This large and impressive site is dedicated to a local saint, St John of Mushera. Wedged into the side of Mushera mountain, emerging from the forestry and with spectacular views down into Millstreet and beyond, it is a remarkable, unexpected and windswept spot. Each time we have been here the weather has been interesting: thick, atmospheric fog the first time, and sunshine competing with heavy hail the second! This somehow adds to the atmosphere.
This is one of three wells in the locality dedicated to the saint but the one that receives the most attention. The site is centred around the spring of fresh water emerging from the hillside. The well is small, stone slabbed and rectangular and in the 1950s a large grotto was built over it. Millstreet.ie. explains how this came about:
In 1954, a man who is long since dead, Michael Buckley of Aubane bought a picture of St. John and placed it on the grotto early on St John’s Day. The late Sonny Buckley, Tullig, Millstreet who called later in the day to pay his round decided to make a timber altar to protect the picture. Even this did not seem to be enough to provide permanent protection for such a delicate object in such a windswept site. A committee mainly of people from the Aubane area was formed and a few pounds put together for the purpose of building the centre grotto, completely by voluntary labour. The altar containing the picture of St John was placed inside this stone grotto and the picture lasted until quite recently. In 1958, a statue of St John was purchased and placed in the centre grotto. Again with voluntary labour two side grottos were erected, one contained the altar with the original picture and the other an altar with a statue of the Infant of Prague. The statue of St John was blessed in 1958 by Canon Costello of Millstreet. The first Mass at the grotto was celebrated on 24th June 1974 and has been celebrated every year since.
Directly above the well house in the largest grotto is the statue of St John, in red robes, fresh flowers, medallions and cards at his feet, rosaries over his hands and a slightly startled expression on his face. To his left and right the two small grottoes described above still contain the Infant of Prague, now headless, but the other grotto now has as statue of the BVM, I couldn’t see the original picture. An assortment of letters, prayers and photos have been left by pilgrims. There are separate boxes for petitions and prayers.
In the 1980s the area was further developed when the Stations of the Cross were erected:
The late Sonny Buckley had great faith in St John’s Well and often spoke of erecting Stations of the Cross in the vicinity of the Well. When he died in 1979, he left £500 in his will towards the erection.Many of the old committee including Sonny Buckley were then dead so a new committee was formed with the task of carrying our Sonny’s wishes. A fund was opened and it would be appropriate at this stage to pay tribute to the very large number of people who subscribed so generously, because without their help it would have been impossible to carry out the job intended. The Forestry Department was very helpful in many ways, indeed we had to have its permission to erect the Stations it the first place! The Stations were designed by Liam Cosgrove of Blackpool in Cork city, but before they could be erected a great deal of work had to be done. First fourteen concrete slabs were made in which the Stations were encased. Then the bulldozer made the ground ready and with limestone from Ballygiblin the work got under way. Voluntary labour again played a very large part with most of the building being done by John Kelleher and Brendan Kelleher. Completing the erection was no easy task because it had to be done in peoples’ spare time, however the stations were completed and all involved felt a great sense of achievement at the result.
Rounds continue to be paid here and an annual mass is celebrated on the 24th July, attracting large crowds. To pay the rounds you say seven Our Fathers, seven Hail Marys, seven Glorias whilst kneeling in front of the well, and a decade of the rosary as the well is being circled – do this three times, ending up with another rosary in front of the well.
The water is said to be good for curing warts – there is smaller separate well where you are invited to wash your hands. Another name for the well is Tobar na Faithni, well of the warts.
The pattern day used to be a huge occasion with hundreds of stalls selling all kinds of good to the pilgrims:
Two sisters from Millstreet, Han and Judy Murphy sat on either side of the Well “selling the water”. One of them would fill a saucepan with water from the Well and received payment for it. Pilgrims visited the Well in the morning. It was normal practice from Ballinagree and Rylane areas to visit the Well on top of the mountain in their own parish. Most other pilgrims visited the Well on the Millstreet side as is the case today. After doing the “round” they continued on to the pattern to enjoy the remainder of the day. An old character from Ballinagree, Bill O’Dea always turned up to entertain the crowd with his songs. Another man from Bawnmore, nicknamed St Joseph because of his long white beard also sang to the crowds. His real name was Lucey. Over the years the crowds got smaller at the pattern until eventually it was no longer held. The dancehalls took over at that time, but local people still come to pay their “rounds” as usual.
St John himself is said to be the brother of the three saintly sisters Lasair, Inghne Bhuide and Laitairian and it’s thought that he lived in Cullen for a while before coming up to the side of the mountain. Like Laitairian, John may have been immune to fire. She could carry red hot embers in her apron without getting burnt and John is said to have been similarly protected – could this be something to do with the bonfires traditionally held on St John’s Eve? He shares his saint’s day, 24th June, with the better known St John the Baptist. Fires symbolise St John for he baptised Jesus and by doing so, according to the church, brought the world out of darkness. St John’s Eve is also linked to the Summer Solstice and Midsummer, and is still known as Bonfire Night in Ireland. Fires were originally lit as part of the ancient Celtic celebration in honour of the goddess Ainé, who was associated with the sun, fertility, and protection of crops and animals. As with many pagan festivals, the Catholic Church swiftly incorporated it and linked it to one of it’s own saints, on this occasion St John the Baptist. It seems appropriate to celebrate St John of Mushera on this day too.
Two other wells are dedicated to St John of Mushera in the vicinity: one is near the top of the mountain, as yet unvisited due to bad weather, where the water is said to be good for cattle ailments. The other is on the old Butter Road on the Kilcorney side of the mountain.
It’s right on the side of the road, a perilous place to stop but well worth it for it has its own charm and quietness and simplicity. Large slabs protect the well, and a hawthorn tree is growing up behind it. It may not receive many visitors but daffodils had been recently placed and it retains authenticity and charm and provides an interesting comparison to the razzmatazz of its brother well not so far away.
The last words go to Sonny Buckley who was so instrumental in keeping the spirit of the place alive:
St John’s Well
Oh! Mushera Mountain, how proudly you rise,
Your summit is piercing the blue of the sky
You stand like a king o’er his army at dawn
Overlooking that lovely sweet Vale of Aubane.
From the foot of this mountain a clear fountain flows,
Which was blessed by a Saint who lived long ago.
And it’s here to this fountain that thousands do throng
For to pray at the Grotto of lovely St John.
In his mantle of white, he looks from his dome
Overlooking this fountain from his wild mountain home,
While the sheep and the lambs there his company keep
By night when the rest of the world do sleep.
He is not alone and it would not be right,
For Jesus of Prague is there on his right
And just on his left and plain to be seen
Is the sweet Virgin Mary, our Heavenly Queen.
Some things are uncertain, but one thing is sure,
Those three combinations will certainly cure.
All troubles and sorrow will vanish away
Of those who will come to this Grotto to pray.
And drink of its water so sweet and so pure,
No colder on earth you will find, I am sure,
And give thanks to the Lord and the God we adore
From this beautiful Grotto at Mushera More.
The locations of these two wells can be found in the Gazetteer.