Thursday, June 2, 2011

Synge's Holy Well

Holy well on Inis Mor
Synge's play "The Well of the Saints" is based on a story told to him on Inis mor about the holy well An Ceathrair Alainn, the Well of the Four Beautiful Persons. This well was known to cure blindness and epilepsy. Synge wrote down an old man's story:

A woman of Sligo had a son who was born blind, and one night she dreamed that she saw an island with a blessed well in it that could cure her son...Then she went out with the child and walked up to this well, and she kneeled down and began saying her prayers. Then she put her hand out for the water, and put it on his eyes, and the moment it touched him he called out: 'O mother, look at the pretty flowers!'

I wonder what Synge thought of this story. He was a staunch atheist, so I am inclined to believe he didn't go in for the story. But he had so many health problems, maybe he was attracted to the idea of a quick, magic fix.

Photo from DruidSynge's production of Well of the Saints
In the play, a blind husband and wife, Martin and Mary Doul (Doul means blind in Gaelic) go to the well to be cured of their blindness. They are both cured temporarily, but they realize that they are both very ugly - the townspeople had cruelly led them to believe they were the most beautiful people in Ireland. The play is a meditation on beauty (inner and outer), knowledge, and faith. It's one of my favorite Synge plays.

Last summer I visited this very well on Inis Mor, and performed the ritual of circling the well and placing the water on my eyes (I have a history of eye issues). The well water didn't cure me, and I wasn't expecting that it would, but I was curious about the ritual itself. Walking around the well was actually rather meditative, and I'd like to try it again this summer when I go.


  1. Hi there Emily, I'm Max, I'm Italian and I 'work' about Ireland since 12 years, right now we have a dedicated web community,
    I'd love to share, and mix, our 'Aran's experiences!'
    Best regards, Max for Q&R
    ps: back on the Island next July

  2. Hi Max, thanks for commenting and following my blog. Your work sounds fascinating, and I'd love to know more about your book and your website.

    I won't be on the island this July, unfortunately - I'm leaving at the end of June, but would love to hear about your experiences there.