Category Archives: St Patrick

Exploring around the M8

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

St Cuain’s Well, Tobairin Cuain, Knockraha

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

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

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

Raised path leading to the well

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

The original ‘small’ well?

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

Sing Sing Prison

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

Sing Sing prison, a living tomb

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

Irish Examiner article

The Year of Disappearances

Lady’s Well, Coolgreen, near Glanmire

Bouncy, large pup

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

Quartz pile with well in background

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

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

Lady’s Well

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

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

The Virgin’s Little Well, Tobairin Mhuire, Ballybrack

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

The well is right on the edge of the road

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

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

St John’s Well, Doonpeter  & Mass Rock

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

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

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

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

Turn right after this stile!

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

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

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

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

St John’s Well

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

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

White quartz stones are everywhere

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

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

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

Some wells are invisible: exploring around Enniskean

Some wells prove difficult! I had five wells on the agenda today, all remote and my expectations of finding anything were low. This proved entirely justified. But I did get to explore some beautiful areas in the crisp Spring sunshine.

St Srufan’s Well, Drimoleague

First stop, St Strufan’s Well, long vanished according to the Archaeological Inventory, which was once sited in the centre of Drimoleague. The main street was examined and the GPS was called into play. It led me to this rather odd corner, full of jumbled steps and odd angles. Could this have been the site of the well, now covered over, once dedicated to St Srufan?

St Srufan* seems to have been a shadowy kind of chap. According to Ballingeary Historical Society he was a sub-king living sometime in the 10th century. He ruled the area known as the Cineal Laoghaire, an area in North Carbery stretching between Coppeen and Drimoleague. He apparently gave three tuatha, (pockets of land), to his kinsmen: Inchigeelagh, Ballingeary and Coolmountain, then took himself off to a monastery to pursue a more saintly sort of life.

*Srufan could also be a corruption of the word sruthán which means stream or brook (thank you VH).

Holy Well, Sleenoge, near Kinneigh

A scenic drive inland out of Enniskean and you arrive in Kinneigh, site of a remarkable and ancient monument: a round tower. St Mocholmóg (also known as St Colman, Mocholmóg is a sort of pet name meaning my dear little Colum!) founded a monastery near here in 619AD, of which virtually nothing remains. The tower was constructed later, sometime around 1014AD.

Kinneigh – church, graveyard & round tower

There are 64 round towers remaining in Ireland, but only two are extant in County Cork – this one and another in Cloyne. They are considered to be bell towers, once attached to a monastery, and are known as cloicteach.The Kinneigh tower is unique in that it is the only round tower to have a hexagonal base.

There is a collective family memory associated with this monument for on our first visit to Ireland, with two small boys in tow, we had a day exploring around this part of West Cork. The highlight had been collecting the key to Ballinacarriga Castle, which we were allowed to explore unhindered. As we started our journey home, the round tower leapt off the map – we had to go! It took ages to find it. We proceeded down small roads, in relentless drizzle, with tempers fraying. We arrived and the collective verdict (apart from me) was – is that it?

Nonetheless, it is a fine tower and what I hadn’t realised (thank goodness the family would have sighed) is that there is also a holy well on the site, surely once connected with the ecclesiastical settlement. This time I explored in a leisurely fashion.

pathway leading down below the bridge

Again the GPS kicked in and led me down to the bridge, just outside the north walls of the churchyard. A gap in the wall and little steps leading downwards to the stream looked hopeful, as did the stepping stones. Was this little jumble of stones all that remained of a stream-side well?  What an attractive little bridge from down here too.

Well of the Bard, Toberhanore, Ballyvelone West

Another holy well was in the vicinity in the nearby townland of Ballyvelone West.  According to Bruno O Donoghue in his remarkably useful book: Parish Histories, there were originally two wells in this townland: Tobar Aillise, Well of the Gangrene, and Tobar Sheanora, Well of the Bard. I rather hoped this was the Gangrene well, just because it evokes so many imaginings but having consulted the early OS maps, the well is marked as Toberhanore, close enough to Tobar Sheanora, so the bard wins.

Again the GPS led me down through rich green pasture to this slab of stone, the only one in the field. Was this the well covered over?

The Archaeological Inventory described the well as being in boggy ground – well that was over the sturdy wall, the terrain too wet and squidgy to negotiate and the undergrowth too lush.

According to O Donoghue, the well was in the Phairc a ‘Bhile, Field of the Sacred Tree, so more interesting musings. The Well of the Gangrene sadly seems to have disappeared.

