All is Well
I was gripped within a raging fire, my whole body was wracked with fever. I had pushed myself too hard. The end of my relationship, the arduous task of moving to a new county and trying to repair my broken heart had taken its toll. My body responded with a 104 fever for 5 days. I desperately gasped for the water from the tap but it felt slow and sluggish in my mouth and did nothing to replenish my body against the inner flames. The night the fever broke I sat up in the bed, drenched in a river of my own sweat and scrawled in my journal. All is Well. For four days after I could not stop vomiting, my body had reached a toxic level of fluoride poisoning from the large amounts of tap water I drank during my fever. Not being used to any fluoride in the water, my body had rapidly reacted.
In the weeks it took me to recover I realised that I had been blessed in Leitrim with having well water piped into my house. During my illness, the treated water provided on the water schemes in this new place I was to call home felt dead comparedThat during my illness, the treated water provided on the water schemes in this new place I was to call home, felt dead in comparison to the water I had the privilege to drink over the past 7 years. I now had to face the reality that I lived in a bustling town. I wondered where the wells were. I certainly didn’t want to drink water that gave no benefit to my body.
I began to ask around everywhere, I wandered about the wells. I was surprised that people were vague about where the wells were, like a memory they once had. Eventually I was directed to a well with the dire warning that it was not safe to drink water that was not treated. I was told that I could get sick, but with my recent experience of being so ill, I carried on. That first well, I must have drank my fill for nearly an hour. It felt as if every cell in my body responded.
I worked for myself as a yoga teacher and sound therapist and as any new business in a new town, it was taking time to build up a clientele. I found I was left with a lot of free time on my hands. I would spend hours consulting every map I could find, researching them online and reading articles of wells in the locality attempting to try and find them. I was surprised at the amount that were overgrown or hadn’t been maintained. As I had spare time and it is within my nature to do the tasks needing to be done, I began to empty the debris out of the bottom of the wells, washing the walls of these places that held such important keys to health. Throughout this process I spent a lot of time working through my inner thoughts from my broken heart. I found the more time I spent maintaining and caring for these places, the better I felt. I became interested in the lore attached to the wells and began to collect stories from people I met. I also became interested in the traditional methods of maintaining and cleaning wells. I realised we are at risk of losing such an important practical aspect of our heritage.
As I explore the wells I often observe that the wells are still being used as community spaces by many types of people. These are places to be in reverence and simply to be present. I have met people seeking the cure of the well, others in deep states of despair, and many who could think of no better place to visit with their families. I have attended the most beautiful displays of spirituality as communities gather together to pray. These are the secret places where the murmur of voices is matched with the bubble of the well. Each well has its own landscape that is often breathtakingly beautiful. They are often steeped in mythological stories or have played pivotal roles in our local and personal histories. It seems to me that everyone in Ireland holds a story about a well. The rich resource Duchas goes further to prove this point, attributing wells to every parish, often with the lore attached and snippets from a youthful mind as to what is important to record.
Community and Health
As time progressed more and more people became interested in my odd hobby. I became aware of the amazing and individual engineering each well has. The craftsmanship of the drystone wall is unique. Each person I met when inside a well had nuggets of information in how to care for or clear a well. I would come across wells clogged with algae and in stagnant conditions. I learned about how the water's power was harnessed in the building of the wells and most wells are essentially self cleaning with a little help from the human hand.
Before running water, each household would use the well; it was under constant communal care. Communities were built and strengthened in the daily meeting of each other. They have always been places to share stories, or be with your loved ones, and forge new friendships. The wells are gathering spaces that require no belief system or financial means. Water is a basic need that unifies and connects us. The wellbeing of a person can vastly improve because of the daily communion with something that unifies us not only with each other but with all of nature. This forms an understanding that we are part of and not separate from the land we inhabit. Wells have the power to gladden our journey and lighten our hearts.
Well water is a primary source water and primary water is Earth-generated. When conditions are right oxygen combines with hydrogen to make new water. This water is being pushed up under great pressure from deep within the earth. It finds its way towards the surface of the earth where there are fissures or faults, collecting essential minerals along the way. Depending on the geology, this water can be close to the surface such as in the case of a well. This is new water that has never been a part of the hydrologic cycle until it finally arrives at the surface, rich with minerals. At its core, mineral water provides minerals the human body can’t create itself. A total of 21 mineral elements including calcium, magnesium, sodium, potassium, and other trace elements are known to be essential for humans. Water is a natural and easy way of absorbing these minerals. Some minerals obtained from water are better absorbed than minerals obtained from food. Often the process of ‘purification’ or treatments to create potable water destroys these minerals. I would hope that through this work, people are encouraged to take ownership in protecting and maintaining source water as it is central to the management of future human health.
The ancient and holy wells are water sources that have naturally found their way to the surface. The wells were engineered to harness and increase the flow of water to the surface allowing for it to be harvested. When water is deep under the earth it holds a negative charge (hard water) as it absorbs the minerals it needs. When water has absorbed all the minerals that it can contain it changes polarity into a positive state (soft water) and rises to the surface. Unfortunately this trend of well drilling for private use is accessing water that is still in a negatively charged state, it is still in its aquafarious incubation stage. The water is still endeavouring to absorb minerals. As it is ingested it reverts to absorbing minerals within the human body. The ratio of calcium and magnesium in water is a crucial factor indicating the hardness. Evidence of water still in its negatively charged state or hardened state is evident in limescale. Limescale is large mineral deposits of calcium and magnesium that have not integrated into the water.
