Four wells beckoned in the backhills around Clonakilty. Enlisting the help of my pal Finola of Roaringwater Journal fame, an expert navigator thankfully, we set off to explore, the day being bright and beautiful.
Trinity Well, Castleventry
First stop was Castleventry. Parking in a handy layby, we were surprised to find another car already there and signs of much activity. Shortly afterwards we bumped into Seán O Donovan. What a delightful man and a mine of information. He told us that the well had been neglected for many years, and a group of locals had recently decided that the well should be uncovered and restored. The Southern Star newspaper included a snippet of information:
Dermot (Dermy) O’Donovan, a master craftsman of Kilbree and formerly of the parish, made a beautiful Celtic Cross which members of the association placed in position over Trinity Holy Well in Castleventry. Further work in the immediate area will be undertaken in 2015. This holy well was a place of annual pilgrimage by the local people on Trinity Sunday until about 1960. Southern Star 3rd January 2015
Seán had done a huge amount of work. He had cleared the previously overgrown and neglected site, the stone cross was in situ, and an attractive wrought iron gate was being fixed to pillars at the entrance.
There was still much to do and Seán was busy tidying up the area. He had made simple supports at the front of the well but incorporated the original lintel and slabs around the basin.
The well was damp but Seán hoped that it might once again flow for water was appearing further down the site. He explained that once the water had been considered efficacious for animal health and for crop fertility. He told us that once large crowds of pilgrims gathered on Trinity Sunday (June 11th in 2017) to pay the rounds here. They came across the adjacent field, visited the well then continued up the road to the old church and graveyard .
We decided to do the same and continued up the small road. The twine-tied gates didn’t prepare us for what was inside: a bivalleted (double) ringfort, the walls restored in stone, and in the centre the velvety green humps of an ancient church, said to have been built by the Knights Templar at the end of the thirteenth century. Around the church jostled gravestones of every description, and stumpy mounds where only simple stones had been available. The views out across the countryside were magnificent.
What a fine bit of serendipity to meet Seán like that and how nice that the well is now being rightly acknowledged, respected and included in the greater historical landscape.
There will be a historical walk at Castleventry on the last Sunday of August should anyone be passing, including a visit to this well.
Clasharusheen holy well, Bealad
Our next destination was Clasharusheen, near Bealad. Such a beautiful area, the roads so small and winding and the hedgerows now full of dazzling colours: montbretia, fuchsia, purpleloosestrife and ragwort all vying for attention. Seán had given us instructions and we crossed the main road in a rather scary manoeuvre to go up a steep hill, grass growing in the centre of the road. Another handy parking spot and we watched three hares scampering down a drive way, then ventured down a small green boreen.
It instantly got damper underfoot which is always a good sign. A strange structure was viewed through the rushes – circular with a large cement lintel. It was full of water with a handmade pump device. The circular structure looked suspiciously like part of a large concrete pipe yet behind it were interesting signs of something older!
This time I had brought the well kit – a bag full of essentials such as secateurs and gloves.
Some serious hacking back and an old and ornate gate was revealed now lying on its side, once signifying the entrance to the well? Behind it though lay the original well, suffocated with ivy, brambles and ferns. Almost impossible to get to, it seemed to have a chunky flat lintel, one large slab covering a semi-circular stone wellhouse.
Stones had been dislodge and scattered here and there but the well itself was a considerable size, rectangular in shape. It was dry, water now being somehow diverted into the more modern structure in front of it. Other stones lay around it – a hard site to interpret.
I emerged, arms and legs bleeding from the briars but we were satisfied to discover that the well still existed albeit badly neglected. As we left the boreen, the spirit of the well revealed herself briefly – then made a hasty retreat down the road!
Kilbree Holy well
This well defeated us and we got lost in a farmyard, where I stepped in the most enormous cowpat but we shall return at a later date.
Tobar na Cille, Templebryan
This well was on private land and we asked permission at the beautifully kept farm, full of flowers. We were directed up the boreen and saw the well straight away, a large and very curious horse watching our approach! The well had been covered by an apse shaped well construction made from rough stone and bricks, a Victorian pump placed on top. A newly carved stone proclaimed its name – Tobar na Cille, well of the churches. Danny, the landowner, came to see what we were up to and gave us a little more information. He explained the well had been disused for many years and he had found the old pump in the hedgerow and had reunited the two fairly recently. There was no surface trace of any water.
Danny knew little more about it except that it had always been there and had once been part of the rounds conducted in connection with the remarkable site in the next field.
We, and the large grey horse, were released into the field where we were joined by a very frisky dark chestnut fella who was desperate for a bit of attention! Fortunately Finola has excellent horse whispering skills and I hid behind her. As at Castleventry, it seemed that this site included the remains of an ancient church within a large ringfort.
Also within the enclosure was an impressive standing stone, said to be inscribed with a cross and some Ogham , ancient Irish lettering, but it was so worn we couldn’t find it. There was also a large heart-shaped ballaun stone. It seems that this too was once considered a holy well, and like so many others (Lissagriffin, Timoleleague) considered useful useful in the cure for warts. Across the field another church once existed now reclaimed by nature. The well obviously had connections with both churches for Tobar na Cille means Well of the Churches.
Later Paddy’s wife, Janet, explained that in August 2013 a mass had been conducted here, rounds paid, and prayers said for the dead. A visit to the well was included. She said it had been a wonderful occasion with many people attending.
Across another field is Templebryan Stone Circle. Now only six of the possible original 13 stones remain but the stones are huge and impressive, mostly flat topped. In the centre was a large white quartz stone which intrigued us. Returning across the field we met up with Paddy again and got chatting about all the myriad monuments on his land. He invited us back to the house to look at some photos he had taken and the mystery of the white quartz stone was revealed: at dawn on the Winter Solstice the sun shone right through the portal stones and illuminated the central stone. Paddy said it made perfect sense to be used as calendar and I wouldn’t argue with that.
What a great day – some interesting wells and some wonderful encounters with local people.