There is another very special well in the area in the nearby townland of Ballyvelone East where there is a well dedicated to St Patrick, already recorded.

St Patrick’s Well, near Kinneigh

The next hunt took me to Kilcolman, just outside Desertserges. It was a beautiful verdant area with rivers, tree-lined roads and, over the wide-spanned bridge at Desertserges, a glimpse of an old railway station.

Old station, Desertserges

How different the landscape must have looked when the railways were still active.

O Donoghue listed two wells in this townland: Tobar a’Bhurcaigh, Well of the Light-Soiled Field, which was apparently good for warts; and Tobar a’Staighre, Well of the Stairs, which once had steps down to it but was now closed. Neither names matched the online Archaeological Inventory which had gone for much less evocative names: Kilcoman Wart Well and Kilcolman Well. The hardback version of the Inventory (West Cork Vol 1) however did refer to Kilcolman Wart Well as Toberastira, or Well of the Stairs, so mystery solved. Sort of.

Wart Well, Tobar a’Bhurcaigh, Kilcoman

A scenic drive down through woodland, I parked the car and set off to find the well, described as being made from stone. An ornate iron gate, now blocked, looked a good omen. I had to climb over a wall a bit further down  – the river gushing down the hill, the whole area awash with wild garlic, the smell pungent. Bluebells too just pushing up.

The well was meant to be at the side of the river but it was too dense to get anywhere near, my path blocked with fallen trees and thick undergrowth. Light-soiled field didn’t seem to match this description for it was in dense woodland. Had the woodland once been more patchy and shady, hence the name? I was going to return to ask at the house but pink balloons had appeared on the gate and I didn’t think they’d appreciate a mad woman looking for wells at the party. I did notice a pipe coming out of the wall into a stone basin, right by the roadside and wondered if perhaps the water was now piped down here for convenience, the original well long since disappeared?

Stair Well, Tobar a’staigre, Kilcolman

The second well in Kilcolman seemed to be in the middle of pasture and there were no signs of any stairs.  Again the GPS led me to a spot which did have a rather unassuming and unexciting dip in it – was this all that remained of Tobar a’Staigre ?

It was once probably connected with an ecclesiastical settlement the remains of which reputedly lay over the road but I wasn’t going to explore for the site was guarded by a very large and very free-range brown dog.

Frustrating results, a lot of guesswork but a good bit of exploration. if anyone has information about these wells I would be grateful to hear it.

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.

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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.

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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.

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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

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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.

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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.

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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.

A bit of a Sow’s Ear

Today we headed off towards Kinsale with our friends Robert and Finola from Roaringwater Journal fame, stained glass and holy wells on the agenda. Finola is giving a talk on stained glass shorlty and wanted to take photos of the windows in St Multose, Kinsale. The church is closed  in the winter, apart from services, but we were instructed to arrive at 12.20 when communion ended and could have 15 minutes browsing in the church. It is a beautiful old building and there is an astonishing variety of stained glass from many different periods. I have to say I’m usually drawn to small details and colours rather than the whole thing. Here are a few of my favourite pieces:

St Bridget’s Well, Tubbrid

img_2663Satisfied, we continued towards Crosshaven, four possible wells on the agenda, all of them looking rather obscure. First stop St Bridget’s Well, Tubbrid. The name of the townland seemed hopeful, tubbrid meaning well, but the Archaeological Inventory warned that it had no real idea where the well was but a red dot on the map placed hopefully on a fork in the road looked promising. I investigated. A stream run under the road and emerged on the other side, disappearing down a thickly wooded little glen. No sign of any well though the drain was nicely made and the area felt right.

St Patrick’s or St Finian’s Well, Kilpatrick

The second well was close: St Patrick’s Well, or possibly St Finian, it seems to have two alternative names. The Archaeological Inventory again wasn’t terrifically hopeful. It warned that the wellhouse had tumbled down and the remains were to be found on top of a steep hill. What it didn’t mention was that you had to wade through two steep-banked, fast flowing streams, then clamber up a bracken and briar knotted hillside to get there. There was no way we could get up the hill to access the well but I reckon it was somewhere near where this tree now stood.

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Possible site of St Patrick’s Well?

