Beara Wells 2 & a trip into Kerry

Like a terrier with a stick, I kept on thinking about St Mochuda’s Well as yet unfound, and the mystery well at the roadside. A few weeks ago we had a second trip to the Beara Peninsula and  had time to investigate further. A gorgeous cold day, snow on the mountains, the wind whipping through our bones.

Looking out towards Hungry HIll

We parked at the picturesque remains of Massmount Church (CO103-006) and I followed the GPS though a rough field down into dense bog. No sign of the well described by the Archaeological Inventory as a:

….. Square, shallow, water-filled depression, cut into rock. Rough crosses and harp incised into rock surrounding well. Still venerated.

Not many rocky outcrops at all and those there were were surrounded by squelchy bog and covered in ferns and brambles.

A lot of work was being done up here with a digger. The thought occurred that maybe the water from the original well had somehow been diverted down to the well discovered at the roadside? Was this St Mochuda’s Well after all? If anyone has any information about this please let me know.

Roadside well

Onwards up the Healy Pass – an absolutely jaw-dropping and winding path, just us and a few sheep struggling up but what sublime views!

Long and windy road: the Healy Pass

The views from the top are also pretty distracting.

On to our next destination Gleninchiquin, first stopping to admire the incredibly scenically placed Uragh Stone circle (KE101-105). This five stone circle with massive outlier sits on a little knoll overlooking a lake, with a waterfall backdrop. A powerful spot.

Uragh stone circle

The Glen itself is wonderful – a tortuous windy road leads up to the parking spot then amazingly the land opens out into incredibly lush green pastures dotted with oak trees, ewes and their lambs gambolling, surrounded by mighty craggy mountains. Today we just walked to the waterfall, multi-pronged, gushing from the mountain top – the gorse and greening larch tree adding rich colour. Everywhere the sound of water and magnificent sights in all directions. We ventured up to the restored famine cottage, sadly a bit marred in its authenticity and aesthetic appeal by a tarpaulin covering the roof – my photo of the cabin was taken last year.

Famished we headed into Kenmare for some hearty food next to an open fire. Thus fuelled I suggested we visited the two holy wells in the vicinity – it would have been rude not to! So two guest wells today for we are now in Kerry.

Lady’s Well, Tobar Muire, Kenmare

Found right in the heart of Kenmare town, this is a beautifully kept well dedicated to Our Lady. It’s clearly signed, the gates and railings painted a suitably ladylike blue and the area planted and landscaped. A paved path complete with kissing gate leads you down to the site.

A statue of the BVM gazes down into the gardens, gold embellished daisies at her feet rather than the usual snake.

The well itself lies a little below her and is quite unassuming – a rectangular basin, slabbed with concrete on each side. The water isn’t exactly copious but was once visited by persons afflicted with sickness.

Lady’s Well

Next to it is a stone reveals how much the site is revered. It is covered in heavily inscribed crosses, small stones placed nearby should you wish to do the same.

The well is traditionally visited on the 15th August, the Assumption of Our Lady. A very peaceful spot, still much appreciated by the look of it. Take a little tour if you fancy.

St Finian the Leper’s Well, Kenmare

This well is just outside Kenmare and can be found near the old cemetery. The route is well signed through the graveyard, passing the remains of St Finian’s church, then down some steep steps onto the stony strand.

Best visited at low tide, this well is right on the water’s edge and blends in remarkably well with its surroundings, looking like a large rock from most angles.

St Finian’s Well, right at the water’s edge

It is actually built against rock and into the hillside, with a sturdy stone built well house, the water seeping out from the ground and trickling down towards the sea. The trees and top of the well are festooned with offerings: ribbons, rosaries, candles, pine cones, shells, fragments of pottery.

A selection of offerings

A heavily inscribed cross next to the well spoke of pilgrimage and devotion.

A remarkable spot for presumably it gets water-logged twice a day yet the water remains fresh and clean. The water is considered to have curative powers and is especially good for eye complaints.

Robert testing the .water

This well has a remote and quiet feel to it, you would never guess you were so close to a busy town.

St Finian himself is an interesting character. He is normally known as St Finian Lobhar, or Finian the Leper. Stories conflict how he got this name. Some say he was born with the disease or something similar. Leprosy sufferers were not necessarily stigmatised but could be marked out as something holy due to the burden of their affliction. Other stories tell how a small child was brought to him, suffering from leprosy. St Finian cured the child and took the disease upon himself. The information board in the cemetery explains that he was divinely directed to this well because of its curative powers.

Evening sky, looking out from the well

The information board also gives the pattern days as the 3rd May and 14th September though St Finian’s Feast Day is traditionally the 16th March.

The next blog will be back in County Cork!

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

Cornish Cousins: seven wells from across the water

Look hard, you might find

the lip of a well, now hidden

beneath a cobweb of frost,

mosses and silt, crutches and votives

from the hundreds who come

with their bundle of sorrows

tied like a knot in the pit

of the stomach ….

From The Source by Maura Dooley

A few days in Cornwall for a family reunion, and a chance to explore some of the holy wells over there. There are strong ties between Ireland and Cornwall, indeed many of the Cornish saints seem to have originated in Ireland, so no surprise to find the wells shared many similarities yet  retained their unique characteristics and identity.

Chapel Downs Well, Sancreed

A small green lanes runs off behind the red telephone box in the middle of the village of Sancreed. The well lies just off the path and is an enchanting place, its presence heralded by an impressive clootie tree.

