Dundalk - Ladywell

Lady Well is a classic holy well and one of the best known wells in the north-east of Ireland. Beautifully maintained by the local community and the local authority, it is still the focal point of a hugely popular annual pattern on the 15th August. Wright's drawing of it is arguably the earliest detailed visual record of an Irish holy well. It clearly indicates that the well-chamber is at least 250 years old and is probably medieval in vintage.

Religious cults associated with water have a long history in Ireland, dating back certainly to the Later Bronze Age (1200 - 600 BC), if not before. Most of our knowledge of the metalwork of this and the succeeding Early Iron Age (600BC - AD 400) comes from objects apparently deposited as votive offerings in wetland locations. Though holy wells may at first appear to be Christian monuments, much of the ritual, folklore and indeed the very preoccupation with water as a medium for supernatural cure, displays strong pre-Christian elements.

A holy well can be defined simply as a location where water is used as the focal point of supernatural divination, cure or devotion on a regular basis. The visible remains at any particular holy well can range widely; from an unadorned natural spring or tiny hollow in the bedrock, to mortared stone well-chambers with steps, canopies and wall-niches, as at Ladywell. Often associated are votive offerings (usually coins, small statues or everyday objects), specified trees or bushes, leachts (small flat-topped stone altars), small cairns, and sometimes archaeological objects (bullauns, architectural fragments). Though some are known simply as holy wells, most are associated with a particular person , usually a recognized saint. The waters of most holy wells are attributed with powers of divination or cure. Sometimes the cure is for a particular ailment (eye diseases, warts, mental illness). Where it survives, the ritual connected with a visit to a holy well can be quite complex. Such visits or pilgrimages, are often focused on a pattern day, usually the anniversary of the saint to whom the well is dedicated (for further details, see Logan 1980).

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