Category Archives: Lameness

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.

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.

En route to Doneraile 1: Dripsey

I’m just back from a few days in North Cork, a long list of wells on the agenda. We based ourselves in Doneraile but the journey up offered several opportunities for exploration. First stop – Dripsey where there were two wells, side by side, in what, according to the OS map, looked like the middle of nowhere.

 Sunday’s Well, Dripsey

We parked and surveyed the map. There seemed no clear way to the field we wanted to get to, no handy little path. Fortunately a car stopped and a man came to our assistance. Yes, he knew of the well but wasn’t sure if there was anything to see. We had to go high up and cut across the fields. But if there was a bull in the field do not go in. We promised we wouldn’t and followed his instructions. A grassy boreen went past some houses complete with a quartet of very yappy Jack Russells. No sign of any bulls though there were some cattle in the distance. After much ducking under wire and keeping a sharp eye out for roving bulls, we eventually saw the small copse where we hoped the wells might be.

Wooded copse, site of Sunday’s Well

A muddy patch, much trampled by the cattle and containing a few stones including quartz looked hopeful but disappointing. Then my husband gave a shout, He had spotted a cross in the undergrowth, over the stream and across a wall. We hauled ourselves over the stone wall and into the woodland. And there was the well – Sunday’s Well, discretely hidden but still much revered.

Sunday’s Well

A horseshoe of mossy stones curved around the well, a lintel slab over this upon which were many offerings — holy water bottles, statues, figurines, candles, a crucifix bearing an elongated and emaciated Jesus.

Lintel with offerings

Another slab lay in front of the well, allowing access to the water which now flowed adjacent to the well. A wooden cross stood near the well and on the stone to the right, hidden in the moss, another tiny Jesus. Crosses were etched onto the lintel stone and the mossy side stones,

Behind the well lay a jumble of stones, like a little cairn – pebbles left by pilgrims as part of the rounds?

Possible cairn, stones left by pilgrims?

The Schools’ Folklore Collection has a little information about this well:

There is a holy well situated not far from my house in Timothy Kellerher’s field at the junction of three townlands Magoola, Agharinagh and Dromgouna.

Formerly it was a place of great interest to the old people but nowadays, like everything else, veneration for it is dying out. it is neglected now, its sides are falling in, but still it is loved by a few old people. Many cures are said to have taken place at this well. Cripples who came to be cured went away leaving their crutches after them for they needed them no longer.

There are many stories connected with this spot one of which was about an old man from Dromgouna whose name was Paddy Sullivan. He thought he was called one night to plant a tree alongside the well so that people could hang their offerings on the branches. He rose next morning and planted the tree which can still be seen growing there.

It is said that Mass was celebrated there in Penal Times. It is now known by the name of Sundays’ Well and people still visit it on a Sunday to pray. (0348:177)

A secret but powerful place, quietly known to those it matters to. I wonder if that tree on the left is the one planted by Paddy Sullivan. I hope it is.

Lady’s Well, Dripsey

We almost stumbled over the second well, just a few metres in the pasture from Sunday’s Well – a sad little thing, flat within the ground, a circle of stones around it. It looked as though a metal container had once been within it or placed over it as a cover- now squashed and misshapen. It reminded me of a bog body – poor Grauballe Man perhaps.

The sorry looking Lady’s Well

A short extract from Seamus Heaney’s wonderful poem The Grauballe Man:

… As if he had been poured

in tar, he lies

on a pillow of turf

and seems to weep

the black river of himself,

The grain of his wrists

is like bog oak …

Dedicated to Our Lady, it seems that it was still being revered in 1939 when Hartnett described it as:  …  a shallow spring well, partly covered by a flat horizontal stone. There area few faded flowers and ferns laid on top of this.

Interesting how one well can still be revered and another, just a few metres away, totally ignored.

St Batt’s Well, Kilmartin Lower

The next well lay at the side of the road near Donoughmore in Kilmartin Lower, a prickly thicket of nettles, ferns and ivy at the entrance.

Hacking this back I was delighted to see a little beehive-shaped well still intact behind, covered in the faded remains of foxgloves and other plants.

The well is now dry but a spring had once flown out underneath the lintel. The lintel had several crosses inscribed upon it, relics of past devotions as described in the Schools’ Folklore Collection:

There is only one holy well in our district. It is situated in the townland of Lower Kilmartin. It is called after St Bartholomew and is known locally as St Batt’s Well.

