One of the best sacred sites travel adventures I have ever experienced, was the one I took in September 2011 with my lovely niece, Dr. Kerry Bowman (nee Roarke). Kerry’s father is about as Irish as they come, and Ireland was always the one place that Kerry wanted to see. My niece is near and dear to my heart, and so I was delighted to be able to experience Ireland with her. One of the reasons we decided to travel when we did, was that my niece was newly married and she wanted to prepare herself for the future possibility of motherhood. She also wanted to connect with some of her ancestry. And who better to travel with than her favorite, smart and often comical Auntie?!
Something to notice about Ireland? Pictures really do not do this country justice! There is no way to capture all of its beauty and color; it must be seen to be truly appreciated. Imagine a world where the only color in the crayon box is green—every imaginable shade, tone and hue all playing nicely together. That is what Ireland looks like—every shade of lush green you can think of. And the energy! Several times throughout our trip, Kerry and I simply threw off sock and boots and ran around barefoot; both of us wanting to touch as much of the soil and ground as possible. The energy there is ever-flowing and omnipresent, and you can feel it coursing right through your feet up into your body! It’s like being held in an endless hug of delicous warmth and love. And of course, we also delighted in the wonderful, friendly people and exceptional music we encountered all along the way.
This trip to Ireland was, for me, a coming to terms with my own recently discovered issues of infertility. While, at the same time, my niece was processing impending motherhood. Two very different journeys, and yet having a connecting theme. Kerry’s original plan was for her and her husband to begin trying to start their family right after our trip; however, as “the luck of the Irish” would have it, serendipity intervened. We found out that she was pregnant at the start of the trip!
As we hiked through the hills of Tara, New Grange, several stone circles and several scared wells, we came upon Saint Brigid’s well in Liscannor, County Clare. Considered a holy well, many people visited this well (and others throughout Ireland) to walk around it, saying a prayer on their rosary beads. At most sacred places, it is a common practice for people to leave small tokens of thanks, rememberance, and offerings. Although now a small, well-maintained park, the site is a sacred and honored place and has a palpable aura of ancient wisdom. The well is fed by a spring that then flows underground before appearing again under a stone archway. The stones below the archway are known as St Brigid's Slippers. The stream then flows passed a modern bronze statue of Saint Brigid.
In Irish mythology, Brigid was the Celtic goddess of fire, poetry, unity, childbirth and healing. She was the daughter of Dagda, a High King of the Tua Dé Danann. Sacred wells were always places of pilgrimage to the Celts. They would dip a clootie (piece of rag) in the well, wash their wound and then tie the clootie to a tree (usually a Whitethorn or Ash tree), as an offering to the spirit of the well for aid in healing their wounds.
According to modern tradition, Saint Brigid was born in Faughart, County Louth, where there is a shrine and another holy well dedicated to her. The Saint founded a convent in Kildare in 470 that has now grown into a cathedral city. There are the remains of a small oratory known as Saint Brigid's Fire Temple, where a small eternal flame was kept alight for centuries in remembrance of her. She is one of Ireland’s patron Saints and known as Mother of the Gael. She is said to be buried along with Saint Colmcille and Saint Patrick in Downpatrick. Through-out Ireland there are many, many wells dedicated to Saint Brigid. According to the Brigidine Sisters, they believe that both Celtic Goddess Brigit and Saint Brigit were a reflection of each other. They believe the “Pagan” Brigid and the Catholic Saint Brigit could not exist without each other. To them, they are one and the same.
One of the rituals typically performed at the well is the tying of rags to the rag tree. The rags are placed there by people who believe that if a piece of clothing from someone who is ill, or has a problem of any kind, is hung from the tree, the problem or illness will disappear as the rag disintegrates. The offerings are left in gratitude to Saint Brigid for curing a loved one. My niece, wanting to honor her heritage but also wanting to put a modern spin on the whole experience, had purchased a bag of green glass pieces that she left as gifts every place we visited. At times, she focused her sorrow or worry into the glass, and then asked the land to simply transform the energy and receive what was left (the glass stone) as a thank you. And I am quite sure that the abundant Irish Fairies just loved finding her trinkets, too! At one point, she took one of the stones, dipped it into the water, rubbed it on her belly and asked for Saint Brigid to watch over her growing baby. And then she placed the glass bead on the hand of the statue.
I should add here that we had just come to the Solas Bhride Spirituality Centre, where the Brigidine sisters had made her a Saint Brigid’s Cross to display over the baby crib; and we were still reeling from the lovely blessing and prayer time that they performed, all while embracing my niece.
Up until this point, I had chosen not to share much of my own personal infertitliy issues with my niece, or so I had thought. It is a magical place, after all. Not everything needs to be spoken aloud. After Kerry had placed her stone, she came back to me and laid her head on my shoulder and wept. When I asked her what was wrong. She simply placed her hand on my stomach and whispered “ I am so sorry Aunt Jen” So for a few minutes we both wept—for the new life that was coming, for my grief and acceptance, and—for the grace of Brigid. As with so many places in Ireland and sacred sites in general, the experience there can be emotionally intense on many levels. The Holy sacred wells especially, seem to intensify the traveler’s experience. Perhaps it’s the deep symbolism of the water itself, or maybe it’s simply that, in a place that special, you can literally feel the energy of the old and the new dancing together in harmony.
So, for those traveler’s amoung you who are seeking a very peaceful and sacred place, I highly recommend a visit to Ireland and St. Brigid’s well.
As I reflect upon my travels, I realize how much it has taught me. Reflection allows us to see exactly what part of our past we have allowed to define us; but it also provides us the opportunity to see well beyond that. To gaze into the waters of our soul and see its true beauty and light, and to let that be our defining guide.