ST. CEANNANACH’S WELL
St. Ceannanach was a very early Christian missionary who worked throughout the Connemara region of Galway in the late 5th/early 6th centuries. He is one of the few Irish saints who was martyred in Ireland, and his story is linked to a holy well near Letterfrack that bears his name.
According to folklore, St. Ceannanach’s mission was the first in this part of Ireland, which was still pagan at the time. He preached the gospel and converted many people to Christianity, but this angered a local king, who captured him and had him beheaded near Cleggan, a coastal village in Connemara.
Legend has it that St. Ceannanach then miraculously picked up his severed head and carried it to the holy well in Clooncree, where he washed it before lying down to die. A heap of stones near the well marks the spot where he passed away. The village of Cleggan is said to derive its name from An Cloigeann, which means “head” or “skull” in Irish.
The holy well in Clooncree is a natural spring that flows into a stone basin surrounded by a low wall. It is located in a scenic area with views of the Twelve Bens mountains and the Atlantic Ocean. The well is dedicated to St. Ceannanach, but it is also known as St. Gregory’s well, after Pope Gregory I, who sent St. Augustine to England to evangelize the Anglo-Saxons.
The well is a place of pilgrimage and prayer for many people, especially on August 15th, the feast day of St. Ceannanach. People come to the well to seek blessings, healing and protection from various ailments and troubles. They perform rituals such as walking around the well three times while reciting prayers, dipping a cloth in the water and applying it to the affected part of the body, or leaving offerings such as coins, rosaries or flowers.
The holy well is also a site of historical and archaeological interest, as it contains a graveslab with a carved crucifixion dating back to the medieval period. The slab is believed to have been brought from Inishmaan, one of the Aran Islands, where St. Ceannanach is said to be buried. He reportedly founded a church on that island, which is now in ruins.
St. Ceannanach’s holy well is one of the many holy wells that can be found throughout Galway and Ireland, each with its own story and significance.
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