A day in Kinsale; rather nice once the crowds have gone, to wander around the windy streets, admire the old buildings and enjoy a white pizza: no tomato sauce but pears, goat’s cheese and walnuts.
The Abbey Well, Kinsale Tobar na Mainistreache, The Friary Well
The first well goes under many names – Abbey Well, Friary Well, Lady’s Well, Tobar na Mainistreache – and proved quite tricky to find. A beautiful clear morning in Kinsale, we wandered up past the Carmelite Friary looking for a likely passageway amongst houses. I had inadvertently put in the wrong GPS number and we were having to rely on the scant information in the Archaeological Inventory:
In housing estate, short distance N of Carmelite friary (CO112-033003-) and similarly dedicated to St Mary… Approached by pathway between houses. Circular well (diam. 0.65m; H 0.72m) cut into rockface and enclosed by semi-circular stone wall at rear; concrete step forms front and retains water flow. Thought locally to be associated with early Christian foundation of St Multose
We inquired of a young man with dreadlocks. Yes, he knew of a well but we were going in the wrong direction. His instructions sounded promising and we went our way back down the steep hill towards the college – amazing views out over the town and towards the sea. Further on down we asked two ladies having a chat. Oh yes, they knew of the well but had never been, and we were close, they gave directions.
The well was indeed down a small alley, a dead end, between a row of old cottages. A helpful sign gave a lot of information and further research showed the well was once an incredibly important and frequently visited spiritual monument. It may even have been the reason that a town developed in this spot. A church was built near here in the seventh century – due to the proximity of the well?
The original church building was later replaced by an abbey dedicated to St Mary built by the Norman landowner Robert Fitzrichard Balrain in 1344. He offered the abbey and 29 acres of land to the Carmelite Hermits – an interesting group who had fled Mount Carmel in the Holy Land during the Crusades. The Hermits of the Blessed Virgin Mary of Mount Carmel, to give them their full title, originally settle on Mount Carmel, now in northern Israel, and followed the example of the Prophet Elijah and lived lives of shared solitude. They were also devoted to the Blessed Virgin Mary. The Carmelites invited into Kinsale by Balrain were responsible for the pastoral care of the town and seemed to have worked closely with the ill and afflicted, especially those with leprosy, still prevalent in the Medieval period. They used water from this well in their healing, then called Fan na Tubraide (slope of the fountain) but which was later dedicated to the Lady of the Place, the BVM.
After the English Reformation, the Carmelites were ejected from the friary in 1544. They moved to an old mass-house near to the well, on the junction of the Bandon and Rock roads. Here Mass was celebrated, people also gathering at the well to recite the Rosary and say prayers. The whole area was known as Holy Corner.
The well is still dedicated to the Blessed Virgin Mary and it seems that she has even made a brief appearance here. Cait Ni Síoccáin collected this story in 1937 as part of the Schools’ Folklore Collection:
… The story is told how a man went for some water at twelve o clock one night.When he got to the centre of the lane something stopped him, He made the sign of the cross and then found he was able to walk again. When he got to the well Our Blessed Lady appeared to him and told him that it was the spirits that stopped him on his way to the well. She also told him that these spirits wanted to frighten people and it was very dangerous to be out late at night. Thinking that she was another spirit the man blessed himself again. Our Lady told him not to fear that she was the Mother of God. She said she would protect him until he was safe in his own home. She did so and when he got home he knelt down and thanked her, then he kissed her hand and she disappeared… ( 0319:70)
Today Abbey Well seems nicely tended if a little ignored. It was renovated in 2013. A large semi-circular slab curves around the well itself which is built up onto the wall. The area behind is also semi-circular with stone shelves, presumably for offerings. The water was clear and cold. Traditionally emigrants would take a bottle with them on their travels to keep them safe. Amazing how such a tiny well tucked down an alleyway has such an illustrious history!
Trinity Well, Fort Hill
The second Kinsale well lies just outside the town, almost exactly opposite the highly impressive Charles Fort built in the late seventeenth century. This is where most visitors go for the views are sublime and the architecture stunning, but if you were to wander across to the other side of the road, just next to the old graveyard, a much less ostentatious but just as interesting monument remains.
This is Trinity Well, once visited by many pilgrims who came here to pay the rounds, especially on Trinity Sunday.
By the early twentieth century this pilgrimage had become a bit too lively and was banned by the Church. The well became neglected and forgotten for almost a hundred years. In 2013 the Trinity Well Conservation Group was formed by local residents who enlisted the help of Tús,* a community work placement initiative.
The well was cleared, a pathway constructed, attractive carved stones put up at the entrance and a simple wooden cross erected. Today this is an attractive and tranquil spot. A small bench offers somewhere to sit and reflect. The well nestles snugly into the slope, a simple stone and brick arch supporting the roof of the wellhouse, a large flat slab in front, with the overflow disappearing down the field into the undergrowth. The water was once considered to have curative powers but it is not yet of a good enough quality to drink today. A few pebbles remain within – perhaps once dropped by pilgrims paying their rounds.
A church once stood close by, Holy Trinity Church, the stones dismantled in the late seventeenth century for fear it would be used a a stronghold from which to attack the nearby fort. The old graveyard remains, with fine views out to sea.
The well was rededicated in a special ceremony on Trinity Sunday 2013 (26th May that year). It’s a very peaceful and pleasant spot to take a moment.
Incidentally Trinity Well is the 100th holy well recorded since this Blog began way back on St Bridget’s Day! Many adventures have been had so far: big well, teeny wells, adored wells, forgotten wells, accessible wells, fiendishly remote wells visited. 25 different saints have been revered so far, the BVM the most popular, and 14 different cures attributed to various waters – sore eyes and warts being the most popular! Onwards.
And there is new feature – discover the delights of a Map showing all wells visited so far, an additional feature of the Gazetteer. Click on the individual dots to discover information about each well, including an image. There was an awful lot of information to be entered into the database so if you find any mistakes please let me know. Many thanks to Peter for his stirling work in getting this up and running.
*Tús have also been helpful in the clearing of two wells in Bandon Town Park. When we visited Lady’s Well and St Bridget’s Well they were completely swamped by undergrowth. I was contacted by someone who immediately contacted an archaeologist and Tús. The last time we visited they had been cleared. An excellent result.