Category Archives: St Gobnait

Meandering south of Mallow

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

Ania’s Well, Tobar Aine, Dromore

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

Saint Hulaman’s Well, Kilcolman

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

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

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

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

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

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

Blind Well, Tobar Caoch, Skarragh

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

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

Skarragh Well. Photo by Grove White 1913

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

View from the vicinity of the Blind Well

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

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

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

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

A shame that we could not find this potent well.

Abigail’s Well, Kilgobnet

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

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

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

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

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

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

The wellhouse is a wonderful structure:

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

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

Abbey’s Well

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

Inscribed plaque over entrance

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

Interior of the well, now dry

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

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

Whitewashed

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

St Patrick’s Holy Well, Castle Blackwater

Below the castle and near the margin of the river, is a holy well, dedicated to St. Patrick, on whose anniversary a patron is held here: the water is remarkably pure, and is much esteemed by the peasantry for its supposed virtues

Extract from Samuel Lewis’:  Cork, A Topographical Dictionary of the Parishes, Towns and villages of Cork City and County, 1837.

Sometime ago I was invited to visit St Patrick’s holy well at Blackwater Castle, Castletownroche, and only recently was able to take Sheila up on her kind offer. I had no idea what delights lay in store.

We travelled to North Cork for a few days, holy wells and stained glass on the agenda. We arranged to meet with Sheila in the morning at Blackwater Castle and three hours later we emerged impressed and awed by everything we had seen. The castle site has been inhabited for literally thousands of years, possibly as far back as the Mesolithic, and no wonder for it is in an incredible position – perched high over the Awbeg River with commanding views up and down and across.

img_3104

Blackwater Castle, high above the Awbeg River

First we wandered down the long and imposing entrance avenue then headed down towards the river and the floodplain. It was like a rainforest: old man’s beard, ferns, laurel, palms all jostling for space at the edge of the fast flowing, wide river. The well was almost obscured by a dense canopy of old man’s beard but we hacked it back to reveal the structure.

img_3097-edit-tif

The well under its canopy of old man’s beard

The well is cut into a small ridge, circular in shape with a jumble of stones around it. The water is fresh, clear and copious and overspills the basin, making its way down to the river.

Sheila confirmed that the water was exceptionally good and they piped it up to the castle for their own use, having first had it professionally tested. Another odd circular stone well can be found nearby, built in the 1980s by the then rather eccentric owner.

The well is dedicated to the national saint, Patrick. Rounds were once paid here on the saint’s feast day, 17th March. This practice hasn’t been celebrated for many years for it was eventually forbidden by a previous owner of the castle. This entry from the Schools’ Folklore Collection gives a little more information:

There is a well within Castlewidenham Demesne, a few hundred yards from the school. It is a well dedicated to St Patrick. Patterns used to be held here at the well in former years. One old lady remembers them.

There was a stone on the well in which a curious figure was carved. The stone was removed by somebody some years ago (I think). The figure on the stone was called ‘Sile ní Gig’.

The well is much neglected and swamp water in the vicinity was allowed to enter it. I was told by an old woman Mrs Guerin who is now over a hundred years old that she remembers when rounds were paid at it especially on St Patrick’s Day. The town band went down to the place and crowds of people paid rounds and left ribbons and pieces of rags on the bushes. The people were prevented from going there by a Mrs Grant who lived at the castle, and since then the pattern has ceased, Mrs Grant died suddenly when opening her own door shortly after the rounds ceased. St Patrick is supposed to have visited Castletownroche and blessed the well. (0372:001)

What is especially interesting is the reference to the figure once to be found near the well, also mentioned nearly 100 years earlier in a Survey Office Field Book, dated 1839:-

St. Patrick’s Well. It is situated near the S.E. boundary of the townland of Castlewidenham. It is considered to be a Holy Well, and it is near the edge of the river.  It is covered with water in the winter season. At this well lies a large stone, on which is cut an image, said to be that of St. Patrick. This stone lies flat at present, and it is also covered with water in winter.

The reference to St Patrick seems a bit coy for she is plainly all female and by 1937 the child recording information for the Folklore Project knew the proper name for such a figure:  sile na gig.  This one has had quite a chequered history.

