Two remote wells NE of Macroom

Two rather obscure wells on the agenda today, slightly north east of Macroom.

Kill Holy Well & Bullaun

The first stop was in a remote area, all green pasture, tiny roads and quite a lot of flooding after some seriously wet days.

I was looking for a well and a bullaun in the townland of Kill, meaning church. The well seemed to be in a field but how to get to it posed a few problems as there were fences, walls and streams abounding. I asked at the house but there was no one at home, then I found a gate. I scrambled over, GPS on, and followed it across the field to a dense brambly hedge and steep damp ditch.

An undignified scramble through and a pleasing sight met my eye on the other side- a small circular area in a field, fenced off with now fallen wires – always an encouraging sign.

First sighting of the well

On coming closer it was plain to see that the fencing hadn’t stopped the cattle from causing significant damage to what was indeed the well. The core remained intact,  a rough wellhouse of stones built into the low banks of the field. A jumble of other stones, some large, made it difficult to work out what had been what but the substantial stone to the left is considered to be the original capstone or lintel, now fallen.

The well remains though the area has been much trampled by cattle

The area was very damp and water trickled out from within, seeping off into the pasture. I could find no sign of the bullaun stone which was only meant to be about 60 metres from the well. I did wonder if it was the large stone in the ditch, photographed above though I saw no sign of a basin. The well, and bullaun, are only marked on the Cassini 6 inch map (1940s), and it is given no name. 

St James Well & the Cloch Beannach

Another drive along another small and remote road to the townland of Oughtihery. Here was the once much visited well dedicated to St James. When the entry in Archaeological Inventory was last revised in 2009 it was described as follows: Wet area overgrown with trees and bushes; some moss-covered stones visible through overgrowth. The situation remains much the same today. There is a small copse, the area extremely wet and uneven underfoot and the whole site obscured by the rampant undergrowth. I too found a heap of mossy stones but I suspect they were more likely to be field clearance than holy well.

The GPS however led me into the field just beyond the copse, straight up to a standing stone, which oddly is not marked on any maps. The stone seemed to be in a small hollow, the area around it very wet.

Standing stone & standing water – the well?

On consulting the map on the archaeology.ie  website, the well is also placed where the stone now is and not in the copse. A thought occurred – could this stone been put here fairly recently to mark the well? The National Monuments Record also mentions that the: Farm trackway once connected well with road to E and that seems still to be the case. 

Farm trackway with standing stone to the left – was this where the well once was?

RR Brash writing in 1879, described the well as having an: insignificant appearance, and that it was dedicated to no saint. He also noted also that: certain rounds and washings at the well, were deemed as specific for rheumatic pains and other ailments.

A Fulacht fiadh is recorded further north in the field and even further north are the remains of a possible ecclesiastical enclosure including ogham stones, souterrain and burial ground which we didn’t have time to visit. The well was once considered to hold a cure for rheumatic pains and rounds were paid here, presumably on St James’ Feast Day, July 25th.

There is one other artefact connected with the well which I was more fortunate in finding. It had once stood next to the well and had been moved sometime before the 1850s and placed in a wall in the nearby road. It had fallen out of the wall by 1871 and now lies rather despondent and neglected at the edge of the road.

An Cloch Beannach

It is the  Cloch Beannach, the Stone of Blessing or Benediction (CO060-038) and a remarkable thing it is too. A bit of moss and ivy clearing was required before I could see the four bullauns, or hollows, that this large stone contains. There are two large hollows on edge to the east, and two smaller hollows at the opposite edge. The biggest hollow has been broken at some point and now contains a large smooth pebble reminiscent of cursing or blessing stones.

The stone was visited as part of the rounds paid at St James Well. Pilgrims were expected to knees in the two smaller hollows and place a small offering in one of the large hollows. Quite difficult to achieve, I suspect. The water that collected within the hollows was also considered good for rheumatic pains. Here’s Brash again:

Cloch-Beannachadh i.e. the Stone of Blessing or Benediction….lay formerly near a holy well … the devotee placed his or her knees in the smaller hollows, and repeating a certain number of prayers, dropped an offering of some minute article into the larger; this operation, and certain rounds and washings at the well, were deemed a specific for rheumatic pains and other ailments

A little further on along the lane a small 5 stone circle (CO060-042) sits sedately in a field. In fact the whole area boasts all sorts of interesting archaeology, most of which retains their secrets.

We completed our day with a visit to nearby St Olan’s Well, one of my favourites.

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

Explorations around Killeagh

East Cork was on the agenda for a couple of days, an area of much interest historically including a few wells still unvisited. Fuelled by a delicious lunch at the Bitesize Café in Midleton we made our way down to Bailic Park to see the incredibly evocative sculpture, Kindred Spirits. This beautiful and striking piece was made by Cork sculptor Alex Pentek and consists of nine steel feathers in a bowl shape. It remembers the act of enormous generosity by the Choctaw people of Oklahoma, who, on hearing of the awful plight of so many Irish people during the Famine in 1847, collected $170 to send to the starving, the equivalent of  thousands of dollars in today’s money. The memorial was unveiled in June 2017 and people from the Choctaw nation were in attendance.

Kindred Spirits

We rendezvoused with our friends Robert and Finola, of Roaringwater Journal fame, in Castlemartyr. First a quick diversion south to see the impressive and majestic ruins of Ightermurray fortified house.  Built in 1642 by Edward Supple, the castle was captured and burnt soon after its completion. Today it stands in splendid isolation in the middle of pasture, an enigmatic ruin, still in impressive condition.

Ightermurry fortified house

On to the Glenbower Woods next on the edge of Killeagh village – a sharp left behind the Old Thatch pub is needed, no you’re not going into the carpark!

Fainin’s Well

The picturesque and popular Glenbower Woods  host all sorts of interesting things and were landscaped during the 19th century by Sir Arthur de Cappell Brooke who built the present road and bridges through the wood in the 1830s. Now the woods are owned and managed by Coillte and are popular with walkers, dogs, families and well hunters. Fainin’s Well lies in the middle of the woods. A path has recently been cleared to make access easier but we visited not so long after Storm Ophelia and the signs of her devastation were still much in evidence. After passing the metal bridge (CO066-048) complete with castellated columns, signs for the well started to appear high up in the trees. It’s a fair walk and we had to had to climb over, duck under and skirt round many fallen trees, going deeper into the woodland

The well is in a small clearing on a high point and is in fact a bullaun stone, a rather an impressive one with a neat, smooth, circular scoop carved out of the freestanding stone.

Fainin Well, a bullaun stone

The water within, like that of many bullauns, is said to be excellent for the curing of warts – in fact the name of the well, Fainin’s Well, means Wart Well, a corruption of faithne, Irish for wart. Nearby is another interesting stone, once used as a Mass Rock. Of special interest is the ledge for kneeling and the socket that once held a cross.

Mass Rock in the foreground with ledge for kneeling and socket for cross

One small rag fluttering in the laurel bush showed that the well was still venerated.

This felt a remote, peaceful and enclosed spot even though you could hear voices of other visitors below. We were lucky enough to spot a red squirrel and hear some jays too.

Aghadoe

The whole area is area fascinating for a little way off once stood Aghadoe  Castle which was later replaced by Aghadoe House (CO066-038003). This was owned by the de Cappell/Supple family like Ightermurray Castle and Glenbower Woods. It’s a long walk down a straight track (ask at the bungalow for permission) until you reach the large but desolate remains of a substantial, ruined farmhouse, all that’s left of Aghadoe House.

This house dates from the 18th century but but nearby is another interesting ruin from the earlier period – a circular dovecot (CO066-038004), minus its roof, with a tree growing inside but still with the nesting boxes intact.

