Some wells prove difficult! I had five wells on the agenda today, all remote and my expectations of finding anything were low. This proved entirely justified. But I did get to explore some beautiful areas in the crisp Spring sunshine.
St Srufan’s Well, Drimoleague
First stop, St Strufan’s Well, long vanished according to the Archaeological Inventory, which was once sited in the centre of Drimoleague. The main street was examined and the GPS was called into play. It led me to this rather odd corner, full of jumbled steps and odd angles. Could this have been the site of the well, now covered over, once dedicated to St Srufan?
St Srufan* seems to have been a shadowy kind of chap. According to Ballingeary Historical Society he was a sub-king living sometime in the 10th century. He ruled the area known as the Cineal Laoghaire, an area in North Carbery stretching between Coppeen and Drimoleague. He apparently gave three tuatha, (pockets of land), to his kinsmen: Inchigeelagh, Ballingeary and Coolmountain, then took himself off to a monastery to pursue a more saintly sort of life.
*Srufan could also be a corruption of the word sruthán which means stream or brook (thank you VH).
Holy Well, Sleenoge, near Kinneigh
A scenic drive inland out of Enniskean and you arrive in Kinneigh, site of a remarkable and ancient monument: a round tower. St Mocholmóg (also known as St Colman, Mocholmóg is a sort of pet name meaning my dear little Colum!) founded a monastery near here in 619AD, of which virtually nothing remains. The tower was constructed later, sometime around 1014AD.
There are 64 round towers remaining in Ireland, but only two are extant in County Cork – this one and another in Cloyne. They are considered to be bell towers, once attached to a monastery, and are known as cloicteach.The Kinneigh tower is unique in that it is the only round tower to have a hexagonal base.
There is a collective family memory associated with this monument for on our first visit to Ireland, with two small boys in tow, we had a day exploring around this part of West Cork. The highlight had been collecting the key to Ballinacarriga Castle, which we were allowed to explore unhindered. As we started our journey home, the round tower leapt off the map – we had to go! It took ages to find it. We proceeded down small roads, in relentless drizzle, with tempers fraying. We arrived and the collective verdict (apart from me) was – is that it?
Nonetheless, it is a fine tower and what I hadn’t realised (thank goodness the family would have sighed) is that there is also a holy well on the site, surely once connected with the ecclesiastical settlement. This time I explored in a leisurely fashion.
Again the GPS kicked in and led me down to the bridge, just outside the north walls of the churchyard. A gap in the wall and little steps leading downwards to the stream looked hopeful, as did the stepping stones. Was this little jumble of stones all that remained of a stream-side well? What an attractive little bridge from down here too.
Well of the Bard, Toberhanore, Ballyvelone West
Another holy well was in the vicinity in the nearby townland of Ballyvelone West. According to Bruno O Donoghue in his remarkably useful book: Parish Histories, there were originally two wells in this townland: Tobar Aillise, Well of the Gangrene, and Tobar Sheanora, Well of the Bard. I rather hoped this was the Gangrene well, just because it evokes so many imaginings but having consulted the early OS maps, the well is marked as Toberhanore, close enough to Tobar Sheanora, so the bard wins.
Again the GPS led me down through rich green pasture to this slab of stone, the only one in the field. Was this the well covered over?
The Archaeological Inventory described the well as being in boggy ground – well that was over the sturdy wall, the terrain too wet and squidgy to negotiate and the undergrowth too lush.
According to O Donoghue, the well was in the Phairc a ‘Bhile, Field of the Sacred Tree, so more interesting musings. The Well of the Gangrene sadly seems to have disappeared.
There is another very special well in the area in the nearby townland of Ballyvelone East where there is a well dedicated to St Patrick, already recorded.
The next hunt took me to Kilcolman, just outside Desertserges. It was a beautiful verdant area with rivers, tree-lined roads and, over the wide-spanned bridge at Desertserges, a glimpse of an old railway station.
How different the landscape must have looked when the railways were still active.
O Donoghue listed two wells in this townland: Tobar a’Bhurcaigh, Well of the Light-Soiled Field, which was apparently good for warts; and Tobar a’Staighre, Well of the Stairs, which once had steps down to it but was now closed. Neither names matched the online Archaeological Inventory which had gone for much less evocative names: Kilcoman Wart Well and Kilcolman Well. The hardback version of the Inventory (West Cork Vol 1) however did refer to Kilcolman Wart Well as Toberastira, or Well of the Stairs, so mystery solved. Sort of.
Wart Well, Tobar a’Bhurcaigh, Kilcoman
A scenic drive down through woodland, I parked the car and set off to find the well, described as being made from stone. An ornate iron gate, now blocked, looked a good omen. I had to climb over a wall a bit further down – the river gushing down the hill, the whole area awash with wild garlic, the smell pungent. Bluebells too just pushing up.
The well was meant to be at the side of the river but it was too dense to get anywhere near, my path blocked with fallen trees and thick undergrowth. Light-soiled field didn’t seem to match this description for it was in dense woodland. Had the woodland once been more patchy and shady, hence the name? I was going to return to ask at the house but pink balloons had appeared on the gate and I didn’t think they’d appreciate a mad woman looking for wells at the party. I did notice a pipe coming out of the wall into a stone basin, right by the roadside and wondered if perhaps the water was now piped down here for convenience, the original well long since disappeared?
Stair Well, Tobar a’staigre, Kilcolman
The second well in Kilcolman seemed to be in the middle of pasture and there were no signs of any stairs. Again the GPS led me to a spot which did have a rather unassuming and unexciting dip in it – was this all that remained of Tobar a’Staigre ?
It was once probably connected with an ecclesiastical settlement the remains of which reputedly lay over the road but I wasn’t going to explore for the site was guarded by a very large and very free-range brown dog.
Frustrating results, a lot of guesswork but a good bit of exploration. if anyone has information about these wells I would be grateful to hear it.