St John’s Wells, Castletownbere

I knew this would be a bit of a challenge and had put off exploring until I had plenty of time – and energy. Just by looking at the OS map I could see these two wells, dedicated to St John, were situated right on top of a pretty steep mountain – the Maulin. From the look of things, the small road leading upwards turned into to a track, into a footpath and then nothing!

The weather looked good, I had time, no more excuses. I parked the car before the road turned into track just in case there was no place to turn later on. A gentle amble up the small road was delightful, the hedgerows full of foxgloves, scabious and buttercups. Over a metal gate and the terrain changed: a gritty track leading through rough pasture, the sheep standing their ground with bold stares.

The track with Maulin in the background

The mountain loomed ahead – I feared I was going all the way up. This track is part of the Beara Way  and is well maintained but I needed to get up the mountain so over another gate, and then a sharp left – no discernible track but a well-made wall with a flat top seemed to be going in my direction. GPS on, I walked along it. It stopped at the bottom of a steep and rocky incline but first I had to clamber over a fence – someone had been before me and bent the wire to offer a little protection from the barbs.

The next bit was tough going. I found footholds in the bog and heather and clambered up, stopping every now and again to just marvel at the view – Castletownbere was way below me as was the little path I had originally come up, snaking through the heath.

Big views

Nearly at the top, I looked around for signs and lo and behold, painted onto the rock face were a series of crosses. I was getting closer!

Look closely for the painted crosses

A sheer scramble up led to a natural skinny pavement of miraculous white quartz which in turn led round a small ledge, another arrow pointing encouragingly onward. The well was tucked into the rockface, its own white cross painted above it and I was very pleased to see it!

The well is a series of natural craggy basins in the rock, one rectangular basin looking more significant than the others. Today everywhere was prettily adorned with St Patrick’s cabbage and a variety of ferns.

St John’s Well1, nestling against the rockface

The water was a little murky but abundant.

A second well lay 50m away, and I am hoping I have correctly identified it*. It is less impressive than the first but nonetheless enjoys the most amazing panoramic views in all directions. It’s a natural basin in the rocks, almost semi-circular. I was in such a hurry to get to the other well that I didn’t give this one much attention and didn’t realise that there was lettering painted around the well and within it, until I downloaded my photos. Annoyingly I can’t decipher it.

St John’s Well 2

 

 

What a wild and windswept spot: exhilarating, remote yet peaceful at the same time. It seems that the wells became significant when the ghosts of priests saying Mass were spotted up here! So hard to imagine people of all ages struggling up in pilgrimage for that is what they did. Traditionally the pilgrimage was made on St John’s Eve, 23rd June: barefoot, in silence, after fasting! It seems that many people remained overnight and continued their rounds the next day. The water was considered exceptionally pure and was good for all diseases but especially blindness or sore eyes.

On the hill of Maulin near Castletown Bere there are two holy wells. Long ago people who used to suffering from any disease but especially blindness visited these wells on Saint John’s Eve and prayed there and made rounds. My great grandmother who was blind from birth was brought up to the wells and after praying and doing the rounds she recovered her sight and had her sight until her death. My mother tells me that these wells were noted all over Berehaven for the curing of any trouble in connection with sight. Schools’ Folklore Collection (113:0278)

No pain without gain I suppose but paying the rounds could be exhausting and confusing as another entry from the School’s Folklore Collection relates:

There are two holy wells in Maulin and they are known as Maulin Wells. Every Saint John’s Eve several people pay rounds there and pray to the saint. There is a white track in the rock leading to the lower well. It was the custom to pay the rounds in the evening and again in the following day. There is an old story about two old people who came to pay the rounds and also stayed till morning to complete them. They fell asleep and waking in the morning they perceived they were on the next hill known as Maulin Beag situated near a lake. (062:0278)

Fortunately I remained on the same mountain but decided to come down a slightly more direct and slippery route. I rewarded myself with lunch at the Dzogchen Beara Buddhist centre ……

Dzogchen Beara

…… followed by a very bracing paddle at Ballydonegan strand, Allihies.

Ballydonegan Strand, Allihies

* Having had another look at my photographs again I suspect that this is the second well which I have to confess I mostly ignored, so excited was I by the view and the other well. I shall just have to go back!

The second well dedicated to St John

The location of these wells can be found in the Gazetteer.

6 thoughts on “St John’s Wells, Castletownbere

  1. scribbler

    This is one of your best. So beautifully documented that I’m a little out of breath from the clamber up the hillside. The reward is the wells themselves and that gorgeous view (not to mention the refreshing paddle afterward). Is the St. Patrick’s cabbage edible?

    Have you happened across ‘The Secret Knowledge of Water’ by Craig Childs? It’s an absolutely thrilling book about finding water in the American desert. I think you would find it akin in spirit to your search for holy wells.

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    1. freespiral2016 Post author

      Thank you Scribbler, it was quite an adventure getting to the wells. No St Patrick’s Cabbage is not edible but it is very pretty. And thank you for the book recommendation – noted.

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      Reply
  2. Finola

    My goodness you are intrepid! I suppose the restoration of sight when one is blind from birth would be a great inducement to make the rounds, though. What unusual wells – within what we have come to expect from the Beara!

    Liked by 1 person

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