St Patrick’s day at St Patricks well in Glassely, Co Kildare

Last week I visited St Patrick’s well at Glassely/Glashealy in  Co. Kildare   to record the annual St Patrick’s day  pilgrimage. Sharon Greene a local archeologist and good friend of mine was at hand to  helped me to find the site which is difficult for a non local like myself to find, being located off the road in private land.


Statue of St Patrick at Glassely


The townland of Glassealy about 5 miles from Athy.   St Patrick’s  well is located  in the corner of a field close to the site of an old  graveyard  also dedicated to St Patrick.  The graveyard is semi circular in shape and the outer wall seems to enclose a circular bank. The dedication to St Patrick and the shape of the enclosure may suggest and early medieval date. The church no longer survives,  there is an underground vault or crypt  slightly east of center of the enclosure  and  also present are fragments of a  seventeenth century  altar tomb of the Fitzgerald family. Other features of note are the two portions of the shaft of a memorial cross dated to 1615.

Map of the area  by FitzGerald  created in 1912.

Map of the area by Lord Walter FitzGerald created in 1912 (J.K.A.S, 82)

St Patrick’s graveyard is situated at the edge of the road.  An old pilgrim path runs along the  north side of the stream which runs past the graveyard. The path follows the stream until it reached the well. The path  was known as the glen. ‘Glen’ is a term  often used in Ireland to refer to a small stream.   Running parallel to the stream is an old millrace  now dry which in former times powered a corn mill located close to Glassely House . A large mill-pond was located above the well. The well sits  in the corner of the adjoining field and its waters flow into the stream. Today most pilgrim get to the well through the roadside gateway of the well field  and on the main pilgrim day the farmer opens the get so that people drive there cars into the field .

The Well

The earliest reference I found concerning the well is the OS name books of 1838 which state

a well called St Patrick’s Well about 300 yards S. E. of the grave yard.

The well  is a natural spring  that rising out of rock  and is now located in a very pretty landscaped garden close to the banks of the stream.  The site is extremely peaceful and the modern renovations are very tastefully done. The landscaping was done about 15-20 years ago. I especially  liked the statue of St Patrick  which sits above the well as it  depicts the saint  as  a friendly and approachable character.


St Patrick’s well and garden

The well itself has not been changed although paving has been added around it to make access easier. Many coins have been left in the well and  the small tree over the well has some  ribbons and rosary beads tied to it, which show it is still visited  by pilgrims.


St Patrick’s well

The well and surrounding  area looked  very different 50-60 years ago.  The image below shows the well in the early 1900’s when it was surrounded by bushes and  scrub.

Fitzgerald (1912-1913) writing in 1912 wrote

The well itself, near the smaller of the two mill-ponds: the water from it  flows into the stream…The numbers of rags, coloured glass beads, and religious medals fastened to the overhanging branches and briars, testify to the reputation the well has for cures.

Image of the well from 1912

Image of the well taken by Lord Walter FitzGerald in 1912 (J.K.A.S, 97)

An article written in 1899-1902 on folk traditions in County Kildare  notes a tradition the water from the well would  boil (Greene 1899-1902, 371).

Tradition  states the well was  created by the saint. A large boulder  close to the well  has  three small holes/depressions in its side which tradition holds were created by St Patrick toes and are known as St Patrick’s footprints.  It is very interesting that FitzGearald in 1912  records the a stone known was St Patrick’s foot marks a short   distance  to the northwest in the field beside St Patrick’s graveyard (see map above).

 About a quarter of a mile up “the Glen,” through which the little stream flows, above the churchyard, and close to a sheep-dipping pool, there are some large boulders of a course brown kind of granite, in the side of  one which there are two indentations, which from time immemorial have been attributed to the Saint, and are called St Patrick’s Foot-marks’. Fitzgerald goes on to say local people said Patrick   “threw a lep” from the Blessed Well to this boulder. A few perches further up “the Glen”.

20130324_102940 - Copy

Image of St Patrick’s stone taken by Lord Walter FitzGerald. Note the X marks the spot of the foot prints. (J.K.A.S, 97).

Today a rock with St Patrick’s foot steps is located beside the well. During the landscaping this rock was exposed  as were several other similar boulders but there was no suggestion  that the boulder with the toe print’s  was moved to its present location. From talking to local people it was exposed but not moved. One of the boulders has a bowl-shaped depression, which looks like it was made by a chisel. It looks very similar to a bullaun stone but to me it looks quiet modern.   Some local people I spoke to  told a story  that St Patrick jumped from the rock and when he landed the holy well was created.


