Saturday 24 March 2018

Saint David's is still a well-revered landmark

Frances Ryan from Castlebridge at St David's Well
Frances Ryan from Castlebridge at St David's Well

'Go down there any day of the year and you will meet someone,' says one local who lies near Saint David's well in Oylegate.

More than one and a half centuries ago, this hillocky rural place sat beside what was then the main road between Wexford and Enniscorthy. Generations later, there are no signs on the modern N11 EuroRoute diverting passers-by towards the well. Yet still the people come here to say a prayer, to stock up on holy water, or simply to enjoy the peace.

Saint David, who was probably a native of Wales, remains well got in these parts. The local Catholic church and the neighbouring parish of Davidstown next door are both named in his honour. David has no Slaney valley web-site and reserves no space on Wexford billboards to promote his saintly brand, but the affection refuses to die.

There is reason to believe that there used to be a church here fadó fadó. And the rough rocks which litter the patch of lawn nearest the public road are probably ancient gravestones. Such signs suggest that this is a site long used for worship and religious rites, possibly dating back to early Christian times. The feast of Saint David remains very much on the local church calendar, with prayers said on the first day of the month of March each year.

Parish priest Father Jim Cogley will be lucky if he is joined by a hundred souls when he leads the ritual on that date in 2014.

Time was when crowd was likely to exceed the thousands mark, when boats ferried eager devotees across the Slaney from Bellevue and carriages brought groups from Wexford and Enniscorthy. Welsh pilgrims were known to make the trip from the Principality to join in.

Such enthusiasm is unheard of in the new millennium though it is reported that numbers attending picked up again in recent years – perhaps a side-effect of recession. In any case, the well is open to callers any day in any month, no need to make a reservation or wait for Saint David's Day.

According to Anna Rackard, writing in her 2002 published book 'Fish Stone Water', a farmer covered the spring and levelled the old well house in 1840.

However, grass refused to grow on the spot, or so legend has it, and it was re-opened to the public in 1910.

The well has long been tended by volunteers and it looks a treat, with lawns trimmed and trees pruned. The toilets work and the car park is kept clear. Attractions include a pleasant walk (more of a stroll actually) by the briskly flowing Valley stream which burbles brightly as it passes over a couple of neat weirs.

Back in the sixties, collectors fanned out from Oylegate. Their mission was to raise funds used to purchase a statue of Saint David which was specially imported from Italy. The statue in all its white glory remains prominent but it is the well which provides the real focus of interest, as it has for centuries beyond counting.

Narrow stone steps lead down to the sacred spot, allowing access for just one person at a time. The pool at the bottom of the steps is full to a consistent depth of 19 inches.

Fed by a never failing spring, the water is so clean that the coins on the bottom gleam even on a dull winter afternoon. This precious fluid used to be prized in treatment of all manner of ailments.

Regulars insist that the well water remains effective in eliminating warts. Take a turn off the N11 any day of the year to enjoy some open air therapy, warts or no warts.

New Ross Standard