Holy Waters of Saint Bridget at Ballycumber

This story I first heard from a poem read by Rosemary Porter at Banaghers “Readings from the Pallet” festival some years back. I retell the story in my verse here…

“The good you wish may it come back double on you, the ill threefold return to you”
~ Irish proverb

“A holy well, once defiled, will spring anew some distance away, and ill befall the defiler”
~ Irish superstition

Me at Leamonaghan Fairy Tree close to Ballycumber some years back
Me at Leamonaghan Fairy Tree close to Ballycumber some years back

Johnson, cruelty in his heart
Saw the locals in his fields gather round
It was Pattern Day at St Bridgets Well
Where annually they could be found.
With bullwhip and dog he attacked the crowd
Drove them from their worship away
He believed it a Pagan not a Christian belief
At a Holy Well to pray.

For Catholics he had little time
He thought the peasent a fool
He was of the Established faith
Was tyrannical in his rule
No Christian welcome for a begger
Was to be found at his door
They were sent to the road at once
By the same means used before.

No merchants they in a temple
But the least of folk most of need
No Christ he was though called himself Christian
All he knew was naked hatred and hard greed.

The holy well he ordered filled in
So Patterns at it no longer could be made
Only to find it reappeared
In his own houses basement instead.
His house was high set to the well
That it was connected he said it could not be so
Water found its way out as it always does
Set its path to the old well to flow.

In the middling ground a pool deep did form
To a height it did its hollow fill
Overflowed its banks, and continued on
To the old well site to spill.
“Open the well” the order he gave
Though he did not believe it would help at all
The spring neath the house it dried
Though the water level in the pool would not fall.

It had no spring to fill it
No one knew where the water was from
Though dry the week it would not empty
More water to it would come
As if Moses himself had struck the rock
It oozed from the ground beneath
Soon stories of miracles spread the area around
Locals came to pray and bathe their feet.

Apoplectic now – TWO pagan sites
In the fields of a Christian man
He set an idea cruel from the heart of Satan:
To action he set his plan!
One morning before the locals came
In the quiet hours after dawn and before mass
He to the pool waded and spread
Shards of sharp transparent broken glass.

The locals came as in their time they would
Prayers muttered, in the waters walked
To scream with pain when they stepped on the glass
Of his great cruelty today its still talked.
Now, a man of Christ, and his wife, to his door
Travellers, – some say Mongans was the family name –
He, angered, set the dog upon the wife,
That savaged her when she to his door for alms came.

The husband, blood boiling, to the door he strode
Revenge in his heart for this hard hearted man
(God gives courage where others would baulk
The the wronged justice seeking man.)
When he showed up at the door
Johnstone came out with a gun pointed
But Mongans wrestled it wrong the wrechedhearteds hands
And the landlord was set by it to be anointed!

“Walk through the glass that you for us set,
With not on your feet sock or boot,
Feel the pain you made Christians feel
And you I will not shoot”
Not those words he spoke exact but similar
As through the waters at gunpoint he did the landlord lead
Who roared with pain that Christ bore without a moan
Red waters ran as his feet did bleed.

The gun was into the waters tossed
Mongans set his way back to his wife to make
Johnston to his house went to rest
To his sick bed he did take.
His bed he never walked from again
Infection to the wounds had set
Justice, or Karma, or Gods Will, I know not which it was
But the evil in him was beat.

The locals say that before he died
To Catholicism he converted and did repent
I know not, care less if that is or is not so
That he got his own medicine I am content.
“The good you will may you get double
The bad return triple time to you” folk say
Its a good lesson of life for those of privilige and fortune to remember
As I finish this tale here today…


Pattern – a prayer session at a holy well, and the procession thereto. A Holy Day at a Holy Well. From pagan times it was continued through to Christian times, when the local saint is said to have blessed the well.

Johnston A cruel landowner who had just bought the Castle Armstrong estate.


Article on OffalyHistory.com

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