Once a small farming village, Mulhuddart is now a sprawling outer suburb on the western edge of Dublin. Developed in the 1980’s the new estates were largely built without services or amenities. A generation on, the area is still one of the most underprivileged areas of The City. The ancient holy well dedicated to Our Lady, aptly named Lady’s Well, is situated on a hillside just outside the town. The well is to be found just below an ancient church ruin and has commanding views west over the plains of Meath and south towards The City and the Wicklow mountains beyond. Before the area was developed it must have been a very pretty spot indeed.
The well is traditionally visited on the 8th of September, the Feast of the nativity of the Blessed Virgin Mary. The well water was reputed to cure sore eyes, a common affliction among the peasantry who lived in smoke-filled cottages. The ritual was for the pilgrim to go around the well three times before bathing his eyes with the water and drinking some of it.
In about 1744, Isaac Butler provided the following eyewitness account, ‘A small distance S’ward of the church is a reputed Holy Well being much frequented on 8th Sept being Lady Day as people generally call it…This well is surrounded by a wall and some large trees and about 5 years ago hath been vaulted over. On each end are two little uprights of stonework, like chimneys in the front of each a small niche, one glazed (the other broken) and containing inside a cross from which hangs a plate of brass and the Virgin Mary and Our Savior lying in their lap after Crucifixion and distant view of Jerusalem relieved thereon – on each side a phial bottle with artificial flowers and some mutilated little bodies representing I suppose the ascension of souls. All this work (to which was covered by some nunnery in Dublin (the nuns of Grace Dieu). There’s a hole in each end – the people lye on their bellies and there with their head over the water repeat a prayer and drink and repeat another prayer before the little glazed bauble…Here on 8 September a great patron is kept with a vast concourse of all sexes and ages from many miles, upward of eighty tents are pitched here furnished with all kinds of liquors and provisions for ye refreshment of ye company’.
These pattern days were often wild drunken affairs. In October 1760 the Dublin Gazette reported the death of Edward Campbell, a gentleman’s servant, who had died of wounds he received during a fight at Lady’s Well. The Catholic Church were opposed to these gatherings and determined to end the traditions. The parish priest of Blanchardstown sought to prevent the annual celebrations by persuading landowners in the vicinity to refuse permission for the erection of tents for the sale of drink. The following notice appeared in the Dublin newspapers of 15 August 1757:
‘We are assured that the Roman Catholic clergy to prevent as far, as in them lieth, the enormities and scandalous excesses that are annually committed at the well near Mulahedard, commonly called Lady’s Well, have prevailed on the landlords contiguous thereto not to permit any tents or booths to be erected hereafter upon any parts of their lands; of which it is judged proper to give notice in this public manner, to prevent a disappointment to such publicans as usually erected tents or booths near said well.’
Although, the well building is has been painted recently, there is little other evidence to suggest that it is still visited. Surrounded, by an ugly grey crash barrier, it almost appears discarded by the side of the road and is probably hardly noticed by the passersby on the busy road. Although there is water still in the well, it is dirty with rubbish, so probably not a good idea to bathe your eyes with it, let alone drink it.
Little do the locals of Ladyswell know that The Well, which gave their neighborhood its name, was once one of the most venerated wells in Ireland.
Don’t forget, we are also a good place to buy Claddagh wedding rings.