I always seem to be heading to the airport but what better excuse for a spot of well hunting. Three very different wells discovered today and a reminder of what real traffic can be like!
Holy Well, Ballycannon, near Blarney
The first well was located near Kerry Pike, a few miles outside Blarney. I spotted the well from the car and tried to find somewhere to park. Then I walked back – treacherous for there was no pavement and cars were hurtling up and down. An odd little well, rather forlorn, and right on a dangerous corner.
It comprised a stone, squarish wellhouse with steps leading down to the water which was abundant, clear and fresh. A wonky little gate offered scant protection from accumulated leaves and cigarette packets. Above, a cement niche with domed roof lay empty apart from a blue candle. The roof rather intriguingly had a patchwork of rough stones, once painted blue. Traces of blue still also clung onto the gate.
Foliage was slowly embracing all structures. I wondered if it was originally a Lady’s Well and received a little more information when tracking down the next well in nearby Killeen Lower. Here I met the delightful Michael who was a mine of information – including having a few snippets about this well. He passed it nearly every day and always crossed himself on seeing the statue of the BVM. This very morning he had noticed she wasn’t there and wondered what had happened – she had had been there the day before. She had been known to disappear before. He had his suspicions and hoped she would return shortly.
Hopefully she had just been taken for a bit of repair work.
All Saints’ Well, Lower Killeen, near Blarney
Michael was in his car having a quick lunch break when I arrived at the farm in Lower Killeen. We had a great chat and not only did he give me permission to visit the well and precisely explain where it was, but I also got the always useful local information. He sent me on my way up the lane, through the gate and across the field, aiming for a copse.
What an unexpected and impressive site. A little gate plus metal arch lead into the site, which was enclosed by whitewashed stones and a tall circlet of trees.
The well itself was in a stone built wellhouse, a beehive shape, with a beautifully corbelled interior roof; the curved exterior rather heavily cemented. A rectangular opening led down to the well inside.
A stone plaque inscribed with three deep crosses bore a crucifixion scene and the faint but still discernible lettering All Saints Well AD 1761. There was also quite a lot of graffiti making it difficult to interpret what else might be there.
A more recent plaque above this also gave the date and the inscription Penal Days, plus the depiction of a golden chalice.
As I ventured inside I gasped out loud for it was packed, the saints were in situ.
A central shelf held a multitude of offerings and statues, each jostling with the other: some beautiful statues of the BVM, the Sacred Heart, St Patrick, angels, flowers, candles. On the right a little niche contained a phial of holy water, a blue crucifix hanging next to it; on the left a stained glass image of Pope John Paul II hung next to a metal ladle; above this a memorial stone, hard to read. Two little benches fitted snugly against the wall and I sat down and contemplated this amazing array while the heavens opened outside.
The well itself lay in the centre of the floor, flat with the ground, a roughly hewn stone-lined circle, the water plentiful but not particularly clear.
I looked up to admire the corbelling – a cross painted in the centre and thought about what Michael had told me. An elderly man called Frank used to walk in from the city, once or twice a week with his dog, to tend to the well and the surrounding area. He was responsible for the landscaping, and for most of the statuary. He was literally devoted to the site but Michael couldn’t recollect seeing him for sometime now.
Frank may not have been recently but someone had for there were spent candles scattered all over the floor. The shower outside was heavy and prolonged but it was no hardship to share this remarkable space for I was in good company.
There are various stories connected with the well. This one explains its origins:
There is a holy well situated between Upper and Lower Killeens. This well got its name long ago when Priests of Ireland were forbidden to say Mass.
One day as a priest was going across the fields from Cork to Whitechurch to say Mass a scout came to meet him telling him that the soldiers were at Whitechurch waiting to arrest him. Then the priest decided to say Mass on the spot where he met the man who had told him about the soldiers. But the man said there is no water here so you can’t say Mass. Suddenly a well sprung up and it got its name All Saints Well and ever since the people around the locality come and say their prayers at the well on All saints’ Day November 1st. (002:0349)
Schools’ Folklore Collection
Mass is still occasionally held here on All saints’ Day, 1st November. The last time, three or four years ago according to Michael, the Mass was conducted by John Buckley, Bishop of Cork and Ross. The water is said to hold a cure, particularly effective for arthritis.
I had a wander around the well, inspecting the array of whitewashed crosses, then made my way back across the fields. Michael was still in his car and we said farewell. I thanked him and he said you’re welcome here any time. This is what well hunting is all about. I hope that statue reappears though.
Well of the Women, Tobar na mBan near Blarney
Back on the road and a thwarted attempt to get to St Lachteen’s well at Garryadean (CO051-089): hailstorm and herd of cattle plus bull with a ring through his nose, and approached from the wrong direction made me decide to put this off until another day.
Instead I went in search of the Well of the Women. This led to a very small, flower strewn road. I parked and was immediately greeted by a sheepdog – one of those that cowers until you’re back in the car then barks like mad. He surveyed me silently as I walked down the lane, looking for anything well-like. The GPS led me straight to the spot and I could see a bit of stone work sticking up out of the nettles.
This well was also unexpected – not for its offerings but a) it was so large and b) it was so overgrown. I kicked back the nettles to get a better look. It seemed to be rectangular with large, red sandstone stone walls; steps leading down to the water-filled basin. The water came in through a sort of culvert and was plentiful. Bits of stone lined the bottom and it was quite hard to make out what was what.
The well is also known as Tobar na Mna Finne, another way of saying Well of the Women I believe, and Tobar an Aifreann , Well of the Mass, as Mass was celebrated here during Penal Times. The well was once known for the purity of its water and the article mentioned above describes how:
Many neighbours brought their cattle and horses to drink below the outlet. One very dry summer the well went dry for the first time in living or recounted history. Some “wise” person procured holy water and poured it on the dry bed of the well. Inevitably the water returned and it has not dried up since then.
Now it seems sadly forgotten but a little TLC and it could easily be restored and appreciated.
Well hunting is compelling. I’d forgotten it was a Friday evening and I had yet to get to the airport. The horrors of the Kinsale Roundabout awaited!