Category Archives: General

Exploring around the M8

A very fruitful three days in East and Mid Cork enjoying a spot of well hunting. A fine variety was discovered, this little crop lurking on either side of the M8.

St Cuain’s Well, Tobairin Cuain, Knockraha

This well sounded intriguing: I liked both names – Knockraha (hill of the forts) and the unusual and little known, at least by me, St Cuain. The entry in the Schools’ Folklore Collection sounded interesting too:

There is a holy well in the glen underneath Kilquane graveyard. The well is covered over like a house. It is on a rock. There are a few trees growing around it and seven small stones like seven little headstones. People recite the rosary on these stones and there is a cross cut into each one of them. St John’s Day is the day on which rounds are performed. Long ago it was a very popular well, Crowds used to visit it. The custom is dying out now and you would only see a few people going to visit it. There is a niche on each side of the wall around the well like a little window in which are little statues of the blessed Virgin. There is a cup to drink the water and when you are leaving the well you should leave something after you such as a ribbon or a button. There is a small well out from the big well in which people wash any place that would be affected with sore or ache and some people carry a bottle of water home with them… School’s Folklore Collection 102:0382

A delightful drive through small green roads grappling with both driving and using the GPS, when a signpost and parking spot came into view, how very civilised!  An amble through light woodland, a river cascading to the left, everywhere lush and green.

Raised path leading to the well

An imposing yew tree and an even larger beech tree signified that something interesting was about to be revealed.

The original ‘small’ well?

Tucked behind the yew tree and under the beech was a small stone structure built into the bank, complete with a niche containing a statue of a male saint; St Patrick, I think, minus his shamrock. A stone in the front advised to kneel and pray. I suspect this was the small well where pilgrims once washed affected places. There was no water visible today but the smattering of written prayer requests showed that the shrine still had potency.

Beyond this, steps were cut into bank, leading upwards, an odd chair-shaped stone with a cross carved into it lay to the side. The well itself was built into the hillside, stone slabs in the front for prayer, the whole structure rich in ferns.

St Cuain’s Well, with little ‘headstone’ inscribed with a cross visible

Tobairin Cuain a plaque on the top announced; this was put up by the local Pioneer Abstinence Association in 1975. Actually the whole site was restored more recently in 2000, as part of a Millennium Project by the local community. Inscribed crosses were cut into the stones on each side of the well, the crosses now painted black – the little headstones as described in the Folklore excerpt. The water within was abundant but a bit murky; a niche to the right contained a heart-shaped icon of the BVM, spent candles and a small medal.

A cross overlooked the whole scene. This was erected in 1950, another holy year, and a plaque attached to it in 2000, commemorating local men Ned Fitzgerald and Mick and Jimmy Sheridan.

This place had the most tranquil air, almost soporific, yet it obviously remains a popular and relevant place for several cars rolled up whilst I was here and people came to pay their respects.

St Cuain’s Well was traditionally visited on St Johns Eve, 23rd June, when rounds were paid. St Cuain or St Quane seems a shadowy figure but he’s given his name to the local townland: Kilquane, Quane’s Church. He seems to have been a missionary, contemporary with St Patrick, who built a church and monastery in what is now the nearby cemetery, of which nothing remains. A mass is still held here in his honour on the 10th July, his feast day.

An interesting extra fact: the well seems to be aligned to the Winter Solstice for on this day at noon the interior is lit up by the sun’s rays.

Sing Sing Prison

It’s worth just going up the road to the cemetery (CO064-026002) for this holds a chilling reminder of a very different time. Here, in an underground mausoleum, is the remains of Sing Sing Prison, used as the official prison for Cork No1 Brigade during the War of Independence. It was nicknamed Sing Sing after the American prison of the same name. After the tranquility of the well and in spite of a group of men cheerily working in the cemetery, this felt a horrible place, literally a living tomb.

Sing Sing prison, a living tomb

The cell is approximately 4.5m at it longest, barely 1.8m at its highest and is closed with a rusty metal door, the holes drilled into it by the local blacksmith to offer a little air to the miserable prisoners still visible. Black and Tans, members of the Cameron Regiment and local informers and spies were held here until dispatched, their bodies buried it the nearby bog. A wretched story, the facts of which are only recently, and controversially, being examined. Two interesting articles below:

Irish Examiner article

The Year of Disappearances

Lady’s Well, Coolgreen, near Glanmire

Bouncy, large pup

This well took a bit of finding – according to the OS map, various paths seem to lead to it and I decided to make a first attempt from the nearby farm, Coolgreen House. There was no one at home except for a very large bouncy rottweiler/doberman puppy who was thrilled to have someone to play with. I then decided to approach via the longer path which lead through fields. Frustratingly my way was then blocked by a gang of young and rather frisky looking cattle. I decided to try the shorter route once more and returned to the house. Still no one at home but then I notice a newly created road which seemed to be exactly where the path was. I followed this and lo and behold there was the well. Much work seemed to be going on here: the well was fenced off, parking and new roadways recently made around the well area which was grassed and encircled by hawthorn trees.

Quartz pile with well in background

A mound of white quartz topped with an iron cross testified to the visits of hundreds of pilgrims who had come before, leaving stones as they did the rounds.

The well lay behind the quartz mound enclosed in a stone wellhouse, a sturdy lintel holding up the roof, and a slab in front. Steps led down into the well itself.

Lady’s Well

A cross was inscribed over the entrance, a horseshoe above it for extra good luck. Further crosses were inscribed outside the structure and inside a niche held a small statue of the BVM and some candles. The well was dry but it was good to see that it had been so carefully restored for when it was last visited by the Archaeological Inventory it was described as being very overgrown.

The well is dedicated to Our Lady and rounds were traditionally made on the 15th August and during May.

The Virgin’s Little Well, Tobairin Mhuire, Ballybrack

This delightful well, a little shabby but the real thing, was easily recognisable by the profusion of that well known paint colour: BVM Blue.

The well is right on the edge of the road

The site is roughly triangular, jutting right out into the road, enclosed by concrete blocks and railings, a little metal gate topped with a cross leading the way in. It’s another beehive-shaped well, with an array of faded statuary, rosaries and medals on top.