With this knowledge it gives us a better understanding of the cures associated with the wells. Most of the wells have a cure associated with them. For instance, if we look at Tober na nGealt in Kerry. For centuries, it was known locally that mentally ill people have travelled to the well in search of a cure, with some of the earliest written references to Tobar na nGealt dating back to the 16th century. There was a scientific analysis carried out on the series “Cogar '' on TG4 in October 2012. It confirmed the presence of high amounts of lithium in the well water, perhaps going some way towards explaining the link between the well and people with mental health issues through the centuries.
Science has come a long way to explaining our cultural draw to revere water. The work of Masaru Emoto and his water experiments into the memory of water have sparked a movement of scientists worldwide looking at the necessity of living water for our spiritual, mental and physical health.
There are many strong water protectors I have uncovered on my own journey through the Irish Water. They each inspire me to continue this path. It is heartening to now know that we also have water keepers in this current time. I would like to give mention and offer my respect in the work that they do.
The amazing and recently departed Mo Griffith from Blessington, Co. Wicklow. She made an outstanding contribution by documenting about 1,500 of our wells. Her charity Slaine has been dissolved but echoes of her research are still a strong foundation towards the work that I undertake.
I have been very much inspired by the work of Amanda Clarke in Cork who has documented and visited every well in Cork. She has just begun visiting the wells in Kerry. (https://www.facebook.com/holywellsofcork/).
Gearóid Ó Branagáin has done extensive work on the Dublin wells and maintains Ancient & Holy Wells of Ireland on facebook.(https://www.facebook.com/groups/184603558220555/) That group has over 5000 members. For me this represents the amount of people in Ireland that are drawn to the wells.
The water inspires many artists. Keri Sherlock created a number of beautifully handmade ceramic water vessels to contain collected sacred Irish water. (http://www.irelandssacredwater.com/).
The work Dr Ronan Foley has completed on the therapeutic landscape with a focus on water and place and the developing research area of healthy blue space, is both informative and insightful.(https://www.maynoothuniversity.ie/people/ronan-foley#3).
As I reflect I see that I meet those connected with water in the most unexpected ways. One woman friend requested me online. It wasn't long until we had found our common interest, it turned out she is part of a large group of women who actively interact with water. They work on connecting other women to themselves, their environment and other empowered women. (https://www.facebook.com/connectwomenofthewater/)
In 2018, I came in contact with a group of people who also shared my interest in Irish heritage. Together we formed a walk that traversed through the holy wells and sacred sites from Ballinskelligs to Tara. The walk took 4 months from the 1st of August to the 1st of November.
In 2020, we once again took to pilgramage, This time we tranversed 550 miles from Tory Island in Donegal to St. Bridgets Well, Uisneach, Co. Westmeath
Anyone interested in seeing our journey can tune into the pilgrimage of our journey on Suil an Craic on Facebook. (https://www.facebook.com/groups/559524881113460/)
We came across many amazing community initiatives along the way and became aware of the fantastic endeavours created to regenerate community and the ecosystem in their areas. It was truly inspiring to see the positive action people and communities are taking to improve their environments. Notably the growery in Birr has done an amazing job of regenerating a previous wasteland into a fully productive garden. https://www.facebook.com/groups/birrgrowery/
Within this group there was a topographer (mapmaker) who was amused at my interest. He created an interactive map of all the wells recorded, he managed to mark about 2,200 wells on the map for me. This immediately transformed my journey from a hobby into a project.
Shortly after I became friendly with a master of many skills by the name of Frank Doyle. The first time we met he and a team of men built a well in front of me. I had learned so much in the way wells worked but now I got to see how they were built to suit the water flows. It was like watching living history. It seemed the memory of how to harness water nearly jumped through his hands and into the stonework. Frank has patiently been showing me dry stone wall building and land regeneration. We have restructured and repaired many wells back to health in each other's company. Our skill bases inspire each other and our creations of what we can achieve have evolved far beyond anything I could have anticipated.
Co-creation I feel is imperative to the success and evolution of any project, but especially water. This year we would like to expand into cleaning and clearing our rivers. So far 30 wetsuits have been purchased to do so. The important knowledge is disappearing of which drains and rivers to keep clear. If this knowledge disappears there will be a lot more localised flooding. These skills need to be imparted to the next generation, before they disappear all together and we unintentionally find ourselves in a state of ecological crisis.
Encouraged by the interest I met everywhere, I created a Facebook page to help link people to each other and other wells, and I have watched it grow across the island. Over the last few years the group has swelled. It has been a privilege to watch other people taking accountability of their own wells, seeking them out, cleaning and reviving them. They sometimes share stories or images of what they have achieved, which in turn encourages others to do so. It is a beautiful evolutionary flow of people who each contribute in their own way.
The wonderful Deirdre Gleeson stepped forward from SolasCroi (https://www.facebook.com/solascroi/) and designed our logo. The support of everyone has shown me how many people wish to show up in support of nature on this Island.
Many tributaries make a mighty river and love of this land is proving to be an immensely binding factor. I feel as if I have oppurtunity to unfold my own Myth.