Interior of dovecot. Photo by Peter Clarke

What is even more interesting though is the sile na gig, recently placed back on the dovecot. I say back on for she’s had a chequered history. She probably came from the original castle built by the de Supple/Capple family, was put onto the dovecot at some point, later taken down and left by a gate post (still marked as such in the Archaeological Inventory) and is now back up on the dovecot.

Sile na gig

She is a beauty and it’s rare to find one still in the wild! She’s worth a closer look and has a large triangular shaped face, the features clearly defined and a fairly benign expression. Her ribs are clearly visible and she has tiny pendulous breasts. As with most siles, she is displaying her genital area, one hand reaching under a leg to do so. Her left foot and part of her right foot have been broken off. Her right hand is raised holding something that might be a dagger and she has odd nodules on her wrists. More can be found out about these enigmatic carvings on this useful website.

After all this wealth, the two other wells visited were not quite so enthralling but still interesting.

Cornaveigh Holy Well

This well lies at the side of the road, unfortunately walled off from access but I was given permission to leap over the wall and inspect it. It was much nicer than I was expecting. A tall tree announced its presence, the well camouflaged and snug against the bank, a mossy concrete block placed on top of the lintel.

Cornaveigh Holy Well

A little tidying up and the well was found to be in surprisingly good condition – stone built, curved walls with a large slab on top. Inside the water was fresh and abundant.

I can out nothing about this well except the person I spoke to said it had once been blessed by a priest and the water was good. Two fulachta fia are nearby.

St Bridget’s Well, Ballyrobert

I had been assured that this well was still venerated but each time we stopped to make inquiries, the reports were conflicting though everyone agreed that it would be hard to find and there would be nothing to see when we got there. Undaunted we made the long journey up the boreen to the farm and were kindly assisted by the son of the house who was in the middle of sorting out the cows. He directed us off down into the pasture, warning that it was very wet. And it was – several weeks of heavy rain had made everywhere saturated and muddy. However, the sun was shining and it was a pleasant trudge through the very green fields, the river Bride at our side.

River Bride

It sounds as though this well had once been walled and gated but there was nothing much to be seen apart from a large damp area with a jumble of stones.

A fulacht fiadh is meant to be nearby but everywhere was so wet it was hard to distinguish any definite features. According to the old OS maps, the well was dedicated to St Bridget and this was borne out by one of the people we talked to who said that it was once visited every February. Another person said it was dedicated to the BVM and visited on the 15th August. Maybe both are true but concrete information seems sparse, even in the Schools’ Folklore Collection.

The remains of Ballyrobert Castle (CO045-020) are also on the land, a large chunk having fallen down in recent storms. The huge holm oak next to it is protected.

Ballyrobert Castle & holm oak

If anyone has any information about any of these wells I’d be delighted to hear it.
The location of these wells can be found in the Gazetteer.

Tobereenkilgrania

Most holy wells remaining on the list for discovery now look to be in obscure situations and today’s well was no exception. A perusal of the map showed it to be on the edge of forestry with nothing close to it, just a few ancient tracks wending through the woods. We set off and stopped at a cluster of buildings near where the most promising route began. Eileen answered the door and was most welcoming. She told us her husband was the one to ask as he had lived here all his life. She took us over to the family business next door. The family business is Leahy’s Open Farm  and what followed next was such a privilege. The farm was closed for the day and although he was busy, Eddie sat down with us and told us all he knew about the well, including many first hand experiences. He then gave us a personal tour of the incredible farm: designed with families and children in mind it covers a large site, has many animals and masses of interesting activities from the cuddly meeting the animals to the more invigorating learning to drive go-carts and work mini diggers. What I really loved was being shown around the family’s original homestead – a small cottage where Eddie was born and raised, and where he had spent many years of his married life. This has been furnished in traditional style, the only original piece of furniture being the crib, and although to modern eyes amenities were basic (no running water or electricity) it oozed comfort and charm

Robert & Eddie in the old homestead

Almost reluctantly we left his company and proceeded into the woodland in search of the well. The forestry is managed and worked and has a wide straight track running up through it. It is lovely walk in itself as you wander among tall mossy conifers, at one point passing a lake. At the Y junction, signs appear directing you to the well.

Almost without realising, the track had been climbing higher and higher as we ascended Knockakeo – hill of the fog.  Incidentally, this was one of the places originally considered for Cork airport, abandoned after it was considered to be too foggy. A certain irony in that if you have ever used Cork airport!  Emerging from the forestry a huge vista opened up, the Galtee Mountains in the distance. 

The view from the well

Finally there was the well, usually referred to as just Tobairin, the little well, but on the old OS map it’s called Tobereenkilgrania – the little well of the church of grace. It is a delight: clochán-shaped minus a corbelled roof, a hefty lintel and two smaller stones forming a tight triangular entrance. The stones that are visible have been whitewashed but the rest is covered in moss and grass giving it a very pleasing appearance.

Tobereenkilgrania

A slender wooden cross placed over the top is adorned with rosaries. A row of little white cups are lined up on the lintel and the water inside is fresh, clear and abundant. The water is of course never meant to go dry and always remain cold. Today, oddly, it felt almost warm. The water holds a cure and Eddie knew of an example of its potency. A friend of his father had been walking the land and came across the well. The water was green and scummy and he, inspite of suffering from a bad back, jumped over the wall; an impressive feat in itself. He cleared out the weed with his hands, then carried on his way. The next day he realised that his backache had gone and traced it back to the water at the well. What was most remarkable was that the man was not a believer but he changed his mind after that.

There is a small overflow area just in front of the well, where afflicted limbs would be washed. There is also a bullaun stone tucked in front of the well and Eddie explained that this is where pilgrims once washed their feet and hands. 

Bullaun stone

The well is dedicated to Our Lady but Eddie had a story connecting it with St Colmcille. Apparently the saint landed on a tree and bent it and then caused the well to spring up where he set down his feet. Was he flying? The tree remained bent for the rest of its life – was this the beetley tree visible behind the well?

The well is obviously still revered, and mass cards, statues and rosaries are tucked into the grass and between the stones. Eddie said it was traditional to leave coins and we all did, Robert throwing is over his left shoulder as is customary! A small cross is etched into a red sandstone stone on top of the well and a tiny statue of the BVM watches over the site from a mossy post.

There is a slightly sinister tale in the Schools’ Folklore Collection concerning this well:

In this district there is a holy well known as the Tobairin. It is perched high on the side of the Cnoc an Ceiog and there is an unwritten law that no one should cut the furze or leaf on this hillside immediately surrounding it. There is the tale of a man who, after cutting the furze just behind the well, returned home and on retiring to bed found he had lost the use of his limbs, and never rose again. This well is dedicated to the Blessed Virgin and on the Feast of the Assumption many people come to pray at it, and in the evening they recite the Rosary aloud. Some people pay several visit to the well during the month of August and it is believed that great benefit is achieved from drinking the water. (138/39:0380)

The undergrowth looked suitably rampant on our visit. The traditional pattern day is the 15th August, the Feast of the Assumption, when crowds once come from far and wide. After the solemnity of the rounds and prayers, a more partying atmosphere broke out with games and dancing. Prayers are still held here on the 15th August, and I assume the well is also visited on St Colmcille’s Feast Day, June 9th.

Photo by Peter Clarke

A morning well spent!

The location of this well can be found in the Gazetteer.
Sincere thanks to Eileen and Eddie Leahy.

La Fhéile Bride

Celebrations on several accounts: it’s been two years to the day since I embarked on this ambitious, slightly mad but riveting project to visit every holy well in County Cork; this is my 100th blog and it’s St Bridget’s Day!

There are potentially at least 356 holy wells in County Cork and I am now 240 wells in!  It seems appropriate with the day that’s in it to post a few of the wells dedicated to St Bridget that I have already visited. A rich assortment indeed. It would be traditional to visit these wells today, pay the rounds and take some water home to sprinkle on the house/children /animals to ensure good health for the coming year.

