Way out East, a clutch of wells around Youghal

A while ago I spent a couple of days around Youghal, several wells on the agenda. While doing a spot of research I came across reference to some wells en route to Youghal, notably in the Carrigtwohill area:

The five Holy Wells in our parish have gone dry or disused. Their locations are as follows: St. Coleman’s Well at Reinaslough, St. David’s Well at Wyse’s Bridge, the Holy Well of the Vat in the Well Lane, The Easter Well in Woodstock and the Holy Well in Ballinbrittig. Carrigtwohill Community Newsletter

None sounded particularly hopeful but I decided to see if I could find St David’s Well and Easter Well as they seemed to be just north of the village.

Easter Well, Tobar na Casca, near Carrigtwohill

Neither St David’s Well or Easter Well are listed in the Archaeological Inventory so finding their locations was up to intelligent guesswork!  I identified Wyse Bridge but no sign of St David, who incidentally is patron saint of this area. I then carried on to the One-Sided Glen/ Woodstock Glen, a very narrow and very pretty wooded glen with the most incredibly treacherous potholes. I explored both sides of the hedgerows and could hear running water. Just off the road was a large pool of fresh and abundant water, a pipe leading from it. Could this be Easter Well?

Easter Well?

This extract from the Parish Magazine sheds as a bit more light but this water source was certainly not closed.

Again below in Gleann O’Leith – “The One Sided Glenn”, is Tobar na Casca – “The Easter Well”, to where many came from far and near to the Easter Pattern during the Penal Law Years. However irregular behaviour developed in 1830 due to the consumption of Poitin! The local clergy took immediate action in de-blessing the well and in ordering its closure. In the late 1930’s when the Cork County Council sought to improve the supply of water to the village of Carrigtwohill they added the old Holy Well springs to its then reservoir in the Woodstock Glen. Being now sealed, the well abated into history until the new millennium, when through the memory searching of the older fraternity of the district it was again located and re-closed.

The pattern day sounded rather lively though!

Holy Well, Killeagh

The next quick detour on my way to Youghal was to check out a well that was more or less just off the main road and was marked on the OS map. The Archaeological Inventory recorded it as having been destroyed during field clearances but I thought it worth having a look. I parked near this rather sweet thatched cottage and switched on the GPS.

It lead me along the road then over a gate into a field. The field was newly ploughed and sown but the sides had been left wild and lush. No immediate sign of any well.

The GPS lead me to a nettlely heap which seemed, on reflection, to be an interesting shape.

Interestingly-shaped patch of nettles

I tentatively explored and hit stone! There also seemed to be a bit of a drop! I returned to the car for the well kit and came back with gloves and secateurs. It’s always a thrilling moment when you realise that there might be something interesting under there. And there was!

The well revealed

A bit of hacking back and the well was revealed: a stone built wellhouse with a large flat stone slab on top, the whole thing fitting snugly into the bank. There was quite a large area in front, possibly with the remains of walls. The well itself was now damp rather than flowing.

This poor well had not received visitors for a long time and I have been unable to find out anything about it but it was highly satisfying to find it still there, sitting quietly underneath all the foliage.

Fainin Well, Killeagh

Whilst trying to find information for the well above I discovered that I missed another well  a mile or so away in the woods – classified as a ballaun stone in the Inventory but also described as a holy well. Note to self: please check all bullaun entries before fieldwork. I have not been there yet but have included a photo and some information, posted on Killeagh Inch Community Council Facebook page, original photo and text by by Jonathan Neville.

Fainin Well, a ballun stone. Photo by Jonathan Neville

The Holy Well located on the rock outcrop north of the Metal Bridge is known as Fainin’s Well. It is a Bullaun stone. Rainwater collects in its hollow and it is known to have curative properties, that being a cure for warts. The Irish for wart is faithne giving us Fainin. The original purpose of these stones is unclear, but they are clearly associated with early ecclesiastical sites, possibly that of Killeagh village or else at Aghadoe itself.

The mass rock located at Fainin’s well is a sub-rectangular stone with a rectangular socket set off centre. There is a kneeling step at the front of the stone and this would suggest that the socket was used to place a wooden cross. Mass rocks were used from the mid seventeenth century in Ireland as a location for Catholic worship during times of persecution. What is interesting is the proximity of the mass rock at Fainin’s Well to Aghadoe House. The local lords, the de Capells, lived at Aghadoe since the twelfth century. Even though they were Protestants at the time of the seventeenth century, their Catholic background possibly allowed them to turn a blind eye to the activities at the mass rock. There is a lot of folklore associated with Aghadoe, Druidic origins, monks, and a large castle which all that remains is a dovecote and sheela na gig, the only in situ one in East Cork.

Next time I’m in East Cork ……

Holy Well, Seafield, Youghal

Back on the road and on to the outskirts of Youghal. I spotted the next well from the roadside and how pretty it looked, nestling among all the yellows  and greens, surrounded by hawthorn trees.

First glimpse of Seafield Well

Parking the car rather haphazardly on the kerbside I went back to investigate. The well fitted snugly into the bank of the field, some interesting ridges in the land above it.

The rectangular well house has a distinguished conical roof, whitewashed with lichen. It is stone built and looks as though it was once rendered. A low wall, now turfed, curves around protectively and a scattering of stones in the foreground hint at other details. The conical top is interesting – a large cross inscribed by pilgrims conceals most of the details but other carvings are distinguishable: a large winged soul/cherub more commonly seen on gravestones, and above this a cross flanked by two rosettes. The cross and the face of the cherub/soul have also been inscribed with crosses.

