Tobarín na Súl
This is a most magical site tucked away on the edge of Knockomagh Woods near the shores of Lough Hyne. The well has a tremendous quiet aura and seems to gaze out at you from amongst the trees, beckoning you across the muddy stepping stones over the stream, over the muddy track up and up to the colourful yet organic presence.
The well itself is a good size, enclosed by a u-shaped stone wall, now thick with moss and a huge array of offerings; lumps of white quartz also visible through the green. The water remains clear, fresh and very cold and is said to be good for ailments of the eye. Tobarín na Súl means little well of the eyes.
Above the well rise four slender tree trunks, all liberally festooned with an astonishing variety of pennants: ribbons, ties, rosaries, dummies, Legomen, crisp packets – even a pair of white sticks. Perhaps attesting to the still potent qualities of the well.
The site feels ancient and mystical but in fact the trees are relatively new – within the last 20 years, and the practice of leaving so many offerings only grew up with the trees apparently. The well itself has been here for much longer and would originally have been incorporated into the rounds held at its sister well just up the road – Skour Well.
Skour Well (tobar na sceabhrach, well of the slope) is just a short walk north from Tobarín na Súl and is literally tucked away on the side of the small road. This has a very different but nonetheless potent feel. The water seeps out from the land at ground level, fresh and clear, behind it a u-shaped stone well house, with a small niche full of votive offering and statues. Many of the statutes are to the BVM but in fact the well is probably dedicated to St Ina who has given her name to Lough Hyne. Behind this a rag tree is liberally adorned with ribbons of many colours, embracing the well.
The water seeps out of the shallow basin onto the white stone-covered foreground. It is fresh and clear and renowned for its healing qualities. It is also said that the water will never boil. Terri Kearney, who interviewed many residents of Lough Hyne for her book Lough Hyne; from Prehistory to the Present, remembers one man telling her how amused locals were to see a tinker family camped near the well and on taking water from the well being flummoxed as to why it wouldn’t boil! Terri’s father was a great believer in the powers of the well and he firmly asserted that water would not boil. Her mother was of a more sceptical nature and decided to play a trick! On Terri’s Confirmation Day the family went to Lough Hyne as was traditional. Her mother took some water from the well and took it back home where she boiled the water and made tea for her father. On asking how the tea was her father replied that it was a grand cup of tea altogether. Her mother revealed what she had done and he spat it across the kitchen! Living dangerously all round!
This well has been revered for hundreds of years but originally it looked very much like Tobarín na Súl, a simple basin, until it was extensively tidied up in the Marian Year of 1954. The well house was constructed and the site gently landscaped. I wondered if all the white pebbles around it were left by pilgrims but it seems that these too were put here during the renovations. Some time more recently the well was given another facelift and painted white and blue with lots of little hand painted icons decorating it. These now seem to have disappeared.
Originally the rounds were held on May Eve (30th April), the start of the ancient festival of Bealtine, and would have followed a set path, probably also taking in Tobarín nal Súl. The pattern day eventually stopped but now an open air Mass is held here every May Eve. I went last year and joined the many others who had come to pay their respects. An altar covered in a crisp white cloth was placed near the well and the priest and altar boy conducted a moving Mass. Something very special to be there in the early evening, continuing a ritual that had been going on in one form or another for many years. The only blight was the midges! I’ve never seen so many. I seemed to have a halo of them! The woman next to me had come prepared and lent me some of her insect repellent. A kind gesture but the midges won.