Chapel Downs Well & clootie tree

The well lies deep within the earth, a massive thatched lintel holding up the subterranean wellhouse; several uneven, mossy steps leading down to the clear water within. Little offerings, coins and shells, are tucked into the stony crevices but then astonishingly it becomes apparent that some of the moss is actually glowing – a bright fluorescent green: phosphorescence.

In 1990 Paul Devereux in his book Places of Power, recorded the extremely high radiation count at this particular well. It has also been noted that well seemed to induce a pleasant languor and Devereux concluded:

I suspect that at particular wells or springs like this, radiation languor was one of the factors used to induce trance-like states conducive to visionary and divinatory work.

The clootie tree adds an ancient and mystical feel. The offering are mostly ribbons and rags, no sign of any rosaries or other hints of Catholicism that you might find in a Cork well. A St Bridget cross was a nice reminder of home though.

A modern cross erected nearby is the only concession to Christianity, though in the undergrowth the stone ruins of a small chapel still remain.

It certainly is an extraordinarily peaceful place, unspoilt but humming with presence. The well has no known patron saint, and no feast day. The waters have no particular cure but are considered exceptionally potent. A delightful site. I didn’t fall asleep but certainly felt relaxed and refreshed after visiting.

St Euny Holy Wells, near Sancreed

Two miles away from Sancreed are two wells dedicated to St Euny*. These can be found tucked away behind the Iron Age village of Carn Euny. This well preserved settlement was built sometime between 550BC-500AD and is now in the care of English Heritage. Perhaps most intriguing is the enormous fogou (souterrain) with its huge corbelled roof– now considered to have had ritual significance ie no-one has a clue what it was used for!

The two wells can be found just outside the settlement on either side of the ancient trackway, now signed as Saint Euny’s Well Way. The first well is barred by an unattractive gate and looks rather forlorn.

But the adjacent tree contains some interesting and  evocative offerings, all mostly made from organic materials – shells, cones, woven willow.

The second well is further down the track and completely different – obviously much revered and well tended. Quite similar to Chapel Downs Well at Sancreed, the wellhouse is subterranean and approached by some steep stone steps, flanked at the moment by a riot of primroses.

Entrance to St Euny well

The wellhouse was most likely constructed out of stones from the original chapel which in turn was built on the site of a much older shrine. The water is fresh and clear; in fact the whole area is dominated by water – streams, pockets, pools. A highly adorned clootie tree lies further down overhanging the stream.

Clootie tree, St Euny’s well

The water is rich in many minerals including iron, sulphates, calcium and arsenic. Robert Hunt, writing in 1881 (Popular Romances of the West of England)  recorded :

On the first three Wednesdays in May, children suffering from  mesenteric (intestinal) diseases are dipped three times, against the sun, and dragged three times around the well over the grass in the same direction.

St Euny was the patron saint of Lelant and Redruth areas, and the brother of St Ia whom St Ives is named after. He seems to have been distinguished by an unusual choice of hairstyle: close shaved at the front then flowing tresses behind. He seems to be still much admired and his feast day is the 31st October.

  • Apparently the first well is not considered a true holy well but belongs to the nearby house

Venton Ia, St Ives

This well can be found in the delightfully named Downalong area of St Ives, just below the cemetery right in the centre of town. It seems a little forgotten and unloved with none of the charm or mystery of the wells so far described. The well consists of two chambers and has been built rebuilt into the passage way that goes round the cemetery.

Venton Ia

It has a rather plain and functional air but a posy of wood anemones had been tacked to the exterior so someone still valued it.The water was fresh and clear and as the plaque testifies, once provided the water for those in the Downalaong area.

St Ia was originally from Ireland and of noble birth. St Fingar and St Piala decided to head over to Cornwall and Ia was desperate to come with them. She was told she was too young for such a journey and left on the shore. She prayed for guidance and a leaf floated by. Testing it with her staff the leaf seemed sturdy enough and soon it started to grow. She hopped aboard and reached Cornwall before the other saintly crowd!  Sadly the King of Cornwall was unimpressed by their preaching and they were martyred sometime around 450AD. Her name lives on though in the town of St Ives. Her feast day is the 3rd February.

Fenton Bebibbel, near St Ives

This has to be one of the most extraordinary wells yet encountered.  We had a brilliant day in the field discovering Men an Tol, Lanyon Quoit and the Nine Maidens stone circle and knew that Fenton Bebibbel Well was in the vicinity.

Fortunately we had a grid reference for it and the GPS proved invaluable as it took us over windswept moorland full of bleached grasses, treacherous underfoot.The first sign we were getting close was a windswept hawthorn, small but conspicuous in the landscape.

Windswept hawthorn

A closer examinations showed we were on the right track for the bush was adorned with rather forlorn and somewhat sinister-looking naked Barbie dolls. The tradition here was to bring your dolls to be baptised on Good Friday – a tradition that has recently been revived (it will be happening tomorrow, 14th April). Another name for the well is Well of the Little People so there must be some connection between the dolls and the faeries.

The well itself is a few metres away. It has a roughly square basin, just below ground level, the rather scummy water streaming off into the moor, large stones scattered here and there.

Fenton Bebibell Well

Fresh water drips constantly down behind the stones. What a remote and strange spot.

Madron Holy Well, near Penzance

Approached down a long, leafy green lane, the blackthorn trees with their cloudy blossom, this is a wonderful long and bosky approach to another ancient well.

Again a clootie tree signals the presence of something special. This tree, laden with offerings, is over a stream and is a magical spot but it is not the actual well – look carefully at ground level and a small sign arrows you off across the stream and into the undergrowth.