There is also lettering below these carvings now hard to decipher which inform: Erected by Thomas Seaward Esq. of Seafield 1833. Thomas Seward or Seaward, spelt in several ways, was the Land Agent for the Duke of Devonshire, in charge of his estates in Cork and Waterford from 1817-1849. He lived at nearby Seafield House, currently being restored.

Close up of original inscription with the name Seaward Esq

The red sandstone lintel has also been covered in carved graffiti, some of it old. The well itself was dry, a fine crop of nettles at its entrance. It looked as though the stream, which presumably once fed the well, had been re-directed at some point to flow down the side of the road. This was a lovely place, the perfect day for visiting – the air full of birdsong and bees humming among the abundant wild flowers. Frustratingly I have been unable to find out much else about the well.

St Corán’s Well, Youghal

The final well on my list did not disappoint though it was in the most unexpected place –  a housing estate high up on the outskirts of the town. Even better, it was signed!

Impressive entrance pillars with a central pillar topped with a cross led down a long grassy avenue, cordylines and fencing, hawthorns in full bloom. it was such a bright and sunny day that taking photos was difficult as the light was either too bright or there were shadows everywhere.

The stone wellhouse is an interesting shaped building, elegant with attractive details – the main bit is rectangular, but it’s topped with a triangular roof, complete with added decorative flounces and finials. Pilgrims’ crosses are etched here and there. There is a stone slab in front of the well and the interior basin is square, the water fresh, clear and cold.

St Corán’s Well

A large spider’s web across the entrance confirmed that not many visitors had been recently and the empty plastic bottles littering the site had not contained holy water.

An exuberantly flowering hawthorn lent a protective cloak over the well.

To the right of the well lay various memorial stones including a rather nice arched stone bearing the name of the well, Naomh Corán (St Córan) on the front, tobar beannaithe (blessed well) on the back, the lettering and Celtic crosses highlighted in red.

Behind this lay a rather plain concrete cross erected in the holy year 1983/84. A little rusty donation box looked like it hadn’t receive much charity for sometime. Crosses inscribed on several of the stones spoke of numerous pilgrims visiting the well to pay rounds on St Coráns Feast Day, possibly 9th February. I say possibly because St Corán seems a very elusive chap and I have not been able to find out much about him at all.

He probably lived in the mid 6th century, founded a monastery up here and all that remains is this well. It has a neglected but very pleasant air, peaceful and once you walk down the long path, it feels remote and otherworldly. Some stunning views too.

Youghal

I continued on into Youghal which was looking its best in the brilliant sunshine. I was completely knocked out by the splendour of the Collegiate Church and the richness within (especially  Boyle’s tomb) but as I emerged blinking into the sunshine and peered over the graveyard wall in an attempt to see to Walter Raleigh’s house (still inhabited and the inhabitant not delighted by people peering over said wall) something funny happened. Two women approached, smiling, and took me by the arms and hoisted me up onto a nearby chest tomb. This is the best place to get a photo. Make sure you see the oriel window where Walter Raleigh probably sat with his friend Spencer, you know  – the Faery Queen.

I dutifully took the photo then they said, come on now time to get back to the bus. I gently explained I was nothing to do with their tour and much hilarity ensued. Who knows where I might have ended up next!

Actually I ended up in the gardens of Ballymaloe Cookery School and was further stunned by the shell house!

Shell House interior, Ballymaloe Cookery School gardens

For an informative description of St Mary’s Collegiate Church visit Roaringwater Journal.
Youghal has an excellent and informative website.
The location of these wells can be found in the Gazetteer.

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.

Island Wells 3: Bere Island: An tOileán Mór

It’s always a pleasure to visit one of the islands off the coast of Cork, and each of the seven inhabited islands have a very distinct personality of their own. Today I was off to Bere island, An tOileán Mor (the big island); a short ferry trip from Castletownbere. Castletownbere was in a bit of a panic – no real coffee or loos to be had for water supplies had been off for the last two days! Still it was bustling enough and there is always much to admire at the quay.

The ferry itself is quite an experience for it’s pretty small and today was jam-packed, five cars being squeezed on. I was so grateful that I was a foot passenger for you have to go up the ramp backwards and fit into the most minute of spaces, albeit skillfully advised by the ferryman.

The ferry, waiting to be loaded at Bere island

Bere Island is roughly 11km long and 5km wide and has some impressive mountains, tiny roads, an abundance of wild flowers, crystal clear waters and a long and complicated history. It sits in the middle of Bantry Bay and due to its important strategic position has frequently been commandeered for military use. It is bristling with interesting things from wedge tombs to standing stones, Viking ports to ringforts, martello towers to signal towers, batteries to gun emplacements. It’s particularly important for its military remains dating from the turn of the 20th century when it was a British military base, built to protect the North Atlantic Fleet. Batteries, barracks, canon and all sorts still litter the island. British military presence officially withdrew in September 1938, rather ironically just before outbreak of World War II.

Bere island is also part of the Beara Way, a long distance walking route, and the island offers some challenging and spectacular walking. You could spend days here just exploring but I was after a well – St Michael’s Well.

First I fuelled myself with coffee and apple pie at the former National School, now a visitors’ Centre. The  woman apologized for the lack of real coffee but she had had a gang of astronomers up there over the weekend and they had drunk all her best coffee and eaten all her ice cream!

I had been to the well before and thought I remembered where it was and was in no particular rush, climbing up via the small flower-strewn lanes, admiring the creative paintwork on the old building near the schoolhouse and generally enjoying the scenery.

Did I pay any heed to the new route veering off to the left, did I read the tiny sign on the post – no. Instead I went off on an extensive and rugged loop – wonderfully scenic but way out of my way!

Not the right way

The views in all directions were incredible but I was mindful of my ferry and started to speed up, scattering a startled group of American walkers. How funny that their leader turned out to be the man I had met in Allihies two weeks ago who had then expressed an interest in wells!

