This Sunday, 25th September, is the Feast Day of St Finbarr, the patron saint of Cork. There will be Mass held at Gougane Barra where he established a cell in the seventh century (more information about this shortly). Traditionally pilgrimages were made to Gougane at this time of year from all over Cork and many of the old pilgrim routes have been recently re-opened. There are a wealth of references to St Finbarr on the outskirts of Dunmanway and I wonder if this was on one of the routes. Just outside the town is the townland of Kilbarry – St Barry (Finbarr)’s church. Here are the remains of an old ecclesiastical enclosure ( CO107-046001) and a holy well dedicated to St Finbarr, already recorded.
I was intrigued to notice that another well a few miles away was also dedicated to this popular saint.
It’s interesting how you can tell by looking at the OS map how difficult a well will be to locate. This one seemed to be on the side of a road but was enclosed by woodland, usually an indicator that the going could get tough! You leave Dunmanway on the Castle Road and take a right, immediately the road rises and the woodland encloses. This is the Glen of Comeraportera and it’s spectacular. All twisted trees, rich green lushness and windiness.
I parked in a small layby, the GPS burst into life and we were off. An amazingly remote and damply scenic spot, but so much rubbish. In the ditch an entire burnt out car festered, and cans and bottles littered the greenness.
No sign of the well near the road and the GPS urged me into the woods. All a bit Blair Witch for my liking – damp mossiness underfoot, dangling lichens above, and the unsettling sounds of drips and crackling twigs. There were many potential well shapes but nothing that could be identified with any certainty. A loud and rather impolite plea to St Finbarr brought no help.
I returned down to the road and instantly a slab on the roadside caught my eye. I had walked right past it!
The well lay down in the ditch, looking forlorn and unloved. An unpleasant looking bag of what looked like nappies had been tossed beside it.
The well itself was nicely constructed though: a rectangular basin, still full of clear and abundant fresh water, surrounded by large slabs of stone arranged in a semi-circle. Steps, now very mossy, offered a route over the wall for pilgrims. A larger slab on the roadside wall hinted at what was below. How sad to see this old well in such a sorry state, neglected and forgotten, beloved only by nature. Difficult to imagine the mindset of someone who thinks it’s okay to throw a stinking bag of plastic nappies down by the side of it.
What a contrast to events that will be occurring this weekend at Gouganne in St Finbarr’s name.