Thursday, 11 March 2010

Wells and Wells

St Monan's Well

Tribute tree with horseshoe

the neglected Anu's Well

Ballaun with stone fish!

On Monday of this past week we, that is Mrs Heron, a friend of ours and myself, took time out from the usual chores and had a day's holiday to tour some of the wells in our area. I have always been fascinated by these holes in the ground containing water and their elaborate kerbs. It is of course not so much the hole but the water that attracts me !

It was a glorious day, cool at first, needing a top coat, though as the day wore on I found myself quite happily leaving it in the car, as we walked the length and breadth of fields to lean over railings and peer into the watery holes.

What surprised me more than anything was the number of Ballaun stones that there were around. These are ancient stones that have a depression, a pot shape cut into them and are often water filled. The definitive purpose of them is not actually known so theories abound that they have curing properties for various ailments, or that the water is for cursing and they might just be bird baths. For Ballaun stones are mostly found adjacent to a well and sometimes in graveyards.

Healing wells are said to be potent if a water snail or fish can be seen in it's depths. Being a pragmatist, I believe that presence of a living creature shows that the water is fairly wholesome even if not actually potable. Having said that I have to admit to having drank from moorland streams on the odd occasion.

Some of the holy wells dedicated to ancient Irish saints, have Hawthorn trees growing near them which are draped with bits of cloth and religious relics of all kinds. Then there are others which have been allowed to fall into neglect which were dedicated to Pagan deities such as Anu's Well

(as in photo)

On arriving home we looked at the photos and noticed that there was a stone fish in the ballaun stone that was not present before the photo was taken. We assume that it is a reflection from the stones above. But then this is Ireland and anything is possible !


  1. Hi Heron its strange for there are various theories concerning Ballaun stones. One says they are there for brigid and that she blessed the water as she travelled around on Imbolc and this may be associated with the cloth hanging in hawthorn trees as these could be cloths hung out to become healing cloths blessed by Brigid or favours hung in thanks. It is also thought by some that the Bullaun stone is the forerunner of the Holy water font that is in catholic churches and homes and that the christian church borrowed??? this idea to encourage pagans to join the club (along with a lot of other borrowed??? practices) True or False, I leave others to ponder. Love the photos. Its great that the weather is picking up and we can start going out for those nice spring walks. T.

  2. Hi, in that last photo, it does really look like a fish - fascinating x

  3. Wonderful post, Heron - thank you. I made a faux Ballaun stone for a customer recently, including different levels, and round pebbles to fill the holes. The whole thing weighs about 1.5 tons, and was a bit of an effort for the tractor to get in place.

    I too love the sacred springs, but - there again - doesn't everyone?

  4. May I sound slightly banal? If one had gone on horseback to fetch water, might it not be a good idea to fill a Ballaun stone with water for the horse, rather than to let it drink from your household container? This might explain the proximity to the wells.

    Just a thought! Cro

  5. Good theory Cro, but many Ballauns have dozens of depressions in varying sizes, some tucked out of the way on the back. The 'cup and ring' stones are found all over the Highlands in Argyle, and some of the cup depressions are only about an inch or two in diameter. These were made around the same time, and are quite often nowhere near wells. As I understand it, the Ballaun stone depressions were filled with round pebbles by later (maybe medieval) folk, and you turned the pebble in a clockwise direction whilst making a wish - maybe to Brigid?

  6. Oh Wow! loved this post Mel, really enjoyed reading it, love the photograph of the stone fish, beautiful.

  7. Beautifull post.I can imagine this "glorious day".
    I made this walk and looked at these discoveries in my mind .
    thank you to enjoy my working week.

  8. Wht a lovely day out! I can't think of anything more perfect than having a purpose like exploring old and magic wells to go trekking across your lovely land. And as you say, in Ireland anything can happen so there's always the prospect of something unexpected and a bit magic...

  9. What did the man say when he saw three holes in the ground?

    Well, well, well...

    Sorry Heron, I couldn't resist.
    Although your holes and depressions in the ground are far more interesting.
    And the fish in the ballaun stone is remarkable!

    I love how you see things.

  10. Great pics, lovely post, and ye probably had the best weather we'll have all year for such a wander...

  11. Fascinating thank you for sharing

  12. My thanks to each one of you for your comments - ti's really spiffen !

    There are many theories about the ballaun stone. One of which is they respond to toning according to Seán of the Knees, I doubt if we will ever know of there original use.

    That is one mystical fish that will never be caught or cooked in a pan!

    Tom Stephenson
    Did you put your Mason's mark on that ballaun stone I wonder ? You and I have something in common, because long ago I once worked as a labourer to a Stone Mason and we used to repair old churches.

    Cro Magnon
    If you had ridden a horse hard & given it water, then you might have done damage to the horse!

    Thank you the fish is great and if you enlarge the pic there looks like a mackerel
    lying alongside too (2 fish!)

    To walk the land of Ireland on a sunny day, is as close to heaven we can get while still alive!

    You are quite correct the old magic lives on..

    I enjoyed your joke. It must be new for I've never heard it before ;-)

    I truly believe that the weather you get is the weather that you expect. Have you never heard of weather working ??? :-)

    It is my pleasure to share

  13. This is a lovely post. Thanks for sharing! Sarah