Situated just outside Downpatrick, Co Down, Struell Wells is certainly one of the more unique sites I have visited in the country. Struell consists of two wells, two bathhouses, and the remains of a church and was already an important place to visit prior to its Christianisation. This is evidenced by an 8th century hymn which speaks of St Patrick going to Struell to ‘Christianise’ the site. According to legend Patrick spent the night at the well known as the Drinking Well, sang psalms and then went to rest on a stone know as St Patrick’s Chair; this erratic lies outside of the well complex just behind the car park. Struell consists of a men’s bathhouse and a women’s bathhouse, the two wells at Struell are known as the eye well and the drinking well, the small church that is situated to the rear of the site was possibly never completed rather than being in ruin, perhaps due to the later church opposition to the pilgrimage site. The drinking well and the women’s bathhouse date from the 13th-15th centuries while the men’s bathhouse dates from the late 17th century. The wells were considered to have curative properties and the site became focus of pilgrimages culminating on mid summers eve, the feast of St. John the Baptist, the timing of this also aligned with Summer Solstice, again this does speak to us of an earlier pre-Christian use, St John the Baptist may have just have been a easy link for the early Christian church. Pilgrimages are documented from the early 16th up into the 19th century, the earliest reference in 1515AD describes the female bath-house. It is believed that the pilgrimage lased for a week, with the culmination at midnight on mid-summers eve. It seems to have had a festival like atmosphere, with tents surrounding the site selling whiskey and food, and other forms of entertainment. With the number of naked bathers it would inevitably bring the ire of the church and in the later part of the 19th century the Catholic church tired to and in many ways succeeded in ending the festival around 1870. There was a belief at the time that while on sacred ground new guilt could not be created, something could occur without sin being committed, things often must have got out of hand and one report from 1856 states, ‘many went away with more fresh wounds made than old sores healed”.
I must that the complex at Struell really does have a captivating and entrancing aura, its a very beautiful and tranquil place to experience the water and the silence, also I must say a quick steep walk up to St Patrick’s Chair is recommended for the overall views it gives of Struell.
GPS: 4.32419, -5.67714