Although it had a bit of a neglected air it had been visited recently as rhododendrons were scattered on top and in front of it. Crosses were inscribed on the outside and the customary niche inside was empty. The water was abundant, fresh and clear. No cups though. I liked this little place.

St John’s Well, Doonpeter  & Mass Rock

I had been advised to approach this well via an old Mass Path which was to be found opposite the Mass Rock. Fortunately the Mass Rock was clearly signed for this is a remote but incredibly scenic spot. Steep steps cut into the earth lead upwards into coniferous woodland, and below the river gushed over clusters of rocks. A little red bench invited admiration before the final arrival at the Rock. A small bridge lead over the river and there was the Mass Rock, literally part of the sheer cliff. Hundreds of crosses have been inscribed into the rugged cliff face, offerings crammed into every available crack. A large metal cross and a plaque told the story. An extraordinary place.

Back across the road and a red kissing gate looked hopeful as the start of the Mass Path.

There were no obvious signs that this was the right track but I decided to risk it. What an adventure. The walk was about a mile long, a beaten path clear in the undergrowth leading through rough farmland, the river down below. So many flowers were just coming into bloom, and the the sounds of bees and insects and the rushing of the water and the warbling of a robin and a wren provided a lovely accompaniment. Eventually the rough farmland turned into woodland, strewn with bluebells and wild garlic, and twisted, coppiced trees. Several bridges have to be traversed – the first very rickety and the second a rather ingenious metal contraption going right across the river. The remains of weatherbeaten benches hiding in the undergrowth spoke of all the weary pilgrims who had beaten a track down here over the years.

A word of warning, at the last stile turn right up onto the hill. I carried on further into the woodland and got hopelessly lost, eventually looking upwards only to realise that the well was obviously on top of the hill. It’s fenced off from the surrounding field for there are young cattle within but you can skirt the edge which takes you to the gate.

Turn right after this stile!

What a fascinating site, well worth the adventurous route to get here. The whole thing is enclosed in a ringfort, or possibly an ecclesuatical enclosure, (CO043-014001) the walls still remaining. A metal gate and two sturdy cross inscribed pillars lead you in. The first thing of interest is a rectangular ballaun stone ( CO043-014003)  with what looks like an intriguing thumbprint on top.

Next to this is boxed statue of St Patrick, complete with shamrock this time. I was amused at his feet.The statue was nicely done but the sculptor obviously couldn’t do feet, they dangle rather plaintively as though he was levitating! The inscribed stones could be all that remain of an ancient church which was once here, possibly the entrance doorway.

The scattering of stones, marked by a large wooden cross, is in fact a cilleen, a burial ground for the unbaptised. A smattering of stones with names inked onto them added a poignant touch – the names of the children who had left the stones or the names of those buried within?

The well itself is further down – another boxed statue, this time the BVM accompanied by  a white painted metal cross and an odd mitre-shaped stone.

St John’s Well

Steps take you down into the well – an array of plastic and paper cups, plus a glass jug available should you need the water.  A handy implement for removing dead leaves lay nearby- I used it for the water was a bit murky.

The well is dedicated to St John and was traditionally visited on St John’s Eve, 23rd June. The water was considered good for all sorts of healing and an entry in the Schools’ Collection mentions that crutches and other offerings were once left there. White quartz pebbles obviously featured in the paying of the rounds for there are stones scattered everywhere.

White quartz stones are everywhere

The views from up here are sublime. The locals were a pretty curious crowd too.

One well defeated me on this trip, a Lady’s Well at nearby Lahane. I stopped off in the village shop in Carrignavar and made inquiries. I was assured by two different locals that there was no well in the vicinity but I was offered a very delicious cheese toastie and a cup of strong coffee – perfect!

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

St Peter & St Paul’s Holy Well, near Skibbereen

Browsing the Schools’ Folklore Collection as you do (if you haven’t you should – it’s a mine of information: duchás.ie)  I came across a hitherto unknown well just outside Skibbereen. It wasn’t listed in the Archaeological Inventory and I could find no reference to it anywhere else. It sounded fascinating though. This is what Seóirse O Donnabháin discovered about it in 1937:

St Peter and St Paul’s Holy Well

It is said that in Skibbereen and district are many blessed wells. There is a well in Castlelands out of which if you took water it would keep fresh a long while. People visit the well on the twenty ninth of June. Two holy eels are in the well and if you touch these eels you commit a bad act….. (0297:145/146)

Before Christmas, I sent an email to Terri Kearney at the Skibbereen Heritage Centre wondering if she had any information. No reply and I forgot about it until out of the blue came a phonecall. Not only had she found someone who remembered the well but he was prepared to take me there. I was advised that wellies would be essential.

An afternoon was arranged to meet Pat and off we went. Never in a million years would I have found this well.

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Dense undergrowth

We parked on a wide and newly made track then set off across boggy pasture, nipped under barbed wire, skidded down ditches, crept under mossy boughs, slipped and scrambled until we came to a halt in a little copse and there was the well.

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The well, a natural spring

Now it was just a large, muddy pool, a circular bank giving it some shape, with evidence of recent slippage in the banks. Apparently there had never been a wellhouse. The water was abundant and the ground very muddy, dense with with willows and a whitethorn above. Once this well had been the site of a large annual pilgrimage. Pat’s father used to recall how hundreds of people had visited in his day; and Pat himself could remember how at least thirty or forty people would gather when he was a boy. He was brought by his family every year on the feast day, and also most Sundays. The well is dedicated to St Peter and St Paul and the feast day is the 29th June, but Pat thought they visited on the 23rd June, St John’s Eve.

There was once a path, with steps cut into the land, but this has long since disappeared. People would bring bread with them for in the well resided two blessed eels. The bread given by the pilgrims was supposed to last the fish for the whole year. Should you see one of these eels it was of course exceptionally fortunate. Rounds were made around the well, the Rosary recited and clooties tied into the whitethorn. I was delighted to see one mossy ribbon still fluttering in the branches above the well.

