Category Archives: North Cork

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,

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.

Meandering south of Mallow

Four wells on the agenda today, all south of Mallow and all having interesting and detailed write ups by Colonel Grove White in his Historical and Topological Notes etc.

Ania’s Well, Tobar Aine, Dromore

As we approached Dromore House, (now called Nazareth House and run by the Sisters of Nazareth as a holistic centre) where the well was supposed to be located, I had a sinking feeling that I had dragged my three companions here before to no avail. I was right. We had been here before and found no well. Today, Nazareth House was in the middle of huge and major developments – the road was up, the land surrounding the house was up, diggers and men in high viz were prominent. We shouldn’t have been there and we beat a tricky and difficult retreat, the well I suspect ripped up and vanished. Grove White mentions a Field Book of 1839 that refers to it as Ania’s Well and noted that it was a good spring well resorted to for the cure all diseases. In the confusion of the moment I took no photos.

Saint Hulaman’s Well, Kilcolman

One chain from Keil is an excellent spring well, said to have been consecrated by Saint Hulaman. It is said that if dirty clothes, potatoes, or the like were washed in it the spring would immediately dry. Such happened about 50 years ago but the well was again restored by putting salt and holy water into it, so tradition tells us. (Grove White, Vol III)

When Colonel Grove White visited in 1909 he reported a fine spring well near the road and described the large whitethorn bushes growing around it. He also noted that it was no longer in holy use. The Archaeological Inventory gave a little more information describing the well as being in the base of a sycamore tree. This sounded an intriguing well – another temperamental North Cork well and who was St Hulaman?

We searched high and low along the edge of the road, looking for sycamore trees. I followed the GPS and ventured into a very wet and boggy field, the undergrowth getting more and more tangled, the terrain softer and squelchier. Suddenly there seemed to be a gap in the brambles that looked worth investigating. A little bit of hacking back with a walking pole and trying not to sink knee deep into the bogginess and a definite pool of water was revealed, fern strewn and promising. Right next to it was the impressive stump of what I took to be a scyamore tree.

There were remnants of stone work just discernible in the water but nothing like a circular wall as may once have existed. The water was clear and plentiful.

And I am none the wiser as to who St Hulaman was, Google doesn’t seem to know either. If anyone has any idea, please let me know.

Edit: Many thanks to Ann Buckley who suggests that Hulaman may be an anglicisation of Colmán.

Blind Well, Tobar Caoch, Skarragh

Near the centre of Skarragh about 15 chains west of Skarragh Wood, and about 34 chains east of Lisaniska (fort) is a fine spring well, to which people resort for the cure of sore eyes on which account it got the name Tober keagh, or the Blind Well. Field Book. This well is on Mr John Bolster’s land. People come here and pay rounds for sore eyes. it is much frequented. In 1904 I heard of an old man whose eyesight was cured; his sight improved every time he paid a round. (Grove White VolII)

A chain by the way is roughly 66 feet or 20 metres!

Skarragh Well. Photo by Grove White 1913

We parked the car and walked up our 15 chains towards Skarragh Wood, skirting along the edge of a wheat field.  A barbed wire fence greeted us, the well of course on the other side.The wood was dense and impenetrable and we could find no way to get in. It didn’t look as though we would have been able to get very far even if we had managed to get into the wood. We conceded defeat but admired a rainbow appearing in the distance and amused ourselves by counting the variety of wild flowers growing in the edge of the field – a lot.

View from the vicinity of the Blind Well

Several entries in the Schools’ Folklore Collection refer to the well as containing a cure. It also liked to be treated with respect: 

Near the top of Scarra Hill in this parish (Kilshannig, Barony Duhallow, Co Cork) is a well named Tobar Caoc. Several cures were wrought at this well, especially sore eyes were cured. Long ago there was a tree growing up beside the well on which pieces of cloth and rosaries were hung. The Protestant owner of the land on which the well was situated did not like to see the people coming to pay rounds. He cut down the tree and a few days later his hand became very sore and any doctor he went to could not cure it. At last somebody advised him to bathe his hand in the water flowing from the well. He did so and in a short time his hand was cured. He never afterwards tried to stop people paying rounds at the well.  About five years ago the farm in which Tobar Coac is situated was put up for sale and bought by a Catholic Mr William O Connell. (215/216: 0362)

Another entry gives a little information as to how rounds should be paid:

About forty five years ago an old woman who was then about seventy-five years of age, told me that one of her children when young had a sore eye and on the advice of a neighbour she went to Tobar Caoc for some water with which to bathe the eye. The journey to and from the well should be made before sunrise, she said. She performed the journey and brought a small bottle of water to be applied to the child’s eye. She was about to put the bottle, in which there was still some water, safely away, when, as she said herself, the bottle was taken from her hands and dashed on the floor. The child’s eye soon got well, the old lady said, and she looked on the breaking of the bottle as a warning that she should not attempt to store any of the water but to get a fresh supply if she ever needed it again. (215/216:0362)

A shame that we could not find this potent well.

Abigail’s Well, Kilgobnet

After the limited success of the first three wells, the final well in our search was worth waiting for. We knew we were getting close and on the right track when we sailed past the Well Bar.

Abbeys Well, was once highly regarded and much frequented (and spelled in many different ways). It is also well documented for Colonel Grove White visited in 1908 and there are several lengthy entries in the Schools’ Folklore Collection which provide invaluable information about it.

