The Valley of the Mad and the Well of the Insane

We left Galway and made our way via three separate buses to the town of Dingle located off of Dingle Bay in the Dingle Peninsula.  Throughout the duration of this Irish Maymester course we explained our studies and travels to a variety of people. Whenever we explained that the last leg of our trip was to the Dingle Peninsula and the Blasket Islands people gushed over how amazing and gorgeous it was down there. Everyone said that we would have an amazing time, and it was so beautiful, and peace and they were jealous and on and on and on. Our teacher Judy has always gone out about the peninsula as well and claims that its her most favorite place in the world. So yeah I expected it to be quite beautiful. So far it has held up to my high standards. Coming down N86 passing between Lock Mtns, Knockmulanane, and Knockmoylemore I could understand instantly why this place captured the hearts of so many. I took a few pictures which ill show to you, but mostly I just sat and watched the country side roll by. Sometimes you just need to put down the camera, stop trying to capture what you see, and just make it yours.

There isn’t much to talk about the day. It was just a quiet relaxing one as we wind down into these last few days. This should be the perfect end to the trip where I can just take it everything, take a deep breath of fresh air and just find that serenity and peace.

Now of course we can get to that wonderful Blog Title. Step back a few weeks to  the Inter-Changes: A showcase of Fulbright Writers & Performers (see here) After the performances were over I was wandering around socializing with the Fulbright scholars and other attendees when I got to talk with one man, Mike. He had been to New Mexico the year previous so we quickly got into a great conversation. In the course of the conversation he brought up The Well of the Insane which immediately peaked my interest. Located near Camp Village in West Kerry, he told me I really should check it out. Sadly I won’t be able to make it over to this area but I still did a little bit of research into its fascinating history.

Tobar na nGealt (The Well of the Insane) exists in the valley of Gleann-na-nGealt known as the valley of the mad. References to this well date back as far as 1584. The story goes that the King of Ulster, Gall, traveled down to this well, drank of its water and feasted upon the watercress growing from its death. Miraculously this cured him of his madness. Since then those who had a touch of the madness traveled from across all of Ireland seeking out this magical healing water. The tale of An Bhuile Shuibhne talks about Mad  Sweeny the King Of Munster and his banishment from his Kingdom.  He wandered around the whole of Ireland generally  acting like a crazy person, until he found peace within this valley. Sweeny has often been said to be the inspiration for Merlin the Magician in the Arthurian legends. The book “On the Trail of Merlin” talks about Merlins adventures and wanderings throughout the British Isle and talks extensively of his stay at Gleann na nGealt.

So what is it about this water that was so magical? A group of historians and scientists stumbled across this myth just like I had and asked the same questions. After some investigations and interviews they traveled to the well and took a water sample. Turns out the well had an abnormally high supply of lithium within it. Lithium is used quite often within in the modern psychiatry field. Specifically it’s used to treat the maniac symptoms of manic depression as well as one of the best treatments for bipolar disorder. It reduces manic symptoms such as rapid speech, hyperactivity, aggression, hypersomnia, and reduces the frequency and intensity of manic episodes.  Though the effects of Lithium are not quite understood by the science community possible causes could be it acts like a reuptake inhibitor or that it allows for an increase in the secretion of serotonin, the feel good molecule. Though science has been unable to answer this question we have used it as a treatment for over 70 years and it stands apart from other drug treatments for bipolar disorder. It had few to none psychotropic effects on an individual when taking a standard dosage. For those not neurology inclined this means that it doesn’t alter the mood of the individual taking it. It just helps alleviate the effects of the disorder which makes it a relatively safe drug.

It’s amazing to me how throughout history there has been cases of cultures and people using nature to treat issues that they could not understand. They didn’t understand the causes of the disorder, or why eating a certain plant, drinking from a certain well, and so on would help alleviate this ailment. So myths and legends were built around these treatments in an attempt to explain and understand them. It’s a great feeling for me, going into psychology, and seeing that throughout history, no matter where in the world you are, no matter the time period, no matter the people, everyone has sought out answers to the questions that I find myself asking today. Why do we act the way we do? What can we do to improve ourselves? What can we do to help?

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2 Responses to The Valley of the Mad and the Well of the Insane

  1. Nancy Costea says:

    Well, how about that? Fascinating stuff! It seems that the mad old Irish kings were on to something.

  2. Pingback: A Day on Dingle Peninsula

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