Geopark Poetry Map Prompts 6

Hello Earth Lovers and Poetry Writers! We are in Fermanagh today for the Poetry Prompts to spark geoheritage themed poems on sites ranging around Marble Arch Caves Global Geopark. The closing date for submitting your poem for this digital Geopark Poetry Map is 15th June 2021. Email for full guidelines and some background research that Geopark staff have prepared to help ground your poem in the geoheritage of each site.

Yesterday’s prompts looked at some of the ecclesistical sites that are dotted around the Geopark. Today I want to look at Holywell in Belcoo, Co. Fermanagh. The limestone geology of the region creates many springs across the region. From Holywell itself you can probably track a local holy well about every mile and a half . Many have been forgotten or fallen into disrepair, but many are still the focus of personal spirituality.

Here is what Martina O’Neill of Marble Arch Caves UNESCO Global Geopark writes about this site.

Located just outside the village of Belcoo, St Patrick’s Holywell is one of many locate throughout the Geopark. The predominant limestone bedrock in the area dissolves in weakly acidic water allowing channels to be eroded both on top of and within the rocks. Much of the water in this regions flows through limestone rocks and where it reappears at the surface it is called a spring. It has not yet been confirmed where the water that flows into the well has it’s origins, although it is widely believed that it originates within the nearby Ballintempo uplands. Many of these springs have been termed ‘holywells’ and the example here is said to have been blessed by St Patrick himself. St Patrick’s Holywell is unusual as it flows in two directions and is also said to be the coldest in Ireland. Many such springs are said to have healing powers and as a result St Patrick’s Holywell is a place of pilgrimage for many local people who perform the Stations of the Cross during the Festival of Lughnasa at the end of July.

Martina O’Neil MACGeopark Development Officer, Partnerships & Engagement
Holywell, Belcoo, Co. Fermanagh

This water flowing in two directions is not unique to this locality. As you climb to the village of Boho, about five miles above Belcoo, you can look down at the Sillees River at a point behaving in just the same way! What’s that all about?!

Here is a short video clip of the thundering of the stream into the wellhead that I took a few years ago.

Video made by Irish Blessings Tours

This video made by Fermanagh TV tells much more of the folklore that is part and parcel of this holywell that has been sacred since the cult of Crom Cruich. St. Patrick came to bless the well with the coming of Christianity (also probably to discourage backsliders). Much is said of how cold the water is and I can confirm that it is extremely cold even in high summer. Many holy wells have ‘cures’ associated with them. Traditionally, Holy Well is associated with helping to relieve nervous conditions. The film is ten years old but ‘keeping the pattern’ has faithfully been performed until Covid disrupted everything.

In the film Mairead O’Dolan mentions the ash trees around Holywell. Ash does very well in this region. While in other parts of Ireland hawthorn trees are associated with holywells, here in the Geopark it is the ash that stands straight and tall beside many of our holy wells. My own local well just up the lane has a miniature wet ash woodland beside it, like a pocket sized Claddagh Glen. ( See Day 2 of these Poetry Prompts for more about that site.

I hope you get some inspiration to spark a poem on this MACGeopark site. But if this doesn’t speak to you, fear not, there will be another poetry prompt on the morrow!

Spiritual Bouquet

NaPoWriMo Day 11 is playing with the language of flowers. This Victorian practice was not new to me. I had researched flower meanings when we were planning our wedding. At first, I thought to revisit that very happy day back in 2016 before the world began to darken. That first effort limped to a halt.

My second effort is a prayer really. I am not a religious person, but religious symbolism is not lost on those who have had a pious upbringing. This morning my thoughts turned to our lane’s Marian shrine and holy well, which I visit every day for mine and the dog’s daily exercise. (

Marian Shrine Ireland
Tobar Mhuire in Co. Cavan, Ireland

Tonight, in Ireland, there is a movement to light a candle in solidarity for our health workers. This seems more urgent than ever in the Republic, where 26% of all Covid-19 infections are exposed health workers. This has been underlined with the news story that seventy doctors and nurses at Cavan General Hospital have tested positive. Four wards are closed. Essentially, the regional hospital is locked down to all but those with Covid-19.

Later today I will leave a battery powered candle and some flowers at the holy well. And some flowers. That’s the plan at least.

For those who are a bit resistant to the idea of a poem as a prayer, I refer you to Samuel Beckett. We may leave behind all ritual, but poetry writers never can completely leave behind the ritual words, the incantations, or sheer theatre of our soulful articulation.