Clootie tree above the stream

The well is somewhere off in the thicket. Try as I may, and I approached from every direction, I could not get through the thorny undergrowth – and underfoot it was more swamp than bog. Somewhere within lay the main well, famed for the purity of its waters. Here naked children were plunged three times, against the sun, into the water, then passed around the well nine times, from east to west. Similar to the rites at Sancreed – a little alarming for the children though. In a slightly more sedate fashion, young girls would head out to the well on May morning before sunrise, take two reeds, tie them together with a pin then drop them into the water. The number of rising bubbles would tell them how long they had to wait until they got married!

The well looks like this should you be able to find it.

Photo by Malcolm Kemp, Wikipedia

A little further on lie the remains of an old baptistry, partly destroyed during the Reformation.

Remains of baptistery

This is a sturdy rectangular building which contains its own well, the water abundant, fresh and flowing – the same source as water from the main well, which until the 18th century provided the main water supply for nearby Penzance.

The granite seats around the edge of the chapel and the old stone altar still survive. It has a remarkable charm, hidden amongst the green mossiness.

 

The Giant’s Well, St Michael’s Mount, near Marazion

St Michael’s Mount

This well may not have had the atmosphere and authenticity of the others but the location is stunning! A walk along the still damp causeway, the majestic mound rising before you, then staggering up the steep cobbled paths, incredibly lush vegetation on each side is worth the jostling with the crowds!

The well is unmissable but it is slightly disappointing in that the lid is firmly on and the area fiercely manicured.

The Giant’s Well, firmly closed

A little further away lurks the enormous Giant’s heart, a substantial boulder.

The Giant’s burial place

The well marks the spot where a giant was felled either by St Michael himself or Jack the Giant Killer. A giant called Cormoran lived on the island with his wife Cormelian. He was not a big friendly giant but terrorised the neighbourhood. Young Jack decided enough was enough and one night rowed out to confront the giant. In the darkness he dug a huge pit and in the morning blew his horn. Out lumbered the giant and in he fell, deep down into the pit where Jack killed him with a blow from his axe! The huge boulder marks the spot! A nice retelling of the old story – good versus evil. And just one version of the many stories to do with Cormoran.

Fieldwork in Cork will resume shortly!

Holy Wells:Cornwall a photographic journey by Phil Cope is a wonderful source of information for these intriguing wells,

Some wells are invisible: exploring around Enniskean

Some wells prove difficult! I had five wells on the agenda today, all remote and my expectations of finding anything were low. This proved entirely justified. But I did get to explore some beautiful areas in the crisp Spring sunshine.

St Srufan’s Well, Drimoleague

First stop, St Strufan’s Well, long vanished according to the Archaeological Inventory, which was once sited in the centre of Drimoleague. The main street was examined and the GPS was called into play. It led me to this rather odd corner, full of jumbled steps and odd angles. Could this have been the site of the well, now covered over, once dedicated to St Srufan?

St Srufan* seems to have been a shadowy kind of chap. According to Ballingeary Historical Society he was a sub-king living sometime in the 10th century. He ruled the area known as the Cineal Laoghaire, an area in North Carbery stretching between Coppeen and Drimoleague. He apparently gave three tuatha, (pockets of land), to his kinsmen: Inchigeelagh, Ballingeary and Coolmountain, then took himself off to a monastery to pursue a more saintly sort of life.

*Srufan could also be a corruption of the word sruthán which means stream or brook (thank you VH).

Holy Well, Sleenoge, near Kinneigh

A scenic drive inland out of Enniskean and you arrive in Kinneigh, site of a remarkable and ancient monument: a round tower. St Mocholmóg (also known as St Colman, Mocholmóg is a sort of pet name meaning my dear little Colum!) founded a monastery near here in 619AD, of which virtually nothing remains. The tower was constructed later, sometime around 1014AD.

Kinneigh – church, graveyard & round tower

There are 64 round towers remaining in Ireland, but only two are extant in County Cork – this one and another in Cloyne. They are considered to be bell towers, once attached to a monastery, and are known as cloicteach.The Kinneigh tower is unique in that it is the only round tower to have a hexagonal base.

There is a collective family memory associated with this monument for on our first visit to Ireland, with two small boys in tow, we had a day exploring around this part of West Cork. The highlight had been collecting the key to Ballinacarriga Castle, which we were allowed to explore unhindered. As we started our journey home, the round tower leapt off the map – we had to go! It took ages to find it. We proceeded down small roads, in relentless drizzle, with tempers fraying. We arrived and the collective verdict (apart from me) was – is that it?

Nonetheless, it is a fine tower and what I hadn’t realised (thank goodness the family would have sighed) is that there is also a holy well on the site, surely once connected with the ecclesiastical settlement. This time I explored in a leisurely fashion.

pathway leading down below the bridge

Again the GPS kicked in and led me down to the bridge, just outside the north walls of the churchyard. A gap in the wall and little steps leading downwards to the stream looked hopeful, as did the stepping stones. Was this little jumble of stones all that remained of a stream-side well?  What an attractive little bridge from down here too.

Well of the Bard, Toberhanore, Ballyvelone West

Another holy well was in the vicinity in the nearby townland of Ballyvelone West.  According to Bruno O Donoghue in his remarkably useful book: Parish Histories, there were originally two wells in this townland: Tobar Aillise, Well of the Gangrene, and Tobar Sheanora, Well of the Bard. I rather hoped this was the Gangrene well, just because it evokes so many imaginings but having consulted the early OS maps, the well is marked as Toberhanore, close enough to Tobar Sheanora, so the bard wins.

Again the GPS led me down through rich green pasture to this slab of stone, the only one in the field. Was this the well covered over?