St Abbey or St Abigail or St Abby is the anglicised version of Gobnait, who has her main pilgrimage site in Ballyvourney. The nearby townland here is called Kilgobnet – Gobnait’s church. This is the story:

The patron saint of Kilshannig … is St Gobnit, but she is more commonly called St Abby. It is said that it had been revealed to her that she should get a church built at a spot at where she should see nine white deer, and that she set out on her travels through Munster in quest of her site indicated in her vision. At several places she saw some number of white deer, she blessed those places and a spring gushed forth in each of them. She finally saw the nine white deer in Ballyvourney. There she got her church built and there she died and beside that church she was buried. Schools’ Folklore Collection (03/094: 0363)

The well is to be found in an old graveyard which seems to have evolved around the well itself, people begin anxious to be buried in such holy ground.  Grove White suggests that it might originally have been in a ringfort. The trees also seemingly planted themselves:

It is situated in a graveyard about twenty yards from the road and not in the vicinity of any church, old or new. There is a line of trees around the well each of a different quality, namely ash, Whitethorn and sycamore. it is said that these trees sprung up of their own accord. There is a protecting wall built over the well built about 50 years ago by a a local mason, Mr Horgan. (Grove White)

The wellhouse is a wonderful structure:

It is protected by a wall of stone and mortar in the form of a hood so that the approach to the well is open towards the east. The overflow to the well is towards the north.

The hood is D shaped, corbelled stone with a splayed entrance, steps leading down into the well itself.

Abbey’s Well

The National Inventory of Architectural Heritage gives a date of 1800 for the wellhouse, saying that it was erected around an earlier well, though other sources give a date of the 1870s. The above quote refers to a Mr Horgan as the mason whilst the information board at the entrance to the graveyard refers to the wonderfully named Johnny the Prayers who looked after the well and was responsible for the two plaques that adorned the outside of the well. The plaque above the entrance remains and is a limestone slab, inscribed with the following words: St Abigail expelling the plague 1872. The saint is represented, kneeling at an altar but both words and image are very hard to see. A cross is deeply inscribed upon it.

Inscribed plaque over entrance

Apparently this plaque had originally been inside the well and had been painted. When it was later put outside the paint came off and the original image was cut in relief. Grove White gives more information:

… Over it (the well) is erected a building, nearly rotund in form, and when Mr. Windele
visited the place there was a rude painting in a panel on the wall inside, representing St. Abigail kneeling before an altar, expelling the plague…Canon Wilson says that this panel, having become detached, was years ago was re-erected and set in the centre of the arch, showing outward, in front. The design, cut in relief, no longer shows colouring. In the Windele MSS. (R.I.A.), vol. 14, p. 537, is a sketch of the building over Abigail’s well.
(Journal for 1905, p. 53.) I visited this Holy Well in May, 1908. I found the following inscription
on a stone on south side of the building erected over the well:

St Abby’s Well, 1908. Photo by Colonel Grove White

1. H. S.
+
PRAY
For the suffering Souls
in Purgatory
And especially
Those who erected

This stone.
In memory of
St. Abigal
Expelling the
Plague.
A.D. 1874.

On the east side over entrance to the well are the following words, etc.

(A carved figure about six inches long and three broad.)
St. Abigal
Expelling
The Plague.
A.D. 1872

There seems to be no sign of the plaque described as being on the south side. but there are stones around the well that are cross inscribed and some bear the words kneel and pray roughly cut into them. These would once have been incorporated into the rounds.

Venturing into the well through the womb-like entrance, it is disappointing to find it is now dry – well, dampish. The earth floor is muddy and there are coins and other artefacts scattered in it.

Interior of the well, now dry

A little niche to the left of the entrance holds an assortment of cups and candles, and on the right are some statues of the BVM and plastic flowers.

Everywhere had been thoroughly and efficiently whitewashed  – even the rosaries and little figures. I emerged pretty white myself.

Whitewashed

The water was once considered potent and contained a cure for all sorts of diseases, especially for sore eyes and limbs. A trout and an eel were also said to reside within:

…. it is said that an eel and a trout live are supposed to inhabit this well. The trout is supposed to be seen by people doing the rounds if their requests are to be granted. If not an eel may be seen. A few years ago a man named Jack Sullivan went paying rounds for his son who got a pain in his leg. One day as he was kneeling in front of the well he noticed the trout jump about the well. He had often heard it was very lucky to see a trout. To his surprise when he returned home the pain was gone. There was also a woman whose son fell seriously ill. She went paying rounds for him at Abby’s Well. One day as she was kneeling beside the well she noticed an eel in the water. When she returned home she informed the neighbours of what she had seen. She did not know anything about the eel but one of the onlisteners told her it was very unlucky to see an eel. Soon after the boy died. Schools’ Folklore Collection (139 -142:0363)

A rather chastening story and the first time I have come across eels being considered unlucky, usually it is also considered good luck to see them. Note too how the rounds could be done in proxy for someone too ill to attend themselves.

The annual pattern day was 11th February, St Gobnait’s day and was once a very special occasion with a distinct holiday air. It was a three day event with hawkers, music, dancing and general merrymaking .

On the 11th February every year rounds are paid to this well. It is like a national holiday for the district. Men, women and children all turn out in their best style… The rounds are usually performed by commencing the rosary in front of the well, saying the Decade there and moving on clockwise round, saying a Decade at each station. In front of the well on pattern day are two or three poor women who supply glasses of water to the pilgrims who are expected to pay at least a penny each ….. The attendance of the pattern is getting smaller each year.The old people remember a time when the young men of different townlands of the parish used to assemble int he fields near Abby’s Well and compete for ‘Championship of the Parish’ with hop-step-and-jump and long jump. Schools’ Folklore Collection (139-142:0363)

Rounds could also be paid on Fridays and Sundays and it was usually necessary to only do one round, stopping to recite the rosary at the inscribed stones and completing the process by drinking the water or taking some home. Many houses would have bottles containing water from the well. The water of course was not to be used for anything other than holy purposes and would never boil.

