Category Archives: Wells

Island Wells 4: Inis Earcáin, Sherkin Island

After two days of solid rain the sun came out and we headed down to Baltimore to catch the ferry to Sherkin Island, in search of a well. The journey over is a short one but highly picturesque as you sail past the Beacon, glimmering like a gigantic sugar cone. Some impressive clouds today but miraculously we didn’t get wet.

Sailing past the Beacon

Sherkin island, Inis Earcáin  (island of the sea pig or porpoise), is a beautiful place, one of Carbery’s Hundred Isles. There is evidence of human occupation going way back for there are standing stones, a megalithic tomb, the remains of an O Driscoll castle  (Dun na Long), and the impressive ruins of a fifteenth century Franciscan friary – the first thing you see on disembarking.

The small winding lanes and wild windswept hills feel like going back in time, yet the island is thriving, the home of 114 islanders according to the last census of 2011.

Shady groves

It attracts many artists and it is even possible to study a BA in Visual Arts here – a collaboration between the Dublin Institute of Technology, West Cork Arts Centre and Sherkin Island Development Society. It is also the home of Sherkin Island Marine Station, a centre of excellence renown for its pioneering work concerning marine biology and ecology. There is one dampener on all this positivism, the National School closed a year ago and all island children now have to take the ferry to the mainland for their education.

The original village school, now a home

The Smith’s Well, Tobar Gabha, St Mughain’s Well

We, however, were in search of a well, the only one on the island as far as I can ascertain. Known as Tobar Gabha, or Smith’s Well, or even St Mughain’s or St Mona’s Well (discussed later) it is located in the townland of Kilmoon. It is marked on the current Landranger OS map (88) but beware for, as we were to discover, it is inaccurately marked.

The well lies in the direction of Horsehoe Bay. What a beautiful spot, an elegant, curved bay with crystal clear water, calm, but exceptionally cold.

Horseshoe Bay

We asked a woman having a quiet sunbathe outside her house whether she knew of any well. She didn’t but was curious to hear that we did and looking at our map directed us up towards the hills. A wonderful walk through bracken and heather, passed an attractive but closed house, and sublime views out to sea. We stopped at another house, the door painted a sunny yellow and lavender lining the path. I went to inquire. Seán answered the door – he was busy changing the duvets ready for his next group of holiday makers. What a place to stay. He had time to talk though and knew of the well, giving us clear instructions: plough through the field, head for where the mountain comes down to the land, take a sharp left and follow the valley, looking out for a fuchsia bush. He warned that it would be challenging. We went off through thick grasses and brambles, aiming for the toe of the mountain and the veering off to the left. The bracken was shoulder high and the brambles treacherous but the colours of the heather and gorse were incredible.

As we went further into the valley an amazing vista of sea, mountains, Beacon and lighthouse was revealed. It was, however, a completely different direction to the one in which the map and GPS wanted us to go, but we trusted local knowledge – wisely, as it turned out.

The approach to the well

To the right, a clump of straggly fuchsia bushes swamped by bracken came into view – the only ones on the hillside.

A bit of scrambling upwards, some scratchy, prickly negotiation inwards, more careful pulling back of the bracken and brambles and there was the well:  a small semi-circular basin, moss-  surrounded, built into the hillside, a spongy green slab in front. The water was clear, copious and dripping from above.

Tobar Gabha

What a magnificent position – wild and remote, secretive and magical.

An entry in the Schools’ Folklore Collection has this to say about it:

The well on Sherkin Island is situated on the hillside overlooking Horseshoe Bay. It is a small well surrounded by fuchsia bushes. There is an old legend connected with it that people get cured there and on that account it is visited on certain times of the year, May Day Eve and St John’s Night.

If a bird is heard singing when any person suffering from a disease is praying there, it is considered a very good sign of being cured. It is the custom of people to take something with them when they visit it such as part of a rosary bead, a medal, a bunch of flowers or a bit of rag. People usually cross the hills when they visit the well. It is said the old well takes its name (Tobar na Gabha – well of the blacksmith) from an old smith who was supposed to live nearby in olden times.

