A bit of a Sow’s Ear

Today we headed off towards Kinsale with our friends Robert and Finola from Roaringwater Journal fame, stained glass and holy wells on the agenda. Finola is giving a talk on stained glass shorlty and wanted to take photos of the windows in St Multose, Kinsale. The church is closed  in the winter, apart from services, but we were instructed to arrive at 12.20 when communion ended and could have 15 minutes browsing in the church. It is a beautiful old building and there is an astonishing variety of stained glass from many different periods. I have to say I’m usually drawn to small details and colours rather than the whole thing. Here are a few of my favourite pieces:

St Bridget’s Well, Tubbrid

img_2663Satisfied, we continued towards Crosshaven, four possible wells on the agenda, all of them looking rather obscure. First stop St Bridget’s Well, Tubbrid. The name of the townland seemed hopeful, tubbrid meaning well, but the Archaeological Inventory warned that it had no real idea where the well was but a red dot on the map placed hopefully on a fork in the road looked promising. I investigated. A stream run under the road and emerged on the other side, disappearing down a thickly wooded little glen. No sign of any well though the drain was nicely made and the area felt right.

St Patrick’s or St Finian’s Well, Kilpatrick

The second well was close: St Patrick’s Well, or possibly St Finian, it seems to have two alternative names. The Archaeological Inventory again wasn’t terrifically hopeful. It warned that the wellhouse had tumbled down and the remains were to be found on top of a steep hill. What it didn’t mention was that you had to wade through two steep-banked, fast flowing streams, then clamber up a bracken and briar knotted hillside to get there. There was no way we could get up the hill to access the well but I reckon it was somewhere near where this tree now stood.


Possible site of St Patrick’s Well?

There must have been a path to it once but no sign of it now. Disappointing not to find this well as it has an odd and fascinating story attached to it, discovered in the Schools’ Folklore Collection:

There are many holy wells in the district. The best known one in my district is in the townland of Tracton and about for or five miles from Carriglaline.  Many people still visit this well on certain days. Rounds are not performed often now if they are at all. There is a story told locally about the saint’s sister who was out late at night. When her brother, who was supposed to be St Finian, missed her he cursed her and said that ‘the wolves might eat you’. Immediately he had her cursed he heard the wolves howling and knew some evil had befallen her, so he set out in the night and found her at Ahane Cross which is not very far from this well, and the wolves devouring what remained of her. When he saw what evil he himself had done he cursed the wolves who turned into stones. These stones can plainly be seen some of them at Ahane Cross and more of them in the Tracton bogs near to this cross.  After the wolves were cursed he gathered up the bones of his sister and he bathed them in the holy well and she came to life again. St Patrick and St Finnian are mentioned in connection with this well.

St Finian seems a bit of a hasty chap and not very saintly  – all that cursing. We shall have to return for we sailed through Ahane Cross without noticing the petrified wolves.

St Mary’s Well, Crosshaven

Two wells in Crosshaven itself looked more promising – dedicated to the BVM and St Bridget. The area is known as Templebreedy and there are the remains of an old church and graveyard dedicated to the saint nearby. The more recent RC church in the town is also dedicated to her (incidentally designed by Edward Welby Pugin, son of the more famous Augustus). The wells looked to be close together off a small boreen. We entered the boreen in the car – a dead end but fortunately two people were passing. They knew of one well and directions were given: climb over the gate, go across the field, aim for the gap in the trees, squeeze through the barbed wire and turn right. This proved to be pretty accurate. St Mary’s lies at the edge of Cruachan Wood,   some huge trees remaining from what must have been an avenue connected with Templebreedy Rectory close by.


Avenue in Cruachan Woods

The well lies level with the ground amongst the trees: nicely made, stone lined with a semi-circular back. The water is abundant and fresh and flows off down towards the fields. It was once considered good for sore eyes and sore feet.


