Lady’s Well, off Leitrim Street
What an abysmal day for a bit of traipsing around Cork City looking for holy wells. It was lashing. Nonetheless we persevered. First stop Lady’s Well, just north of the city centre and very close to the now Heineken Brewery. The Brewery used to be known as Lady’s Well Brewery and Leitrim Road was known as Lady’s Well Street. We sheltered in the doorway of the Brewery and were give helpful advice within. The man thought the well had long since disappeared but directed us across the road and upwards. A rather battered sign points across the road and on the wall surrounded by a lot of undergrowth we discovered a small white plaque:
Our Lady’s Well
This well can be traced in old maps and records for over 300 years and possibly has its origins in early Christian Cork. There is a record of a very large pilgrimage to this site in 1748. Following upon the restoration of the shrine by employees of Murphy’s Brewery Mass was concelebrated by the Right Rev. Mgr. Deane J Bastiple DD PRVC and Rev Vincent Daly CC May 1981.
It looks as though the original entrance to the well was here but it’s now blocked up. We continued along the road then up some very wide steps and there was well to the right of us. What a very sight/site, covered in graffiti and rubbish. The whole place had a derelict and unhappy air, not helped by the dismal weather.
It is in an elevated position though with great views out across the city, should you be able to see them! The well itself now has a protective grill over it but the water within looked abundant and clear. Seating is arranged in an amphitheatre behind it and in front a paved area hinted at the once abundant volume of pilgrims. To the east, the small boarded-up red sandstone building once contained a shrine to the Blessed Virgin Mary (BVM). This probably dates from the 18th century and was especially visited in May, the month connected with Our Lady.
The well has a checkered history. Obviously once an extremely important place of pilgrimage it had all but disappeared by the early 20th century and was restored in 1980. By 2000 it was again in a poor state of repair and was excavated by Cork City Council. A cast iron basin was discovered surrounded by sandstone flags – presumably the results of the 1980 restoration. A few fragments of 18th century pottery were also discovered. The excavation did not go into any deeper levels and the whole thing was then backfilled; a new floor level made, the walls repaired and the grotto tidied up. Within a few years the area had been vandalised again and was once again restored in 2014. Many of today’s visitors don’t seem to have much regard for this poor neglected spot.
St Francis Well, South Mall
The second well still extant in the city also has a brewing connection! St Francis Well can be found at the back of the covered no-smoking area in The Franciscan Well pub. Two rather bemused but very helpful men cleared the beer barrels out of the way so we could get a better look. The entrance is now barred by metal railings but the well itself remains intact, cut out of the rock cliff. Steps lead down to the well which was damp but not full of water. A few strands of plastic vegetation were placed within.The entrance was originally said to have had a wooden panel with the date 1688 marked onto it in iron. There is meant to be a second chamber to the west cut out of the rock. The well is linked with the Franciscan Friars who established a friary here in the 13th century.
Originally people would have come here seeking cures for sore eyes and consumption, aided by the intervention of St Francis. Today The Franciscan Well is known for its own micro-brewery, cures of a different kind perhaps! I wonder how many of the clientele know of the well, tucked away in the corner, as they tuck into their pint and wood-fired pizza (both excellent by the way).
Sunday’s Well, Sunday’s Well Road
Two other wells were once much visited in the city but nothing now remains of them but a few clues. Sunday’s Well was sited in Sunday’s Well Road- in fact this whole area of Cork is named after it, as is the road. It’s alternative name is Tobar Ri an Domhnaigh, well of the Sunday King or Jesus Christ. It was once very popular and associated with general healing. The well house was a beehive shape with a doorway opening down into the well. It was covered over in 1946 when the road was widened. A midden was discovered at the same time, containing oysters, sheep and pig bones and a small amount of 17th and 18th century pottery, assumed to have been left by pilgrims. A small limestone plaque, once situated on the original wellhouse, now marks the spot of this once important well. On it is inscribed Sundays Well 1644. I’m afraid we were too soaked at this point to go and photograph it!*
* site since visited (October 16)
Tiobar Bhrianach, Wise’s Hill
The final well is Tiobar Bhrianach on Wise’s Hill which I did investigate and got further drenched by cars hurtling around this steep corner. Another site associated with a brewery and with the Franciscans, this well was located next to the North Mill Distillery which was founded in 1779 but it may originally have been connected with the nearby Franciscan Abbey. Tiobar Bhrianach means well of learning or eloquence and was apparently very popular with country folk who would arrived and not only help themselves to holy water but whiskey from the distillery too! Proceedings eventually got extremely rowdy and the Wise family had to close the well. A piece of carved masonry, probably a fragment of a mullion window from the Franciscan Abbey, was placed on the wall to indicate the original position.