Monday, March 17, 2014

The Old Dublin custom of visiting St. Patrick's Well

Quality Irish knitwear and crafts shops grace Nassau Street in Dublin city centre. The Porterhouse, Kilkenny Design Shop and Celtic Note (and check the Irish mythology wall between the two!) are some of my favourites on the street. Well, on one side of the street. The high railings of Trinity College border the other side.

Notice how much higher the street is compared to the college? Most of the streets are several feet higher than they were 500 years ago. Nassau street, however has another cause besides medieval refuse. In 1685 the Thingmote was levelled and the earth brought to fill the street and make it 'grande', as the Wide Streets Commission saw it. Ah sure, for Dubliners, sure it was grand already.

And it wasn't just the havoc of roadworks that should annoy denizens. Something was covered. A sacred shrine.

An old St. Patrick's Day tradition in Dublin was to visit the holy well of St. Patrick and immerse you shamrocks and maybe even yourself in the holy waters once blessed by our patron saint.

The junction of Nassau & Dawson streets

At the side entrance of Trinity College

Glimpse down through the railings

The entrance to the well 

In 1729, Jonathan Swift wrote 'Verses Occasioned by the Sudden Drying Up of St Patrick's Well near Trinity College, Dublin'. Being the wonderful satirist that he was, the title does not betray its contents, remininscent of 'A Modest Proposal'. It was, I assume, the intentional filling in of the well that forced Swift enraged pen. Besides his usual impressive writing, Swift substantially demonstrates his historical knowledge.

Click here to view the poem.

I hope you read it. Read it. Now!

Good. (I hope you read it.) It's a narrative of the author and St. Patrick basically cursing at the British. So, yes, that's why it was only published after Swift's death.

I wonder if Swift wasn't also lamenting, as a portent, not so much the changing of the street name from 'St. Patrick's Well Lane' with 'Nassau St.' but the fact that since Irish Independence we have neglected to revert the name. Most Dubliners have no idea, it seems, that 'Nassau St.' was named after King William III, a member of the House of Orange-Nassau.

So if you want to want to visit the well, you'll have to ask Trinity authorities to gain access.

Georgian-era brickwork*

Underlying ancient stones*

St. Patrick's Well - thought to be once up to 20ft deep now roughly a mere 4ft*

At least it's much more accessible than Dublin's OTHER St. Patrick's Well, buried under the park beside St. Patrick's Cathedral. 

Sure, we couldn't have just one.