The removal of the surrounds of St John's Well in Warrenstown and the clearance of much of the site has angered many supporters of the well in the communities of Drumree, Dunsany, and surrounds.
Cllr Noel French, a prominent local historian, said that he felt horrified by the work when he found out about it last week.
The centuries old well does remain intact, together with the recorded monument comprising images of the heads of two saints, but the wall and steps which were built in 1945 were removed.
The 'Friends of St John's Well' are still hoping to gain access to the former Salesian lands at Warrenstown House for an annual ceremony on St John's Day, 24th June. When the Salesian Order sold the property in 2015, there was no allowance made for a right of way to the well.
The new owners of the property, Francis and Marie Smith, accommodated the ceremony last year, which saw an attendance of around 150, with up to 300 attending when the Salesian Order lived at Warrenstown House.
Section of the attendance at the well devotions in 2017.
In 1945, the then Rector, Fr McElligiott, had the stone wall built. When excavations for foundations for this wall were taking place, two carved stone heads were unearthed, the features badly defaced from weathering but were believed to be images of two saints from the sixth and seventh centuries. The two heads, a recorded monument, were then built into the new wall, and have been preserved at the well by the present owners.
St John’s Well was the centre of a large pilgrimage on the eve of St John’s Day since at least the seventeenth century.
In 1708, the Irish House of Commons enacted legislation to prohibit pilgrimages to St John's Well because it was alleged the assembly of pilgrims compromised the public peace and safety of the kingdom. This law was only revoked in 2015 by the Irish Government.
The church too opposed the activities at the well. In 1781, the Roman Catholic bishops of the Province of Armagh met at Drogheda and banned all pilgrimages in their dioceses and it was resolved that ‘the pilgrimage to St John’s Well in county Meath is attended with such scandalous enormities as to require immediate redress.’
The saint's face, believed to date from the sixth or seventh century, from the wall of the well. Photo: Karen Carty
In the 1830s, St John’s Well was the site of a pilgrimage at ‘at which some hundreds of the Roman Catholics of the surrounding country meet on the eve of St John and perform stations …. some affirm that the blind, lame and those afflicted with pains get cured at this well; whilst other assert that the belief is all nonsense and based on superstition.
In the 1860s Dean Cogan wrote: “St John’s Well is situated in the demesne of Warrenstown, parish of Knockmark.
This well has been frequented from time immemorial, and is perhaps the most remarkable of all the ‘holy wells’ in Meath. St John's Well was described as the most famous holy well in Meath in 1886.
Writing in the history of Warrenstown College, the late Jack Irwin says: “When I came to Warrenstown in 1957, the procession on ‘Well Sunday’ was half the length of the avenue from the well to house, led by the Navan Silver Band, to where an altar was erected in front of Warrenstown House for Benediction.”
Many people have attributed cancer cures to the waters of the well.
Cllr French states: “A local man told me that water from the well cured his cancer and in recent years there was often an x-ray or scan left at the well.”
Deputy Thomas Byrne of Meath East has this week tabled Dail questions to the Minister for Arts, Heritage and Culture, on the status of the works.
A further meeting of the Friends of St John's Well will take place on Thursday of this week, at 8pm, in Dunsany Hall, to discuss the new developments. At the time of going to press, the owners had not responded to a request for comment by the Meath Chronicle.
The well after the work, with the saints' faces figures and plaque.