Category Archives: Public

The Three Marys

Since I began this project, a year and a half ago, I have come across dedications to 51 various saints at nearly 200 wells. The most popular patron is the Blessed Virgin Mary (BVM), who currently has 29 wells dedicated to her. Not surprising really considering her elevated place in the Catholic pantheon as Mary, Mother of God; the Blessed Virgin; Queen of Heaven or simply Our Lady. Her major feasts days are May 1st (in fact the  whole of May is considered to be Mary’s month), 15th August: the Assumption of the Blessed Virgin; 8th September: the Nativity of the BVM; and 8th December: her Immaculate Conception. She has even had special years dedicated to her devotion (1954 &1987) when many grottoes were erected and wells renovated. Today three Marian wells were on the agenda, each one very different and all in North Cork.

Prayer to Our Lady

Take my hand, O Blessed Mother

Hold me firmly lest I fall.

I am nervous when I am walking,

And on you I humbly call.

Guide me over every crossing,

Watch me when I’m on the stairs,

Let me know that you’re beside me,

Listen to my fervent prayer.

Bring me to my destination safely every day,

Help me with every undertaking

As the hours pass away.

And when evening falls upon us

And I fear to be alone,

Take my hand O Blessed Mother

And protect my life and home.

Board at Lady’s Well, Castleharrison

Lady’s Well, Castleharrison, near Charleville

First stop Lady’s Well near Castleharrison, just off the N20 en route to Charleville. The potency of the site is immediately apparent as outlined on the board at the entrance:

On the margins of this holy well pagan multitudes were converted and baptised, and from time immemorial devotions here to the Mother of God has been rewarded with many favours and blessing. (Taken from the parish records, 1809)

Nearly a hundred years later, Colonel Grove White visited the well, wrote warmly about it and took a very attractive photograph:

In Castle Harrison Demesne, in front of the houses near the road, is an interesting holy well. It is kept in good order and is one of the most picturesque Holy Wells I have seen. It is dedicated to the Blessed Virgin. Many people come to this well to pay their devotions on the different festivals dedicated to the Blessed Virgin, but particularly on August 15th, the Feast of the Assumption. I was also informed that people come here for the cure of all diseases, particularly of sore eyes. A large white thorn overhung the well. It was covered in ivy. It was blown down in the severe hurricane that occurred about 1903. It is a credit to the parish of Ballyhea for it is one of the best kept Blessed Wells in Southern Ireland. (Grove White: Historical & Topographical Notes Etc Vol 1)

Lady’s Well, Castleharrison. Photo taken by Grove White 1905.

The site is clearly signed and just off the main road,  an enclosed space immaculately maintained.

A circular path leads down to the well, marked with the Stations of the Cross. A row of orange plastic chairs lined near to a wall hint at the many pilgrims that still visit.

Route down to well with Stations of the Cross

The well itself looks very different to Grove White’s day. An arch recess, containing a statue of the BVM is now flanked by a domed stone well house, two small niches on either side, with a white Celtic cross surmounted over the whole.

Lady’s Well, Castleharrison

The statue of the BVM within is a rather beautiful one, and, although denied access by a glass window, pilgrims have managed to leave offerings at her elegant feet.

The well lies below but is now disappointingly sealed off by a grill – water obtained from a tap located in the hedge nearby. The jolly smiley-faced cups seem at odds with the rather sombre and devout atmosphere.

A row of wooden benches with ornate white railings lie in front of the well for devotions.

Ornate benches for devotions & prayer

Various notices on the site explain the required devotion at the site and include some interesting thoughts about the sacredness of water in general:

(The round) consists of 3 visits to the well, saying a Rosary each time, beginning at the Grotto and continuing the round to complete the Rosary. While doing the round the pilgrim is carried back in thought by the Stations of the Cross to Calvary where the right to God’s help and favours was earned for us, and where and where Christ put everybody (in the person of St John) under the protection of the Holy Mother. Having completed the Rosary the ceremony ends in the drinking of water from the well and a private resolution made to receive an early opportunity Holy Communion which our lord described as ‘a well of living water’ which would benefit in this life and the next.

