Temple Cooey & Wells


The early Christian period covers from 400 AD to the 12th Century, and the progress of life in the region is well represented by the progression of churches.  The arrival of Christianity is usually associated with St Patrick and the argument as to exactly where he landed is still unsettled.  Local tradition puts it on the Portaferry side of Strangford Lough, however there is no evidence that Patrick ever visited the area.

The Saint most associated with the area though is St Cooey, and the recently restored Holy Wells at Tieveshilly are the site of his church,  believed to date from the 7th Century.  Temple cowey is the ancient parish church of Witter but only the foundation stones, 54 x 24 feet, now remain.  Nearby are the three Holy Wells – Washing, Eye and Drinking.  St Cu’Mhaighe (St Cooey) is associated with this sacred site in its little dell in the townland of Tullycarnan.  There are no documentary records of St Cooey but tradition points to a flat rock on the nearby shore where he performed his penitential exercises.  His name is certainly preserved in Templecowey, nearby Lough Cowey and the Cruachan Cowey earthworks which have now been ploughed over.

On 2nd June 1976 a meeting of the parishioners of Portaferry was called by the parish priest, Fr David Morgan.  By then the entrance to Templcowey had been closed but it had been decided to reopen an old entrance and even make it accessible for invalids. With grateful thanks land was given to the Parish by local farmer John Johnston and a new concrete road with car park and steps down to the Holy Wells was to be provided.  The whole enterprise was widely reported in the Down Recorder and Newtownards Chronicle of July and November 1976.  On a beautiful Sunday (2nd July 1978) thousands attended the first pilgrimage after the reconstruction initiated by Fr David Morgan. A plaque commerating the re-opening can be seen near the altar.  Since then, on the Sunday closest to the feast of St Peter and St Paul a pilgrimage to Templecowey has taken place.