With the Advent of Christianity to Ireland, water, which had been the source of life itself in the Pagan Celtic mind, was still worshipped. Sanctuaries such as wells became shrines where people gathered to thank God for supplying the very essence of life, and to commemorate the saint associated with that particular site.
In time, later saints would lend their names to many of the holy wells while others, with their long tradition of "Patterns" and pilgrimages have simply vanished after falling out of favour with newer generations. There are 210 holy wells listed in County Galway, which would indicate that rural communities in particular have a particular fondness for such sites.
Practically every Parish has its own holy well. For example, Lady's well in Athenry has a big pattern on August 15th every year, and is a major centre for Marian devotion in the country.
There is one devoted to a female saint, St. Surney at Drumacoo near Kinvara, another dedicated to St. Bridget in Loughrea. In the parish of Castlegar, Tobermacduagh (St. Mac Duagh's well) lies in the townland of Polkeen, while nearby, Toberandoney (the well of the Kings of Sunday) is in Cloonacauneen. Some holy wells created a problem with alcohol abuse occurring in their vicinity after devotions, leading, on strict church orders, to their eventual abandonment.
These wells, known as "Uaran" in Irish , (as in Oranmore, Oranswell etc) were revered - St. Colman's well in Kilmacduagh, St. Grellan's in Ballinasloe, St. Cuan's in Ahascragh, Tobar Chiaráin in Kilkerrin, St. McDaras well near Carna etc.
The best known well in the city is St. Augustine's well on Lough Athalia which was recently restored by the Galway Civic Trust. People still gather there on his feast day for devotions and many cures have been reported for ailments such as earaches and even blindness. There was an extraordinary cure attributed to this well of a seriously ill boy, Patrick Lynch on June 23rd, 1673.
There was a well dedicated to St. Brendan which was attended by "The Key - Street dwellers of old" on his feast day, May 16th. There was one called St. Bride's in the eastern suburbs, St. Bridget's near the Custom House, St. Anne's near Whitestrand Road, and the one in our photograph today, St. James holy well which was situated near the old graveyard in Rahoon. This photograph was taken c.1865, and was given to us by the National Library.
All of the above information, (with the exception of the photograph) is taken from a new book entitled "A history of County Galway" written by Peadar O Dowd. It is hard to believe you could squeeze such a history going from the ice age to the present, into one volume, but Peadar has done this in great style, and easy to read fashion. He traces political, administrative, social and economic developments in the county over the centuries. Highly informative, highly recommended at ?14.99 in the bookshops.