Many wells were associated with specific healing qualities. In the days before antibiotics or the ability to afford a doctor most communities would have had a healing well and some were visited for particular ailments. Common medicinal qualities included those for eyes, headaches, backache, women’s problems, men’s problems, infertility and even for mental health.This wonderfully evocative well in Lough Hyne is said to be useful for eye complaints though it looks like other requests and prayers have also been left.
Warts seem to have been specially troublesome. Many wells associated with their curing seem to be ballaun stones – stone basins with man-made hollows. Did stones such as these contain especially effective minerals? The well in the middle of Castlefreke woods is large, the water pure and you must dip the affected finger in three times for the cure to be effective.
If a well was dedicated to a saint, it was considered even more potent as it had direct connection to the holy person. St Bridget and St Patrick were immensely popular patrons, as was Our Lady or the Blessed Virgin Mary (BVM). Lady’s Well in Kealkil is visited every year on the 15th August, but seems to be revered throughout the year.
Many local saints, some of whom would not have been recognised by the official church, were also much revered. St Laitiaran, St Olán, St Inghe Bhuidhe and St Ina are not names that trip off the tongue but all four have wells dedicated to them in county Cork.
For some healing wells, the journey to them seems to have been as important as the cure – or at least part of the process. Some wells could only be approached before sunrise, some you were not allowed to speak to anyone on the way and some were just incredibly difficult to get too. This well at Dunlough was said to be effective in the treatment of insanity – surely only the insane would attempt to get down there!
If you were unable to attend the well yourself then healing water could be collected and taken to you.