Toberknockaphuca & Tobarnadunaree, Sheep’s Head



Walking to the end of the land

A chance encounter with the landowner and we were taken down to discover the elusive Toberknockaphuca (well of the hill of the pooka/spirit). He could only remember one other person ever having wanted to see the well, a Frenchwoman in search of a cure, and warned us that it was very muddy and hard to get too. We walked down steep pasture heading towards the sea, a beautiful day, and a feeling of striding to the very edge of the land. We walked through several fields, passed some curious cattle, and arrived at a hedge, thick with briars. Timmy knocked them away with his stick so I could bend over to get a closer look. Ferns, bog grass and briars were a potent mix but eventually I could see the water of the well and feel the stone lintel built into the hillside.

There seemed to be two little niches on each side too. Timmy thought that once the water had been used for sore eyes and throats. He could remember seeing little bottle left there, whether as offerings or for collection of water he wasn’t sure.  What a wonderful setting though with the cliffs and sea below us, green pastures above, it felt very remote and other worldly. No information about the phuca though.


Dooneen headland viewed from the well

Timmy then took us to see another well, recently disturbed by building work. It may have lost its blessedness but he assured us that his cattle loved this water.


I wasn’t sure if this well even existed but had seen it on the 1842 OS map and had heard mention of it.  It seemed worth investigating. Carrying on from Toberknockaphuca, we ended up in another tremendous setting, almost at the very end of the Sheep’s Head – the cluster of little cottages that make up Tooreen to the left of us and a sweep of old fields below. We put the grid reference into the GPS, followed directions and lo and behold a small well appeared, tucked into the the hillside, narrowly escaping being cut through by recent drainage work.

IMG_0896A neat stone box contained some of the coldest, clearest water ever. We were watched over by a large brindled cat who lounged in the sunshine. Curious sheep also speculated on what we were up to. Tobernadunaree* may mean well of the soldiers and could refer to the time when the nearby signal station, now ruined, was occupied. Ann McCarthy in her book Under the Shadow of Suífinn, mentions that the bard Aonghus Ruadh Ó Dálaigh drew his inspiration from the water. However his satire, The Tribes of Ireland, was so biting and so detrimental to the local chieftains it eventually got him killed! Nothing to do with the water I hope!

If anyone has any information on either of these wells I’d love to hear it.


With thanks to Timmy and Rose O Donovan for their help and information.
Toberknockapooka is on private land and permission must be sought. Information about the location of these wells can be found in the Gazetteer.
 * I have since been informed that tobernadunaree means well of the fort of the king, even more intriguing

8 thoughts on “Toberknockaphuca & Tobarnadunaree, Sheep’s Head

  1. Ar an mBothar

    Great post. I was down in Sheeps Head last year and met that beautiful cat. I have a photo of him on my Instagram. Delighted to see he is still prowling the roads.



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