Tag Archives: ballaun stone

A clutch of Bullauns

Stouke burial ground comes as a bit of a surprise. It seems to be miles from anywhere, high up overlooking some spectacular countryside in West Cork. The name is odd too. The old name for the site is Kilaspick Oen – Church of Bishop John. Later it became cillin stuaice – little church of the heights. Though nothing remains of the original church, it may have been the site of the first parish church for nearby village of Schull.

The Bishop’s Head, Bullaun stone, Stouke

It’s a wonderfully peaceful place, a jumble of graves, abundant wildflowers and some intriguing history. One of the most interesting things is a bullaun stone found in the middle of the graveyard. It is a large flattish stone with the bullaun or basin hewn in the centre, measuring 22 cm in diameter and 7cm deep. On my first visit the bullaun was covered by a flat stone or lid but this seems to have disappeared. Today the bullaun was filled with russett-tinged water and a collection of rusty coins.

Bullaun stone plus offerings

Two large jars with exceedingly rusty lids contain on inspection a mass of coins and some baby earwigs. A statue of the BVM oversees proceedings from a heathery tussock, a single lily looming out behind her. Rather an odd statue when you look closely, what on earth has happened to her eyes?

Roaringwater Journal sheds a little light on how the bullaun got its unusual name:

The bullaun stone in Stouke graveyard is known, according to the Historic Graves account, as the Bishop’s Head. The informative plaque erected by the Fastnet Trails folk tells us that an older name for the townland is Kilaspick Oen, meaning Church of Bishop John. Perhaps this was the Bishop for whom the bullaun stone is named. The story goes that during the time of the penal laws the Bishop was confirming children nearby when the redcoats got wind of his activities and came to arrest him. He was beheaded. The bullaun stone commemorates this act and has been a focus of devotion locally, with people leaving coins and tokens to pay respect and perhaps ask for consideration for special intentions. Additionally, rounds were performed here on St John’s Night – although I am not sure if this tradition has persisted.

As with other bullauns, this one has the properties of a holy well, the water being considered to have healing benefits, especially for warts.

Mention has been made of rounds being paid here on St John’s Night, 24th June, and these included the large and imposing grave close to the bullaun, as well as to the bullaun itself. This fine chest tomb is the final resting place of two brothers, a sister and their housekeeper.

Father James Barry was the parish priest during the time of the Famine and along with his brother Father John Barry worked tirelessly for the poor, attempting to alleviate the wretched conditions. Once again Roaringwater Journal has done all the hard work and provided an excellent account of their life and works. It seems that the brothers are still remembered and respected for coins and offerings were also left at their grave.

The Rolls of Butter, Kerry

From the Bishop’s Head to the Rolls of Butter, another intriguing bullaun – not technically a holy well and not even in Cork but just across the border in Kerry. What an incredible, powerful site though.

The stone in its setting

This large flat-topped boulder, complete with eight bullans and attendant smooth stones, once formed part of a complex ecclesiastical settlement: there are the remains of an ancient church, a holy well (unfound) and another bullaun in the hedgerow (once used as a font at the old church).

Bullaun stone in hedgerow

The stone and its original art ie the cupmarks could date back to the Bronze Age- it is in alignment with the sunrise at the Winter Solstice. The bullans are probably more recent – maybe they are cupmarks that have been customised – but they suggest that this particular stone has had a long and continued usage. What is especially remarkable are the smooth stones within the bullauns – cursing stones if you were feeling unkind, to be turned widdershins; or more benignly, wishing stones, turned clockwise as part of the rounds connected with the church and well. The central stone is holed and contains an undeniably upright phallic stone.

The rock contains eight bullauns of varying sizes, some with smooth stones within. The central stone is holed with an upright stone within it.

Water collects in the basins, surely once used for its healing qualities – warts, I bet. Offerings of coins cluster in the bullauns and under the smooth pebbles, staining the rock.

There is much folklore attached to the stone The story goes that the local saint, who the ecclesiastical settlement was dedicated to, St Feaghna, came across a local woman using this stone to make butter. Unfortunately she was using milk stolen from her neighbour’s cow and the saint flew into an unholy rage, turned her rolls of butter into stone, then pursued her across the river, eventually petrifying her too! Not terribly saintly action.

The site is engulfed by bracken, the larger area surrounded by an amphitheatre of mountains resulting in an extraordinary atmosphere of remoteness, peace and presence. This site is on private land so permission should be sought.

Stouke Graveyard has been recorded.
The location of this well can be found in the Gazetteer.

