Today’s explorations were all within distance of the R584 meandering from Kealkil towards Macroom. The countryside was looking spectacular – all russets and ochres. First stop Togher.
Couragh Well, Cabhrach,Togher
Driving up to the farm to ask directions, the sight of the fortified house looming in the adjacent field is an impressive one. This incredibly historic building dates from the late 1500s and marks a transition from tower house to fortified house architecturally. It is shocking that it is being allowed to just crumble away in a field – from no fault of the owners who have done their best to patch it up, but really this is State responsibility.
I knocked at the farm and spoke to the woman of the house who had never heard of a holy well but directed me down to the men in the sheds. Her husband knew of a well and gave me instructions, with the usual warning that it would be very overgrown: back on the main road, pass two gates on the left then cross the road and look for some steps. The road was busy and there was no pavement, everywhere a tangle of briars and gorse. No sign of any steps and having slipped through the fence, the terrain on the other side of the hedge was very boggy with nothing remotely well-like in evidence. Some creative silage bales though.
The well was reputed to be a health-giving well known as Couragh or Cabhrach, and it’s water was once much prized for butter-making. No sign of it today.
The search for the next well took me off the main road down some very remote and scenic lanes where I encountered the sombre and impressive memorial at Kilmichael. This marks a particularly brutal incident in the War of Independence in which Tom Barry’s Flying Column, Third Cork Brigade, IRA, ambushed a company of Auxiliary Division Police on the 28th November 1920. The incident left three IRA members and 17 Auxiliaries dead. Many of the survivors were severely traumatised. This is a very good account of the harrowing events.
Well of the Church, Tobar na Cille, Carrigboy
I continued down some very tiny roads, uncertain where I was. I spotted a tractor ahead which had pulled into an old house and stopped to ask directions. A very helpful man, incredulous about what I was doing, confessed he had never heard of the well. I showed him where it was and we peered at the map and the GPS together – at one point I had to lend him my reading glasses, blue and sparkly – but in the end I thanked him and headed off. Miraculously I seemed to end up where I wanted to be according to the GPS and parked the car. The well, Tobar na Cille or well of the church, was meant to be at the side of the road, the remains of a burial ground near it (CO082-070). Large bracken and gorse strewn banks lined the road and a rummage around eventually revealed a sturdy lintel and a concave bit in the wall with a scattering of stones.
Was this Tobar na Cille? I’m not sure. If it was it was now dry.
Back through Kilmichael village, dominated by the beautifully maintained Cooldorrihy Grotto, erected in the Marian year 1954 and renovated in 2010. A lovely spot right on the banks of a river.
The next challenge was to find St Michael’s Well in the nearby townland of Cooldaniel. The farmer had known of this well and assured me it was a good one. It was still tricky to find and I seemed to travel through Kilmichael several times!
St Michael’s Well, Cooldaniel
Eventually I found the right place, a long track leading up to a farmhouse, the well on private land. I knocked at the house and was greeted by a small bouncy dog with a poorly foot, wearing a lampshade. No one was at home. In the end I went across fields to find the well, hidden in a shady glade. Once in the enclosure it was obvious that there was a correct way to approach the well for there was a leafy boreen and an attractive little gate.
The wellhouse is made from stone, beehive-shaped, with a white painted cross on top. Three crosses have been cut into the side walls, where pilgrims paid their rounds. Steps lead into down into the well itself, today flanked by plastic bottles holding faded hydrangeas.
The well is circular but there was not much water within, just dampness. A ladle and some cups are available for those wishing to take some water. Three cross shaped niches, reflecting those outside, hold a multitude of offerings: statues, rosaries, prayer cards. The corbelled roof is nicely constructed. It felt calm and quiet inside, rather special.
Outside a plaque informed that the well had been restored in 1996, and a rather battered plastic chair hinted at crowds. The well is dedicated to St Michael the Archangel, and his Feast day is 29th September when a Mass is still said here.
