Northern Ireland news

St Columba's Day appeal to help find 'missing' wells

A well at Disert in the Blue Stack Mountains was believed to be blessed by St Columba.
Seamus McKinney

The woman tasked with co-ordinating today’s 1,500th anniversary of St Colmcille has appealed to people who know the whereabouts of missing sites associated with the saint to contact her.

Deirdre Harte, project manager of Colmcille 1500, was speaking as celebrations marking the anniversary of St Colmcille or Columba’s birth reached their height today, his annual feast day. While sites associated with the saint were well documented, the location of four wells was not known beyond the townland in which they were supposed to exist.

“If you visit one of the St Colmcille Holy Wells or know of any of the missing sites, we would love to hear from you,” Ms Harte said.

She appealed to anyone with information about the sites - around Ballyshannon and Ballintra - to contact the Colmcille1500NW Facebook site.

From a ruling family in Donegal, St Columba is one of Ireland’s three patron saints and is credited with creating the city of Derry when he established a monastic settlement in the area. He also established the major monastic settlement on the Scottish island of Iona.

A number of events are held each year to mark his feast day on June 9. In Derry, Bishop Donal McKeown will celebrate Mass at St Columba’s Church, Long Tower (10am) believed to be close to the site when Colmcille established his monastery. Following Mass, Bishop McKeown will bless water from St Columb’s Well in Derry’s Bogside.

Donegal county council has also released details of “holy wells” associated with Colmcille. Heritage officer, Joseph Gallagher said of the 180 holy wells in the county, 22 were dedicated to the saint, more than those dedicated to St Patrick or St Brigid.

“The tradition is to visit the holy well on the feast day of the saint. Therefore, for most of the Colmcille wells, the tradition had been to make a special visit on 9th June,” Mr Gallagher said.

As well as places of pilgrimage, wells were known for their healing powers or specific “cures” attributed to the saint.

“The wells at Magherawarden and Gartan are said to cure loneliness whilst Tobar na Sul in Stackarnagh was regarded as a cure for sore eyes. A visit to the well in Masiness was a traditional cure for rheumatism and it was believed that cattle would be immune from disease if driven between the well and the shore at full tide in Binnion,” Mr Gallagher said.

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