A trip out to the Beara Peninsula. It was misty and mizzling, low clouds moving over the rugged mountains, the scenery spectacular, the colours ever changing; incredibly imposing even in the damp weather. The search for wells had mixed results: one definite, one confusing and one not found.
Holy Well, Tobar Beannaithe, Roosk, near Adrigole
We turned off the main road just before Adrigole and went down tiny roads towards the coast and the townland of Trafrask. The landscape was wild – russet coloured moorland and great slabs of grey rock with not very good visibility but glimpses of the sea out to the south.
We parked the car, got the GPS sorted and hailed down a passing 4×4. The two men within knew of no well but were amused by our determination. We set forth, the ground extremely wet and treacherous underfoot. The GPS brought us to a large outcrop of rock which looked hopeful.
The well was described as a ballaun in the Archaeological Inventory but search as we did, we could find no sign of it. Disappointing for it sounded as though it was still venerated.
Blessed Well, Tobar Beannaithe, near Adrigole
We conceded defeat and went back up to the road and on to the next site, just a few hundred metres away. We passed a travelling grocery van and asked Nan, the customer, if she knew of a well.
She did and pointed to the bungalow down the road, the well was just behind that. Dan was the owner of that bungalow and yes, he knew of the well and gave directions. He warned us about electric fences and cattle but said it was only 100m away, a little cairn of stones piled above it for identification.
The cairn was indeed piled on top of a slab of whale -grey rock and underneath, nestled into the rock face, was the well. It was delightful – also a ballaun, a round basin carefully carved out of the earthfast rock. It was full of coins, giving the water a coppery tinge and strong metallic smell.
A cross was heavily inscribed in front of the ballaun and two fainter crosses, one on each side of the basin, could just be made out. Lying next to the well lay a rounded slab, used as the cover. It fitted snugly.
Something very pleasing about this little discovery, so remote in the landscape but still known and still visited. I suspect the well we first searched for looked very similar.
Not St Mochuda’s Well?
The next well on the list was called St Mochuda’s Well and I had seen a photograph of it. It seemed to be across the main road then up a small road into the mountains. Two standing stones were in the field opposite (CO116-013003). We persevered up the tiny road, the fog dense and billowing. The two standing stones loomed majestically out of the damp cloud. A fine pair: one tall and imposing the other slightly smaller with pointed top.
We attempted to get into the adjacent field to find the well but were thwarted by a seriously strong fence and dense furze. We decided to approach from another direction and as we walked up the road I spotted what I thought was the well. It was definitely the well from the photo I’d seen but it was not where it should have been on the map, nor did it match the description in the Archaeological Inventory!
It certainly looked like a holy well though, a little tin cup tucked into the wall for passing pilgrims. The well was sturdily built, a lintel resting on top of stone walls. There was an interior basin with a ledge made from stone slab. The water fresh and abundant, a bit clogged with greenery but clear.
At the time I thought I had found the right well but once home and a little more research undertaken, I don’t think this is St Mochuda’s Well and we should have attempted to get into the original field via a different route. Does anyone know anything about this well? Is it just a drinking well? Is it a different holy well?
Toberatemple, Well of the Church, is also in the vicinity in the townland of Kilcaskan. Another interesting ballaun stone now almost hidden from sight, the surrounding area churned up by cattle.
The day was completed with a trip to Derreentaggart Stone Circle and its attendant clootie tree; the extraordinary raised ringfort at Teernahillane, and a sighting of a rather fine grotto.
Plus an ice cream in Castletownbere.