Island Wells 4: Oileán Baoi; Dursey Island

A couple of weeks ago I travelled to Dursey with a friend, her friend, a husband and a dog, two wells on the agenda. Although we had a wonderful day, the well hunt was not entirely successful as the field in which the first well was supposedly located contained a lot of very large cattle, their calves and reputedly amongst them a bull. It looked to me, as I peered over the fence, that a cow was actually standing in what looked like the well. I resolved to go back and yesterday made the long trip back to Dursey.

Cow in a holy well?

Dursey lies at the very end of the Beara Peninsula, it’s name as Gaelige is Oileán Baoi, or Island of the Bull. It is 6.5km long and 1.5km wide, a wild and hilly place frequently glimpsed off the mainland shrouded in mist. There is only one way to get to Dursey and it’s not for the faint-hearted. A cable car, the only one in Ireland, is the only means of transport across the notoriously ferocious Dursey Sound. The first cable car was introduced in 1969 and was a God send for islanders, mainlanders and day trippers alike. The service is still going strong and you are swung aloft in a small wooden cubicle, six people the maximum allowed in at a time, then glided up and over the gantry and back down to terra firma.

The only cable car in Ireland

Psalm 91 and a bottle of rather murky holy water nestle next to the first aid kit. Today I travelled over with two islanders and their spare tyre, and a German family. The seats are wooden slats and the journey is short, about 7 minutes and surprisingly smooth with some fabulous views as you are wired aloft. Rather disconcertingly, only a few minutes into our journey the whole thing came to a halt, just long enough to get a bit twitchy; then we juddered backwards, picked up two more passengers to get to our capacity, and resumed the journey! The holy water was not resorted to.

All options covered

The island is spectacular – wild and remote, now home to only two permanent residents, several holidays homers and day trippers. Sheep and cattle are plentiful though. Once three villages thrived in the island’s townlands: Ballynacallagh, Kilmichael and Tikilifinna but now the little clusters of houses are mainly derelict or empty, a general air of melancholy pervading.

The hedgerows are spectacular, today bursting with all sorts of flowers: foxgloves, thyme, scabious, heather, toadflax, camomile …. The distinctive herringbone walls thick with colour.

Herringbone patterned walls, an island feature

It’s an invigorating and breath-taking walk along the main track, which goes all the way along the south side of the island then heads up through the centre.

The road less travelled

The views out to sea are jaw-dropping, today the palest of blues and silvers with a surprising amount of tiny fishing boats out there.

Tubrid Well, Ballynacallagh

The first well lies in the townland of Ballynacallagh (townland of the landing place), just outside the settlement of the same name. I was relieved to find that the cattle had been moved to the adjacent field and on close inspection, yes, the bull was in situ – a rather fine beast with a ring through his nose, not a bother on him.

Beware!

I asked a man collecting water from a tap whether I could go through the fields. He knew of the well but hadn’t been for many years and yes, it was in that field. I squeezed over the fence and followed a stone field boundary, the fields sloping sharply as they headed down towards the cliffs and then the sea. The field itself is called Gort an Tiobarín – field of the holy well.

The cattle eyed me with gentle curiosity and the GPS led me confidently on. Just where I hoped there was a well was a mass of dampness, actually the results of two wells and their springs converging– the first well had a neat stone built opening but I think the holy well was the less glamorous wetness: currently a quagmire of shitty brown muck, much trampled over by the cattle (compare the site with the first image).

Tubrid well, cupmarked stones in centre

The water was trickling from under the boulder and after a bit of searching I managed to identify the cupmarked stones that are also mentioned in the Archaeological Inventory. They lie just in front of the well, much shit-spattered but the cup marks just discernible – five on the stone on the left (CO0126-011001), and possibly two on the stone on the right (CO0126-011003). These date from the Bronze Age and are exciting to see for Beara has very few known examples of rock art.

Although the well today looked more like a muddy bog it had once been the object of veneration. Penelope Durell in her excellent book Discover Dursey has a little more to reveal about it about it:

… The well itself is small, a natural spring arising from under a boulder and spilling out into a shallow pool. Its water and those of another well join the stream and flow into the sea below at Cuaisín an Tiobraid, little cove of the holy well … It was the custom to pay the rounds at the holy well on three Saturdays in succession, reciting ten decades of the Rosary on each occasion.  The devotee, carrying ten small quartz pebbles, would kneel beside the well for the first decade and drop one of the pebbles. The procedure was to then walk clockwise around the well – in harmony with the course of the sun- while intoning the next nine decades, each time dropping another pebble.