It is good to see the well is still cared for and revered and I believe prayers are still held here on the 11th February. It is sad to see that is is now dry, recently dry by the look of it, and I hope that might be rectifiable. A tranquil and special place.

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

St Gregory & St Catherine: two secretive wells in North Cork

Visiting North Cork with some friends we headed in the direction of Glanworth, first stopping off at two saintly wells: one dedicated to St Gregory and the other to St Catherine.

 Gregory’s Well, Tobercarrown, Ballyshonock

This well is not marked on the current OS map but is referred to as Tobercarrown on the historic 25 inch map. Colonel Grove White visited it in 1905 and had this to say about it:

In the middle of a field in the townland of Ballyshonock, in the occupation of a farmer named James Duane … is a holy well, which goes by the name of Gregory’s Well. It is situated about 650 yards north of Bowen Court, and about 70 yards from the left (east) bank of the rivulet that runs through Farahy. It is not shown on the 6 in OS map. The spring bubbles up in the centre of the well at the bottom. It has never been known to run dry. The overflow goes into the stream through a dam made by the father of James Duane. The water from the holy well has the reputation of curing bad sight. People from the surrounding countryside came here to pay rounds when suffering from any diseas …. Heard from a man living within a couple of fields of the Holy Well, near Bowen Court estate, that about 10 to 14 years ago a young man who had been brought up at Bowen Court went to the Unites States of America, and while there got practically blind. He came back to his native place and drank the water from Gregory’s well, also applied the water to his eyes. In about three or four months he regained his sight and returned to America.

Rev Canon Lynch gives: Such wells as this are often called Tobar a’ Chaeich or ‘well of the blind man’ …. As Gregory’s Well is a Holy Well, it is possible that it was so called from Pope Gregory, whose festival is referred to in the Pipe Roll of Cloyne. (Grove White, Vol III)

Gregory’s Well, 1905. Photo by Colonel Grove White

The 1915 OS map shows a  path leading down along the edge of the evocatively named Bathingpond Wood, past several fords and stepping stones but we suspected today’s route might not be so straight forward. We asked at the house. Tom and Hazel were delightful. They gave us instructions how to find the well: through the barn, under the washing, then down the boreen, and over a ditch. First we discussed history and other things with them. Their house was on the site of an old castle and behind it remained an old house that had once entertained de Valera and had consequently be blown up by the Black and Tans. All calm today and nicely restored. Over the road lay the remains of Bowen’s Court, mentioned by Grove White, and the churchyard in which Elizabeth Bowen was buried but we didn’t have item to get the key – this time. They knew a little about the well and could remember older people occasionally venturing down. Tom could recall when half of it had been covered by some boards and a young heifer had knelt down to drink from the well, only to get stuck and drown. They expressed concern that no-one had been for many years and apologised in advance for what we might find.

The walk down the boreen was beautiful, following the path of the Farahy River – wheat fields and big cloudage, a small ford then some scrambling under fences and over ditches.

A young man was working in his tractor. He seemed unfazed by people emerging from the waist high grasses into his field. He thought the well was over by the river, look out for a Danger sign, he advised.

The GPS led us on, we squeezed through a gap in the fence and then down towards the river. The palettes as described by Tom were still in place, rotten and collapsed, or maybe these were newer. The whole area was choked with brambles and water plants.

Remains of palette covering well

A bit of careful clearing and stone masonry was revealed tucked under layers of greenery, the water once released immediately bubbling up and flowing out down to the river.

After a little careful clearing

It seems this well has always been a bit bosky for this nice excerpt appears in the Mallow Field Journal, 1987:

A holy well, named St. Gregory’s, exists in Farrahy townland
and is in perfect condition to-day. It was noticed for the first time
over a hundred years ago flowing into a local stream. The owner of
the land watered his cattle in it. One day, a strange young man
spoke to him as he watered his stock: ‘Would you mind, Sir, taking
better care of that well?’ He took the question seriously and built
masonry around the well.

The masonry is just discernible but looking a bit worse for wear and the tidiness of the well frequently seems to have caused concern. Interesting how these two excerpts from the Schools’ Folklore Collection refer to the same stories but add some intriguing details:

There is a holy well in the townland of Ballyshonock in Mr Dwanes. The well is noted for curing people. One night about fifty or sixty years ago a certain man passed the well late at night. He saw a person standing by the well. The person called the man … and asked him to go and ask the owner to secure it and fence around it. The man went to the owner and told him what had happened. The owner of the well gave orders to his men to go and secure the well. One of the people of the house had lost his health and when the well got properly secured he regained his health. About the same time there was a man named James Dunne living in Farraghy.  He went to America and after some years in America he lost his sight. He dreamed in America that he would be cured if he came home and made rounds to the well.  So begor he did and when he landed at home he had to be led to the well. He paid one round and he came the second day and he paid a second round and the third day he came by himself and he went back to America with his sight. ( 256/257: 0373)

Hints of masonry

There is a blessed well in the townland of Ballyshnock, Kildorrery County Cork in a field belonging to Mr Martin Dwane. Years ago it was said that the well was in Farrahy and people used to take the water for washing clothes. The old people said the well removed from there to Ballyshonock. One evening as the owner of the field was driving home his cows a man appeared to him and told him to fence in the well from the cattle and he did so. The saint of this well is St Geoffrey. The water of this well is known for curing eyes. About four years ago my father had a very sore eye and he was making rounds to the well. One evening while he was praying the saint appeared to him in the form of a trout and in a few days he was cured. It is also said that about twenty years ago the well was ill used by a tramp who was passing by.The waters next morning were changed into mud. Then a woman from the townland came and poured holy water into it and it was cleared. (261/262:073)

Several interesting things in the last extract – another name for the well, another North Cork well that takes offence and moves, and the appearance of the saint as a fish. Interesting too that the only story that Tom could remember about the well was one about a heifer drowning in the well – the negligence of the well and concerns for the security of cattle continuing in folk memory.

