Balla Holy Well

Tobhair Mhuire Balla, Co. Mayo
https://pilgrimagemedievalireland.com/2012/06/23/tobhair-mhuire-holy-well

The development of a seventh century Monastery founded by St. Cronán in Balla, Co. Mayo was chosen by him as he was guided by a cloud that he understood to be a sign: on the chosen site a Spring burst from the ground.  The Well was once dedicated to St. Cronán or Mo Chúa.  It was rededicated during the seventeenth century to the Blessed Virgin.  All that now remains of the Monastery complex is a Round Tower inside an historic graveyard.  The site of the actual Spring survives it is located to the west of the graveyard along a path that runs along the side of graveyard then from there onto the Community Centre car park.  The Holy Well is known as Tobair Mhuire.  Close to the Well a Bath House was constructed for lame or blind pilgrims during the seventeenth century.  Stations were performed on Patten Days.  It was noted that ‘is attended by great numbers of the peasantry at patons held on 15th August and 8th September.’ (Ordinance Survey Letters of Mayo 1838) [i]

St Cronán Mochua journeyed to Connaught during the year 616.  He was the Founder of the See of Balla in Co. Mayo. (It later merged with the See of Tuam.)  He founded the first Church & Abbey at Balla where he was elected the First – Archbishop. It flourished during the period of 596 – 637 A D. St. Cronán’ s Acts were more or less of a legendary character.  Numerous miracles are recorded to St. Cronán Mochua that are minutely documented in his Irish Life. [ii]

According to the Schools Manuscripts Essay for Balla ‘there are two little pillars, of mason work, called by the people ‘Station Monuments (leachta) and used as such, on top of which are two small stone crosses, one on each, and in which they are fixed (in the work of which are placed) two stones, one in each, with inscription on them, dated 1733: both are made up in English, and under one of them are the words ‘sun luum praesidium fugimus santa Dei genitrix’ (under your protection, we fly, Holy Mother of God)  ‘Sight has been restored to some people who performed the stations.  Several Our Father’s and Hail Mary’s were to be repeated at each heap of stones and at the wall’ – are two heaps of stones with a cross on each side lying down.  Beneath these two heaps of stones two priests are supposed to be buried.  St. Cronán himself is said to be buried near the spot.’  Also recorded was the belief that sight had been restored ‘to affect a cure’ as some people performed the stations.  Several Our Fathers and Hail Mary’s were to be repeated at each heap of stones and also at the well’. (Roll B No. 1146 page 178)  See https://www.duchas.ie/en/cbes/4427833  [iii]

The Schools Manuscripts Essay also recounted a version of the Long Station. ‘The rounds are done by the people on their knees from a particular slab to the altar on the opposite side of the graveyard saying while doing seven Our Father’s, Seven Hail Mary’s and seven Gloria.  Then the people walk around the graveyard seven times and repeat the same prayer.  When the people reach the graveyard gate, they go on their knees to the altar again and they go down to the Blessed Well and take off their shoes and stockings and walk around the wall three times and then  drink the water.  After that they make the sign of the cross on a stone nearby so that the station would be blessed.’ (Balla C roll No.1146 pages 34 – 35) See https://www.duchas.ie/en/cbes/4427833 [iv]

St. Cronán’s pilgrimage well & rest house: Local tradition is that a spring appeared when St. Cronán visited the area.  The well is known locally as Tobair Mhuire (Lady’s Well), it is situated behind the round tower.  There is a ruin of a seventeenth Century rest house where it is believed that pilgrims rested.  Originally the Well was celebrated as St. Cronán’s but it later became associated with Our Lady. A festival or Patten was held on the 15th August.  In the Irish Tourist Survey 1945 it was stated that St. Cronán built an Abbey on the site.  It was a place of learning until the 1236 assault by Richard De Burgo. (Dympna Joyce) [v]

According to Historian Brian Hoban the broken round tower with medieval altar marks the site of St. Mochua’s Monastery founded in the seventh century which was one of the most important Monasteries in Connaught.  He erected a wall around the church.  As a Holy man he performed several miracles.  He was widely venerated by the local people. [vi]

During the Black & Tan regime the people of Balla performed the stations for the protection of St. Cronán for the area. (Balla B roll No.1146 page 179) See https://www.duchas.ie/en/cbes/4427833 [vii]

Footnotes

‘The Round Tower Evil eye, and Holy Well at Balla Co. Mayo’ Manning C. Dublin, ‘Beyond the Pale studies in honour of Paddy Healy, Bray’.  Wordwell in association with Rathmicheal, Historical Society pages 177 – 184. [viii]

Images of ‘An Irish ‘Patern’ Green Charles, at Balla Co. Mayo where Green himself described the churchyard scene on pg. 78 also ‘The Long Station’ engraved by Eugène Froment may be viewed in ‘The Graphic 11’ 23 January 1875 pages 96 – 97.  [ix]

Publications that refer to topic include:

‘The Irish Round Tower’ Lalor B. 1999 Collins Press

Ordinance Survey Letters Mayo Healy M. 2009 Freemasons Press

‘Irish Round Towers’ O ‘Keefe 2004 Tempus Press [x]

Further Publications that may be of interest:

‘Celtic Sacred Landscapes’ Pennick Nigal 1000 Thames & Hudson New York

‘The Traveler’s Guide to Sacred Ireland’ Meehan Gary 2002 Gothic Image Publications

‘The Power of Place: Sacred Ground in Nature and Human Environments’ (particularly Chap. 10, ‘Holy Wells of Ireland’ Brenneman Walter Jr. 1995 Quest Books

‘The Holy Wells of Ireland’ Logan Patrick 1991 Paperback Buckinghamshire [xi]

This link provides a Map of Holy Well sites: https://sacredsites.com/europe/ireland/index.html

Images of Ireland’s Holy Wells are available at this site: http://megalithomania.com/show/site/1069/keel_east_holy_well.htm

In the Connacht Telegraph of 8th September 2020 an article on page 20 by Tom Gillespie reports that Balla Holy Well has been cleaned – up also the adjoining rest house has been rebuilt by Pat Conlon from Ballyclogher.  This article has images of the Well, rest house plus the Latin Inscription erected on the rest house wall.

An article by Tom Gillespie on the Balla Holy Well Project was reported in the 13th October 2020 issue of The Connaught Telegraph.  It has an aerial image by Michael Durcan on page 17.

Bibliography

[i] Holy Wells of Mayo (https://pilgrimagemedievalireland.com/) [assessed 11th April 2020]

[ii] New Advent (https://www.newadvent.org/) [assessed 13th April 2020]

[iii] Pilgrimage in Ancient Ireland (https://pilgrimagemedievalireland.com/) [assessed 11th April 2020]

[iv] Pilgrimage in Ancient Ireland (https://pilgrimagemedievalireland.com/) [assessed 11th April 2020]

[v] Information Dympna Joyce

[vi] History of Balla (https://www.mayo-ireland.ie/) [assessed 13th April 2020]

[vii] Pilgrimage in Ancient Ireland (https://pilgrimagemedievalireland.com/) [assessed 11th April 2020]

[viii] Holy Wells of Mayo (https://pilgrimagemedievalireland.com/) [assessed 11th April 2020]

[ix] Religion in Ireland (http://www.maggieblanck.com/) [assessed 13th April 2020]

[x] Ball Áluinn Schools Collection (https://www.duchas.ie/) [assessed 13th April 2020]

[xi] Sacred Sights (https://sacredsites.com/europe/ireland/) [assessed 13th April 2020]

 

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