Lady well or Tobar Mhuire in Modeligo, Co Waterford

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.

Medieval Parish church at Medeligo, Co. Waterford

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.

Lane way leading to Holy Well

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.

Image of the Holy Well in 1911 ( Forsayeth 1911, 186).

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.

View of the River Finisk from the Holy Well

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.

Pilgrimage at St Declan’s Well, Toor, Co. Waterford

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).

St Declan’s Well

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.

Statue of St Declan at Toor

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.

Pilgrims praying at St Declan’s Well in the 1950’s (Waterford County Museum Image Archives)

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.

Kate McGrath (nee_Corcoran), at St Declan’s well Toor in the 1950’s (Waterford County Museum Image Archive)

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.

Jerry Fitzgerald, a cycle shop owner from Main Street, Dungarvan at Saint Declan’s Well in Toor. Mr. Fitzgerald was the caretaker of the well for many years.

By the 1960’s all the features that are visible at the site today were in place.

St Declan's well Toor 1966 ( Waterford County Museum Image Archive)

St Declan’s well, Toor in 1966, note the white rags tied to the fence ( Waterford County Museum Image Archive)

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.

Rags tied to hedge of enclosure around St Declan’s Well.

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.

St Declan's Well, Toor

St Declan’s Well, Toor

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.

Rectangular trough where pilgrims wash their limbs

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.

Mass at St Declan’s Well on the 26th 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.

Pilgrims writing petitions to St Declan

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.

Pilgrims drinking the water of St Declan’s well after the annual mass

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] [accessed 4/08/2012]

Komen, J. no date. ‘St. Declan’s Pattern.’ [on line] [accessed 3/08/2012]