There must have been a path to it once but no sign of it now. Disappointing not to find this well as it has an odd and fascinating story attached to it, discovered in the Schools’ Folklore Collection:

There are many holy wells in the district. The best known one in my district is in the townland of Tracton and about for or five miles from Carriglaline.  Many people still visit this well on certain days. Rounds are not performed often now if they are at all. There is a story told locally about the saint’s sister who was out late at night. When her brother, who was supposed to be St Finian, missed her he cursed her and said that ‘the wolves might eat you’. Immediately he had her cursed he heard the wolves howling and knew some evil had befallen her, so he set out in the night and found her at Ahane Cross which is not very far from this well, and the wolves devouring what remained of her. When he saw what evil he himself had done he cursed the wolves who turned into stones. These stones can plainly be seen some of them at Ahane Cross and more of them in the Tracton bogs near to this cross.  After the wolves were cursed he gathered up the bones of his sister and he bathed them in the holy well and she came to life again. St Patrick and St Finnian are mentioned in connection with this well.

St Finian seems a bit of a hasty chap and not very saintly  – all that cursing. We shall have to return for we sailed through Ahane Cross without noticing the petrified wolves.

St Mary’s Well, Crosshaven

Two wells in Crosshaven itself looked more promising – dedicated to the BVM and St Bridget. The area is known as Templebreedy and there are the remains of an old church and graveyard dedicated to the saint nearby. The more recent RC church in the town is also dedicated to her (incidentally designed by Edward Welby Pugin, son of the more famous Augustus). The wells looked to be close together off a small boreen. We entered the boreen in the car – a dead end but fortunately two people were passing. They knew of one well and directions were given: climb over the gate, go across the field, aim for the gap in the trees, squeeze through the barbed wire and turn right. This proved to be pretty accurate. St Mary’s lies at the edge of Cruachan Wood,   some huge trees remaining from what must have been an avenue connected with Templebreedy Rectory close by.

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Avenue in Cruachan Woods

The well lies level with the ground amongst the trees: nicely made, stone lined with a semi-circular back. The water is abundant and fresh and flows off down towards the fields. It was once considered good for sore eyes and sore feet.

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Lady’s Well, once a popular site of pilgrimage

It was once a site of pilgrimage for Our Lady was said to have made an appearance here. Confusingly the three local people I talked to all referred to it as St Bridget’s Well but it fits the description given in the Schools’ Folklore Project as St Mary’s and was obviously once much revered:

In the grounds of Mr FG Hayes, Crosshaven, Co Cork, there is a well dedicated to Our Lady. It is circular in shape. There are four steps leading down to the well. It is overhung by an old hawthorn bush, which is said to be over thirty years old.At one time there was a great flow of water in the well, but now it is not so great. It is said that the water is a cure for sore eyes, and for sore feet and for any disease; if the water is rubbed to the affected part it will also cure.At  one time, rounds were made on the Feast of Our Lady, but this custom was stopped about thirty years ago.The well is decorated with ribbons, medals, Rosary  beads, and etc. It was also an ancient custom to say a prayer when passing this well and the custom is kept on.There was a beautiful elm tree growing over the well and it was in the form of a grotto and some person put a beautiful statue of Our Lady there. It is said that Our Lady was seen there and that is why it is called Our Lady’s Well. (0391:035)

The Archaeological Inventory reckons this is Lady’s Well too but the early OS map has it as St Bridget. According to the Crosshaven Development Committee Facebook page the OS accidentally transposed the name of the wells. I’m inclined to agree.

The well is almost circular yet the steps have gone, as has the hawthorn bush. Some blocks of white quartz remain, often spotted at holy wells. The elm tree too is long gone but another interesting story emerges from the Schools’ Folkore Project as to its demise:

There were two very wealthy men living in Crosshaven, both Protestants. One  man was asked to cut the tree and he said he would rather starve than put a saw to it. The other man was asked and he said he would cut it. He was told it was  not right to cut the tree but  he only laughed. He brought a cross saw and with one of his sons started to cut the tree; the saw broke in two halves; he got a second and the same thing happened and the third saw went the same way as the first and the second. The fourth saw cut the tree. All went well until morning. He went to the stable o draw home the timber but found his horse dead in the stable. From the day …. (0391:035/036)

The passage ends abruptly and we shall never know what happened to the foolish Protestant but it can’t have been good! Another version describes a coal merchant wanting some timber for his schooner and after breaking 10 saws, he managed to hack off a limb. Bad luck befell him and the well dried up in protest.

The trees in the area still look magical. One enormous old beech seemed to have been burnt out inside – was it struck by lightening or deliberately set on fire?

