If you’d love to experience something reminiscent of a medieval adventure, then the ancient well located on the wild and remote west side of Ireland’s Valentia Island is worth going out of your way for.
Legend has it that in the 5th century, Saint Brendan “the Navigator,” one of Ireland’s early monastic saints, sailed to this Irish island from Dingle Bay. He then climbed up the steep, wild cliffs at Culoo Rock and anointed two dying pagans at the spring, bringing Christianity to the island.
The well believed to be used by Saint Brendan sits in its original spot and now has a simple altar built around it. Some peculiar offerings, like shoes, are placed there by pilgrims. Near the holy spring you’ll notice three medieval stone crosses—presumably from the 7th or 8th century—hidden within the high, wind-whipped grass.
The whole area is quite desolated; you can only see the colors of stones, land, sky, and ocean all around. A kind of solemn, mystic beauty can be felt here. The well is near O’Shea’s Pub, the faux pub made famous by a Guinness commercial, down a remote road riddled with potholes.
Brendan the Navigator is renowned for his legendary quest to the “Isle of the Blessed.” According to some, he is said to have crossed the ocean in his currach, a traditional Irish boat, and discovered North America centuries before Columbus (though others think he found Greenland instead). His exploits are described in the Latin text Navigatio Sancti Brendani (Voyage of Saint Brendan the Navigator) that tells of how he set off onto the Atlantic Ocean with a number of monks in search of the Garden of Eden. The tale fits in with a then-popular genre of Irish stories, called Immram, which detail tales that describe a hero’s series of seafaring adventures in search of a distant “Otherworld.”
As a result of his journeys, Brendan has always been seen as the patron saint of sailors and those who travel, so his holy well is a must-see for all adventure seekers. The Prayer of Saint Brendan even begins with the lines, “Help me to journey beyond the familiar and into the unknown.”
Know Before You Go
Once on Valentia island, follow the GPS indications to the well, you’ll meet road signs along the road at a certain point. The final part of the road to Saint Brendan’s Well is full of big potholes, so drive very slowly! As you reach O’Shea’s Pub, leave the car there and proceed on foot. Note that the area is boggy: Bring boots, especially after a rainy period. The cliffs at Culoo are close by, but please pay extreme caution if you go there. It is a place known for tragedies caused by freak waves.