St Patrick’s Well

Baile an Tobair-St Patrick’s Well

It is recorded that St. Patrick founded the first church in 441 where Ballintubber Abbey stands today. The parish is called Baile Tobair Phádraig – the Town of the Well of St. Patrick. The history of the site is as follows:

If we go back in time 2000 years, Lough Carra used to extend as far as where the abbey is today. In fact, if you look into the fields on the south side of the abbey, you will see the boggy ground that was once part of Lough Carra. Lough Carra is the northernmost of the Great Western Lakes. To the south of it are Lough Mask and Lough Corrib. These three lakes form the great water system that flows as the Corrib River into Galway City.

2000 years ago, people used to row up through the lakes, moor at the top of Lough Carra, and walk to Cruachán Aigle (Eagle Mountain, known today as Croagh Patrick) to participate in sun worship, especially the great festival of Lughnasa.

The King of Connaught, who had his castle in Rathcroghan, Co Roscommon, had a chariot road built in 350 AD from his castle to the top of Lough Carra and on to the back of Cruachán Aigle. The chariot road was made of 12-foot-wide oak beams laid one after the other across the miles, overlaid with flagstones. This road allowed the King and his entourage to participate in the festival of Lughnasa every year.

It was that road that brought St. Patrick through the area. He had his sights set on Cruachán Aigle because he knew it was next to the Atlantic Ocean, and to bring Christianity to the edge of the known world was going to be a great milestone for him. Also, the fact that the mountain was a long-established spiritual site gave him an opportunity to introduce Christianity and hopefully win many converts to the faith.

He prayed for 40 days and nights of Lent on the summit of Cruachán Aigle in 441, and that is why it is Ireland’s holy mountain today, Croagh Patrick.

We can only surmise that as he made his way back along the chariot road, he learned about the well. It was at the top of Lough Carra and next to the road, so it had a long history as a spiritual location where the Druids would gather, going to and coming from the mountain because water was sacred to them.

Patrick camped nearby, met the local people, and baptise babies at the well. He is believed to have founded a church on the site in 441, and there has been a church ever since. A replica of the first church is on the Rosary Way.

The spring at the well is still going strong and is pumped to the Crucifixion in the grounds to create the beautiful waterfall. Water from the well is used to baptize babies in the abbey.

Why not take a visit the well, the well is located in the field at the back of the abbey. Local folklore say the stone in the foreground has the imprint of St Patrick’s knee.  The statue at the well was created by Brother Joseph McNally Ballintubber and Singapore in 2000.