early 1900’s  the well was surrounded by a  low circular wall.  The enclosing wall was in poor condition and it looks like only the footings of the wall were visible when the photo was taken.

French, R., & Lawrence, W. (. M.. (18651914). Holy Well, Ragwell Glen, Clonmel, Co. Tipperary.

French, R., & Lawrence, W. M.. (18651914). Holy Well, Ragwell Glen, Clonmel, Co. Tipperary (Taken from

In the  photo the white thorn tree  beside the well is covered in rags.  The well looks directly across  at Slievenamon mountain and the mountain  is  was clearly visible in the photo above.  The modern tree coverage  is alot more  dense and the view is not as clear  but its still pretty  impressive.

French, R., & Lawrence, W. (. M.. (18651914). Slievenamon from Roguell Glen, Clonmel, Co. Tipperary.

French, R., & Lawrence, W. (. M.. (18651914). Slievenamon from Roguell Glen, Clonmel, Co. Tipperary.

A later photo,  of unknown date,  shows that the wall around the well had been rebuilt and the well  has remained unchanged to this day.

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The Rag Well photo taken some time in the 20th century ( image taken

The Rag well today

To get to the  Rag Well you head out of Clonmel along  the mountain road  and at  the first  junction,  on a sharp bend you take the  smaller road (see map above).   A short distance up this road you will see a small green gate that opens on to an old grassy laneway.


Gateway leading to the path to the Rag Well

Go through the gate and the path to the well is on the right hand side  above the lane.  It is easy to miss the path  and you have to climb up to it.  The path consist of stone steps which are now  covered in leaves and dirt.  The steps  are  very slippy  so do take care climbing and if you are anyway unsteady on your feet id  give it a miss, I stumbled a few times on the way up and down.


Stone steps leading to the Rag Well

The path is a little bit over grown in places but it will lead you to the well.  Like the path the well is neglected and  over grown.  In the older photos the well was surrounded by pasture but today the field  is covered in bracken and gorse.


The Rag Well surrounded by bracken

The well is still surrounded by  the circular stone wall.  The wall is in a reasonable state of preservation but there are patches  in need of repair.  The well can be entered through a small opening in the south.  The interior is now very over grown,  although it is clear the interior hasn’t change since  French  photographed the well in the 1900’s see photo below. The water flows out from the ground into the stone channel which in turn flows out of the enclosure and heads down hill.

French, R., & Lawrence, W. (. M.. (18651914). Holy Well, Ragwell Glen, Clonmel, Co. Tipperary.

French, R., & Lawrence, W. (. M.. (18651914). Holy Well, Ragwell Glen, Clonmel, Co. Tipperary.

The rag tree which is a white thorn tree  is  covered in  ivy.   It looks like the ivy is choking the tree which is really sad given its history.  There  are still some rags on the tree which suggests some adventurous people still come here.


The Rag Tree which gives the Rag Well its name.

As I said before this is not a not a holy well but a wishing well.   O’Connell in 1956  noted

There  until recently the young ladies used to tie  a bit of a rag around a branch of a tree, perhaps adding a prayer like ” Dear St Anne, send me a man….”


As a child my uncle was told the well was associated with the fairies and  he and his friends would tie rags to the tree to make wishes before heading off to the near by reservoir to go for a swim.

ragwell 2 Id love to hear from anyone who has any memories of the rag well  and I hope this post will encourage people to visit it so this magical place does not become forgotten.


View of Slievenamon from the well today


French, R., & Lawrence, W. M.. (18651914). Holy Well, Ragwell Glen, Clonmel, Co. Tipperary .

French, R., & Lawrence, W. (. M.. (18651914). Slievenamon from Roguell Glen, Clonmel, Co. Tipperary.

French, R., & Lawrence, W. (. M.. (18651914). Holy Well, Ragwell Glen, Clonmel, Co. Tipperary.

O’Connell, P 1956. ‘St Patrick’s well Clonmel, Co. Tipperary: an early Christian sanctuary of the decies. Phamplet . Clonmel: St Patrick’s Day Society.

