St Patrick’s Well is situated in a tranquil valley to the west of Clonmel, close to the village of Marlfield in County Tipperary. It is a picturesque setting for this holy site, which has been revered for centuries. There are over 3,000 holy wells in Ireland and St Patrick’s Well is thought to be one of the largest. Holy wells are sacred places where natural springs or man-made hollows that collect water are thought to have a religious significance because of their association with a saint. Many are thought to have been originally places of pre-Christian worship and tradition which were then co-opted as Christian sites following the conversion of the local population.
Legend has it that St Patrick stopped off at this valley on his journey through South Tipperary and Waterford where he reputedly converted the King of Munster to Christianity at the Rock of Cashel. St Patrick was said to have stopped here to bathe and baptise local people. Unfortunately, however, it is unlikely that Patrick was ever in this part of Ireland, as he does not mention travelling to the south of the country in his writings Confessio or Epistola. In fact, the story of Patrick’s journey in Munster comes from a source written nearly 500 years after Patrick’s death, the 10th-century Life of St Declan. Despite this, St Patrick’s association with the well is still strong today.
The well has been enclosed by a circular wall. The natural water which bubbles up is channeled through two narrow stone cut openings that appear to be possible flumes from an early medieval mill. The water descends into a large, shallow pool, from where it flows into a narrow stream, a tributary of the River Suir, which flows nearby to the south of the site.
A small sandstone cross stands on a small island in the pool, and this is probably one of the oldest visible archaeological features at St Patrick’s Well. This cross is thought to date to the 8th century. It was originally positioned close to the church on marshy ground, but a programme of renovation and reconstruction was carried out at this site in the 1960s and the cross was moved to its current position.
The roofless ruin of the stone church is likely to date to the 15th or 16th century. There is a historical record of the Abbot of Inishlounaght being buried at the church in 1617. Inislounaght was once a thriving Cistercian abbey that was founded in the 12th century nearby at Marlfield, but there are no traces left of it today. However, some architectural fragments may have been brought from the abbey to St Patrick’s Well and incorporated into the parish church. Within the church you can see some architectural fragments and an altar tomb dating from 1622, dedicated to the White family.
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