The cross, erected in the Holy Year 1950

I made my way to the cross, erected in the holy year of 1950, switched on the GPS and went down the mountain on a rather unconventional route. The woman in the Visitors’ Centre had said that locals would walk to the well from the cross but had warned:  you don’t want to go that way for you have to go across the mountain. At least I was being authentic. I spotted the well way below me, distinctive by its bright yellow painted cross.

The well, distinctive by its yellow cross

The well is dedicated to St Michael, as are the school and church on the island. It lies snug against the hillside, slabs laid in front of it.

St Michael’s Well

It was looking very pretty bestrewn with flowers but the water was low, if clear. A large yellow cross marks the spot as does as rather kitsch silver statue on a plinth depicting St Michael wrestling with Satan.

The water is said to be good for general cures and sore eyes in particular. Once a large pattern day was held here on St Michael’s Feast day, 29th September. This extract from the Schools’ Folklore Collection gives more information:

St Michael’s well is situated straight above the Central Hotel. That is situated in the centre of Bere Island near a mountain. The place where the well is situated is between two mountains and it is called the pattern. The well is very small and there is not much water in it. It goes dry in the summer. It is almost covered in heath. There are two circles of white stones around the well.

The well is called St Michael’s well because St Michael is patron saint of the parish. Every person says different prayers but most say it at the outer circle of stones.The Creed and Five Our Fathers, five Hail Marys and five Glorias. Then they go up to the circle of stones near the well and they say the Rosary and at every Gloria they pick up a stone and drop it down again with their right hand. When they are coming home they always leave something after them. Some people let a button after them. They throw up the button and if it comes down with the right side turned up, the person will have good luck, but if it comes down with the wrong side, the person will have bad luck. The also bring a bottle of water with them. Some people keep it in the house like they keep holy water, some give it to the sick and more people drink it …. a person who has sore eyes would be cured if he rubbed the water on them. Long ago on  Michaelmas Day everyone turned towards the holy well, like a Fair day or a day at the Regatta at present. The people used to put up stalls and sell oranges and apples and wine, whiskey and porter and there used to be wrestling. They used to have dances and concerts and plays near the well. (054/055:0277)

It’s hard to imagine all that activity at such a remote and peaceful spot. Today I was just in the company of tiny Green Hairstreak butterflies as they flitted from flower to flower, and the odd lark. There is no longer an annual Mass but a walk is conducted up here for those who wish to pay their respects.

I went down the way I should have come up – very clearly marked by yellow daubed rocks – boggy and quite difficult underfoot but the scenery magnificent and a fine collection of wildflowers, some unusual ones up here too – sundews and milkworts.

Note: The best way to get to the well is to take the ferry from Castletownbere, walk up the hill towards the Heritage Centre (clearly marked) take a first right after this and follow the Beara Way until you get to the gate pictured above, where it’s a sharp left – then follow the yellow daubed rocks! Do not carry straight on over the gate unless you want a much longer but very scenic route!

More exuberant hedgerows

I arrived back at the quay with 10 minutes to spare! The American party came roaring up just as the last car was being loaded onboard, having seriously miscalculated the ferry times! A lesson to be learned here – you need much more time than you think to enjoy everything Bere island has to offer.

The location of this well can be found in the Gazetteer.
Bere Island information  includes map and ferry timetable

A bit of Blarney

I always seem to be heading to the airport but what better excuse for a spot of well hunting. Three very different wells discovered today and a reminder of what real traffic can be like!

Holy Well, Ballycannon, near Blarney

The first well was located near Kerry Pike, a few miles outside Blarney. I spotted the well from the car and tried to find somewhere to park. Then I walked back – treacherous for there was no pavement and cars were hurtling up and down. An odd little well, rather forlorn, and right on a dangerous corner.

It comprised a stone, squarish wellhouse with steps leading down to the water which was abundant, clear and fresh. A wonky little gate offered scant protection from accumulated leaves and cigarette packets. Above, a cement niche with domed roof lay empty apart from a blue candle. The roof rather intriguingly had a patchwork of rough stones, once painted blue. Traces of blue still also clung onto the gate.

Foliage was slowly embracing all structures. I wondered if it was originally a Lady’s Well and received a little more information when tracking down the next well in nearby Killeen Lower. Here I met the delightful Michael who was a mine of information – including having a few snippets about this well. He passed it nearly every day and always crossed himself on seeing the statue of the BVM. This very morning he had noticed she wasn’t there and wondered what had happened – she had had been there the day before. She had been known to disappear before. He had his suspicions and hoped she would return shortly.

Hopefully she had just been taken for a bit of repair work.

A Lady’s Well? Right on a busy corner near the Kerry Pike

All Saints’ Well, Lower Killeen, near Blarney

Michael was in his car having a quick lunch break when I arrived at the farm in Lower Killeen. We had a great chat and not only did he give me permission to visit the well and precisely explain where it was, but I also got the always useful local information. He sent me on my way up the lane, through the gate and across the field, aiming for a copse.

What an unexpected and impressive site. A little gate plus metal arch lead into the site, which was enclosed by whitewashed stones and a tall circlet of trees.

The well itself was in a stone built wellhouse, a beehive shape, with a beautifully corbelled interior roof; the curved exterior rather heavily cemented. A rectangular opening led down to the well inside.

All Saint’s Well

A stone plaque inscribed with three deep crosses bore a crucifixion scene and the faint but still discernible lettering All Saints Well AD 1761. There was also quite a lot of graffiti making it difficult to interpret what else might be there.

Detail of the crucifixion panel plus pilgrim crosses

A more recent plaque above this also gave the date and the inscription Penal Days, plus the depiction of a golden chalice.