O’ Flanagan, Rev. M. (Complier) 1929. Letters containing information relative to the antiquities of the county of Waterford collected during the progress of the Ordnance Survey in 1841. Bray: Typescript.


St Patrick’s Holy Well at Marlfield Clonmel

St Patrick’s well is  located close to the village of Marlfield, a few miles outside of the town of Clonmel.  It is well is signposted  and can be accessed  from the Cahir to Clonmel road and from the Marlfield village.

St Patrick’s well is located beside a stream at the base of a limestone cliff.  This is a really lovely peaceful spot.  As well as being a place of pilgrimage (excuse the pun) it is also a focal point on hot sunny days for families and children who come here to hang out and paddle in the icy waters of the  man-made pond beside the well.  I had hoped to write a post about the well for St Patrick’s day  but unfortunately the time just got away from me, so better late then never.

Modern Landscape

To access the well you  climb down  modern steps  built into the side the cliff face.  The steps provide a  great vantage point for  views of the  site.


View of St Patrick’s well from top of steps

At  the bottom  of the steps  there is a large  statue of St Patrick  who  gazes serenely across at the holy well.


Statue of St Patrick

People often leave votive offerings at the statue and on the day I visited there was a large rosary beads  draped around the statue’s neck and children’s shoes and a candle at the base.

The rest of the site consists of a  bubbling  spring well defined by a tear shaped stone walls whose waters flow  through a small stone channel which in turn flows into a large man-made  pond.


Interior of St Patrick’s holy well

The water flows through two long hallowed-out  granite water  spouts.  Conn Manning (2007, 13) has identified the stones as flumes from an early medieval horizontal mill.


The water from the well flows through flumes from an early medieval horizontal mill

The water that fills the well comes from an underground stream and the force of the water is very strong and would have been sufficient to power a mill without a need of a millpond (Manning 2007, 13).  Perhaps the well had a more practical function before becoming a place of devotion.

The water from the well flows through the flumes and through a modern stone lined channel  which flows into a large pond.  At the centre of the pond is a small undecorated early medieval stone cross .


Beside the large pond are the ruins of a small church of late medieval date.  This may have been used as a parish church in medieval times and appears to have been used as a place of worship until the 18th century. The building is rectangular in plan and built  of limestone rubble. The exterior has been re-pointed and the building has undergone restoration in modern times.  The church and the well belonged to the nearby Cistercian  abbey of Inishlounaght.  The abbey was founded in the 12th century by Donal O’Brien the King of Munster and dedicated to the Blessed Virgin.   The abbey no longer survives but its site is located at the first fruits Church of Ireland  on the banks of the Suir in Marlfield village.


The church is entered through a doorway with hooded moulding  in the west gable, which has been rebuilt in modern times.


Doorway in the west gable of the church

Within the church there is a late medieval  alter tomb which came originally from the White Mortuary Chapel in St Mary’s church in Clonmel. The tomb was brought here following the demolition of the  chapel  in 1805.


Interior of St Patrick’s church prior to modern restorations by Robert French from The Laurence Collection National Museum of Ireland

Incorporated into the east gable are a number of architectural fragments  such as window heads which  came from the abbey of Inishlounaght and  also an armorial plaque .


East gable of St Patrick’s church

The Landscape of the Well in the 19th and early 20th century

The landscape we see today at St Patrick well is a relatively new creation and has  changed drastically in the last 50 years or so.


Photo dating to circa 1900’s showing the original landscape of St Patrick’s well. Taken by Robert French (1841-1917) in The Lawrence Photograph Collection National Library of Ireland

In 1914 Power described the well as a

great basin filled to the brim with bubbling crystal water.., close by it in the march is a stunted, rude and early celtic cross which marks a penitential station.


Photo of St Patrick’s well taken by Robert French (1841-1917) in The Lawrence Photograph Collection National Library of Ireland

Early 20th century images of the well suggest it was originally surrounded by a low circular enclosing wall with a large ash tree growing out of the side of the well.  The site had a rather beautiful wild and natural appearance but would have been marshy underfoot.

