WHOLLY WELL READ: Stone and Tree Sheltering Water

WHOLLY WELL READ – Susan Connolly & Anne-Marie Moroney (1998)
Flax Mill Publications, 1998.

0 9533822 0 6

A5, paperback,
90 pages, colour plates, map, glossary, bibliography, index.



Available from:

Flax Mill Publications,
34 Ballypark,
Flax Mill Lane,
Co. Louth,


a charming, well-researched book with an unusual approach to its subject.




Stone and Tree Sheltering Water:
an Exploration of the Sacred and Secular Wells in County LouthBy Susan Connolly and Anne-Marie Moroney   This attractive book takes a rather different approach to the study of wells, in that the two authors have set the usual prose descriptions alongside poetry inspired by the wells they examine. The aim is to examine the wells in history and the landscape, while at the same time exploring one person’s response to the sites as expressed in their poetry. This approach, it is hoped, will encourage others to seek out the wells, meet the local people, and discover the landscape in which the wells are set.

The book is a small work of art in itself, its cover decorated by a copy of a batik by Anne-Marie Moroney. Unusually for a book about wells, this is illustrated with colour plates that give the reader a very good impression of the charm and magic of the wells visited.

Section 1, entitled ‘Well fever’, is the poetry section by Susan Connolly. The poems are short – rarely longer than one page – and impressionistic. Response to poetry is a personal thing so I will make no comment and leave readers to make up their own minds. I rather like them.

Section 2, ‘Sunrise around the well: a year’s journey 1996’, by Anne-Marie Moroney, is the more familiar style of descriptive section. She takes each well within its parish or townland and typically, records its appearance, where it is located and how to find it, what is known of its history and folklore, and what the response of locals is to the well today, including patterns and beliefs still current.

Useful sections at the end of the book include quite a clear location map, with wells divided into ‘holy’, ‘domestic’ and ‘otherworld’; a glossary; a full bibliography; and an index.

So far this has all the elements of a fine book on wells. Care has obviously been taken to document sources with full bibliographic details (including page numbers!) and even to explain terms that may be unfamiliar to the general reader. The index, which is vital in a work of this length, covers places, people, and types of folklore and tradition. The volume is attractively packaged, and the poetry gives it an unusual appeal.

Yet there are some quite serious drawbacks. It is unclear how the wells are arranged, either in the text or in the numbering on the map: with some difficulty I have deduced that they are ordered by location in some way, perhaps by parish or townland. Luckily the index takes care of any difficulty we would otherwise have in finding a particular well within the text. No map references of any kind are given, although it is clear that plenty of map-work went on at the research stage. More seriously for the student who wants to do further reading on a particular well, there are no references from the text to the bibliography, so that it is unclear from where the author has drawn her information. There is no referencing of oral sources either, other than brief mentions of names of informants within the text. These problems mean that I cannot give the book the four-droplet rating it so nearly merits.

This is a book of great charm, an attractive combination of the factual, the folkloric and the artistic. What it lacks in academic rigour it makes up for in its genuine response to the wells as they are placed within their history, communities and landscape. Do not expect a dry descriptive codification of well-sites, for although much research went into the making of this volume, it is primarily a response from the heart. As such it succeeds beautifully.


Reviewed by: Katy Jordan

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