The Archaeological Inventory described the well as being in boggy ground – well that was over the sturdy wall, the terrain too wet and squidgy to negotiate and the undergrowth too lush.

According to O Donoghue, the well was in the Phairc a ‘Bhile, Field of the Sacred Tree, so more interesting musings. The Well of the Gangrene sadly seems to have disappeared.

There is another very special well in the area in the nearby townland of Ballyvelone East where there is a well dedicated to St Patrick, already recorded.

St Patrick’s Well, near Kinneigh

The next hunt took me to Kilcolman, just outside Desertserges. It was a beautiful verdant area with rivers, tree-lined roads and, over the wide-spanned bridge at Desertserges, a glimpse of an old railway station.

Old station, Desertserges

How different the landscape must have looked when the railways were still active.

O Donoghue listed two wells in this townland: Tobar a’Bhurcaigh, Well of the Light-Soiled Field, which was apparently good for warts; and Tobar a’Staighre, Well of the Stairs, which once had steps down to it but was now closed. Neither names matched the online Archaeological Inventory which had gone for much less evocative names: Kilcoman Wart Well and Kilcolman Well. The hardback version of the Inventory (West Cork Vol 1) however did refer to Kilcolman Wart Well as Toberastira, or Well of the Stairs, so mystery solved. Sort of.

Wart Well, Tobar a’Bhurcaigh, Kilcoman

A scenic drive down through woodland, I parked the car and set off to find the well, described as being made from stone. An ornate iron gate, now blocked, looked a good omen. I had to climb over a wall a bit further down  – the river gushing down the hill, the whole area awash with wild garlic, the smell pungent. Bluebells too just pushing up.

The well was meant to be at the side of the river but it was too dense to get anywhere near, my path blocked with fallen trees and thick undergrowth. Light-soiled field didn’t seem to match this description for it was in dense woodland. Had the woodland once been more patchy and shady, hence the name? I was going to return to ask at the house but pink balloons had appeared on the gate and I didn’t think they’d appreciate a mad woman looking for wells at the party. I did notice a pipe coming out of the wall into a stone basin, right by the roadside and wondered if perhaps the water was now piped down here for convenience, the original well long since disappeared?

Stair Well, Tobar a’staigre, Kilcolman

The second well in Kilcolman seemed to be in the middle of pasture and there were no signs of any stairs.  Again the GPS led me to a spot which did have a rather unassuming and unexciting dip in it – was this all that remained of Tobar a’Staigre ?

It was once probably connected with an ecclesiastical settlement the remains of which reputedly lay over the road but I wasn’t going to explore for the site was guarded by a very large and very free-range brown dog.

Frustrating results, a lot of guesswork but a good bit of exploration. if anyone has information about these wells I would be grateful to hear it.

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

Found, Lost & Unknown: Three Beara Wells

A trip out to the Beara Peninsula. It was misty and mizzling, low clouds moving over the rugged mountains, the scenery spectacular, the colours ever changing; incredibly imposing even in the damp weather. The search for wells had mixed results: one definite, one confusing and one not found.

Holy Well, Tobar Beannaithe, Roosk, near Adrigole

We turned off the main road just before Adrigole and went down tiny roads towards the coast and the townland of Trafrask. The landscape was wild – russet coloured moorland and great slabs of grey rock with not very good visibility but glimpses of the sea out to the south.

We parked the car, got the GPS sorted and hailed down a passing 4×4. The two men within knew of no well but were amused by our determination. We set forth, the ground extremely wet and treacherous underfoot. The GPS brought us to a large outcrop of rock which looked hopeful.

Intrepid well hunters

The well was described as a ballaun in the Archaeological Inventory but search as we did, we could find no sign of it. Disappointing for it sounded as though it was still venerated.

Blessed Well, Tobar Beannaithe, near Adrigole

We conceded defeat and went back up to the road and on to the next site, just a few hundred metres away. We passed a travelling grocery van and asked Nan, the customer, if she knew of a well.

She did and pointed to the bungalow down the road, the well was just behind that. Dan was the owner of that bungalow and yes, he knew of the well and gave directions. He warned us about electric fences and cattle but said it was only 100m away, a little cairn of stones piled above it for identification.

The cairn, a welcome indicator

The cairn was indeed piled on top of a slab of whale -grey rock and underneath, nestled into the rock face, was the well. It was delightful – also a ballaun, a round basin carefully carved out of the earthfast rock. It was full of coins, giving the water a coppery tinge and strong metallic smell.

The holy well, a ballaun stone

A cross was heavily inscribed in front of the ballaun and two fainter crosses, one on each side of the basin, could just be made out. Lying next to the well lay a rounded slab, used as the cover. It fitted snugly.

Something very pleasing about this little discovery, so remote in the landscape but still known and still visited. I suspect the well we first searched for looked very similar.

Not St Mochuda’s Well?

The next well on the list was called St Mochuda’s Well and I had seen a photograph of it. It seemed to be across the main road then up a small road into the mountains. Two standing stones were in the field opposite (CO116-013003). We persevered up the tiny road, the fog dense and billowing. The two standing stones loomed majestically out of the damp cloud. A fine pair: one tall and imposing the other slightly smaller with pointed top.

We attempted to get into the adjacent field to find the well but were thwarted by a seriously strong fence and dense furze. We decided to approach from another direction and as we walked up the road I spotted what I thought was the well. It was definitely the well from the photo I’d seen but it was not where it should have been on the map, nor did it match the description in the Archaeological Inventory!

