Another day in east Cork. Fuelled by an enormous breakfast and good night’s sleep at the delightful Wisteria House in Cloyne, we (travelling companions Robert and Finola of Roaringwater Journal) hit the back roads around Midleton. First stop the wonderful Lady’s Well at Ballycurrany, already recorded.
St John’s Well, Templeboden
The next well was just a little way away in the townland of Templeboden and is dedicated to St John the Baptist, the first of the four saints encountered today. GPS is a wonderful thing but humans are always better and we asked directions from a couple out for a walk. It was complicated to find they explained, they attempted to give instructions but then decided to take us there themselves! On the way we met the landowner and were accompanied by her bouncy dog.
The well was across several fields full of rather beautiful and inquisitive brown sheep.
The site has recently been restored (2013) by the community, a carved stone announcing the name. The well is enclosed in a neat circular stone wall, a small cross on top signifying the sacredness of the site. A gap in the wall leads into the enclosure, a tiny square font now incorporated into the wall, found during renovations. The well itself is at ground level, semi- circular in shape, surrounded by small stones with a large slab in the front. The overflow is slabbed and goes off through the entrance into the field. The water was cold and clear with a sprinkling of bright green duckweed. The dog appreciated it! There is meant to be an eel that lives within and anyone who should spot it will of course be favoured with great fortune.
The well is dedicated to St John the Baptist and it sounds as though it was once a popular and potent site:
There is a blessed well in Templeboden. It is called Saint John the Baptist’s Well. He is the Patron Saint and in olden times there were several cures. People used to come here from all parts to settle any dispute before the Statue of Saint John the Baptist until some miracle happened and the priest broke the statue. (037:19)
Michael Patrick Hegarty, Schools’ Folklore Collection
The reference to the settling of disputes is especially interesting, as is the reaction by the priest. Originally the pattern day was on the 23rd June, St John’s Eve, when the rounds were made but we were informed that this has recently be moved to the 29th August when a well-attended Mass is still held here.
St Bartholomew’s Well, Garryantaggart
Onwards to Garryantaggart (garraidh an tSagairt, garden of the priest ) and St Bartholomew’s Well (Tobar Phartalain as Gaelige); this one having the luxury of a signpost and a little metal bridge leading over the stream into the wooded enclosure. The origins of the well are interesting (Philomena’s spelling and punctuation):
…. One day a blind man was walking to a farm house and he was lame and he had a stick and when he was walking over the bridge their was a fog that night. He lost this stick and he sat down next to a stream of water and he rubbed his eyes with the water and got his sight back. He went to the house and he told his story. He went for the priest and the men to dig this spot and they came. They made a blessed well of it. There is a tree behind the well and there are ribbons hanging on it. People leave relics there. There is a cup there and the people drink water there. They say it is not right to boil blessed water for if they boiled it they would die before the following feast of the blessed well. (0387.17)
Philomena MacCarthy, Templeboden, School’s Folklore Collection
This is a delightful spot, surrounded by a variety of mature trees with the stream in front.
The well is an interesting construction: the main body teardrop shaped, with a flat wall at the front containing a gable faced facade topped with an iron Celtic cross. A plaque informs that the building is Under the Patronage of St Bartholomew, one of the 12 Apostles.
On the other side of this plaque is a painting of the saint himself, looking rather serene considering he met such a ghastly death which included being flayed alive. Incidentally he is patron saint of tanners! A windowbox full of flowers sits underneath him.
The teardrop shaped walls are made of stone with a rounded cemented top and there are hints of red brick under the flat wall. Well worn steps lead down to the well itself: the water, cold and fresh as Robert confirmed.
A bench under the fir trees and a smattering of plastic chairs looked hopeful, testimony that pilgrims do still visit this peaceful spot.
The Feast Day of St Bartholomew is 24th August. Why St Bartholomew was chosen as the patron saint is not known but the water was henceforth known as a cure for sore eyes.
With a most welcome stop for lunch in Rathcormac it was on to Britway to see a well dedicated to St Bridget.
St Bridget’s Well, Britway
Again this well is clearly signed and approached up a beautifully maintained pathway, a little stream to the left. Like other wells visited in east Cork, this one is surrounded by a stone wall and has a huge tree, this time a beech, encompassing the wall. The stones are partially whitewashed and a stone plaque placed in the wall informs of the last renovations: May 1st 1880.
