Who knew Mallow was so exciting? It’s a place that we normally just drive through on our way to somewhere else but today we stopped, three wells on the agenda. The first one I knew no long existed but I wanted to visit the site anyway.
Well of the Breast, Toberaroughta, Mallow
This well is clearly visible on the early 6 inch OS map (1829-41) and once lay within the grounds of Annabella Park. It was named Toberaroughta, Well of the Breast. How it got its name I have not been able to find out but according to Colonel Grove White it was once a holy well of considerable repute. Sadly he has little else to say about it. A short entry in the Schools’ Folklore Collection gives a few more details and an odd story:
There once was a holy well near Mallow station and people used to do the rounds and say prayers and people were supposed to get cured there. Once when people were saying prayers there was a soldier who was riding a horse. (He) saw them praying and he laughed at them and suddenly his horse fell and he was killed. I do not know if the well is there now or not.
Today the surrounding area is occupied by Mallow Railway Station, built in 1849. Looking at the modern OS map it seems that the well lies very close to the track itself, in a bit of waste land. We thought it worth inquiring at the ticket office. The woman was charming and intrigued. She had never heard of a well but would ring the station master- she warned he was only young and probably knew nothing about it. Wrong! He did know of the well but said it was inaccessible and completely covered over. We could only gaze through the ticket barriers and imagine.
St Peter or St Patrick’s Well, Mallow
On the other side of town, in an area known as Spa Glen, two other wells are mentioned in the Archaeological Inventory. They both seemed have originated as holy wells but became incorporated into the Spa which developed in Mallow during the 18th century.
The story goes that in 1725 a Doctor Rogers from Cork came to attend a patient in Mallow – a Mrs Wellstead (really). She was going down hill rapidly and found that the only thing her stomach could retain was water from the holy well. Dr Rogers treated her with this and her recovery was speedy and complete. The news spread far and wide and Mallow found itself almost rivalling Bath Spa in England. Ballads were composed exclaiming its fame:
Ye nymphs deprest With want of rest, And with complexion sallow,
Don’t waste your prime With chalk or lime, But Drink the springs at Mallow.
All you that are Both thin and bare, With scarce an ounce of tallow,
To make your flesh Both plump and fresh, Come, Drink at springs at Mallow.
The New Ballad on the Hot Wells of Mallow, 1753
A pump house complete with shell grotto was built over the holy well. The original spa house was replaced in 1828 by the building that still remains today, a rather charming mock Tudor confection, total cost £1050 15s.
The spa house was built in 1828, by C. D. O. Jephson, Esq., M.P., the present lord of the manor and principal proprietor of the town: it is in the old English style of rural architecture, and contains a small pump-room, an apartment for medical consultation, a reading-room, and baths; the whole fitted up in the most complete manner for supplying, at the shortest notice, hot and cold salt-water, vapour, and medicated baths. The approach to the spa from the town is partly through an avenue of lofty trees along the bank of an artificial canal, affording some picturesque scenery; it is in contemplation to form an approach from the north end of the new street, winding round the brow of the hill and through the Spa Glen, the present outlet from the lower part of the town being inconveniently narrow. Lewis’ Topological Dictionary of Ireland, 1837
The well was now used only for spa/health reasons rather than holy reasons. Grove White describes the well as being dedicated to St Patrick but Lewis, quoted above, has it dedicated to St Peter:
The mineral waters, in their properties, resemble those of Bristol, but are much softer; one of the tepid springs was at a very early period in repute as a holy Well, dedicated to St. Peter, but they were all neglected for medicinal use till the earlier part of the last century. The principal spring is on the north-eastern side of the town, where it rises perpendicularly in a powerful stream from the base of a limestone bill that shelters it on the east.
The well remains inside the Spa House and is approached down a flight of steps. It is not accessible but I peered through the window and wished I could get a better look.
The National Inventory of Architectural Heritage describes it thus:
(The Spa House) retains well to interior with circular dressed limestone surround, dressed limestone winding steps and carved timber railings with trefoil-headed details. It offers a reminder of Mallow’s social history as a spa town and the retention of Saint Patrick’s Well to the interior as well as the canalized stream from the Lady’s Well spa adds to this interest. The site is enhanced by the bridge to the west, which is well executed.
