This holy well is the focus for a celebration on 9 June - Colmcille’s feast day. A procession comes down the hill from the Long Tower Church and the well is blessed - the priest asking for protection for the followers of St Columba who ‘walk where he walked, and pray where he prayed’. People fill bottles with the water to take home. The water is said to cure disease - particularly of the eyes.
According to Manus O’Donnell’s Life of Colum Cille, a child was brought to Colmcille to be baptised but there was no water nearby so the saint made the sign of the cross over the stone and water came out of it.
The origin of the name ‘Derry’ is the old Irish word daire meaning oak grove. On June 9th the well is decorated with oak leaves and pilgrims wear an oak leaf on their clothes.
The decorative pump dates from 1897. At the time it was the main water supply for the houses which once lay on this slope under the city walls.
In medieval times there were three wells here dedicated to St Colmcille, St Adomnán (a successor to Colmcille as Abbot of Iona and his biographer), and St Martin.
An Irish Life of Colm Cille was written in Derry between 1150-1182. It gives an account of the saint’s life and his alleged journey around Ireland as he founded churches and monasteries. This and other accounts credit Colmcille as establishing religious foundations in places such as Moone in County Kildare, Swords in County Dublin and Kells in County Meath. These monasteries were actually founded much later but show a desire by the monks to link themselves to Colmcille.