20 April 2018

A taste of the pilgrims’
visit to Saint Michael’s
Well in Ballinskelligs

The beehive at Saint Michael’s Well in Dungeagan in Ballinkselligs, Co Kerry (Photograph: Patrick Comerford, 2018)

Patrick Comerford

Everywhere in Ballinskelligs seems to be called after the Archangel Michael.He gives his name to the local GAA club, to Colaiste Mihichil, the Irish college I attended here over 50 years ago, to Skellig Michael, the monastic settlement on the Skellings Rocks, to the local school, to the local parish church, and to Saint Michael’s Well, which I found again yesterday afternoon behind the house in Dungeagan I stayed in as a teenager in the summer of 1966.

Saint Michael’s feast day is on 29 September, Michaelmas, and in the past large crowds visited the well and pilgrims stayed for two days, with plenty of eating and drinking, sideshows and singing, as well as fighting in the street of Dungeagan.

In the mid-18th century, the water at Saint Michael’s Well was thought to have miraculous powers.

For pilgrims, there was a ritual linked with visiting the well. A visitor walked around the well three times, six times or even nine times, while praying the Rosary.

On starting, the pilgrim was expected to take 10 stones and throw the tenth stone away. Each time the pilgrim had made a round, a stone was placed on the stone heap until nine rounds had been made.

The right hand had to be on the well while marking the pilgrimage. Before leaving, a pin, a penny, a button, or a piece of cloth was left at the well or somewhere among the stones.

The clergy did not approve of the pattern, not just because of the superstitions associated with it, but also because of the drinking and fighting. But the pattern was revived in recent years and some years it has lasted up to three days.

The former Sugrue family home where I stayed in Dungeagan over 50 years ago (Photograph: Patrick Comerford, 2018)

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