Boulder at St Patrick’s well with depression known as St Patrick’s footprints

It is not unusual for there to be several version of the an origin tale for a holy well . I also came across another version in the article on Holy wells of County Kildare.  The author Patricia Jackson records a version by Mr John O’Brien in 1979

Tradition has it at on St Patrick’s way to Tara after landing in Co. Wicklow he camped at the foot of Mullaghmast. Some of the local chieftains were converted to Christianity and asked St. Patrick to bless the nearest well as was the custom – this  being Glashealy well.

St Patrick’s Day Pilgrimage

People visit St Patrick’s well throughout the year but the main  day of devotion for pilgrims is the feast of St Patrick.   The Patrick’s day pilgrimage attracts a large crowd. According to local man Tommy Hurley in the 1950’s on St Patrick’s day  a band made up of local people would gather at Grange crossroad and march in a procession  (followed by other  local people)  to the well . Then a football match used to be  played in the field beside the well but  over the years the tradition died  out.


Pilgrims at St Patrick’s well

In recent years a man named Jack O’Connor who is since deceased would play some hymns on the  pipes before the annual service began.

This years pilgrimage was on a very wet and cold day. Despite the weather  well over 60 people turned out to honor St Patrick. I was told that in fine weather crowds of over 100-200 people could be expected. Many of those who arrive were wearing the traditional shamrock.


Pilgrim wearing the shamrock

Shamrock is worn on St Patrick’s day all over Ireland as  tradition holds that when converting the Irish to Christianity Patrick explained the mystery of the Holy Trinity to the people using the shamrock plant whose leaves are clustered in threes. So much as St Brigit’s cross is a symbol of Brigit , the shamrock represents St Patrick.

The people of the area celebrate St Patrick’s day with an  Ecumenical Service at the well and people from all denominations attend and pray together. The service  began at 3 o clock and was led by Rev Isaac Delamere and Fr Tim Hannan.


Fr Tim and Rev Isaac shelter under an umbrella during the service

Despite the sporadic heavy showers and occasional hail stones everyone was in good spirits. Prayers and hymns were sung.  The prayer St Patrick’s Breast Plate  was recited in Irish by Tommy Hurley.  A poem was recited by  Louise Plewman the daughter of T.P. Plewman  the farmer who owns the land the well is on. This poem was written by her grand-uncle Tom Plewman.  It is a tradition that each year a member of the Plewman family recite this  poem each year.

Your St Patrick is a holy man

With Churches and Cathedrals,

Catholic and Protestant;

Your St Patrick is a learned man

With colleges and schools,

Green and red;

Your St Patrick is a healing man

With hospitals and homes

For sick and dying;

Your St Patrick is a pilgrim

Claiming his own Purgatory

May God and Mary and St Patrick be with you.

My St Patrick is a gentle man

Scarcely four foot tall,

Carved in stone, flat faced,

In simple Celtic style;

He stands alone.

His church is but a few square yards

Of grass rock and shrubs,

With healing water from his well

Offering peace to all without.

May God and Mary be with him.

There are no set rounds at the well. Before and after the service people went to the well and drank  its waters. Being a spring the water is crystal clear and is said to have curative powers.


Pilgrims getting water from the well


Despite the harsh  weather this was one of the nicest and intimate pilgrimages I have attended. On this special day St Patrick brings all the local communities  together and there is a real sense of pride in the well and St Patrick’s connection with the area. The local area is steeped in history  and I hope people continue to use and take care of this very special well.

© Louise Nugent 2013


Many thanks to Tommy Hurley, John O’Donovan and T.P Plewman for  information on the well. Also Sharon Greene for all her help and for having the foresight to  bring a large umbrella.


Greene, Miss,  1899-1902. ‘County Kildare Folk-tales. Collected from the narration of Tom Daly.’ Journal of the County Kildare Archaeological Society, Vol. III, 368-71

FitzGerald, W. 1912-1914. ‘Glassealy and its tenants. With the career of Walter “Reagh” FitzGerald.” Journal of the County Kildare Archaeological Society, Vol. VII, 83-108.

Jackson, P.  1980. ‘ The Holy Wells of County Kildare’  ,Journal of the County Kildare Archaeological Society   Vol. XVI, 133-61.

St Bartholomew’s Holy Well Kinsalebeg, Co Waterford.

Yesterday I visited my first pilgrim site of 2013, St Batholomew’s holy well or Tobar Phárthanáin. The well is to be found  in the  parish of Kinsalebeg in Co Waterford, a short distance from the village of Pilltown and a few miles from the town of Youghal.

Location map of Holy well

Location map of St Bartholomew’s Holy Well. Image taken from Bing maps.

The well is located in a field of rough pasture on the east side of the Blackwater estuary, close to a cross roads in the townland of  Moord/Mord,  (An Móird/An Magh Ard or  “The High Plain”) about  mile south of Piltown. It’s really hard to find, I was really lucky to meet a local man who despite being in a hurry  brought me to the well.