Wayside well

It certainly looked like a holy well though, a little tin cup tucked into the wall for passing pilgrims. The well was sturdily built, a lintel resting on top of stone walls. There was an interior basin with a ledge made from stone slab. The water fresh and abundant, a bit clogged with greenery but clear.

At the time I thought I had found the right well but once home and a little more research undertaken, I don’t think this is St Mochuda’s Well and we should have attempted to get into the original field via a different route. Does anyone know anything about this well? Is it just a drinking well? Is it a different holy well?

Toberatemple, Well of the Church, is also in the vicinity in the townland of Kilcaskan. Another interesting ballaun stone now almost hidden from sight, the surrounding area churned up by cattle.

Toberatemple, Well of the Church, Kilcaskan

The day was completed with a trip to Derreentaggart Stone Circle and its attendant clootie tree; the extraordinary raised ringfort at Teernahillane, and a sighting of a rather fine grotto.

Plus an ice cream in Castletownbere.

Many thanks to Nan, and Dan for their information and help.
The location of these wells can be found in the Gazetteer.

Island Wells 1: Whiddy Island

There are seven inhabited islands off the coast of Cork: Cape Clear Island, Sherkin Island, Heir Island, Long Island, Whiddy Island, Bere Island and Dursey Island. And of course they all have a well or two. Some island hopping required.

The rain and wind having ceased slightly, I thought it time I ventured over to Whiddy Island, which I had believed had two holy wells.

Whiddy looking particularly ethereal on a beautiful day

I wasn’t particularly hopeful that there would be anything remaining of either. The Schools’ Folklore Collection gives a tiny but valuable bit of information:

The holy Wells of Whiddy

There are two holy wells in Whiddy, one in the easternside in the townland of  Rinn a Bainne and the other in the western side in the townland of Close. The western one is in the top of a hill in a field called Barr na Cnucán.

Long ago people came to the well to pay rounds. One day there was a man digging trenches around the well and he got a sore hand which nearly killed him. (0284:244)

Whiddy Island, Oileán Faoide, is a fifteen minute ferry trip from Bantry. Embarkation is at a temporary pier for much work is going on in the harbour. There are dreams of marinas and cruise ships.

View of Whiddy from the temporary pier – taken on a very still day

Today the only passengers sitting outside seemed to be me and Rex the dog, his owner huddled in the cockpit with Tim the ferryman. Rex the dog was delighted with a bit of attention as we set out into Bantry Bay, spectacular views behind of the colourful town huddled under the hills, and of Bantry House set up high overlooking the Bay.

And in front Whiddy with its smattering of white houses and rolling green hills and the beautifully positioned Bank House, the only pub on the island.

The pier at Whiddy and Bank House, the local hostelry

As we disembarked, I asked Tim if he knew anything about the wells. The other passenger knew something about the one at the easterly end of the island and told me that it was 500m below the castle, just head straight down until I reached the shoreline. I was pleased to hear that for this well is not mentioned in the Archaeological Inventory. I showed Tim where I thought the other well was on my map and he exclaimed that it was was right next to his house and he knew exactly where it was for he had fallen into it a few weeks before! It had since been covered in by the landowner but he would be happy to show me where it was as he was going in that direction, for he was also the postman and needed to go onto his rounds.

Kilmore Holy Well

Cars are interesting on islands for no NCT is required. We gave Rex and his owner a jump start in their car and then off we bounced. Tim is a wonderful guide and is exceptionally knowledgeable about all things Whiddy, though there seems to be little information about the first well in Kilmore (or possibly Close) townland. We stopped at the side of the road near a very boggy field – he pointed to some furze up on a ridge and said it was near there.

The well is where the jumble of stones now is

He was off to see to some cows but would be back shortly. I skidded down the bank and up again and waded through the bogginess. Nothing to be seen of this well now, just a jumble of slates where it was recently filled in. It is located 500m north from Kilmore church (CO118-087) – now ruined and part of an ancient ecclesiastical settlement which may date from the 6th century. There are also remarkable views out towards the Beara.

One possible meaning behind the name Whiddy may be Vod Iy or Holy Island and there seem to have been several monastic settlements on the island over the years.

Was the well once connected with this ecclesiastical enclosure just over the hill?

Reenavanny Holy Well

Tim then kindly drove me off towards the other end of the island.

Island home

He dropped me off near a muddy boreen with instructions to follow the shoreline until I could see the castle, then head up to it and then follow the original instructions ie aim straight down towards the sea. There was no path and the tide was high but it was incredibly still and beautiful in the soft mizzle. Mussel beds, dotted islands, fishing boats and two swans.

I could see the castle, actually the stump of a tower house, on a drumlin and started the clamber inwards and upwards watched by some curious cattle and later on a startled hare. There had been a lot of rain and everywhere was flooded. The castle (CO105-133) dates from the 1500s and was built by the famous Donal Cam O Sullivan. It was bombarded during the Cromwellian War and was further hit by storms in the early 20th century. Next to it are the equally gaunt remains of a possible ammunition store dating from the First World War when Whiddy was used as a naval base for the US Navy (all that remains are the huge concrete floors of the seaplane hangars).

The remains of a 16C tower house and a possible ammunition store from WW1

I ventured downwards towards the shore, hunting here and there for the remains of the well. Tim thought there had once been a nunnery at this end of the island and that the well might have connected with it for the townland is called Reenavanny – Rinn an Mhanaigh: headland of the young women. There were several dips and hollows that looked well-like but nothing definite.

Possible well site?

Tim remembered having talked to older members of the community who described people visiting the well for healing, and that offerings were left in the bushes surrounding it, including crutches.

