At first sight, this little well does not look terribly exciting or interesting but looks can be deceptive! This area is bursting with interesting archaeological remains, evidence that it has been spiritually significant for many millennia.
The well takes a bit of finding – identified by a rather sorry looking dip in the pasture, filled with bog grass, and surrounded by gorse and brambles.
It was however once part of an important penitential site dedicated to St Colman. It was a Bealtine site, pilgrims visiting on May Day to do penance and ask forgiveness for sins. It’s hard to imagine now but if you look closely, scattered around the field are flattened heaps of stones. These are the remains of small cairns, probably 14 of them in two straight lines running north to south, which marked the penitential stations where pilgrims did the rounds, stopping to place a stone on each one and to offer prayers.
The cairns have been scattered but are still discernible. A visit to the well would have been included as part of the rounds.
Look around though and there is much more going on here: an impressive collection of much older monuments can be identified, some of which were included in the stations. Most astonishing is the massive white quartz boulder burial, known locally as the Butter Stone, where butter is said to have been placed as part of the May Day rituals.
Very close to this is a radial cairn – a large standing stone and then a cluster of scattered stones. This has been much disturbed, probably by pilgrims who collected its stones to mark the stations in the next field as part of the rounds.
A little further away is a nice example of a five stone circle, aligned NW/SE, marking the Winter Solstice.
A large but unappreciated standing stone sits in a sea of mud. On the hill above it is a fallen marker stone.
A ringfort, rimmed by twisted gnarled trees perched on the hilltop contains the remains of a burial site – killcullomane.
Below that a hawthorn marks another burial site, this time a cilleen, a burial place for unbaptised children.
Clearly this has been an important site for thousands of years, its significance appreciated and utilised by St Colman. But who was he? Well there seem to be two saints with the same name – St Colman mac Duagh who was born near Galway and associated with all sorts of miraculous events and St Colman of Cloyne. I suspect this site was dedicated to the latter, a Corkman born near Buttevant in 522AD. He trained as a bard in the court of King Aodh Caomh at Cashel but on meeting the saintly Brendan was instructed into the faith and possibly baptised by him. Colman was later given a site in Cloyne where he built a monastery. He is said to have founded some sort of religious house here where he lived for a time. He died in 604 and his feast day is 24th November. Presumably this site was visited then as well as May Day. Although this site has been forgotten as a penitential station, the tradition continues in some places. Thousands of pilgrims still make an annual journey to Lough Derg in Donegal to have their sins absolved.
And someone’s still enjoying this intriguing and complex site!
This well is on private ground and permission must be sought – ask at the farmhouse.
The location of the well is given in the Gazetteer.