On 1 Feb. 2022, Clare County Council launched a wonderful website on Clare’s Holy Wells. 237 Wells were mapped, photographed and studied in detail. The three Wells in our Parish, St. John’s Well at Newhall, and the Holy Wells at Killerk and Lismulbreeda are beautifully presented. See video below.
A Parish video on the history of the Well narrated by Fr Pat Malone to mark the 23 June – see Blue Button
In olden times people had great faith in holy wells and they frequented them on saints’ days called ‘pattern ‘days. The people visited these wells seeking spiritual or material comforts, or else they came seeking cures from ailments. There were three holy wells in the parish since earliest times, Killerk, Lismulbreeda and St John’s at Killone. Of these three, St John’s was the most famous. The patterns at wells such as St John’s were very important in the religious and social lives of the Irish people.
St John’s well at Killone had a famous ‘pattern’ which attracted people from far and near to ‘do the rounds’. It was ranked among the three most popular in Munster. Indeed it is recorded that a man named Thomas McMahon travelled from near Kilrush, more than twenty miles, on St John’s Eve to do the rounds here, ‘to cure an earache.’
John O’Donovan recorded in 1839: ‘St John’s was much resorted to by the peasantry for the purpose of performing stations on St John’s Eve, 23rd June.’
There was a tradition of saying mass at the well, which dates from at least 1731, as in that year, Anthony Roche from Ennis erected an altar here. This was during the Penal times.
The ‘patterns’ at St John’s well began to degenerate in the nineteenth century as e.g., Thomas McMahon stated in 1845 that there ‘was dancing and amusements at the well.’ It seems that this scandalous behaviour was ended by Dean Kenny of Ennis between 1848 and 1857.
Perhaps as part of this campaign to suppress the dissipation at the well, which was becoming more like a mid-summer pagan festival, the date of the religious festivities was changed from St John’s Eve to the 29th of June, the feast days of SS Peter and Paul, patrons of the parish. Certainly, by the nineteen thirties the religious devotions took place on 29th of June.
In 1973 Rev. Fr. Pat Loughnane P.P. revived the practice of saying Mass at St John’s well .
Westropp wrote about St John’s in 1900: ‘Once the scene of a far-famed pattern… rounds are still made here each June, but though the piety remains, the dissipation has been stopped and with it the merrymaking. A number of large sea pebbles lie upon the altar and numerous offerings are found fixed upon a tree near the well. China, plastic figures, coins, nails, buttons and such like; only valuable as marks of the simple faith of the donors, mostly poor, sick and afflicted people.’
The folklore recorded in the 1930s states that the water from the well was a great cure for eye sores and indeed for other parts of the body to which it was applied. It was also said that the people were protected from lightning strikes.
A detailed description of the prayers and rituals at St John’s was given by James Casey of Killerk in 1937: ‘Kneel before Our Lady, say five Hail Mary’s, a Glory be to the Father, and the Our Father. Then walk barefooted around the well, repeating five decades of the Rosary. Then, advance upon one’s knees towards Our Lady’s statue, reciting the Apostles Creed. After that, say seven Our Fathers and seven Hail Mary’s and seven Glory be to the Father, before the statue of St John. Finally, wash one’s feet in the nearby stream.’
Many pilgrims travelled from far and near to St John’s each year. There was an old route way to St John’s known as ‘the pilgrims’ way’ , parts of which can still be seen. Part of this old road was known as ‘the rocky road’. The ‘pilgrims’ road’ passed through Ballybeg on the northern shore of the lake partly through the woods of New Hall. There is a stile on the Western side of the boundary wall around St John’s well, giving access from the old pilgrims’ road to the well.
Click on the Blue Button below for a Parish video on St. John’s Well – 23 June 2020
Video Shot & Edited by Dermot Sheedy
Drone footage by Donal McNamara
Music by Aisling Lyons
Narrated by Fr Pat Malone
The painting of “the blind girl at the well” is by Frederick William Burton R.H.A. The Burton family had links with Buncraggy and have a burial plot in Clare Abbey. St John’s Well is alleged to have been the background for this famous painting.