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A mossy clootie still remained

Pat’s mother had once placed a statue of Our Lady here, now vanished in the undergrowth. Cures were attributed to the water and it was obviously a place once much revered as shown by Caoimhín O hEadhra’s entry in the Folklore Collection:

In Mr Carey’s land, about a mile and a quarter from Skibbereen, there is a Blessed Well. Pilgrims visit it annually on the Feast of St Peter and St Paul, 29th June. Prayers are said during the rounds. In it there is a blessed eel and the pilgrims throw bread to him.  Hundreds of people go to this well on the 29th June every year. The people take a piece of bread or cloth with them usually. There are two blessed eels in this well; it is said that long ago a blind woman and a lame man were cured there. It is said you must see one of the eels before you can be cured. People take a piece of cloth with them to tie to the whitethorn bush which is growing up over the well. I have heard that six unbaptised children were buried in a mound of earth a couple of yards from the well. May the Lord have mercy on their souls. The water that flows from this well drops from a rock that is over the well; if a person looked up he could see the drops falling down. Why people take a piece of bread with them is because they say the eels will live on that much food in the year.( 0297: 143/144)

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The spirit of the well at work in this image

The well does seem to be marked on the early OS maps and is called Gortnaclohy Well, if I have located it correctly. Gortnaclohy means gort na cloiche, field of the stone building and the townland is named after it. Pat reckoned no one had been here for 20 years until a couple of years ago when Louise Nugent of Pilgrimage in Medieval Ireland also tracked down the well – and Pat! He was much amused that I too should now be following in her footsteps. He thought only half a dozen of the older members of the community would even remember this place. Astonishing that such a potent spot could be so quickly forgotten.

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View from the copse

Pat also gave me a little more information about another well nearby – also known as an eel well. This turned out to be the well at Roaringwater Pier which I think can now officially be designated as holy!

Sincere thanks to Pat O Donovan for showing me this very special place. Thanks also to Terri Kearney  of Skibbereen Heritage Centre for introducing me to him.
The location of this well can be found in the Gazeteer. The well is on private land and permission must be sought.

An Arboreal Theme

Fuelled with coffee at Budds in Ballydehob we headed off on the R586 towards Bandon, five wells in the GPS.

Holy Well, Killowen

First stop, a sharp left after Murragh and up an unexpected glen, full of dense foliage and the sound of dripping water. We parked in a layby and Ger just happened to be passing, out for a walk. Yes, he knew of the well and offered to show us. It was very close by, a steep scramble up a little gully, the stream itself, all hidden by ferns.

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Gully leading up to the well

The spring was clear and fresh emerging from the undergrowth, a large slab in front of it, rather spoiled by its packing of plastic bags. It seems that the slab was put there by a local farmer to keep out cattle for once they had been allowed to drink here and the well had eventually dried up. A yellow pipe showed that the water was flowing and still used today.

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Cattle barrier. Shame about the plastic.

A blue plastic cup and a pink rosary dangled in the undergrowth. Opposite as small statue of the BVM was perched on a mossy stone, actually a ballaun. There is an interesting story connected with this:

On the east side of the wood road, in the glen to the north of the graveyard of Killowen, there is a holy well in O’Donovan’s farm. According to tradition, a fugitive priest who knelt to drink from the well left the imprint of his knees on the rock. This rock has been placed at the southern side of the well and the marks are still visible. Though the well is regarded generally as holy, its water is now used by some for domestic purposes.

The United Parishes of Murragh and Templemartin: Notices of the Union collected from various sources, by Rev Bro WP Allen, Christian Brothers

The priestly indents are still there, just check under the moss.

Originally the water was used to cure warts and other skin complaints. According to Ginni Louise Swanton in her book By the Bridge, for the cure to work you had to visit the well in secret, making sure you were unseen by anyone. Should you be spotted toing or froing the cure would not work. Seven trips to the well were required for a cure to be effective. I don’t know how many people still visit for wart problems but Ger explained that the water was still used for baptisms at the church in nearby Newcestown.

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This site has a wonderful, secretive feel – hidden in plain sight almost, still very much alive and potent should you care to look.

Well of the Yew Tree, Tobar an Lubhair, Roughgrove

Next stop Roughgrove in search of Tobar an Lubhaire, Well of the Yew Tree– a long walk along a well-made track through pasture, the cattle eyeing us suspiciously.  A sharp turn to the left and a little strip of woodland comes into sight. Within it was very wet and boggy with several places looking well-like. A modern water tank was lurking among the trees and next to it a rectangular stone building amongst the undergrowth looked like it could have been the well. It was certainly damp and the stone older than the tank. The GPS confirmed this was the spot. An old tree was being supported on stone blocks, a damp hollow underneath –  another possible contender.

Try as we did we couldn’t find an yew tree – oak, beech, holly, no problem. There is a nice bit of  folklore attached to the well which may explain why:

One time there was a family living over on the other side of the hill and two of them set out to cut down the tree that was growing over the well. When they looked over at their house they saw it was on fire so they went to quench the fire and to their surprise the house was not on fire. They went a second time to cut the tree and the same thing occurred. Then the men said’We do not care about the house’ so they went for a third time and when they returned their house was burnt to the ground. (0315:107)

Schools’ Folklore Collection

There’s a moral to that story! The water was said to be good for curing sore eyes and it seems that it was once much revered. Another entry from the Schools’ Folklore Project describes when and what you should do when visiting:

There is holy well in Roughgrove. It’s name is Tobar an Euban (the well of the Yew Tree). About 40 years ago people made rounds there. There is a big whitethorn scart drooping over the well. This well is situated on a high hill and there is a flat taste to the water. In summer the flow is as strong as in winter. The following is the way the people made rounds. A person should go to the well before sunrise. Then one should walk around the well three times from left to right with the intention that one would be cured. Then kneel down in front of the well and say five Our Fathers and five Hail Marys. Then go to the eastern shoulder and repeat the same. At the western shoulder repeat the same, Then at the front of the well say the Rosary. The fifteenth of August is the most noted day. One could also make rounds on the (one) Sunday and two Fridays or two Sundays and one Friday. One should leave a piece of ribbon or something on the small trees near the well, when leaving it. (0315:106)

Schools’ Folklore Collection

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The long walk back

Well of the Alder Trees, Tobar na Fearna, Mishells

The next well was also named after trees, Tobar na Fearna, Well of the Alder Trees. It was situated in the hills high above Bandon. Two large trees stood close together separated by a stone field boundary. This tree was magnificent with a gnarly trunk and sinuous spreading roots – around it water was seeping up, surely the well?

img_1421-edit-tifBlocks of stone were scattered around the roots, the mud sprinkled with copper-coloured leaves.