As I ventured inside I gasped out loud for it was packed, the saints were in situ.

A multitude of saints

A central shelf held a multitude of offerings and statues, each jostling with the other: some beautiful statues of the BVM, the Sacred Heart, St Patrick, angels, flowers, candles. On the right a little niche contained a phial of holy water, a blue crucifix hanging next to it; on the left a stained glass image of Pope John Paul II hung next to a metal ladle; above this a memorial stone, hard to read. Two little benches fitted snugly against the wall and I sat down and contemplated this amazing array while the heavens opened outside.

The well itself lay in the centre of the floor, flat with the ground, a roughly hewn stone-lined circle, the water plentiful but not particularly clear.

I looked up to admire the corbelling – a cross painted in the centre and thought about what Michael had told me. An elderly man called Frank used to walk in from the city, once or twice a week with his dog, to tend to the well and the surrounding area. He was responsible for the landscaping, and for most of the statuary. He was literally devoted to the site but Michael couldn’t recollect seeing him for sometime now.

BVM, still with traces of blue and gold

Frank may not have been recently but someone had for there were spent candles scattered all over the floor. The shower outside was heavy and prolonged but it was no hardship to share this remarkable space for I was in good company.

There are various stories connected with the well. This one explains its origins:

There is a holy well situated between Upper and Lower Killeens. This well got its name long ago when Priests of Ireland were forbidden to say Mass.

One day as a priest was going across the fields from Cork to Whitechurch to say Mass a scout came to meet him telling him that the soldiers were at Whitechurch waiting to arrest him. Then the priest decided to say Mass on the spot where he met the man who had told him about the soldiers. But the man said there is no water here so you can’t say Mass. Suddenly a well sprung up and it got its name All Saints Well and ever since the people around the locality come and say their prayers at the well on All saints’ Day November 1st. (002:0349)

Schools’ Folklore Collection

Mass is still occasionally held here on All saints’ Day, 1st November. The last time, three or four years ago according to Michael, the Mass was conducted by John Buckley, Bishop of Cork and Ross. The water is said to hold a cure, particularly effective for arthritis.

Back view

I had a wander around the well, inspecting the array of whitewashed crosses, then made my way back across the fields. Michael was still in his car and we said farewell. I thanked him and he said you’re welcome here any time. This is what well hunting is all about. I hope that statue reappears though.

Well of the Women, Tobar na mBan near Blarney

Back on the road and a thwarted attempt to get to St Lachteen’s well at Garryadean (CO051-089): hailstorm and herd of cattle plus bull with a ring through his nose, and approached from the wrong direction made me decide to put this off until another day.

Interested spectators

Instead I went in search of the Well of the Women. This led to a very small, flower strewn road. I parked and was immediately greeted by a sheepdog – one of those that cowers until you’re back in the car then barks like mad. He surveyed me silently as I walked down the lane, looking for anything well-like. The GPS led me straight to the spot and I could see a bit of stone work sticking up out of the nettles.

Well covered!

This well was also unexpected – not for its offerings but a) it was so large and b) it was so overgrown. I kicked back the nettles to get a better look. It seemed to be rectangular with large, red sandstone stone walls; steps leading down to the water-filled basin. The water came in through a sort of culvert and was plentiful. Bits of stone lined the bottom and it was quite hard to make out what was what.

This is an interesting article about the well which shows what it looks like sans foliage and a rather curious youtube clip where the well is also clearly revealed.

The well is also known as Tobar na Mna Finne, another way of saying Well of the Women I believe, and Tobar an Aifreann , Well of the Mass, as Mass was celebrated here during Penal Times. The well was once known for the purity of its water and the article mentioned above describes how:

 Many neighbours brought their cattle and horses to drink below the outlet. One very dry summer the well went dry for the first time in living or recounted history. Some “wise” person procured holy water and poured it on the dry bed of the well. Inevitably the water returned and it has not dried up since then.

Now it seems sadly forgotten but a little TLC and it could easily be restored and appreciated.

Spot the well

Well hunting is compelling. I’d forgotten it was a Friday evening and I had yet to get to the airport. The horrors of the Kinsale Roundabout awaited!

The location of these wells can be found in the Gazetteer.
Very special thanks to Michael Walsh for his good humoured assistance.

Four Curious Wells enroute to Allihies

Two days exploring the remote and scenic tip of the Beara Peninsula and some very curious wells discovered.

Kilaconenagh Holy Wells, near Castletownbere

The weather on day one was not promising – thick fog and a steady mizzle. We persevered however and the first well stop was just outside Castletownbere. The GPS led us down a remarkably lush and green wooded lane.

A little wooden gate and a mossy sign boded well. The well was said to be behind the ruins of Kilaconenagh church (CO115-045002). Although the remains are pretty meagre, the church is said to date from as early a the 8th or 9th centuries, now much ruined and covered in ivy.  Apparently the rafters from the church were removed during the wretched Seige of Dunboy in 1602 to make gun emplacements. It’s a peaceful spot today, unkempt and fecund, the grave stones lurching in unlikely angles, the chest tombs rampant with ivy. It’s treacherous underfoot too, many graves apparently open or at least riddled with dips and holes. Jack Roberts in his The Antiquities of the Beara Peninsula gives a very odd story as to why the gravestones are quite so higgeldy piggeldy. Apparently a monster emerged from a nearby stream and ransacked all the graves, quite why isn’t explained!

Finding the holy well, or rather holy wells, involves a climb over the wall and an rootle amongst the undergrowth – there a licheny stile and a just discernible path. The well is actually four ballaun stones carved into the rockface, now pretty much covered in undergrowth but still impressive. They are unusually large:

The western well has a diameter of 0.5m and depth of 0.3m. 0.6m to the east is the second which is 0.8 x 1.1m in diameter and depth of 0.4m. 0.9m to the east is the third with a diameter of 0.9 x1.2m and a depth of 0.2m.