While drinking the water from the Blessed Well the tremendous religious significance attached to water is recalled by the pilgrim. Going back to the chosen people of God in the Old Testament in the Bible we find that they had strongly in their minds that God brings life out of the waters and saves people by the waters. Moses led his people out of slavery in Egypt and they escaped from their pursuers through the waters of the Red Sea.

The visitor also recalls that in baptism each one of us has passed through the baptismal water to a new life of being now, not just the children of our parents,  but children of God too. As children of God our prayer at this holy well is in a few words – Mother of God and our Mother intercede for us.

An plaque on the altar informs that it was erected during the Holy Year of 1987; I wonder if that was when the entire site was modernised.

Altar with plaque dated 1987

The well was very active in the 1930s:

In the district of Charleville there is a well named Our Lady’s Well. people visit it from time to time to pray there. When a person has a disease he usually washes himself in the well. Sick people get the water of the well and drink it. The most frequent time for visiting the well is on the Feast of the Immaculate Conception. When people visit the well they bring holy pictures and statues and leave them on the altar over the well. Once  woman got water out of the well and used it for household purposes but it never boiled. There is a bush over the well. People who are cured hang rags on the bush.  A long time ago a gipsy washed her child in it. He is now a priest. (280: 0368; Schools’ Folklore Collection)

It remains a vital and active part of the community. In June this year, for example, there was a special mass held there for the Travelling Community  which included a blessing for families.

Lady’s Well, Templemary, near Buttevant

The next well sounded fascinating from the description in the Archaeological Inventory:

 In pasture, at base of ash tree and on W side of Mallow-Liscarroll road. Enclosed NW->SE by roots of tree; SW side and base stone-lined. On SW side is partially cut limestone block (0.88m x 0.48m; T 0.17m) with holy water stoup (0.3m x 0.39m) cut into one end. Latin cross with splayed ends carved into side of stoup. According to local information, well visited in May and stoup came from nearby site of RC church, which was demolished in late 1970s/early 1980s; Grove White (1905-25, vol. 4, 35) noted church ‘was thatched’.

I had visions of something similar to the wonderful St Lachteen’s well in Ballykerwick, near Donoughmore. It was easy to find and clearly signed from the road, a well maintained walkway leading steeply down towards the sound of running water.

Disappointingly the ash tree has long since been cut down though the stump remains just behind the wellhouse.  The whole site was renovated and rededicated in 1991, somewhat fiercely.

Lady’s Well, Templemary

A large stone shrine complete with statue of the BVM is where the ash tree once stood. The statue is attractive and well cared for with flowers, and a few offerings.

The welhouse replaces the old ash tree

The well itself is in front of the shrine but covered over by a sharp sheet of metal. Lift that up, and the water underneath is abundant and fresh. The area is nicely slabbed with a step down to the water.

To the right the ancient stoup described in the Archaeological Inventory remains, emblazoned with a cross. An array of cups lined up on a stack encourage the water to be used.

An ornate rail and kneeling block lies in front to the well; to the left a very unattractive metal shelter, bare and ugly, presumably for people to shelter in when the weather gets rough. The whole space felt devoid of atmosphere, a little too manicured but it is obviously still an active and important site within the community.

Grove White uncharacteristically has little to say about this well but what he does say is tantalising:

… in olden times much venerated and visions were said to have been seen there.

Lady’s Well, Tobermurray, near Liscarroll

By the time we visited the final Lady’s Well, the rain was falling steadily and enthusiasm was dwindling. The approach was down a long bumpy boreen, at one time a boxer came leaping and barking to greet us. The boreen ended in a farmyard complete with a house which I wasn’t sure was occupied or not. I knocked and no reply. A wooded area off the yard looked promising and I went to explore.

I was gob-smacked, no other word for it, and rushed back to tell my husband he needed to come and see this, rain or not!

A wooded grove comes to mind for the site is encircled by a wall and many tall and mature trees. In the centre is a large pool or spring, the well itself, stone-lined with steps to the south and a metal railing to ease collection of water – it’s quite a long drop down.

Lady’s Well, Rockspring

Little benches are dotted here and there but dominating the space is a shrine to the BVM. It is a large rectangular stone structure, topped with a cross. Inside is a niche with an arched doorway containing a statute of the BVM – illuminated!

