Four rather obscure wells on the Mizen

After all the rain and gales, what a beautiful day to be out exploring and hunting for wells. Today we had several wells on the Mizen Peninsula in our sights, all pretty small and obscure but intriguing.

Holy well, Altar
The Altar is a famous wedge tomb in a spectacular setting overlooking Toormore but I only recently discovered that there was a holy well connected with it. Supposedly located on the other side of the road to Altar, it involved a bit of crawling under barbed wired and squelching through boggy land but there it was, hidden in a little knoll under bog grass and ivy. A bit of scraping away and the stone slabs of the well house came into view, the water still fresh and cold.

According to local tradition, the well was associated with goings-on at Altar. Altar is sometimes rather enthusiastically referred to as a Druidic sacrificial altar but It is highly unlikely that it had anything to do with Druids.

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Altar wedge tomb

This wedge tomb, one of many on the Mizen, dates back to around 2500BC and seems to have had continual use for the next two thousand years at least. It was excavated in 1989 and found to contain cremated bones dating from 2000BC. Later, during the Iron Age, another pit was dug and filled with shells and bones, including those of whales. Later still, it was used as a Mass Rock during Penal times (late 17th century) and this is where the little well may have had an importance as part of religious ceremonies conducted there.

Wart well, Lissagriffin
This well is made out of a large ballaun stone now sunken deep into the ground to the south of Kilmoe Church. Although not strictly a well as such, ballauns are often associated with healing on account of the properties of the water that gathers in the basin. You are meant to dip your hand three times into the water, leave a small offering and your warts will go. Having dipped my fingers in the well I was rather alarmed to see an energetic pale white worm swimming around the bottom of the basin. Sadly not an eel for should you spot one of those in a well, it is a sign of great good fortune.

The ballaun is rather neglected on the edge of the rutty road but in front of it are magnificent views across Barely Cove and behind it lies the ancient Kilmoe Church, dedicated to St Brendan. It may date from the 11th century as there is a fine example of an Hiberno- Celtic window in the east wall.

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The graveyard is jam-packed with higgledy piggeldy grave markers, and in the SE corner are the remains of what could be a watchman’s hut. In the field to the east is a standing stone and somewhere to the south is a rocky outcrop containing 23 cupmarks which we didn’t manage to find. Interesting to speculate when the ballaun stone arrived at this special place, for they are often connected with ecclesiastical sites and usually included in any rounds.

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The view from the churchyard across Barley Cove

Little Well of the Road, Tobereenvohir, Callaros Oughter
This well can be located on the old road out of Goleen – the oughter part of the townland name living up to its description which means high.The road is tiny, pot-holed with a fine crop of grass in the centre. You wend your way up and up, just hoping you don’t meet another vehicle. Tobereenvohir, which means small well of the road, is just that- right on the edge of the road and a small box shape has been carved out of the rock face to collect the spring water. The water was clear and very cold.

Holy well, Callaros Oughter

Holy well, Callaros Oughter

A helpful plaque has been added for it’s easy to miss. There seems to be a second well very close to the other – on my second visit an empty plastic bottle lay discarded within it.

There is meant to be a Mass Rock nearby – the rock directly to the right of it?*  Mass Rocks were often placed near a source of water or within view of the sea and this one was probably chosen because of its proximity to the holy well. The well was once much revered but seemed to have had few visitors recently.

*I found the Mass Rock on a later visit and it appeared much revered and venerated, unlike the holy well which was even more overgrown.

Mass Rock, Callaros Oughter

St Brone’s Well, Toberairin Broin, Kilbrown
We had quite an adventure trying to locate this well, driving up and down very small and very muddy lanes, inquiring at farms and finally tramping over some exceptionally muddy fields. And I’m not sure we succeeded. I thought this might be the well, a small basin under the rock surrounded by some seriously damp ground, but on further investigation, I suspect the well itself may lie a little further off to the NW and may be covered in a slab of concrete.*

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Toberairin Broin?

This was a fascinating site nonetheless: a circular ecclesiastical enclosure contained the bramble-covered remains of a tiny church. Once sturdy stone walls were now crumbling but amongst them were the remains of some interesting stones – grave slabs? Marker stones?
The church and well were both dedicated to St Brone, a rather elusive chap to locate. There was a St Brone who was a disciple of St Patrick. St Patrick founded a religious establishment in Sligo and gave it to St Brone. A rather nice story has St Patrick visiting and falling at the entrance of the church, losing a tooth. The tooth was later encased in a magnificent shrine which still exists and can be viewed at the National Museum in Dublin. Sadly the tooth has gone astray. Alternatively brone means sorrow in Irish – maybe this little place was just the church and well of sorrows and there is another story behind that altogether.

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* A second visit to the well, this time with the GPS and I was led to a very boggy area about 20 metres away from the church ruins. The well does not appear to be covered over as described in the Archaeological Inventory but but is a spring seeping out behind a rock. The site first identified still looked a possible contender though.

Toberairin Broin and the  holy well near Altar are on private ground, the others have public access.
All locations can be found in the Gazetteer.

6 thoughts on “Four rather obscure wells on the Mizen

  1. Robert

    You mean we tramped through all that mud and didn’t even see the well? But it was a fascinating site – the church definitely had old headstones in it, according to the NMR – well worth visiting, just for that… I also found it written that the well has supposedly been concreted over. I prefer to think it was what we found. A great report on the day! Many thanks.

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  2. Finola

    Lovely account of a fine day for well-hunting.
    Thank goodness we only have to leave something under a pillow now when someone loses a tooth. We’d be drowning in shrines.

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