Archaeological Inventory

The holy wells, three ballauns – a fourth lies slightly higher up on the right

The fourth ballaun, just above the three and to the right, is slightly smaller. It’s unclear whether they are natural or man-made, the one on the far left certainly looks as though it has been deliberately scooped out of the rock.

A short entry in the Schools’ Folklore Collection gives an odd bit of extra information:

To the west end of Castletownbere in an old graveyard situated nearby there is a holy well. In olden days people that suffered any disease of the body used (to) visit this well and pray for a certain amount of time that God may deliver them from their sufferings, and restore them back to health again.  At the edge of the well a frog sat and if the invalid did not see him it was a sign that their disease would not be cured. 061:0278

This felt an ancient and unusual place. Unfortunately amongst all the excitement of coping with GPS, camera, reading glasses, barbed wire, inquisitive ponies and looking for frogs, I dropped my phone and cracked the glass. One of the hazards of well hunting.

We visited Dunboy Castle afterwards and pondered on the roof of the old church. Dunboy is now a rather gloomy shell, the ancestral home of the O Sullivan Beare, too full of brutal memories perhaps, softened a little by the stunning views and lush vegetation, mainly flowering rhododendrons.

Puxley Mansion lies nearby, guarded by a stout fence and ever encroaching vegetation.

The enigma that is Puxley Mansion

What an extraordinary sight and an even more perplexing history: built in 1739 on profits from copper mining, extended in Gothic style during the Victorian period, abandoned by the owner after his wife died in childbirth, blown up by the IRA in 1921, abandoned again, restored in 2007 as a 6 star hotel, Celtic Tiger collapsed and now abandoned once again.

The day’s explorations ended with a visit to Dzogchen Beara, another unexpected place, full of interest – a Buddhist meditation centre, retreat and hospice, perched scenically on the clifftops with incredible views. No fabulous views today though, thick fog, but we did avail of the very good café.

Blessed Well, Tobairn Beannaithe, near Allihies

Miraculously the fog lifted on the second day, all brightness and breeziness in colourful Allihies.

Life in the slow but colourful lane

Fuelled with an enormous breakfast (The Seaview Guest House highly recommended) and much helpful advice from our landlady and a fellow guest we set forth to find Tobairin Beannaithe, the little Blessed Well. This was located high up on the east side of the Bealbarnish Gap and took a bit of finding! Our landlady equipped us with a booklet written by local school children in the 1970s, herself included, and rang up a local who she thought might have more information, but he was elderly and still in bed! We followed her directions, turned on the GPS, parked the car and scrambled up the hill.

The Bealbarnish Gap below

We were looking for what sounded like a large ballaun cut into the cliff face, possibly still revered. The GPS directed us here – now a substantial pool of water right at the base of a cliff.

Site of the well, has it been submerged?

A lot of work has been done up here recently and water was being piped from the pool. Had the well been submerged?  There seemed to be something under the water at one point. We searched around and found nothing else likely.

The well was also known as the Women’s Well and was renown for curing sore eyes. The water was said never to dry and when the tide comes in way down below, the water is meant to rise. Rounds were paid here at the end of September.

There were magnificent views from up here, quite a journey to get to but as always, the journey seems to be an essential part of the experience.

Infinity well

St Michael’s Well, near Allihies

Off high for the next well too, somewhere near the summit of Knocknahulla. Our landlady had assured us that this well would be easier to find, there might even be a sign and a path. GPS on we strode and stumbled across rough pasture until the path became impassable, barbed wire fences and thick bracken, very scenic though.

We turned back and had a welcome coffee and chat at a café nearby. Here we were given further instruction by someone who had been up there last year with a party of school children. She said finding it would involve a bit of scrabbling about as it was very small and not much to see – look for the gate next to the the big junction, just past the farm with the cattle enclosure. We found the junction, we found the farm and cattle enclosure, we found the gate, we even found a sort of path and up Knocknahulla we went! More incredible views and such wonderful colours on this spectacular day, such a change from yesterday. The Archaeological Inventory information was helpful:

In rough hill pasture, in a hollow on a S-facing slope to the E of the summit of Knocknahulla. The holy well consists of a roughly circular water-filled depression (0.4m N-S; 0.35m E-W; D 0.35m) in the peaty soil. A cross-inscribed stone (CO127-046001-) covers most of the well. Known as St Michael’s well. Rounds were made up here up to recent times on the 25th September. Four small recently made wooden crosses lie on the ground Im to the E. A penitential station (CO127-046002) lies 8m to the N.

The pasture was rough alright and after much exploration, the GPS led us to the cross inscribed stone: small, flat on the ground but with a smaller stone sparkling with malachite on top, handy for doing the inscribing. Next to it a large lump of white quartz looked significant.

Cross inscribed stone and accessories

But where was the well? I gingerly lifted the stone and underneath was the tiniest circle I have ever seen, nothing remotely like the dimensions described by the Inventory – damp within though, and inhabited by a slug.

The ground was certainly peaty but could this possibly be the well, had the peat shrunk? There was no sign of the crosses mentioned by the Inventory and not much evidence of the penitential station also described, apparently now represented by a cairn of white quartz stones left by pilgrims, though there were blocks of quartz here and there. What a conundrum!  We found the stone, we lifted the stone, but was that the well? Much searching provided no other clues or anything resembling a well.

The well is dedicated to St Michael and visited on his Feast Day, 29th September. A mighty trek up here and one still undertaken by local people, including the school children. What a puzzle. More stupendous views though. The Catholic church in Allihies is also dedicated to St Michael the Archangel.

