A few days in east Cork on a holy well expedition proved fascinating and rewarding. The very first well visited was probably one of my all time favourites and really the epitome of all that’s special about Irish holy wells.
Lady’s Well, Titeskin
Near the ruins of the old church of Titeskin (or Kilteskin) is Tober Muire ‘Lady’s well’, much frequented by the peasantry for devotional purposes on the 15th August and near this a stone with a rude representation of the crucifixion
Guys Directory, 1889
This old postcard dates from 1910 and I had seen a more recent photograph of this well but the real thing proved even more attractive and intriguing. Approached down a long rather slurry-filled boreen, the well sits serenely in a field of pasture. Rather horrifyingly an enormous pylon is right next to it but you must quickly dismiss and ignore this insensitive intrusion.
The well is surrounded by a whitewashed stone wall, obviously ancient for a huge ash tree, itself quite an age, has literally grown over it in a close and gnarly embrace. It seems that the well was once known as Whitewell and attracted pilgrim from all over county Cork. It looks like it still gets its fair share of visitors.
A gap in the wall and some steps lead down into the interior. The well itself is under a hefty metal cover but once lifted the water within is crisp, cold and clear. Little cups nestle in an alcove ready for use.
A very attractive statue of the BVM, snug in a pointed alcove, looks down on proceedings: her face sympathetically painted, a clutch of rosaries in her hand and a shy rose-adorned foot peeping out from under her robes.
Next to her flutter an assortment of ribbons and rags, the old ash now being used as a clootie tree with hopes and prayers attached to the rags. Little statues and crosses are tucked here and there and high in the branches of the tree is a boxed-in statue of Our Lady.
Just outside the well is an enigmatic stone with interesting carvings on each face, seemingly dating from the late eighteenth century. Facing the well is a carving of the crucified Christ, crosses inscribed on his chest and above his head, INRI carved above him. There are suggestions that the stone may have broken at some point as the carvings go no further than Christ’s knees. This reminds me so much of the figure carved on the outside of the well at Castlemagner, variously interpreted as a sile na gig or St Bridget. Possibly another alternative could be considered? On the other side is the profile of a face, surely the BVM complete with spiky radial halo. The inscription, now very hard to read, is said to be: Seven Pater Nosters and Seven Ave Marias. The Honour 1731
There is a wonderful write up about the well in the Schools’ Collection, compiled by the National Folklore Collection during the late 1930s when every National School in the country was asked to participate in a survey about its local area. Each child above the age of 11 was asked to interview members of their family about their home area, including information on holy wells. I think this is worth transcribing in full for it hold so much information. Well done Máirín for this excellent write up:
There is a holy well situated on our lands at Kilteskan in the parish. It is enclosed by a circular wall in fairly good repair. A very large ash tree is growing on the western side. The tree appears to be very old. There is an outlet from the well on the northern side to carry away the surplus or overflow of water which is fairly large and which never seems to vary in quantity in any weather. Even in the very driest of weather the quantity from the well seems the same as in the wettest winter. A curious fact about the water is that it seems warm in winter and very cold in summer. There is a limestone slab about three feet high standing on the western side of the well. It is about ten feet distant from the wall of the well and has an inscription in Latin on it. The well is called our Lady’s well and it has a pattern on the fifteenth of August. Eight days before the fifteenth of August and eight days after large numbers of people come to make rounds there from distant places even as far as County Waterford, Cork city etc. Numerous cures are reported to have taken place here. Here is one. A man came to visit the well. He was crippled and had two crutches. When he had the rounds finished he went to a pool formed by the overflow of the well and washed his legs in it. He was instantly cured. It is said he left his crutches under the tree. Another cure is that of a little boy of seven years old who was unable to walk. He was brought in a perambulator to the well by his parent who washed him in the water outside the well. He was instantly cured, His father in thanksgiving put a statue of the blessed Virgin in the tree over the well. This boy’s father also in thanksgiving promised to visit the well every pattern day for as long as he lived. He has not come now for three years. Another lady was cured of deafness. She also in thanksgiving had erected a beautiful statue of Our Lady. This statue is about three feet high and last year was covered with a concrete shelter at the order of the cured lady. Very many other cures are reported to have taken place there. Local opinion has it that one such cure takes place every year. There is a trout in the well and I was told my grandmother brought a jug of water from the well to make tea. But though she did her utmost to boil the water she could not do so. She then took the water back to the well, and in pouring out the water she saw the trout coming out of the kettle. She again filled the kettle and had no trouble boiling it. It is said that anyone who sees this trout is instantly cured of any disease. My grandmother used to tell me about a man from County Waterford paying his rounds at the well. It happened about fifty years ago. He had two of his rounds done when it began to rain very heavily. My grandmother went to the well for water and she told him to go to the barn and not to get wet. He did so. Next morning was very wet and he could not finish his rounds. He had to return home with his friends. A labouring man employed at my grandmother’s house dreamt three night sin succession that this man came to him and asked him to finish the rounds for him. He told my grandmother about the dream. She told him to go immediately and finish the rounds for the poor man was now dead and it was her fault he had not finished the rounds himself.
Collected by Máirín O Ruiseáil, interviewing her father Tomás O Ruiseáil, from Sciart Liath, Mainistir na Corann,( Scartlea Upper, Midleton)
The Schools’ Collection, National Folklore Collection
Fascinating to read about the cures and the rituals. Another child writing in Lisgoold Nation School, Tomás O Riordan, mentions how:
… a boy was cured of sunstroke, a man of paralysis and a woman who was ill for sometime previous of constant headache walked from Lisgoold to Whitewell on August the fifteenth some years ago and was cured.
Tomás also explains that the best time for these cures was at twelve o clock in the night. Of course there had to be a trout residing within and the overflow water is still abundant; and today, the water was feeling pretty cool. Incidentally, the whole Folklore Project is now online and can be viewed at Dúchas.ie .
The well is obviously much cared for and still revered. The statue, put up in thanks in the 1930s, still looks fresh and graceful, and a statue in the trees seems to have re-appeared. No sign of any crutches though. There is still an annual mass here on the 15th August, the Assumption of the Blessed Virgin. And a word about the unusual name for the townland: Titeskin – not pronounced remotely like it looks and its seems to be known as Kilteskan locally. A kind friend explained that it means tigh antSeiscinn which translates as house in the swamp, which seems very fitting as it was certainly damp and boggy; all that wonderful holy water.