 

The well is simply called Tubrid Well and I wondered if it might have been originally have been dedicated to St Michael whom the next townland is named after and which contains the scant remains of St Michael’s church, destroyed by the English in 1604 and the last gable standing blown down by a gale in the 1990s. It seems not for Penelope Durell refers to the islanders going on pilgrimage to St Michael’s Well on Knocknahulla on the mainland to take part in the annual pattern day there.( I’m still puzzled by that well!) Incidentally, there was until not long ago, a ballaun stone in the vicinity of the old church, renown for its curative powers. This has since disappeared.

St Michael’s Well, Knocknahulla where islanders went to pay the rounds on the feast of St Michael, 28th September

The views from the well though are sublime, and I was delighted to have found it. I was less hopeful about the second well, the intriguingly named Tobar na gCliathrach – well of the hurdle passage.

Tobar na gCliathrach, Well of the Hurdle Passage

I was alerted to this well by a short mention of it in Bruno O Donoghue’s invaluable book: Parish Histories and Placenames of West Cork.  I was further excited to see it marked on an old map lent to me by a friend. The well lay in the last townland – Tilikafinna, tice lice finne, house of the white rock. It was an awfully long walk, nearly to the end of the island but a good one, following  the track as it curved around the bottom of the island.

Someone has a sense of humour for various signs are placed on the track – imagine doing 100kmph here!

There are little benches here and there to take a quick snack or enjoy the views. Today the air was noisy with choughs, nesting in some of the old buildings; and freshly shorn and marked blue-bottomed sheep and their lambs skittered in front of me. Out at sea gannets were diving and inland stonechats were indignant at the disturbance.

The last house on Dursey is still inhabited and I knocked. The occupier was having his lunch and the woman I talked to knew of no holy wells.The map though looked promising. I had to find an old field boundary then follow it down towards the cliffs, eventually veering off slightly to the right. I found the boundary, a large well made stone affair, green with flowers and ferns, and followed it down into the pasture. How exciting to suddenly see a small stream appear from a ridge – could this be coming from the well? It was! Tucked into the back of the hill, flowing out from the rock was a stream of water – fresh and clear. A pipe hinted at someone’s appreciation of the water. In front two flat stones lay as if inviting reverence.

Well of the Hurdle Passage

What a beautiful spot, the most wonderful thing being the smell – I couldn’t help but crush the abundant wild camomile underfoot and the aroma was heady.

I sat, ate a banana and just marvelled at this little well surviving quietly and unknown, and gasping at the sheer beauty of the scenery. Looking out to to sea the Scariff Islands shrouded in cloud occasionally opened up to reveal themselves.

Scariff Islands looking mysterious

Was this well holy? Bruno O Donoghue thought so and I will be content with that. I can’t help but wonder at the name – does anyone have any ideas?  It certainly felt very a very special place.

A long walk back, the same way I had come for the climb up across the centre of the island via the signal tower looked too challenging at this stage. The map contained one more reference to another well Tobar a Righe, well of the slope. which seemed to be down by a cluster of ruined houses, but couldn’t find it. Walking back I was pursued by little drifts of mist and was then fortunate to catch the first cable car back across the water.

Pursued by a cloud

Fumbling in my backback I was delighted to find a fiver, just enough to buy a bag of chips and cuppa from the mobile refreshment caravan on the other side. Perfect.

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

Way out East, a clutch of wells around Youghal

A while ago I spent a couple of days around Youghal, several wells on the agenda. While doing a spot of research I came across reference to some wells en route to Youghal, notably in the Carrigtwohill area:

The five Holy Wells in our parish have gone dry or disused. Their locations are as follows: St. Coleman’s Well at Reinaslough, St. David’s Well at Wyse’s Bridge, the Holy Well of the Vat in the Well Lane, The Easter Well in Woodstock and the Holy Well in Ballinbrittig. Carrigtwohill Community Newsletter

None sounded particularly hopeful but I decided to see if I could find St David’s Well and Easter Well as they seemed to be just north of the village.

Easter Well, Tobar na Casca, near Carrigtwohill

Neither St David’s Well or Easter Well are listed in the Archaeological Inventory so finding their locations was up to intelligent guesswork!  I identified Wyse Bridge but no sign of St David, who incidentally is patron saint of this area. I then carried on to the One-Sided Glen/ Woodstock Glen, a very narrow and very pretty wooded glen with the most incredibly treacherous potholes. I explored both sides of the hedgerows and could hear running water. Just off the road was a large pool of fresh and abundant water, a pipe leading from it. Could this be Easter Well?

