Lady’s Well, Athenry, Co Galway

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Tradition tells the story that a Marian apparition took place on 15th August I249 after the battle of Athenry. An account in the Annals of Iar Chonnacht record that a battle took place. The Normans within the town requested the Irish not to attack and to honour the feast-day. However, the Irish made an attack and were defeated.

In this vicinity of Lady’s Well, tradition preserves for us the legend that Our Lady appeared to a wounded soldier as he was being carried away from the battle-field. It is also very likely that the new priory built in Athenry by the Dominicans in 1241 promoted the Marian devotion.

Lady’s Well is a very popular place of pilgrimage throughout the year. The main pilgrimage takes place on August 15th and for the past 750 years people gather from Athenry parish and the surrounding areas agus Muintir na Gaeltachta freisin. Many return home on holidays to meet at ‘The Well’, to be with their families and to keep contact with their friends.

The waters of the Well remind us that our pilgrim journey begins at Baptism. The tree that shadows the setting is a symbol of the Christian call to grow in holiness by raising our hearts to God and reaching out our hands to care for people.

The Celtic Pieta

It dates from the 14th century and is set in the outer wall of the Well. The Mother holds the body of the dead Christ – not cradled in her arms as in the continental style – but in an almost upright position against her body. Signs of considerable damage are due to erosion and the tradition that it was defaced by Cromwellian soldiers

The Headache Stone

This large rectangular stone with the cavity in the centre was a socket for a medieval cross. There is a strong tradition of personal healing associated with this stone.

The Calvary

In 1932, the year of the Eucharistic Congress, the Calvary was erected.

The Grotto

It was put in place in 1954 to mark the Marian Year.

The Millennium Park

To mark Jubilee 2000, the Millennium Park was developed. This imaginative design is in the form of a Celtic Cross. The tradition of the Celtic Cross – the Cross placed against the sun – is a unique symbol of the harmonious tradition from pagan worship to Christianity in Ireland. This Park leading into Lady’s Well is a place of reflection and peace.

As we begin a new century, a time of change and transition, people will find in this beautiful setting a place of rest and harmony to reflect on our Christian heritage and find the energy to face the future with confidence.

The Sculpture

This 81” high Sculpture in Kilkenny limestone is the centre-piece of the Millennium Park. It embraces a broad symbolism – the tradition of Our Lady and the soldier after the Battle of Athenry. Here too, we find the image of RETURN and ATONEMENT. The ‘Home-coming of someone estranged from family and community, to give expression to the desire for forgiveness, confirmation and unity.

Conversely, the Sculpture might also be seen as a DEPARTURE, a commission to go forth and evangelise in the great Irish tradition of mission. A reminder of the people, priests and religious who left the parish down the centuries bringing with them their culture and faith. A missionary image and a tribute to the Irish Diaspora; or simply to suggest the beginning of a journey, appropriate at the start of the new millennium. A call to make a fresh beginning, full of hope.

At another level, the Sculpture can be viewed simply as an image of human (romantic) LOVE and through this a reference to St. Paul’s mystical marriage of Christ and his Bride, the Church.

The Lady’s Well Millennium Park and Sculpture were officially opened and blessed on August 15th 1999. Lady’s Well Committee and helpers are a voluntary group of parishioners who take care of this special place.

This year has seen further work being done with the erection of a fence all around at the back of the Grotto and also along by the stream. Eight trees are also being planted by the wall near the main road. The committee are in the process of having tar and chips put on the car park and on some other areas.

Scripted by Canon Tony King P.P., Athenry

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About this record

Written by Tony King

Published here 10 Jul 2023 and originally published Christmas 2001

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