The water in the well is quite fresh and it is said to never go dry. When a person wants to get his wish he must walk around the well and say four Hail Marys each time he walks around. Once in the month of January there were primroses seen there when there was not a primrose to be seen anywhere else. (194/195:0295)

The birds were certainly singing but there was no sign of any offerings and it would have been very hard to pay a round so dense was the undergrowth. The fuchsia bush was still flourishing.

We hacked our way back through the bracken and brambles, stopping off tell Se,an that we had found the well. Back in one piece? he smiled. He reckoned he had last visited the well about 20 years ago but could remember that it was once visited by many islanders and that it was customary to leave offerings. He recalled that his aunt, suffering from a bad back, had trekked through the valley to visit the well and returned cured.There had once been stepping stones along the track making the route a little easier.

When I mentioned that the well was called Tobar Gabha, Well of the Smith, he said it was was dedicated to St Mona. (The church on Sherkin is also dedicated to her). There is a reference to a similar name inThe Genealogy of Corca Laide (CELT,UCC) where the well is referred to as Tobar Mughaine. The townland in which it is located is called Kilmoon – Cill Mughaine, church of Mughain. Interestingly  there is another Kilmoon in County Clare which is reputed to be named after this elusive saint. Omnium Sancrorum Hiberniae has her named as St Mughain of Cluain-Boirenn with a feast day on the 15th December. Confusingly the historic OS maps refer to it as Toberngow – Well of the Smith, as does the Schools’ Folklore extract. Could Gabha be a corruption of Mughain, or vice versa? I’d be delighted to receive any other information.

Many thanks to Seán for the chat and directions.
Ferry timetable to Sherkin Island
The location of this well can be found in the Gazetteer.

Meandering south of Mallow

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

Ania’s Well, Tobar Aine, Dromore

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

Saint Hulaman’s Well, Kilcolman

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

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

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

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

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

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

Blind Well, Tobar Caoch, Skarragh

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

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

Skarragh Well. Photo by Grove White 1913

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

View from the vicinity of the Blind Well

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

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

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

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

A shame that we could not find this potent well.

Abigail’s Well, Kilgobnet

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

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

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

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

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

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

The wellhouse is a wonderful structure:

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

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

Abbey’s Well

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

Inscribed plaque over entrance

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

Interior of the well, now dry

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

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

Whitewashed

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

 Gregory’s Well, Tobercarrown, Ballyshonock

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

Remains of palette covering well

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

After a little careful clearing

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

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

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

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

Hints of masonry

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

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

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

Astonishing how interesting a neglected piece of water can be.

St Catherine’s Well, Ballydeloughy

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

Entrance to the remains of St Catherine’s Church

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

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

Carved head of St Catherine; photo by Peter Clarke

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

The scant remains of Ballydeloughy Castle

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

St Dominic’s Well, Glanworth

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

St Declan, St Leonard & a Poor Child

St Declan’s Well, Tobarnadeecla

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

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

Recently fallen tree just missing the well

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

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

St Declan’s Well, restored 1997

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

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

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

Trinity Well, Charleville

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

Trinity Well, Charleville

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

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

St Sinnades Well, Toberlenade, Newtownshandrum

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

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

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

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

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

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

The Rakes of Mallow

Who knew Mallow was so exciting? It’s a place that we normally just drive through on our way to somewhere else but today we stopped, three wells on the agenda. The first one I knew no long existed but I wanted to visit the site anyway.

Well of the Breast, Toberaroughta, Mallow

This well is clearly visible on the early 6 inch OS map (1829-41) and once lay within the grounds of Annabella Park. It was named Toberaroughta, Well of the Breast. How it got its name I have not been able to find out but according to Colonel Grove White it was once a holy well of considerable repute. Sadly he has little else to say about it. A short entry in the Schools’ Folklore Collection gives a few more details and an odd story:

There once was a holy well near Mallow station and people used to do the rounds and say prayers and people were supposed to get cured there. Once when people were saying prayers there was a soldier who was riding a horse. (He) saw them praying and he laughed at them and suddenly his horse fell and he was killed. I do not know if the well is there now or not.