Easter Well?

This extract from the Parish Magazine sheds as a bit more light but this water source was certainly not closed.

Again below in Gleann O’Leith – “The One Sided Glenn”, is Tobar na Casca – “The Easter Well”, to where many came from far and near to the Easter Pattern during the Penal Law Years. However irregular behaviour developed in 1830 due to the consumption of Poitin! The local clergy took immediate action in de-blessing the well and in ordering its closure. In the late 1930’s when the Cork County Council sought to improve the supply of water to the village of Carrigtwohill they added the old Holy Well springs to its then reservoir in the Woodstock Glen. Being now sealed, the well abated into history until the new millennium, when through the memory searching of the older fraternity of the district it was again located and re-closed.

The pattern day sounded rather lively though!

Holy Well, Killeagh

The next quick detour on my way to Youghal was to check out a well that was more or less just off the main road and was marked on the OS map. The Archaeological Inventory recorded it as having been destroyed during field clearances but I thought it worth having a look. I parked near this rather sweet thatched cottage and switched on the GPS.

It lead me along the road then over a gate into a field. The field was newly ploughed and sown but the sides had been left wild and lush. No immediate sign of any well.

The GPS lead me to a nettlely heap which seemed, on reflection, to be an interesting shape.

Interestingly-shaped patch of nettles

I tentatively explored and hit stone! There also seemed to be a bit of a drop! I returned to the car for the well kit and came back with gloves and secateurs. It’s always a thrilling moment when you realise that there might be something interesting under there. And there was!

The well revealed

A bit of hacking back and the well was revealed: a stone built wellhouse with a large flat stone slab on top, the whole thing fitting snugly into the bank. There was quite a large area in front, possibly with the remains of walls. The well itself was now damp rather than flowing.

This poor well had not received visitors for a long time and I have been unable to find out anything about it but it was highly satisfying to find it still there, sitting quietly underneath all the foliage.

Fainin Well, Killeagh

Whilst trying to find information for the well above I discovered that I missed another well  a mile or so away in the woods – classified as a ballaun stone in the Inventory but also described as a holy well. Note to self: please check all bullaun entries before fieldwork. I have not been there yet but have included a photo and some information, posted on Killeagh Inch Community Council Facebook page, original photo and text by by Jonathan Neville.

Fainin Well, a ballun stone. Photo by Jonathan Neville

The Holy Well located on the rock outcrop north of the Metal Bridge is known as Fainin’s Well. It is a Bullaun stone. Rainwater collects in its hollow and it is known to have curative properties, that being a cure for warts. The Irish for wart is faithne giving us Fainin. The original purpose of these stones is unclear, but they are clearly associated with early ecclesiastical sites, possibly that of Killeagh village or else at Aghadoe itself.

The mass rock located at Fainin’s well is a sub-rectangular stone with a rectangular socket set off centre. There is a kneeling step at the front of the stone and this would suggest that the socket was used to place a wooden cross. Mass rocks were used from the mid seventeenth century in Ireland as a location for Catholic worship during times of persecution. What is interesting is the proximity of the mass rock at Fainin’s Well to Aghadoe House. The local lords, the de Capells, lived at Aghadoe since the twelfth century. Even though they were Protestants at the time of the seventeenth century, their Catholic background possibly allowed them to turn a blind eye to the activities at the mass rock. There is a lot of folklore associated with Aghadoe, Druidic origins, monks, and a large castle which all that remains is a dovecote and sheela na gig, the only in situ one in East Cork.

Next time I’m in East Cork ……

Holy Well, Seafield, Youghal

Back on the road and on to the outskirts of Youghal. I spotted the next well from the roadside and how pretty it looked, nestling among all the yellows  and greens, surrounded by hawthorn trees.

First glimpse of Seafield Well

Parking the car rather haphazardly on the kerbside I went back to investigate. The well fitted snugly into the bank of the field, some interesting ridges in the land above it.

The rectangular well house has a distinguished conical roof, whitewashed with lichen. It is stone built and looks as though it was once rendered. A low wall, now turfed, curves around protectively and a scattering of stones in the foreground hint at other details. The conical top is interesting – a large cross inscribed by pilgrims conceals most of the details but other carvings are distinguishable: a large winged soul/cherub more commonly seen on gravestones, and above this a cross flanked by two rosettes. The cross and the face of the cherub/soul have also been inscribed with crosses.