When we returned to our car, two sheets of paper were afixed to the windscreen – details about St Gregory! It seems there are two Gregorys – the third and the Great. I think our man might be the Great (540-604), Pope. He is the one who gave is name to Gregorian chants and I remember him from my schooldays as the Pope who, upon seeing fair haired British slave children in the market place in Rome, referred to them as angels not angles. His was feast day was originally 12th March, when it is still celebrated in Orthodox church, but was changed in 1969 to 3rd September.

Astonishing how interesting a neglected piece of water can be.

St Catherine’s Well, Ballydeloughy

Another of these temperamental North Cork Wells that removed itself to a different site when offended, St Catherine’s Well started off in the graveyard of St Catherine’s church, Ballydeloughy (CO019-085001). We started off there too, walking though a field to the ancient enclosed site, squeezing through a large and impressive stone gate.

Entrance to the remains of St Catherine’s Church

When Colonel Grove White visited more than a hundred years ago, he searched here and there within this enclosure but could find no sign of the original well. Nor could we. But what a magical place: enclosed, wooded, some ancient and decorative tombstones, flourishing fungi and fox holes.

We admired the tiny carving of the Celtic looking face on  the corner of the remains of the church – reputed to be St Catherine herself.

Carved head of St Catherine; photo by Peter Clarke

Then headed back to the roadside to try and find the well, removed to a sycamore tree in the field boundary near the remains of the castle (CO019-087). The remains of Ballydeloughy Castle are somewhat scant.

The scant remains of Ballydeloughy Castle

The hedgerow was dense and thick, we searched amongst the trees and in the ditch. My husband gave a shout – he had found a hollow in a sycamore tree. It looked interesting but moving one tree to the right we found another hollow, this time water-filled.

St Catherine’s Well, nestling in the trunk of a sycamore tree

The well was reputed to never go dry. A young man was just driving his car in through some gates across the road. We ran to ask him if he knew of the well. He didn’t but said he would be right back with his mother. He was true to his word and she said yes, she knew of the well and confirmed that the smaller water-filled hollow was indeed the well. Our experience was very similar to Grove White’s:

An old man showed me the hollow stump of a sycamore tree, which
is situated on the fence bordering the public road of the field in which
the ruins of Ballylough Castle stand. He told me that it held water in
the driest summer, even when the neighbouring spring wells ran dry.
It was full of water when I saw it at the end of September,1905. The
people are inclined to believe that it is the holy well resuscitated, the one
which was filled in a long time ago near the old church. (Grove White 1905)

How magical that this tiny well had survived into the 21st century in spite of intrusions and lack of visitors – and it was still full of water. St Catherine’s feast day is the 25th November.

And we did get to Glanworth which has many delights of its own: castle, friary, church, mill, ancient bridge.

I was pleased to see St Dominic’s Well has had a bit of a tidy up too and is being monitored by the National Monuments Service.

St Dominic’s Well, Glanworth

Many thanks to Tom and Hazel for their help in locating St Gregory’s Well and the mother and son at St Catherine’s Well.
The location of these wells can  be found in the Gazetteer.

St Declan, St Leonard & a Poor Child

St Declan’s Well, Tobarnadeecla

Be warned this well, dedicated to St Declan or St Decla, is marked on the current OS map but on the wrong side of the very busy N20 just north of Buttevant! The GPS on, I was risking life and limb trying to access where I thought the well was, traffic roaring past me and a bull watching with interest from within the field. My husband, who had parked the car on the other side of the road, stopped a farmer who had also parked his tractor in the layby and asked him if he knew of any well. He pointed to a few metres away and there was a sign, hidden in the foliage: St Declan’s Well. What a very kind  man, he offered to take us down and gave us a little further information

The well is approached down some steep concrete steps then along a little leafy boreen. A tree had recently fallen down, just missing the well, but encasing it in a leafy bower.

Recently fallen tree just missing the well

A sign explained that, after years of neglect, the the whole area was renovated in 1997,

Incidentally, the well goes back beyond the early 1900s for it is marked on the earliest OS map (1841) as Tobernadeecla. The later historic OS map (1913) names it as St Decla’s Well. Presumably this is the same saint as St Declan for I haven’t been able to find any reference to a St Decla. There are also the ruins of an old church and a graveyard nearby to the west.

St Declan’s Well, restored 1997

The well is fascinating. During the renovations a new shrine was built over the well. It is made out of stainless steel with a curved domed roof topped with a metal cross. A transparent door, a bit like a washing machine, can be opened. Inside is a statue of St Theresa and some offerings: cards, medals, rosaries, statues. St Theresa was chosen as the resident saint because the well was restored during her centenary year, 1997. It’s a rather lovely statue, the saint clutching a crucifix and some roses.

The well itself is two-tiered, a little niche above the well itself once used for offerings. A circle of stones protects and defines the well which then flows off into the foliage. The water underneath is a bit ferny and leaf-strewn. It was once considered good for the treatment of sore eyes. Rounds were once paid here and the path is just visible winding through the trees. There seems to be another well opening too, now almost covered by the fallen tree. A tranquil place, secretive and surprising.

Edit: Some interesting comments have come in about this well. One is a suggestion that it may be dedicated to St Thecla , a follower of St Paul. There are several churches dedicated to her in Galicia and the UK. Other information I have received puts the original well as under the main N70.