20161127-img_1425161127-2One of the stones looked as though it had crosses carved upon it. It felt right. The tree in the other field was a copper beech and we hoped this one was an alder but I’m not entirely sure it was.

A magical very otherworldy feel to this site.

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Sweeping views from the well site

Lady’s Well, Lissanisky

img_1443Onwards towards the townland of Lissanisky where two wells lay close together – one dedicated to Our Lady and the other a Sundays Well.  A long boreen lead up towards a house someway off, we parked and investigated. The woodland was dense, snagging our hair and clothes, everywhere thick with brambles and nettles. We found a dead badger and much bogginess. The well was described as being at the bottom of a cliff face. After much rummaging we found an old door covered in leaves which looked hopeful. Lifting it up, some rusty corrugated metal lay on top but underneath was the well still seeping with water.

A headless and mossy statue of the BVM confirmed we were in the right place.

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Headless statue of the BVM

We carefully put back the door and struggled out of the undergrowth. A well less visited but nonetheless rather special.

Sunday’s Well, Lissanisky

A little further on up the road, on a bend, we spotted a small clearing. The second well lay within, water flowing briskly down through the foliage, collecting in a basin at the head of a field – a Sundays Well, dedicated to the King of Sunday/Christ.

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The well lay at ground level near a bank, note the stone

The well itself was tucked into the cliff face – a small slab above it, the water seeping out from ground level fresh and clear. What was most interesting here were the stone slabs lying to the right of the well. The largest stone bore many inscriptions including the date 1753, only just discernible with an M just below it. There seemed to be other letters on the left but I couldn’t read them.  A cross was inscribed below this and under that the letters IHS. IHS is a Christigram: iota-eta-sigma being the first letters of the the name of Jesus in the Greek alphabet, written ΙΗΣΟΥΣ in Greek or IHSOUS in Latin letters. IHS is also known as the Holy Name of Jesus in the Catholic church.  Another cross was carved below these letters, and tucked into the base of this stone a smaller slab, also cross marked. These stones added a extra potency to the site and were no doubt part of the rounds which would originally have been paid here.

Near the wells, right at the edge of the boreen, lies the ringfort that gives the townland its name: Lissanisky: lios an uisce, fort of the water (CO097-006, actually described by the Archaeological Inventory as an enclosure). Interesting Lissanisky lies in the parish of Knockavilla, which means Cnoc a’Bhile – hill of the sacred tree. We encountered a few of those today.

Well hunting will resume in the New Year!

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

On the Trail of St Lachteen

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Lámh Lachtáin, a beautifully made reliquary made to house an armbone belonging to St Lachteen

Today we ventured inland into the Gaeltacht  in the search of St Lachteen. St Lachteen (526- 622AD) is patron saint of the Kilnamatrya area, cill na matra meaning church of the relic. This relic in question was an armbone of the saint, housed in an extraordinary artefact: the Lámh Lachtáin. The gorgeous reliquary dates from the twelfth century and is in the shape of a human arm. It is made from yew wood with ornamental bronze panels inlaid with silver. Inside it is hollow and once contained a sliver of bone from the saintly arm. It was found in Donoughmore some miles away, where St Lachteen founded a monastery. (There is holy well here too, on the list to be visited).  Although the reliquary has since been removed to Dublin, it’s now in the National Museum, it seems the relic may have originally been kept in a church just outside Kilnamatrya. Local churches and schools are still dedicated to St Lachteen, as are several holy wells.

Holy Well & Pillar Stone

It was crisp and cold as we set out, with a wonderful light inland, the landscape changing rapidly with mountain passes, rocky outcrops, emerald green pastures and brilliant colours. First a quick detour to Baile Bhúirne, (Ballyvourney), and a search for a holy well marked on an early OS map, situated somewhere near St img_1226Gobnait’s Stone, Cloch Ghobnatan – a remarkable cross slab, found in the middle of a field and protected within a little walled enclosure.

The stone is carved on each side with arc-shaped crosses within a circle, like Maltese crosses. There is also the carving of a small figure, cloaked and carrying a crozier, who is generally interpreted as a pilgrim. He is extremely hard to see and now much eroded and covered in lichen. The pillar is not in its original position but believed to have been found close to a dried up well, many years ago – was it the well I was searching for?

This is holy ground for at the other end of the town lies the remarkable pilgrimage site dedicated to St Gobnait, complete with two holy wells and the saint’s shrine. A little further on another fascinating site can be found in the woods, dedicated to St Abbán, possibly Gobnait’s brother. No sign of any holy well here though, just green pasture with boggy bits. This area by the entrance to the field looked interesting but I think it was probably just wall.

 Well of the Fasting, Toberan Aoine

A little further on and another quick detour to search for Toberan Aoine, Well of the Fasting. This was right on the side of the road, a spring still bubbling out of the ground with stones carelessly scattered amongst the mud, perhaps the remains of the original wellhouse.

Well of the fasting

An interesting name, presumably pilgrims were expected to fast before doing the rounds here?  Or was it a well visited during Lent?

An intriguing area though with snazzy pink and white striped silage bales and an old farmstead, long since abandoned but full of beautiful colours.

