(c) a Rob Buchnana- DUBLINTIMEMACHINE:
Sometimes things which look modern and ordinary are actually ancient. Saint Winifred’s well on Eustace Street in Temple Bar is one such fascinating feature. This overlooked diamond amid the cigarette butt and vomit-smeared cobblestones tells a tale for those with eyes and ears for history. This humble hole, fringed with a little stone wall, lies outside what is currently The Norseman pub. It was buried for centuries before its rediscovery during roadworks in the mid-1990s.
A pint of porter wasn’t the original holy water?
Wells, and holy wells specifically, have a deep and timeless importance to the Irish. Water sources named after saints, like the Welsh Winifred, represent life and hope, both physically and spiritually. They are places where communities came together to draw water and worship. Dublin and North Wales were linked by prosperous trade routes since the 11th century, which may account for the naming. The location would imply its lifegiving liquid is drawn from the subterranean River Poddle or perhaps a shelf of groundwater.
The deep history of the Norseman pub
It’s amazing this centuries-old feature was lost for so long, considering how this little street corner has seen frequent changes in modern times. Highly debatable official records claim a tavern on the site since 1696. But from the 20th century at least, the nearby pub started as The Wooden Man, then became The Norseman, then J.J.O’Neill’s, Monk’s, Farrington’s, and now once again is called The Norseman.
A historical site becomes a vomit strewn tourist trap
As the criminally expensive pubs came and went the secret freshwater feature was rediscovered, partially restored, and seemingly forgotten once again. The only liquids unneglected in that neighbourhood being of the alcoholic and extortionately overpriced variety. Sadly, in keeping with the general drunken, disrespectful littering in this tourist trap part of town, the medieval miracle is treated like a rubbish bin.
Next time you stagger past, hopefully en-route to a pub whose prices dont require remortgaging your gaff, spare a thought for Saint Winifred and her waters which quenched our ancestors’ thirst, body and soul.