Getting there

Getting there

Tuesday, May 10, 2011

St. Patrick's Well

Ireland is rife with sites related to Saint Patrick. I suppose that's only natural as he is the patron saint of Ireland, and has become associated with that country in a very powerful way. History tells us that he came to Ireland as a captured slave during a time when Ireland was inhabited by druids and pagans, and that during his slavery he embraced the Christian faith. After his escape from capture he became an ordained priest and then returned to Ireland to convert the very nation that had enslaved him.

There are hundreds of stories about Patrick, of course. No doubt some are true and some are simply incredible legend. My favourite is that he used the shamrock to represent the trinity, thus elevating that lowly plant into the symbol we now almost universally recognize as representing Ireland.

When you visit Ireland there are many sites related to Saint Patrick to choose from. There are the churches he established, and the site of his death. I would say, though, that one that shouldn't be missed is Saint Patrick's Well near Clonmel. There is some controversy about this site, with some stating that it's unlikely Saint Patrick ever even visited it - but that is beside the point as it is, perhaps, the most beautiful holy well in Ireland. I would argue it might just be one of the most beautiful places in Ireland period.

When we arrived at Saint Patrick's Well it was a cool and grey December day. It hadn't really been a planned stop but our driver Kevin thought it would be a nice sight for us to see, as well as a bit of a gift for my husband who is indeed named Patrick. When we drove up to the well Kevin directed us down the rough stone stairs, and as we descended it was truly like drifting down into the mists of time.

Even in December Ireland is green, although the shade is a bit subdued, especially after the uncharacteristically cold winter they had in late 2010. As you descend the stairs towards the well an almost eerie feeling comes over you, especially if the site is deserted as it was that day. It feels a bit like there is a history here that you can almost touch, as if you can see the faint shadows of all those pilgrims who have worshipped here.

The water is crystal clear, and looks smooth as glass. Occasionally bubbles rise up from the water, perhaps from a spring below, and ripple the surface of the pond. The ruins of the old church are astonishingly beautiful, and surrounded by the lush green trees an almost surreal vision. In the centre of the small pond stands a gorgeous old cross, covered in moss and looking as ancient as Patrick himself. As you scan around to truly appreciate the view you realize it's the sort of place you'd love to see at night, but then you also think about how eerie it must be in the cool dark Irish twilight.

The peacefulness of this spot cannot be overstated. When I stood there it was almost like an unnatural state of calm came over me, and perhaps it is the sheer beauty of this well. Perhaps it is also simply being in a place with a depth of history that is completely unlike anything we have in North America. This site may now be dedicated to Saint Patrick but at one time it was apparently a favoured spot of pagans and druids. This means that humans have celebrated, worshipped, and visited this area from a time before Jesus was born, and far, far before the discovery of North America. I find myself humbled when finding myself at these sites for this very reason - our own history seems so brief compared to this. I often seem to be speechless at these places and close to tears simply because there is a richness and depth here that seems just beyond my grasp, and yet is so real I can almost taste it.

We didn't stay long at the well. It was rather brisk outside that day, and to be honest while the site is amazingly beautiful there is also something vaguely overwhelming about it. It feels a bit like if you stay too long that perhaps you'll never want to leave, almost like the land of the lotus eaters. You feel as if the mists might enshroud you and you will never find your way out of the history of this place, as if you could be captured here for eternity. As we ascended the stone stairs we did so in silence, which is rather uncharacteristic for a wisecracking man, a talkative woman, and a boisterous eleven-year old. There is just something about the place, though, that leaves you a bit stunned. You find yourself talking in hushed voices as if you will disturb someone, even though the well is entirely deserted save for yourselves. Perhaps you are trying not to disturb those ghosts of the past who, it seems fairly clear, are still in residence at this amazing place. Go to Ireland, dear friends, as I believe everyone should visit this country at least once. And then go to Saint Patrick's Well. There is something very, very special here, and you will sense it the minute you see it, too.

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