Nestled in the verdant countryside of Struell, a townland (parcel of land) in County Down, people have for centuries visited these bathing houses and medieval wells for their healing powers. Each Midsummer Eve (June 23rd), throughout the middle ages, pilgrims made the journey here seeking cures. The name Struell comes from the Gaelic tSruthail (Sroo- hal) meaning stream. The site contains the ruins of
- A church
- Two covered wells
- Two bathing houses -- one for males, the other for females
Since Midsummer is strongly associated with the pagan summer solstice festival, it is now believed that the site had significance prior to the Christian era in Ireland.
Legend has it that Saint Patrick blessed the wells in the 5th century, and bathed in their waters. And while the earliest written reference to the wells occurs in 1306, historians now believe they are alluded to in St. Fiacc's Hymn, a text from one the 7th or 8th century that records the life of Saint Patrick. In St. Fiacc's Hymn, Patrick was "singing and bathing in ponds" at a location called "Slan", which historians now believe is Struell. The hymn also mentions nearby places associated with St. Patrick, such as Tassach (see below). This would suggest, again, that the baths existed before St. Patrick's time.
The first written evidence of pilgrimages to Struell occurs in the 16th century. As well as seeking curative powers and taking waters from the wells in vessels, believers also came to do penance, by walking on a trail of sharp stones. This tradition of pilgrimage lasted until the mid 19th century, although some visitors still believe the waters have healing properties.
Saint Patrick's Trail
The Struell Wells form part of a group of sites linked to the life of St. Patrick, sometimes known as St. Patrick's Trail. There are a few different St. Patrick's Trails in Ireland -- but this one is most closely linked with sites that the historical Patrick -- a slave who introduced Christianity to Ireland -- is likely to have visited. This trail starts in Downpatrick and ends in the city of Armagh. Some of the key sites on the trail are:
- Loughinisland an lake island with the ruins of three small churches.
- MacCartan’s Chapel, a 17th century church on Loughlinisland
- Saul, where St Patrick is said to have first preached, and where he is supposed to have died in 461 AD, marked by a commemorative chapel and round tower
- St. Tassach’s church in Raholp, a village near to Saul, marks the place where Saint Patrick was tended on his death bed by the local bishop
- Slieve Patrick is a hilltop to the south of Saul, with a shrine on its summit called (you guessed it!) St. Patrick's Shine
Access / Admission
The wells are open all year round. Admission is FREE. There is a small car park nearby, but access may be difficult for disabled visitors / those with buggies or prams.
Bath house at Struell Wells. Image by Ricky Bamford