All poetry is prayer
Spiritual Bouquet
Let the flowers signal my prayer,
my garden offering a spiritual bouquet
placed at the shrine beside our roadway.
Daffodils make a brighter resurrection
than pure lily, remote, but for its pollen
staining the unwary one’s  reputation.
Bolster them with fragrant hyacinth –
purple for these most earnest entreaties,
white to light this current labyrinth.
We have tulips! We can add those to the above.
Purple – again – brings abundant blessings.
Red signals Love’s divine perfection.
Grant us now – please – for I speak of
the sick, the scared, the lonely and lost
for want of care and kindness and love.
Grant us – please – a new beginning.
And comfort us as we grieve the losses
of all our world’s underpinnings.
Tulip, hyacinth, daffodil –
these are what I can offer now
while our world is at a standstill.
And thank you for your unwavering maternal love.
Here's a posy. A prayer. A spiritual bouquet.
At roadside shrine this Holy Saturday.
Copyright © Bee Smith, 2020. All rights reserved.
Marian shrine holywell Ireland
Tobar Mhuire, Mary’s Well, Dowra, Co. Cavan
Holy Well Ireland

2500 Steps: My Daily Walk

The prompt from NaPoWriMo2020 this morning is “asks you to write a poem about a specific place — a particular house or store or school or office. Try to incorporate concrete details, like street names, distances (“three and a half blocks from the post office”), the types of trees or flowers, the color of the shirts on the people you remember there. Little details like this can really help the reader imagine not only the place, but its mood – and can take your poem to weird and wild places.” I know that those who do not live in remote places cannot get out for much walking at the moment, so I thought I would share my daily walk with you. Or at least have a bash at it.

My walk takes me up our lane to the townland of Tubber, which is the Anglicisation of the Irish tóbar, meaning well. The holy well remains, even though the village was destroyed in a flood and avalanche in 1863.

2,500 Steps: A Breath
Two thousand five hundred steps
there, and back home again,
a daily pilgrimage, up and down
a hedge fringed lane,
moss, lichen limbed ash trees.
Alder that's up to its knees
soaks up the run off
from the lane side shuck.
Step, step, step – breathe.
A baby oak is growing up
through eon’s old rock.
There is primrose and buttercup.
Soon horsetail will spring its
bog brush bristles up.
Step, step, step – breathe.
There is bird song,
far off rumble of tractor engine,
anxious mehs from mothers of frisky twin lambs,
the lowing basso profundo
from brown cows in the old Pound.
Step, step, step – breathe.
The lane smells of new life
and silage liberated from black plastic bales.
There is the whispered suggestion
of precipitation, a mist on the cheek
that never soaks the skin.
Step, step, step – breathe.
The fields unfold their green and reach upland,
undulating towards the sky.
The Playbank ranges to the right, lorded by cloud…
sometimes the grey edged half-mourning kind
doing their best not to cry.
Step, step, step –breathe.
Pass the lost village’s old Pound.
Pass the modern barn where cows
soulfully munch their silage lunch,
patiently waiting to be put out to pasture.
Pass the remnant of what once was a house.
Step, step, step – breathe.
First, pause to let the fox cross the lane,
coming from its devotions at the holy well’s shrine.
What litany of  heart-felt murmurings
has weighed down the gnarled hawthorn’s limbs
with ribbons, scapulars, rosary beads, and mittens?
Listen to the burn’s rush and bustle.
The holy well’s sacred water rises and falls
in drought and flood. The alabaster plaster Mary
presides, stands open-armed for petitions
from those who have no other recourse than She.

Copyright ©Bee Smith 2020. All rights reserved.
Tubber Holy Well Clooties – rosary beads, ribons, and bits of cloth
Tubber Holy Well May 2017

Walking to the Holy Well

If you don’t live in Ireland,or other parts of what we know call the Celtic world, you may not be familiar with the concept of holy wells or sacred springs. But these are very much a feature of the Irish landscape.They are, however, not exclusive to Ireland. In Derbyshire, in England, each June they dress their wells with elaborate floral artwork, usually depicting some Bible scene. Chalice Well Gardens in Glastonbury are in the older religious tradition. The reverance for holy water and sacred spring is much older than Christianity. Unbeknownst to us when we bought our house, there is a holy well in a townland called Tubber, which is the Hiberno-English variant on the Irish tobár, meaning well. It was in disrepair for many years until a farmer neighbour realised it was on land he owned. He took up the role of ancestral well keeper and renovated it and had it rededicated and a curse lifted from it. (It’s a long story for another time. Just take it as read that we take this kind of thing for granted here in rural Ireland. Stuff like this happens. You deal with it the best you can. Or not. Which then becomes a curse.Then you need to deal with that, too.)