Many people perform rounds there. They generally go on a Friday and Sunday, and the following Friday again. They say certain prayers and drink some of the well water, and rub more of it to the affected part.

Nearly everybody who visits the wells leaves something there, such as old beads, medals, scapulars* and other articles. People never leave food or money there.

The well is in a space off the road and there is a whitethorn tree growing over it. (066/067:0347)

Should you be wondering, like me, what a scapular is, Wikipedia has the answer:

The devotional scapular typically consists of two small (usually rectangular) pieces of cloth, wood or laminated paper, a few inches in size, which may bear religious images or text. These are joined by two bands of cloth and the wearer places one square on the chest, rests the bands one on each shoulder and lets the second square drop down the back.

Essentially tokens of religious devotion, often to a particular saint.

Another entry describes how the well moved from one side of the road to the other but gives no explanation why:

There is a well in Kilmartin named Batt’s Well. It was removed from one side of the road to the other, and there is a tree growing over it … There are many offerings. There are rosary beads, small pictures and little flower pots, with flowers growing in them (0346:141)

I like the sound of the flower pots. It seems to have been a potent well too:

A great number of people used to pay rounds for many ailments. It was customary to leave some article at the well. A woman who had never heard of that well had a dream one night, that if she came to Donoughmore she would be cured. She came to the well and the dream (became a) reality… (142/143:0346)

I wonder when and why this little well fell out of favour.

The journey continued with three wells dedicated to St Lachteen, but they deserve their own blog entry. To be continued!

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

Fionnchú: The White Hound

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

St Fanahans’s Well, Tobar Naomh Fionnchú

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

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Raised causeway leading to the well

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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Apse-shaped well basin

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

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St Flanahan: warrior saint

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

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

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

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

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

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

 

St Fionnchú’s Church, Brigown

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

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Base of cross above doorway

St Fionnchú’s Well, Brigown

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

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Possible site of St Fionnchú’s original well

A very special place and a remarkable saint.

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

Our Lady’s Well, near Cloyne

A few days in east Cork on a holy well expedition proved fascinating and rewarding. The very first well visited was probably one of my all time favourites and really the epitome of all that’s special about Irish holy wells.

Lady’s Well, Titeskin

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Postcard, circa 1910

Near the ruins of the old church of Titeskin (or Kilteskin) is Tober Muire ‘Lady’s well’, much frequented by the peasantry for devotional purposes on the 15th August and near this a stone with a rude representation of the crucifixion

Guys Directory, 1889

This old postcard dates from 1910 and I had seen a more recent photograph of this well but the real thing proved even more attractive and intriguing. Approached down a long rather slurry-filled boreen, the well sits serenely in a field of pasture. Rather horrifyingly an enormous pylon is right next to it but you must quickly dismiss and ignore this insensitive intrusion.

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Spot the well

The well is surrounded by a whitewashed stone wall, obviously ancient for a huge ash tree, itself quite an age, has literally grown over it in a close and gnarly embrace. It seems that the well was once known as Whitewell and attracted pilgrim from all over county Cork. It looks like it still gets its fair share of visitors.

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The ash tree embraces the wall

A gap in the wall and some steps lead down into the interior. The well itself is under a hefty metal cover but once lifted the water within is crisp, cold and clear. Little cups nestle in an alcove ready for use.

A very attractive statue of the BVM, snug in a pointed alcove, looks down on proceedings: her face sympathetically painted, a clutch of rosaries in her hand and a shy rose-adorned foot peeping out from under her robes.

Next to her flutter an assortment of ribbons and rags, the old ash now being used as a clootie tree with hopes and prayers attached to the rags. Little statues and crosses are tucked here and there and high in the branches of the tree is a boxed-in statue of Our Lady.

