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:
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.
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.
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.
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.
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!
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.