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Ancient custom at Mayo Holy Well

Tobar Mhuire, St. Mary’s Holy Well, near Rosserk Abbey, Ballina, is one of the most unique holy wells in Ireland.

The holy well is covered over by a tiny chapel that was built in honour of the Blessed Virgin in 1798 by John Lynott of Rosserk and is located near Rosserk Friary.

The Pattern Day or Novena at St. Mary’s Holy Well, Rosserk, opens on August 15th and closes on September 8th each year. Mass is celebrated on the Sunday nearest August 15th.

The Rosary path to Tobar Mhuire was blessed and opened by the Rev. John Fleming, Bishop of Killala, and Right Rev. Dr, Richard C.A. Henderson, Bishop of Tuam, Killala and Achonry on the 15th of August 2007.

The barely legible inscription on the chapel is in both English and Latin.

The English epigraph reads:

“In memory of the Virgin Mother, this chapel was built in the year of Our Lord 1798 by John Lynott of Rosserk, Pax, Amor.”

The Latin translates: “Pursue justice, then you shall have no fear of God in death.”

Ragtree custom continues

The 'ragtree ' protruding from the roof of the chapel over St. Mary's Holy Well, Tobar Mhuire, Rosserk, Ballina, Co Mayo. Photo: Anthony Hickey
The ‘rag tree ‘ protruding from the roof of the chapel over St. Mary’s Holy Well, Tobar Mhuire, Rosserk, Ballina, Co Mayo. Photo: Anthony Hickey

One of the interesting features of Tobar Mhuire, Rosserk, is the 7 stations in the form of stone circles and mounds around the well. Pilgrims and visitors recite prayers at each station.

A hawthorn bush, protruding through the roof of the chapel, is decorated with rags and other memorabilia such as rosary beads.

The ‘ragtree’ is an ancient pagan custom that was common in Ireland up to the late 1970s, mostly among the Traveller community, but the tradition has since largely died out. However, you will still see the custom continued at some holy wells where there is a hawthorn bush.

St. Mary’s Holy Well is located at the end of what is known as the Rosary path – a few hundred yards before you come to Rosserk Friary. The path is well signposted.

By Anthony Hickey

Follow writer and photographer, Anthony Hickey, as he travels around his native Co. Mayo, Ireland.

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