Delivering the last son to the airport after the Christmas holidays, the return journey afforded an excellent opportunity for a spot of well hunting. Four wells were on the agenda all loosely located off the R631 towards Carrigaline. First stop Sunday’s Well, Raffeen.
Sunday’s Well, Raffeen
This well lies off a steep lane – a tiny stone-faced path leading down to it from the side of the road, no hint of what’s to come. The wellhouse fits snugly into the bank, a limestone lintel supported by built up stone walls. The basin is semi-circular with a flat slab in the front for paying respects. The supporting wall on the left has a cross etched into it, now very mossy.
It seems there may have been five cross-inscribed stones originally but this was the only one in evidence.
Casey, writing in 1983, recorded that rounds were performed here forty years ago but it didn’t look as though the well had received many visitors recently although there was a mass card tucked in amongst all the leaves on top of the lintel.
The water was fresh, clear and abundant and ran from the well along a little channel out into a stream on the other side of the bank.
The whole area was rich in ferns and palms and felt verdant and very peaceful.
It is a Sunday’s Well, dedicated to the King of Sunday, Christ himself and was presumably visited on this day in the past.
Well of the Sand Hills, Tobernadihy, Ballyfouloo
Next stop, and an attempt to find Tobernadihy, Well of the Sand Hills. It is located in the wonderfully named townland of Ballyfouloo: Baile Uí Fhoghludha in Gaelige meaning Foley’s homestead/town. Again, this site lay close to the road but the whole area was so densely covered in vegetation that I couldn’t find anything I could confidently describe as well-like. There was an area with considerable dampness where the GPS reckoned it was but no sign of any structure or stones or basin. It all felt a bit neglected and unkempt, the notice hidden amongst the trees being blatantly ignored.
Hurse, writing in 1926, describes an an old thorn bush above the well festooned with clooties and offerings but there was no sign of this today.
Lady’s Well, Kilnahone
Retracing my steps back towards Ballinhassig I decided to attempt to find Lady’s Well in Kilnahone and then carry on to Killanully (also called Killingley) near Ballygarvan. An entry in the Schools Folkore Project of 1937 describes these two wells:
There are two holy wells in the parish in Killanully, Carrigaline. Their names are Lady’s Well and St Paul’s Well. Lady’s Well is situated on the farm of Mr White Kilnahone, Carrigaline. The name of the field in which it is situated is called Meadowfield. St Paul’s Well is situated on the lands of Mr Dick Kennefick in Killanully. There is an old tree growing over the well. People come for to get spring water from a well near it. There is a fish seen in St Paul’s Well. It was once seen by a woman who was going to the well for water. (0391:117/118)
Kilnahone was one of those spots that looked incredibly remote on the OS map – a little red dot in the middle of a field, miles from anywhere but close to a river. I parked the car and surveyed the fields – I could see the river, the terrain looked not too challenging, it seemed do-able.
The river is the Owenabue which rises in Crossbarry, widens in Ballygarvan, flows on through Carrigaline out to Crosshaven before finally entering Cork Harbour. The area is known as the Owenabue Valley and very pretty it is too. The river was flowing fast and clearly, The fields were green and lush but no sign of any well.
Thank goodness for the GPS which led me to a tiny copse, a tangle of briars and hawthorns but inside water bubbled up from the ground. I could even hear it.
Once the well had been covered with a beehive-shaped well house and there were still stone blocks to be seen, lying here and there.
The well was dedicated to Our Lady and rounds were made here on the 15th August but I think I was the only visitor for some time.
St Paul’s Well, Killanully
Last stop Ballygarvan. I had tried to visit this well before, got as far as the graveyard and then wondered how to proceed. I had more time today and ventured up to the house. Kate answered the door, amazed at my query for I was the second person to ask to see the well that week! A visitor had already rolled up on Christmas Day – someone who used to live in the area and explained that it was traditional to visit the well on Christmas morning. Kate had only been in the house a couple of years and knew nothing of the well’s history but donned her wellies and led me down.
The walk down through woodland was beautiful, stone steps and a path just discernible under foot. We descended through the vegetation, the rushing sound of water getting louder. A river lay at the bottom of the valley and there was the well, tucked in amongst all the lush greenery: slightly lop-side, sinking into layers of leaf mould but still bearing vestiges of flaky blue paint.
The well house is made from stone, the front faced with cut limestone to resemble a church door, according to the Archaeological Inventory. The door way is certainly arched and the stone carefully worked.There’s an odd hole over above the entrance, who knows what that might have contained. Crosses have been heavily inscribed into the gable above by countless pilgrims. A flat slab lies in front, placed for ease of collecting water and for paying respect. Behind it lies a large rectangular basin, now well hidden by greenery and hard to discern its age. Was this where local people gathered spring water as described in the first entry from the Schools’ Folklore Collection, for using holy well water for everyday use would have been frowned upon. The water was fresh and clear and flowed out through the vegetation on towards the river.
Once there had been a clootie tree above the well, thick with rags, but now there was just a dense thicket of bamboo.This letter written by Liam McCarthy to his wife in 1886 gives a few more clues:
I visited Ballygarvan burial ground and shall never forget it for in going among the tall grass I slipped into a sunken grave and nearly broke my leg. I have not been able to walk since without a stick. I don’t think it is very much. I visited the Holy Well and drank some of the water. The name of the well is Kill (something father will know). I saw a lot of crutches on one of the graves and on a bush near the well there must have been a thousand rags…
The grave referred to belonged to Father Florence McCarthy, a much respected parish priest who died in 1805 and is buried in the nearby churchyard of Killanully. His grave became a place of pilgrimage and rounds were made here, a visit to the well being included as part of the rounds, as described in another extract from the Schools’ Folklore Collection:
In Killingley stands the ruins close beside the rectory …. of an old church within which is the grave of Father Florence McCarthy. Pilgrims from near and far came to pay rounds at this grave and at a Holy Well nearby. They did the journey from the grave to the well on their knees, a distance of several hundred yards and many cures are said to have taken place at this well.
About two hundred yards south of the well there is a wooded recess in which Mass was celebrated in Penal Times. This recess was once surrounded by a wood but now only a few trees stand in and around the place. (0392:218/219)
Father McCarthy’s grave is obviously still much revered and is heavily inscribed with crosses.
The Parishioners of Ballygarvan
Have at their own expense
Erected This Stone
To the memory of the Late
REV.d Florence McCarthy
Parish Priest of Douglas
Who Departed This Life
Aged 80 Years
Having walked from the graveyard down to the well I can confirm that it would have been quite an unpleasant and tricky manoeuvre on your knees!
The well seems to have been dedicated to St Paul. A monastery was founded in nearby Monkstown by the Order of St Peter and St Paul and I wonder if there might be a connection. The well was visited on Christmas morning and may have been used for baptisms and Mass during Penal Times. It was also visited in connection with pilgrimage made to Father McCarthy’s grave and possibly on St Paul’s feast day, 29th June. A remarkable and forgotten site, still with many secrets.