Trinity Well, Charleville

Charleville is about as far north in Cork as you can go and boasts a large and impressive graveyard on the outskirts of the town, dedicated to the Holy Cross. The scant remains of two ancient churches lie within as does a well, Trinity Well, marked on both early OS Maps (1841, 1915). We had a wander around the graveyard and found nothing resembling a well. Eventually we asked a man who was visiting. He directed us to the man in charge of mowing the grass. Paudie looked doubtful when I mentioned a well and said he’d never seen nor heard of it but … he knew someone who might. His mobile was retrieved and a phonecall made. He stared at me in astonishment. There was a well and it was right behind us!  A keen visitor of wells, he had been to Tubrid in Millstreet and Inghne Bhuide’s Well in Dromtarriff, but was amazed to learn that there was one on his patch. Easy to see why he had never noticed it for it was a sorry looking thing.

Trinity Well, Charleville

The well is roughly circular in shape, with a chunky stone and cement base out of which sprouts a fir tree, dead heathers surrounding it. A bottle underneath the foliage I suspect was not for containing holy water.

I have found no other information except for the rather mournful information that the well supposedly dried up because a diseased infant was bathed in it.

St Sinnades Well, Toberlenade, Newtownshandrum

St Sinnades Well, or St Leonard’s (it is referred to as Toberlenade on the historic OS maps) proved elusive though it sounded interesting:

 In pasture, on E side of field fence. Well lined with wall of stone and cement. Wall built up on one side to encase flat unmarked slab. Metal cross mounted on top of wall. According to local information, ‘visited in May and associated with Our Lady’. Local tradition that well moved to here from its original site at Crannavella Tree (14044) c. 1.4km to SW following use of well water for washing. Dunworth (1989, 51) names it ‘Tobarineid that is St Sinnades well’ and noted that it ‘contained a cure for eye complaints and in the old days people with sore eyes used to come to it from far and near.’ He (ibid.) also noted that it had a ‘pattern day’ but does not give a date.

By now the weather had closed in and the going was unpleasant. The next well proved exceptionally difficult to locate and I had a very soggy time looking in a very wet GAA pitch then in some fields behind bungalows. Again more cattle, still curious. Eventually I asked at the local shop. The woman looked askance but remembered a Mass being said recently and a spring and cups being involved. That sounded promising but was a red herring but an attractive one – part of the village had been tidied up as a memorial  which included restoring this stream area.

Further rummaging around and the GPs led me to some rather uninspiring muddiness. Could this be all that remains of St Leonard’s well?

Sadly it was too wet to check out the Crannavella tree from whence the well was meant to have come and several other possible sites were postponed due to the deluge. I will be back.

Many thanks to Paudie for his help in locating Trinity Well.
The location of these wells can be found in the Gazetteer.

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.

Some Curious Wells near Doneraile

Fuelled with a large and delicious breakfast at the  Café Townhouse in Doneraile a clutch of wells were on the agenda today resulting in two no shows, an unexpected possible and a dilapidated well in a curious position.

St Coneela’s Well, Doneraile

St Coneela’s Well, in the townland of Horseclose and on the edge of the town, sounded intriguing and was last recorded in the Archaeological Inventory in 2009:

On N side of millrace off N side of Awbeg River. Open oval stone-lined well (1.4m E-W; 1m N-S; D 0.6m) at base of natural rise; stone lining, largely collapsed, reaches max. H of 1m to NE where it is built into rise. Three steps set into rise on NW side lead down into well. Statue of Blessed Virgin set into mature ash tree on NE side; rosary beads hang from tree. Two circular water-filled holes (diam. c. 0.6m), one possibly stone lined, set equidistant (1m) to S and W. According to Jones (1902, 238), well connected with ‘Coneela a Colliagh, one of three virgin saints of Doneraile, Drinagh Wood and Wallstown. It would appear that during some of the earlier wars in Ireland these girls were forced to fly from near Waterford, as some of the invaders attracted by their beauty were anxious to take them in marriage.

An old map of Doneraile, dated 1728, reproduced in Colonel Grove White’s Historical & Topical Notes etc. Volume III, (1906-15), clearly shows the well in an area then known as Trethewey’s Glen.

par tof a map of Doneraile dated 1728, showing St Coneela’s Well

The Colonel visited in 1913 and took a fine photograph with Lord Castletown carefully posed in front of it. He was the husband of Hon Emily Ursula Clare St Leger. Note the clooties.

St Coneela’ Well, photo taken by Colonel Grove White, 1913

The well is still marked on the current OS map and seemed to be located on the banks of the River Awbeg. We approached from many different angles but always met with a closed gate or impenetrable foliage. We decided that it must be on Doneraile Golf Club links and entered via the main entrance. We asked someone playing golf if they had ever heard of a holy well on the links and were met with blank looks. Plan B: we decided to walk along the other side of the river and hope that we might be able at least to see the well if not get to it. We wandered through a very dilapidated area full of burnt out, derelict buildings – once rather fine by the look of them, old schools and warehouses. Then we fought our way through bog and brambles following the river. There was evidence of what might have been an old mill and the mill race. We thought we might even have found the old ash tree described above but there was no sign of any well.

After further research once home, I think the well is definitely on the golf links so I will have to re-visit.*

*Further research undertaken and a visit to the Golf Club and a possible site for the well found: was this small pump house on the spot of the original well? The GPS seemed to think so. A  mature ash tree was to be found very close by.

