St Fachtna’s Well, Rossbrin

Sea AstersThe first time I tried to find this little well I had no idea where to look but Rossbrin itself is a delightful place so there was no hardship in having an explore. In fact I was looking to visit the castle, then newly up for sale. This I did, inquiring of a local, clambering over a gate and wandering down the headland to view the rather wonky but atmospheric stack, all that remains of Sir Finghinn O Mathuna’s 15th century tower house, once renowned for its scholarship and hospitality.

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The evocative silhouette of Rossbrin castle

Across the small and attractive bay, on the north side, was meant to be a holy well.

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Rossbrin harbour

The Archaeological Inventory reckoned there was no visible trace of the well and Jack Roberts was a little vague in his book Exploring West Cork. Where to start? I inquired of a passing woman, she had no idea but said the lady coming down the lane would know! Indeed she did and directed me toward the pier: 50 paces from the pier, look for where the water comes out of the rock. The tide was low and the pier easy to get to. I counted 50 paces and looked around hopefully. There did seem to be some water trickling from a rock. There did seem to be a basin where the water was collecting. Had I found the well?

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Fresh water trickles from the rock into a basin and out onto the strand

Later I did a bit more research and was sure I had found the right spot. Returning recently to record the well for this project, I headed out purposefully. Today the path towards it was wonderful, full of mauve sea asters and unassuming clouds of sea lavender somehow finding a footing amongst the muddy pebbles of the strand.

Sea Asters

Sea Asters

I was was delighted to find the well adorned with two white plastic rosaries. A few coins were also tucked into crevices in the rock – someone else was also visiting it.

The well itself seemed obvious once you looked, and miraculous: fresh water seeping out from rock into the salt water at the edge of the sea.The water was cold and clear, gathering in a natural basin in the rock, then flowing out into the strand.

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Note the rosaries and coins. The sea lavender was my offering.

The colours of the pebbles receiving the water were remarkable and jewel-like.

A modern plastic pipe bore witness to the fact that someone still appreciated the fresh water.

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Not much seems to be known about this little well but I did have the phone number of someone who knew something! Sheila has lived close by since the early 1970s and could remember the well being venerated. A local woman with the evocative name of Babe Sheehan, now long passed on, told her that it was dedicated to St Fachtna. Sheila thought it also used to be visited on St John’s Eve, 23rd June. She had a nice story to tell: once two nuns came visiting the house asking for donations to a charity. Her two small sons hearing this, raced down to the well, collected all the coins left there and triumphantly returned to give the offerings to the nuns!*

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A rather special site, in a very scenic area.

  • Since the Schools’ Folklore Collection has come on line I have managd to find out a little more about this intriguing well:

There is a holy well called The Blessed Well in the townland of Ballycummisk about three miles from the school. It flows from a rock onto the strand. Rounds were performed and prayers were said there in former times, and over the well there is a whitethorn tree growing and rags are put in the tree by those who pay rounds. When the tide is out the well fills up with gravel. About three hundred yards fromt he well there is a sloping hill called Lesca na h-alcóra and maybe there was mass said there in penal times,  and probably the water from the well was used for the priest at mass, and maybe this is why it is called the blessed well. (275/276:0290)

Another entry gives details of how the water was used to cure toothache, but only if visited on a Wednesday, Friday or Saturday.

The location of this well can be found in the Gazetteer.
With thanks to Sheila for the additional information.

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