Well Shifting around Donoughmore

Still travelling to Doneraile, three wells around Donoughmore lured us off the N20. All three were dedicated to  St Lachteen, he of the beautiful arm reliquary and multiple wells around Kilnamartrya. He is also considered to be patron saint of Donoughmore and many churches and schools are still named after him, as are the three wells. The wells are all connected, not just by name and saint, but the first two had seemingly shifted, for various reasons, to the third well at Grenagh which is still active.

St Lachteen’s Well, Ballykerwick

This was one of those wells that on the map looked as though it was the middle of nowhere, with no clear route to it. That assumption seemed pretty accurate. First I tried going over what seemed to be a public field and was met by three bouncy greyhounds, resplendent in pink collars. Then I tried another route, eventually asking at a nearby house. The man within knew of the well but advised that I needed to speak to his brother who lived in the next house. Connie was having his dinner but kindly put on his wellies and took me out to the field. I was astonished! In the middle of this large green field stood the most magnificent beech tree, solitary and proud.

The imposing beech tree

As we approached (with pink collared greyhounds who it turned out belonged to Connie) I could see that the tree had grown over a circular stone wall giving the trunk its distinctive shape.

Remains of the well plus greyhound

Going round to the front I just gasped! What an extraordinary and evocative sight. The tree had the well in a firm embrace, enclosing what had once been a circular wall with a lintel above. Connie explained that the cattle loved this tree and would rub up against it and and even climb it. He showed me where the lintel had fallen and collapsed in front of what had been the well opening, the water once flowing out underneath. Another lintel remained within, the tree slowly engulfing it. The entry in the Archaeological Inventory describes the beech tree as being behind the well but it had made strides since then.

Connie said the well had been dry for at least 30 or 40 years when the field was drained. He said he thought the well had shifted before that and had moved to a new home in Grenagh, a nearby townland. We admired the stone work of the wall which was indeed good and agreed the tree was exceptionally impressive. We lamented that nothing was being done to protect it. What an incredibly powerful and potent place.

Interestingly there seems to be a similar well dedicated to St Lachteen in Limerick.

St Lachteen’s  Well, Knockyrouke

900m further north was another well dedicated to St Lachteen, in the townland of Knockyrouke, hill of the rooks. The Archaeological Inventory described it rather unexcitedly as a muddy patch in the ground (1939, Hartnett). The description was more or less accurate. It’s now a dip in a hedge and was full of grass clippings and other garden waste. I couldn’t get hugely excited about it either.

Once it had attracted many pilgrims but this well too had shifted though the reasons for this vary from a young woman washing her feet in it, to a man trying to cut the tree above it, to British soldiers desecrating it, to blood being spilled in it. Take your pick, but whatever happened the well was severely offended. These North Cork wells can be quick to take umbrage.

Long ago St Lachteen’s Well in Knockyrouke in Donoughmore was visited by a great number of people on a certain day. Rounds were paid and people drank of the water. On one occasion a terrible fight took place and blood was spilled into the holy well. That night it moved to Grenagh…. Schools’ Folklore Collection, (069:0347)

Early OS maps refer to the well as the site of so this event must have happened at least a couple of hundred years ago, probably after a pattern which got a bit over enthusiastic. St Lachteen’s feast day is the 19th March.

St Lachteen’s Well, Toberlaghteen, Grenagh

The two wells described above moved to the townland of Garryadean near Grenagh, upset by the various ignoble events:

There are not many holy wells in the parish. The one I know the best is in the parish of Grenagh and it is named after the saint of the parish, St Lachteen.

This well was in the parish or townland of Knockyrouke, but one day a man tried to cut the tree which grew over it with a saw; when he had entered a little into the tree, the saw refused to work and he failed to cut it. Next morning the well was gone and it was afterwards found in the adjoining parish of Grenagh.

This wasn’t my first visit to Grenagh. When I had had an expedition to Blarney, this well was last on my list. I found the spot, got out of the car and the heavens opened with a sheet of hail. When I looked in the field a gigantic bull and his cows regarded me with interest. I resolved to leave it for another day. Today was the day and conditions looked much more promising.

The wells of Knockyrouke and Ballykerwick chose wisely for this is a beautiful site: green sloping pasture and to the left thick fields of ripening barley lined by a row of purple thistles.

The well lay below, a tiny copse, surrounded by what looked like a new wooden fence.

The well is enclosed by a wooden fence

It’s a delightful spot, spruced up yet still retaining an ancient feel. A cluster of hawthorn trees surround the wellhouse which is a little quirky: a ramshackle stone beehive nicely made, cut into the slope, with a wooden cross on top. The top is scattered with white quartz and an array of various offerings. A slab gives access to the water underneath which is abundant, fresh and cold. Cups are placed amongst the quartz.

St Lachteen’s Well

Crosses have been etched into the stones by pilgrims. Wooden benches here and there hint at crowds and the whole site is stepped and well maintained.

The water runs out into the fields below, plentiful. The annual pattern day was held on St John’s Day, as described in this Schools’ Folklore entry:

The people pay rounds there on St John’s Day If they wanted to pay rounds any other time of the year they should go two Fridays and a Sunday, or two Sundays and one Friday.They should say a rosary each time they visit the well and leave some little offering there. The water of the well is very  pure and cold. The people drink it. Every time you visit the well you could take a few sips of the water and take some of it home to a sick person. The water is not to be boiled or given to cattle. If it were disrespected it would remove. (067/068: 0347)

It was traditional to leave a small offering having visited the well and the water was considered especially efficacious for sore eyes. Mass is till celebrated here. This description dates from 2010:

Grenagh parish has its own (holy well), St Lachteen’s Well on the Walsh farm at Garryadeen. On St John’s night for the past number of years mass has been celebrated at the holy well. This year we celebrated a mass of healing, particularly for the many sick people in the parish. It was a wonderful occasion, helped no doubt by the fine evening. The beautiful singing with the musical accompaniment of Peadar Cranitch, who also played lovely airs on his tin whistle, wafted through the countryside, to the accompaniment of the singing of the birds, which made for a heavenly environment. This is a great occasion for the parish and all present were enriched and uplifted, in stark contrast to other gatherings of ugly bonfires which polluted the atmosphere and caused many euros worth of damage all over the county around the same time.The Corkman, 1.7.2010

I imagine there must have been visitations on St Lachteen’s feast day too, 19th March. Not much seems to be know about the saint who was born in the mid 6th century. His legacy remains strong though in the many wells, churches, schools etc dedicated to him in the parishes of Donoughmore and Kilnamartrya – and that magnificent reliquary, now viewable in the National Museum, Dublin.

Special thanks to Connie for showing me the well in Ballykerwick.
The location of these wells can be found in the Gazetteer.

5 thoughts on “Well Shifting around Donoughmore

  1. Pingback: The Three Marys | Holy Wells of Cork

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