St Bridget is of course one of the patron saints of Ireland, second only to St Patrick. Her base is Kildare where there is a handsome cathedral and a very attractive well dedicated to her. This is the Christian Bridget; there may well have been a much earlier goddess of the same name for her feast day coincides with the great Celtic Celebration of Imbolc: the heralding in in of the light and the first day of Spring.

Today the sun is shining, the super Moon lit up the skies last night and the daffodils and snowdrops are flourishing. I even had a go at making a Bridget Cross  – seriously difficult.

The Red Well Tobar Dearg

Having  come down off Mushera Mór of course the sun came out and fuelled by a large bowl of soup we felt able to explore another well. What an unexpected delight this was.

The Red Well, Tobar Dearg

Rather intriguingly, it sounded as though the Red Well, Tobar Dearg, was on two sides of the road:

There is a holy well in this locality ‘An Tobar Dearg’. It is situated in the townland of Derryroe about two miles from Rusheen Catholic Church, and there is a portion of it on either side of the public road, on the northern side and the southern side.

We wend our way down tiny country roads, a tractor the only other vehicle passed. We parked in a layby near what we hoped was the well site and sure enough there was a small copse with two little metal gates topped with crosses, on each side of the road.

The well site is on both sides of the road

We explored the southern side first ( on the left) having glimpsed a statue of the BVM, blue amongst the trees.

The current site of the well

This is a wonderful tranquil spot encircled by mature trees and beautifully maintained. The stone built well lies in the centre, just below ground level and approached by two steps, a rather wonky metal rail to the left affording some assistance when attempting to get to the water.

The Red Well

The first step or slab has a cross deeply inscribed onto it. A plank above the well holds a pristine glass cup, ready for pilgrims. The water remains fresh, clear and abundant.

Nearby a large stone niche holds a statue of the BVM, adorned with offerings and rosaries and some rather jolly lanterns.

In front of the niche is another cross-covered slab, a small stone for the inscribing still in place.

It seems we had come to the wrong side of the road first for to pay rounds a pilgrim should start at the northern section of the site for this is where the well originated. It is a North Cork well after all and they are very fond of moving.

Many years ago a drunken man was coming home from a fair in Macroom, at a very late hour. When passing the well, he disrespected it and the following day it was found inside the fence on the opposite side, but the rounds are paid where the well was first.

Another account from the Schools’ Folklore Collection describes a man putting dirt into the well and causing it to move. And yet another puts the wells removal down to an English soldier upsetting it. All accounts are quite clear that rounds have to be paid first on the northern site where the well was originally, and then they continue on to the southern side where the well is now.

Site of the original well. Rounds are first paid here.

The northern side is also nicely kept, walled and gated and inside are many shrubs and trees.  There are few offerings, just a small crucifix hidden amongst the foliage.

Rounds were generally paid on Good Friday, Easter Saturday and Palm Sunday but could also be paid on two successive Sundays and the intervening Friday. Rounds were as follows:

There are three stations and each person goes around three times and says the I believe in God, and then they say Our Fathers, seven Hail Marys and seven Glory Be to the Fathers at each station. Then they go to the other side of the road and say the rosary beside the well. Then they drink some of the water and some people take it home to drink, or to rub on any affected part.

The water was considered especially effective for the cure of rheumatism:

Some years ago an old man lived near Moanflugh Cross. He was troubled by the rheumatism. He was advised to pay a round at the Red Well in the parish of Aghina. One night he dreamed he was on the road to the holy well and seeing a little spring on the roadside he knelt down and prayed and was cured. He told his dreams to his neighbours. On the following Sunday he went to pray at the Red Well. On the road he saw the spot of his dream. He cleaned away the soil in the form of a well. He performed a round at this little well and was cured. This well is to be seen yet at the roadside.  (The man was named Richard Butler, I knew him later when he lived at Massytown, Macroom. He does not appear to have any rheumatism).

A rather confusing account, is this another explanation for the well moving for there seems to have already been a well in existence? We did have an explore to see if there was any sign of a well on this side of the road, and just outsider the wall was a definite wet area – was this where the spring originated?

The water was also considered useful for curing toothache, and of course the water would never boil.

It is said that this water was once used for boiling potatoes by a servant girl who was a stranger to the district but the water never boiled. The woman of the houses asked her where she got the water, and she said at the well. Then she ordered her to put it back again, and the girl did so.

A cure was considered more likely if a pilgrim heard thunder, or encounteredthe guardian spirit – a frog. Sadly all was quiet during our visit.

The name of the well is said to have been derived either from the colour of the surrounding soil or the tinge of the water. I can’t say that either looked particularly red on our visit.

Across the field lies an imposing standing stone (CO060-106002) once one of  pair, and a ring barrow ( CO060-106001) , though that wasn’t obvious. From the standing stone you can look back and see what a special side the Red Well occupies.

On the other side of road there is a fulacht fia (CO060-108) – another example of a common pairing of well and fulachta fia in North Cork.

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

Only Fools & Horses

St John’s Well, Tobarín na bhFaithni

The forecast promised light air, hardly any cloud and the odd bit so sunshine. It seemed like the perfect day to climb Mushera Mór, near Millstreet, and seek out the holy well that lies at the summit. After a day of nonstop torrential rain, the roads were wet and there was a lot of flooding but all was well until we arrived at the mountain – which was shrouded in cloud and it was blowing a hoolie! The forecasters lied! Nonetheless we parked just outside Millstreet Country Park and donned all available waterproof clothes. We had come too far to turn back and ever the optimist, I hoped it would clear once we got going.  

My optimism proved fairly short-lived though there were some spectacular sights to begin with.

After a hundred metres or so the weather closed in even more and visibility became even less. Amazingly we met a man coming down from the summit, he had been up just for the craic but warned us about going any further. He also said this was the wrong way to get to the well and there was nothing to see anyway. I chose to disbelieve him!

The going was tough but eventually we saw the outline of a trig point and a cairn and then looming in the distance a cross. This was an encouraging sight for a wooden cross had first been erected over the well in the holy Year of 1950, later being replaced in 1975 by this metal cross a little higher up from the site. We were getting closer.

A small path weaselled off through the heather. According to the GPS it was going in the right direction. We scrambled down and suddenly there was a chink in the clouds, the air lightened and the wellhouse became visible.

It looked  larger and chunkier than I was expecting,  and I was much relieved to see it. The wellhouse is three sided, made out of large uneven blocks of stone, roofed with slabs, upon which have been piled more stones going up into a sort of point.

There is a rectangular opening to the south, held up by a hefty lintel. Inside a ledge contains many offerings, mostly religious statues, coins and rosaries. It is well tended.

The well underneath contains water that is fresh, clear, abundant and deliciously cold.

Even in the murk, this felt a very special place, well worth the clamber.

The well is dedicated to St John and is also known as Tobairín na bhFaithni – the little well of the warts. There are three wells dedicated to St John around Mushera Mór and this was originally the main well, the focus of a popular pilgrimage as this entry from the Schools’ Folklore Collection confirms:

….. people pay rounds to St John’s Well on the 24th of June. There is a wall around the well and a timber cross over it. It is a great well for curing warts. People leave money, rosary beads and other small articles near the well.  About 60 years ago a pattern used to be held near St Johns Well. They would have two or three porter and spirit tents and numerous cake and sweet tents. All the young men  used to be jumping and casting pretty heavy stones, something like the 16lb shot now. There came there a man from Limerick  who …..? beforehand of St John’s Well on the 24th June. He had a big lump on his his face. He lodged at Hugh Brien’s ….. on the 23rd June. he paid a round at the well. When coming down the side of the mountain he put his hand to his face and the lump had gone. (153:0325)

It was also considered a very potent well as this rather alarming story illustrates:

This is near the summit of Musheramore mountain which is 2118 feet high, so that the well is about 2000 feet over sea level. It is on the southern side of the summit. On St. John’s Day, 24th June, each year a pattern is held at the foot of the mountain on the road from Mauma Cross to Capaillín Bán. Many climb the mountain to perform a round or pray at the well.

