The last five wells from our recent expedition to North Cork are all unloved, neglected or forgotten, a motley crew indeed yet one or two exciting discoveries were made, as usual.
Mitchelstown Holy Well
Confusingly this little well is not in Mitchelstown itself but in a small townland of the same name a few miles out of the town, a lovely drive through beautiful rolling countryside, lush green fields and seemingly content cattle. We pulled in near a farm and looked around. A farmer was doing something in his yard and I inquired of the well. He was highly amused, instructions were given but he warned that there was not much to see. I asked him if he knew anything about the well. No, but he did have one story: a diggerman had gone into the field. He had been warned about the presence of the well but had ignored all heedings and driven right over it. His digger immediately broke down!
We followed his instructions heading for the lone palm (fir tree) in a billowy field and searched hither and thither.
There were rabbits, the gentle sounds of a tractor chuntering in the distance and finally the well was spotted– now enclosed in a circular concrete pipe, flush with the ground. It looked rather unprepossessing and forgotten but looks can be deceptive, it was obviously still potent!
The area had a very pleasant air, rather magical with the green fields, fir trees and interesting humps and bumps in the ground – it seems there was an old graveyard nearby (CO010-047). The whole area was once part of the Mitcheltown Castle Demesne, seat of the Earls of Kingston. The castle itself was colossal, the largest neo-Gothic building in Ireland, burned down by the IRA in 1922, the stones later used in some parts of Mount Melleray Abbey in Waterford. Incredibly nothing remains of it today,
Priest’s Well, Gortroe
Next stop Gortroe, a well apparently right on the road side distinguishable as a mound. Yes, a large, ivy and fern strewn hump looked promising. The well kit was unpacked and after a bit of lopping it was clear that the well was stone-built, semi-circular with a flat lintel on top.
The water, once revealed, was abundant, an old light bulb floating within. A large tree grew out from behind it.
Two dogs came to inspect proceedings, one grey and wolf-like, hobbled by being attached to a tyre. We asked at the house and the lady, who had lived there for 50 years, knew of the well but said no one had visited in her memory. The 6 inch historical OS map (6inch- 1829-41) has the well named as Priest’s Well.
There was once a church and graveyard (CO010-042001)in the adjacent field, 130m to the NE but little remains. It was known as Cill Ruadh – it’s not too huge a leap of the imagination to surmise that the well might be dedicated to the same saint – St Ruadh/Ruadhan? His feast day is the 15th April and there are two wells dedicated to him near Kinsale.
St Cranat’s Holy Well, Garranachole
This well has an interesting history but was impossible to find. St Cranat or Crannat or Cranit or Craebhnat or Crawnat was renown for her beauty. She attracted the admiration of many suitors including a Prince of Munster who fell desperately in love with her. Cranat was uninterested, concerned only with leading a holy and pious life. The prince pined and his family decided to take the girl by force. When the kidnapping party arrived Cranat in desperation marred her beauty by plucking out one of her own eyes. She threw it on the ground and up sprung an ash tree. The prince was broken-hearted and returned home and Cranat was left to her piety. The tree flourished and was known as Crannahulla or Crann a’Shúile, Tree of the Eye. The tree was considered to be incombustible. A fragment of it was also considered to give protection from drowning and pilgrims literally hacked pieces of it until by the 1860s there was not much remaining. When Colonel Grove White visited Killuragh in 1905 he noted that another tree had sprung up, maybe an offshoot. Sadly I didn’t have time to visit the site but the tree is described as being fallen in the Archaeological Inventory (CO026-105001). I will have to return.
