Friday, June 23, 2006

Drinking Water

Struell Wells is hidden away in a remote corner of County Down. It’s not that easy to get to. You need to take a very narrow country lane leading from the main Downpatrick road along a steep valley. Eventually you come to a walled greensward surrounded by fields and woods where the wells are situated. There is a rough parking area on the opposite side of the road, and that’s it. No houses, no ice cream kiosks, no souvenir shops.

The site is fed by an underground stream which surfaces in two separate stone-covered wells and a male and female bathhouse. It has been a centre for pilgrimage for many hundreds of years; the whole of this area has strong connections to St Patrick who, according to legend, used to come here to take the waters. There is conjecture that the wells date right back to pagan, pre-Christian times, and this wouldn’t surprise me. The place has a sense of timelessness, difficult to describe but practically tangible. It was almost disconcertingly peaceful and quiet with nothing to be heard but the sounds of birdsong and running water.

Drinking well

There were just two other visitors when we arrived, both of them women. My friend C sat on a stone bench absorbing the atmosphere while I wandered around, taking the occasional photograph, pleased to be there but restless, drifting from the ruined church to the drinking well and on to the eye well – for eye problems as the name suggests.

I went into the female bathhouse, now open to the sky, where the stream is channelled through an opening about one third of the way up one of the mossy stone walls, drops down to a stone gulley on the floor and exits under the opposite wall.

Suddenly I knew what I wanted to do. I placed the camera well to one side then leaned forward into the stream, cupped my hands and doused myself with the water several times from top to toe.

I needed to participate. When fate hands you a trip to a healing well, or anything else, it is gracious to accept with thanks what is on offer. And who doesn’t need healing to some degree? Goodness knows I take what I can get, particularly at the moment.

Accustomed to sanitised mineral-water-in-bottles-with-a-label but feeling it was important to honour the tradition, I looked around for some kind of notice indicating whether the water was safe to drink. Nothing. I scooped up some more water and took the risk. It tasted good. Clear and cold.

After a few minutes I went outside to rejoin C. The two women had gone and their place had been taken by four local teenagers who were kicking a red football around in a corner of the grassy area – there was no escaping World Cup fever even here….

I found out later that the water at the wells is very sadly no longer considered safe for human consumption. I had no ill effects but rather a sense of having received - irrespective of outcome - an unlooked-for gift, unexpectedly bestowed.

The Summer Solstice used to be the occasion for one of the main yearly festivals at the wells, when crowds would come on pilgrimage. We were there on 17th June, just three days early.

  1. Photos from the top: Water entering the female bathhouse: the stone cover of the drinking well: entrance to the male bathhouse.
  2. These sites provide further information on Struell Wells.
  3. Details of St Patrick's connection with County Down, including a paragraph on Struell Wells.
  4. Sites providing general information on holy wells in Ireland.


Blogger Dale said...


7:52 am  
Blogger chuck said...

A breath of air...and a splash of water...and a journey through time.

10:33 am  
Blogger Endment said...

I am caught up in your wonderful description of your experience of the place and the timelessness of the spot... Felt I could almost experience it through your eyes

12:07 pm  
Blogger leslee said...

What a wonderful way to celebrate the solstice!

1:58 pm  
Blogger rdl said...

Sounds great! wish i was there!

2:46 pm  
Blogger MB said...


6:09 pm  
Blogger Brenda said...

I needed this, Mary. How luscious and beautiful and clear and pure the water and the intent to heal at this spot, these springs. You describe it so beautifully and the photographs are filled with presence that I felt I was with you...

6:25 pm  
Blogger Jean said...


8:15 pm  
Blogger Sky said...

thank you for such interesting discoveries! :)

11:45 pm  
Blogger zhoen said...

Wanna go.

And I would drink it as well.

12:29 am  
Blogger herhimnbryn said...

Thankyou for this. I was 'there' in the tangible silence.
I think you were celebrating 'you'.
I wonder how many woman over the centuries have bathed there?

1:34 am  
Blogger LJ said...

Narrow country path?
I'd walk on nails to get there. And certainly, you, I'd drink the water.
Thank you especially for this walk.

1:34 am  
Blogger Patry Francis said...

You are such a healing presence, Mary. I hope the water you drank blesses you in unexpected ways.

4:30 am  
Blogger Mary said...

Thank you all so much for the comments. I really wanted to share this experience ..... thank you for responding.

7:18 am  
Blogger starnitesky said...

Sounds like a wonderful healing

6:41 pm  
Blogger Michael Manning said...

Mary: This was great! It reminded me of Bulgaria. When a construction crew unexpectedly digs and finds ruins from centuries ago, they stop and call in the Archeologists. In one instance, they re-routed an entire expressway around an ancient performance arena that is now used today for outdoor performances!

7:22 pm  
Blogger Mary said...

Starnitesky, Michael. Thank you both!

7:42 am  
Blogger phlegmfatale said...

Such a restorative tonic, this visit must have been.

1:16 am  
Blogger Horse Racing Syndicate Member said...

although I now live in Shropshire this is my home area. My father was actualy born in one of the tumbledown house beside the wells. It is truly an atmosheric valley and one I always visit often alone during my visits to East Down. It is a clear indicator that we are here but for a fraction of time. areas like this are here for the duration.
The word Struell is drived drom the Irish meaning the land of the streams

10:51 am  
Blogger Colin John said...

This water is very safe for human consumption. However, because the authorities have not added chemicals, this is the reason they claim it is unsafe. They can not say it is safe incase someone gets sick while drinking it. I have been drinking it for years and just love it. I bottle it and take it home for all the family.

10:43 pm  

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