A little green painted gate leads down into the well which nestles at the foot of the huge tree trunk. The well is semi-circular, stone-lined with a small stone jutting out over the water, for ease of water collection? Today the water is full of colourful beech leaves but was abundant and cold.
In a niche above the well is a statue of St Bridget herself, with rather alarming looking eyes. She holds a model of the nunnery she founded in one hand and in the other a coat hanger that has been recycled as her staff. Rosaries and bracelets in red and white woollen skeins hang from her wrists.
Below her are assorted offerings: coins, a medal saying Bless This House, a statue of the BVM in a grotto and a collection of rusty coins in a ramekin bowl. A cross sits atop the niche, poking out of the ivy.
Around the outside of the wall are placed several stones at ground level, presumably something to do with the rounds. Patrick O Regan describes the rites and rituals associated with this well in the late 1930s:
… There is a wall built around this well. This was built by a man called Garret Heaphy on the Ist May 1880 … There are four trees inside the well one rowan, two beech and one sycamore….. The annual pattern day is the 15th August but the real pilgrimage day is the 1st February – St Brighid’s Day. The well is frequented for temporal and spiritual benefits and cure of all ailments. The Rosary is recited, three rounds being given and there are three stones to count the rounds. The water is applied to the affected part. It is also drunk and taken away. The water is also used for domestic purposes but in this instance is not taken from the well proper but from the stream which flows from the well. It is said that water taken out of the well cannot be brought to boil. After the rounds offerings are made, men: money, women beads. These offerings are placed on the small altar at the back of the well or on the limbs of the trees inside the well. Pieces of cloth are also applied to a branch. In olden times it was the custom after the rounds to repair to Saint Brigid’s Stone which lies south east of the well in a field adjoining the graveyard. Prayers were said here and also at the cross on the boundary wall of the graveyard north west from the stone. (0381:311)
Patrick o Regan, Britway, Schools’ Folklore Collection
A very peaceful spot in the heart of the community, still revered and beautifully tended.
St Laurence’s Well, Clonmult
The last of the saintly quartet was a well dedicated to St Laurence O Toole, Lorcán Ua Tuathail. This lies at the side of the road in a townland called Garrylaurence or Laurence’s Garden. The wellhouse is a beehive shape, complete with a dazzling white statue of St Laurence himself looking rather melancholy and holding what seem to be lilies. Below him a cross bears the inscription INRI and St Laurence built 1842.
The well house has a rectangular opening and a sloping roof. A plaque informs of renovations in 1969.
Inside, the circular well house is corbelled with a step leading steeply down to the water, a candle featuring Padre Pio placed on a small ledge inside. The water today a bit murky and scummy.
A cross surmounted on a heap of stones, a bunch of peace lilies and a white bench complete the scene, the site neatly enclosed in a stone wall and gravelled. Someone had spelled out the word St Laurence in pieces of gravel on top of the wall.
And St Laurence(1128-1180) himself ? He was an aesthete, wore a hair shirt, never ate meat, and went on regular retreats. Lorcán Ua Tuathail became Abbot of Glendalough and later Archbishop of Dublin at the time of the Anglo-Norman invasion of Ireland. He tried to act as a mediator between the Anglo-Normans and the terrified Dubliners. He died in Eu, Normandy. His shrine became a place of pilgrimage and so many cures were attributed to him that he was canonised in 1225.
Holy wells at Bilberry & Broomfield East
We sought out two further wells on our journey back to Cloyne. One rather sad little well was discovered at the side of the road, now sealed off and abandoned.
The townland was called Bilberry – I wonder if there were any connections to Bilberry Sunday, the last Sunday in July.
The other well proved fiendishly difficult to get to. The GPS led us through a field of ankle-breaking, ankle-stinging sugar beet and nettles, hence the very blurry images which should give a feel of the tribulations encountered! We looked around hopefully for the rowan tree described in the Archaeological Inventory but saw nothing. Stung and covered in burrs, we agreed Broomfield East Well had defeated us.
We did manage one final monument: a very interesting fortified house overlooking the Owennacurra estuary : Ballyannan, circa 1650ish. An excellent day’s well hunting.