Calming Waters

Wells have always been sacred places to the Irish and Catholic attempts to change that didn’t work, as evidenced by the numerous wells still visited for health and healing. They just became holy wells, associated with St. Brigit rather than the Goddess Brigit. Here’s an Inishmurray Island story about the Well of Assistance, also from Joe McGowan’s book.

When the islanders were in distress, a doctor or priest urgently required or food supplies exhausted, the waters of the well (Tobar na Cabhrach, the Well of Assistance) calmed the sea. The procedure was to teem the well dry and throw three cupfuls of the water against the wind …

Florrie Brady described one such crisis. The islanders were stormbound for six weeks: “no tea, no bread, no butter, no sugar, no flour. Me mother and oul’ Mary Dan went out to the well with their beads to see what will God do to us at all. They went round the well three times: Have tomorrow calm or we’ll be hungry.” They took some water from the well and put it on the sea. The next day the sea was calm like the floor!’

The belief is very old. Beranger was informed in 1779, ‘as a most undoubted fact, that during the most horrid tempests of winter, when a case happens when a priest is required, such as to give the extreme unction to a dying person &c., they go to the seaside, launch one of their little vessels, and as soon as it touches the water a perfect calm succeeds, which continues until they have brought the priest to the Island, that after he has performed the rites of the church and carried back, the boat is returned to the Island and hauled on shore, when the tempest will again begin, and continue for weeks together.’