St David’s holy well -Tobar Chinnín Dháithí – is one of my favourite holy wells in the whole country. This isnt a statement I make likely.
The main thing I love about the well is that it is very fortunate to have escaped the over use of cement that many Irish holy wells experienced in the 1950’s or some of the bad “restoration” work of the 1980’s-2000’s – the holy well at Brulee, Co Limerick immediately springs to mind. The charm of St David’s holy well is its simplicity. When you stand at the waters edge there is a real connection with the past and you can imagine your experience is very similar to pilgrims 100 or 200 years ago. The trees, flowers and bush that surround the well also help to connect the visitor to the natural world of which holy well are very much rooted.
St David’s well is situated in an out of the way grove of trees on private land. In appearance it is very like the holy well at St Berriherts Kyle but more compact.
The well itself is a large spring that fills a circular pool defined by a low stone wall, set flush with the ground. The water bubbles up through white sands on the base, before escaping into an over flow channel that takes it the water from the pool into a nearby stream.
It is said “The well never dried even in the warmest summer” (The Schools’ Collection, Volume 0643, Page 155).
The bubbling waters are magical and I have sat for long stretches of time here just watching the water and listening to the rustle of leaves and chatter of birds. The wells beauty is enhanced by a large oak tree that cast shadows over the water. When I last visited here in March 2016, it was surrounded by a thick carpet of yellow daffodils.
It is a round well and there are trees growing all around it. The people hang the tokens on the trees. The statue of St David is erected there. There is a lovely sand bubbling up out of the well. It is so clear you would imagine it was silver.The Schools’ Collection, Volume 0643, Page 167
Unusually the well is dedicated to St David the patron saint of Wales whose feast day is the 1st of March. The south-east of Ireland has long established connections with Wales. St David and his monastery (at St Davids in Wales) are mentioned in several Lives of Irish saints. St Finbarr of Cork is said to have visited St David on his return from Rome, while SS Aidan of Ferns, Finnian of Clonard, along with Scothin and Senanus, are all said to have studied at the monastic school at St David’s.
St David’s holy well at Woodhouse is located in the Diocese of Waterford and Lismore. The patron of the diocese is St Declan of Ardmore who also spent time in Wales in the company of St David.
On one of these occasions Declan paid a visit to the holy bishop of the Britons whose name was David at the church which is called Killmuine where the bishop dwelt beside the shore of the sea which divides Ireland from Britain. The bishop received Declan with honour and he remained there forty days, in affection and joy, and they sang Mass each day and they entered into a bond of charity which continued between themselves and their successors for ever afterwards. On the expiration of the forty days Declan took leave of David giving him a kiss in token of peace and set out himself and his followers to the shore of the sea to take ship for Ireland.Power, Rev. P. 1914. Life of St. Declan of Ardmore, 25
A large statue of a very serious St David, dressed as a bishop, sits a plinth of concrete overlooking the holy well. The date 1923 is carved into the base.
This statue was a gift, donated by Br Benigus Tracy in this year having experieneced a cure (NFSC, An Eaglais, Ceapach Chuinn (roll number 1395).
The wells waters are said to have healing properties. The waters are especially beneficial to those suffering from headaches or migraines. The connection with healing of complaints the head is reflected in the Irish name for the well, “Tobar Chinnín Dháithí” translates roughly as the ‘Well of David’s Little Head’.
According to the Schools essays to obtain relief from sickness pilgrims had to walked three times around the well saying whatever prayer they wished (An Eaglais, Ceapach Chuinn (roll number 1395). Other accounts tell us that the pilgrim were to drink water from the well and rub it to their forehead to obtain the cure.
three sups of the water is taken. People leave a medal or a bead or string, there as a token of getting cured.Mount Stewart, Ceapach Chuinn (roll number 0643)
In the past the well was visited throughout the year but a special pilgrimage was made on the 1st of March the feast day of St David. Pilgrims in the 19th century were said to ‘hang tokens on the trees’ around the well ( Mount Stewart, Ceapach Chuinn (roll number 0643). The tradition of leaving offerings has died out some local people still visit the well on the 1st of March.
Like many other Irish holy wells, folklore relating to St David’s well suggests it is now in a secondary location.
People say that the well was further up the field. One day Major Fitzgeralds washed his face in the well, and from that second onwards it started, to dry until it was dry as the field. Then it sprang up in the field further down, and it is there to this day.An Eaglais, Ceapach Chuinn (roll number 1395)
This is not the only holy well dedicated to St David in the south-east. Another more well known well one can be found at St David’s holy well at Olygate in Wexford. These two wells are reminders of the long established l links between the south-east of Ireland and Wales and the spread of the cult of medieval saints.
Thanks to Dr Ann Buckley for translating Irish language material in Schools Folklore Essays relating to the well.
An Eaglais, Ceapach Chuinn (roll number 1395) http://www.duchas.ie/en/cbes/4428119
Mount Stewart, Ceapach Chuinn (roll number 0643) http://www.duchas.ie/en/cbes/4428120
Moore M. 1999. Archaeological Inventory of County Waterford. Dublin: Stationery Office, 203.
ITA. (Irish Tourist Authority Survey )[1941-45] Topographical and General Survey, 122.
Power, Rev P. 1907. ‘Place-Names of the Decies’, JWSEIAS Vol. 10, 193.
Power, Rev P. 1914. Life of St. Declan of Ardmore, and Life of St. Mochuda of Lismore, (edited from ms. in Library of Royal Irish Academy). London : Irish Texts Society.