Legend – Once there was a large number of men fowling on Mushera mountain, some being Protestants and some Catholics. When they came to St John’s Well they saw a large number of articles around the Well that people had left there after praying rounds. A certain Protestant asked what these things meant, and the Catholics explained all about the holy Well to him. He had some whiskey in his pocket and he mixed some of the water of the holy Well with it. Then he began to mock the Well, and put all the things around his hat. He then went along the top of the mountain, but was not gone very far when he lost his senses. His friends took his gun from him. He then went mad and they had to tie him up. Before they reached their house the man had died. A few moments after he died he rotted away. (033:0326)

Eventually it seems that people found the slog up the mountain a bit too much, especially the young:

…. eventually it was decided by local lads in the 1940s to build a timber platform at the foot of the hill, so more young people could go to the pattern on St John’s Day. Robert Kelleher of Ballinagree was the man commissioned to erect the platform, which he did. As time went on, the elements took its toll on the timber platform, so again the decision was made to put up a concrete floor there …. In the passage of time the crowds doing pilgrimage dwindled and so in 1954 a Michael Buckley of Aubane brought a picture of St John to a holy well on the Millstreet side of the mountain, known locally as Tobair Na Faithi or Well for curing warts, on the 24th June, so that people could come and pray here instead of going up the mountain. (Millstreet Website)

This site is now the main focus of devotion and pilgrimage and has been expanded and cared for by the community. 

St John’s Well, a kilometre away from the mountain site, and a lot further down

 It is said that this well is now for the Christians and the one up the mountain for cattle! Bottles of water would be collected and sprinkled on the cattle to ensure their health for the year. The mountain townland is Knocknagappul, hill of the horses, so maybe it does them good too. 

I don’t know if anyone makes the pilgrimage up here on St John’s Day (I suspect they do) but climbing Mushera Mór is a popular activity on Christmas Day and New Year’s Day – weather permitting. The views up here are meant to be stupendous  We did get a slight glimmer coming down but mostly had to imagine the glories. We shall just have to return!

More information about the other two St John’s Wells on Mushera can be found here 
The Millstreet website also has some good information about these wells,

The Good, the Bad & the Ugly …

… a quick whizz through some of the most memorable holy wells visited in 2017.

Most privileged encounter: St Patrick’s Well, Castletownroche

The year started with a wonderful encounter where we were not only privileged to visit St Patrick’s Well, Castletownroche, right on the Blackwater River, but we were also given an extensive and personal tour of Blackwater Castle, including the opportunity to admire the sile na gig.

Most obscure: St Peter & St Paul’s Well, Skibbereen

This was followed by another warm and generous encounter, when Pat took me to see the incredibly obscure well dedicated to St Peter and St Paul somewhere outside Skibbereen. Once renown for containing two blessed eels the well had not been visited for many years.

St Peter& St Paul’s Well, near Skibbereen, home to two blessed eels

Most unexpected: St Paul’s Well, Ballygarvan

A sudden whim on the way home from the airport after the Christmas holidays, I stopped at the house to see if there was any chance of visiting the well which lay on private property. I was led down through bamboo woods to this unexpectedly beautiful and satisfying well, slowly sinking into leaf mould on the edge of a river. Dedicated to St Paul, vestiges of a verdigris-coloured paint were still clinging on.

St Paul’s Well, Ballygarvan

Most seriously neglected: St Dominic’s, Glanworth

Visited at the end of a hard day’s well hunting, the well itself was very difficult to find right down by the river. It was in a shocking state, hard to distinguish and covered in undergrowth. Once much visited the remains of a pilgrim shelter still lurked amongst the ivy and briars nearby. It has since had a bit of a facelift but still needs some serious tlc.

Well dedicated to the most ferocious saint: St Fanahan, Mitchelstown

Atmospherically approached along an avenue of beech trees, the well is beautifully kept and still much revered. St Fanahan himself seemed to have been remarkably ferocious – a warrior saint called on whenever there was a scrap, armed with his mitre named Cennachathach – Head Battler.

Most unprepossessing: unnamed well, near Mitchelstown

Flat with the turf and hard to find, this simple circular well still held enough potency to cause a careless digger to run aground when driven recklessly across it!

Small well near Mitchelstown

Most jam- packed with statues: All Saints’ Well, near Blarney

A highly atmospheric spot in which to shelter from a downpour, crammed with statues and offerings. Mainly the result of one man’s devotions and beautifully tended.

All Saints’ Well, Blarney

Most challenging to get to: St John’s Well, Castletownbere

A serious trek along moorland, a scramble up a mountain and then a teeter along a quartz ledge to get to this well, cut into the rock. This is traditionally visited on St John’s Eve, 23rd June, and is apparently best approached barefoot. Respect.

Tiniest: St Michael’s Well, near Allihies

We searched high and low for this well dedicated to St Michael, also way up on a mountain. Eventually we found a cross-inscribed stone as described in the Archaeological Inventory. On lifting it there was a minuscule hollow, damp at the bottom – presumably the well.

St Michael’s Well?

Most beautifully kept: Sunday’s Well, Rooves Beg

Visited shortly after May Day, this little well was bedecked in blues: fresh blue paint, blue candles and bluebells.

Sunday’s Well, Rooves Beg

Most adventurous to get to: St John’s Well, Doonpeter

A long walk starting near a Mass Rock, through moorland, fields, pastures – across rivers and dodgy bridges, the decaying remains of little benches attesting to the path once being well trodden. It’s well worth the walk though for the site includes a well, a bullaun stone, various shrines, a cilleen and is within a ringfort.

Most surprising: St Lachteen’s Well, Donoughmore

A chance encounter, I was taken into a field with Connie and his three bouncy greyhounds. One huge beech tree remained amongst the green, slowly consuming the well once dedicated to St Lachteen. The well is now dry and is said to have moved to a new site at Grenagh some years ago.

St Lachteen’s Well, Donoughmore

Saddest: Lady’s Well, Dripsey

A poor, flattened and neglected well, lying only 10 metres away from its sister well – Sunday’s Well. Why is one still  revered and the other completely ignored?

Most atmospheric: Lady’s Well, Rockspring

Visited after a long damp day, I just gasped out loud when I saw this site. Enclosed by a stone wall the area includes a huge pool of fresh water, an illuminated shrine, statues and paintings, oozing with atmosphere and mystery.

Lady’s Well, Rockspring

Most scenic: St Mughain’s Well, Sherkin Island

A scenic if midgy walk above the cliffs, then into a bracken filled valley with instructions to look out for the fuchsia bush which marked the well. There it was, hidden yet full of fresh water, with incredible views in every direction

Freshest water – St Finnian’s Well, near Rathmore

Kindly taken to by Jim and his grandson, this well dedicated to St Finnian is found within a fulachta fiadh. The water bubbled up fresh and clear and was once used to ward off piseogs connected with butter making.

Most inventive example of recycling: Kilmacow Holy Well, near Kanturk

What a delightful little place, enclosed in circlet of trees, a well full of fresh water and a shrine to the BVM made out of some sort of agricultural implement, resting on a red plastic box.

Most forlorn sight: Tobar na Súl, Lough Ine

Many trees in Knockomagh Wood were flattened by Storm Ophelia in October this year, including those that surrounded Tobar na Súl, only just discernible amongst the debris. Hopefully it will be restored once work is completed clearing the timber.

