Holy well: new signage unveiled at one of Mid Ulster's ancient graveyards

Nestled among rolling hills, between The Loup and Moneymore, Ballyeglish Old Graveyard stands as a testament to the length of human history in this part of our island.
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Although the last burial was in the latter half of the 20th century, the site is understood to have been a pre-Christian place of religious significance, initially focused upon an ancient well that sits in one corner. Such timeless features have long been acknowledged as sites of pagan worship for millennia.

St Brighid’s Day (February 1), Ballyeglish Society, with assistance from the National Lottery Heritage Fund, unveiled a new name sign at a holy well located within the confines of the graveyard - dedicated to St Bríghid.

Anthony Conwell, chairperson of The Ballyeglish Society, said: “The holy well was adopted by early Christians, as many were, providing a continuity of worship. The pagan faithful dedicated such wells to Bríghid, Goddess of smithing, poetry, domesticated animals and healing. In this, we can see that she was talented much like every other Irish woman.. ahem.

Pictured, from left, are Jim McGreevy from the National Lottery Heritage Fund, and Artie O'Kane - The Ballyeglish Society. Credit: SubmittedPictured, from left, are Jim McGreevy from the National Lottery Heritage Fund, and Artie O'Kane - The Ballyeglish Society. Credit: Submitted
Pictured, from left, are Jim McGreevy from the National Lottery Heritage Fund, and Artie O'Kane - The Ballyeglish Society. Credit: Submitted

“With the arrival of the new faith, the dedication simply moved to the early Christian, St Bríghid, also a powerful feminine figure within Irish culture. And there it has remained, still a place of mystery and healing visited by those who seek a ‘cure’ for illness, or just to experience a sense of a very old tradition.

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“The graveyard itself has both Catholic and Protestant burials, side by side with no underground wall separating them - city folk take note. It is now a scheduled monument in recognition of its cultural and historical importance, with such notable families as the Evans, Smiths, Conwells, Kevins and Archers interred there. It has one of the finest hawthorn trees known, planted in 1805 by a Penal Times priest, which has a beautifully spiralled trunk.

“This burial place, as a public archive holding many untold stories, still elicits questions which The Ballyeglish Society is attempting to answer. The National Lottery Heritage Fund has assisted in this”.

From prehistory, to pre-Christianity, to early Christianity, to our time, the sacred well of Ballyeglish Old Graveyard has stood as a sentinel, bearing witness to all that has changed, and the burial ground holds true as the setting for a cultural gem.