St. John's Well, Warrenstown

The branch of the Norsemen who settled on the coast of France and from there invaded England and Ireland had a particularly allegiance to St. John, and we may suppose it is to them we owe St. John's Well in Warrenstown, and the Tobarseon recorded in Longwood.

(Rathmore, a Norman foundation, was dedicated to St. Laurence, the well at Killallon has a much rarer dedica­tion to St. Bartholomew, its Patron Day on his feast, 24th August. It is interesting to note the number of Meath families with Norman sur­names (Cusacks, Darcys, Nugents, etc.) which bear the Christian names of Mark, Luke, Christopher, Nicholas and Bartholomew.)

The legend of St. John's Well at Warrenstown, in the parish of Knockmark, recounts that John the Baptist was passing a rock in the Holy Land when he struck it with his staff, the point of which came out at Warrenstown, accompanied by a spring.

People flocked to witness this wonder, bringing their ills, and some were cured. St. John the Bapstist was the patron of the Knights of St. John of Jerusalem who were active in establishing infirmaries for the sick in Ireland. They favoured 'the water cure' and their hospitals were often located close to springs.

People still visit the well on the 24th of June every year, and it is also said that the water stops flowing at twelve o'clock on the Eve of St. John's Day, 24th. This night was traditionally called 'Bonefire Night', (before it became known as 'Bonfire Night'), referring to the pagan festival when bones were burned, rather than to the French word 'bon'.

In the year 1708, the Irish House of Commons enacted legislation to pro­hibit pilgrimages to St. John's Well because, it was alleged, the assembly of pilgrims in that place compromised the public peace and safety of the kingdom. Accordingly, if any poor dared to visit and pray at this well, they were ordered to be fined, imprisoned and whipped. In 1710 the Lord Lieutenant issued this proclamation,

"Whereas 10,000 papists riotously assemble at a place commonly called St. John's Well under the pretence of worship...they are a great terror to Her Majesty's Protestant subjects and so endanger the peace of her kingdom, the High Sheriff will supress such insolent practices with a posse and apprehend the principal actors in the said riot and have them prosecuted with the utmost rigours of the law".

Dean Cogan describes the well itself, and notes that on the front wall there were two images, then all but defaced, which probably repre­sented St. Mary and St. John.

In the same parish Dean Cogan also notes another St. Nicholas's well, in the townland of Culmullen. He says it was circular and measured eight feet in diameter, and that on the stile was a figure of a cross under which was written St. Nicholas's Well. The site has deteriorated very much since Dean Cogan described it. The "choir-arch of considerable dimensions" has collapsed and the tombs are over­grown with briars and nettles.

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