Well Hunting around Ballinspittle

A crisp clear morning in Kinsale, we had four wells on the agenda on our way home. First stop Lady’s Well, just oimg_0055ver the bridge at Ringrone.

 Lady’s Well, Tobar Mhuire,Ringrone

The well looked to lie quite close to the road in pasture. According to the Archaeological Inventory, it no longer had holy use but had been turned into a cattle trough. The road was busy and the pavement small as we rummaged around in the wooded ditch area. There was a stream but no sign of any well. We left the main road and followed a lane upwards towards the old graveyard where we could see someone working. He had never heard of any well but he did know where a female pirate was buried and pointed us to Anne Bonney’s grave, suitably decorated with skulls and crossbones (this may be one of many possible burial sites)! The remains of the old castle, built by the grandson of the Norman knight Sir John de Courcy in the thirteenth century, lay in the field next door.

Just a single stack now and the area around it being landscaped. No sign of any cattle troughs and the stream had been diverted, the area around cleared. I wondered if the well had been lost in the renovations. We conceded defeat.

Since posting this blog I have heard from Jerome Lordan who has sent this image of the well.

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Lady’s Well, Ringrone. Photo: Jerome Lordan.

It is about 100 metres north east of the castle and I suspect very close to where I was. Looking a little forlorn today.

St Ruadhán’s Wells, Tobar Ruadhán, Courtaparteen

On to Courtaparteen and some very small roads. The final track was tiny – more green than tarmac, so we parked the car where we could and continued on foot. Fuchsia-line with enticing glimpses of the sea, this was a beautiful spot, looking especially good in the late October sunshine.

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Fuchsia-filled boreen

The boreen widened up a little and it was clear that some restoration work had been going on for there were signs to the old church, and new steps had been cut into the path. Two wells were in this area, roughly 50 metres apart. The first well encountered was clearly signed St Ruadhán’s Well.

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This confused me for according to the Archaeological Inventory, it is the second well a little further down that is dedicated to the saint – I have decided to dedicate both wells to him!

The first well is tucked into a field boundary and has a semi-circular basin full of fresh clear water.The concave stone wall contains a slabbed shelf, full of offerings – white pebbles and a statue of the BVM. A single white rag hangs above the well.

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Tobar Ruadhán

A crucifix rests on stones just below the shelf. The water is clean and fresh, and meant to be good for sore eyes and warts.

50m to the east lies another well, much less cherished, in fact seemingly forgotten in the undergrowth: this is the one officially dedicated to St Ruadhán according to the Inventory.  It is a rectangular rock-cut depression, lined with concrete and stone flags.

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The neglected second well

It was traditional to throw a white pebble into it but the well is now merely damp, full of leaves. This water was also said to be good for curing sore eyes. Interesting how the other well still had offerings of white stones. Interesting too how one has been beautifully restored while the other neglected. I would love to hear more about these two wells if anyone has any information.

We carried on down to the old church, Kilroan, (SMR: CO125-021002) also dedicated to St Ruadhán, following red arrows painted on the path. What a fantastic view opened up as we emerged from the woodland. The remains of the church lie right on the edge of the cliff overlooking a wild and colourful ocean.

The Feast day of St Ruadhán  (his name can be spelt in many different ways) is the 15th April. Ruadháin was one of the 12 Apostles of Ireland. He founded a monastic settlement in Lorrha, Tipperary. A rather beautiful bell was found in a holy well there and was attributed to the saint, and is now viewable in the British Museum.

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St Ruadhán’s Bell, now in the British Museum

Ruadhán is said to have caused the downfall of the ancient kingdom of Tara for he cursed the High King, Diarmuid Mac Cerbhaill, after he had gone against the rules of Christian sanctuary and wrenched a hostage hiding in a church.  Aengus the Culdee in his Féilire, a sort of catalogue of saints written around 780AD, praised him as such:

An excellent flame that does not wane,
that vanquishes urgent desires.
Fair was the gem,
Ruadhán, lamp of Lorrha.

Sunday’s Well, Tobairin an Domhnach, Ballinspittle*

On to Ballinspittle, famous for two things: Diva, a really delicious café and the Grotto where in 1985 the statue of the Blessed Virgin Mary was said to have moved, a phenomenon apparently witnessed by many people. (Similar sightings of divine apparitions occurred at 30 other places in Ireland during that extraordinary year).

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The Grotto at Ballinspittle, site of the moving statue in 1985

The little well though lies in the opposite direction, a much older place, revered for many centuries. Approached through a red wicket gate bearing a helpful sign, the path is laid out with just discernible stones, gunnera adding a luxuriant feel to the surroundings.

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The cheerful entrance to the well

The well, lying flat in the ground, is roughly pentagonal shaped, the water clear and deep. It is a Sunday’s Well, Tobairin an Domhnach – dedicated to the King of Sunday  (Christ, or sometimes St Dominic).

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Pentagonal shaped well

It has curative properties for sore eyes and was last renovated 1970 as the little plaque tells informs.

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Plaque, circa 1970

Tucked behind a tree trunk, a sandwich box contained a variety of offerings and a notebook and pencil should you wish to leave a prayer or comment.

According to Holland, writing in 1908:

local tradition tells that the well was formerly located 60 yards west of its present site, but that one of the lords of the manor gave orders to his stewart to have the well closed …. very soon the water sprang up again in its present site and the people continued to pay their rounds as before.

A quiet and rather beautiful spot. It’s Interesting how the last three wells all had cures for sore eyes. The water here is rich in manganese but I can find no information that that is especially good for sore eyes – anaemia and osteoporosis yes!

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*Some interesting additional information has just come in from Jerome Lordan:

Tobar Ruadhán is known locally as having a cure for warts.I suspect that Tobairín an Domhnach is incorrectly interpreted as ‘Sunday Well’ as it is in the Townland of Kilmore(big church) and is very close to one of Ireland’s largest ringforts at Ballycatten. The strong link between church and secular society in medieval Ireland would suggest to me that it was a Domhnach church with possibly a high ranking cleric overseeing society here. The church site according to local tradition was close to the well. The emphasis here really is that by translating the native name the nuance in the name will be lost. A local man put up a little sign with the ‘Sunday’s Well ‘ interpretation on the little gate entering the well area. However well intentioned he was, he should have just left the original name without his translation.

Many thanks to Jerome Lordan for the additional information regarding the names of these wells and their correct spelling. And for the photograph of Lady’s Well.

The location of these wells can be found in the Gazetteer.

9 thoughts on “Well Hunting around Ballinspittle

  1. Pingback: A Motley Quintet | Holy Wells of Cork

  2. Jerome Lordan

    The tomb at Ringroan with the skull and crossbones is that of the Bullen family. They were associated with smuggling in the Old Head area. Ann Bonney has no known connection with this family. However she was reputedly born near where the Bullen’s carried out their illegal activities. Tobar na Ceardán is also close to this churchyard.

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    1. freespiral2016 Post author

      Thanks Jerome, looking into Anne Bonney it did seem unlikely that that was where she had ended up, but the gravedigger was emphatic! We were trying to find the well but could see no sign of it but a huge amount of work was going on in the area.

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