She gazes soulfully upwards, hands in prayer with an assortment of offerings around her: rosaries, cards, pictures, statues.

A tree nearby holds a rack of colourful and spotless cups, a picture of the Sacred Heart propped below.

In a dense wooded area by the water there are more statues:  Jesus with outstretched arms and a small BVM in a little niche. They look ancient, traces of their original paint still clinging on.

What a remarkable place, oozing with atmosphere and presence, such a contrast to the first two wells described. It seems this is another of those North Cork wells that has moved from its original position:

There is only one holy well in the parish. It is in the townland of Rockspring, Liscarroll in cllrs. Brislane’s field. The people pay rounds … during the month of May because the well is dedicated to the Blessed Virgin.

There is a story about the well. A woman washed her petticoat in the well. It is said that the well moved and there is a tree that marks where the well was first. There are trees growing around the well where it is now.

The people cure sore eyes at the well. When people are going to the well they take relics with them, namely flowers, statues, holy pictures and rags. They hang the rags on a tree. The people drink the well water and there are cups at the well for the water.

It is said that in the well a fish is seen. When people see the fish they wish for something. Sometimes they get what they wish for but sometimes they do not. At night it is said that the fish is to be seen.  (216:0367; Schools’ Folklore Collection)

Another entry gives a little more information about the site of the original well

There are two holy wells around Liscaroll. One well is in Knawhill and the other is in Rockspring. The one in Rockspring is called the Blessed Virgin’s Well. It is said that one night a woman washed her feet in the well and when the people got up in the morning the well had removed to where it is now. A tree stands in the field where it is said the well was. There is a hole in the tree and it never goes dry. The well in Knawhill cures sore eyes. People pay rounds to the blessed Well in Rockspring the months of May and August. (044: 0367; Schools’ Folklore Collection)

The tree at Knawhill is now on the list but I can find no reference to it. There is another well very close by dedicated to St Baoithin which will be explored shortly.

The locations of these wells can be found in the Gazetteer. All have public access.

St John’s Wells, Castletownbere

I knew this would be a bit of a challenge and had put off exploring until I had plenty of time – and energy. Just by looking at the OS map I could see these two wells, dedicated to St John, were situated right on top of a pretty steep mountain – the Maulin. From the look of things, the small road leading upwards turned into to a track, into a footpath and then nothing!

The weather looked good, I had time, no more excuses. I parked the car before the road turned into track just in case there was no place to turn later on. A gentle amble up the small road was delightful, the hedgerows full of foxgloves, scabious and buttercups. Over a metal gate and the terrain changed: a gritty track leading through rough pasture, the sheep standing their ground with bold stares.

The track with Maulin in the background

The mountain loomed ahead – I feared I was going all the way up. This track is part of the Beara Way  and is well maintained but I needed to get up the mountain so over another gate, and then a sharp left – no discernible track but a well-made wall with a flat top seemed to be going in my direction. GPS on, I walked along it. It stopped at the bottom of a steep and rocky incline but first I had to clamber over a fence – someone had been before me and bent the wire to offer a little protection from the barbs.

The next bit was tough going. I found footholds in the bog and heather and clambered up, stopping every now and again to just marvel at the view – Castletownbere was way below me as was the little path I had originally come up, snaking through the heath.

Big views

Nearly at the top, I looked around for signs and lo and behold, painted onto the rock face were a series of crosses. I was getting closer!

Look closely for the painted crosses

A sheer scramble up led to a natural skinny pavement of miraculous white quartz which in turn led round a small ledge, another arrow pointing encouragingly onward. The well was tucked into the rockface, its own white cross painted above it and I was very pleased to see it!

The well is a series of natural craggy basins in the rock, one rectangular basin looking more significant than the others. Today everywhere was prettily adorned with St Patrick’s cabbage and a variety of ferns.

St John’s Well1, nestling against the rockface

The water was a little murky but abundant.

A second well lay 50m away, and I am hoping I have correctly identified it*. It is less impressive than the first but nonetheless enjoys the most amazing panoramic views in all directions. It’s a natural basin in the rocks, almost semi-circular. I was in such a hurry to get to the other well that I didn’t give this one much attention and didn’t realise that there was lettering painted around the well and within it, until I downloaded my photos. Annoyingly I can’t decipher it.

