The village of Modeligo has one of the nicest holy wells, it is a real gem. The well like the parish church is dedicated to the Blessed Virgin and local people still gather here on the 15th of August the Feast of the Assumption, to say the rosary.
The Ordnance Survey maps record the well as Lady well, while Forsayeth in 1911 says the well was known as Tobar Beannuighthe. Beary also writing in 1911 notes that local people referred to the well as Tobar Mhuire or Mary’s well. Today local people just call it the Holy well.
I first heard about this well from a friend Gillian McCarthy who happens to be from Modeligo and for the last two years I have been trying to visit. Finally in August 2012, I was able to visit and Gillian kindly gave my mum and I a guided tour of the village and the well, which is located in the townland of Knockgarraun a short distance from the local community centre, in farmland own by Gillian’s father Roger.
The main focus of devotion at the well is the 15th of August and a pattern day is held in the village around this date but it is now a separate event to devotions at the well. The pattern appears to be a revival of an older tradition as in 1911 it was recorded that the pattern day;
‘used to take place here in olden times. People may still be seen to congregate on the aforesaid date, and they invariably hang mementoes, the shape of rags and other objects on the ancient hawthorn that grows beside the well’ (Fortheysth 1911, 187).
This year mass was to be said for the first time at the well but it was cancelled like many other events this summer due to the torrential rain and wind. To get to the well you have to park at the community centre and walk down a long grassy boreen which leads into farmland. The well is located on steep slope on a rock outcrop that overlooks the Finisk River.
The well is a roughly circular hollow in the rock outcrop, the result of natural erosion by rainwater. The water within the well is a result of the hollow filling with rain water. Coming up to 15th of August a member of the McCarthy family will clean out the well getting rid of any algae growing in the water.
Forsayeth (1911, 186) noted that when the well was emptied a cross carved into the base was visible and Gillian confirms seeing this.
The hawthorn tree mentioned above still grows beside the well and Gillian’s father Roger, told me that rags and rosary beads were tied to the tree up to the 1960’s but the tradition has died out now.
Little is known about the well prior to the early twentieth century, Lewis writing in 1837 about the parish noted ‘There is a vitriolic spring in the parish the water of which is clear and sharp’.
Smith in his book the The Ancient and Present State of the County and City of Waterford in 1746 notes
‘On the south side of the parish lies the church; and near it, is a reputed holy well’
A local elderly lady called Mrs Cronin of Knocknageragh (a nearby townland) told Beary in 1911
‘ The rounds were made here. The water of this well may be used for any purpose, such as applying or pouring on the head, or rubbing on parts of the body, and some sup it out of the palm of the hand…. The rounds each time however, are finished at the flowing spring well 60 yards below, on the flat Inch, and near the brink of the Finisc River. Here three sups or swallows are to be taken in honour of the Blessed Trinity’
The tradition of going to the Trinity well has died out in the area and I only came aware of the wells existence following my visit so I wasn’t able to seek it out.
Another very interesting fact about Lady well is that according to folklore from the 19th century this well has moved its location in the past.
It was originally in the townland of Scart on the land of a Mr Healy and was resorted to for a cure for bad eyes and blindness.
‘….Mr. Healy used to hear all the people that was cured at this well talking about the well. So he told his steward to take a blind horse he had to the well. But the steward wouldn’t take the horse, so he had to take him himself to the well. So the horse got his sight back there and then, and Mr. Healy, who had the impudence to take a dumb animal to the well, was struck blind himself, and the well disappeared. So there was no trace of the well to be found where it was. But after some days the well was found where it is at present, up a boreen under the chapel of Modelligo’ (Ussher 1914, 120).
There is another tradition which states that it was a one Cromwell’s men who led his blind horse to the well in mockery and to test out the healing waters of the well, the horse was cured the solider stuck blind and the well up and moved to Modelligo (Forsayeth 1911, 187).
Beary, M, 1911. ‘Holy Well at Modeligo’JRSAI Ser. 6, Vol. I, 393-394.
Forsayeth, G. 1911. ‘Holy well near Modeligo, Co. Waterford.’ JRSAI Ser. 6, Vol. I, 186-187.
Lewis, S. A. 1837. A topographical dictionary of Ireland.
Smith, C. 1746. The Ancient and Present State of the County and City of Waterford:
Being a Natural, Civil, Ecclesiastical, Historical and Topographical Description
Thereof. Dublin: Printed by A. Reilly.
Usher, E. 1914. ‘Waterford Folklore 1’, Vol. 25, No. 1 (Mar. 31, 1914), 109-121.