In 1997, I found myself in the middle of a wish-come-true. It was summer, although in Ireland that didn’t mean it was warm. Or sunny. In fact, it was 7 degrees and raining. I bought a lot of woollens on that trip.
My mother and I were there for a three-week holiday in our ancestral land – us and all the hordes of other tourists who flock to Ireland to find a bit of themselves and their family’s past.
I had been studying Celtic Studies in university so I had a rather long list of places and things I was desperate to see. My mother, a perpetual student of art, literature and design and a professional interior designer, had a rather different, more architectural list of things she wanted to see. At least we both agreed on some destinations, including Trinity College, the windswept wilderness, and the sea.
I’m sorry to say that I may have gotten the better end of the deal. We certainly saw a lot of ancient sites: beehive huts, ogham stones, ring forts and seaside duns. My mother was a brave and patient partner-in-crime, though, at times driving back and forth and up and down narrow bohereens with me perched on the open window frame, hands on the roof, craning my neck to see over the flourishing fuschia that grow so tall along the hedgerows they practically block out the sun.
I was looking for relics of Ireland’s past, now often forgotten, hidden in farmers’ fields and barely accessible (unless you’re willing to pay a small fee, that is).
Earlier this week, in the name of St. Patrick, I dragged out the photo albums from that trip and had a wander down memory lane (memory bohereen? Ok, that’s really a very bad, unfunny joke. Apologies).
There, among the pictures of all the other ancient and archeologically important sites was one of a small well, surrounded by grass so green it was almost fluorescent.
As I looked at the well, the pictures of the pale calves grazing nearby, and my explanatory notes, I remembered how important seeing Brigid’s well had been to me at the time.
Brigid, before she was subsumed into Christianity to become Saint Brigid, was an important Celtic goddess. One of my favourites.
Her name meant “fiery arrow.”
She was the goddess of poetry, smithing, medicine, arts and crafts, cattle and other livestock (she was often accompanied by a sacred white cow with red ears), and spring. She was also associated with fire.
And she was the goddess of all things that are “high”, both literally and figuratively. So, high-rising flames, highlands, hill-forts and upland areas, but also wisdom, excellence, perfection, high intelligence, poetic eloquence, craftsmanship, healing, druidic knowledge and skill in warfare.
What’s not to admire?
This was why we (well, I) had included her well in our meandering pilgrimage.
It is said that this well was a sacred site to the goddess in ancient times, and it remains so today.
It was a place people came to make wishes, generally related to health and healing. They would write their wish on a pebble and throw it into the well. They still do this today.
I recalled at the the time that, according to the legends, there was a sacred hazel tree hanging over the well – a wishing tree. Not being very good with trees, unfortunately, I had no idea as I stood there whether or not I was looking at hazel.
But there were trees, and there was the well, and the calves, and the green, and a soft, quiet rain falling.
It was magical.
I wrote a wish on a pebble and dropped it into the water.
I have no idea now what that wish was. Perhaps it doesn’t really matter.
I often make wishes – wishes when the clock reads 11:11 or 22:22 or some other auspicious time, wishes on wishbones every time I cook a chicken, wishes on stars.
Every time I throw a penny into a fountain, though, I think of the ancient wishing wells that dot much of Europe, and all the little pebbles that lie deep inside them, pebbles that once held people’s innermost hopes and desires.
What did they wish for?
Did their wishes come true?
My brain insists that a wish coming true is just a coincidence, or the effect of a person concentrating their energy on ensuring something they want to happen, happens.
But there are inexplicable things. People being cured. The impossible becoming possible.
Beyond what my brain tells me, I’d rather believe that there is a little inexplicable magic in between all the scientific explanations.
That wishes do come true.
Though I may never again stand at Brigid’s well, I will keep making wishes.