Today the surrounding area is occupied by Mallow Railway Station, built in 1849. Looking at the modern OS map it seems that the well lies very close to the track itself, in a bit of waste land. We thought it worth inquiring at the ticket office. The woman was charming and intrigued. She had never heard of a well but would ring the station master- she warned he was only young and probably knew nothing about it. Wrong! He did know of the well but said it was inaccessible and completely covered over. We could only gaze through the ticket barriers and imagine.

As close to the well as I got!

 

 

St Peter or St Patrick’s Well, Mallow

On the other side of town, in an area known as Spa Glen, two other wells are mentioned in the Archaeological Inventory. They both seemed have originated as holy wells but became incorporated into the Spa which developed in Mallow during the 18th century.

The story goes that in 1725 a Doctor Rogers from Cork came to attend a patient in Mallow – a Mrs Wellstead (really). She was going down hill rapidly and found that the only thing her stomach could retain was water from the holy well. Dr Rogers treated her with this and her recovery was speedy and complete. The news spread far and wide and Mallow found itself almost rivalling Bath Spa in England. Ballads were composed exclaiming its fame:

Ye nymphs deprest With want of rest, And with complexion sallow,

Don’t waste your prime With chalk or lime, But Drink the springs at Mallow.

All you that are Both thin and bare, With scarce an ounce of tallow,

To make your flesh Both plump and fresh, Come, Drink at springs at Mallow.

The New Ballad on the Hot Wells of Mallow, 1753

A pump house complete with shell grotto was built over the holy well. The original spa house was replaced in 1828 by the building that still remains today, a rather charming mock Tudor confection, total cost £1050 15s.

The Spa House, Mallow

The spa house was built in 1828, by C. D. O. Jephson, Esq., M.P., the present lord of the manor and principal proprietor of the town: it is in the old English style of rural architecture, and contains a small pump-room, an apartment for medical consultation, a reading-room, and baths; the whole fitted up in the most complete manner for supplying, at the shortest notice, hot and cold salt-water, vapour, and medicated baths. The approach to the spa from the town is partly through an avenue of lofty trees along the bank of an artificial canal, affording some picturesque scenery; it is in contemplation to form an approach from the north end of the new street, winding round the brow of the hill and through the Spa Glen, the present outlet from the lower part of the town being inconveniently narrow. Lewis’ Topological Dictionary of Ireland, 1837

The well was now used only for spa/health reasons rather than holy reasons. Grove White describes the well as being dedicated to St Patrick but Lewis, quoted above, has it dedicated to St Peter:

The mineral waters, in their properties, resemble those of Bristol, but are much softer; one of the tepid springs was at a very early period in repute as a holy Well, dedicated to St. Peter, but they were all neglected for medicinal use till the earlier part of the last century. The principal spring is on the north-eastern side of the town, where it rises perpendicularly in a powerful stream from the base of a limestone bill that shelters it on the east.

The well remains inside the Spa House and is approached down a flight of steps. It is not accessible but I peered through the window and wished I could get a better look.

The entrance to the spa well, once dedicated to St Peter, or St Patrick

The National Inventory of Architectural Heritage describes it thus:

(The Spa House) retains well to interior with circular dressed limestone surround, dressed limestone winding steps and carved timber railings with trefoil-headed details. It offers a reminder of Mallow’s social history as a spa town and the retention of Saint Patrick’s Well to the interior as well as the canalized stream from the Lady’s Well spa adds to this interest. The site is enhanced by the bridge to the west, which is well executed.

Lady’s Well, Mallow

But this is not the only holy well on the site. A few metres away lies a large pool, with water flowing out to the NW, this stone-lined stream is the one referred to as canalized above. The well is marked on the early OS maps as Lady’s Well, now described in the Archaeological Inventory as the Spa Well.

Originally Lady’s Well, then used as part of the spa and even as a swimming pool in the 1960s.

Lewis,1837, has more to say about it:

There is another spring called the Lady’s well, also warm and of the same quality, though not covered in or used. The water of the spa has a mean temperature of 70° of Fahrenheit, rising in summer to 72° and falling in winter to 68°; it is considered as a powerful restorative to debilitated constitutions, and peculiarly efficacious in scrofulous and consumptive cases, for which the spa is much frequented by persons of fashion from distant parts of the country, being the only water of the kind known in Ireland. 

