I’m just back from a few days in North Cork, a long list of wells on the agenda. We based ourselves in Doneraile but the journey up offered several opportunities for exploration. First stop – Dripsey where there were two wells, side by side, in what, according to the OS map, looked like the middle of nowhere.
Sunday’s Well, Dripsey
We parked and surveyed the map. There seemed no clear way to the field we wanted to get to, no handy little path. Fortunately a car stopped and a man came to our assistance. Yes, he knew of the well but wasn’t sure if there was anything to see. We had to go high up and cut across the fields. But if there was a bull in the field do not go in. We promised we wouldn’t and followed his instructions. A grassy boreen went past some houses complete with a quartet of very yappy Jack Russells. No sign of any bulls though there were some cattle in the distance. After much ducking under wire and keeping a sharp eye out for roving bulls, we eventually saw the small copse where we hoped the wells might be.
A muddy patch, much trampled by the cattle and containing a few stones including quartz looked hopeful but disappointing. Then my husband gave a shout, He had spotted a cross in the undergrowth, over the stream and across a wall. We hauled ourselves over the stone wall and into the woodland. And there was the well – Sunday’s Well, discretely hidden but still much revered.
A horseshoe of mossy stones curved around the well, a lintel slab over this upon which were many offerings — holy water bottles, statues, figurines, candles, a crucifix bearing an elongated and emaciated Jesus.
Another slab lay in front of the well, allowing access to the water which now flowed adjacent to the well. A wooden cross stood near the well and on the stone to the right, hidden in the moss, another tiny Jesus. Crosses were etched onto the lintel stone and the mossy side stones,
Behind the well lay a jumble of stones, like a little cairn – pebbles left by pilgrims as part of the rounds?
The Schools’ Folklore Collection has a little information about this well:
There is a holy well situated not far from my house in Timothy Kellerher’s field at the junction of three townlands Magoola, Agharinagh and Dromgouna.
Formerly it was a place of great interest to the old people but nowadays, like everything else, veneration for it is dying out. it is neglected now, its sides are falling in, but still it is loved by a few old people. Many cures are said to have taken place at this well. Cripples who came to be cured went away leaving their crutches after them for they needed them no longer.
There are many stories connected with this spot one of which was about an old man from Dromgouna whose name was Paddy Sullivan. He thought he was called one night to plant a tree alongside the well so that people could hang their offerings on the branches. He rose next morning and planted the tree which can still be seen growing there.
It is said that Mass was celebrated there in Penal Times. It is now known by the name of Sundays’ Well and people still visit it on a Sunday to pray. (0348:177)
A secret but powerful place, quietly known to those it matters to. I wonder if that tree on the left is the one planted by Paddy Sullivan. I hope it is.
Lady’s Well, Dripsey
We almost stumbled over the second well, just a few metres in the pasture from Sunday’s Well – a sad little thing, flat within the ground, a circle of stones around it. It looked as though a metal container had once been within it or placed over it as a cover- now squashed and misshapen. It reminded me of a bog body – poor Grauballe Man perhaps.
A short extract from Seamus Heaney’s wonderful poem The Grauballe Man:
… As if he had been poured
in tar, he lies
on a pillow of turf
and seems to weep
the black river of himself,
The grain of his wrists
is like bog oak …
Dedicated to Our Lady, it seems that it was still being revered in 1939 when Hartnett described it as: … a shallow spring well, partly covered by a flat horizontal stone. There area few faded flowers and ferns laid on top of this.
Interesting how one well can still be revered and another, just a few metres away, totally ignored.
St Batt’s Well, Kilmartin Lower
The next well lay at the side of the road near Donoughmore in Kilmartin Lower, a prickly thicket of nettles, ferns and ivy at the entrance.
Hacking this back I was delighted to see a little beehive-shaped well still intact behind, covered in the faded remains of foxgloves and other plants.
The well is now dry but a spring had once flown out underneath the lintel. The lintel had several crosses inscribed upon it, relics of past devotions as described in the Schools’ Folklore Collection:
There is only one holy well in our district. It is situated in the townland of Lower Kilmartin. It is called after St Bartholomew and is known locally as St Batt’s Well.
Many people perform rounds there. They generally go on a Friday and Sunday, and the following Friday again. They say certain prayers and drink some of the well water, and rub more of it to the affected part.
Nearly everybody who visits the wells leaves something there, such as old beads, medals, scapulars* and other articles. People never leave food or money there.
The well is in a space off the road and there is a whitethorn tree growing over it. (066/067:0347)
Should you be wondering, like me, what a scapular is, Wikipedia has the answer:
The devotional scapular typically consists of two small (usually rectangular) pieces of cloth, wood or laminated paper, a few inches in size, which may bear religious images or text. These are joined by two bands of cloth and the wearer places one square on the chest, rests the bands one on each shoulder and lets the second square drop down the back.
Essentially tokens of religious devotion, often to a particular saint.
Another entry describes how the well moved from one side of the road to the other but gives no explanation why:
There is a well in Kilmartin named Batt’s Well. It was removed from one side of the road to the other, and there is a tree growing over it … There are many offerings. There are rosary beads, small pictures and little flower pots, with flowers growing in them (0346:141)
I like the sound of the flower pots. It seems to have been a potent well too:
A great number of people used to pay rounds for many ailments. It was customary to leave some article at the well. A woman who had never heard of that well had a dream one night, that if she came to Donoughmore she would be cured. She came to the well and the dream (became a) reality… (142/143:0346)
I wonder when and why this little well fell out of favour.
The journey continued with three wells dedicated to St Lachteen, but they deserve their own blog entry. To be continued!