Here’s to a productive 2018.  Bliain nua Shona.


					

Kilmacow Holy Well, near Kanturk

After a disappointing search for a a couple of wells near Kanturk, we decided to try one more site before returning home to West Cork. It proved to be something rather special.

Kilmacow Holy Well, Tobarkilmacoo

The well was instantly recognisable as we travelled up the long boreen towards the farmhouse, for there in a field was an intriguing circular clump of trees looking highly significant. The farmer, whose name I rudely forgot to ask, was busy hosing down cattle but stopped for a chat and had no problem with us traipsing over the field.

The well is enclosed in the circlet of trees

We parked the car, ducked under the electric fence and walked into the field. There was something instantly alluring about this site. A tall circle of spindly trees and within this another smaller circlet of hawthorns, neatly fenced off from cattle and intrusive agricultural activity.

We entered through the creaky gate, first glancing at the homemade and rather inventively spelled sign announcing the well.

It immediately felt like entering another world, self-contained, separate and full of atmosphere.

The thing that first strikes is the shrine – an inventive example of recycling. A little like the shrine at St Declan’s Well near Buttevant, this one was also made out of a metal agricultural implement of some kind. I’m not sure what, but it did the job very well. It rests on a red plastic tray and inside there is a statue of the BVM and various offerings giving a potent mixture of ancient, modern, homespun, pagan and devoutly Catholic all at once.

Recycling at its best

The well itself is is flush with the ground, a neat circle, sturdily constructed out of stone with abundant fresh water.

The water was considered to hold a cure, especially for sore eyes. This short extract from the Schools’ Folklore Collection describes what was required:

Cure for sore eyes … Water from the well is taken home by pilgrims and is used throughout the year for all kind of ailments. They take three sips of the water and rub it on affected parts. There is a tree at these holy wells also. (022;0354)

The array of cups suggest that the water is still much valued. Intriguingly there is also a lot of delft left amongst the greenery.

Traditionally this well was visited on Good Friday and the practice continues to this day:

it is the custom on the day of the visit to leave something at the well even a piece of cloth. People generally leave statues there, It was the custom long ago to throw some small coin, such as a sixpence, into the water, but the custom is not carried out largely now. People drink the water as they believe it is to be a cure for many diseases. There is a big tree at the well and it is on this, any piece of cloth, which is left at the well, is hanging. (022:0354)

The pieces of cloth are still there but no sixpences.

And such an odd name – here are two explanations of how it was acquired, one more likely than the other:

There is only one holy well in the parish of Kanturk. The well is in the townland of Curraheen and in the Barony of Duhallow. It is near a churchyard called Killmacow and this is the name of the well also. Some people say this name was given to it because people worshipped animals there long ago but others say it was given it because St Machu founded a church there which was called the Church of St Machi hence the name Killmacow or Cille Machu. People visit it on Good Friday and say prayers there. (ibid)

St Machu is probably a corruption of St Mo Chutu mac Finaill, also known as Carthach the Younger or Mochuda, meaning little Carthage, for there was was also a Carthage the Older who was his teacher. He was a Kerryman becoming a monk under the guidance of Carthage the Elder who called him Mo-chuta, an affectionate diminutive. He founded a small religious house in Kerry but his handsomeness caused unwanted attention and maidens to the number of thirty were so enamoured of him that they could not conceal their feelings. He considerately built a monastery especially for the maidens and persuaded them to devote their lives to God rather than him! He later founded another monastery at Rahan where he was eventually expelled due to his extreme austerity – he wouldn’t allow oxen to plough the land, insisting the monks did it themselves. Finally the whole monastic community was expelled by the High King of Tara. Eventually St Mochuda and his wandering band were offered a site at Lismore by the King of the Deisi and here he built his most famous monastery. Mochuda died on the 14th May 637AD, but his Feast Day is usually celebrated on the 15th as St Matthias had already bagged the 14th. Another well dedicated to St Mochuda’s is located on the Beara Peninsula, though I’m not entirely sure that I found the correct well here.

The farmer mentioned an unusual phenomena which he himself had heard on several occasions. Sometimes there would be strange noises seemingly coming from under the ground near the well. He said that it was believed that there was a tunnel running from the graveyard to the well and the noises were caused by trapped air and wind. This unusual but distinctive phenomena is also mentioned in the extract below, a rather different reason being given for it:

Old people say that if a person died that was going to be buried at the graveyard of Killmacow, a drum would be heard beating there on the night before. Nearly everyone living in the district has heard it often and I was told by a person that heard it, that he heard it once in the daylight at about 5 o clock on a summer’s morning. If a person heard strange things like this, the old people say that it is a sign that the priest out left some little ceremony, or some word, when he was being baptised, because they said if a person was baptised with all the ceremony he would never see or hear anything ghostly. (353/354:0353)

We decided to visit the graveyard, just above in the next field. We climbed over the stile and were astonished at the depth of the surrounding fosse for this is the remains of an early ecclesiastical enclosure (CO015-046001). On looking at the OS Historic 6 inch map (1841), the surrounding enclosure is enormous and the fosse very impressive – in fact Seven radial earthen banks (H 0.4m-1.55m) connect inner enclosure with main outer earthworks. (Archaeological Inventory)

OS map, 1841

The graveyard is enclosed within yet another wall but in between the two rings re some intriguing humps and bumps can be seen. Rounds still begin here on Good Friday and continue down to the well, a custom that may have been going on for many years.

There were also two no shows:

The Well of the Brothers, Tobarnambraher, Kanturk

This well was meant to lie just north of Kanturk off the busy main road towards Freemount, in the townland of Curragh. We walked up and down the edge of the road and wandered in the fields beyond but there was no sign of any well, just a random stile set into the wall. Could this once have led to the well, odd stiles are always hopeful signifiers. The other side of the stile was now impenetrable. Rounds were once paid here and there is a tradition that two priests were hung in the vicinity. A friend has informed me that Tobarnambraher means Well of the Brothers (it is only labelled by its Irish name on the old OS maps) and I suspect that refers to the two unfortunate priests.

Killowen, Millstreet

Another holy well in Killowen, just outside Millstreet, also proved elusive. It is referred to as a spring in the 25 inch OS map and is last recorded in holy use in 1876 but now it has seemly vanished. Nor was there any sign of the cilleen which is meant to be nearby (CO039-170). The townland, Killowen, takes its name from the cilleen which was known as Cill Eoghain – church of Eoin/John. Was the well originally dedicated to St John too? The cilleen itself may lie in a ringfort, also indistinguishable.

This part of North Cork is abundant with interesting wells – St Berichert’s Well and Lady’s Well are about three miles away from Kilmacow Holy Well in Tullylease, whilst St Bridget’s Well, Castlemagner is very close by near Lombardstown.

This is the last blog of 2017. So far around 221 holy well sites have been visited and there remain a good few more yet to discover. Nollag shona duit. See you in 2018.

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

Fursey, Friday & Sunday

Day 2 of the Banteer explorations and the the first well on today’s agenda was very close to where we were staying. St Fursey’s Well (or Forsin or Forsa or Fursa) seemed to lie just outside an old graveyard. We found the graveyard easily enough, right beside the road and very enticing it was too but more of that in a minute. The graveyard was enclosed by a stout wall and peering over, there seemed to be a path running down the side of it which looked very promising. We were attempting to find a way in when a car stopped and the occupant looked at us with interest. Michael pulled over to have a chat and was extremely helpful and entertaining. He directed us down to the well which was indeed down the path, but first told us a little more about the graveyard and nearby buildings. He bemoaned the general delapidated state of the site and explained that various committees lay behind it all and not a lot was being achieved.