Kevin Myers in his paper The Mallow Spa published by Mallow Archaeological & Historical Society in 1984 in has a little more information:

The Spa well was dedicated to St. Patrick, as a holy well, many years before being discovered for its medicinal qualities. The temperature of the Spa water was recorded at an average of 70*F, rising in summer to 72°F and falling in winter to 66°F. A nearby spring, known as “The Lady’s Well” was said to be one degree warmer. The Lady’s Well became popular for a time in the 1960’s as a swimming pool. A well, known as “The Peddler’s Well”, situated a little further to the north is now covered in. The water at the Spa well was described as “beautifully clear and sparkling”

Far from being beautifully clear and sparkling, today the water was scummy but bubbles could still be seen rising from the bottom. It felt pleasantly warm. It was once considered especially good for respiratory conditions including asthma and TB. The water has been analysed and described in a paper by CR Aldwell 1995 as follows:

The results of the analyses indicate that the water is a calcium bicarbonate type and similar to the local groundwater in the limestone aquifers. The main differences are the lower calcium, bicarbonate, and nitrate concentrations in water from Lady’s Well.

Lady’s Well, still bubbling

The spa started to decline almost due to its popularity – the rakes moved into town and caused chaos. This drinking song called The Rakes of Mallow was written in 1740 by the ‘pleasant Ned Lysaght’ a self-confessed rake:

Beauing, belleing, dancing, drinking,

Breaking windows, cursing, sinking
Ever raking, never thinking,
Live the Rakes of Mallow;
Spending faster than it comes,
Beating waiters bailiffs, duns,
Bacchus’ true begotten sons,
Live the Rakes of Mallow…

… Racking tenants, stewards teasing,
Swiftly spending, slowly raising,
Wishing to spend all their days in
Raking as at Mallow.
Then to end this raking life,
They get sober, take a wife,
Ever after live in strife,
And wish again for Mallow.

The whole area in Spa Glen seems to have several springs rising – a third was mentioned in Myers’ article but has since been covered over. Other clues also remain – the rather forlorn looking public spa fountain has certainly seen better days.

As has the elaborate and rather wonderful water trough and pump on the other side of the road.

Spa pump & trough

This was erected in 1810 and is described by the National Inventory of Architectural Heritage:

Freestanding water pump and trough, c. 1810, comprising rectangular-plan limestone-built sunken area with dressed surrounding wall, curved to west corners and having carved coping. Dressed limestone steps to east side with dressed limestone parapet walls. Limestone flagging to trough area and dressed limestone rectangular-plan trough. Three carved limestone lions’ head spouts to wall above trough. Rectangular-profile limestone-built platform to west with metal closure and three cast-iron water pumps, two having decorative spouts and fluted shafts.


This fountain is notable for its fine stone crafting and well-executed decorative pumps. It forms a pair with the nearby Spa House as a reminder of Mallow’s history as a spa resort town. The lions’ head spouts are features of particular note and add artistic interest to the site.

Known affectionately as the Dogs’ Heads, the water here is still gushing but apparently unfit for human consumption.

The Spa was in decline by the 1840s and although attempts have been made over the years to revive it, the area around Spa Glen remains unloved. The Spa House is currently empty, the inside looking worse than the outside. The wells are neglected as are the fountain and pumps. There seems an astonishing lack of foresight to allow such a unique and historic area of the town to be so ignored and undervalued for it seems full of potential for locals and tourists alike. One famous Irish commodity is still rejoicing in the spa though.

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

The Three Marys

Since I began this project, a year and a half ago, I have come across dedications to 51 various saints at nearly 200 wells. The most popular patron is the Blessed Virgin Mary (BVM), who currently has 29 wells dedicated to her. Not surprising really considering her elevated place in the Catholic pantheon as Mary, Mother of God; the Blessed Virgin; Queen of Heaven or simply Our Lady. Her major feasts days are May 1st (in fact the  whole of May is considered to be Mary’s month), 15th August: the Assumption of the Blessed Virgin; 8th September: the Nativity of the BVM; and 8th December: her Immaculate Conception. She has even had special years dedicated to her devotion (1954 &1987) when many grottoes were erected and wells renovated. Today three Marian wells were on the agenda, each one very different and all in North Cork.

