St Kieran's Well

Dublin Core


St Kieran's Well

Description of Well Item Type Metadata

1 Name of well and saint

St Kieran's Well

2 Townland, County, GPS

Carnaross, Meath

3 Physical description of well and its surroundings

In 1886, Thunder reported the well as located “about three miles from Kells,” near the “ancient church of Castle Kieran: the original name of the place was Bealach-Duin, ‘the road of pass of the fort,’” (Thunder 1886: 656). According to French, this place was “renamed Disert-Kieran and subsequently anglicanized as Castlekeeran” (French 2012: 38). St Kieran’s Well is located “to the west of the old church” (Thunder 1886: 656). According to Thunder, “the late Sir William Wilde describes [the well] as perhaps the most beautiful holy well in Ireland. The branches of an ash spread over it, and it may be observed that a great number of our holy wells are shaded by this tree” (Thunder 1886: 656).

Updates to the structure of the well were made in the 1890s and in the 1910s. In the 1890s, “restoration and improvements were carried out by a Farrelly family of Castlekeeran. A protective railing was erected around the well, seats provided and a footbridge constructed over the stream by the roadside. When the Oldcastle railway line was operating many people from Kells would walk out to the well by the railway route” (French 2012: 39). Later, a “stone roof oratory was erected when Fr. Peter O’Farrell was parish priest of Carnaross 1911-19. In 1914 when the new oratory was opened three thousand people attended the pattern. Four hundred Irish Volunteers marched out from Kells” (French 2012: 39).

In 2012, French states that the well “is situated by the roadside in a little valley. According to Dr. Robert Meehan this is an interesting geological area of carcified limestone in the district of shale. The limestone pavement is similar to that in the Burren. There is one large well in the rock with two steps down to the well. A drinking cup was attached to a wooden post. This water cannot be boiled. There is a smaller well a short distance away which can be used for household purposes. Further away is a smaller well with an opening on either side of a rock” (French 2012: 37-38).

4 Cure

From the small well with openings on the sides of rock: “water from one side is supposed to cure headache while water on the other side cures toothache. A very narrow stream flows through the rocks, this water is said to have the cure of warts. Before pilgrims leave they can wash their feet in a stream” (French 2012: 38). French states that “anyone with a headache dips their head in the well and says three ‘Our Fathers’ and three ‘Glory be to the Fathers’” and, “next to the spring is a chair like rock which is said to cure backache” (French 2012: 38).

5 Pattern day

"In 1836 O’Donovan wrote that an annual pattern was held on the south bank of the river Blackwater opposite the fort of Teltown on the first Sunday in August each year up to 30 years previous. The clergy and magistrates abolished the sports due to the influence of poteen. According to O’Donovan the pattern and sports were not in honor of any saint” (French 2012: 38).

Additionally, French notes that “the dedication of the well was changed by the Christians but the date remained unaltered. The pilgrimage takes place on the first Sunday of the harvest or autumn, and not on St Kieran’s Day, 14 June. Young men were said to ride naked on horse-back at midnight to the well” (French 2012: 38). 14 June is the day that St Kieran died in 770.

6 Offerings

“Anyone cured at the well leaves an offering; money, pins, buttons, matches or an item of cloth” (French 2012: 38).

7 Prayer rounds and stations

“Five Stations of the Cross were said at five markers near the well on the eve of the pilgrimage. Prayers were said at each cross and then the pilgrim had to go around this three times to make one station and then had to take a drink three times after every round. There were often large gatherings of people from far and near to the well on the evening before the pilgrimage” (French 2012: 39-40).

8 Stories

“The well was believed to contain several trout, each about a pound and a-half in weight; the people looked upon the fish with great veneration; and when it was necessary to remove them in order to clean the well, they were put back with scrupulous care” (Thunder 1886: 656). French recounts that “according to local lore on the night before the pattern three fishes come to the top of the water and they were called Faith, Hope and Charity. These names were said to be inscribed on the back of the three fish. A man was fishing in the well [and] caught the three fish. When he began to fry then one of the fish jumped out of the pan and said ‘Leave us back where you got us’. So the man returned them to the well. According to a story in the Meath Chronicle in 2006 visitors glimpsed three fish in the well on the eve of the pilgrimage” (French 2012: 40).

In 2012 French writes that “In 1849 William Wilde described St Kieran’s Well as one of the most beautiful holy wells in Ireland and shaded by a hoary old ash tree of surpassing size and beauty. About 1840 a report was spread that the tree that shaded St Kieran’s Well was bleeding, immediately people from miles around flocked to the well and collected the fluid in bottles, hoping to use it as a cure” (French 2012: 38)

“In the 1930’s a local schoolchild recorded the story of a Protestant gentleman said to be Mr. Rowley, who had a very bad toothache. The pain was so severe and lasted so long that he began to lose his mind and could not get a wink of sleep at night. A friend suggested that he try the waters from Kieran Well. When Mr. Rowley drank some water from the well and rubbed it to his gums the pain left immediately. In gratitude he had a railing erected around the well According to one school child the drinking cup was blesses by a bishop so anyone with a disease who took water did not leave the disease for the next person” (French 2012: 39).

9 Publications

Thunder, John M. “The Holy Wells of Meath.” The Journal of the Royal Historical and
Archaeological Association of Ireland. Oct 1886-Jan 1887, pp 655-658.

French, Noel. 2012. Meath Holy Wells. Trim: Meath Heritage Centre.

10 More

Kieran is also spelled Ciaran.

“In 1915 a movie was made of the pattern and shown in Kells and Oldcastle cinemas and also a cinema in New York” (French 2012: 39).

In 1917, “approximately ten thousand people attended the St Kieran’s pattern…to hear Countess Markeivicz speak on the Easter Rising and the politics of Sinn Fein. There was also a football contest between Meath and Cavan” (French 2012: 39)