St Fursey’s Well, Tobar Ursa

We said farewells and attempted to venture down the path. It was badly blocked in several places by fallen trees, Storm Ophelia having occurred just a few weeks previously. We clambered through the branches and over a stout iron gate.

The pathway was substantial, encouragingly damp and verdant though littered with bottles, not of the holy water kind. It led directly to a well – pudding shaped, covered in moss and ivy with jaunty plumes of ferns emerging from it.

The pudding shaped dome of the well

I say a well for there is a story attached of course! Michael told us that the original well was enclosed with a stone surround in the late 1890s. The well was unimpressed, ran dry and popped up a couple of metres away to the west. This is borne out by several entries in the Schools’ Folklore Collection:

St Fursey’s Well is situated in the townland of Clonmeen in Mr Grehan’s field, two miles from O Neill’s cross at the right hand side of the road. People visit on Friday, Saturday and Sunday. The whole Rosary is said. I have heard the following story from my grandfather. Somebody walled in the well, it moved two or three yards away where it remains still. St Fursey is patron saint of the well. I have never heard of anyone being cured there. There is no certain cure in the well.  People drink the water. People leaves crosses, beads and any ribbons at the well. They offer copper there. There is a trout in the well. It was never tried to be drained. There is a whitethorn bush at the well. (009:0362)

Another entry gives a few more details:

… the following story is told about the well. The well was in the graveyard of Clonmeen long ago. People used to cross the country to it. The land around it was owned by Mr Howard. He had oats in the field nearest to the well and he stopped people coming to the well. That year the crops failed. The next year the people came again and he allowed them to go in. His crops were good that year. It is said that the first corpse (crops?) that come must draw water from the well till the corpse (crops) come … There is a story told how Mr Howard tried to drain the well. He built a cemet (cement) wall around it and when it was finished he took a step from it and the well sprung up again. It remains there still. (002/003:0362)

Colonel Grove White has another story which seems to suggest there were always two wells:

In Clonmeen North, about four chains north of Clonmeen church, is
 St. Fursey’s Holy Well. It is a fine spring well, dedicated to St. Forsin.
The people used to resort to it for the cure of various diseases, but have
discontinued to do so for some time past. (Field Book, 1838, Ord. Sur.
Off., Dub.) I visited this Holy Well in 1907. I was told people come Fridays,
Saturdays or Sundays for cure of pains and sore eyes. They pay rounds,
and then go to the church in Banteer to pray. Formerly it was called
Tober Ursa, which means prop or crutch. People used to come with
crutches, and being cured, left the crutches behind at the well. About
twelve paces to the west of the Holy Well there was an excellent well in
former days; about 1897 a wall was built round it, and afterwards it ran
dry. (Grove White, Historical & Topographical Notes etc Book 11, p222)

His photograph is certainly of the damp area to the west, though this photo, taken in 1907, shows the well to have a low stone wall, complete with cup and spectacles. The stones that marked this well are now now scattered and the exact spot undefinable.

St Fursey’s Well, photo by Colonel Grove White 1907

The Archaeological Inventory has yet another version of events:

In wooded area, c. 200m NE of Clonmeen church (14411). Circular well surrounded by low stone-built wall (H c. 0.4m) and partially encased by concrete structure. Photograph by Grove White (1905-25, vol. 2, opp. 223) shows open well with drinking cup and spectacles alongside. Rounds paid on January 16th, (St Fursey’s Day); at any other time rounds were paid on three consecutive days, Friday, Saturday, Sunday or three consecutive Sundays (Bowman 1934, 221). Formerly called Tobar Ursa meaning well of the prop or crutch as these were reputedly left behind by people who were cured (Eldridge 1996, 76). According to tradition, well was located a few metres to the W until 1897 when a blind workman was cured and it moved to its present location (ibid.).

Whatever the case, (and I’m inclined to go with Michael’s story that the original well is the one encased in stone and concrete which moved once it was enclosed and sprung up in the boggy area to the west), you have to feel a little sorry for Mr Howard and his oats.

The remains of the walled well are clearly to be seen, substantial, circular, well made but now very mossy. There is an overflow outlet to the west. The well is full of damp leaves but it must originally have been abundant for the overflow area is high up on the wall.

Of the second well, or the area that the first well removed to, there are only a few scattered stones to be seen in an exceptionally wet area.

Possible site of second well

The well was obviously once revered with offerings being left. Interesting to hear that it was also said to contain a trout. There were no signs of and recent visitations though the local church is still dedicated to St Fursey. His Feast Day is 16th January. I wonder if Ursa is just a corruption of Fursa?

We returned to investigate the churchyard. Again so much history within: the remains of a small rectangular Protestant church, much patched up and neglected; a huge wall believed to be all that remains of an Augustinian monastery (its stones and window probably robbed to use in the construction of the smaller church); and some very old grave markers.

Just outside the walls an abandoned and very attractive old building was once the parochial school, built around 1837, replacing a hedge school run by a Mr Daniel Singleton who had 40 pupils, in the summer.

Friday’s Well, Tobar na hAoine

Another well lay close by, Friday’s Well. We stopped at the house and inquired. The teenage son knew of the well but looked doubtful. He went to consult his mum and reported back that it was now dry and covered in undergrowth. This entry from the School’s Folklore Collection suggests it hasn’t been used for many years:

The well is situated on the right bank of the Blackwater in Mr Grehan’s field, two miles from O Neill’s Cross. It was visited long ago but not visited now. Fr O Neill who was a curate in Banteer two hundred years ago blessed it on Good Friday. People say a girl with a sore hand of whom the doctors had given up all hope (was cured?) People used the water for house purposes some time ago but the man who had the well in his land stopped the people of using it. There is a whitethorn near the well. (007: 0363)

We left it at that and went From Friday on to Sunday.

Sunday’s Well, near Banteer

A picturesque drive through small roads and then into a valley with steep wooded sides, a tantalising glimpse of the well high up among the trees. We parked in the remains of a quarry. A sign lead across the river, chunky stepping stones thoughtfully provided. A million steps made out of concrete slabs, wound their way upwards, a metal hand rail most welcome as we climbed higher and higher among the trees.

What a wonderful spot.

Sunday’s Well, Fermoyle

Several tall trees lower over the well house which is roughly beehived shaped and made out of stone. A random mixture of other stones, some quite large, litter the area. On top of the wellhouse a statue of the BVM looks serenely down, covered in rosaries, a jar of fresh flowers at her feet. To the right another shrine contains statues, more flowers and offerings and a rosary-adorned holy water bottle. To the left a neat array of cups look very welcoming in a specially constructed stand, Other statues are tucked into various places around the tree and a few rags and beads have been tied to branches.

The well is obviously still much revered and was renovated in 2016 by the local community who made access much easier via the steps and stepping stones but it sounds as though it has always been a potent spot and much visited. In fact it has all the essential criteria of a powerful and vibrant well: cures, patron saint, a frog and a mind of its own.

There are several entries in the Schools’ Folklore Collection and this one gives an explanation as to how the well came to be regarded as blessed:

Sundays well is situated in Fermoyle woods about a mile and a half from this school.  It is unknown who blessed this well but this is how it was known to be a blessed well. A mason who was working at the Old Court near Kanturk had a very sore eye and a bit of lime went into it. He was living near Mushera Mountain and was taking a shortcut home and he passed through this field. He saw the well and bathed his eye in it. The next morning his eye was cured and he came the next day which was Sunday and built a stone arch around the well and since this man’s eye was cured the well is known to be blessed. It is situated in Timothy Horgan’s field …. (060:0361)

Another entry gives a different version (there’s a pattern developing!):

Sundays well is situated in a wooded incline in the townland of Fermoyle, Banteer. The well is still visited by great numbers on Good Friday. They come from far and near to pay rounds there. St Abbey is the patron saint of this well. It is believed that once when she was on her way to Ballyvourney she saw a white deer at this well and as it was on a Sunday she reached the well she blessed it and called it Sunday’s Well. (778:0361)

Another well dedicated to St Abbey is not far off at Kilshannig. Ballyvourney is where St Abbey, usually known as St Gobnait, founded a religious settlement and is buried. Normally a Sunday’s Well refers to Christ the King, just to make things more complex, and is often called Tobar Riogh na Domhnaigh: Well of the King of Sunday.