Prayer to Our Lady

Take my hand, O Blessed Mother

Hold me firmly lest I fall.

I am nervous when I am walking,

And on you I humbly call.

Guide me over every crossing,

Watch me when I’m on the stairs,

Let me know that you’re beside me,

Listen to my fervent prayer.

Bring me to my destination safely every day,

Help me with every undertaking

As the hours pass away.

And when evening falls upon us

And I fear to be alone,

Take my hand O Blessed Mother

And protect my life and home.

Board at Lady’s Well, Castleharrison

Lady’s Well, Castleharrison, near Charleville

First stop Lady’s Well near Castleharrison, just off the N20 en route to Charleville. The potency of the site is immediately apparent as outlined on the board at the entrance:

On the margins of this holy well pagan multitudes were converted and baptised, and from time immemorial devotions here to the Mother of God has been rewarded with many favours and blessing. (Taken from the parish records, 1809)

Nearly a hundred years later, Colonel Grove White visited the well, wrote warmly about it and took a very attractive photograph:

In Castle Harrison Demesne, in front of the houses near the road, is an interesting holy well. It is kept in good order and is one of the most picturesque Holy Wells I have seen. It is dedicated to the Blessed Virgin. Many people come to this well to pay their devotions on the different festivals dedicated to the Blessed Virgin, but particularly on August 15th, the Feast of the Assumption. I was also informed that people come here for the cure of all diseases, particularly of sore eyes. A large white thorn overhung the well. It was covered in ivy. It was blown down in the severe hurricane that occurred about 1903. It is a credit to the parish of Ballyhea for it is one of the best kept Blessed Wells in Southern Ireland. (Grove White: Historical & Topographical Notes Etc Vol 1)

Lady’s Well, Castleharrison. Photo taken by Grove White 1905.

The site is clearly signed and just off the main road,  an enclosed space immaculately maintained.

A circular path leads down to the well, marked with the Stations of the Cross. A row of orange plastic chairs lined near to a wall hint at the many pilgrims that still visit.

Route down to well with Stations of the Cross

The well itself looks very different to Grove White’s day. An arch recess, containing a statue of the BVM is now flanked by a domed stone well house, two small niches on either side, with a white Celtic cross surmounted over the whole.

Lady’s Well, Castleharrison

The statue of the BVM within is a rather beautiful one, and, although denied access by a glass window, pilgrims have managed to leave offerings at her elegant feet.

The well lies below but is now disappointingly sealed off by a grill – water obtained from a tap located in the hedge nearby. The jolly smiley-faced cups seem at odds with the rather sombre and devout atmosphere.

A row of wooden benches with ornate white railings lie in front of the well for devotions.

Ornate benches for devotions & prayer

Various notices on the site explain the required devotion at the site and include some interesting thoughts about the sacredness of water in general:

(The round) consists of 3 visits to the well, saying a Rosary each time, beginning at the Grotto and continuing the round to complete the Rosary. While doing the round the pilgrim is carried back in thought by the Stations of the Cross to Calvary where the right to God’s help and favours was earned for us, and where and where Christ put everybody (in the person of St John) under the protection of the Holy Mother. Having completed the Rosary the ceremony ends in the drinking of water from the well and a private resolution made to receive an early opportunity Holy Communion which our lord described as ‘a well of living water’ which would benefit in this life and the next.

While drinking the water from the Blessed Well the tremendous religious significance attached to water is recalled by the pilgrim. Going back to the chosen people of God in the Old Testament in the Bible we find that they had strongly in their minds that God brings life out of the waters and saves people by the waters. Moses led his people out of slavery in Egypt and they escaped from their pursuers through the waters of the Red Sea.

The visitor also recalls that in baptism each one of us has passed through the baptismal water to a new life of being now, not just the children of our parents,  but children of God too. As children of God our prayer at this holy well is in a few words – Mother of God and our Mother intercede for us.

An plaque on the altar informs that it was erected during the Holy Year of 1987; I wonder if that was when the entire site was modernised.

