Two small, well camouflaged wells today, both with minute roads leading to them which required nerves of steel but well worth it!
St Barrahane’s Well, Castlehaven
What a beautiful spot this is – a small, narrow, bumpy road takes you down to the unexpectedly expansive harbour of Castlehaven, the blue of the water luminous and still. A magical place full of history. The ruins of an old tower house perch upon the cliff edge, once home to the O Driscolls but the scant remains are now covered in ivy. In 1601 a Spanish Fleet (6 ships and 2000 men), took anchor here, drafted in to support the Gaelic lords in their fight for supremacy against the English. They were subsequently defeated by the English fleet, and this, combined with the defeat at the Battle of Kinsale, directly lead to the Flight of the Earls and the end of Gaelic rule in Ireland- Red Hugh O Donnell sailed for Spain from this harbour in 1602.
All quiet today though, apart from a bouncy and rather itchy dog who decided to join us on our explorations. The small ruined church dedicated to Barrahane, or Bearchán, is a poignant sight, full of higgledy piggeldy gravestones, decorated with primroses.
The path to the well lies without the walls – there’s a small stone stile to the left which takes you down a track towards an ornate metal gate. This leads into Glanbarrahane, a rocky glen dedicated to the saint. The glen is delightful, almost like a rainforest, as you follow the stream surrounded by a rich mixture of gunnera, palms and ferns, the ground underfoot heady with the aroma of wild garlic. Daniel Donovan described it rather beautifully in his book Sketches in Carbery, 1876:
A narrow, shallow, murmuring stream runs through the bosom of the glen …. a more appropriate place for prayer for saint or sinner cannot be imagined.
We had a shock though, for an enormous three-pronged beech tree had toppled, fairly recently by the look if it, and crashed down across the stream, just missing the little bridge and the well.
Slip down the banks, cross the bridge, duck under the tree and there is St Barrahane’s well, marked by a bright orange buoy. The well is cut into the steep bank, stone clad with a stone lintel overhead, now very mossy. An outcrop of sandstone at the front may have been used as a sort of altar.
Offerings dangle from the surrounding bushes – rosaries, hankies, ribbons, tinsel and a pile of rusty coins. The water is fresh and clear and is said to be especially effective in the curing of eye and stomach ailments. The dog certainly had a long, thirsty drink. Water is still sometimes taken to be used in baptisms in the nearby Castletownsend and traditionally fishermen come to the well to pray for safety at sea.
Not much is known about St Barrahane himself, he may have been a hermit, but there are two churches dedicated to him in nearby Castletownsend. The Church of Ireland church has some fine stained glass windows by Harry Clarke, and Edith Somerville and Violet Martin (Somerville & Ross) are buried there.
St Barrahane’s Feast Day is the 3rd December and he is still revered and remembered on this day. The local GAA, Gleann Bhearrachaín Abú, is also named after this elusive saint!
St Bridget’s Well, Squince Harbour
On towards Union Hall and down torturous roads leading to the rather wonderfully named Squince Harbour. Be warned, the road is very small, very steep and a dead end. Park somewhere at the top and walk down if you can.The views up here are incredible – looking way out into the sea with islands dotted hither and thither.
The path leading to the well had recently been strimmed – I suspect it’s always kept well maintained. It’s a steep walk down through bracken to the bottom of the hill – a stream informs that you’re not far away. The well is tiny, tucked into the hillside and protected by a few stone slabs: one is upright like a sort of umbrella, another is used for offerings and two slabs are for kneeling.
An assortment of offerings including smooth white pebbles and rusty money lie amongst the statues: a smiley and young looking BVM and St Bridget* herself in her nun’s robes, carry a cross bestrewn with roses. The water was rather scummy and not very tempting but what a delightful and hidden spot.
The well has an interesting story. It wasn’t always here but jumped to the mainland from Rabbit Island out in the bay.
On Babbit’s Island, near Squince, a holy well dedicated to St. Bridget at one time flourished. The country people used to congregate there on the eve of St. Bridget to offer up their devotions. However, some years ago a boat was capsized, returning late one evening from the island, and some people drowned. Since then the well has been neglected, and another well on the mainland, in a little sequestered nook near Squince coastguard station, fulfils the office of its predecessor.
Sketches in Carbery, County Cork, 1876
Rabbit island, as it’s now called, is just out in the bay and although it looked deceptively calm today surrounded by limpid turquoise waters, there are a few treacherous rocks around it and no doubt the water can change swiftly – wise of the pilgrims to remain on dry land. The island was once known as Oilean Brighid. Babbit may well be a corruption of Biddie, or Brighid, which in turn developed into rabbit!.
St Bridget’s well is still revered and I’m sure continues to be visited, especially on St Bridget’s Eve (January 31st) and St Bridget’s Day itself (1st February).
We took an even more scenic route back down towards Squince Harbour. On the map the skinny yellow line rather alarmingly turned a thin grey. We discovered what this meant: the road was almost vertical, there were more holes than road and it had to be negotiated at a snail’s pace! Squince Harbour though is delightful, a line of colourful cottages, a pebbly beach full of interesting flotsam and jetsam, and the sea an amazing transluscent blue.
*It has been pointed out that this is probably St Theresa
The location of these wells can be found in the Gazetteer.