We had several attempts at finding this well and were eventually directed towards a farm. The farmer was below tending sheep and waved us on up, telling us that we could drive all the way to the top of the hill where the well lay, not a bother. We drove a fair way up the bouncy hillside, only a rough track, and set out for an explore. No sign of anything so on with the GPS. Thick green pasture, a complex of pylons and long views out to the sea.
The GPS led us off in a different direction, back down to a small bit of woodland, all that remains of the once extensive Glen Iris Wood, and there we spied a jumble of chairs – always a hopeful sign.
A nicely carved stone sign assured us we were in the right place.
The well was surrounded by a drystone wall, a large ash tree growing within. The well itself was only damp, no flowing water, but the overflow channel was neatly slabbed, leading out into the fields below where, oddly, there was a lot of standing water.
Five cross-inscribed stones lay within the walls, obviously marked as part of the rounds. A small statue of the BVM seemed to be levitating from out of the tree trunk, actually attached to a twig, and another was tucked amongst the foliage. A huge white shell, rather foot-like, had been left as an offering.
A little way from the walled site was an enormous block of limestone, scored with a deep channel in the stone, with various crosses on the the flat top.
The well is still visited on the feast day of St Colmán, 24th November, hence the chairs. It is customary to say one Hail Mary, One Our Father and one Glory be in front of each stone and to incise the stones with a cross. This had to be done three times. The large block of stone was also incorporated into the rounds. The water was considered good and cures have been recorded there. An eel is also mean to live within, an encouraging sign for anyone who spots it.
There’s a nice story about the origins of the well. I’ll let Padraigh Ua hAodha recount the story he heard from Bean Uí Curtáin recorded as part of the School’s Folklore Collection (spelling as in the original):
When St Coleman was building the round tower in Cloyne a woman asked him what he was doing so high up. When he heard her speak he got such a shock he jumped from there to Kilva where the print of his feet are still to be seen on a stone. He jumped from there to Glen Iris Wood. When he landed he prayed to god to send him some wather and immediately water sprang up at his feet. When he had drunk some he sprang from here to Cove where there is a cathedral built called Saint Coleman’s. The spring that sprung up at his feet is now known as St Coleman’s Well.
Scart Upper, Midleton, School Folklore Collection, late 1930s
The round tower is still there next to the cathedral but I haven’t been able to find an image of the stone in Kilva – a townland just to the north west of Cloyne. St Colmán himself was not your usual sort of saint. He was the son of the wonderfully named Lénín the Vehement (Martyrology of Oengus) and undertook a gruelling 12 year training at Cashel to be become a file or bard. He was later baptised by St Brendan of Clonfert and took the name Colmán, a derivation of Columbus or dove. These are some lines he wrote in honour of St Brendan which appears in the Book of Lismore:
Brendan, flame of victorious lightning;
He smote the chafer, he ploughed the waves
Westward to the populous assemblative place
The fair-sided Land of Promise.
He was then sent on to St Jarlath at Tuam for further instruction. He was finally ordained late in life, around fifty years of age. He founded a monastery and school in Cloyne. Cloyne sounds much more romantic as Gaelige Cluain Uamha or meadow of the cave and as our host in the B&B explained, there are caves all under Cloyne. The cathedral in nearby Cloyne is well worth a visit for it’s an astonishing place and is dedicated to St Colmán as is the cathedral in nearby Cobh.
Corkbeg Holy Well
We did try to find another well in the vicinity at Corkbeg. The Archaeological Inventory entry describes it thus:
In narrow valley. According to Power (1940, 98) ‘small open shallow basin…at bottom of the glen. Evidence of recent “rounds” on across-inscribed flagstone’. Unable to locate.
We found the glen, we skidded down the banks, we got caught in the briars, we got our feet wet and we had a big laugh. I only read the last sentence when we were back in the car! No sign of any well, just an awful lot of rubbish.
Sadly, this is where the GPS reckoned it was.