St John’s Well 2

 

 

What a wild and windswept spot: exhilarating, remote yet peaceful at the same time. It seems that the wells became significant when the ghosts of priests saying Mass were spotted up here! So hard to imagine people of all ages struggling up in pilgrimage for that is what they did. Traditionally the pilgrimage was made on St John’s Eve, 23rd June: barefoot, in silence, after fasting! It seems that many people remained overnight and continued their rounds the next day. The water was considered exceptionally pure and was good for all diseases but especially blindness or sore eyes.

On the hill of Maulin near Castletown Bere there are two holy wells. Long ago people who used to suffering from any disease but especially blindness visited these wells on Saint John’s Eve and prayed there and made rounds. My great grandmother who was blind from birth was brought up to the wells and after praying and doing the rounds she recovered her sight and had her sight until her death. My mother tells me that these wells were noted all over Berehaven for the curing of any trouble in connection with sight. Schools’ Folklore Collection (113:0278)

No pain without gain I suppose but paying the rounds could be exhausting and confusing as another entry from the School’s Folklore Collection relates:

There are two holy wells in Maulin and they are known as Maulin Wells. Every Saint John’s Eve several people pay rounds there and pray to the saint. There is a white track in the rock leading to the lower well. It was the custom to pay the rounds in the evening and again in the following day. There is an old story about two old people who came to pay the rounds and also stayed till morning to complete them. They fell asleep and waking in the morning they perceived they were on the next hill known as Maulin Beag situated near a lake. (062:0278)

Fortunately I remained on the same mountain but decided to come down a slightly more direct and slippery route. I rewarded myself with lunch at the Dzogchen Beara Buddhist centre ……

Dzogchen Beara

…… followed by a very bracing paddle at Ballydonegan strand, Allihies.

Ballydonegan Strand, Allihies

* Having had another look at my photographs again I suspect that this is the second well which I have to confess I mostly ignored, so excited was I by the view and the other well. I shall just have to go back!

The second well dedicated to St John

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

Island Wells 3: Bere Island: An tOileán Mór

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

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

The ferry, waiting to be loaded at Bere island

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

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

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

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

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

Not the right way

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

The cross, erected in the Holy Year 1950

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

The well, distinctive by its yellow cross

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

St Michael’s Well

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

More exuberant hedgerows

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

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

Well hunting off the N22

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

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

Always a good sign

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

Sunday’s Well, Rooves Beg

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

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

Blue altar

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

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

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

Mass Rock

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

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

Views from Sunday’s Well

Lady’s Well & Sunday’s Well, Walshestown

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

 

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

Schools’ Folklore Collection 0345:356/35

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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.

img_3185-edit-tif

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,

img_3193

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.

Fionnchú: The White Hound

Arriving in Mitchelstown in the late afternoon the light was fading and a thin mizzle had set in but we thought we could manage a trip to two wells dedicated to the town saint, St Fanahan, or, as he is known as Gaeilge, St Fionnchú: the white hound.

St Fanahans’s Well, Tobar Naomh Fionnchú

img_2996St Fanahan’s Well is found off a small housing estate on the edge of Mitchelstown and is clearly signed from the road. There is a helpful information board and an attractive plaque that informs that the old pilgrimage route is now part of the Siúlbhealaigh Stairiúil, or Historic Walking Trail. The instantly impressive pathway leading down to the well is 700m long, a raised causeway through fields, planted with now mature beeches on each side. We met a local man who told us that the causeway was raised during Famine times on the instruction of the local priest but other information suggests that the path could be at least 1000 years old.

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Raised causeway leading to the well

Whatever, it is an imposing and rather wonderful avenue, an original Mass path, recently fitted with electric lights which are only illuminated for nine days before and nine days after St Fanahan’s Feast Day on the 25th November. I was saddened to see what I thought was a dead pheasant at the edge of the trees – it gave us a shock as it took to the wing with a squawk and flew off! The causeway ends in an attractive little footbridge going across the Sruth na nÉglise, stream of the church. A small plaque explained:

This bridge was built in 1870 by the County Grand Jury. Half its cost was paid by Edmund Murray, Jeremiah Casey (father of ‘the Galtee Boy’) and Michael Cusack of 19 Lower Cork Street. Casey and Cusack did so in thanksgiving respectively, for the safe return of his son from Australia, and Cusack of his brother, William Cusack, a Union Officer who fought in the American Civil War.