20170119-img_3127170119

Sile na gig

We met up with her later on in the tour and very impressive she is. She is carved in relief on a cut block of stone. She is fairly typical in that she represents a naked female figure displaying her genitals. She is unusual in that she also sports  what looks like either an intricate hairstyle or a headdress of some kind. It seems likely that she once graced one of the buildings of the Medieval castle, possibly the keep, for the stone she is on is dressed and cut. There is anecdotal evidence that she was thrown into the river to purge a misdoing by one of the family and lay abandoned and waterlogged for many years until being rescued and placed near the well.  Colonel Grove White visited the well in 1906 and remarked:

The stone was lying in the backwater of the river Awbeg under the castle for many years, and was nearly forgotten; but in the early part of 1906 the Very Rev. Canon M. Higgins, P.P., Castletownroche, rescued it from its watery grave, and it now lies on terra firma near the Holy Well. I hear that this Holy Well is not so much frequented as in former times.

Historical and Topographical Notes, Etc. on Buttevant: Castletownroche, Doneraile, Mallow, and Places in Their Vicinity Vol 2 : 145/146

castleblackwater-sile

The sile in situ at the well. Photo by Colonel Grove White

She remained by the well until 1934 when she was taken up to the castle. By the 1980s she was to be found in the public dining room of the castle. It seems locals found this display of the sile inappropriate and she is now kept for safe keeping in the castle, only viewable on request. The current owners hope to reinstall her on a wall at sometime in the near future.

img_3125Siles are mysterious and intriguing – carved female figures revealing their explicit genitalia. There is much debate as to how old they are, what they are and what they represent. The current thinking is that they date from the Norman period ie 12/13 Centuries. Most are to be found on or near a castle or a church and are generally believed to ward off evil. Some scholars will argue that they are pre-Christian and refer to the hag/mother goddess and are fertility figures. As siles go, this one is fairly unalarming, others are much more explicit and fierce looking. Siles are not especially unusual sights at holy wells. At Castlemagner an enigmatic carved figure is to be found on the side of the wellhouse and is considered to be a sile, though she is rather modest compared to some of her sisters. There are parallels with the Castleblackwater sile for she too came from a nearby castle and was placed at the well in the late 18th Century. I have my doubts about her though, for when visiting another well, Lady’s Well near Cloyne in East Cork, I was struck by how similar the figure was to the carved stone found there. This is clearly a depiction of Christ crucified but look at the arms and general pose. Could this sile have been Christ – the lines round the pudenda actually a loincloth?

Another sile found near a holy well is at Ballyvourney, an ancient site dedicated to St Gobnait. This little figure is found above the entrance to the old church and is still included as part of the rounds. It is traditional to rub her. The siles at Castlemagner and Blackwater castle both have evidence of rubbing and incising. It was customary too to collect the grains of stone that were dislodge when incising with a stone and to mix it with the holy water and drink it. The water at Castlemagner is said to help with infertility and local tradition also suggests that women preparing for their wedding made a pilgrimage to the Blackwater sile in order to obtain a fertility blessing.

IMG_5674-2

Sile na gig, Ballyvourney

Some believe the carving at Ballyvourney is a figure of St Gobnait, and the sile at Castlemagner is often referred to as St Bridget. Is this a case of Christian saints taking over a much older tradition? All three siles are associated with healing, good fortune and fertility.

A digression and connection. Fascinating. I would welcome any thoughts.

20170119-img_3117170119-2

The magnificent Castle Blackwater

We were also very fortunate in being shown around the castle itself. So much still remains: curtain walls, lookout posts and the tower house itself is in a wonderful state of preservation. Adjoining it the substantial Medieval buildings were snazzied up in the 1820s in a flamboyant early Gothic style.

Sheila and her husband Patrick now rent out the castle for weddings, stag dos, private gatherings and corporate team building affairs. It is a shining example of how an ancient estate complete with unique historical buildings can thrive and prosper well into the 21Century. A huge amount of work but they seem to have got it just right.

Unravelling the Enigma by Barbara Freitag offers a detailed analysis of Sile na Gigs
Blackwater Castle has an excellent website including historical information.
Huge thanks to Sheila O Keefe who so kindly gave us an extensive and highly enjoyable tour of the well, the sile and the castle.
The location of this well can be found in the Gazeteer. The well is on private land and permission must be sought. Permission must also be obtained to see the sile.

On the Trail of St Lachteen

saint-lactins-arm2

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?

img_1249

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.

img_1255

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.

img_1263

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.

img_1271-edit-tif

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.

img_1298

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

Two wells for Bealtine

Just back from a brief but fruitful tour of North Cork, culminating in two very special wells that are traditionally visited at Bealtine. Bealtine was one of the four ancient Celtic festivals and is a Cross Quarter Day, half way between the Spring Equinox and the Summer Solstice. It was usually celebrated on May 1st. It was a fire festival, a time of purification, a time when animals were moved to summer pastures, a time when summer was heralded in with the promise of a good harvest.  With the coming of Christianity, the whole month of May was devoted to the Blessed Virgin Mary and rounds paid at Lady’s Wells.