There is also lettering below these carvings now hard to decipher which inform: Erected by Thomas Seaward Esq. of Seafield 1833. Thomas Seward or Seaward, spelt in several ways, was the Land Agent for the Duke of Devonshire, in charge of his estates in Cork and Waterford from 1817-1849. He lived at nearby Seafield House, currently being restored.

Close up of original inscription with the name Seaward Esq

The red sandstone lintel has also been covered in carved graffiti, some of it old. The well itself was dry, a fine crop of nettles at its entrance. It looked as though the stream, which presumably once fed the well, had been re-directed at some point to flow down the side of the road. This was a lovely place, the perfect day for visiting – the air full of birdsong and bees humming among the abundant wild flowers. Frustratingly I have been unable to find out much else about the well.

St Corán’s Well, Youghal

The final well on my list did not disappoint though it was in the most unexpected place –  a housing estate high up on the outskirts of the town. Even better, it was signed!

Impressive entrance pillars with a central pillar topped with a cross led down a long grassy avenue, cordylines and fencing, hawthorns in full bloom. it was such a bright and sunny day that taking photos was difficult as the light was either too bright or there were shadows everywhere.

The stone wellhouse is an interesting shaped building, elegant with attractive details – the main bit is rectangular, but it’s topped with a triangular roof, complete with added decorative flounces and finials. Pilgrims’ crosses are etched here and there. There is a stone slab in front of the well and the interior basin is square, the water fresh, clear and cold.

St Corán’s Well

A large spider’s web across the entrance confirmed that not many visitors had been recently and the empty plastic bottles littering the site had not contained holy water.

An exuberantly flowering hawthorn lent a protective cloak over the well.

To the right of the well lay various memorial stones including a rather nice arched stone bearing the name of the well, Naomh Corán (St Córan) on the front, tobar beannaithe (blessed well) on the back, the lettering and Celtic crosses highlighted in red.

Behind this lay a rather plain concrete cross erected in the holy year 1983/84. A little rusty donation box looked like it hadn’t receive much charity for sometime. Crosses inscribed on several of the stones spoke of numerous pilgrims visiting the well to pay rounds on St Coráns Feast Day, possibly 9th February. I say possibly because St Corán seems a very elusive chap and I have not been able to find out much about him at all.

He probably lived in the mid 6th century, founded a monastery up here and all that remains is this well. It has a neglected but very pleasant air, peaceful and once you walk down the long path, it feels remote and otherworldly. Some stunning views too.

Youghal

I continued on into Youghal which was looking its best in the brilliant sunshine. I was completely knocked out by the splendour of the Collegiate Church and the richness within (especially  Boyle’s tomb) but as I emerged blinking into the sunshine and peered over the graveyard wall in an attempt to see to Walter Raleigh’s house (still inhabited and the inhabitant not delighted by people peering over said wall) something funny happened. Two women approached, smiling, and took me by the arms and hoisted me up onto a nearby chest tomb. This is the best place to get a photo. Make sure you see the oriel window where Walter Raleigh probably sat with his friend Spencer, you know  – the Faery Queen.

I dutifully took the photo then they said, come on now time to get back to the bus. I gently explained I was nothing to do with their tour and much hilarity ensued. Who knows where I might have ended up next!

Actually I ended up in the gardens of Ballymaloe Cookery School and was further stunned by the shell house!

Shell House interior, Ballymaloe Cookery School gardens

For an informative description of St Mary’s Collegiate Church visit Roaringwater Journal.
Youghal has an excellent and informative website.
The location of these wells can be found in the Gazetteer.

Four Curious Wells enroute to Allihies

Two days exploring the remote and scenic tip of the Beara Peninsula and some very curious wells discovered.

Kilaconenagh Holy Wells, near Castletownbere

The weather on day one was not promising – thick fog and a steady mizzle. We persevered however and the first well stop was just outside Castletownbere. The GPS led us down a remarkably lush and green wooded lane.

A little wooden gate and a mossy sign boded well. The well was said to be behind the ruins of Kilaconenagh church (CO115-045002). Although the remains are pretty meagre, the church is said to date from as early a the 8th or 9th centuries, now much ruined and covered in ivy.  Apparently the rafters from the church were removed during the wretched Seige of Dunboy in 1602 to make gun emplacements. It’s a peaceful spot today, unkempt and fecund, the grave stones lurching in unlikely angles, the chest tombs rampant with ivy. It’s treacherous underfoot too, many graves apparently open or at least riddled with dips and holes. Jack Roberts in his The Antiquities of the Beara Peninsula gives a very odd story as to why the gravestones are quite so higgeldy piggeldy. Apparently a monster emerged from a nearby stream and ransacked all the graves, quite why isn’t explained!