Lady’s Well, Mallow
But this is not the only holy well on the site. A few metres away lies a large pool, with water flowing out to the NW, this stone-lined stream is the one referred to as canalized above. The well is marked on the early OS maps as Lady’s Well, now described in the Archaeological Inventory as the Spa Well.
Lewis,1837, has more to say about it:
There is another spring called the Lady’s well, also warm and of the same quality, though not covered in or used. The water of the spa has a mean temperature of 70° of Fahrenheit, rising in summer to 72° and falling in winter to 68°; it is considered as a powerful restorative to debilitated constitutions, and peculiarly efficacious in scrofulous and consumptive cases, for which the spa is much frequented by persons of fashion from distant parts of the country, being the only water of the kind known in Ireland.
Kevin Myers in his paper The Mallow Spa published by Mallow Archaeological & Historical Society in 1984 in has a little more information:
The Spa well was dedicated to St. Patrick, as a holy well, many years before being discovered for its medicinal qualities. The temperature of the Spa water was recorded at an average of 70*F, rising in summer to 72°F and falling in winter to 66°F. A nearby spring, known as “The Lady’s Well” was said to be one degree warmer. The Lady’s Well became popular for a time in the 1960’s as a swimming pool. A well, known as “The Peddler’s Well”, situated a little further to the north is now covered in. The water at the Spa well was described as “beautifully clear and sparkling”
Far from being beautifully clear and sparkling, today the water was scummy but bubbles could still be seen rising from the bottom. It felt pleasantly warm. It was once considered especially good for respiratory conditions including asthma and TB. The water has been analysed and described in a paper by CR Aldwell 1995 as follows:
The results of the analyses indicate that the water is a calcium bicarbonate type and similar to the local groundwater in the limestone aquifers. The main differences are the lower calcium, bicarbonate, and nitrate concentrations in water from Lady’s Well.
The spa started to decline almost due to its popularity – the rakes moved into town and caused chaos. This drinking song called The Rakes of Mallow was written in 1740 by the ‘pleasant Ned Lysaght’ a self-confessed rake:
Beauing, belleing, dancing, drinking,
Breaking windows, cursing, sinking
Ever raking, never thinking,
Live the Rakes of Mallow;
Spending faster than it comes,
Beating waiters bailiffs, duns,
Bacchus’ true begotten sons,
Live the Rakes of Mallow…
… Racking tenants, stewards teasing,
Swiftly spending, slowly raising,
Wishing to spend all their days in
Raking as at Mallow.
Then to end this raking life,
They get sober, take a wife,
Ever after live in strife,
And wish again for Mallow.
The whole area in Spa Glen seems to have several springs rising – a third was mentioned in Myers’ article but has since been covered over. Other clues also remain – the rather forlorn looking public spa fountain has certainly seen better days.
As has the elaborate and rather wonderful water trough and pump on the other side of the road.
This was erected in 1810 and is described by the National Inventory of Architectural Heritage:
Freestanding water pump and trough, c. 1810, comprising rectangular-plan limestone-built sunken area with dressed surrounding wall, curved to west corners and having carved coping. Dressed limestone steps to east side with dressed limestone parapet walls. Limestone flagging to trough area and dressed limestone rectangular-plan trough. Three carved limestone lions’ head spouts to wall above trough. Rectangular-profile limestone-built platform to west with metal closure and three cast-iron water pumps, two having decorative spouts and fluted shafts.
This fountain is notable for its fine stone crafting and well-executed decorative pumps. It forms a pair with the nearby Spa House as a reminder of Mallow’s history as a spa resort town. The lions’ head spouts are features of particular note and add artistic interest to the site.
Known affectionately as the Dogs’ Heads, the water here is still gushing but apparently unfit for human consumption.
The Spa was in decline by the 1840s and although attempts have been made over the years to revive it, the area around Spa Glen remains unloved. The Spa House is currently empty, the inside looking worse than the outside. The wells are neglected as are the fountain and pumps. There seems an astonishing lack of foresight to allow such a unique and historic area of the town to be so ignored and undervalued for it seems full of potential for locals and tourists alike. One famous Irish commodity is still rejoicing in the spa though.