I have to confess that one of these wells is just over the border in Kerry but it is such a special site I had to include it so it will be a guest well.

Tubrid Well, Millstreet

IMG_4861This is a tranquil spot, approximately one mile west of Millstreet, and clearly signed. It claims to be the second largest holy well in Ireland and the UK and is indeed most impressive. I haven’t quite managed to identify which is the largest but St Winefride’s in Wales is looking promising. The site is tranquil, beautifully kept and still much visited. A huge pool of clear water, just over 12m in diameter, is neatly fenced in blue and white. A grotto (even the BVM’s halo is illuminated blue) and a covered altar, flickering with candles, lie to the south. The water is exceptionally clear –  you can see it bubbling from under the ground and the river Finnow flows down the west side. A stand of mugs and jugs are available for pilgrims.

IMG_4539

Tubrid well, grotto & altar

The well’s pristine condition is down to the work of the Well Keeper, James O Sullivan  who we were lucky to meet the first time we came here:

I caretake it. I inherited a responsibility, an obligation from my father, who inherited it from his father, and I will pass it along to my son Matthew as well. I come from farming stock, and we always take our responsibilities seriously. We didn’t have a whole lot, but what we did we looked after. And I see this as my duty – to look after this well the same way my father did.

Around the well there are rosary beads, and then there’s a crucifix at the end of that. So people come down and they do the rounds. The usual thing is to go around three times. There are people down there, I am not joking you, every hour of every day. The month of May being the month of Mary, that’s when people go there in their droves. And I mean at any one time on a Sunday afternoon, there could be 300 people, 400 people there. You might think maybe it was only the elderly people that go there, and sure enough they do go there. But there are younger people as well. I see a lot of people in their 20s.

And I have found out that as we go deeper and deeper into the recession, there are more and more people coming. People come there for the solace, and the quietness. People are coming there for peace of mind. People find some strength down there. If they come with worries maybe their worries are lessened; they see things differently. If I was to say it in a nutshell, people are looking for hope. And I think they get it down there. We all go back to our roots eventually.

Sunday Tribune, 2010

IMG_4554

 

The well’s history may be ancient but it nearly fell into disuse. A law passed during the reign of Queen Anne (1701-14)  prescribed a pubic whipping for those who dared visit holy wells and Tubrid was subsequently almost abandoned. However, the story goes that it was rediscovered during the 1930s when a blind man dreamt that he would be cured if he visited the well. He had the same dream for three nights and was eventually brought to the well and after three visits his sight was restored. The well was then renovated and since then many cures have been attributed to the water:

 At Tubrid, according to their faith and if it be the will of God …  people are cured by the holy waters of the well. A cripple leaves her crutch there for all to see and walks away. A girl has her hair restored by washing in the well, an eight-year old child begins to talk, a woman has her finger straightened, and American gets relief from arthritis, a priest has a speech-impediment cured. An invalid thirty years in bed gets up and walks again after she has donated the stones for the building of the Grotto …

Millstreet.ie

The rounds are carefully and precisely laid out :

The traditional round dates consists of three visits to the well any Thursday, Friday or Saturday of May. Say a Rosary each day beginning at the Grotto and continue circling the well. Break the Rosary three times at the Grotto to ask Our Lady for request. Finish with six paters, Aves and Glorias. The ceremony ends in the drinking of water from the well. Receive Holy Communion following Sunday. If visiting only one day – say the fifteen decades on that visit, the six paters etc. and receive Holy Communion on Sunday.

The rounds are always conducted sunwise ie clockwise and an annual Mass is still held here – this year it will be conducted on the 27th May.

Like many wells, there is also said to be a fish living within and those who see it will have their wishes granted. Sadly it remained elusive today.

Although it is usually known as a Lady’s well and visits are made in May, Mary’s month, there is considerable dispute as to who the patron of the well actually is. Some believe the patron is St Gobnait from Ballyvourney, others say Tubrid means Tobar Ide, St Ita’s well, while others favour St Laterian, a local saint.

Whoever is in charge, the well, manages to retain a very serene and genuine atmosphere. It is obviously still very much part of the community – many benches donated in memory of those that liked to come here to pray face the well and offerings and candles are tucked here and there.

Tubrid well is keeping up with the times too and it even has its own Facebook page!

Having paid our respects at Tubrid we then crossed the border into deepest Kerry to visit what is believed to be one of the oldest still visited spiritual sites in Ireland.