There was a new moon on the 30th and they are always useful for setting fresh intentions. Writing as much as I have been doing this past year I am really not very physically fit. It has really become noticeable to me. While I do take short walks with the little dog most days (we take turns on the exercising front), I decided I needed to start taking the longer walk up to the well on a daily basis. Of course, then there was torrential rain on the day. But yesterday I went up to the well and said some prayers for the many who ail or in trouble. There is always someone in trouble. I have written about holy wells before ( if you are curious about them.

For a bit of soulfulness on a Sunday I share with you a walk that I have taken many times over the past two decades. And there is a little snippet of video of its sanctuary in wet ash woodland.

Walking to the Holy Well

Once it was for everyday and everyone,
but sacred still all the same. And I walk
like ordinary and everyday pilgrims
of old. Supplicants all, of miracles
and small favours, walking the pattern of prayers,
the round and round and round of intentions.

The gnarled hawthorn wears clooties and rosaries.
An old neighbour said that once Our Lady
appeared here, to long ago, before Fatima,
before the Great Hunger and The Flood dispersed
the village named after its well to all corners
of the earth. Still, we keep walking up the hill.

Walkers need small favours and miracles,
seeking the cure for the curse of caring,
for the knowing of despair, its powerlessness,
the grief for love lost, the howl for justice.
The Lady stands there in mercy and mother love.
We all walk to her with our secrets,
unburdening our pain, speaking our dreams, wishes,
which is what wells were forever more for...

washing the woe, the worries, bathing in wonder,
laying al faith and hope in loving heaps
at The Lady's feet, tying beads, headbands, hankies
in thanks. And hope. On that gnarled tree.

Copyright © 2019 Bee Smith. All rights reserved

When the Well Runs Dry

I finished making my brídeog (Biddy Doll or St. Brigid’s doll) yesterday. The festival of Brigid (or Brigit or Brighid or Bride) runs from 31st January to 2nd February and coincides with Imbolc, the ancient Celtic festival that heralds spring time. And the return of the goddess Brigid in her maiden form. And the Feast Day of St. Brigit, Abbess of Kildare, one of Ireland’s three national saints. What you need to know about me is that I celebrate the coming a springtime (even though the upcoming Wolf Moon is also known as the Snow or Ice Moon) with as much fervour as most people reserve for Christmas, Thanksgiving or Halloween. I prepare, decorate and bake. And if there is snow that is no bother. The point is that the days are getting much lighter. When you live in Ireland that is is something to celebrate. Winter is on the wane. Wey-hey! The light is returning!

So I have been considering the many associations of both the goddess Brigid and St. Brigit. They are both fire and water women. This year I am feeling all ‘watery’. So today’s Poetry Daily celebrates sacred springs and holy wells. Of which Ireland has many. The poem is an octet -eight lines of eight syllables each. Eight being the number of infinity, it seems to be suited to water.

I was seeking inspiration when I started the day feeling a bit blank as my page. But the patron saint of inspiration never runs dry of ideas. She is also the patron saint (matron saint?) of poets.

When a Well Runs Dry

What to do when the well runs dry?
You dig a new one, so you do.
Where's the cure gone when the well's dry?
It flees into nearby tree. See
the clouties tied, where all wishes vie?
Wells may crumble, silt up, dry.
Water stays holy, cannot die.
Water will ever sanctify.

For those living outside of Ireland I will treat you to photos of crumbling wells, clouties and the shrines that surround many of them. All those pictured are within a ten mile radius of where I live. It’s limestone country. Springs are everywhere. And everywhere are sacred.

St. Brigids Holy Well
Killargue, Leitrim St. Brigit’s Well
Holy well
My local holy well at Tubber before restoration
Holy Well
Holy Well, Belcoo, Fermanagh
Cloutie Tree Holy Well Leitrim
Cloutie Tree at Holy Well, Leitrim
Badgers Well
The Badger’s Well, Glenfarne, Leitrim
Brigids Way Bee Smith poems
Poems celebrating Brigid in all Her glory
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