Well of the Eyes, Tobersool, Knockacur

This well is also marked on the current OS map and lies just south of the town of Doneraile in Dreenagh Woods, once part of Doneraile Park estates. It is also marked on the 6 inch historic map (1841) and it looks as though a path, now vanished, once passed right by it. There was no chance of getting in the wood, the undergrowth was too thick and impenetrable. We reluctantly abandoned the search.

Jungle in Dreenagh Woods, once part of Doneraile Park

It seems that this well was associated with one of the three virgin saints described in the Archaeological Inventory for St Coneela’s Well, above. There is no record of a dedication but the 1913 OS map refers to it as Tobersool, well of the eyes. Colonel Grove White (Vol 111) mentions that it was also useful for scurvy and he includes a photograph of it taken in 1913. That’s Lord Castletown again in the foreground.

Tobarsool, Doneraile

Incidentally, according to WA Jones in his book Doneraile Legends, written in 1913, all sorts of ghosts were said to haunt Doneraile Park including a Radiant Boy (always bright with fiery stars), some ghostly foxhounds and at this well, two nuns who sometimes appeared at midnight!

Lady’s Well, Doneraile Park

Next stop was Doneraile Court & Wildlife Park and the sun was now shining. What a magnificent place – the parkland designed in the style of Capability Brown, the big house attractive and nicely proportioned, once home to the St Ledger family, including Lord Castletown of course.

Doneraile Park, once home to the St Leger family

The well is not listed in the Archaeological inventory but is marked on the early OS maps as Lady’s Well. Colonel Grove White doesn’t mention it and the following short description is all I can find about it:

South of the river is the Lady’s Well, fed by strong natural springs. The pipe of the ‘ram’ which pumped water to the house from the well is still visible. A ram was a mechanical device which used the energy from flowing water to raise some of the water to a higher level. An attractive feature of the Lady’s Well Wood is a natural rockery. In the nineteenth and early twentieth centuries the rockery was planted with woodland flowers among which the Christmas rose (helleborus niger) was outstanding. (Eircom.net.)

Was it a holy well or was it part of the extensive landscaping described above? Charles Smith in his book The Ancient and Present State of the County and City of Cork, published in 1750 refers to the extensive landscaping and pleasure gardens and I wonder if this might have been one of the many features incorporated into the park.The well lies within a wooded area known as Lady’s Well Wood,, close to the river. The spring emerges from under from a jumble of stone slabs into a pool, then flows off into the woodland. The remains of a stone wall are visible around the pool and a lopsided tree grows around the stones. It’s a very peaceful spot.

Lady’s Well, Doneraile Park

The water was very fresh and clear. Traces of red brick within looked a bit suspicious. Authentic or not, it was a very pleasant place to wander, a wonderful amenity to have on your doorstep and free to the public.

There is another well-like structure near the car park, again not indicated on the map.

Well near public car park

St Branit’s Well, Wallstown

The next well was in Wallstown, the third well referred to in relation to the virgin saints, though she now seems to have acquired to two different siblings: Nicholas and Cranit.The saint in questioned is St Branit, or possibly St Branait or St Brenet. Or even St Bernard! The historic OS maps have the well named as St Bernard’s Well.  Colonel Grove White adds to the confusion:

Beside Wallstown is the townland of Doonawanly or (more correctly) Doonavally … Here is St. Branat’s (or Brenet or Bernard’s) Well and Johnny Roche’s Tower and Mill (apart from Wallstown Castle, the main features of this end of the parish). This Well is only one of three (v. Monanimy and Clenor) still resorted to, as appears from the traditional Rag Bush beside it. Branat is possibly the Saint of Killbranner. (Grove White Volume IV)

The Archaeological Inventory description gives further intriguing details:

To SE of Castle Curious (14947), at foot of sycamore tree. Oval depression with low wall to S; well opens to E to allow egress of water. Collapsing corrugated iron shelter to NNE holds pictures, votive offerings and cups; rags tied to tree and nearby bush; still in holy use. According to Byrne (1902, 88), originally dedicated to St Branait, ‘a sister to Cranith of Clenor and Nicholas of Monanimy’. Noted for curing limbs (O’Reilly 1987, 130) and pilgrims who were cured were expected to leave something at well; once a number of ‘old fashioned boots were found in a hollow in the tree’; woman who paid rounds there failed to carry water from well as bottle broke on two occasions.

Several things that fascinate here – the mention of the corrugated iron shelter and the wonderfully named Castle Curious. I hoped the shelter would look something like this little one: Gortaneadin Grotto, just outside Inchigeela, the site of multiple apparitions by the Blessed Virgin Mary in 1986/87.

Gortaneadin Grotto, Inchigeelagh

Like all special wells, St Branit’s Well took a bit of finding but we were lucky enough to meet a man with his dog who gave us directions. He also gave the usual warnings that it was very overgrown and would be difficult to find and there was nothing much to see, but told us to looks out for a rusty gate then follow the track downwards. Gate found we followed the leafy path.

The path down to the well

Stumbling through the waist high nettles and brambles an amazing sight loomed up – Castle Curious! This extraordinary and unexpected building (currently for sale should you fancy investing 130,000 euros) was the design and home of a local eccentric Johnny Roche.

