Holy wells have been sites of worship since Pagan times and remain important places for the faithful seeking cures and answers to their prayers.

Holy wells are found all over Ireland. They are tranquil, secluded places of worship. Many have been sacred places since Pagan times. During Penal times in Ireland they were often the site for clandestine masses. Holy wells have long been associated with cures and petitions and remain popular with the faithful.

All year round people visit Saint Brigid's Well near Killargue in County Leitrim to drink the water and pray in peaceful surroundings. The well is also known as Tobar Mhuire which means Mary’s Well.

Like many holy wells around the country, Saint Brigid's Well has its own annual pilgrimage held on 15 August, the Feast of the Assumption. On this day pilgrims say the rosary and attend a mass.

Catherine Harte has been coming to the well for the past 74 years because,

I have faith in Our Lady and no matter what you ask for you’ll get it.

Leitrim County Librarian Seán Ó Súilleabháin explains why holy wells became sacred places in the Celtic tradition. When Christianity came to Ireland the wells were used to baptise people and assumed a new importance.

Pilgrimages to holy wells were banned by the Irish Parliament in the early 18th century because of the carousing that took place afterwards. Nevertheless they continued,

It’s very hard to stop a bit of craic when it gets going.

There is a long association with holy wells and cures. In the past crutches and walking sticks were left at the wells along with religious items.

Tobernalt Holy Well in County Sligo provides a fine example of the rag tree where

Traditionally those who had their intentions granted left behind a votive offering.

Religious objects or those with a particular personal resonance are tied to the tree in return for a cure.

A 'Nationwide’ report broadcast on 9 October 2002. The reporter is Stella Carroll.

Tobernalt Holy Well in County Sligo.
Tobernalt Holy Well in Sligo. Photo: RTÉ Murtagh Collection