Look out for the carved head on the right hand side. St Fanahan himself ? The Archaeological Inventory reckons it came from the Catholic church in St Thomas’ Street, Mitchelstown.

The bridge leads onto a small island, surrounded by three different streams – viewed as a special sign, reminiscent of the Holy Trinity. The area is enclosed by earthen banks, mature trees giving it an ancient feel as a path winds around the perimeter, here and there interspersed with Stations of the Cross. Occasional breaks in the bank allow a Mass path from across the fields to enter the site, stepping stones across the stream preventing wet feet. A tranquil spot apart from hum of the M8 not so far across the fields, and the occasional gunfire from the nearby Army shooting ranges!

It is the well that is the focal point though. A photograph of the original well can be found in an entry in the Schools’ Folklore Collection – a much simpler affair with kneeling stones arranged around the well basin. Interesting to see the shrines and statues hanging in the trees.

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photograph in the School’s Folklore Collection (0376:071)

The current well was restored in 1989 and is apse-shaped with cut stone blocks around it, surrounded by low level seating. The water is abundant and clear with a sprinkling of beech leaves. It is considered good for curing flesh wounds, lameness, blindness and warts. Walking sticks and crutches once adorned the original well, evidence of the power of the cure.

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Apse-shaped well basin

Watching over it is a large stone cross carved with the figure of St Fanahan and an eel on the facing side, and on the other side a sickle and a bell. It’s beautifully done, the work of well known Cork sculptor Ken Thompson. St Fanahan looks a benign figure, holding one hand in blessing, his crozier in the other, his dainty slippered feet peeping out from under his robe. Only the large sword at his belts hints at other things. For St Fanahan was not your usual saint – he was a warrior saint admired for: ‘… the greatness of his nature and the nobility of his race, and the greatness of his fury and his virtue. (Book of Lismore)

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St Flanahan: warrior saint

The Book of Lismore, written in the fifteenth century (translated in 1890 by Whitely Stokes), is invaluable in describing St Fanahan’s life in all its colourful and fascinating detail. Finola from Roaringwaterjournal has written an excellent entry about him so I shall just keep it brief. He seems to have been remarkable even before he was born and could speak through his mother’s womb! Aged seven, he was sent to be educated at the Abbey of Bangor. His fiery temper proved too much and he was expelled, taking with him a bell which would ring when he arrived at his destiny. The bell rang as he neared Mitchelstown and here he built a monastery. Many extraordinary tales are associated with him including one where the king of Déisi came to see him and asked if he could guarantee him a place in Heaven by swopping his good soul for his bad one. Fanahan agreed and offered the king his own place, already guaranteed. To re-earn his place in Heaven, he commissioned seven smiths to make seven sickles. He then spent the next seven years hanging from them in penance. He rewarded the smiths by calling the place Brigown – Bri Goghann, the Smiths’ Hill. He did descend once though for he was called upon to help the children of Niall of the Nine Hostages against foreign attackers. Later, once released from the sickles, he seems to have been often called upon to lend his weight in battles. He led from the front, literally breathing fire – sparks bursting from his teeth which caused the shafts of his enemies’ spears to burn! His weapon of choice was his crozier, Cennachathach – head battler, reputedly later kept as a relic in the round tower until this fell down in the 18th century! Eventually he went on a pilgrimage to Rome to do penance, dying around 660AD. The meaning of the sickle, the bell and the eel now becomes clear.

The eel incidentally is meant to be visible in the water of the well and is considered to be the embodiment of the saint himself. Whoever sees it will have great fortune.

There is another sculpture of St Fanahan outside the Garda Station in town and this seems to capture his strength and charisma. Sculpted by Cliodna Cussen in 1981, this saint is a suitably beefy and muscular figure sitting solidly upon a rock, head battler in his hand, a rather enigmatic expression on his face. On one side is an eel and on the other a curled up hound, referring to his name.