Castle Curious, home to Johnny Roche

The eircom history website offers this description:

Johnny Roche of the Tower (or Castle Curious) was a local celebrity. Born in the early part of the 19th century, he married and went to America about 1840. There, after a short while, they separated. After travelling around for a while, he returned to his home, and with knowledge gained added to his native genius, he built a mill for preparing wool and flannel, later used to cut flags for tomb stones. The sight of this machine inspired one local to the poetic effusion: “This is another of Roche’s toys that does little work but makes a great noise” which so annoyed Johnny that he converted the mill to grind corn, (the stones were to be seen lying in the vicinity until recently ). He was a self-sufficient man and built a castle single-handed over a period of three years. Here he lived and practiced his original craft of blacksmith. He is reputed to have made his own clothing, from shearing the sheep to tailoring the suit (and making the buttons). He made and repaired fiddles and musical pipes, and is credited as being ahead of his time as a Dentist. Given advance notice, he could prepare a false tooth from a cow’s hoof, and fit it in place of an extracted one. He also sculpted busts, three of which were owned by Grove White and another has recently come to light. His independence was such that the only tool he ever bought was an anvil and when he devised a scheme for ploughing his little land by adapting the power of the water wheel, he was about to grow flax for the hemp to make a rope. However, an admirer supplied the necessary rope. Many more stories are told of him and his inventions. If discipline were added to his genius, what might have been achieved? He died on the 10th of February, 1884, but was not buried in his self built tomb in the middle of the river, for which he had prepared his own epitaph:- ‘Here lies the body of poor John Roche, he had his faults but don’t reproach; For when alive his hearth was mellow, An artist, genius and comic fellow.’ The ‘Coroner’ Byrne is reputed to have sent a note to Johnny on hearing of the tomb; ‘Go, rest thy bones in Mother Earth and don’t pollute the river.’

He sounds a very useful and inventive man, but there’s no mention of the well which preceded Castle Curious. The sycamore tree described in the Inventory is still there and the area extremely overgrown but promisingly damp. First we spotted all that remained of the tin shelter – not quite how I had imagined it.

Collapsed pilgrims’ shelter

It was severely deflated and flattened, rather a sorry sight but careful investigation under the corrugated iron proved we were in the right spot as a small crucifix and the shard of an old cup were revealed. No sign of any rags on the trees and no other offerings.

Further rootling around and the well itself was revealed, close to the tree: sturdy blocks of stone arranged in a horseshoe formation from which water effused.

St Branit’s Well

As always the Schools’ Folklore Collection contains entries which throw more light on this particular well:
There is a well at Shanballymore, three miles from Castletownroche, at a place called Doonevaley, convenient to Johnny Roche’s famous tower.This (was) a holy well and in days gone by, patterns were held there and several cure effected. Sore legs, toothache and earache were renowned cures. It is told that a servant girl went to this well one morning to make tea for those who attended the stations. The kettle was filled with the holy well water but no matter how long it was kept on a bright fire it would not boil.The people growing suspicious made inquires as to where she obtained the water and were horrified to find that it came from the local holy well. Next morning when the people attended the stations in a neighbouring house, they were amazed to hear that the well had moved its location to the next parish with its tree bearing relics which had been placed on it. (117: 0372)
There seem to be no other references to this well moving but further entries describe how  it was customary to pay three rounds to the well, bathe eyes or other affected areas, drink the water and finally leave a rag in the tree.

St Branit’s well is near the tree, the corrugated shelter to the left

The rag tree, which I assume is the sycamore tree, is still standing and now very large. It must  have been rather impressive for here it is describe, somewhat snidely, in the Journal of 1896, quoted in Grove White:
… Pilgrims affected by various ailments have been known to resort thither from time immemorial and as is prevailing practice in such places, have decorated the bushes with a variety of different hued ribbons, such gaudy display affords the visitors an index to the reputed sanctity of the waters below
This photo from Grove White show what it looked like in 1917.

Castle Curious & St Branit’s Well. Photo by Grove White 1917

All entries in the Schools’ Collection refer to the well as being dedicated to St Branit. She no longer seems to be associated with the Horseclose and Knockacur wells but is referred to as the sibling of Nicholas of Monanimy and Cranit of Clenor. Both have wells dedicated to them, and both wells moved because they were sleighted in some way. The story of the beautiful young woman pops up again for St Cranat was said to have been pursued by unwanted suitors and in fury plucked out her eye in order to mar her looks. A tree sprouted up where her eye fell – Crann na hUlla, the Tree of the Eye.
Nearby is a Holy Well dedicated to St. Cranat. Like St. Nicholas’s Well, this also travelled; from Killura, 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 of 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. (Eircom history website).
I have visited the rather neglected  St Nicholas Well and the site of St Cranit’s Well, of which nothing remains.  It’s interesting how the story of three siblings seems a recurring one (I’m thinking of Inghne Bhuidhe) and her two sisters) as does that of beautiful young woman marring her beauty in order to reject suitors (St Bridget reputedly plucked out her eye when told she was to marry someone she didn’t want to and it dangled on her cheek, popping back in its socket only when the proposal was rejected).
 The locations of these wells can be found in the Gazetteer.

Well Shifting around Donoughmore

Still travelling to Doneraile, three wells around Donoughmore lured us off the N20. All three were dedicated to  St Lachteen, he of the beautiful arm reliquary and multiple wells around Kilnamartrya. He is also considered to be patron saint of Donoughmore and many churches and schools are still named after him, as are the three wells. The wells are all connected, not just by name and saint, but the first two had seemingly shifted, for various reasons, to the third well at Grenagh which is still active.

St Lachteen’s Well, Ballykerwick

This was one of those wells that on the map looked as though it was the middle of nowhere, with no clear route to it. That assumption seemed pretty accurate. First I tried going over what seemed to be a public field and was met by three bouncy greyhounds, resplendent in pink collars. Then I tried another route, eventually asking at a nearby house. The man within knew of the well but advised that I needed to speak to his brother who lived in the next house. Connie was having his dinner but kindly put on his wellies and took me out to the field. I was astonished! In the middle of this large green field stood the most magnificent beech tree, solitary and proud.

The imposing beech tree

As we approached (with pink collared greyhounds who it turned out belonged to Connie) I could see that the tree had grown over a circular stone wall giving the trunk its distinctive shape.