Lady’s Well, once a popular site of pilgrimage

It was once a site of pilgrimage for Our Lady was said to have made an appearance here. Confusingly the three local people I talked to all referred to it as St Bridget’s Well but it fits the description given in the Schools’ Folklore Project as St Mary’s and was obviously once much revered:

In the grounds of Mr FG Hayes, Crosshaven, Co Cork, there is a well dedicated to Our Lady. It is circular in shape. There are four steps leading down to the well. It is overhung by an old hawthorn bush, which is said to be over thirty years old.At one time there was a great flow of water in the well, but now it is not so great. It is said that the water is a cure for sore eyes, and for sore feet and for any disease; if the water is rubbed to the affected part it will also cure.At  one time, rounds were made on the Feast of Our Lady, but this custom was stopped about thirty years ago.The well is decorated with ribbons, medals, Rosary  beads, and etc. It was also an ancient custom to say a prayer when passing this well and the custom is kept on.There was a beautiful elm tree growing over the well and it was in the form of a grotto and some person put a beautiful statue of Our Lady there. It is said that Our Lady was seen there and that is why it is called Our Lady’s Well. (0391:035)

The Archaeological Inventory reckons this is Lady’s Well too but the early OS map has it as St Bridget. According to the Crosshaven Development Committee Facebook page the OS accidentally transposed the name of the wells. I’m inclined to agree.

The well is almost circular yet the steps have gone, as has the hawthorn bush. Some blocks of white quartz remain, often spotted at holy wells. The elm tree too is long gone but another interesting story emerges from the Schools’ Folkore Project as to its demise:

There were two very wealthy men living in Crosshaven, both Protestants. One  man was asked to cut the tree and he said he would rather starve than put a saw to it. The other man was asked and he said he would cut it. He was told it was  not right to cut the tree but  he only laughed. He brought a cross saw and with one of his sons started to cut the tree; the saw broke in two halves; he got a second and the same thing happened and the third saw went the same way as the first and the second. The fourth saw cut the tree. All went well until morning. He went to the stable o draw home the timber but found his horse dead in the stable. From the day …. (0391:035/036)

The passage ends abruptly and we shall never know what happened to the foolish Protestant but it can’t have been good! Another version describes a coal merchant wanting some timber for his schooner and after breaking 10 saws, he managed to hack off a limb. Bad luck befell him and the well dried up in protest.

The trees in the area still look magical. One enormous old beech seemed to have been burnt out inside – was it struck by lightening or deliberately set on fire?


Finola inspecting the burnt out tree

Whatever happened it had been made into a sort of shrine with offerings left in the centre and at its foot. Interesting how the offerings were here rather than at the nearby holy well which is unadorned.

St Bridget’s Well, Crosshaven

The area was popular with walkers and runners and I asked two other people if they knew of the second well. No one had heard of it but there were clues. As mentioned, the old ruined church and graveyard nearby were dedicated to St Bridget and the well was meant to be close by in the field – the well once supplying water for the church.The GPS was called into action and took me to a very waterlogged area but it didn’t quite fit the description from the Inventory. I was looking for a concrete basin now used as a cattle trough. I suspect I was in the wrong area and should have been in the field closer to the old graveyard. I have included a photo sourced from Photo Indymedia Ireland website, taken in 2006 which shows how it looked 10 years ago.


St Bridget’s Well, now used as a cattle trough; photo from Photo Indymedia Ireland

There’s only a very brief entry in the Folklore project describing another well in the area. A Mrs Meads went to collect water from it to use in her kettle but of course the water wouldn’t boil.

Further exploration was curtailed by lack of light and extreme cold. Crosshaven requires a second visit for two other even obscurer wells are still on the list for this area: St Mary’s Well in Gortigrene which was used for keeping firkins of butter cool in hot weather; and St James Well near Fountainstown which was said to cure coughs and colds if you went to the well having fasted for a week.

A bit of a sow’s ear today but If anyone has any information about these wells I would love to hear it.

Locations of these wells (some a bit hopeful), can be found in the Gazeteer.

4 thoughts on “A bit of a Sow’s Ear

  1. Finola

    I’ve been thinking about that tree – obviously ‘used’ somehow, even though the well is neglected. Fascinating! It was a wonderful day, even if a bit of a sow’s ear. 🙂

    Liked by 1 person


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