A sacred well in Bearna, over 1,500 years old, is being restored to its former glory by community activists.
Bailte Slachtmara Bhearna, the local Tidy Towns group, has secured a grant of €10,840 through the Heritage Council’s 2022 Community Heritage Grants Scheme to restore Tobar Éanna.
Located within the boundaries of Galway City Council, on the city side of the road to Silverstrand Beach, the Holy Well has been attracting pilgrims for centuries.
Named after Saint Enda, the patron saint of the Aran Islands, Tobar Éanna in Bearna was meant to be his resting place for the night on the mainland before traveling to the three islands.
“He died in 532, in the 6th century, so the well dates from the very end of the 5th century or the beginning of the 6th century,” explained Denis O’Dwyer, president of Bailte Slachtmara Bhearna.
“Saint Enda was originally a warrior from County Antrim who converted to Christianity. He traveled widely to gain fame and made regular trips to the Aran Islands. This was his overnight stopover, where he slept and rested, en route to the Aran Islands,” he said.
The well was blessed by St Enda and is said to have healing properties.
“Its water has healing powers and was used for eye and ear ailments. People still throw coins there to this day, so that it brings them good fortune or heals them or bribes the gods.
“It is not documented anywhere, but it is known locally and passed down from generation to generation by word of mouth that there were pilgrimages going there for centuries,” Mr O’Dwyer said.
The work includes the restoration of a pre-1837/1838 wall that surrounds the well.
It also involves partially restoring the perimeter wall, replacing a missing gate, installing information signage and other works.
Jim Higgins, heritage officer at Galway City Council, approved the work and conservation architect Gerry McManus advised on the project.
Spideal stonemason Denis Goggin is involved in the repair of a modern limestone cross, which was salvaged in the 1980s by the late Bernie Falvey, as part of the Irish Countrywomen’s Association’s Bearna Guild which revived the well in 1979. The cross will be incorporated into the restoration.
“We don’t want to lose him; it’s part of the modern history of this well and a connection to the ICA,” Mr. O’Dwyer said.
As part of the project, historian Tom Kenny will give a brief lecture on the history of the well, as part of Heritage Week which takes place in August.
“It’s a very quiet and peaceful place and people go there to meditate and pray, and we’re trying to restore it so that people respect it for what it is, and we want to restore it to what it was. meant to be,” Mr. O’Dwyer said.
A fundraising page was put in place to cover the lack of funding for the project.
(Denis O’Dwyer, President of Bailte Slachtmara Bhearna. Photo: Joe O’Shaughnessy.