St Lachteen’s Well, Tobar Lachtáin, Cloheena

Next stop Cloheena, Cloch Eidhneach – high above green valleys, remote, wild and scenic with two wells dedicated to the saint in the townland. The first St Lachteen well seemed to be in a field just off the road – once an ancient highway into Kilnamatrya known as the Bealach Feabhradh. I asked at the house. She looked a little doubtful but called himself who knew of a well, now dry but only ever used for domestic water. He went to fetch his father who was having his dinner but promised to join us shortly which he kindly did. Connie explained that once there had been a church and graveyard (CO069-079) dedicated to St Lachteen below in the fields. It sounds as though this was once an impressive site – the church large and the graveyard ancient. This is the church that may have originally housed the beautiful relic the Lámh Lachtáin, and would have been a site of significant pilgrimage.  The church survived Viking attacks, was razed by Oliver Cromwell and existed as an historic ruin until recently when shockingly the whole site had was ploughed up. Understandably, Connie was furious for over 300 people had been buried here during the Famine, and many more before that. It is clearly a significant historical site, astonishing that this could happen. He assured me that the well, now gone, was only ever used for domestic purposes but the Archaeological Inventory seems convinced it was a holy well. Given the significance of the site this seems entirely likely.

Connie did know of a stone, or part of a stone which was somewhere in the ditch. We searched: a very handsome dry stone wall with larger blocks of stone scattered here and there– once from the church?

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Part of a stone lurked somewhere in this ditch

But no sign of the stone which sounded very much like a ballaun described by the Inventory as  being somewhere in the fence (CO069-055). He told me that two other stones (CO069-024001; CO069-024002) had been removed and were now in the grounds of nearby Reananarree RC Church. It seems that decorated quernstones had also been found on the site, now in Macroom Museum. How sad that so little now remains.

Connie gave us directions for the next well and on the way we stopped off to look at the stones in the church. They were indeed ballauns and they were colossal, not so much the basins but the stones containing them.

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Ballaun by the entrance to the church

The first ballaun is just as you go into the church on the left, the bowl still full of water but mossy round the edges.

The second ballaun is at the other end of the church now elevated on a stone pillar. A plaque informs that the stones were removed from the old church dedicated to St Lachteen in Cloheena, the site just visited.

Further confirmation that the original church dedicated to St Lachteen by Connie’s farm must have been quite special to warrant such monuments.

St Lachteen’s Well, Tobar Lachtáin, Cloheena

We followed Connie’s instructions on to the next well, pass a timber yard, look for the new path next to a bungalow. The new path was very new and led right up to a car park, its newness and rawness slightly undoing the mystery of the place. This well was situated on a rocky outcrop, a stone cross perched on top, erected in the 1950s.

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The well consisted of two basins, side by side, a small ledge between them topped by a cross-inscribed stone – the stone used to make the crosses handily perched on top.

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Double-basined well

Stone slabs had been arranged as niches, currently empty apart from a plastic bottle. Everywhere white quartz rocks and pebbles. The ballauns were full – Connie told us that there was different coloured water in each basin, a bit hard to differentiate today, but a common feature for multiple ballauns. The water was traditionally used to cure sore eyes.

St Lachteen’s Well, Tobar Lachtáin, Ballyvoge

The next well, also dedicated to St Lachteen, looked a bit challenging to find – some where over a few fields by a field boundary. Thanks goodness for the GPS which led me to exactly the right spot. Once a substantial beehive-shaped wellhouse had covered the well but it was now collapsed amongst the briars, just remnants of walls and a sturdy lintel still standing.

st lachteen clohnee

Once the roof had been corbelled, niches for offerings in the inside.The well was now dry. No one had been here for some time though the site was carefully fenced off. What a magnificent situation though over looking rolling hills and pasture.

All these wells were visited once visited on St Lachteen’sFeast Day,19th March, when an annual pilgrimage took place. There are several other wells dedicated to St Lachteen – at Donoughmore already mention and in Kilkenny where he also founded a religious house. It seems Lachteen always had an affinity with water for at the time of his birth there was a severe drought, no water anywhere. An old blind man called Mohemeth took the baby’s hand and made a cross with it in the dry earth and out gushed a fountain of water! The baby was promptly baptised.  Later in life, St Lachteen is said to have demonstrated the dropping down and spreading of God’s mercy from Heaven, by using dripping water from a well to illustrate his beliefs.

Home and down to the sea, and an amazing sunset finished off an excellent day.

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Many thanks to Connie Murphy for his time and information.
The location of these wells can be found in the Gazetteer.

In Search of Cats around Toe Head

The day being fine we set out for Toe Head, a small peninsula somewhere below Skibbereen roughly towards Castletownsend. There were three wells on the agenda and I was not very hopeful about finding any of them. Once off the main Castletownsend road the roads become quite challenging but highly scenic: tiny bumpy roads with stunning views out to the Atlantic, whitewashed farms and green pasture full of black and white cows.

Well of the Two Cats, Tobar na Chat, Toe Head

img_0050The first two wells on the agenda both had unusual names connected with cats: Well of the Two Cats and Well of the White Cat, both reputedly within 70 metres of each other. We parked the car and I went off to inquire at a house. Paddy was doing something dangerous in a shed that involved using a mask. He very kindly answered my questions and was amazed to hear I knew about the well – he only knew of one but gave directions: up the boreen, across the ditch and look for the cattle trough. The boreen was fairly newly restored and we feared that the Well of the White Cat, the first one to be encountered according to the GPS, might have been destroyed in the ensuing work. The Well of the White Cat appears on an early OS Map but not in later editions though it is mentioned in the Archaeological Inventory and the name is supplied by Jack Roberts in his book Exploring West Cork.

Wart well tooreen

Bawnishall

We wandered up into green pasture, rummaged around but found no sign of a well. The hawthorn tree looked promising as did a damp patch tucked into a rocky corner.

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Possible well site?

We conceded defeat and went to look for the Well of the Two Cats, also known as Tobar na Chat. The ditch described by Paddy was more like a large stream, very wet but I was able to walk up it until the troughs came into view, water pipes still coming from them, the original well long since converted to more mundane usage.

There were two stone troughs, heavily covered in brambles and honeysuckle but the water was clear and very abundant. Large slabs were in front of them, and there were blocks of white quartz in evidence.

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The well now converted into cattle troughs

No one seems certain how these wells got their names – Jack Roberts suggests it refers to ancient Irish connections with Greece or Egypt but maybe there was just a surfeit of feral cats in the area. White cats are a specialty of west Cork and they’re often deaf.

