Wells and Wellbeing – new book links the water science and traditions behind Irish holy wells

Posted on: 21 December 2023

Dr Bruce Misstear, Fellow Emeritus in Trinity’s School of Engineering, recently launched a new book – Wells and Wellbeing, The Hydrogeology of Irish Holy Wells.

Bruce, an expert in groundwater, says the book will promote a greater understanding of the sources of water that supply Ireland's many holy wells, including the chemical composition of the different well waters.

He hopes the book will appeal to the general reader interested in the science behind holy wells, and in groundwater topics more generally, including their importance to society and the potential links between water quality and human health.

Bruce Misstear sampling water and recording notes near St Kevin's Well.

Dr Bruce Misstear near St Kevin's Well.

Dr Misstear said: “Holy wells have been important in Ireland for many centuries, and probably millennia, and continue to be popular sites of local pilgrimage and folklore, but they are also an expression of the groundwater flowing beneath the landscape.

“I hope this book will appeal to anyone who is curious about holy wells, while I also hope scientists and engineers will be interested by the data it contains on Irish hydrogeology, and the analyses and inferences drawn. They may also take away a greater appreciation of the number of holy wells across Ireland, their patrons, and traditions.”

Minister Eamon Ryan, who has responsibility for Geological Survey Ireland, publisher of the book, said:

“I welcome the publication of this beautiful book that explains the current scientific understanding around sites that have been special places, places of homage, to people for generations. As we face the challenges of our changing climate and environment, there is value in reconnecting with the land, the water sources, and our respect for the Earth.”

The book first introduces sacred wells and springs across the globe and then focuses on holy wells in Ireland, and their geological and hydrogeological settings.

The book then assesses the chemical makeup of the holy well waters and considers the potential links between water chemistry and human health, including the many reputed cures associated with holy wells, before considering Irish holy wells in their religious, cultural and community contexts, as well as their preservation for future generations.

Wells and Wellbeing book cover

Illustrated with more than 200 photographs, plus many maps and other images, Wells and Wellbeing is available through the Geological Survey Ireland online bookshop.