This once important pilgrimage site, the townland is even called Mountbridget, is to be found just off the R522 two miles outside Buttevant, signed but easy to miss! A rustic but rather attractive little carved stone welcomes you in and invites you to honour the patron saint of the well, St Bridget or Mary of the Gaels as she is also known. Brigid/Bridget/Brig/Bride/Biddy/Breedy was born in 450AD in Faughart, County Louth but she is mainly associated with Kildare where she founded a monastery and convent. The original Brigid was an ancient and powerful figure, the Christian Bridget taking on the mantle of the older fertility goddess. More about both of them here.
The semi-circular white stone is decorated with some rather naive lettering and the distinctive cross associated with St Bridget. There is a nice story describing how the cross originated. St Bridget was famous for her work with the sick and one day she visited a dying pagan chief where she prayed at his bedside. As she did so she picked up rushes from the floor and began weaving them into a cross. The chieftain saw the cross and asked her to explain it’s meaning. On hearing the story he instantly converted to Christianity and was baptized before he died. Little crosses can be spotted all over the site, including here, amongst the offerings.
The well is cut into the cliff face and the surrounding area has been landscaped, stone paths leading up and down and over the well, as you follow the path of the original rounds.
The statue of St Bridget herself gazes down on the proceedings. She is a solemn figure with rather piercing black eyes, dressed sombrely in a nun’s habit of cream and black, holding a small chapel in one hand, presumably a reference to her convent, and a crook in the other. A figure of Jesus carrying a child has been placed at her feet.*
The water flows steeply out from a sort of culvert, down flagstones, gathering into a basin below. Cups and ladles are provided and the water is fresh, cold and clear. Someone had thrown in a bunch of daffodils, now withered.
The water has many miraculous cures associated with it. These are some of the stories Colonel Grove White collected when he was doing his researches in the early 1900s:
The following instances of cures were related to me on the spot: A sick man was ordered some “two-milk whey”; this could not be made as no sour milk could be obtained. Some water from the holy well was procured, which made it, and the man recovered. Rev. J. F. Lynch informs me that such a tale connected with holy wells is not uncommon. The water of St. Patrick’s Well, near Lough Gur, is said to possess the power of “cracking” milk.
A son of Mrs. Margaret Sullivan, when four years old, was attended by the doctor for hip, lung, and kidney diseases. All the doctor’s remedies having failed, the father “paid rounds” three times at the holy well on his son’s behalf. He brought home some of the water, and mixing it with milk, gave it to the lad, who recovered, and is now (1905) a strong healthy young man.
Mrs. Mary Jones (who lives near the well) told me that some time ago her husband was quite blind for a fortnight, with pains in the eyes; water ran from them, and he was altogether in a bad way. He went to the blessed well, and came home perfect, having “paid rounds” to Saint Bridget.
It is said that the late Mr. James MacCarthy, of Bally grace, about eighty years ago, saw the saint one evening sitting on the tree near the tree. He described the clothes she wore.
Mrs. M. Sullivan related the following to me: A Protestant policeman with a comrade walked out from Churchtown, where they were stationed. When they came to “Biddy’s Tree” the policeman amused himself by swinging backwards and forwards on a limb of the ash tree over the holy well. When he arrived at his quarters in Churchtown he was seized with violent pains in his limbs, from which he died about six months after-wards. He was a County Galway man.
Historical and Topographical Notes, etc., on Buttevant, Castletownroche, Doneraile, Mallow, and Places in their Vicinity; Cork, 1908, Colonel Grove White
Infuriatingly, I can’t find any further information about what clothes St Bridget was wearing! And the final sentence made me smile.
The Biddy Tree was an ancient ash tree and must have been an impressive sight for the whole area was once known as Biddy’s Tree after it. It was obviously a clootie tree, rags and other items being hung upon it, and it played an important part in the rounds. Colonel Grove White again:
The well was much frequented by the peasantry on St Bridget’s Day (Ist February) for cures of all kinds of disease and pain. They ‘pay round’s at the well, drink the water and leave a token in honour of the saint, such as a piece of strong, cloth etc tied to the ash tree overhanging the well.
Sadly the tree blew down in a storm in 1973 and Colonel Grove White’s photo of it is very dark and grainy but you can get the feel of the size and significance of the tree. The wood from the tree was said to never burn, and the water from the well never to boil.
A small building is set aside for pilgrims and includes a visitors’ book. Once hundreds of people came to do the rounds on St Bridget’s Day, 1st February, and an annual mass is still said here. Although numbers may be smaller today, the offerings and comments in the visitors’ book show that for many people this is still an important and hopeful place to visit.
As we left, I’m sure St Bridget gave us a sign.
The location of this well can be found in the Gazetteer.
- It has been suggested that the figure is in fact St Joseph. See comments for explanation.