St Bartholomew’s Well, Tobar Partholain, Toe Head

Judging by the map, the next well, St Bartholomew’s Well or Tobar Partholain, looked very obscure. There seemed to be no path to it and it was right at the edge of the sea which probably meant cliffs. We parked by a couple of houses and were watched with considerable interest by a gang of young heifers, all looking rather frisky.

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Frisky heifers

I had a horrible feeling the walk to the well would be through their field. I went to inquire at the nearest house. Another lovely encounter, this time with Tom who was also much amused to hear what we were up to. He knew of the well but hadn’t been for at least 20 years. He was doubtful that we would find it. I was a bit doubtful about the cattle but he said he knew a sneaky short cut and took us out round his house and pointed us through the fields. Over three fields, and two walls heading straight out to the sea, but the last bit defeated me – a thick briar hedge, electric fence and barbed wire, plus a steep drop down onto a ledge now full of bracken. The well was meant to have a large slab in front of it but I could see nothing – except for truly spectacular views.

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The well is somewhere amongst that bracken

Paddy, from the first stop, could remember the well. He said he had visited it as a boy when rounds were still made. He thought the water was meant to be good for sore eyes and he could remember people leaving coins and other offerings. What a remote spot, a real journey to get here but I suppose that was all part of it.

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Lunch under the looming tower of Uillinn, the West Cork Arts Centre

After a bouncy drive around the peninsula we repaired to Skibbereen for a well-deserved lunch. One of those odd things happened. I met someone I hadn’t seen for some time and we got chatting. I explained about the well hunt. Did I know about the well at Caheragh, she inquired? I did but I didn’t know how to get to it and I didn’t have my information with me. She recommended we followed the signs to the old graveyard for it was somewhere close by but she couldn’t remember where exactly. I had been curious about this well for it was supposed to be in a townland called Tooreen but search as I did I could find no townland with that name in Caheragh. Apparently it was a wart well.

Wart well, Tobareen na bhFaithne, near Caheragh

img_0686We set off, found the old graveyard and were impressed with the array of interesting graves, but no sign of any well. We were about to give up when we bumped into Martin quietly communing at a family gravestone – it was All Souls’ Day. We got chatting. He’d never heard of a well but he knew someone who might – several phonecalls and much discussion ensued but no one knew anything. I know of a good well about two miles away, easy to find, he said, would we like to see it? We would. We did. We followed him. It only turned out to be the well I thought was in Caheragh! And what a fantastic thing! Actually an enormous recumbent stone complete with rock art: cup marks, a circle, some intriguing holes and a large ballaun stone – the wart well itself.

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Recumbent stone with ballaun, the wart well

I suspect the tiny well had originally started off as a cupmark and had been enlarged many thousands of years later. Cupmarks are usually considered as rock art and date from the Bronze Age. They are very enigmatic, no one is sure of their exact use or meaning – Roaringwater Journal offers some excellent thoughts and insights. Known as Tobareen na bhFaithne, little well of the warts, this entry form the Schools’ Folklore Collection gives a detailed account of how the well should be approached and used:

In my father’s farm there is a little well called Tobairin Bhfaithne. It is situated in the centre of a rock. There is a cure for warts in it. In olden times persons who had warts would not be allowed into America or England or any other country. When a person had warts he used to come and wash them in the water. The cloth used to wash them should be left in the water. Then the warts should be carefully counted and for each wart a Hail Mary should be said. Then a small stone should be taken from the field and a cross for each wart should be made on the rock of the well. Now there was a girl who lived in Lissane who wanted to go to America and having a lot of warts he was not allowed to go. She came to the well and washed them several times but in vain. And old man advised her to go and wash and count the warts for seven mornings before sunrise. She did as she was told and before the seventh morning they had disappeared. (356:0293)

The well is said to never go dry and seems that it once had a stone cover, now vanished.

Was this rock also used as a Mass rock in Penal Times – it looked very likely. It reminded me of a very similar rock at Castlemehigan near Crookhaven, where there is a similar cup-marked stone. The largest hole, or ballaun, in the front is also known as a wart well.

If you look carefully to the right of it a cross can just be identified for this monument was also later used as a Mass Rock.

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Castlemehigan cup-marked stone & wart well

The farmer at Tooreen has promised to never move the stone. Set in a wonderful natural amphitheatre amongst green pastures, a well preserved ring fort close by – this felt a special place indeed.

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The recumbent stone is to the right of the natural rock feature

A great day made especially memorable by some delightful encounters.

With thanks to Paddy, Tom and Martin for their good humoured assistance.
The location of these wells can be found in the Gazetteer.

Two Kinsale Wells

A day in Kinsale; rather nice once the crowds have gone, to wander around the windy streets, admire the old buildings and enjoy a white pizza: no tomato sauce but pears, goat’s cheese and walnuts.

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Kinsale marina

The Abbey Well, Kinsale Tobar na Mainistreache, The Friary Well

The first well goes under many names  – Abbey Well, Friary Well, Lady’s Well, Tobar na Mainistreache – and proved quite tricky to find. A beautiful clear morning in Kinsale, we wandered up past the Carmelite Friary looking for a likely passageway amongst houses. I had inadvertently put in the wrong GPS number and we were having to rely on the scant information in the Archaeological Inventory:

In housing estate, short distance N of Carmelite friary (CO112-033003-) and similarly dedicated to St Mary… Approached by pathway between houses. Circular well (diam. 0.65m; H 0.72m) cut into rockface and enclosed by semi-circular stone wall at rear; concrete step forms front and retains water flow. Thought locally to be associated with early Christian foundation of St Multose

We inquired of a young man with dreadlocks. Yes, he knew of a well but we were going in the wrong direction. His instructions sounded promising and we went our way back down the steep hill towards the college – amazing views out over the town and towards the sea. Further on down we asked two ladies having a chat. Oh yes, they knew of the well but had never been, and we were close, they gave directions.

