Fuelled with coffee at Budds in Ballydehob we headed off on the R586 towards Bandon, five wells in the GPS.
Holy Well, Killowen
First stop, a sharp left after Murragh and up an unexpected glen, full of dense foliage and the sound of dripping water. We parked in a layby and Ger just happened to be passing, out for a walk. Yes, he knew of the well and offered to show us. It was very close by, a steep scramble up a little gully, the stream itself, all hidden by ferns.
The spring was clear and fresh emerging from the undergrowth, a large slab in front of it, rather spoiled by its packing of plastic bags. It seems that the slab was put there by a local farmer to keep out cattle for once they had been allowed to drink here and the well had eventually dried up. A yellow pipe showed that the water was flowing and still used today.
A blue plastic cup and a pink rosary dangled in the undergrowth. Opposite as small statue of the BVM was perched on a mossy stone, actually a ballaun. There is an interesting story connected with this:
On the east side of the wood road, in the glen to the north of the graveyard of Killowen, there is a holy well in O’Donovan’s farm. According to tradition, a fugitive priest who knelt to drink from the well left the imprint of his knees on the rock. This rock has been placed at the southern side of the well and the marks are still visible. Though the well is regarded generally as holy, its water is now used by some for domestic purposes.
The United Parishes of Murragh and Templemartin: Notices of the Union collected from various sources, by Rev Bro WP Allen, Christian Brothers
The priestly indents are still there, just check under the moss.
Originally the water was used to cure warts and other skin complaints. According to Ginni Louise Swanton in her book By the Bridge, for the cure to work you had to visit the well in secret, making sure you were unseen by anyone. Should you be spotted toing or froing the cure would not work. Seven trips to the well were required for a cure to be effective. I don’t know how many people still visit for wart problems but Ger explained that the water was still used for baptisms at the church in nearby Newcestown.
This site has a wonderful, secretive feel – hidden in plain sight almost, still very much alive and potent should you care to look.
Well of the Yew Tree, Tobar an Lubhair, Roughgrove
Next stop Roughgrove in search of Tobar an Lubhaire, Well of the Yew Tree– a long walk along a well-made track through pasture, the cattle eyeing us suspiciously. A sharp turn to the left and a little strip of woodland comes into sight. Within it was very wet and boggy with several places looking well-like. A modern water tank was lurking among the trees and next to it a rectangular stone building amongst the undergrowth looked like it could have been the well. It was certainly damp and the stone older than the tank. The GPS confirmed this was the spot. An old tree was being supported on stone blocks, a damp hollow underneath – another possible contender.
Try as we did we couldn’t find an yew tree – oak, beech, holly, no problem. There is a nice bit of folklore attached to the well which may explain why:
One time there was a family living over on the other side of the hill and two of them set out to cut down the tree that was growing over the well. When they looked over at their house they saw it was on fire so they went to quench the fire and to their surprise the house was not on fire. They went a second time to cut the tree and the same thing occurred. Then the men said’We do not care about the house’ so they went for a third time and when they returned their house was burnt to the ground. (0315:107)
Schools’ Folklore Collection
There’s a moral to that story! The water was said to be good for curing sore eyes and it seems that it was once much revered. Another entry from the Schools’ Folklore Project describes when and what you should do when visiting:
There is holy well in Roughgrove. It’s name is Tobar an Euban (the well of the Yew Tree). About 40 years ago people made rounds there. There is a big whitethorn scart drooping over the well. This well is situated on a high hill and there is a flat taste to the water. In summer the flow is as strong as in winter. The following is the way the people made rounds. A person should go to the well before sunrise. Then one should walk around the well three times from left to right with the intention that one would be cured. Then kneel down in front of the well and say five Our Fathers and five Hail Marys. Then go to the eastern shoulder and repeat the same. At the western shoulder repeat the same, Then at the front of the well say the Rosary. The fifteenth of August is the most noted day. One could also make rounds on the (one) Sunday and two Fridays or two Sundays and one Friday. One should leave a piece of ribbon or something on the small trees near the well, when leaving it. (0315:106)
Schools’ Folklore Collection
Well of the Alder Trees, Tobar na Fearna, Mishells
The next well was also named after trees, Tobar na Fearna, Well of the Alder Trees. It was situated in the hills high above Bandon. Two large trees stood close together separated by a stone field boundary. This tree was magnificent with a gnarly trunk and sinuous spreading roots – around it water was seeping up, surely the well?
A magical very otherworldy feel to this site.
Lady’s Well, Lissanisky
Onwards towards the townland of Lissanisky where two wells lay close together – one dedicated to Our Lady and the other a Sundays Well. A long boreen lead up towards a house someway off, we parked and investigated. The woodland was dense, snagging our hair and clothes, everywhere thick with brambles and nettles. We found a dead badger and much bogginess. The well was described as being at the bottom of a cliff face. After much rummaging we found an old door covered in leaves which looked hopeful. Lifting it up, some rusty corrugated metal lay on top but underneath was the well still seeping with water.
A headless and mossy statue of the BVM confirmed we were in the right place.
We carefully put back the door and struggled out of the undergrowth. A well less visited but nonetheless rather special.
Sunday’s Well, Lissanisky
A little further on up the road, on a bend, we spotted a small clearing. The second well lay within, water flowing briskly down through the foliage, collecting in a basin at the head of a field – a Sundays Well, dedicated to the King of Sunday/Christ.
The well itself was tucked into the cliff face – a small slab above it, the water seeping out from ground level fresh and clear. What was most interesting here were the stone slabs lying to the right of the well. The largest stone bore many inscriptions including the date 1753, only just discernible with an M just below it. There seemed to be other letters on the left but I couldn’t read them. A cross was inscribed below this and under that the letters IHS. IHS is a Christigram: iota-eta-sigma being the first letters of the the name of Jesus in the Greek alphabet, written ΙΗΣΟΥΣ in Greek or IHSOUS in Latin letters. IHS is also known as the Holy Name of Jesus in the Catholic church. Another cross was carved below these letters, and tucked into the base of this stone a smaller slab, also cross marked. These stones added a extra potency to the site and were no doubt part of the rounds which would originally have been paid here.
Near the wells, right at the edge of the boreen, lies the ringfort that gives the townland its name: Lissanisky: lios an uisce, fort of the water (CO097-006, actually described by the Archaeological Inventory as an enclosure). Interesting Lissanisky lies in the parish of Knockavilla, which means Cnoc a’Bhile – hill of the sacred tree. We encountered a few of those today.
Well hunting will resume in the New Year!