All versions agree that the main day for visiting the well was Good Friday and that it attracted a large crowd eager to pay the rounds:

The well is situated about one mile south of Banteer National School. Pilgrims visit it on Friday, Saturday and Sunday to pay rounds. The greatest number visit on Good Friday because on that day one visit will suffice but at any other time of the year three visits must be paid on successive days beginning with a Friday. (781:0361)

Prayers said at the well seem fairly flexible but this story has a humorous twist:

On one Good Friday a stranger came to the well and he was a cripple. He asked a boy what the rounds were. He said thirty-three rosaries for a joke. The man stayed all day saying the rosaries but he was well repaid for this because he was able to walk home. Beside the well are two bowls on which are written IHS and BVM. People rub the affected part with these bowls and they get cured. (060/062:0361)

There was no sign of the bowls presumably once carved by the grateful mason. They were still there when Grove White visited in 1907 but the inscriptions were faint even then. He also mentions that one stone bore the date 1840.

Like many North Cork wells this one also moved. Yes, there are two versions why!

… There is a story told about the removing of the well. One day – which was Maundy Thursday and the eve of the well day – a man threw dirt into the well so that people could not drink the water but the well removed from the field at one side of the road to a field at the other side of the road. It remains there still… (004:0362)

The water of course should never be used for domestic purposes as one woman found out:

Another legend tells that the well changed its position. On a certain day a woman drew water from the well for household purposes, as the usual spring was in a wet boggy place and she thought it too hard to get at. The holy well was at that time above the fence where it is now. The woman put down the water to boil potatoes but discovered that it would not boil. Next day she again came to the well to discover that it had moved below the fence … (639/640:0361)

It was traditional to drink the water and to leave offerings after your visit:

Several persons have been cured after paying rounds at this well. The rounds consist of five rosaries, five decades in each. The well is particularly recommended for sore eyes and pains of all sorts. Those who visit the well drink the water and rub it on afflicted parts. Relics such as hairpins, buttons, ribbons, rosary beads and holy pictures are always left behind at the well by pilgrims. There is a frog in this well and pilgrims who are lucky enough to see the frog in the water are sure to be cured. (778/779:0361)

Robert always likes to carry on the custom. He pronounced the water very good. I just put a dab behind my ears.

The frog is an interesting detail too, a change from blessed fish. Another intriguing comment concerns what is now labelled as a Mass Rock situated right next to the well:

Visitors can engrave names and dates of visits on a plain slab in the vicinity. (781:0361)

The rock is certainly covered in graffiti most of it quite old – unusual behaviour if it was considered to be Mass Rock for they are usually treated with great respect.

Mass Rock close to the well

Two very interesting and very different wells but each bearing similarities and contradictions.

Many thanks to Michael Kelleher for stopping to chat.
The location of these wells can be found in the Gazetteer.

St Ita & St Finnian, more exploring around Millstreet

North Cork is rich in holy wells and although we have made several fruitful exploratory visits already, there are still plenty of interesting sites to visit. We travelled with our friends Robert and Finola of Roaringwater Journal fame and treated ourselves to two nights in a large and spacious Airbnb just outside Banteer.

St Ita’s Well, Tobar Slánan, Millstreet

Our first stop was south of Millstreet in Kilmeedy East. We parked near Kilmeedy Castle, the substantial ruins of a tower house built by the McCarthy’s in 1435 now used as a rather grand tractor store and space to dry washing. We inquired at the house for directions to St Ita’s Well, more commonly known as Slánan Well, and were directed back to the main road, lorries thundering past at quite a speed. We walked through green and boggy pastures following the GPS towards a wooded copse. This was in fact a graveyard, the old stone walls heavy with moss, the jumble of graves densely packed, their uninscribed markers like scattered green teeth. In one corner a huge railed tomb was slowly crumbling amongst the ivy, the final resting place of Henry Leader, who died aged 62, on November 9th 1809, and his two children. More of the Leader family shortly.

Tomb of the Leader family

It seems likely that this was once the site of a church dedicated to St Ita, also known as St Ide.The townland still bears reference to her name: Kilmeedy kill m’Ide Church of My Ide. Look carefully and near the Leader tomb are the low remains of a wall, possible foundations of the original church dedicated to the saint (CO048-018004). She was born in County Waterford in 480 AD and excelled in the Six Gifts of Irish womanhood : wisdom, purity, beauty, music, sweet speech, and embroidery. Her very name means thirst for holiness. She founded a community of nuns in Killeedy, Waterford, and died there around 570 AD. She was renown for her sanctity and spirituality and may have had the gift of prophecy and is commonly known as the Bridget of Munster and the Godmother of Saints. There are a number of churches dedicated to her in Waterford, Cork, Limerick and Kerry and her feast day is January 15th. This beautiful stained glass panel depicting the saint by is by Harry Clarke and can be seen in the Honan Chapel, Cork. More about Clarke’s extraordinary work can be found here.

St Ita, Honan Chapel. Photo by Finola Finlay.

The holy well is also dedicated to St Ita and lies just outside the graveyard in an exceptionally boggy area, slowly being engulfed with water and brambles, an enormous tree marking its presence.

Spot the well

The wellhouse is large, curved and stone built, now green, soft and springy to the touch. A cement cross, still bearing traces of blue paint, is fixed on top.

Mossy well

Several offerings affirm that the site is still revered: various statues of the BVM, a plate depicting a pope (Paul VI according to Finola) and some rosaries.

The water within was abundant and clear, flowing out from the well down into the pasture.

The well is also known as the Slánan Well, meaning the health-giving well and was famous for the quality of its water and the cures it held.

Once somewhat prolonged and efficacious rounds were required at this potent site as described by a local farmer in the 1930s:

The Slánan is situated in the most eastern part of the townland of Kilmeedy about 1½ miles from Millstreet. It consists of a Holy Well dedicated to the Blessed Virgin and St.Ita and a burial ground where many of those who died in the neighbourhood during the famine years were buried. There being only one coffin to be had, this was used to take the bodies to the graveside and was then taken back for the next corpse. For many years this burial ground had been used only for unbaptised children.
To the south-west of the well is the tomb of the Leader who owned the demesne close by.
A very efficacious “Round” is performed at this blessed well and it is the custom in the neighbourhood to perform it for any bodily ailment, and practically everyone in the locality can testify to some personal cure, and cures have repeatedly taken place on promising to do this round. Kneeling at entrance to the well beside the white-thorn tree which grows on its western brink the round is started. First an offering is made of the Round in honour of Our Lady, and the saint of the well for the desired cure or in thanksgiving for cure already effected on promise of this round. Still kneeling the person recites seven Paters, Aves and Glorias and then starts the Rosary. Rising to his feet on commencing the first decade he walks very slowly round the well by the left where there is a well defined path until he returns to the spot from  whence he started. Having now recited a decade or more of the Rosary he kneels and says again the seven Paters, Aves and Glorias. He then rises follows the same path as before and continuing the Rosary. Returning to the entrance to the well he again kneels on the spot as before and recites a third time the seven paters, Aves and Glorias. On rising he continues the Rosary following the same path as before and on coming to the place from whence he started he finishes the Rosary. He then takes some water from the well and bathes his hands and also any affected part of the body. He next gets more water from the well and takes three drinks in honour of the Blessed Trinity. The days for the round are Thursday, Friday and Saturday of any week in the year but it must be done on the three consecutive days and it is necessary to hear mass on the Sunday following in order to complete the Round.
Many articles of devotion are left at the well. It being a custom by everyone making the round to leave something on the final day. Over the well is a Crucifix and printed on it are the words ‘Lord hear my prayer and let my cry come unto Thee’.
What is known as the ‘Long Round’ is made in the same manner on twenty one consecutive days, starting on a Thursday. The ‘Short Round’ is then added on the last three days of the week making twenty four Rounds in all.
The owner of the farm (Mr Meaney) in which the well is situated built a room of his dwelling house on the passage leading to the well and the roof was blown off every time it was put on. Noises were heard in the room and it became uninhabited. Cattle were then put in there but they all died. The roofless part of the house is still to be seen. The present occupier (a son of the former owner) would not use as firewood any fallen branches from around the well. (Schools’ Folklore Collection: 095-098:0323)

Today it seems there are few visitors paying rounds, long or short, and we saw no evidence of the roofless cabin. However, the local football team is still called the Slánan Rovers!

