East Cork was on the agenda for a couple of days, an area of much interest historically including a few wells still unvisited. Fuelled by a delicious lunch at the Bitesize Café in Midleton we made our way down to Bailic Park to see the incredibly evocative sculpture, Kindred Spirits. This beautiful and striking piece was made by Cork sculptor Alex Pentek and consists of nine steel feathers in a bowl shape. It remembers the act of enormous generosity by the Choctaw people of Oklahoma, who, on hearing of the awful plight of so many Irish people during the Famine in 1847, collected $170 to send to the starving, the equivalent of thousands of dollars in today’s money. The memorial was unveiled in June 2017 and people from the Choctaw nation were in attendance.
We rendezvoused with our friends Robert and Finola, of Roaringwater Journal fame, in Castlemartyr. First a quick diversion south to see the impressive and majestic ruins of Ightermurray fortified house. Built in 1642 by Edward Supple, the castle was captured and burnt soon after its completion. Today it stands in splendid isolation in the middle of pasture, an enigmatic ruin, still in impressive condition.
On to the Glenbower Woods next on the edge of Killeagh village – a sharp left behind the Old Thatch pub is needed, no you’re not going into the carpark!
The picturesque and popular Glenbower Woods host all sorts of interesting things and were landscaped during the 19th century by Sir Arthur de Cappell Brooke who built the present road and bridges through the wood in the 1830s. Now the woods are owned and managed by Coillte and are popular with walkers, dogs, families and well hunters. Fainin’s Well lies in the middle of the woods. A path has recently been cleared to make access easier but we visited not so long after Storm Ophelia and the signs of her devastation were still much in evidence. After passing the metal bridge (CO066-048) complete with castellated columns, signs for the well started to appear high up in the trees. It’s a fair walk and we had to had to climb over, duck under and skirt round many fallen trees, going deeper into the woodland
The well is in a small clearing on a high point and is in fact a bullaun stone, a rather an impressive one with a neat, smooth, circular scoop carved out of the freestanding stone.
The water within, like that of many bullauns, is said to be excellent for the curing of warts – in fact the name of the well, Fainin’s Well, means Wart Well, a corruption of faithne, Irish for wart. Nearby is another interesting stone, once used as a Mass Rock. Of special interest is the ledge for kneeling and the socket that once held a cross.
One small rag fluttering in the laurel bush showed that the well was still venerated.
This felt a remote, peaceful and enclosed spot even though you could hear voices of other visitors below. We were lucky enough to spot a red squirrel and hear some jays too.
The whole area is area fascinating for a little way off once stood Aghadoe Castle which was later replaced by Aghadoe House (CO066-038003). This was owned by the de Cappell/Supple family like Ightermurray Castle and Glenbower Woods. It’s a long walk down a straight track (ask at the bungalow for permission) until you reach the large but desolate remains of a substantial, ruined farmhouse, all that’s left of Aghadoe House.
This house dates from the 18th century but but nearby is another interesting ruin from the earlier period – a circular dovecot (CO066-038004), minus its roof, with a tree growing inside but still with the nesting boxes intact.
What is even more interesting though is the sile na gig, recently placed back on the dovecot. I say back on for she’s had a chequered history. She probably came from the original castle built by the de Supple/Capple family, was put onto the dovecot at some point, later taken down and left by a gate post (still marked as such in the Archaeological Inventory) and is now back up on the dovecot.
She is a beauty and it’s rare to find one still in the wild! She’s worth a closer look and has a large triangular shaped face, the features clearly defined and a fairly benign expression. Her ribs are clearly visible and she has tiny pendulous breasts. As with most siles, she is displaying her genital area, one hand reaching under a leg to do so. Her left foot and part of her right foot have been broken off. Her right hand is raised holding something that might be a dagger and she has odd nodules on her wrists. More can be found out about these enigmatic carvings on this useful website.
After all this wealth, the two other wells visited were not quite so enthralling but still interesting.
Cornaveigh Holy Well
This well lies at the side of the road, unfortunately walled off from access but I was given permission to leap over the wall and inspect it. It was much nicer than I was expecting. A tall tree announced its presence, the well camouflaged and snug against the bank, a mossy concrete block placed on top of the lintel.
A little tidying up and the well was found to be in surprisingly good condition – stone built, curved walls with a large slab on top. Inside the water was fresh and abundant.
I can out nothing about this well except the person I spoke to said it had once been blessed by a priest and the water was good. Two fulachta fia are nearby.
St Bridget’s Well, Ballyrobert
I had been assured that this well was still venerated but each time we stopped to make inquiries, the reports were conflicting though everyone agreed that it would be hard to find and there would be nothing to see when we got there. Undaunted we made the long journey up the boreen to the farm and were kindly assisted by the son of the house who was in the middle of sorting out the cows. He directed us off down into the pasture, warning that it was very wet. And it was – several weeks of heavy rain had made everywhere saturated and muddy. However, the sun was shining and it was a pleasant trudge through the very green fields, the river Bride at our side.
It sounds as though this well had once been walled and gated but there was nothing much to be seen apart from a large damp area with a jumble of stones.
A fulacht fiadh is meant to be nearby but everywhere was so wet it was hard to distinguish any definite features. According to the old OS maps, the well was dedicated to St Bridget and this was borne out by one of the people we talked to who said that it was once visited every February. Another person said it was dedicated to the BVM and visited on the 15th August. Maybe both are true but concrete information seems sparse, even in the Schools’ Folklore Collection.
The remains of Ballyrobert Castle (CO045-020) are also on the land, a large chunk having fallen down in recent storms. The huge holm oak next to it is protected.