The remodelling of the site began in the 1956 with the addition of the statue of St Patrick described above. The majority of the works took place in the late 1960’s, undertaken by the St Patrick’s day society with financial aid from the Mayor of Los Angles Sam Vorty.  Vorty’s mother was Johanna Egan formerly of Love Lane in Clonmel who emigrated to America and who often talked to her son about this well. Following her death he contacted the Society of St Patrick’s day  in Clonmel and  offered financial help in improving the well.

With the funding provided by the Mr Vorty, Mr Armand Hammer and the  Irish Israeli society from South California, the St Patrick’s day society instigated  a ‘clean up’ and  remodelling and landscaping  of the site which resulted in its current appearance.


Plaque dedicated to restoration and landscaping of St Patrick’s well


Evidence for pilgrimage

I am a bit short of time this week so I have decided to discuss the well’s association with St Patrick in another post.

St Patrick’s well is not mentioned in any early medieval documents prior to the 12th century. The earliest direct reference to pilgrimage was recorded in 1619 when Pope Paul V granted the a plenary indulgence to all pilgrims visiting St Patrick’s church, provided they went to confession and communion and visited the church on the feast of Pentecost or on the feast day of St Patrick, any time from Vespers to sunset on the feast.

The Ordnance Survey letters written by John Donovan who visited the site in the 1840’s  notes

it  is still esteemed holy and visited by pilgrims far and near for the cure of disease especially headaches.


St Patrick’s well

The waters of the well are renowned for healing properties. In 1813 the well was described as follows

there is an excellent mineral spring and a well which is celebrated for curing sore lips,  sore eyes, the srofula* and several chronic diseases either by drinking or washing in the  stream that issues from it. Thousands flock here in summertime from all places astound to pilgrimage in the stream.

Others who visited the well recorded that  clusters of stones within the stream along with  the early medieval cross marked the pilgrim stations.  It was also custom like at so many 19th and 20th century pilgrim sites for people to perform their pilgrimage in their bare feet.

O’Donovan’s visit appears to have coincided with the pilgrimage of a man who had developed a head ache having joined the temperance movement.   He noted the man’s ritual  washing in the waters to obtain a cure.

The day I visited it there was  at it for the cure of a headache, which he got since he joined Father Mathew. He washed his hands, head and feet in the stream at the point where it issues form the well.


Photo dating to circa 1900’s showing the original landscape of St Patrick’s well. Taken by Robert French (1841-1917) in The Lawrence Photograph Collection National Library of Ireland


 Hall writing in 1842  notes

It was  once a favourite resort for pilgrims but it now quiet deserted

While the The Dublin University Magazine in 1953  states

 Pilgrims in former days resorted to this spot.

These accounts suggest the well was still visited but  by local people in the mid 19th century but the hinterland of the shrine was in decline.  The fortunes of the well change in the early 20th century with a revival in devotion at the well.


Image of St Patrick built into enclosing well wall at St Patrick’s well Marlfield

I will  come back to St Patrick’s  well very soon and  discuss its connections with St Patrick, 20th century and modern pilgrimage to the site  and any new sources for past pilgrimage


*Scrofula was a swelling of the lymph nodes in the neck caused TB.

Anon. 1853. The Dublin University Magazine Vol. 42, page 332.

Farrelly, J. 2011. ‘St Patrick’s well TS083-004′ RMP Files’,

Hall, S.C.  1842, Ireland its Scenery and Character etc. London: How and Parsons.

Manning, C. ‘Could well be a mill’ [St. Patrick's Well, nr. Clonmel, Co. Tipperary & St Brigit's well nr. Tully, Co. Kildare. Stone flumes], Vol. 21. No. 1, 12-15.

O’ Flanagan, Rev. M. (Complier) 1930. Letters containing information relative to the  antiquities of the county of Tipperary collected during the progress of the Ordnance  Survey in 1840. 3 Vols. Bray: Typescript.

Power, Rev. P. 1914. Life of St. Declan of Ardmore and Life of St. Mochuda of
Lismore. With introduction, translation and notes. London: Irish Texts Society