The well is dedicated to St Bartholomew, who was one of the twelve apostles. The saints   feast day is  on the 24th of August.  There are a number of accounts of pilgrimage to the well   in the not too distant past, on this day. According to Power  writing in  1937  St. Bartholomew was traditionally held  to be the patron saint of the parish of Kinsalebeg. He also noted that his feast was kept  by local people

on the 24th of August, by visits to the ” Blessed Well” dedicated to him and that on the Sunday nearest to the feast, a public ” pattern ” is held at the well and at the adjoining village of Piltown.

From the NE the well is hidden   in a hollow  in the field close to the boundary ditch.  A short distance to the W is a small stream running into the estuary.


St Batholomew’s Holy Well

The well itself consists  of a small  of a rectangular stone and mortar built superstructure,  with a triangular-shaped top.


Stone built rectuangular superstructure of St Bartholomew’s well with triangular-shaped top.

There are two rectangular recesses one at the base where the water can be accessed.

Recess for access to well waters

Recess for access to well waters

The second recess sits  just above the lower opening  and below the apex of the structure. When I visited here  a modern ceramic mug  was housed within. The structure is white washed.


Upper recess in well superstructure . Note the modern mug.

Stone flags act as steps to the well and  divide it from  the large rectangular trough located beside it.


The larger trough is cut into the earth and  stone faced . The eastern face appears to have collapsed in but the side is still well-preserved. The west  wall is stepped with stone facing  sitting on top of three large  flags which may have acted as steps into  the trough. Perhaps in the past  pilgrims would have taken water from the smaller trough and washed their limbs   in this one.


FitzGerald writing in 1856  notes that  the well

is greatly resorted to for ‘giving  rounds’ at. It is celebrated for several cures, but especially for sore eyes.

A patron at the well is mentioned in a number of sources.  The Ordnance Survey Letters of 1840, state that a pattern was last held here in 1812 on St. Bartholomew’s Day. FitzGerald in 1856 wrote ‘there is a patron held here every 24th of August’. Power writing in  1937 notes

This is a well-known holy well at which a pattern is held and “rounds” made on August 24th.

However the I.T.A. survey of 1945  noted that

up to about 50 years ago this well was held in high repute and hundreds of people came here to “make their rounds”.Of late years very few visit it’.

This may suggest the pattern was reviewed for a time after 1840 before declining in popularity  in the early 1900’s. Today the well looks like it is maintained, the white washing of the masonry   and the presence of the mug suggests its probable still used but I wonder by how many people.  Despite the grey day it is really one of the nicest wells I have visited.


Nearby stream flowing out into estuary.

Rituals  performed by  pilgrims  here in the 19th century  involved the ‘making of rounds’  a tale told by Fitzgerald in 1856 suggests that the pilgrim landscape extended beyond the well.

“ when I visited it last, a couple of months ago, a very intelligent young man of the neighbourhood  pointed out to me two houses some twenty yards from the well, which he said were built on the ground that was formerly taken in by the pilgrims in their circuit of ‘rounds’ , and that to his own knowledge the parties who made the encroachments all dwindled away to nothing – none of them ever had a day’s luck afterwards.”

I haven’t had time to consult the 1st or 2nd edition OS maps but  it is interesting to note that a short distance from the well are two small cairn of  what looks like building rubble .

The well was once associated with a rag tree which  is unfortunately no longer in existence. Fitzgerald gives the following colourful description of the tree and its associated rituals.

the fine old venerable  thorns which overshadowed  it bore a most motley appearance, actually crowded with old red, blue, and green ribbons and rags, as if torn from the dresses of pilgrims, and tied up as a finale to their ‘rounds’  and prayers.

He goes on to describe a conversation with a lady that he meet at the well  who described to him the meaning of this practice at the well.

An old crone engaged in giving her ‘rounds’ told me they were tied up by each to leave all the sickness of the year behind them.

This description of the tree sounds  so very colourful and vibrant. It makes you wonder  how many other wells also had rag tree that have disappeared.

St Batholomew’s holy well or Tobar Phárthanáin is a really peaceful and lovely well. If anyone has any other information about  the well or  modern traditions associated with  it,  I’d love to hear from them.

© Louise Nugent 2013


FitzGerald, E. (1856-7) Proceedings – “Jottings in archaeology”, JRSAI 4, 40-49, 289-91.

I.T.A. Topographical and General Survey of County Waterford. Ireland, 1945. [on-line] [accessed 4/08/2012]

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

Power, P. 1937. Waterford & Lismore : a compendious history of the united dioceses. Cork: Cork University Press, 128.