St Declan’s Well at Toor in Co. Waterford, has a special significance for me as my grandmother, who was originally from the area, visited the well throughout her life (even when living in another county).
According to folklore St Declan stopped here while en route to Cashel to quenched his thirst and it was this act that blessed the waters (Komen no date). I was unable to find any references to the well prior to the twentieth century, but the dedication to St Declan a pre-patrician saint suggests it is of some antiquity and it may have originally attracted pilgrims only from the local area.
Changing landscape of the Well
The modern landscape of the well is relatively recent. The statues, the structure where mass is said, the outdoor pulpit, are all additions dating to the 1950’s -1960’s. The coniferous plantation which surrounds the well is also modern. Thanks to the permission of Waterford County Museum I have included a number of photos of what the site was like in the 1950’s which show these changes.
The photo below (Waterford County Museum Archive) shows the well as a deep depression. The large cross covered in rosary beads with flowers at the base is still present at the site.
In the early 1950’s Josephine Fitzgerald the wife of Jerry Fitzgerald a cycle shop owner from Main Street, Dungarvan was cured at the well. In the subsequent years the couple were involved with others in the up keep and the addition of the statues, new buildings etc. at the site. There are two plaques dedicated to their work at the site.
By the 1960’s all the features that are visible at the site today were in place.
Today the site is enclosed but the older images suggest that prior to the planting of the modern forest, the site was open. A really interesting feature at the site is the addition of a rag tree/bush following the enclosing. Today pilgrims tie cloths, kitchen towels and rosary beads to the hedge which surrounds the site.
The Well and Healing
Like many other wells the water here is renowned for its healing powers. Its reputation is such that people travel here from all over Waterford and neighbouring counties such as Cork, Tipperary and Wexford to pray and to avail of the healing waters. The water is especially beneficial for diseases of the eyes and the skin.
In 1945, The Irish Tourism Association survey for Co Waterford recorded for the well that
Cure for skin diseases, ringworm especially, is attributed to it. Seán Dower, an old man who lives near the well told me he saw many people come here and bath their lombs etc. which were afflicted with ringworm and exzema in the water, and he afterwards saw them quite cured. I got like information from other sources (I. T. A 1945, 122).
Pilgrimages take place here throughout the year. Individuals come to the well, drink the water, do the rounds while reciting the rosary. Many will then wash limbs in a small rectangular trough, located a short distance from the well.
For a cure or prayer to be successful it is a requirement to visit the well three times.
Annual Pilgrimage Mass
The well is also the site of two annual masses in July and on the 15th of August when, large number of people come to the well for the blessing of the waters and the celebration of mass and the feast of St Declan. This year I attended the July pilgrimage which is held here on the Thursday closest the feast day of St Declan on the 24th of July.
The tradition of mass is relatively new having begun in 1951. While attendance at other wells is in decline, the pilgrimage here is very strong as evident from the large number of numbers of pilgrims young and old who arrived by car and bus. There was a very strong local presence with many people from the neighbouring parishes of Aglish and Clashmore attending. There were many people who had travelled long distances to be here from Waterford City, Wexford and Clonmel.
The mass is an important event and 11 priests assisted Fr. Gerry O’Connor the parish priest of , who said the mass. The ceremony began with blessing of the waters of the well and those present, next a box containing petitions to the saint, from those in attendance was carried to the well.
This is a new addition to the ceremony at the request of pilgrims the previous year. Following mass pilgrims went to the well to drink the water and some when to wash their feet at the trough underneath the structure where mass was said.
There is also a real social aspect to the occasion, it’s a chance for people to catch up and talk, afterwards in the field generously provided by the local farmer for parking, many people had picnics out of the booth of their cars.
I would like to thank Fr Ger MacCarthy and Fr Pat Butler for information on the well and Waterford County Museum for permission to reproduce their photos.
I.T.A. Topographical and General Survey of County Waterford. Ireland, 1945. [on line] http://snap.waterfordcoco.ie/collections/efolders/155321/ita_survey.pdf [accessed 4/08/2012]
Komen, J. no date. ‘St. Declan’s Pattern.’ [on line] http://www.waterfordmuseum.ie/exhibit/web/Display/article/331/7/The_Ardmore_Journal_St_Declans_Pattern_.html [accessed 3/08/2012]