Today, 13th August, is the Feast Day of St Fachtna . At Least I think it is! It was originally the 14th of August but sometime in the 1960s, the General Roman Calendar, which seems to decided these things, offered the day to St Maximilian Kolbe instead, and St Fachtna was given the 13th. Anyway, it seems only right and proper to feature a well dedicated to him today. St Fachtna is associated with Rosscarbery where he founded a monastery in the sixth century. The monastery became a seat of learning, its old boys including Brendan the Navigator. Fachtna himself sounds an interesting and much respected character. He was born into the Corca Laighdhe, one time rulers of ancient Munster, and became a pupil of another famous Cork saint, Finbarr. Fachtna’s nickname was Fachtna Facundus or Fachtna the Eloquent. He eventually became Bishop of Ross.
To instruct the crowds in concert,
He never spoke that which was mean,
Nor aught but what was pleasing to his Lord.
He was also known as Mac Mongach or Hairy Child, as he was said to have been born with a fine crop of hair! His presence is still very strong wherever you go in Rosscarbery today: the Catholic church and the Church of Ireland Cathedral are both named after him; the school bears his name as do many local boys. At least one holy well in Rosscarbery is dedicated to him, (possibly two), and that, along with three other wells, was on the agenda for today’s’ exploration; my companion was Hannah, a native of these parts.
St Cummin’s Well, Rosscarbery
The first well on the list had nothing to do with Fachtna but with the rather obscure St Cummin. The well was described as being in a niche in the wall of the graveyard, inside judging by the map. The graveyard looks out across the estuary in a townland called English Island – Ross was once a settlement for the English, walled and protected. We could find nothing and inquired of a man tidying graves in an official looking manner. Derry was delighted to help us. He knew Hannah’s brother but he had never heard of the well. He was keen to investigate, took charge of the map and persuaded us where it should be. Nothing. I spotted a large rock with what looked like a basin below, now filled with debris. It looked promising.
Would I get my spade and start digging he inquired?
He enthusiastically set too and almost immediately revealed a slab of limestone, finely decorated with a cross – even more promising. But further digging revealed nothing, we reluctantly thanked him and continued on our way, deciding to venture outside the wall. And there it was – a rather unprepossessing trough in a niche in the wall. The trough was metal and the water within full of duck weed. Obviously renovated at some point there was a small hole above where the water seemed to issue from. No sign or signal that you were looking at something special.
And St Cummin? A rather elusive saint, born in Mayo, whose feast day is the last Sunday in July, or Garland Sunday.
St Fachtna or St Brigid’s Well, Rosscarbery
The next visit was to another unloved little well, lurking unobtrusively just outside the walls of the Convent of Mercy, high up on the hill. Jack Roberts in his book Exploring West Cork says this well is dedicated to St Fachtna. However, the Sisters of Mercy have the patron down as St Brigid. Does anyone know any better?
Hannah, who went to school in this very convent, didn’t know it even existed. Just a plain slabbed rectangular basin built against the wall, some larger stones around it, looking remarkably drain-like, and full of oak leaves. The water was clear enough.
The convent is now empty of nuns and we had a little wander around, Hannah reminiscing. It is a fine building, with great architectural details and huge views down to the estuary. It even has a farm at the back, rows of little cottages empty and neglected.
St Fachnta’s well, Burgatia
It is thought that the townland of Burgatia, on the outskirts of Rosscarbery, was where St Fachtna has his original monastery. Rather incongruously amongst houses are the remains of an old church, known as Teampuillin Fachtna or Templefaughnan, complete with modern altar and statues of the saint himself and the Blessed Virgin Mary, both enclosed in glass. St Fachtna looked a kindly if solemn soul, holding an elaborate blue book. Across the road is a ringfort where the saint is said to have preached. – Lios Faughnan.
I suspect rounds will be paid here today (13th August) but I could find no firm information.
The well is further down the road, now enclosed by a wall, gated, with red roses overflowing. A rather austere space, neatly maintained and softened by the flowers.
The well is rectangular and barred, the water clean and fresh. The area is unadorned and plain but it’s interesting to note all the sea pebbles placed on top of the walls, around the well and pressed into the floor of the entrance. Were these pebbles once used by pilgrims marking the stations as they did the rounds?
A more romantic image of the saint can be found in the beautiful St Barrahane’s church in Castletownsend. This church contains three windows by the renowned master of stained glass Harry Clarke. St Fachtna can be spotted in the window The Nativity with the Adoration of the Kings and the Shepherds, with Saints Brigid, Fachtna and Barrahane.
This photo was kindly loaned by Finola of Roaringwater Journal – do check out their website for some fascinating and comprehensive studies of Harry Clarke’s work. The link takes you to their navigation page for there is much to chose from!
St Bridget’s Well, Tralong
Judging by the map, I suspected this well was going to be challenging to find. This proved correct. To cut a long story short, we got hopelessly lost and nearly landed up in Drombeg, but the countryside was magnificent.
Having flagged down an unsuspecting motorist and later inquired at a house we eventually headed in the right direction and arrived at a fuchsia-strewn boreen that looked hopeful – at least the sea was on the correct side! A house was at the end of the boreen but no-one was home. We followed a small track that ended up on a cliff and reluctantly decided to call it a day. Walking back up the boreen we noticed a stile, almost covered with vegetation. Peering down the slope we saw a lot of dampness, a good sign.
We clambered under the barbed wire, skidded down the bank and there was the well. It was nicely constructed out of large and sturdy blocks of stone, infilled with smaller stones. Little fuchsia bushes had embedded themselves in the cracks.
The well basin was rectangular with a slab in the front. The water fresh, cold and clear.
Four rather obscure and forgotten wells, nonetheless fascinating for that. If anyone has any information about these wells I would be delighted to receive it.
The locations of all wells can be found in the Gazetteer.
Access to the well at Tralong is on private land, permission should be sought.