The well was indeed down a small alley, a dead end, between a row of old cottages. A helpful sign gave a lot of information and further research showed the well was once an incredibly important and frequently visited spiritual monument. It may even have been the reason that a town developed in this spot.  A church was built near here in the seventh century – due to the proximity of the well?

20161020-img_0020161020The original church building was later replaced by an abbey dedicated to St Mary built by the Norman landowner Robert Fitzrichard Balrain in 1344. He offered the abbey and 29 acres of land to the Carmelite Hermits – an interesting group who had fled Mount Carmel in the Holy Land during the Crusades. The Hermits of the Blessed Virgin Mary of Mount Carmel, to give them their full title, originally settle on Mount Carmel, now in northern Israel, and followed the example of the Prophet Elijah and lived lives of shared solitude. They were also devoted to the Blessed Virgin Mary. The Carmelites invited into Kinsale by Balrain were responsible for the pastoral care of the town and seemed to have worked closely with the ill and afflicted, especially those with leprosy, still prevalent in the Medieval period. They used water from this well in their healing, then called Fan na Tubraide (slope of the fountain) but which was later dedicated to the Lady of the Place, the BVM.

img_0021After the English Reformation, the Carmelites were ejected from the friary in 1544. They moved to an old mass-house near to the well, on the junction of the Bandon and Rock roads. Here Mass was celebrated, people also gathering at the well to recite the Rosary and say prayers. The whole area was known as Holy Corner.

The well is still dedicated to the Blessed Virgin Mary and it seems that she has even made a brief appearance here. Cait Ni Síoccáin collected this story in 1937 as part of the Schools’ Folklore Collection:

… The story is told how a man went for some water at twelve o clock one night.When he got to the centre of the lane something stopped him, He made the sign of the cross and then found he was able to walk again. When he got to the well Our Blessed Lady appeared to him and told him that it was the spirits that stopped him on his way to the well. She also told him that these spirits wanted to frighten people and it was very dangerous to be out late at night. Thinking that she was another spirit the man blessed himself again. Our Lady told him not to fear that she was the Mother of God. She said she would protect him until he was safe in his own home. She did so and when he got home he knelt down and thanked her, then he kissed her hand and she disappeared… ( 0319:70)

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Abbey Well

Today Abbey Well seems nicely tended if a little ignored. It was renovated in 2013. A large semi-circular slab curves around the well itself which is built up onto the wall. The area behind is also semi-circular with stone shelves, presumably for offerings. The water was clear and cold. Traditionally emigrants would take a bottle with them on their travels to keep them safe. Amazing how such a tiny well tucked down an alleyway has such an illustrious history!

Trinity Well, Fort Hill

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Charles Fort, opposite the well

The second Kinsale well lies just outside the town, almost exactly opposite the highly impressive Charles Fort built in the late seventeenth century. This is where most visitors go for the views are sublime and the architecture stunning, but if you were to wander across to the other side of the road, just next to the old graveyard, a much less ostentatious but just as interesting monument remains.

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The path to the well leads past the old graveyard

This is Trinity Well, once visited by many pilgrims who came here to pay the rounds, especially on Trinity Sunday.

By the early twentieth century this pilgrimage had become a bit too lively and was banned by the Church. The well became neglected and forgotten for almost a hundred years. In 2013 the Trinity Well Conservation Group was formed by local residents who enlisted the help of Tús,* a community work placement initiative.

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Trinity Well today

The well was cleared, a pathway constructed, attractive carved stones put up at the entrance and a simple wooden cross erected. Today this is an attractive and tranquil spot. A small bench offers somewhere to sit and reflect. The well nestles snugly into the slope, a simple stone and brick arch supporting the roof of the wellhouse, a large flat slab in front, with the overflow disappearing down the field into the undergrowth. The water was once considered to have curative powers but it is not yet of a good enough quality to drink today. A few pebbles remain within – perhaps once dropped by pilgrims paying their rounds.

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A church once stood close by, Holy Trinity Church, the stones dismantled in the late seventeenth century for fear it would be used a a stronghold from which to attack the nearby fort. The old graveyard remains, with fine views out to sea.

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The well was rededicated in a special ceremony on Trinity Sunday 2013 (26th May that year). It’s a very peaceful and pleasant spot to take a moment.

100th well!

Incidentally Trinity Well is the 100th holy well recorded since this Blog began way back on St Bridget’s Day! Many adventures have been had so far: big well, teeny wells, adored wells, forgotten wells, accessible wells, fiendishly remote wells visited. 25 different saints have been revered so far, the BVM the most popular, and 14 different cures attributed to various waters – sore eyes and warts being the most popular! Onwards.

Map

And there is new feature – discover the delights of a Map showing all wells visited so far, an additional feature of the Gazetteer. Click on the individual dots to discover information about each well, including an image. There was an awful lot of information to be entered into the database so if you find any mistakes please let me know. Many thanks to Peter for his stirling work in getting this up and running.

*Tús have also been helpful in the clearing of two wells in Bandon Town Park. When we visited Lady’s Well and St Bridget’s Well they were completely swamped by undergrowth. I was contacted by someone who immediately contacted an archaeologist and Tús. The last time we visited they had been cleared. An excellent result.

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

Lady’s well, Ballycurrany

There are but two holy wells in this parish, one in Ballycrana and the other in Templeboden, both of which are very well kept. The people still visit them on the week preceding the twelfth of August and perform three visits around the well. We go to the one in Ballycrana which is in Mr Riordan’s land. It is called Mary’s well and there is also a Mass rock nearby with a cross marked on it. Ballycranna well is grotto shaped, it being enclosed by three walls and a wall over it … (Schools’ Folklore Collection, (387.18)

What a fascinating well this turned out to be. I am indebted to the FitzGerald family for the first hand information, and for the Schools’ Folklore Collection which is bursting with interesting descriptions. The numbers given after the Schools’ Collection quotes refer to the school number and then the page number. They can be browsed online at duchas.ie

img_1463The original route to the well from the side of the road is now overgrown and impassable. We flagged down a passing motorist for information and he sent us up a boreen to the house to ask permission, passing this cheeky carved head. Permission kindly granted, and armed with a glass, we set off through a small gate along a leafy greenway leading into an amazing grove of tall beech trees and luxuriant ferns, a stream trickling down the hillside into the undergrowth.