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Finola inspecting the burnt out tree

Whatever happened it had been made into a sort of shrine with offerings left in the centre and at its foot. Interesting how the offerings were here rather than at the nearby holy well which is unadorned.

St Bridget’s Well, Crosshaven

The area was popular with walkers and runners and I asked two other people if they knew of the second well. No one had heard of it but there were clues. As mentioned, the old ruined church and graveyard nearby were dedicated to St Bridget and the well was meant to be close by in the field – the well once supplying water for the church.The GPS was called into action and took me to a very waterlogged area but it didn’t quite fit the description from the Inventory. I was looking for a concrete basin now used as a cattle trough. I suspect I was in the wrong area and should have been in the field closer to the old graveyard. I have included a photo sourced from Photo Indymedia Ireland website, taken in 2006 which shows how it looked 10 years ago.

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St Bridget’s Well, now used as a cattle trough; photo from Photo Indymedia Ireland

There’s only a very brief entry in the Folklore project describing another well in the area. A Mrs Meads went to collect water from it to use in her kettle but of course the water wouldn’t boil.

Further exploration was curtailed by lack of light and extreme cold. Crosshaven requires a second visit for two other even obscurer wells are still on the list for this area: St Mary’s Well in Gortigrene which was used for keeping firkins of butter cool in hot weather; and St James Well near Fountainstown which was said to cure coughs and colds if you went to the well having fasted for a week.

A bit of a sow’s ear today but If anyone has any information about these wells I would love to hear it.

Locations of these wells (some a bit hopeful), can be found in the Gazeteer.

Tobar Patrick, Kinneigh

IMG_2423It being St Patrick’s Day it seemed appropriate to hunt down a well dedicated to the national saint. I managed to find one listed in the Archaeological Inventory that was fairly close to me and after attending the Parade in Ballydehob set out. The well was not on the map but I had written down instructions how to find it but once I arrived in Castletown Kinneigh nothing seemed to tally. I spotted an elderly farmer sorting out silage bales and asked him if a) I was in the right townland and b) if he knew of a well. I was and he did. Instructions were given: go back up the hill, straight over the cross and head for the palms. Ask at the house.I followed orders and recognised the palms (fir trees) and house straight away – a beautifully kept and colourful farm, but no one was at home.

IMG_2411Sensing I was close I continued up the road until I met a man and his dog. He was suspicious. Why did I want to go to the well? I explained and he soften and it turned out I was very close. He had been himself that morning and many other had come throughout the day. He said it was a special place and he liked to go often. More instructions: There’s a gate, go over it, across the field and find the gap in the trees. Go through the wood and follow the path.

Would I know it when I saw it?
I would.

More excellent instructions. A yellow gate, a green field and then some slightly spooky woods – tall, licheny firs, a lot of moss and no sounds. There was a small stony path and muddy footprints confirmed that others had wend their way through the trees before me. A small river appeared and the rather oppressive atmosphere lifted.

What a beautiful spot and I saw the well right away – on the other side of the river!

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There was a large rock, and half way up a basin had been scooped out, probably naturally. First I had to get across the river. An overhanging tree and small stepping stones made that perfectly possible.

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The man was right, this felt a very special place. The water was clear and very cold and the basin was full – quite how and where from wasn’t clear for there had been no rain for a good week. Crosses had been inscribed in several places, a small stone left for future pilgrims to do the same.

An anonymous letter published in the West Cork Eagle  July 18 1868 describes one man’s experience here and gives an insight into rituals and beliefs:

A little farther on the old man directed my attention to a well which he said was called Tobereen Pandrick. As well as I could learn from him he said the water contained in it was filled with all the virtues necessary to cure all human ailments. The well is a hollow in a solid rock–higher than the surrounding place. In this rock there is neither crack nor fissure by which one could perceive that a spring could enter, yet he told me that well, even in the present season of drought, never goes dry.

The water is used to cure sore eyes, sore legs, scurvy and the gout, but the place must be attended on three separate Sunday mornings before sunrise, and the round given each time. How the water comes there and how it obtains its virtue must be a mystery to Hydrography, I hope that some one of that able confraternity will visit the place and explain. It added greatly to the conviction of my mind that after all the cold water cure is the best.

Marsh marigolds and Irish spurge were already out and added to the presence. Something about the secrecy of this well, the effort to find it, its total integration within its surroundings and then the total peace when you got there made it an extraordinary place.

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The well is still visited on St Patrick’s Day, 17th March.

The location of St Patrick’s well can be found in the Gazetteer.