Friday, March 1, 2013

Saint David’s Holy Well, Tinakilly, County Waterford.

St David's Cathedral, Wales

Tinakilly is a small hamlet in the peaceful and secluded townland of Woodhouse (not the Woodhouse estate that Michael Jackson once tried to buy!) not far from the village of Clashmore. At it’s heart sits a beautiful holy well dedicated to Saint David, the patron Saint of Wales, whose feast day is the 1st March which marks the day of his death in 601AD.

The statue of Saint David at the well

We know a great deal about Saint David. He was from an aristocratic family in Wales and lived in the sixth century, his mother -  Non – also became a saint and he was educated and instructed in Christianity by Saint Paulinus. He is responsible for setting up a monastic settlement at Menevia, which later became known as Saint David’s in Wales where an impressive Cathedral dating from 1181 now stands and in which sits a newly restored shrine containing his relics. His monastic rule was severe. Monks were to be diligent in regular fasting, they were not to eat any kind of meat or ever allow alcohol to pass their lips,  they were not to use animals to help them plough the fields, till the land or to carry burdens, but instead were expected to do such work themselves, they were to spend every evening from sun-down to sleeping in prayer, study and in transcribing the scriptures by hand. The monks were expected to have ownership of nothing and if a monk asked to have something he considered to be his (for instance, if he asked for ‘his’ book) they would be severely disciplined. It was said at the time that David lived only off simple bread and water, but he was known as being compassionate underneath this hard, austere veneer and was well respected as a great orator. 

Saint David's shrine in the Cathedral

Saint David had a significant influence on some Irish saints, most notably Saint Aidan (aka, Mogue or Edan). He may also have had an influence on Declan as the Life of Declan contains a fleeting reference to Declan and a few of his monks travelling to Wales to meet with David and learn the art of oration in an attempt to engage Ireland’s great ‘rhetoriticians’. These are presumably the same ‘rhetoriticians’ that Patrick famously rails against in his Confessio, but sadly we nothing about them. David’s chief biographer was Rhygyfarch who compiled his Life in the eleventh century, but was keen to add to what he compiled! His compiled Life contains wonderful stories of Saint David’s birth in dramatic fashion, with lightning bolts and scores of angels and his death occurs in a likewise manner. It is Rhygyfarch who first creates an Irish link, suggesting that a Saint Elvis of Munster baptised David, but no matryrology, none of the annals, nor any saints Life contains any reference to this mysterious Saint Elvis, but it may be a mis-spelling of a derivative of Saint Ailbe. Other than the curious tale in Rhygyfarch’s Life regarding the evasion of harm from jealous monks and involving a ride on the back of a sea monster, there are no records of David ever having made the journey to Ireland after his baptism, yet from Dublin city down as far as Youghal his presence and influence is felt. In this strip of the coastline there are numerous holy well’s dedicated to him, many churches and chapels, schools and former homes and hospitals. His influence on the saints of this area in Ireland was considerable, and many of them took up his challenging lifestyle that was so influenced by the Egyptian Fathers.

Saint David's holy well

The village of Clashmore is closely associated with its own saint, Saint Mochua, and is the second most important parish in the Baronry of the Decies after Ardmore. A holy well sits at the very heart of the village and a pattern of sorts is observed on 10th February. Mochua ( a pig farmer) existed in the area dominated by Saint Declan and was deeply influenced by him, but there is no record of him meeting or being directly influenced by Saint David. He died in 631AD, having been murdered by locals. Up the hill out of the village of Clashmore, past a large pig farm and into the townland of Woodhouse sits the holy well. Access to this well is a little difficult. You have to cross a farmer’s field, then a stream in a deep trench, then clamber up the bank into a grove of hazel trees. From here you can follow the stream through the twisted trees to a peaceful spot. If you arrive at the right time, you will find the well surrounded by daffodils and in the distance you can hear quite clearly the bells of the Angelus ringing.

Very little is known about this holy well, and very few people seem to be aware of its existence. It has a sandy base through which the water bubbles up, sometimes quite dramatically. It is a circular well with a low stone wall surrounding it, flanked by numerous daffodils and with a small statue of Saint David dressed in his episcopal attire. He holds a large cross and at his feet sits his symbol of the dove (although it looks a little more like an eagle!). It is a very special place, full of both mystery and beauty. There are no offerings left, no rags on trees, just the silence and the bubbles. This is one of the most rewarding wells I have visited, in part due to its untouched and somewhat wild nature, but also because of its hidden location.  Even if Saint David’s feet never touched these shores, his influence is certainly present, an influence that likely began in this area as far back as Saint Declan.

A pig on the farm

Almighty God, who called your servant Saint David to be a faithful and wise steward of your mysteries for the people of Wales: in your mercy, grant that, following his purity of life and zeal for the Gospel of Christ, we may with him receive the crown of everlasting life; through Jesus Christ your Son our Lord, who is alive and reigns with you, in the unity of the Holy Spirit, one God, now and for ever. 

How to find it:
From the village of Clashmore take the R671, turning right before you reach Clogh. Up the hill of this narrow lane, and past a pig farm on the left, take the bend to the flat part of the road on the right. High hedges surround the fields, but a view through a gate on the left should reveal the ditch where the stream runs and the hazel grove. Cross the field and stream and turn right up through the hazels to the well.