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All is Ruin
Fifty Holy Wells, #8
St Colman’s Well, Kinvarra, County Clare
And may these characters remain
When all is ruin once again
- W.B. Yeats, from a poem carved on his restored tower house at Thoor Ballylee
Who once came here? There will be locals who know. There will be locals who remember this place when it was not eaten by briar, and when the rags tied to the branches of the clootie tree were fresh, not rotten and damp. When the broken picture frames contained devotional images, and when the water ran clear. When the rounds were still made and the prayers still said.
There will be people like that around here, but I don’t know where to find them.
There are numerous wells dedicated to St Colman around these parts. I presume that this one, like others I have visited, is named for the local saint Colman Mac Duagh, though there are perhaps a dozen St Colmans in the country: a fact that alone testifies to the astonishing number of saints that this island once gave birth to. Before the ‘Great Schism’ between the Orthodox East and the Roman Catholic West, which was formalised in 1054 when each side excommunicated the other, around 3000 Irish saints were named by the church. After the Schism - from 1054 right through to the present - there have been just three. Such was the early surge of spiritual power that made this island and its people, before civilisation tied the church down.
But the power is fading now. This well is dry. And I wonder what came first: the end of the flowing waters, or the end of the visits from the people. Which is cause, and which effect?
Abandoned places are always melancholy. Sometimes the melancholy is the attraction. St Colman’s well sits on a major road junction - as ‘major’ as road junctions get in the Burren, anyway - but you wouldn’t find it unless you were looking. In amongst the trees, wrapped in brambles and ferns, up some slimy stone steps which themselves are awash with rioting greenery, is an old stone cross, leaning slightly askew. Look closer, and you’ll see one or two faded rags still tied to the tree beside it:
Once you begin to acclimatise - you’ll have to stay still, because every movement will cause a bramble scratch somewhere on your body - you will begin to see remnants of worship everywhere. Old stone ridges covered in moss. Rocks which might once have marked the stations of the cross. Sad old glass picture frames, with no images behind them, as if nature herself has taken on the role of iconoclast:
St Colman’s well, I found out later, was once an eye well. How many people have been cured or eased by prayer and the waters here over the centuries? Perhaps one day they will be again. But for now, the new Ireland of road junctions and roadside coffee trailers is in the ascendant. The stone cross seems patient though. Let’s see which outlasts the other.