St Fanahan’s Feast Day is the 25th November and an annual pilgrimage is still made to the well. The pattern lasts for nine days preceding the 25th when pilgrims are expected to visit the well, say private prayers to the saint walking three time clockwise around the pathway behind the well, and recite a Decade of the Rosary.

img_3012-edit-tifOnce a stall provided glasses of water from the well, for sale to the pilgrims for a small gift, now you just help yourself. Donations are still appreciated though.

As we left a local man stopped for a chat and told us about the Mass path and the eel, and the annual Mass. He also explained that St Fanahan was patron saint of blow-ins which made us smile. It seems there is truth in this too for when the saint arrived in Mitchelstown, the locals were not immediately friendly. He vowed to curse the locals and support strangers. Not a very saintly attitude but I think the locals have forgiven him by now.

 

St Fionnchú’s Church, Brigown

We thought we had time to visit Brigown, site of the St Fanahan’s monastery, 880 metres to the south west. A fascinating place, although there is little remaining of the monastery or the round tower that was later built there in the 10th Century. There are some fine examples of early graves though and in the remains of the old church building (CO019-030004), the base of a Medieval cross has been inserted over the doorway.

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Base of cross above doorway

St Fionnchú’s Well, Brigown

It seems that the original well dedicated to St Fanahan was much closer to the monastery. The story goes that a woman washed her clothes in the well, causing much disrespect. The next morning the monks found the well had dried up and reappeared in its current position! I asked at the farmhouse if they had a holy well on their land and they didn’t think so, but looking over the wall from the graveyard I suspect the original well was somewhere near that little hollow or possibly in the trees.

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Possible site of St Fionnchú’s original well

A very special place and a remarkable saint.

St Fanahan’s well is easily accessible. Locations of both wells are given in the Gazetteer.

Well Hunting around Ballinspittle

A crisp clear morning in Kinsale, we had four wells on the agenda on our way home. First stop Lady’s Well, just oimg_0055ver the bridge at Ringrone.

 Lady’s Well, Tobar Mhuire,Ringrone

The well looked to lie quite close to the road in pasture. According to the Archaeological Inventory, it no longer had holy use but had been turned into a cattle trough. The road was busy and the pavement small as we rummaged around in the wooded ditch area. There was a stream but no sign of any well. We left the main road and followed a lane upwards towards the old graveyard where we could see someone working. He had never heard of any well but he did know where a female pirate was buried and pointed us to Anne Bonney’s grave, suitably decorated with skulls and crossbones (this may be one of many possible burial sites)! The remains of the old castle, built by the grandson of the Norman knight Sir John de Courcy in the thirteenth century, lay in the field next door.

Just a single stack now and the area around it being landscaped. No sign of any cattle troughs and the stream had been diverted, the area around cleared. I wondered if the well had been lost in the renovations. We conceded defeat.

Since posting this blog I have heard from Jerome Lordan who has sent this image of the well.

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Lady’s Well, Ringrone. Photo: Jerome Lordan.

It is about 100 metres north east of the castle and I suspect very close to where I was. Looking a little forlorn today.

St Ruadhán’s Wells, Tobar Ruadhán, Courtaparteen

On to Courtaparteen and some very small roads. The final track was tiny – more green than tarmac, so we parked the car where we could and continued on foot. Fuchsia-line with enticing glimpses of the sea, this was a beautiful spot, looking especially good in the late October sunshine.

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Fuchsia-filled boreen

The boreen widened up a little and it was clear that some restoration work had been going on for there were signs to the old church, and new steps had been cut into the path. Two wells were in this area, roughly 50 metres apart. The first well encountered was clearly signed St Ruadhán’s Well.

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This confused me for according to the Archaeological Inventory, it is the second well a little further down that is dedicated to the saint – I have decided to dedicate both wells to him!

The first well is tucked into a field boundary and has a semi-circular basin full of fresh clear water.The concave stone wall contains a slabbed shelf, full of offerings – white pebbles and a statue of the BVM. A single white rag hangs above the well.

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Tobar Ruadhán

A crucifix rests on stones just below the shelf. The water is clean and fresh, and meant to be good for sore eyes and warts.