I would love to hear from anyone who might have visited the well or has any information.

Holy Well, Toberbanaha, near Allihies

The final well was actually marked on the OS map, known as Toberbanaha on the oldest maps, but an adventurous time was still had getting there  – the road got smaller and smaller, higher and high as we climbed what was once an old road from Allihies to Castletownbere. Again magnificent views from Knockgour, lots of sheep and then the road finally stopped, the Beara Way snaking off into the distance below us.

This well was actually surprisingly easy to find – it was down a steep slope but had been fenced off – a circular fence in the middle of nowhere always a good sign.

Fenced off well

Water seeped out from under the stone and trickled down the hillside. There wasn’t a huge lot to see or much atmosphere and it had clearly not been visited for some while, but someone thought it important enough to protect.

Later we paid our respects to the Hag of Beara, An Cailleach Bheara, and the tallest Ogham stone in Ireland in the wondrously named Faunkill in the Woods. Much needed chocolate and apples were bought in Eyeries, probably the most colourful village in Ireland.

An excellent adventure.

We love the Beara!

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

Well hunting off the N22

A trip to the airport always offers an opportunity for a bit of exploration. This time as slight detour was taken to visit a few wells off the N22.

Sunday’s Well, Tobar Riogh an Domhnaigh,Rooves Beg

Always a good sign

This little well is signed and can found right on the roadside: incidentally this quiet, scenic, road was once the main butter route between Kerry and Cork. We visited shortly after May Day, the start of Bealtine, and everywhere was looking immaculate! A neat stone wellhouse is surrounded by two curved benches and an array of potted shrubs, giving it a cosy and intimate air.

Sunday’s Well, Rooves Beg

A concrete cross lies on top of the structure, draped with a rosary; and a pretty plaque depicting the Mother and Child is pinned to the front.

Above the well a little shelf is painted in BVM blue and adorned with all sorts of offerings, blue being the predominant theme. Fresh bluebells mingle with wooden blue tulips. In the centre a statue of the BVM herself is enclosed in a blue painted niche, flanked by statues of Jesus and St Patrick. An array of candles, some of them still burning, spoke of recent visitation.

Blue altar

In front, an ingenious kneeler made out of a wooden stool complete with gardener’s kneeling pad – painted blue – makes life comfortable for pilgrims.

Steps lead down into the water, a stone slab at the front. The water is fresh and abundant and a rather jaunty red cup with a heart-shaped rim is available for drinking the water. I think it had come from a German Christmas market.

Another name for the well is Tobarin an Aifrinn, Little Well of the Mass, and Mass was held here during Penal Times – what look like the Mass Rock lies close to the well, also beautifully kept.

Mass Rock

The well was traditionally visited on Good Friday and Easter Sunday when rounds were paid, a drink from the well being included. Today the Rosary and prayers are said on August 15th but May is obviously also a popular time to visit. The water was considered efficacious and three  visits were required for a cure – two successive Sundays and intervening Friday.

This is obviously a much loved and still revered well. It has a very pleasant feel and some spectacular views out across the valley.

Views from Sunday’s Well

Lady’s Well & Sunday’s Well, Walshestown

Sunday’s Well lies to the left of the niche containing the BVM, and Mary’s Well is to the right

 

These wells are situated in Walshestown. One is covered in a complete arch. The relics of crumbling arches shelter the other wells. Remains of an altar, upon which Mass was celebrated in Penal Times, is still in a fair state of preservation.  Upon a stone plate on one of the arches the letters IHS are quite discernible still. The Cromwellian destroyers knocked down two of the arches. The ‘Mass’ arch escaped destruction though; the group of wells is known as ‘The Blessed Wells’, yet the water of two are used for domestic purposes. The water of the well beneath the Mass arch is only used to obtain cures. Almost every storyteller in the district has an incident to relate about the peculiar properties of the water. It will not boil, and is said to assume certain shades and volumes, each change indicating a cure or the likelihood of some disaster occurring in the neighbourhood. The most remarkable cure vouched for is the healing of wounds of a priest – Father Walsh. The surrounding district takes its name from this miracle.

Schools’ Folklore Collection 0345:356/35

The is an interesting description of the wells, recorded in 1937. If I’ve understood this correctly it seems there were three wells originally, each covered by an arch of stone. The central niche that now contains the statue of the BVM seems to have also had a well underneath it, the most potent and significant well. This has now disappeared. cement steps where it once was, leading up to an altar. Sunday’s Well lying to the left and Mary’s Well to the right still remain, minus their arches.

The wells are paved in a roughly octagonal shape approached by two steps down; empty niches lie in the surrounding curved walls. As mentioned, they both once had arched rooves, and also doors. The water in both was abundant but mucky, and the containers scattered around didn’t look as though they had had much use recently. The wells seem oddly neglected compared to the central niche containing the BVM. This is cared for and adorned with statues, flowers, candles and offerings. She has a rather baleful expression though.

The central niche; it seems there was a well once here too

Three carved stones are of interest, all in the central niche. One is a limestone slab set into the back of the recess. The letters IHS are just be discernible with what the Archaeological Inventory describes as an inverted heart beneath. IHS is a Christogram, the first three letters of the Greek name for Jesus: IHΣΟΥΣ. To the left another stone is visible behind an array of offering, a clear cross inscribed upon it. To the right another stone lurks, apparently containing a rough depiction of the crucifixion and another inscribed heart but this is very difficult to see and unfortunately I didn’t get a good photograph of it.

The water from the central well, now vanished, was considered  good for cures of tooth ache, earache and affectations of the head, and it’s interesting that the two other wells were allowed to be used for domestic purposes. They both have something a little special though. A trout is supposed to reside in St Mary’s Well, and an eel in Sunday’s Well. I saw neither, sadly. This story makes interesting reading, did the fish once live in the central well and is this why it vanished?

