Thursday 14 November 2019

'Unbelievable anger' over drastic changes to Irish pilgrimage site that some believe has cured cancer

The site of the well now
The site of the well now
Kathy Armstrong

Kathy Armstrong

There is "unbelievable anger" after a holy well that some believe has helped to cure cancer has been removed and access to the site curtailed.

Pilgrims have visited St John's Well in Warrenstown, Co Meath since the seventeenth century and an annual ceremony is held there every June to honour St John's Day.

The Salesian Order sold the land where the well sits to a man called Francis Smith in 2015 and some people are furious by changes that he has made to the structure.

Concerned John Hegarty told "Since the owner took over around three years ago he has gradually been making it more difficult to access the well.

John Hegarty said he thinks the well helped to cure his cancer
John Hegarty said he thinks the well helped to cure his cancer

"It started slowly with bales of silage at the back of the well, then he took down the fencing that surrounded it and put a lock on the front gate to access it.

"There were still two side gates that he left open.

"Two side gates and the main gate are padlocked, there was another gate further in and that was padlocked.

"The grotto surrounding the well was demolished, the steps and wall are all pulled down and levelled off, the water that normally flows out had been covered over, a well liner was put in place and covered with a small manhole.

"The cross that was on top of the grotto has been taken down and set in concrete in the ground, there's also now a plaque in the ground."

Mr Hegarty said that many people visit the well as they believe it has some healing properties.

St John's Well before the changes were made
St John's Well before the changes were made

"I had cancer in 2003 and it had spread to my liver, I had a tumour removed from my bowel and I had chemotherapy.

"I had four tumours on one lobe on my liver and after visiting the well they went away and are still gone, it wasn't the chemo that worked.

"Fourteen years ago there wasn't much that could be done for liver cancer and I was given six months.

"A neighbour suggested I go there so with nothing to lose I headed down, I drank some of the water from the well and said, 'I'm John, you're John, I don't want to die' and then I said some prayers.

"I honestly have no doubt it worked, I'm still here, doctors have said I shouldn't be here," he claimed.

"There are quite a number of people who believe it heals, you often meet people there collecting water for other sick people.

"A lot of people don't put much faith in belief but in my case it worked."

He continued to say that people are hurt and angry over the changes.

Mr Hegarty noted: "A lot of pilgrims would go it regularly, years ago there used to be huge crowds, the anger surrounding the changes is unbelievable.

"We don't know if the pilgrimage for St John's Day can go ahead because the owner is just not communicating with us."

A spokeswoman from Meath County Council said: "St. John’s Well is not listed as a Protected Structure with Meath County Council.

"However, it is listed as a Stone Head with a National Monument number ME01694. "

A separate spokesman told "St John's Well is a National Monument and is therefore afforded more protection than a Protected Structure.

"It is illegal to make any changes to a National Monument without the written permission of the minister, I believe there is an investigation into this."

When contacted by, Mr Smith declined to comment on the issue.

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