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Fundraiser launched to restore historic Holy Well to its former glory


From this week's Galway City Tribune

From this week's Galway City Tribune

Fundraiser launched to restore historic Holy Well to its former glory Fundraiser launched to restore historic Holy Well to its former glory

A holy well in Bearna, that is 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 Community Heritage Grant Scheme 2022 to restore Tobar Éanna.

Located within Galway City Council’s boundary, 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 said to be his overnight resting place on the mainland before travelling to the three islands.

“He died in 532, in the sixth century, so the well dates to the very late fifth century or early sixth century,” explained Denis O’Dwyer, chairman of Bailte Slachtmara Bhearna.

“Saint Enda was originally a warrior from County Antrim who converted to Christianity. He travelled around a lot spreading the word and used to go regularly to the Aran Islands. This was his overnight stop, where he would sleep and rest, on his way 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 into it to this day, so that it would bring them good fortune or heal them or bribe the gods.

“It’s not documented anywhere but it’s known locally and passed down through generations by word of mouth that there were pilgrimages going to it for centuries,” said Mr O’Dwyer.

The works include the restoration of a wall dating from before 1837/1838 that encircles the well.

It also involves partially restoring the boundary wall, replacing a missing gate, installing information signage and other works.

Jim Higgins, Heritage Officer with Galway City Council okayed the works, and conservation architect, Gerry McManus, advised on the project.

An Spidéal stonemason Denis Goggin is involved in repairing a modern limestone cross, which was sourced in the 1980s by the late Bernie Falvey, as part of Bearna Guild of the Irish Countrywomen’s Association who revived the well in 1979. The cross will be incorporated into the restoration.

“We don’t want to lose it; it’s part of the modern history of this well and a link to the ICA,” said Mr O’Dwyer.

As part of the project, historian Tom Kenny will give a brief talk about the history of the well, as part of Heritage Week that runs this August.

“It’s a very tranquil, peaceful place and people go there to meditate and pray, and we’re trying to restore it so that people will respect it for what it is, and we want to return it to what it was supposed to be,” Mr O’Dwyer said.

A fundraising page has been set-up to cover the shortfall in funding for the project.

(Denis O’Dwyer, chairman of Bailte Slachtmara Bhearna. Photo: Joe O’Shaughnessy.

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