50m to the east lies another well, much less cherished, in fact seemingly forgotten in the undergrowth: this is the one officially dedicated to St Ruadhán according to the Inventory.  It is a rectangular rock-cut depression, lined with concrete and stone flags.

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The neglected second well

It was traditional to throw a white pebble into it but the well is now merely damp, full of leaves. This water was also said to be good for curing sore eyes. Interesting how the other well still had offerings of white stones. Interesting too how one has been beautifully restored while the other neglected. I would love to hear more about these two wells if anyone has any information.

We carried on down to the old church, Kilroan, (SMR: CO125-021002) also dedicated to St Ruadhán, following red arrows painted on the path. What a fantastic view opened up as we emerged from the woodland. The remains of the church lie right on the edge of the cliff overlooking a wild and colourful ocean.

The Feast day of St Ruadhán  (his name can be spelt in many different ways) is the 15th April. Ruadháin was one of the 12 Apostles of Ireland. He founded a monastic settlement in Lorrha, Tipperary. A rather beautiful bell was found in a holy well there and was attributed to the saint, and is now viewable in the British Museum.

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St Ruadhán’s Bell, now in the British Museum

Ruadhán is said to have caused the downfall of the ancient kingdom of Tara for he cursed the High King, Diarmuid Mac Cerbhaill, after he had gone against the rules of Christian sanctuary and wrenched a hostage hiding in a church.  Aengus the Culdee in his Féilire, a sort of catalogue of saints written around 780AD, praised him as such:

An excellent flame that does not wane,
that vanquishes urgent desires.
Fair was the gem,
Ruadhán, lamp of Lorrha.

Sunday’s Well, Tobairin an Domhnach, Ballinspittle*

On to Ballinspittle, famous for two things: Diva, a really delicious café and the Grotto where in 1985 the statue of the Blessed Virgin Mary was said to have moved, a phenomenon apparently witnessed by many people. (Similar sightings of divine apparitions occurred at 30 other places in Ireland during that extraordinary year).

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The Grotto at Ballinspittle, site of the moving statue in 1985

The little well though lies in the opposite direction, a much older place, revered for many centuries. Approached through a red wicket gate bearing a helpful sign, the path is laid out with just discernible stones, gunnera adding a luxuriant feel to the surroundings.

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The cheerful entrance to the well

The well, lying flat in the ground, is roughly pentagonal shaped, the water clear and deep. It is a Sunday’s Well, Tobairin an Domhnach – dedicated to the King of Sunday  (Christ, or sometimes St Dominic).

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Pentagonal shaped well

It has curative properties for sore eyes and was last renovated 1970 as the little plaque tells informs.

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Plaque, circa 1970

Tucked behind a tree trunk, a sandwich box contained a variety of offerings and a notebook and pencil should you wish to leave a prayer or comment. (I have since discovered that I was being rather naive here and that this little box is in fact a geocache! I suppose you are still leaving offerings of a sort!)

According to Holland, writing in 1908:

local tradition tells that the well was formerly located 60 yards west of its present site, but that one of the lords of the manor gave orders to his stewart to have the well closed …. very soon the water sprang up again in its present site and the people continued to pay their rounds as before.

A quiet and rather beautiful spot. It’s Interesting how the last three wells all had cures for sore eyes. The water here is rich in manganese but I can find no information that that is especially good for sore eyes – anaemia and osteoporosis yes!

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*Some interesting additional information has just come in from Jerome Lordan:

Tobar Ruadhán is known locally as having a cure for warts.I suspect that Tobairín an Domhnach is incorrectly interpreted as ‘Sunday Well’ as it is in the Townland of Kilmore(big church) and is very close to one of Ireland’s largest ringforts at Ballycatten. The strong link between church and secular society in medieval Ireland would suggest to me that it was a Domhnach church with possibly a high ranking cleric overseeing society here. The church site according to local tradition was close to the well. The emphasis here really is that by translating the native name the nuance in the name will be lost. A local man put up a little sign with the ‘Sunday’s Well ‘ interpretation on the little gate entering the well area. However well intentioned he was, he should have just left the original name without his translation.

Many thanks to Jerome Lordan for the additional information regarding the names of these wells and their correct spelling. And for the photograph of Lady’s Well.

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