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The path leading to the well

A cross spotted amongst the undergrowth looked promising. On investigation, the wooden cross bore the words INRIEGO SUM LUX (I am the light) … FOLLOW ME and was put up here a few years ago, not by the family but by pilgrims.

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Wooden cross indicates the site

Lady’s Well

Below the cross a large earthfast rock lay between tall beech trees. We looked down into the valley and just below it was the well, tucked into a ferny bank.

Our Lady’s Well’ …… a palm tree grows on either side of the well and a hazel tree near on them ….. a stream flows from the well down a rocky incline and there is no sign of a  stream flowing in to the well. (387:99)

The above description still held true, no sign of water flowing into the well but there was the stream clearly emerging a little way below it and disappearing off down the hill.

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The well is tucked into the landscape

The stone built wellhouse was semi-cirular with sturdy built-up sides and a large slab across the top. Other stones had been added to make a small niche above the slab, a cup and assortment of stones nestling within.

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The stone built wellhouse

Inside, the well basin itself was damp rather than flowing, but a pipe coming out just below was gushing cold clear water into the stream.

The water was considered potent and was said never to boil:

It is a belief that if the water is boiled a ‘frog’ would appear in the pipe of the kettle. (387:99)

Many cures were attributed to the water and the well. We later spoke to the daughter of the landowners and she could remember being told of a woman who carried her disabled son a considerable distance to the well. After visiting the well, doing the rounds and taking some water he was able to walk home. The water was also considered efficacious in the curing of the ague and sore eyes. A couple of cups were tucked into a crevice and other fragment slay here and there.

The Sculptures

Once there had been carvings on each side of the well:

Then there are two stones on either side about a foot high. These two are shaped like a man in the rough, the eyes, mouth and nose all visible to the hands by the side as in the illustration (387.100)

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From Schools’ Collection, duchas.ie

Apparently these were made by an old man called Sean de Barra who only had one hand but was a skilled craftsman. The family told us that these had been removed not so long ago by archaeologists, seemingly for the  protection of the sculptures, but they had been left feeling bereft as they had not been consulted, permission being granted only by the church. I later managed to track the carvings down to Cork City Museum where they are now kept and was given permission to view them. They are remarkable: roughly carved and very charismatic, comprising two figures (one with head long since detached) and a cross. A little more research and it seems that they probably represent the Blessed Virgin Mary and St Bernadette and once formed a simple grotto, which makes sense of the first quote I used in this blog. The stone cross looks as though it may once have held the figure of Jesus for there are small holes drilled into it and the word INRI carved above where you would expect the figure to be. It looks as though the figures were once painted for traces of blue still cling to the praying figure of Bernadette. There are odd slash marks on all the figures, but what those represent I don’t know. It was great to see the carvings and easy to imagine their potency. They are being well cared for in Cork City Museum but it seems a great shame that they are not in situ where they would be in context and have special relevance.

The Foot Stone

Just in front of the well is a large stone known as the Foot Stone. The family told us that the story went that the BVM herself had appeared here, leaving the marks of her knees and hands in the rock. Again, it was all too mossy to make out any clear shapes.

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The foot stone is one of the rocks in front of the well

Mass rock

The large rock above the well had once been a Mass rock used during Penal Times and later as a focal point for the annual pattern day Mass.

A little west of the well lies a large stone three or four foot high of sandstone. On this stone there are several crosses cut into it. This is called locally the Mass Stone. It is believed locally that Mass was said here in Penal times. The soldiers used be watching from Buckley’s Wood of Lackabeha and that people hearing the Mass were killed by soldiers. (387.100)

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The Mass rock is just below the cross

We couldn’t see any sign of the crosses or the indents that once had been carved to hold two candles and a chalice – all too mossy and ivy covered. A good description of the Mass rock can be found here: findamassrock, an interesting site altogether.

Rounds & Pattern Day

The well was held in high regard and people would travel from all over the county to attend the pattern day and to pay rounds. The pattern day seems to have been the 15th August, the Feast of the Assumption, though different dates are given in the Schools’ Collection information. All accounts agreed that the period eight days before and eight days after the particular date in August was most holy.

People make their rounds eight days before and eight days after the 29th August. Every person makes three rounds as this fulfills the fifteen Decades of the Rosary. Every person kneels in five different places and says one Decade of the Rosary in each place. (387: 16)

The ritual required was clearly prescribed:

The visitor must say the Rosary, take a drink of the water and leave hanging on the palm tree bits of rags, medals, beads as an offering, and take home some of the water. (387:16)

No sign of any rags or offerings today, just a small statue of the BVM now headless nestling amongst the ferns.

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The only remaining statuary

Like many pattern days it attracted large crowds and invariably ended up in chaos:

On Patron Day, over twenty tents and shebeen shops would be seen here, the concourse of people so great that the entire place would be covered with horses and butts; and the dancing, singing and inevitable match-making went on… In the locality were many poteen stills, and generally this paton ended in faction fights. A fierce faction fight developed here one year, and a man returning homeward to Ballinbointir was passing down the boreen by Eddie Cotter’s when he was battered to death by a whole family who had laid there in ambush for him. Next patron day rain fell in bucketfuls, and this happening was remarked upon by young and old.

Sean Hartnett, Carrigtowhill, dated June 1997 (From a piece of paper shown to us by the family).

An annual Mass was held here until about 12 years ago when the task of maintaining and preparing the area became too great for the owner, and the then priest had little interest in keeping the tradition going. The daughter explained how her father had made a special table to replace the rock as an altar, had made wooden seats for the pilgrims and constructed steps for ease of access. These remnants could still be seen: lino by the mass rock, a jumble of timbers amongst the ivy and mossy stairs leading downwards.

A truly magical place with layers of meaning.

Special thanks to the FitzGerald family for their information about this well. The well is on private land so permission must be obtained.
Thank you also to Daniel Breen of Cork City Museum for his kind permission in allowing me to view the carvings.
The location of this well can be found in the Gazetteer.