Cathair Crobh Dearg, Rathmore, Kerry

IMG_4883-Edit.tifWe first visited Cathair Crobh Dearg, or the City of Shrone as it is  usually known, a year ago and were amazed by it. It is in a remote and scenic spot nestling under the majestic Paps of Anu: twin-peaked mountains dedicated to the mother Goddess of the Tuatha de Danaan, Anu or Danú.  The site is bursting with historical significance but seemed forgotten and neglected. The little road leading to it was the kneedeep in cow pats – actually quite appropriate as we later discovered its long association with cattle – and full of potholes but we were enchanted by it and browsed and pondered on what it all meant. An elderly man appeared and the information was exchanged. On hearing that we were off to another holy well he exclaimed: ‘Well you’re a fierce holy woman’!

IMG_4800

Stone cairn with Our Lady of the Wayside behind

Today, May Day, we knew it would be busier for, like Tubrid, it is Bealtine site. We arrived mid morning and although it was quiet,the grass was trampled, candles were lit and two men were putting up a yellow gazebo ready for the arrival of the Bishop of Kerry who was due to conduct Mass later in the day. We talked to a man hoping to make a short broadcast of the celebrations and he gently grilled us on our intentions.

Cathair Crobh Dearg, literally Red Claw’s Enclosure, and is said to be associated with St Crobh Dearg, one of three saintly sisters, the other two being St Gobnait and St Lasair. It is considered to be the oldest still revered spiritual site in western Europe and may have been founded by the Tuatha de Danaan over 10,000 years ago.They were said to have come from Boeotia in Greece and worshiped Danú, the mother goddess: protector of health, agriculture and cattle.

 Cathair Crobh Dearg is left a legacy of a religious nature, unique and strange, to this day. Right down through the ages, through Druidism and Paganism and through many mutations of human searching, religious ceremonies have been enacted on this barren windswept site. This chain of events has remained vibrant and alive – one of our cherished last remaining links with those days long past.

Dan Cronin, In the Shadow of the Paps, 2001

city of shrone

The site consists of an enormous stone cashel, 167m in circumference, with walls four metres thick in places. Inside are various interesting monuments covering millennia: a stone cairn, some large stones that may once have contained Ogham lettering, a penitential station, a collection of cross inscribed stones described as a megalithic altar, a modern statue of our Lady of the Wayside, the picturesque remains of the deerhough’s (caretaker)19th century cottage and, just outside the cashel, the holy well.

The well, which still remains the focal point of the rounds, was once located outside the cashel in the field to the south. It dried up in the 1950s and is now a shallow depression in the field. The current well is circular, encased in concrete, but the water still bubbles up and is much valued.  According to the Celtic legend the Well of Segais, as the berries of the sacred hazel tree dropped into the well at the centre of the world, they produced na bolcca immaise, bubbles of mystic inspiration or the fount of all wisdom.

IMG_4788

The holy well, the last station in the rounds

kerrycow

A fine Kerry cow

The rounds are complicated and if done conscientiously could take three hours! A board tells you what to do. The last station is the well. Water is usually taken away and sprinkled on the land or given to sick cattle. Interesting how the cattle connection continues. Cattle were one of Danú’s main concerns and were once herded and driven through Bealtine bonfires to ensure good health for the coming year. Although hundreds of years later and in the Christian era this is what was still happening in1869:

The person who performs the pilgrimage first commences with the oldest cow in the bawn, after which he takes the next youngest … he first drops three drops of water into the cow’s right nostril … then her right ear … and mouths the invocation… ‘In the name of the Father, and of the Son and of the Holy Ghost. Amen. Following this the cattle were said to be impervious to all disease.’

Journal of Cork Archaeological & Historical society, 1869.

Remember the cow pats?  Yes, cattle are still important here and bottles of the water will be taken and given to ailing cattle. The ancient connections and traditions continue. I have only scratched the surface here but this is a useful site which gives more information: Voices of the Dawn and Robert from Roaringwater Journal (our travelling companions) gives his version of the visit here. We were also amused to meet Louise arriving as we were leaving – her excellent site Pilgrimage in Medieval Ireland is a mine of information.

Locations of the two wells can be found in the Gazetteer.

Three wells dedicated to St Gobnait, Ballyvourney

IMG_5687-2

11th February is St Gobnait’s Day,  the feast day of a very popular saint in north Cork and one who still has a very well attended Pattern Day where many pilgrims visit the sites in and around Ballyvourney to pay their respects and do rounds (Turas Ghobntan).

