A reliable and clean source of water is essential for any community, so it is easy to understand how important wells were for pre-modern peoples. More complex is the mystical relationship humans have developed with these sites, which are imbued with a sacredness that predates Christianity.
Holy Wells of Wexford and Pembrokeshire is a series of five chapbooks celebrating holy wells in two regions with common ancestry and history. Since at least the Bronze Age, sea travel between these two lands has meant cross-fertilisation of traditions and common names associated with wells of both regions. Of significance is the long-standing friendship between two early Christian saints: David, who became the first Bishop of St Davids; and Aidan, born in Ireland, who spent time in Wales and then founded monasteries in Ireland, including at Ferns. In Oilgate, Wexford, there is a well dedicated to David and, at Whitesands near St Davids in Pembrokeshire, there is one named after Aidan. Each of the five books approaches the subject from different perspectives and mediums, including fiction, poetry and essays as well as photographs and prints.
The Oldest Music, has been compiled by Phil Cope, a photographer and author based in South Wales who has several published works on the subject of holy wells. It explores and celebrates how holy wells have inspired poets for hundreds of years and includes a selection of old and new poems, in Welsh, English and Irish, including by Lewys Glyn Cothi, Gwynfardd Brycheiniog, Ieuan ap Rhydderch, Angela Graham, Tony Curtis, Grace O’Reilly, Eirwyn George, Dafydd Williams, Julian Cason, Lorraine O’Dwyer, Brian Jackson, Phil Carradice and Phil Cope. The Volume is illustrated by Phil Cope’s compelling photographs.
The Bright Plain contains two short stories by Michelle Dooley Mahon; ‘The Deacon’ and ‘The Meadow of Women’, in which ritual devotions are placed in contemporary contexts. She writes of illness, suffering, devotion and healing with startling simplicity and a dose of humour. These are not metaphors or coincidences, but real events, requiring neither explanation nor justification. Alongside are toned cyanotype prints by Caitriona Dunnett of St Anne’s well, Lady’s Island and the surrounds of other wells in South Wexford; ethereal, uncanny images that conjure up the past or even the Otherworld, whilst also being here and now.
St Aidan of Ferns is written by Christopher Power, a historian and librarian living in Ferns. He has tracked the story of St Aidan, the founder and first bishop of the diocese of Ferns, through the places named after him, the archaeological remains and the literature that recounts his miraculous works, based on the hagiographies of the early Saints. There are two holy wells dedicated to St Aidan: St Mogue’s Well in Ferns, Co. Wexford and St Maedhog’s well at Whitesands, Pembrokeshire. Additionally, there are a number of churches and cathedrals including St Edan’s Cathedral in Ferns, St Aidan’s Cathedral, Enniscorthy, St Mogue’s at Haroldston West, Pembrokeshire and St Aidan’s Church at Llawhaden, Pembrokeshire. The locations of these sites correspond to Aidan’s life’s journey, in particular the two regions where his impact was most keenly felt: Wexford and Pembrokeshire.
Song of Water, presents two stories set in the time of the early saints by Diana Powell. In ‘Gift’, we are submerged into the birth of St David in a visceral and watery account seen through his mother’s eyes. It is said that Non, a powerful saint in her own right, gave birth to David on a clifftop in a terrible storm. In ‘A Pilgrim’s Wife’, we meet St Gwenonwy ach Meurig, a welsh noblewoman who married St Gwyndaf, an aristocrat and native of Brittany. St Gwyndaf was a contemporary of David and Aidan, and it was a falling out with the latter over a holy well that led to his settling at Llanwnda, at least for a while. Of Gwenonwy, we know very little. Did she embrace this ascetic lifestyle on the bleak and wild coastline of North Pembrokeshire, or did she long for her old life of relative luxury or did she pursue a different path all of her own? The two stories are illustrated with fluid and earthy etchings by Flora McLachlan.
Drawing from the Well takes us on a personal journey; a pilgrimage from West Wales to Wexford seeking a deeper understanding of ancestry, roots and inheritance. What is passed from generation to generation? A photo, a song. And what gets left behind or lost along the way? In Drawing from the Well, Rowan O’Neill travels with water collected from a well next to the Church where she was baptised, looking for a place to pour it, a place of connection and meaning.
The series of books is available to purchase retail from St Davids Cathedral Gift & Bookshop (in Wales) or the ferns Medieval Experience (in Ireland).
The books are published by Parthian Books, click here for their website.
Please get in touch with them if you wish to become an outlet or if you have any other enquiries about the books.