St. Dympna's Well

Dublin Core


St. Dympna's Well

Description of Well Item Type Metadata

1 Name of well and saint

St. Dympna's Well (Tobar Damhnata)

2 Townland, County, GPS

Kildalkey, Meath

3 Physical description of well and its surroundings

According to French, the well “is located in a field beside the old churchyard about a half a mile north of Kildalkey village on the road to Athboy. The remains of the church is sometimes called St Dympna’s Abbey but the dedication of the abbey which existed at Kildalkey in the eighth and ninth century is unclear” (French 2012: 69). Additionally, “the well does not appear on any Ordnance Survey maps” (French 2012: 70).

4 Cure

The well is said to have “healing powers…when a person dips a ribbon in the well and ties it around their head it will cure headache. In order to cure toothache the person must drink some water from the well. The well is said to keep serious illness away from the area” (French 2012: 70).

5 Pattern day

The pattern is celebrated on 15 May. To celebrate, it is “much visited by people to obtain cures and on the feast day of the saint. A great procession and sports were held annually and each person knelt and prayed at the well” (French 2012: 70).

8 Stories

The story of St Dympna goes as this: “St Dympna is said to have fled from her father to Kildalkey where she took refuge near the old Abbey. She was so sad with her situation that she began to sob and cried so much that a well sprang up at her feet” (French 2012: 70). Furthermore, according to French’s recounting: “in the seventh century Dympna, Damhnait in Irish, was the daughter of an Irish chieftain. Some stories state that her father was a pagan and her mother was a Christian. Her mother died when Dympna was young and the little girl was raised by a nurse. Dympna grew up to be a beautiful girl and a rich chieftain sought her hand in marriage. Her father favoured the advantageous match. Dympna regused the offer of marriage as she wanted to dedicate her life to the service of God and so fled her home. Accompanied by her teacher, St Gerebernus, Dympna and her little band came to Kildalkey before fleeing to the continent. At Gheel, in what is now Belgium, they set up an altar to worship God and began to work with the sick and the poor. Her father followed the group to the continent and searched until he had found the. St Gerebernus was seized and instantly beheaded. The king tried to persuade his daughter to come back to Ireland but she refused and so was beheaded by her own father as his soldiers refused to carry out the deed. Beside the altar a well sprang up and was dedicated to the memory of St Dympna. A holy shrine was erected at Gheel to St Dympna and St Gerebernus. The legend of Dympna was first written down about 1250. About this date the bones of an unknown man and woman were discovered at Gheel and the name ‘Dympna’ was discovered on a brick in one of the marble coffins” (French 2012: 71).

As for the well’s history: “in the 1860’s and 1880’s St Dympna’s Well was recorded as having dried up. There was an effort made in the early twentieth century to revive the pattern at Kildalkey but it failed. By the 1930’s the well was neglected and rarely visited. Cattle used to drink from the well, eroding the sides of the well causing it to close up. In 1999 Kildalkey Active Retirement Association re-opened the well as one of their millennium projects. A wall was erected to protect the well and the restored well was blessed by Fr. Colm Murtagh on 1 October 2000. Kildalkey man, Frank Kelly, penned a poem to commemorate the restoration of the well and his poem and the story of St Dympna is recorded on a commemorative plaque. Since the restoration local people have gathered at the well on the saint’s day” (French 2012: 70).

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: Trim Heritage Centre.

10 More

“St Dympna is the patron saint of Kildalkey and the church, school and graveyard are dedicated to her memory. In the 1930s there was a number of ladies in the parish of Kildalkey named after St Dympna” (French 2012: 70-71). Additionally, “St Dympna is the patroness of the nervous, emotionally disturbed and the mentally ill. She is portrayed in stained glass windows in St Patrick’s Church, Trim and St Mary’s Drogheda” (French 2012: 71).