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HOLY WELLS: HEALING WATERS

RONAN FOLEY

The value and meaning of water is central to many cultures. While access to clean water is central to the management of future human health, water also has much older ritual connections to healing and wellness. In Ireland, one particular form which has the capacity to link our pagan past and our healing future is the holy well. Irish holy wells, often referred to in texts and on maps as Tobar Naofa or Tobar Beannaithe, have functioned as important landmarks in the Irish countryside since the pre-Christian era. Originally associated with pagan nature worship, the new Christian church in Ireland annexed them for their own purposes and even now there are around 3,000 examples left across the island of Ireland. They are part of Ireland’s cultural heritage and are still visited and used daily as sites of spiritual retreat, healing and wellness. Yet many holy wells are at risk and may not survive into the future. They were extensively documented in the 1930s by the Irish Folklore Commission who recorded rituals, reputed cures and legends associated with the wells. Tests of water from some holy wells show that, as with spa water, important minerals are often present, including sulphur, magnesium, iron, potassium and even lithium.

HOLY WELLS: HEALING WATERS RONAN FOLEY