Remains of the well plus greyhound

Going round to the front I just gasped! What an extraordinary and evocative sight. The tree had the well in a firm embrace, enclosing what had once been a circular wall with a lintel above. Connie explained that the cattle loved this tree and would rub up against it and and even climb it. He showed me where the lintel had fallen and collapsed in front of what had been the well opening, the water once flowing out underneath. Another lintel remained within, the tree slowly engulfing it. The entry in the Archaeological Inventory describes the beech tree as being behind the well but it had made strides since then.

Connie said the well had been dry for at least 30 or 40 years when the field was drained. He said he thought the well had shifted before that and had moved to a new home in Grenagh, a nearby townland. We admired the stone work of the wall which was indeed good and agreed the tree was exceptionally impressive. We lamented that nothing was being done to protect it. What an incredibly powerful and potent place.

Interestingly there seems to be a similar well dedicated to St Lachteen in Limerick.

St Lachteen’s  Well, Knockyrouke

900m further north was another well dedicated to St Lachteen, in the townland of Knockyrouke, hill of the rooks. The Archaeological Inventory described it rather unexcitedly as a muddy patch in the ground (1939, Hartnett). The description was more or less accurate. It’s now a dip in a hedge and was full of grass clippings and other garden waste. I couldn’t get hugely excited about it either.

Once it had attracted many pilgrims but this well too had shifted though the reasons for this vary from a young woman washing her feet in it, to a man trying to cut the tree above it, to British soldiers desecrating it, to blood being spilled in it. Take your pick, but whatever happened the well was severely offended. These North Cork wells can be quick to take umbrage.

Long ago St Lachteen’s Well in Knockyrouke in Donoughmore was visited by a great number of people on a certain day. Rounds were paid and people drank of the water. On one occasion a terrible fight took place and blood was spilled into the holy well. That night it moved to Grenagh…. Schools’ Folklore Collection, (069:0347)

Early OS maps refer to the well as the site of so this event must have happened at least a couple of hundred years ago, probably after a pattern which got a bit over enthusiastic. St Lachteen’s feast day is the 19th March.

St Lachteen’s Well, Toberlaghteen, Grenagh

The two wells described above moved to the townland of Garryadean near Grenagh, upset by the various ignoble events:

There are not many holy wells in the parish. The one I know the best is in the parish of Grenagh and it is named after the saint of the parish, St Lachteen.

This well was in the parish or townland of Knockyrouke, but one day a man tried to cut the tree which grew over it with a saw; when he had entered a little into the tree, the saw refused to work and he failed to cut it. Next morning the well was gone and it was afterwards found in the adjoining parish of Grenagh.

This wasn’t my first visit to Grenagh. When I had had an expedition to Blarney, this well was last on my list. I found the spot, got out of the car and the heavens opened with a sheet of hail. When I looked in the field a gigantic bull and his cows regarded me with interest. I resolved to leave it for another day. Today was the day and conditions looked much more promising.

The wells of Knockyrouke and Ballykerwick chose wisely for this is a beautiful site: green sloping pasture and to the left thick fields of ripening barley lined by a row of purple thistles.

The well lay below, a tiny copse, surrounded by what looked like a new wooden fence.

The well is enclosed by a wooden fence

It’s a delightful spot, spruced up yet still retaining an ancient feel. A cluster of hawthorn trees surround the wellhouse which is a little quirky: a ramshackle stone beehive nicely made, cut into the slope, with a wooden cross on top. The top is scattered with white quartz and an array of various offerings. A slab gives access to the water underneath which is abundant, fresh and cold. Cups are placed amongst the quartz.

St Lachteen’s Well

Crosses have been etched into the stones by pilgrims. Wooden benches here and there hint at crowds and the whole site is stepped and well maintained.

The water runs out into the fields below, plentiful. The annual pattern day was held on St John’s Day, as described in this Schools’ Folklore entry:

The people pay rounds there on St John’s Day If they wanted to pay rounds any other time of the year they should go two Fridays and a Sunday, or two Sundays and one Friday.They should say a rosary each time they visit the well and leave some little offering there. The water of the well is very  pure and cold. The people drink it. Every time you visit the well you could take a few sips of the water and take some of it home to a sick person. The water is not to be boiled or given to cattle. If it were disrespected it would remove. (067/068: 0347)

It was traditional to leave a small offering having visited the well and the water was considered especially efficacious for sore eyes. Mass is till celebrated here. This description dates from 2010:

Grenagh parish has its own (holy well), St Lachteen’s Well on the Walsh farm at Garryadeen. On St John’s night for the past number of years mass has been celebrated at the holy well. This year we celebrated a mass of healing, particularly for the many sick people in the parish. It was a wonderful occasion, helped no doubt by the fine evening. The beautiful singing with the musical accompaniment of Peadar Cranitch, who also played lovely airs on his tin whistle, wafted through the countryside, to the accompaniment of the singing of the birds, which made for a heavenly environment. This is a great occasion for the parish and all present were enriched and uplifted, in stark contrast to other gatherings of ugly bonfires which polluted the atmosphere and caused many euros worth of damage all over the county around the same time.The Corkman, 1.7.2010

I imagine there must have been visitations on St Lachteen’s feast day too, 19th March. Not much seems to be know about the saint who was born in the mid 6th century. His legacy remains strong though in the many wells, churches, schools etc dedicated to him in the parishes of Donoughmore and Kilnamartrya – and that magnificent reliquary, now viewable in the National Museum, Dublin.

Special thanks to Connie for showing me the well in Ballykerwick.
The location of these wells can be found in the Gazetteer.