Saturday, January 31, 2015

St. Attracta's Holy Well

St Attracta's Holy Well
Clogher, County Sligo
         Some years ago, I wrote a short piece on my blog about St. Attracta and made reference to the Holy Well at Clogher, near Monasteraden, Co. Sligo, which bears her name. In July 2013 part of the wall of this well was demolished following an accident in which a young local man tragically lost his life. I am pleased to see that this important site has now been restored under the supervision of archaeologist, Martin Timoney.

St. Attracta was born in the 5th Century and was the daughter of a noble family. She founded a convent and hospice for travellers, where the seven roads met at Killaraght near Lough Gara that still existed as late as 1539. She also established churches and convents in Galway and Sligo. St Attracta was a contemporary of St. Patrick from whom she received the veil. A native of the County Sligo, she resolved to devote herself to God but was opposed by her parents. She fled to South Connacht and made her first foundation at Drumconnell, near Boyle, County Roscommon.

An article by Martin Timoney in Echoes of Ballaghaderreen 2014 provides some interesting information about this local landmark. He describes in some detail the crucifixion plaque set into the back wall:

‘This has the Crucified Christ with long hair and a pointed beard; he wears a rather rigid loin-cloth. His legs are proportionately far too thin. Either side are the Emblems of the Passion: a flail, hammer, pincers and bunches of reeds, a ladder, the pillar with a rope around it and a cock on top and a rope-like feature. There is an INRI above the cross which has a three-stepped base’.

Crucifixion Plaque
To the right of the crucifixion plaque there is a stone with an inscription. This has now been confirmed as I.H.S 1662, II, I:G. It is thought that the II may refer to the second year of reign of Charles II; The Restoration was in 1660. The initials I:G may stand for Iriel O’Gara of Moygara.

On the back wall there are eight large rounded stones. A drawing from c 1880, however, shows a total of twelve stones in position on top of the wall. Similar stones have been found at many Irish holy wells and are sometimes referred to as Praying Stones and Cursing Stones. Turning the stones clockwise was for good while turning them anti-clockwise was to inflict a curse.

Timoney’s ongoing research into Connacht crucifixion plaques records the earliest example as 1625 (Turlough) with the latest being about 1825. The nearest known crucifixion plaque to Clogher is at Tibohine with another such plaque at Cloonshanville, Frenchpark.

Finally, Martin Timoney reports that a die-stamped button was found in the back wall during the recent restoration work. The wording reads: “P&S Firmin 153 Strand”. He states that the Firmin Company was established in 1667 in London at Three Kings’ Court by Thomas Firming. They were at 153 Strand by 1796 but were no longer at this address after 1894. Therefore, the button was most likely manufactured sometime between 1796 and 1894 but it is not possible to say when it was placed at the well as an offering.

It would be interesting to know how the button got from the Strand in London to Clogher but then I expect that is another story.

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