The story is to the effect that a local woman carried water home from the well to boil potatoes. Unfortunately the eel had been drawn out at the same time. To her amazement the water remained cold after hours of boiling until her husband found out what had happened and returned the eel and water to the well. But this did not appease the offended spirit which caused the water to dry up and it has remained dry to the present day.

Cordner, from Carmichael Watson Project described as a blog for the Carmichael Watson project, which is based at Edinburgh University Library, centred on the papers of folklorist Alexander Carmichael (1832-1912).

The water obviously worked well for the wounded priest too, Father Walsh, mentioned in the first extract; was he a priest injured whilst celebrating Mass during Penal Times? The area is now called Walshestown, after his miraculous recovery.

The whole site is shaded by the most magnificent lime tree. Steps are cut into the cliff on each side of the wells, and were presumably once incorporated into the rounds. Another very pleasant site.

We attempted to find two others wells just beyond Ballincollig. The first was in Ballynora where we were distracted by a rather fine grotto.

Sadly there was no sign of the well, a Sunday’s Well, which sounded interesting:

 In pasture, on steep hillside. Water-filled hollow under sycamore tree; roots of tree exposed and enclose well; filled by water dripping through roots. Some water now drains into trough to SE. Archaeological Inventory

A second well, Dark Well, Tobar Dorcha,  once lay in the nearby townland of Ballinveiltig, but the area was too heavily overgrown for us to get anywhere near.
The location of these wells can be found in the Gazetteer.

Exploring around the M8

A very fruitful three days in East and Mid Cork enjoying a spot of well hunting. A fine variety was discovered, this little crop lurking on either side of the M8.

St Cuain’s Well, Tobairin Cuain, Knockraha

This well sounded intriguing: I liked both names – Knockraha (hill of the forts) and the unusual and little known, at least by me, St Cuain. The entry in the Schools’ Folklore Collection sounded interesting too:

There is a holy well in the glen underneath Kilquane graveyard. The well is covered over like a house. It is on a rock. There are a few trees growing around it and seven small stones like seven little headstones. People recite the rosary on these stones and there is a cross cut into each one of them. St John’s Day is the day on which rounds are performed. Long ago it was a very popular well, Crowds used to visit it. The custom is dying out now and you would only see a few people going to visit it. There is a niche on each side of the wall around the well like a little window in which are little statues of the blessed Virgin. There is a cup to drink the water and when you are leaving the well you should leave something after you such as a ribbon or a button. There is a small well out from the big well in which people wash any place that would be affected with sore or ache and some people carry a bottle of water home with them… School’s Folklore Collection 102:0382

A delightful drive through small green roads grappling with both driving and using the GPS, when a signpost and parking spot came into view, how very civilised!  An amble through light woodland, a river cascading to the left, everywhere lush and green.

Raised path leading to the well

An imposing yew tree and an even larger beech tree signified that something interesting was about to be revealed.

The original ‘small’ well?

Tucked behind the yew tree and under the beech was a small stone structure built into the bank, complete with a niche containing a statue of a male saint; St Patrick, I think, minus his shamrock. A stone in the front advised to kneel and pray. I suspect this was the small well where pilgrims once washed affected places. There was no water visible today but the smattering of written prayer requests showed that the shrine still had potency.

Beyond this, steps were cut into bank, leading upwards, an odd chair-shaped stone with a cross carved into it lay to the side. The well itself was built into the hillside, stone slabs in the front for prayer, the whole structure rich in ferns.

St Cuain’s Well, with little ‘headstone’ inscribed with a cross visible

Tobairin Cuain a plaque on the top announced; this was put up by the local Pioneer Abstinence Association in 1975. Actually the whole site was restored more recently in 2000, as part of a Millennium Project by the local community. Inscribed crosses were cut into the stones on each side of the well, the crosses now painted black – the little headstones as described in the Folklore excerpt. The water within was abundant but a bit murky; a niche to the right contained a heart-shaped icon of the BVM, spent candles and a small medal.

A cross overlooked the whole scene. This was erected in 1950, another holy year, and a plaque attached to it in 2000, commemorating local men Ned Fitzgerald and Mick and Jimmy Sheridan.

This place had the most tranquil air, almost soporific, yet it obviously remains a popular and relevant place for several cars rolled up whilst I was here and people came to pay their respects.

St Cuain’s Well was traditionally visited on St Johns Eve, 23rd June, when rounds were paid. St Cuain or St Quane seems a shadowy figure but he’s given his name to the local townland: Kilquane, Quane’s Church. He seems to have been a missionary, contemporary with St Patrick, who built a church and monastery in what is now the nearby cemetery, of which nothing remains. A mass is still held here in his honour on the 10th July, his feast day.

An interesting extra fact: the well seems to be aligned to the Winter Solstice for on this day at noon the interior is lit up by the sun’s rays.

Sing Sing Prison

It’s worth just going up the road to the cemetery (CO064-026002) for this holds a chilling reminder of a very different time. Here, in an underground mausoleum, is the remains of Sing Sing Prison, used as the official prison for Cork No1 Brigade during the War of Independence. It was nicknamed Sing Sing after the American prison of the same name. After the tranquility of the well and in spite of a group of men cheerily working in the cemetery, this felt a horrible place, literally a living tomb.