This well is not marked on the Archaeological Inventory and is in danger of disappearing altogether. Unfortunately I then ran out of time and realised I only had half and hour to rush back to catch the ferry. I will have to return.

A swift journey back along the shore, the tide even higher – a quick glimpse at the cement bases of the old aircraft hangars and a very quick browse around the derelict but so picturesque National School – plans for renovation afoot.

Whiddys Island National School

Whiddy is a remarkable place, now home to only 26 people, but it has so much to offer and is so full of interest. The wells may be less than impressive but a trip over is highly recommended. You’ll get a warm welcome!

The locals

Ferry and other details re Whiddy Island.
Special thanks to Tim O Leary for pointing me in the right direction and for his kind help and information.
The locations of these wells can be found in the Gazetteer. Permission should be sought before trampling over the fields.

A Motley Quintet

The last five wells from our recent expedition to North Cork are all unloved, neglected or forgotten, a motley crew indeed yet one or two exciting discoveries were made, as usual.

Mitchelstown Holy Well

Confusingly this little well is not in Mitchelstown itself but in a small townland of the same name a few miles out of the town, a lovely drive through beautiful rolling countryside, lush green fields and seemingly content cattle. We pulled in near a farm and looked around. A farmer was doing something in his yard and I inquired of the well. He was highly amused, instructions were given but he warned that there was not much to see. I asked him if he knew anything about the well. No, but he did have one story: a diggerman had gone into the field. He had been warned about the presence of the well but had ignored all heedings and driven right over it. His digger immediately broke down!

We followed his instructions heading for the lone palm (fir tree) in a billowy field and searched hither and thither.

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The rather inconspicuous well

There were rabbits, the gentle sounds of a tractor chuntering in the distance and finally the well was spotted– now enclosed in a circular concrete pipe, flush with the ground. It looked rather unprepossessing and forgotten but looks can be deceptive, it was obviously still potent!

The area had a very pleasant air, rather magical with the green fields, fir trees and interesting humps and bumps in the ground – it seems there was an old graveyard nearby (CO010-047). The whole area was once part of the Mitcheltown Castle Demesne, seat of the Earls of Kingston. The castle itself was colossal, the largest neo-Gothic building in Ireland, burned down by the IRA in 1922, the stones later used in some parts of Mount Melleray Abbey in Waterford. Incredibly nothing remains of it today,

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Humps & bumps, site of an old graveyard

Priest’s Well, Gortroe

img_3204Next stop Gortroe, a well apparently right on the road side distinguishable as a mound. Yes, a large, ivy and fern strewn hump looked promising. The well kit was unpacked and after a bit of lopping it was clear that the well was stone-built, semi-circular with a flat lintel on top.

The water, once revealed, was abundant, an old light bulb floating within. A large tree grew out from behind it.

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The well revealed

Two dogs came to inspect proceedings, one grey and wolf-like, hobbled by being attached to a tyre. We asked at the house and the lady, who had lived there for 50 years, knew of the well but said no one had visited in her memory. The 6 inch historical OS map (6inch- 1829-41) has the well named as Priest’s Well.

There was once a church and graveyard (CO010-042001)in the adjacent field, 130m to the NE but little remains. It was known as Cill Ruadh – it’s not too huge a leap of the imagination to surmise that the well might be dedicated to the same saint – St Ruadh/Ruadhan? His feast day is the 15th April and there are two wells dedicated to him near Kinsale.

St Cranat’s Holy Well, Garranachole

This well has an interesting history but was impossible to find. St Cranat or Crannat or Cranit or Craebhnat or Crawnat was renown for her beauty. She attracted the admiration of many suitors including a Prince of Munster who fell desperately in love with her. Cranat was uninterested, concerned only with leading a holy and pious life. The prince pined and his family decided to take the girl by force. When the kidnapping party arrived Cranat in desperation marred her beauty by plucking out one of her own eyes. She threw it on the ground and up sprung an ash tree. The prince was broken-hearted and returned home and Cranat was left to her piety. The tree flourished and was known as Crannahulla or Crann a’Shúile, Tree of the Eye. The tree was considered to be incombustible. A fragment of it was also considered to give protection from drowning and pilgrims literally hacked pieces of it until by the 1860s there was not much remaining. When Colonel Grove White visited Killuragh in 1905 he noted that another tree had sprung up, maybe an offshoot. Sadly I didn’t have time to visit the site but the tree is described as being fallen in the Archaeological Inventory (CO026-105001). I will have to return.

A well  also sprang up near the tree (CO026-105002) dedicated to St Cranat of which nothing remains today. Like many wells in North Cork it took umbrage at disrespectful behaviour and moved from its original position:

Nearby is a Holy Well dedicated to St. Cranat … where the landowner, being fed up with the pilgrims, built a wall surrounding it. On completion of the wall, Cranait herself gathered up the well in her apron and moved it to its present site. Rounds were paid here on March 9th. Another aspect of her cult relates to Crann na hUlla. Legend has it that she was the beautiful sister if SS Nicholas (Monanimy) and Branat (Doonawanly), who aroused the passions of an unprincipled Prince. In order to quell his fire, she plucked out her eye and cast it from her. Where it landed, a tree grew, known as “Crann na hUlla” (The Tree of the Eye). A twig from this tree was reputed to be a charm against shipwreck, and, as such, was stripped during the great emigrations of the 19th century. As can be imagined, it no longer stands. Grove White, Vol 2

The sleight was caused by the then owner of the land building a wall around the well, annoyed by so many people traipsing over his land. The well, aided by the saint herself, moved 900m NNW and sprung up in Garranachole. We searched high and low for this well, along the banks at the side of the road, stomping through a very muddy field, cutting back brambles in the hedge but had no definite sighting.

