Lady’s Well Millennium Park – Christmas 1998

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In every parish, some places are special.  They call us back.  They are surrounded with all kinds of memories.  In my experience of the parishes where 1 have worked as a priest over the past thirty years, two places stand out.  The Garland Friday pilgrimage on the Croagh Patrick on the last Friday of July prior to the National Pilgrimage stays with me in a memorable way.

The early morning climb and the rest halfway up the mountain on a small plateau always stands out in that panoramic setting.  Looking out over Clew Bay, the islands, the rising sun lifting the fog over Westport and to watch the smoke beginning to rise from the homes in Murrisk.  Down below the winding path tells the stories of all the pilgrims who have made the climb for fifteen hundred years.  Behind you lies the towering summit of the Reek, nature’s great cathedral of the West, calling you onwards.  Just to sit there and allow your thoughts to flow and the imagination to wander.  The atmosphere of that setting soaks into you and fills the empty places in the soul.

Since coming to Athenry, Lady’s Well has taken on that special sense of place for me.  To walk around in the quietness of the early morning and look into the waters of the Well.  You are forced to think of the thousands who have come here for reflection and peace.  Footprints in prayer for over 700 years in this special place.

One of my favourite images of Church is pilgrim people.  God is calling us onwards on our faith-journey.  We travel together, at times lean on each other for support and experience hospitality and friendship along the way.  But there is also the inward journey.  Looking into the Well, it calls you to look deep into yourself Here we stand in our time on the shoulders of generations who have gone before us.

So many who came here are laid to rest thousands of miles from home.  And their challenge to us is to cherish and live the faith and values we have received.  To be sure, it is a place of comfort, but it also a place where we have to face our own truth and listen to the challenge.  Are we handing on or just hanging on?

The Well speaks about all that.  Each year, it becomes the ‘gathering place for thousands as they come home for Lady Day and meet old friends at Mass in the Well.  This coming together in this place has deep roots not merely for the people of the parish but for so many people in the surrounding areas.

Symbols always mark our stories.  The Well is a powerful one.  Few parishes have a place so rich in tradition, faith and culture.  The setting is such peaceful environs calls us to be in touch with deep roots.  The Calvary marks the Eucharistic Congress in 1932 and the Grotto was built to mark the Marian Year of 1954.  From information to-date, the Grotto was built by Joe Maloney of Old Church St., and Battie Cunniffe, Park.  Paddy Dempsey, Dunsandle, supplied the stones for the inside section.  Willie Burke, Old Church St., brought the stones for the front of the Grotto from Cartymore.  Bertie Powell, the local engineer, presented the Statue of Our Lady and Willie Higgins presented the statue of St. Bernadette (any further information and names of people involved would be welcome).  Major development work was carried out in 1988 by the Lady’s Well committee.

The Millennium Park development adjacent to the Well is making steady progress.  Already it’s design and lay-out has drawn the interest of other groups around they country who are planning to do something significant in their own parish to mark the year 2000.  The Sculpture planned as a centre-piece in the park will carry the rich tradition of faith and culture into the next century.  In an artistic and creative way, the sculpture will hold together a broad symbolism – the tradition of Our Lady and the soldier after the Battle of Athenry, August 15th. 1249.

Here also is the image of ‘Home-Coming’ the welcome home of the wanderer, the person who has become estranged from family or community to experience the forgiveness and healing of all that is broken in life.  The embrace of reconciliation.  Surely, a very powerful message in harmony with all that we are searching for in our own country at the present time.

‘Departure’ – is also another image that the Sculpture carries.  Echoes of all the people who have left our parish down through the years and they brought with them their faith, their culture and skills and reared their families ten thousand miles from home.  A missionary image of their fidelity and what they passed on to their families and the enormous contribution of the Irish Diaspora around the world.  It marks as well, the work and witness of sisters, priests and brothers, over eighty of them still bearing witness to the Gospel in different parts of the globe.

But for all of us, this Sculpture and the Millennium Park with it’s imaginative design incorporating a celtic cross, marks the beginning of a new journey.  What place could be more suitable to mark the Birth of Our Saviour, two thousand years ago than to do it at Lady’s Well?

Lady’s Well Committee would welcome your good-will, interest and financial support to see this project through.  It is an opportunity for all of us, at home and abroad to take ownership of this imaginative venture in our parish.  Contributions to Our Lady’s Well Millennium Park Fund may be sent to any member of the committee.  Tommy Quinn, Chairman, Ballydavid.  Monsie Kennedy, Hon Secretary Swangate, Jimmy Somers, Hon.  Treasurer Swangate.

Our Lady’s Well Millennium Park will be a fitting tribute by the people of our parish to mark our Christian faith and our confidence as we face a new century.  Here something memorable will be created.  We will leave behind us a memorial that future generations will be justly proud of.  This place will mark a new era and build on a great tradition.

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About this record

Written by Tony King

Published here 18 Apr 2023 and originally published Christmas 1998

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