Finding the holy well, or rather holy wells, involves a climb over the wall and an rootle amongst the undergrowth – there a licheny stile and a just discernible path. The well is actually four ballaun stones carved into the rockface, now pretty much covered in undergrowth but still impressive. They are unusually large:

The western well has a diameter of 0.5m and depth of 0.3m. 0.6m to the east is the second which is 0.8 x 1.1m in diameter and depth of 0.4m. 0.9m to the east is the third with a diameter of 0.9 x1.2m and a depth of 0.2m.

Archaeological Inventory

The holy wells, three ballauns – a fourth lies slightly higher up on the right

The fourth ballaun, just above the three and to the right, is slightly smaller. It’s unclear whether they are natural or man-made, the one on the far left certainly looks as though it has been deliberately scooped out of the rock.

A short entry in the Schools’ Folklore Collection gives an odd bit of extra information:

To the west end of Castletownbere in an old graveyard situated nearby there is a holy well. In olden days people that suffered any disease of the body used (to) visit this well and pray for a certain amount of time that God may deliver them from their sufferings, and restore them back to health again.  At the edge of the well a frog sat and if the invalid did not see him it was a sign that their disease would not be cured. 061:0278

This felt an ancient and unusual place. Unfortunately amongst all the excitement of coping with GPS, camera, reading glasses, barbed wire, inquisitive ponies and looking for frogs, I dropped my phone and cracked the glass. One of the hazards of well hunting.

We visited Dunboy Castle afterwards and pondered on the roof of the old church. Dunboy is now a rather gloomy shell, the ancestral home of the O Sullivan Beare, too full of brutal memories perhaps, softened a little by the stunning views and lush vegetation, mainly flowering rhododendrons.

Puxley Mansion lies nearby, guarded by a stout fence and ever encroaching vegetation.

The enigma that is Puxley Mansion

What an extraordinary sight and an even more perplexing history: built in 1739 on profits from copper mining, extended in Gothic style during the Victorian period, abandoned by the owner after his wife died in childbirth, blown up by the IRA in 1921, abandoned again, restored in 2007 as a 6 star hotel, Celtic Tiger collapsed and now abandoned once again.

The day’s explorations ended with a visit to Dzogchen Beara, another unexpected place, full of interest – a Buddhist meditation centre, retreat and hospice, perched scenically on the clifftops with incredible views. No fabulous views today though, thick fog, but we did avail of the very good café.

Blessed Well, Tobairn Beannaithe, near Allihies

Miraculously the fog lifted on the second day, all brightness and breeziness in colourful Allihies.

Life in the slow but colourful lane

Fuelled with an enormous breakfast (The Seaview Guest House highly recommended) and much helpful advice from our landlady and a fellow guest we set forth to find Tobairin Beannaithe, the little Blessed Well. This was located high up on the east side of the Bealbarnish Gap and took a bit of finding! Our landlady equipped us with a booklet written by local school children in the 1970s, herself included, and rang up a local who she thought might have more information, but he was elderly and still in bed! We followed her directions, turned on the GPS, parked the car and scrambled up the hill.

The Bealbarnish Gap below

We were looking for what sounded like a large ballaun cut into the cliff face, possibly still revered. The GPS directed us here – now a substantial pool of water right at the base of a cliff.

Site of the well, has it been submerged?

A lot of work has been done up here recently and water was being piped from the pool. Had the well been submerged?  There seemed to be something under the water at one point. We searched around and found nothing else likely.

The well was also known as the Women’s Well and was renown for curing sore eyes. The water was said never to dry and when the tide comes in way down below, the water is meant to rise. Rounds were paid here at the end of September.

There were magnificent views from up here, quite a journey to get to but as always, the journey seems to be an essential part of the experience.

Infinity well

St Michael’s Well, near Allihies

Off high for the next well too, somewhere near the summit of Knocknahulla. Our landlady had assured us that this well would be easier to find, there might even be a sign and a path. GPS on we strode and stumbled across rough pasture until the path became impassable, barbed wire fences and thick bracken, very scenic though.