A well also sprang up near the tree (CO026-105002) dedicated to St Cranat of which nothing remains today. Like many wells in North Cork it took umbrage at disrespectful behaviour and moved from its original position:
Nearby is a Holy Well dedicated to St. Cranat … where the landowner, being fed up with the pilgrims, built a wall surrounding it. On completion of the wall, Cranait herself gathered up the well in her apron and moved it to its present site. Rounds were paid here on March 9th. Another aspect of her cult relates to Crann na hUlla. Legend has it that she was the beautiful sister if SS Nicholas (Monanimy) and Branat (Doonawanly), who aroused the passions of an unprincipled Prince. In order to quell his fire, she plucked out her eye and cast it from her. Where it landed, a tree grew, known as “Crann na hUlla” (The Tree of the Eye). A twig from this tree was reputed to be a charm against shipwreck, and, as such, was stripped during the great emigrations of the 19th century. As can be imagined, it no longer stands. Grove White, Vol 2
The sleight was caused by the then owner of the land building a wall around the well, annoyed by so many people traipsing over his land. The well, aided by the saint herself, moved 900m NNW and sprung up in Garranachole. We searched high and low for this well, along the banks at the side of the road, stomping through a very muddy field, cutting back brambles in the hedge but had no definite sighting.
We inquired at the nearby house and the woman could remember visiting as a child but said no one had been for many years now – the site was too overgrown to get to. She pointed to the field behind and said that people would gather there for sports and recreation.
This is born out by a description in Grove White given to him by an elderly man who:
… remembers to have seen hundreds of people paying rounds on 9th March between 6am and 9pm; now only very few go there. They came for all kinds of ailments. They drank at the three corners of the well and also bathed their faces. In the time of his father, people came on 8th March, and stayed until 10th March, remaining all night.’ Grove White, Vol 2.
No sign of any stone walls but I think this old hawthorn may mark the spot.
The 9th March is St Cranat’s Feast Day. Astonishing how quickly a potent place can fall out of memory.
St Nicholas Holy Well, Monanimy
Things are never straight forward though and another version of the story has the insulted well from Killuragh moving one mile south east to Monanimy.
There is a tradition that the Well of St. Nicholas was situated near Killura House, but a poor man walking the road visited the house at the time of churning. As was custom, he gave the handle three turns to add his luck but the lady of the house did not reciprocate his kindness. He was angered and announced that he would give them a walk for their water, he took a capful of water from the Well, which then dried up. He carried the cap to Monanimy and setting it down on the ground, the present well sprang up.
Interestingly this St Nicholas is meant to be the brother of St Cranit and his well seems to have been nearly as forgotten as her well. Both accounts also explain that a person physically carried water to the new well spot.
The GPS was called into action and we crossed a green field, passing a World War 2 lookout post.
Grove White recorded in 1905:
There is a spring well prettily situated underneath a rock and shadowed by a large tree, which is called St Nicholas’s Well.
The Archaeological Inventory describes the site as being very overgrown, situated at the base of a rocky outcrop. We found the outcrop complete with a jumble of trees and bushes overhead.
The well lay nearby, a large pool of water full of green weeds, a scattering of rocks around it.
We searched for evidence of pilgrims’ crosses and thought we might have found one but this may be wishful thinking. The only bottles in evidence looked like rubbish rather than being used to collect holy water.
There is a well over on Castle Hill in the parish of Killavullen. It is known as St Nicholas’s Well. There is a story connected with it. Once there was an old woman living in Killuvullen village and she had a servant working for her. Every evening the servant used to go over to the well to get water for the morning. One night she did not come home until twelve o clock and she had to get water before she would go to bed. She got two buckets and went to the well. When she was coming home she saw a big boot full of gold. She was afraid to go near the boot and she ran home as fast as she could to tell her mistress. When she got home her mistress was in bed asleep and she woke her up. So she dressed quickly and went over to where the girl had seen the boot of gold but they could not find it. The mistress thought the girl was only joking her and sacked her. (0372:117)
Kilcanway Holy Well
I have been able to find out virtually nothing about this rather unusual well. It’s to be found just off the roadside, a handing parking spot available.
The well is large and full of water, albeit scummy. A stone wall encloses the well to the south and a small opening allows the water to spout through. The area is much overgrown.
Behind the well there seems to be a pathway meandering through the trees and to the north west is located a cilleen, or children’s burial ground. That’s it!
Any feed back on these wells would be much appreciated.