Altar with plaque dated 1987

The well was very active in the 1930s:

In the district of Charleville there is a well named Our Lady’s Well. people visit it from time to time to pray there. When a person has a disease he usually washes himself in the well. Sick people get the water of the well and drink it. The most frequent time for visiting the well is on the Feast of the Immaculate Conception. When people visit the well they bring holy pictures and statues and leave them on the altar over the well. Once  woman got water out of the well and used it for household purposes but it never boiled. There is a bush over the well. People who are cured hang rags on the bush.  A long time ago a gipsy washed her child in it. He is now a priest. (280: 0368; Schools’ Folklore Collection)

It remains a vital and active part of the community. In June this year, for example, there was a special mass held there for the Travelling Community  which included a blessing for families.

Lady’s Well, Templemary, near Buttevant

The next well sounded fascinating from the description in the Archaeological Inventory:

 In pasture, at base of ash tree and on W side of Mallow-Liscarroll road. Enclosed NW->SE by roots of tree; SW side and base stone-lined. On SW side is partially cut limestone block (0.88m x 0.48m; T 0.17m) with holy water stoup (0.3m x 0.39m) cut into one end. Latin cross with splayed ends carved into side of stoup. According to local information, well visited in May and stoup came from nearby site of RC church, which was demolished in late 1970s/early 1980s; Grove White (1905-25, vol. 4, 35) noted church ‘was thatched’.

I had visions of something similar to the wonderful St Lachteen’s well in Ballykerwick, near Donoughmore. It was easy to find and clearly signed from the road, a well maintained walkway leading steeply down towards the sound of running water.

Disappointingly the ash tree has long since been cut down though the stump remains just behind the wellhouse.  The whole site was renovated and rededicated in 1991, somewhat fiercely.

Lady’s Well, Templemary

A large stone shrine complete with statue of the BVM is where the ash tree once stood. The statue is attractive and well cared for with flowers, and a few offerings.

The welhouse replaces the old ash tree

The well itself is in front of the shrine but covered over by a sharp sheet of metal. Lift that up, and the water underneath is abundant and fresh. The area is nicely slabbed with a step down to the water.

To the right the ancient stoup described in the Archaeological Inventory remains, emblazoned with a cross. An array of cups lined up on a stack encourage the water to be used.

An ornate rail and kneeling block lies in front to the well; to the left a very unattractive metal shelter, bare and ugly, presumably for people to shelter in when the weather gets rough. The whole space felt devoid of atmosphere, a little too manicured but it is obviously still an active and important site within the community.

Grove White uncharacteristically has little to say about this well but what he does say is tantalising:

… in olden times much venerated and visions were said to have been seen there.

Lady’s Well, Tobermurray, near Liscarroll

By the time we visited the final Lady’s Well, the rain was falling steadily and enthusiasm was dwindling. The approach was down a long bumpy boreen, at one time a boxer came leaping and barking to greet us. The boreen ended in a farmyard complete with a house which I wasn’t sure was occupied or not. I knocked and no reply. A wooded area off the yard looked promising and I went to explore.

I was gob-smacked, no other word for it, and rushed back to tell my husband he needed to come and see this, rain or not!

A wooded grove comes to mind for the site is encircled by a wall and many tall and mature trees. In the centre is a large pool or spring, the well itself, stone-lined with steps to the south and a metal railing to ease collection of water – it’s quite a long drop down.

Lady’s Well, Rockspring

Little benches are dotted here and there but dominating the space is a shrine to the BVM. It is a large rectangular stone structure, topped with a cross. Inside is a niche with an arched doorway containing a statute of the BVM – illuminated!

She gazes soulfully upwards, hands in prayer with an assortment of offerings around her: rosaries, cards, pictures, statues.

A tree nearby holds a rack of colourful and spotless cups, a picture of the Sacred Heart propped below.

In a dense wooded area by the water there are more statues:  Jesus with outstretched arms and a small BVM in a little niche. They look ancient, traces of their original paint still clinging on.