There is a nice extract from the Schools’ Folklore Collection referring to this well
There is only one holy well in this parish. It is dedicated to Saint Michael and is situated ib the townland of Cooldaniel.
Rounds are performed at this well on all Sundays of the year but especially on St Michael’s Day the 28th September. It is a fairly deep well and even in the dryest of summers it was never known to go dry. A little wall is built around it with an arched covering overhead. On the walls are crosses about three feet apart. At these people kneel and pray while performing the rounds.
The old people tell a story about this well. A Protestant who lived in the district thought he would have a joke on the Catholics who honoured this well so much so he took some of it home for household purposes placing some of it in a kettle on a blazing fire to boil.He then awaited the results and was amazed to see that after many hours it was as cold as ever. He was thus compelled to admit there was something supernatural in it (0340;171).
John Healy talking to Donal Murphy, Teerelton NS. Schools’ Folklore Collection
Moneycusker Holy Well
This is a strange well, located in a quiet corner of the very attractive and well kept old graveyard at Moneycusker, again dedicated to St Michael. An unusual name, seemingly moinfhear á choimhescir, or meadow of strife. The graveyard itself is built within a ringfort which has an even more interesting name: lisin a ‘chlumhain – little fort of the hairy man! The well, and there seem to be some doubts as to whether that’s exactly what it is, is in a rectangular stone building roofed with flat slabs.
The decorative gate, complete with iron cross, is barred and steps lead down to the interior. There is no sign of any water and the chamber is filled with odd things: beer cans, faded flowers, funerary paraphernalia and a few offerings. There are also a few bones.
The exterior contains cross -shaped niches similar to those at St Michael’s Well above. A weathered crucifix in a pot is propped up against the building.
An intriguing site, a bit of a conundrum, and if anyone has any further information I would love to hear it.
The final well lay on the outskirts of Macroom but first I had to stop and admire the Gearagh which was looking especially eerie and ancient today. This extraordinary landscape is all that remains of the only ancient post glacial alluvial forest in Western Europe and it’s now a nature reserve. Part of the forest was felled in the 1950s when hydroelectric works were carried out in the Lee Valley during the construction of the the Carrigadrohid Dam. Those black stumps are in fact tree trunks.
St Berrihert’s Well, Macroom
Although this well lies very close to the busy R584 going into Macroom, it’s very easy to miss as it’s set back from the road. An attractive little gate complete with the letters BVM in blue announce it’s existence for although the well is dedicated to Berrihert (spelled in a huge variety of ways), the patron seems to be the Blessed Virgin Mary.
The path leads up towards the shrine, beautifully flanked by huge chestnut trees, giving it a wooded and rural air. The wellhouse is an unusual structure . An arched stone building protects the well, whilst above it a rectangular building made of stone and bricks sits on top, complete with niche and glass-protected statue of the BVM.
Several plaques give further information about origins, sponsors and prayers. This one explains a little about St Berrichert.
This Ancient Holy Well is Tobar Berrihert, St Berrihert’s Well. Berichert or Berchert was the son of a Saxon Prince who came to Ireland about 664AD. A monastery which was founded at Tullylease became the centre of his cult. He died about 700AD. He is venerated in various Munster districts.It is customary to make rounds in his honour on Palm Sunday, Good Friday and Easter Sunday.
The main cult of St Berrichert is in Tullylease, already visited, where a church and well are dedicated to him.
The well itself is large, semi-circular and flanked by slabs containing offerings. The water is abundant but today full of leaves, a flat slab in the front for reverence with a metal pole going crosswise – to keep the structure together or to hold onto when getting water?
Many offerings had been left along with candles in blue holders.
The well was renovated in 1973. The Rosary is still said here, particularly on the 8th September, the Nativity of Our Lady.
Rounds are traditionally made on Palm Sunday, Good Friday and Easter Sunday.