Sing Sing prison, a living tomb

The cell is approximately 4.5m at it longest, barely 1.8m at its highest and is closed with a rusty metal door, the holes drilled into it by the local blacksmith to offer a little air to the miserable prisoners still visible. Black and Tans, members of the Cameron Regiment and local informers and spies were held here until dispatched, their bodies buried it the nearby bog. A wretched story, the facts of which are only recently, and controversially, being examined. Two interesting articles below:

Irish Examiner article

The Year of Disappearances

Lady’s Well, Coolgreen, near Glanmire

Bouncy, large pup

This well took a bit of finding – according to the OS map, various paths seem to lead to it and I decided to make a first attempt from the nearby farm, Coolgreen House. There was no one at home except for a very large bouncy rottweiler/doberman puppy who was thrilled to have someone to play with. I then decided to approach via the longer path which lead through fields. Frustratingly my way was then blocked by a gang of young and rather frisky looking cattle. I decided to try the shorter route once more and returned to the house. Still no one at home but then I notice a newly created road which seemed to be exactly where the path was. I followed this and lo and behold there was the well. Much work seemed to be going on here: the well was fenced off, parking and new roadways recently made around the well area which was grassed and encircled by hawthorn trees.

Quartz pile with well in background

A mound of white quartz topped with an iron cross testified to the visits of hundreds of pilgrims who had come before, leaving stones as they did the rounds.

The well lay behind the quartz mound enclosed in a stone wellhouse, a sturdy lintel holding up the roof, and a slab in front. Steps led down into the well itself.

Lady’s Well

A cross was inscribed over the entrance, a horseshoe above it for extra good luck. Further crosses were inscribed outside the structure and inside a niche held a small statue of the BVM and some candles. The well was dry but it was good to see that it had been so carefully restored for when it was last visited by the Archaeological Inventory it was described as being very overgrown.

The well is dedicated to Our Lady and rounds were traditionally made on the 15th August and during May.

The Virgin’s Little Well, Tobairin Mhuire, Ballybrack

This delightful well, a little shabby but the real thing, was easily recognisable by the profusion of that well known paint colour: BVM Blue.

The well is right on the edge of the road

The site is roughly triangular, jutting right out into the road, enclosed by concrete blocks and railings, a little metal gate topped with a cross leading the way in. It’s another beehive-shaped well, with an array of faded statuary, rosaries and medals on top.

Although it had a bit of a neglected air it had been visited recently as rhododendrons were scattered on top and in front of it. Crosses were inscribed on the outside and the customary niche inside was empty. The water was abundant, fresh and clear. No cups though. I liked this little place.

St John’s Well, Doonpeter  & Mass Rock

I had been advised to approach this well via an old Mass Path which was to be found opposite the Mass Rock. Fortunately the Mass Rock was clearly signed for this is a remote but incredibly scenic spot. Steep steps cut into the earth lead upwards into coniferous woodland, and below the river gushed over clusters of rocks. A little red bench invited admiration before the final arrival at the Rock. A small bridge lead over the river and there was the Mass Rock, literally part of the sheer cliff. Hundreds of crosses have been inscribed into the rugged cliff face, offerings crammed into every available crack. A large metal cross and a plaque told the story. An extraordinary place.

Back across the road and a red kissing gate looked hopeful as the start of the Mass Path.

There were no obvious signs that this was the right track but I decided to risk it. What an adventure. The walk was about a mile long, a beaten path clear in the undergrowth leading through rough farmland, the river down below. So many flowers were just coming into bloom, and the the sounds of bees and insects and the rushing of the water and the warbling of a robin and a wren provided a lovely accompaniment. Eventually the rough farmland turned into woodland, strewn with bluebells and wild garlic, and twisted, coppiced trees. Several bridges have to be traversed – the first very rickety and the second a rather ingenious metal contraption going right across the river. The remains of weatherbeaten benches hiding in the undergrowth spoke of all the weary pilgrims who had beaten a track down here over the years.

A word of warning, at the last stile turn right up onto the hill. I carried on further into the woodland and got hopelessly lost, eventually looking upwards only to realise that the well was obviously on top of the hill. It’s fenced off from the surrounding field for there are young cattle within but you can skirt the edge which takes you to the gate.

Turn right after this stile!

What a fascinating site, well worth the adventurous route to get here. The whole thing is enclosed in a ringfort, or possibly an ecclesuatical enclosure, (CO043-014001) the walls still remaining. A metal gate and two sturdy cross inscribed pillars lead you in. The first thing of interest is a rectangular ballaun stone ( CO043-014003)  with what looks like an intriguing thumbprint on top.

Next to this is boxed statue of St Patrick, complete with shamrock this time. I was amused at his feet.The statue was nicely done but the sculptor obviously couldn’t do feet, they dangle rather plaintively as though he was levitating! The inscribed stones could be all that remain of an ancient church which was once here, possibly the entrance doorway.

The scattering of stones, marked by a large wooden cross, is in fact a cilleen, a burial ground for the unbaptised. A smattering of stones with names inked onto them added a poignant touch – the names of the children who had left the stones or the names of those buried within?

The well itself is further down – another boxed statue, this time the BVM accompanied by  a white painted metal cross and an odd mitre-shaped stone.

St John’s Well

Steps take you down into the well – an array of plastic and paper cups, plus a glass jug available should you need the water.  A handy implement for removing dead leaves lay nearby- I used it for the water was a bit murky.

The well is dedicated to St John and was traditionally visited on St John’s Eve, 23rd June. The water was considered good for all sorts of healing and an entry in the Schools’ Collection mentions that crutches and other offerings were once left there. White quartz pebbles obviously featured in the paying of the rounds for there are stones scattered everywhere.

White quartz stones are everywhere

The views from up here are sublime. The locals were a pretty curious crowd too.

One well defeated me on this trip, a Lady’s Well at nearby Lahane. I stopped off in the village shop in Carrignavar and made inquiries. I was assured by two different locals that there was no well in the vicinity but I was offered a very delicious cheese toastie and a cup of strong coffee – perfect!

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