 

Tobar Ghobnatan
It seemed an appropriate day to visit. Many people seem to first attend Mass in St Gobnait’s Church (there were several Masses being held throughout the day), then go to the old church and St Gobnait’s shrine to do the rounds, finishing off with a visit to the second holy well just down the road. I went back to front and ended up at the second well first. This has recently been tidied up with smart new entrance gates and a large sign advertising its presence.IMG_0940What a beautiful place though, right on the edge of the river and nestling amongst mature trees. No one was there when I arrived but a jumble of plastic bottles were available for those who wanted to take the water home with them and a neat row of cups and glasses were lined up on top of the well. The well is sturdily constructed with steps down to the basin, and seating arranged around it.

The water is exceptional – clear, and very cold. A large tree behind is adorned with a variety of offerings. A woman came down with her grandson. She drank two cupfuls of water with gusto and declared the water good. I fully agreed.

The Rounds
I then went to the old church. Actually there are two churches there now – a church of Ireland church, and the ruins of a much older church. Many people had already arrived and were doing the rounds. The pilgrimage starts at the statue of St Gobnait, takes in the small well to the right of this, and finishes at the second well down the leafy lane.

IMG_0965Most walked slowly and respectfully, stopping at each of the five station to say prayers, others just came in and visited St Gobnait’s grave, took the water and shot off again. There are some intriguing artefacts that are now part of the stations: a tiny carving of a Sheila na gig high above a window, and an agate ball embedded in the wall – both of these are traditionally stroked as part of the turas or round.The atmosphere was reverential but also had a holiday feel. Everyone smiled and greeted each other.

Bees & Deer
Everywhere you will notice deer and bees for the story goes that St Gobnait was born on the Aran Islands and an angel appeared and told her to travel until she found nine white deer grazing together, and there she would find her resurrection. After much travelling she finally spotted the deer in Ballyvourney. Here she built a religious establishment for women. She became famous for her healing and for many miracles. One miracle concerned cattle rustlers who were trying to steal all the local cattle. She sent a swarm of bees after them; the rustlers were blinded and the cattle restored.

IMG_5704The bees are especially beautiful on the statue of St Gobnait carved by the renowned sculptor Seamus Murphy. Incidentally St Gobnait is patron saint of, among other things, bee keepers and metal workers.

The statue
I then went on the current Catholic church in the village. Mass had ended but a steady stream of visitors, young and old were coming in and out. This is the only day of the year that the ancient statue of St Gobnait is made available to pilgrims. It is supposed to date from the 13th century and is made of oak, now much worn but what an extraordinary artefact it is. She is laid on a table and people queue to visit her. First though you must buy your ribbons, each cut to the length of the statue (Tomas Gobnatan, or Gobnait’s Measure). You wait your turn then once at the statue wind the ribbons around her neck, around her body, lengthwise on her body and some people scrunched the ribbons up and placed them over her heart. Finally St Abbey, as I heard her referred to, is kissed or embraced. (Abigail or Abbey is the anglicised form of Gobnait).

You take the ribbons home and they protect you from illness over the coming year. It seems she was once considered effective against smallpox for this prayer was regularly said in Irish:
O Gobnait, bring us safely through the coming year, and save us from every harm and infirmity especially smallpox.
It looked as though many people still thought she was very potent. She seemed much loved and respected, almost like a much adored member of the family.

Kilgobnait holy well

20160211-IMG_1041160211I then decided to visit the well and shrine of her supposed brother, St Abbán, found just outside the village but you’ll have to wait for this, he deserves his own blog entry! I did travel a little further out of Ballyvourney to Kilgobnait and visited a spot where St Gobnait is said to have prayed. This small walled enclosure right on the side of the road, now surrounded by fir trees was an extraordinary place. It seems it may have originally been a cillín (unconsecrated childrens’ burial ground) for there were many stone markers and interesting bumps and contours. Most extraordinary of all was the little well: a large ballaun stone filled with water, an odd milky blue. Quartz stones had been carefully laid around it, a few cups thoughtfully provided, and a small statue of Infant of Prague watched proceedings. There is also a large circular stone – could this be associated with the ballaun as a wishing or cursing stone?  A tiny tree growing up behind it gave this place a magical quality. Originally this formed part of the rounds on St Gobnait’s Feast Day but I don’t know how many other visitors it was going to get today.

A small postscript to Kilgobnet. I have just had supper with a friend from the area who confirmed that it was indeed a cillín and one held with special reverence as the site was considered to be as good as consecrated ground as it had St Gobnait’s blessing and protection.

Others have  written excellent accounts of the pilgrimage Here are two accounts I would recommend:

Pilgrimage in Medieval Ireland   Roaringwater Journal

Information about the location of these wells  can be found in the Gazetteer.