What a remarkable place, oozing with atmosphere and presence, such a contrast to the first two wells described. It seems this is another of those North Cork wells that has moved from its original position:

There is only one holy well in the parish. It is in the townland of Rockspring, Liscarroll in cllrs. Brislane’s field. The people pay rounds … during the month of May because the well is dedicated to the Blessed Virgin.

There is a story about the well. A woman washed her petticoat in the well. It is said that the well moved and there is a tree that marks where the well was first. There are trees growing around the well where it is now.

The people cure sore eyes at the well. When people are going to the well they take relics with them, namely flowers, statues, holy pictures and rags. They hang the rags on a tree. The people drink the well water and there are cups at the well for the water.

It is said that in the well a fish is seen. When people see the fish they wish for something. Sometimes they get what they wish for but sometimes they do not. At night it is said that the fish is to be seen.  (216:0367; Schools’ Folklore Collection)

Another entry gives a little more information about the site of the original well

There are two holy wells around Liscaroll. One well is in Knawhill and the other is in Rockspring. The one in Rockspring is called the Blessed Virgin’s Well. It is said that one night a woman washed her feet in the well and when the people got up in the morning the well had removed to where it is now. A tree stands in the field where it is said the well was. There is a hole in the tree and it never goes dry. The well in Knawhill cures sore eyes. People pay rounds to the blessed Well in Rockspring the months of May and August. (044: 0367; Schools’ Folklore Collection)

The tree at Knawhill is now on the list but I can find no reference to it. There is another well very close by dedicated to St Baoithin which will be explored shortly.

The locations of these wells can be found in the Gazetteer. All have public access.

Some Curious Wells near Doneraile

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

St Coneela’s Well, Doneraile

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

Well of the Eyes, Tobersool, Knockacur

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

Jungle in Dreenagh Woods, once part of Doneraile Park

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

Tobarsool, Doneraile

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

Lady’s Well, Doneraile Park

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

Doneraile Park, once home to the St Leger family

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

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

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

Lady’s Well, Doneraile Park

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

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

Well near public car park

St Branit’s Well, Wallstown

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

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

The Archaeological Inventory description gives further intriguing details:

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

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

Gortaneadin Grotto, Inchigeelagh

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

The path down to the well

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

Castle Curious, home to Johnny Roche

The eircom history website offers this description:

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

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

Collapsed pilgrims’ shelter

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

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

St Branit’s Well

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

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

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

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

All entries in the Schools’ Collection refer to the well as being dedicated to St Branit. She no longer seems to be associated with the Horseclose and Knockacur wells but is referred to as the sibling of Nicholas of Monanimy and Cranit of Clenor. Both have wells dedicated to them, and both wells moved because they were sleighted in some way. The story of the beautiful young woman pops up again for St Cranat was said to have been pursued by unwanted suitors and in fury plucked out her eye in order to mar her looks. A tree sprouted up where her eye fell – Crann na hUlla, the Tree of the Eye.
Nearby is a Holy Well dedicated to St. Cranat. Like St. Nicholas’s Well, this also travelled; from Killura, where the landowner, being fed up with the pilgrims, built a wall surrounding it. On completion of the wall, Cranait herself gathered up the well in her apron and moved it to its present site. Rounds were paid here on March 9th. Another aspect of her cult relates to Crann na hUlla. Legend has it that she was the beautiful sister of SS Nicholas (Monanimy) and Branat (Doonawanly), who aroused the passions of an unprincipled Prince. In order to quell his fire, she plucked out her eye and cast it from her. Where it landed, a tree grew, known as “Crann na hUlla” (The Tree of the Eye). A twig from this tree was reputed to be a charm against shipwreck, and, as such, was stripped during the great emigrations of the 19th century. As can be imagined, it no longer stands. (Eircom history website).
I have visited the rather neglected  St Nicholas Well and the site of St Cranit’s Well, of which nothing remains.  It’s interesting how the story of three siblings seems a recurring one (I’m thinking of Inghne Bhuidhe) and her two sisters) as does that of beautiful young woman marring her beauty in order to reject suitors (St Bridget reputedly plucked out her eye when told she was to marry someone she didn’t want to and it dangled on her cheek, popping back in its socket only when the proposal was rejected).
 The locations of these wells can be found in the Gazetteer.