We inquired at the nearby house and the woman could remember visiting as a child but said no one had been for many years now – the site was too overgrown to get to. She pointed to the field behind and said that people would gather there for sports and recreation.

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This is born out by a description in Grove White given to him by an elderly man who:

… remembers to have seen hundreds of people paying rounds on 9th March between 6am and 9pm; now only very few go there. They came for all kinds of ailments. They drank at the three corners of the well and also bathed their faces. In the time of his father, people came on 8th March, and stayed until 10th March, remaining all night.’  Grove White, Vol 2.

No sign of any stone walls but I think this old hawthorn may mark the spot.

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The 9th March is St Cranat’s Feast Day. Astonishing how quickly a potent place can fall out of memory.

St Nicholas Holy Well, Monanimy

Things are never straight forward though and another version of the story has the insulted well from Killuragh moving one mile south east to Monanimy.

There is a tradition that the Well of St. Nicholas was situated near Killura House, but a poor man walking the road visited the house at the time of churning. As was custom, he gave the handle three turns to add his luck but the lady of the house did not reciprocate his kindness. He was angered and announced that he would give them a walk for their water, he took a capful of water from the Well, which then dried up. He carried the cap to Monanimy and setting it down on the ground, the present well sprang up.

Interestingly this St Nicholas is meant to be the brother of St Cranit and his well seems to have been nearly as forgotten as her well. Both accounts also explain that a person physically carried water to the new well spot.

The GPS was called into action and we crossed a green field, passing a World War 2 lookout post.

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World War 2 lookout post on top of hill

Grove White recorded in 1905:

There is a spring well prettily situated underneath a rock and shadowed by a large tree, which is called St Nicholas’s Well.

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The Archaeological Inventory describes the site as being very overgrown, situated at the base of a rocky outcrop.  We found the outcrop complete with a jumble of trees and bushes overhead. 

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Rocky outcrop near well

The well lay nearby, a large pool of water full of green weeds, a scattering of rocks around it.

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We searched for evidence of pilgrims’ crosses and thought we might have found one but this may be wishful thinking. The only bottles in evidence looked like rubbish rather than being used to collect holy water.

There’s an odd little story in the School’s Folklore Collection:

There is a well over on Castle Hill in the parish of Killavullen. It is known as St Nicholas’s Well. There is a story connected with it. Once there was an old woman living in Killuvullen village  and she had a servant working for her.  Every evening the servant used to go over to the well to get water for the morning. One night she did not come home until twelve o clock and she had to get water before she would go to bed. She got two buckets and went to the well. When she was coming home she saw a big boot full of gold. She was afraid to go near the boot and she ran home as fast as she could to tell her mistress. When she got home her mistress was in bed asleep and she woke her up. So she dressed quickly and went over to where the girl had seen the boot of gold but they could not find it. The mistress thought the girl was only joking her and sacked her. (0372:117)

Seems a little harsh!  Another neglected and forgotten site, hiding in plain sight.

Kilcanway Holy Well

I have been able to find out virtually nothing about this rather unusual well. It’s to be found just off the roadside, a handing parking spot available.

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Kilcanway holy well

The well is large and full of water, albeit scummy. A stone wall encloses the well to the south and a small opening allows the water to spout through. The area is much overgrown.

Behind the well there seems to be a pathway meandering through the trees and to the north west is located a cilleen, or children’s burial ground. That’s it!

Any feed back on these wells would be much appreciated.

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

St Dominic’s Holy Well, Glanworth

St Dominic’s Well, Tubbernacruinahur, Glanworth

This well was visited at the very end of an intense day of exploration. The light was fading and weariness setting in but there was just time for one more well – one I really wanted to visit for I had seen an enticing photograph and hoped against hope that the well and its rather wonderful and eccentric resting place for pilgrims might still be in situ. Colonel Grove Wright collected information from various sources and wrote vividly about the site and included a photograph:

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Photo: Grove White, 1906, with Canon JF Lynch by the well

DOMINICK’S HOLY WELL.
Smith (pub. 1750) states: Near Glanworth Abbey, on the verge of the Funcheon river, is a fine spring, bubbling out of the limestone rock, of limpid water, held in great esteem as a holy well by the superstitious Irish; it is dedicated to St. Dominick, and visited on his festival. Over the well is a large old tree, on the boughs of which an infinite number of rags of all colours are tied, as memorials of their devotion to this water, which, they affirm, has performed several miraculous cures (i. 317). Windele, writing in 1849, gives this account of the Holy Well: There is a famous holy well at Glanworth, the water of which has this virtue, that anyone drinking will ever after have a longing desire to return to Glanworth. Somewhat of a similar virtue has the moat of Kilfinnan. Anyone once standing on it will wish to return to Kilfinnan again. I stood on it, but my yearnings do not justify this. (Journal for 1897, p. 379.) The Field Book of 1840 gives:Tubbernacruinahur Holy Well, ‘St. Dominick’s Well,’ or perhaps ‘the well of the priest,’ is situated in the south part of the townland of Boherash (about one chain west of the river Funcheon). There were patrons held in it formerly, but it is now done away with. (Ord. Sur. Off., Dub.) Colonel Grove White: Historical & Topographical Notes, Vol I

I left my travelling companions looking at the nearby friary and pondered on how to get to the well which I knew was down by the river, a good few fields below the car park. The first sign that I was on the right track was an elaborate stile – always a good indicator that something interesting lies beyond.

