HOLY WELL­NESS

The Irish Times Magazine - - FRONTLINES -

Su­per­nat­u­ral fish and river god­desses are as­so­ci­ated with sev­eral thou­sand holy wells on this is­land promis­ing good for­tune and good cures and more.

Al­most 2,900 were recorded from the early 19th cen­tury, and many still sur­vive.

How­ever, the doc­u­men­ta­tion is in­con­sis­tent. When Ir­ish Folk­lore Com­mis­sion di­rec­tor Séa­mus Ó Duilearga and ar­chiv­ist Seán Ó Súil­leab­háin chose holy well prac­tices as a “na­tional shib­bo­leth” in the 1930s, they sought in­for­ma­tion from school teach­ers and re­ceived a poor enough re­turn.

Now ci­ti­zen sci­ence re­searchers are par­tic­i­pat­ing in a new sur­vey, with sup­port from Na­tional Geo­graphic mag­a­zine. Lo­ca­tions, the his­tory and oral tra­di­tions of holy wells, along with as­so­ci­ated flora and fauna, pa­tron saints and cures are be­ing re­searched by sec­ondary school stu­dents and mem­bers of ar­chae­o­log­i­cal and his­tor­i­cal so­ci­eties, us­ing a mobile- friendly Omeka web­site.

Dr Celeste Ray, who is pro­fes­sor of en­vi­ron­men­tal arts and hu­man­i­ties and an­thro­pol­ogy at the Uni­ver­sity of the South in Se­wa­nee, Ten­nessee, is lead­ing the project with sup­port from Uni­ver­sity Col­lege Dublin. She in­tends to do­nate all the in­for­ma­tion to the Na­tional Folk­lore Col­lec­tion at UCD, where it will be pub­licly ac­ces­si­ble.

The project also wel­comes sub­mis­sions. For more, email holy­wellscoun­ty­by­county@gmail.com or see ih­wcbc.omeka.net.

Lorna Sig­gins

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