We turned back and had a welcome coffee and chat at a café nearby. Here we were given further instruction by someone who had been up there last year with a party of school children. She said finding it would involve a bit of scrabbling about as it was very small and not much to see – look for the gate next to the the big junction, just past the farm with the cattle enclosure. We found the junction, we found the farm and cattle enclosure, we found the gate, we even found a sort of path and up Knocknahulla we went! More incredible views and such wonderful colours on this spectacular day, such a change from yesterday. The Archaeological Inventory information was helpful:

In rough hill pasture, in a hollow on a S-facing slope to the E of the summit of Knocknahulla. The holy well consists of a roughly circular water-filled depression (0.4m N-S; 0.35m E-W; D 0.35m) in the peaty soil. A cross-inscribed stone (CO127-046001-) covers most of the well. Known as St Michael’s well. Rounds were made up here up to recent times on the 25th September. Four small recently made wooden crosses lie on the ground Im to the E. A penitential station (CO127-046002) lies 8m to the N.

The pasture was rough alright and after much exploration, the GPS led us to the cross inscribed stone: small, flat on the ground but with a smaller stone sparkling with malachite on top, handy for doing the inscribing. Next to it a large lump of white quartz looked significant.

Cross inscribed stone and accessories

But where was the well? I gingerly lifted the stone and underneath was the tiniest circle I have ever seen, nothing remotely like the dimensions described by the Inventory – damp within though, and inhabited by a slug.

The ground was certainly peaty but could this possibly be the well, had the peat shrunk? There was no sign of the crosses mentioned by the Inventory and not much evidence of the penitential station also described, apparently now represented by a cairn of white quartz stones left by pilgrims, though there were blocks of quartz here and there. What a conundrum!  We found the stone, we lifted the stone, but was that the well? Much searching provided no other clues or anything resembling a well.

The well is dedicated to St Michael and visited on his Feast Day, 29th September. A mighty trek up here and one still undertaken by local people, including the school children. What a puzzle. More stupendous views though. The Catholic church in Allihies is also dedicated to St Michael the Archangel.

I would love to hear from anyone who might have visited the well or has any information.

Holy Well, Toberbanaha, near Allihies

The final well was actually marked on the OS map, known as Toberbanaha on the oldest maps, but an adventurous time was still had getting there  – the road got smaller and smaller, higher and high as we climbed what was once an old road from Allihies to Castletownbere. Again magnificent views from Knockgour, lots of sheep and then the road finally stopped, the Beara Way snaking off into the distance below us.

This well was actually surprisingly easy to find – it was down a steep slope but had been fenced off – a circular fence in the middle of nowhere always a good sign.

Fenced off well

Water seeped out from under the stone and trickled down the hillside. There wasn’t a huge lot to see or much atmosphere and it had clearly not been visited for some while, but someone thought it important enough to protect.

Later we paid our respects to the Hag of Beara, An Cailleach Bheara, and the tallest Ogham stone in Ireland in the wondrously named Faunkill in the Woods. Much needed chocolate and apples were bought in Eyeries, probably the most colourful village in Ireland.

An excellent adventure.

We love the Beara!

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

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.

Found, Lost & Unknown: Three Beara Wells

A trip out to the Beara Peninsula. It was misty and mizzling, low clouds moving over the rugged mountains, the scenery spectacular, the colours ever changing; incredibly imposing even in the damp weather. The search for wells had mixed results: one definite, one confusing and one not found.

Holy Well, Tobar Beannaithe, Roosk, near Adrigole

We turned off the main road just before Adrigole and went down tiny roads towards the coast and the townland of Trafrask. The landscape was wild – russet coloured moorland and great slabs of grey rock with not very good visibility but glimpses of the sea out to the south.

We parked the car, got the GPS sorted and hailed down a passing 4×4. The two men within knew of no well but were amused by our determination. We set forth, the ground extremely wet and treacherous underfoot. The GPS brought us to a large outcrop of rock which looked hopeful.

Intrepid well hunters

The well was described as a ballaun in the Archaeological Inventory but search as we did, we could find no sign of it. Disappointing for it sounded as though it was still venerated.

Blessed Well, Tobar Beannaithe, near Adrigole

We conceded defeat and went back up to the road and on to the next site, just a few hundred metres away. We passed a travelling grocery van and asked Nan, the customer, if she knew of a well.

She did and pointed to the bungalow down the road, the well was just behind that. Dan was the owner of that bungalow and yes, he knew of the well and gave directions. He warned us about electric fences and cattle but said it was only 100m away, a little cairn of stones piled above it for identification.

The cairn, a welcome indicator

The cairn was indeed piled on top of a slab of whale -grey rock and underneath, nestled into the rock face, was the well. It was delightful – also a ballaun, a round basin carefully carved out of the earthfast rock. It was full of coins, giving the water a coppery tinge and strong metallic smell.

The holy well, a ballaun stone

A cross was heavily inscribed in front of the ballaun and two fainter crosses, one on each side of the basin, could just be made out. Lying next to the well lay a rounded slab, used as the cover. It fitted snugly.