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Interesting stile, always a hopeful sign

A bit of over-field-under-barbed-wire-fence-tramping is required to skirt around a steep, brambly ridge in order to get down to river level below. The going then gets tough – very boggy and treacherous underfoot for this is part of the floodplain of the River Funcheon. The river is wide and elegant at this point: little natural weirs and small islets, flanked by green pastures.

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River Funcheon

At first I could see nothing, the whole area an entanglement of briars, bracken and bog grass, but then I spotted a little hummock glinting with what looked like white quartz. I slashed at the undergrowth but it was very hard to get close due to the wetness and difficult to make out exactly what I was looking at but the shape looked similar to the one in the old photograph. I thought I could just discern a flat plinth underneath the structure.

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Limestone hump: the well

It seems as though the spring bubbles out from underneath the well structure – I could see a small stream leading from it out towards the river. No sign of the clootie tree though.

I was, however, thrilled to see that the pilgrims’ tower remained, now seriously overgrown and consumed with greenery like Sleeping Beauty’s palace, with just hints of its former splendour.

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Remains of tower, a shelter for pilgrims

Frustratingly, I couldn’t get close but I suspect underneath all those briars it’s in fairly good condition. It was built by a local eccentric named Jack Sheahan. Mr James Byrne JP visited in 1908 and described the scene to Colonel Grove White:

…  I was at Glanworth yesterday (15 April, 1908) and went to see the place. One of the structures is in the form of a tower; its height is about 18 or 20 feet, square in form and tapering to a point. Several crosses are built into the work, and at one time it was surmounted by an iron cross. There is an arched chamber at the base. It was erected about 70 or 80 years ago by a labourer named Sheahan. I knew him. On Sundays he used to decorate his head with a wicker cap made into the form of a tiara. The idea of building the tower was to form a chamber into which the devotees coming to the well could retire in case of bad weather. There were stone seats in it. Still closer to the Holy Well is another smaller structure, on which is fixed a little wooden case containing statues. The well was surrounded lately by a wooden paling, but I noticed some of it was thrown down as if by cattle. Grove White Vol 1

I love the sound of that wicker tiara!

Whilst doing research I came across another very beautiful old postcard which clearly shows what an impressive site it was in its heyday. This photo dates from 1906, before the cattle did their work!

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Photo: by J Valentine, 1906. Source: The Historical Picture Archive

The tower, described here as a hermitage, is magnificent with its tiered roof, reminiscent of the Tower of Babel, the little seats just glimpsed inside. The shape of the well, whitewashed and sturdy, can easily be seen – still neatly fenced. Next to the tower is another smaller building, presumably the one that contained the statues. The two women and their two children are smartly dressed and in the background the impressive ruins of the friary can clearly be seen. I was pleased to discover that there are intentions to restore this site and found a short description of a fund raising event reported in the The Avondhu local paper, published in July last year.

….All proceeds (of the fund raising) will be given to the local clergy to restore St Dominic’s Well in Glanworth. The well has not functioned for 100 years, and legend has it that trout from the well hold curative powers.

Not much seems to have happened yet and I hope it’s not left too late for this site surely deserves to be restored.

Although the well seems to have been dedicated to St Dominic and was visited on his feast day, 8th August and on September 15th, it is also known as Cronee’s Well – Cronee being described variously as a local virgin or a possible brother of St Fanahan. A report from the Schools’ Folklore Collection has more interesting information, especially concerning how to use the water:

Near the ruins of Roches Castle in the village is a blessed well known as Cronee which gets its name from the saint who traditions says was the brother of St Fanahan . Patrons used to be held here in days gone by on August the 15th, the Rosary being said at certain points and cures were attributed to the intercession of the saint. From the well runs a small stream from which people with facial disfigurements, sore eyes etc used to bathe and get some relief.

This water gives great relief to sick people but there is a tradition about its use. The person bringing it must say some rounds at the well then go direct to the bed of the sick persons who must have the first sip – otherwise there would be no cure.

Should the carrier of the water stand to talk to those he meets the power of the cure would leave the water.

Alongside the well there used to be a bush upon which pieces of ribbons, sticks etc were put in thanksgiving for favours received.

A few paces from the blessed well is what is called Jack Sheahan’s Castle built by an eccentric as a shelter for pilgrims at the well. Local tradition has it that if the water of the well were boiled it would turn into blood. (0373:120/121)

It seems that three rounds had to be made to the well, the eyes bathed in water, the water drunk and a rag left on the clootie tree when the rounds were completed. I didn’t drink of the water but I certainly have a longing to return to Glanworth, it would be rude not to for not only is this a fascinating and quite magical site but points of interest in the immediate area include Roches Castle (CO027-042001), wonderfully silhouetted in the nearby fields, and the Dominican Friary (CO027-040) also within view.

And just out of town is the impressive Labbacallee wedge tomb (CO027-086). The restoration of St Dominic’s Well would surely be yet another jewel in Glanworth’s already rather glamorous crown, or should that be tiara.

Labbacalee Wedge Tomb

Labbacallee wedge tomb; photo by Finola Finlay

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Many thanks to Viola da Marjola for sending in these photographs, taken approximately six years ago – a huge change.

Vox Hiberionacum also has some further thoughts on the possible meaning of the well:

… cruinniú/cruinnithe/ ‘gathering of people, meeting, assembly. Hence, Tubbernacruinahur could be something like ‘Well of the Gathering’. This might also go a way towards explaining ‘Cronee’ i.e. a garbled rendition of ‘cruinniú’,

Great to have feedback, always much appreciated.

The location of this well can be found in the Gazetteer.