Just outside the well is an enigmatic stone with interesting carvings on each face, seemingly dating from the late eighteenth century. Facing the well is a carving of the crucified Christ, crosses inscribed on his chest and above his head, INRI carved above him. There are suggestions that the stone may have broken at some point as the carvings go no further than Christ’s knees. This reminds me so much of the figure carved on the outside of the well at Castlemagner, variously interpreted as a sile na gig or St Bridget. Possibly another alternative could be considered? On the other side is the profile of a face, surely the BVM complete with spiky radial halo. The inscription, now very hard to read, is said to be:  Seven Pater Nosters and Seven Ave Marias. The Honour 1731

There is a wonderful write up about the well in the Schools’ Collection, compiled by the National Folklore Collection during the late 1930s when every National School in the country was asked to participate in a survey about its local area. Each child above the age of 11 was asked to interview members of their family about their home area, including information on holy wells. I think this is worth transcribing in full for it hold so much information. Well done Máirín for this excellent write up:

folklore-2There is a holy well situated on our lands at Kilteskan in the parish. It is enclosed by a circular wall in fairly good repair. A very large ash tree is growing on the western side. The tree appears to be very old. There is an outlet from the well on the northern side to carry away the surplus or overflow of water which is fairly large and which never seems to vary in quantity in any weather. Even in the very driest of weather the quantity from the well seems the same as in the wettest winter. A curious fact about the water is that it seems warm in winter and very cold in summer. There is a limestone slab about three feet high standing on the western side of the well. It is about ten feet distant from the wall of the well and has an inscription in Latin on it. The well is called our Lady’s well and it has a pattern on the fifteenth of August. Eight days before the fifteenth of August and eight days after large numbers of people come to make rounds there from distant places even as far as County Waterford, Cork city etc. Numerous cures are reported to have taken place here. Here is one. A man came to visit the well. He was crippled and had two crutches. When he had the rounds finished he went to a pool formed by the overflow of the well and washed his legs in it. folklore-3He was instantly cured. It is said he left his crutches under the tree. Another cure is that of a little boy of seven years old who was unable to walk. He was brought in a perambulator to the well by his parent who washed him in the water outside the well. He was instantly cured, His father in thanksgiving put a statue of the blessed Virgin in the tree over the well. This boy’s father also in thanksgiving promised to visit the well every pattern day for as long as he lived. He has not come now for three years. Another lady was cured of deafness. She also in thanksgiving had erected a beautiful statue of Our Lady. This statue is about three feet high and last year was covered with a concrete shelter at the order of the cured lady. Very many other cures are reported to have taken place there. Local opinion has it that one such cure takes place every year. There is a trout in the well and I was told my grandmother brought a jug of water from the well to make tea. But though she did her utmost to boil the water she could not do so. She then took the water back to the well, and in pouring out the water she saw the trout coming out of the kettle. She again filled the kettle and had no trouble boiling it. It is said that anyone who sees this trout is instantly cured of any disease. My grandmother used to tell me about a man from County Waterford paying his rounds at the well. It happened about fifty years ago. He had two of his rounds done  when it began to rain very heavily. My grandmother went to the well for water and she told him to go to the barn and not to get wet. He did so. Next morning was very wet and he could not finish his rounds. He had to return home with his friends. A labouring man employed at my grandmother’s house dreamt three night sin succession that this man came to him and asked him to finish the rounds for him. He told my grandmother about the dream. She told him to go immediately and finish the rounds for the poor man was now dead and it was her fault he had not finished the rounds himself.

Collected by Máirín O Ruiseáil, interviewing her father Tomás O Ruiseáil, from Sciart Liath, Mainistir na Corann,( Scartlea Upper, Midleton)

The Schools’ Collection, National Folklore Collection

Fascinating to read about the cures and the rituals. Another child writing in Lisgoold Nation School, Tomás O Riordan, mentions how:

… a boy was cured of sunstroke, a man of paralysis and a woman who was ill for sometime previous of constant headache walked from Lisgoold to Whitewell on August the fifteenth some years ago and was cured.

Tomás also explains that the best time for these cures was at twelve o clock in the night. Of course there had to be a trout residing within and the overflow water is still abundant; and today, the water was feeling pretty cool. Incidentally, the whole Folklore Project is now online and can be viewed at Dúchas.ie .

The well is obviously much cared for and still revered. The statue, put up in thanks in the 1930s, still looks fresh and graceful, and a statue in the trees seems to have re-appeared. No sign of any crutches though. There is still an annual mass here on the 15th August, the Assumption of the Blessed Virgin. And a word about the unusual name for the townland: Titeskin – not pronounced remotely like it looks and its seems to be known as Kilteskan locally. A kind friend explained that it means tigh antSeiscinn which translates as house in the swamp, which seems very fitting as it was certainly damp and boggy; all that wonderful holy water.

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The location of this well can be found in the Gazetteer. It is on private land but has public access.