Tobernalt (co-ordinates 54.2441 -8.4460) is a beautiful, tranquil holy well a few miles south-east of Sligo town, where a rather surprising number of people regularly go to pray.
The name Tobernalt (Tobar na nAlt) is an Anglicisation of an Irish phrase, meaning “The well in the Cliff” and is often known as “The curative well for body pain” as the waters here, are said to have healing powers (However, there are warning signs advising people not to drink water from the well).
Tobernalt – Holy Well predates the advent of Christianity to Ireland in the 5th century. It is a natural spring well which established itself in a primeval forest. When the Celts settled in Ireland, Tobernalt quickly became the main area where the festival of Lughanasa, (the harvest festival) was celebrated. Along with Saint Patrick bringing the Christian dimension to Tobernalt, the festival of Lughnasa also became Christianised and came to be called Garland Sunday.
People would have flocked to Tobernalt from the surrounding neighbourhoods when news spread by word-of-mouth that a priest, who was travelling in disguise through the country from one Mass rock to the next, was expected to say mass at Tobernalt.
The Mass, which was celebrated in Latin, was attended with reverence; with the raised Host and Chalice being adored on bended knee and God thanked for his goodness, because only he knew when the next Mass would be celebrated at Tobernalt.
The custom of assembling at the Holy Well on Garland Sunday (the last Sunday in July) has been in existence from time immemorial, with people walking in pilgrimage to Tobernalt from Sligo Town for the first mass at 6am which is usually celebrated by the Bishop of Elphin.
The first mass to be celebrated at Tobernalt since penal times was as late as 1921, with a Garland Sunday mass being celebrated almost every year since.