St. Patrick’s Well in Aughagower
Situated in Aughagower is ‘St. Patrick’s Well’ (Megalithic Ireland, n.d.). One source describes the location of the well in Aughagower as being “At the east of the tower, outside the graveyard.” Across the road is Tobar na nDeachan (the ‘Well of the Deacons’) (Hughes, 1991). St. Patrick’s Well is also known as Dabhach Phadraig (in Irish Gaelic) or ‘St. Patrick’s Vat.’ It is so called because it is said that this is where St. Patrick baptized some of his first converts (Michigan State University, 2009). St. Patrick’s Well is a traditional stop off place for pilgrims going from Ballintubber Abbey to Croagh Patrick (Megalithic Ireland, n.d.). Both locations are in County Mayo.
Beneath the well, there is an underground stream (Tochar Phadraig, n.d.) connecting St. Patrick’s Well to the ‘Well of the Deacons’ across the street (Michigan State University, 2009). The Well of the Deacons was so called because it is said that pilgrims drank its water when on their pilgrimages (Tochar Phadraig, n.d.). Due to local drainage, it is now dried up (Michigan State University—Well of the Deacons, 2009).
Inside the walls of the well was a tree which had been growing in its current location for quite a long time. It is said that the rotting wood and the soil around the tree had potential healing qualities. That said, if someone removes soil from the tree for healing reasons, it is necessary to return the soil to the base of the tree once you have been healed (Michigan State University, 2009). One source even remarks that, “Some soil was sent to America at one time and safely returned” (Tochar Phadraig, n.d.).
Sheela-na-gig in Aughagower
A Sheela-na-gig is a medieval stone figure, or carving, of a naked woman (Hughes, 1991). This pagan symbol was carved into the wall of St. Patrick’s Vat/St. Patrick’s Well. This etching is of a female figure –which is a pagan symbol for fertility—and it is quite explicit in nature. It is thought that originally, the stone was carved into the church in an attempt to convert pagan onlookers. It is said that some Christians in Ireland had taken this symbol to help convert pagans in a non-forceful or peaceful way. Although a fertility symbol is originally a pagan belief, it became a warning against the evils of lust. The stone has been moved since its beginnings. Now it is located on the wall inside St. Patrick’s Vat (Michigan State University, 2009).
The author of the source called “Megalithic Ireland” (n.d.) describes his difficulty in finding the Sheela-na-gig on the wall of St. Patrick’s Vat. He writes, “…I now know why it was so hard to find. The stone that bears the carving has been moved and placed on the internal side of the wall, near the information sign. The worn figure is carved in false relief on a square background that measures only 0.15m by 0.15m. Without perfect light it is almost impossible to see the features, but I could make out the mouth, nose, and eyes.”
Corlett, C. (2001). Antiquities of West Mayo. Bray, Co. Wicklow: Wordwell Ltd. Print, p 66.
Hughes, H. (1991). Croagh Patrick: A place of pilgrimage, a place of beauty. Dublin: The O’ Brien Press, p 75.
Megalithic Ireland (n.d.) Dawach Patrick. Available at: http://www.megalithicireland.com/St%20Patrick’s%20Vat,%20Aghagower,%20Mayo.html Accessed 11th of August, 2023.
Michigan State University, Study Abroad Programme. (2009). St. Patrick’s Well. Internal Report: Folder 3, Croagh Patrick Heritage Trail—Clogher Environmental Group Ltd. Unpublished.
Michigan State University, Study Abroad Programme. (2009). Well of the Deacons. Internal Report: Folder 3, Croagh Patrick Heritage Trail—Clogher Environmental Group Ltd. Unpublished.
Tochar Phadraig. A Pilgrim’s Progress. Stage 8: Aughagower—St. Patrick’s Well. P 50.