There is meant to be a bullaun stone (CO048-018004) in the vicinity too but search as we did we could not find it. A rather magical spot, serene and hidden, despite being so close to the main road.

Mount Leader

We repaired to Millstreet for lunch in the Wallis Arms and were given instructions how to get to the ruins of Mount Leader House, the home of the occupier of the impressive tomb in the graveyard. Actually this house dates from 1833, replacing an earlier building, the remains still palatial with a huge porticoed entrance and fine period features. The house is perched up high with commanding views and once had ornamental gardens, the lake and some massive trees still extant. Behind the ruins a jumble of stablings, coach houses, walled gardens, kennels and corn drying areas gave glimpses into its opulent past.

Mount Leader

St Finnian’s Well, Flugh Feigh Well, Nohaval Upper

It was starting to get dark by the time we ventured out of Millstreet towards the Kerry border and Nohaval Upper, in search of St Finnian’s Well. Small roads, the imposing Paps to our left and then a long boreen ending up in a farmyard. What a wonderful encounter. After a moments surprise, Jim donned his wellies and offered to take us to the well. His young grandson Hugh accompanied us, both apologising for the bogginess of the terrain – there had indeed been a lot of rain. We paused at the top of a very green field and Jim pointed out where the grass was a slightly different colour, the possible site of a church ( CO029-033002) and a burial ground, the field being known as Pairc an tSeipeil, or Chapel Field. Jim said there was also evidence of a fulachta fiadh. It seems likely that the well is actually in the fulachta fiadh for it was called Flugh Feigh Well on the 1842 OS map, just the way Jim pronounced fulachta fiadh. It was still being referred to as the Folach Fiadha in the 1930s and recognised as being both a fulachta fiadh and a holy well:

Mrs Bohan’s son Patrick (PO) a noted man and a fellow who is often called on to dig graves told me in connection with the Folach Fiadha (the Holy Well) that when Hugh Twomey came to Nohoval (1899) he (Patrick) worked for him and one day and for days they took stones out of Páirc a’ tSeípéil They were fine well-dressed stones and they were used to make a piggery at Twomeys. They dug up what looked like ashes there too and someone must have been living there. (Schools’ Folklore Collection: 508: 0358)

The evidence of burnt material is promising. Fulacht fia are a common archaeological features, characterised by the presence of heat shattered stones. Also known as burnt mounds, they were probably open-air cooking places in which a stone trough was filled with water and heated by the immersion of hot stones, which had been heated by on a nearby fire. Once the water was heated the stones were cast aside giving rise to the usually characteristic crescent shaped monument. Sometimes, as here, they have been ploughed out and just the scattering of burnt materials remain  – and the essential water source.

Another rather odd extract from the School’s Folklore Collection confirms that this well was associated with a fulachta fiadh:

Folach Fiadh is a bank of burned stones. Long ago the Danes used to cook their meals there. There is always a well near it. There is one of those wells in Jerry Buckley’s land in Doon. Some time long ago the water was scarce and big people bought it. A man near Mallow went to this well to buy the water. Two women lived near him and one of them dreamt that she would get water better a mile from the well near the Folach Fiadh. One day the woman got sick and she asked the man for a drop of water and he would not give it to her and she said that he would not get any more water at that well. A taste came in the water and he got no more water there. When he went away the water was all right. (139/140:0358)

Fulachta fia are most commonly dateable to the Bronze Age, way before those hungry Danes.

The well lies in Pairc an tSeipeil and is flush with the ground, with an overflow seeping off into the pasture.

St Finnian’s Well

The well is almost coffin -shaped, stone built and reinforced with concrete slabs, some acting as seats or kneeling places.

A stone slab forming part of the wall, has five crosses inscribed upon it, one large central cross and four smaller ones at each corner. Hugh showed us where the little stone was kept that was used to do the inscribing and Finola made her mark.

The cross inscribed stone, and water bubbling up from underground

Another stone protruding from the wall almost looked as though it had been worked, a fragment perhaps from the old church. The well is beautifully kept, fenced off from the cattle and regularly cleared of weeds and algae.

The water is fresh, abundant and sparkling, you could see it bubbling up from underground. It was said to be exceptionally good – Jim’s mother in law used to come down daily to collect two bucketfuls and take them back across the field. The water contained a cure for sore eyes but was considered good for all ailments. Another very short reference to the well reveals its potency:

Other Piseóga :- Bringing can of water first from the well on the morning of the churning. (507:0358)

Piseógs were superstitions that attended every aspect of human behaviour and were generally feared, strong precautions having to be taken against them. They could be seen as the evil eye or magic, and could be of varying levels of nastiness from a bit of neighbourly spitefulness to some serious cursing and ill will. In this case some water from the well was taken to ward off any evil intentions when the all important churning took place. Farm Ireland has an interesting article on piseógs and Eddie Lenihan, the well known folklorist and storyteller explains about piseógs and churning:

Piseógs were often associated with certain families and certain parishes, with the piseóg being passed from mother to daughter. The female connection was due to women being in charge of butter making and butter was a source of wealth in the old days. If the butter failed, you couldn’t pay rent so were out on the road… (3rd May, 2011)

A trout was also said to live within the well but Jim hadn’t seen him yet.

Once the well received many visitors, the pattern day being centred around St Finnian’s Feast Day, 13th December. (The well seems to have been called St Finnian’s by the 1913 OS map, and is referred to as such today). Traditionally  the rounds were paid over three consecutive days: 11th – 13th December. The first two days were focused on the site of an ancient ecclesiastical enclosure at Nohaval Lower where there are the remains of a church, graveyard and site of a round tower (CO038-001002) . On the third day, St Finnian’s Feast Day, the pilgrims walked the mile across the fields to end at the well. Jim could remember many offerings being left here: medals, money and rosaries. He laughed as he recalled how, when his son when very young he helped himself to some of the money!

One last story, and another odd one:

There was another well in Mikie Sweeney’s land of Doon. All the neighbours used to get water there. One day two men who were not agreeing went to and met at the well and one of them killed the other and the well closed in. A few months ago Mikie Sweeney and his son aged about 5 years went into the field where the well was. There is a green patch where the well was. The son said ‘O Daddy there was a well here’. ( 139/140:0358)

Today the well receives few pilgrims but it is beautifully kept by Jim and his family, and Jim himself has never missed a visit down to the well on St Finnian’s Day.

Many thanks to Jim O Sullivan and his grandson Hugh for taking the time to show us St Finnian’s Well.
There is good article on the well and surrounding area on the excellent Millstreet website
The location of these wells can  be found in the Gazetteer.
Other wells nearby include Tubrid Well and St John’s Well. Trinity Well is also built on the site of  a fulacht fiadh.