Something very pleasing about this little discovery, so remote in the landscape but still known and still visited. I suspect the well we first searched for looked very similar.

Not St Mochuda’s Well?

The next well on the list was called St Mochuda’s Well and I had seen a photograph of it. It seemed to be across the main road then up a small road into the mountains. Two standing stones were in the field opposite (CO116-013003). We persevered up the tiny road, the fog dense and billowing. The two standing stones loomed majestically out of the damp cloud. A fine pair: one tall and imposing the other slightly smaller with pointed top.

We attempted to get into the adjacent field to find the well but were thwarted by a seriously strong fence and dense furze. We decided to approach from another direction and as we walked up the road I spotted what I thought was the well. It was definitely the well from the photo I’d seen but it was not where it should have been on the map, nor did it match the description in the Archaeological Inventory!

Wayside well

It certainly looked like a holy well though, a little tin cup tucked into the wall for passing pilgrims. The well was sturdily built, a lintel resting on top of stone walls. There was an interior basin with a ledge made from stone slab. The water fresh and abundant, a bit clogged with greenery but clear.

At the time I thought I had found the right well but once home and a little more research undertaken, I don’t think this is St Mochuda’s Well and we should have attempted to get into the original field via a different route. Does anyone know anything about this well? Is it just a drinking well? Is it a different holy well?

Toberatemple, Well of the Church, is also in the vicinity in the townland of Kilcaskan. Another interesting ballaun stone now almost hidden from sight, the surrounding area churned up by cattle.

Toberatemple, Well of the Church, Kilcaskan

The day was completed with a trip to Derreentaggart Stone Circle and its attendant clootie tree; the extraordinary raised ringfort at Teernahillane, and a sighting of a rather fine grotto.

Plus an ice cream in Castletownbere.

Many thanks to Nan, and Dan for their information and help.
The location of these wells can be found in the Gazetteer.

In search of St Mologa

Today we were in search of St Mologa, two wells on the agenda both within a few miles of each other: one in Templemologa (church of Mologa) and the other at Labbamologa (bed of Mologa) – the area between the two seemingly being the Tearmon or sacred space, where Mologa offered protection and sanctuary. The Kildorrery Community Development website explains:

Saint Molaga’s ‘Betha’ (Life-story) was written in a church called ‘Tullagh Mien’ about 400 years after his death.  That church is believed now to have been near where Sraherla Church is today.  One such fact was the description of Molaga’s Thermon or Sanctuary which is bordered to the north by Labbamolaga Church where the Saint is said to be buried, and to the south by the river Funcheon where the ruin of the other church associated with the saint stands in Aghacross.

 St Mologa’s Holy Well, Tobar Mologa, Aghacross

img_3080-edit-tifFirst stop was Templemologa at Aghacross  – Ath na Crois – ford of the cross. It was here that an interesting meeting occurred between two saints and an elderly couple. This is the story as recorded by the late local historian Paddy Daly in 1929: In the early years of the faith in Ireland, it happened that St Cummin the Tall and St Cuman Mac de Chearda were passing by a place called Aghacross, midway between Mitchelstown and Kildorrey and in a field by the highway, they saw an old couple sowing flax. St Cummin wondered at an old couple doing the work unaided and he asked them what brought about that state of things. The man said ‘We are married more than thirty years and it was the will of God not to give us any children. As soon as we understood in our own minds that this was the will of God we thought also that it was his will that we should spend our lives in perfect chastity. We did so and with the help of God we will finish our time in this world in the same way.’Dubhlaigh and Mionchulla were the names respectively of this man and woman. The Saint spoke: ‘It is true that you will have spent your lives according to the will of God and that which lie did not bestow on you hitherto, he will do so now. God will give you a son and he will have great and holy virtues, and he shall give good example to all’ … Soon after their interview with the saints, a wonderful change came over the old people. The decrepitude of old age left them and the beauty and bloom of youth returned … In due time, Mionchulla gave birth to a son and that child was Molaga.

Some time later, as the happy parents prepared for the child’s christening, another miraculous event happened:

….. when the child (St Mologa) was being taken to be baptised the party met by the stranger.A well sprung up at this point and the stranger used the water to baptise the child. This well is at Mologa about two and a half miles north east of Kildorrery. This story was told to me by  a neighbour. Schools’ Folklore Collection.

Another entry from the Schools’ Folklore Collection describes exactly how to find it:

There is a holy well in the grounds of St Mologga’s Monastery. The well is called st Mologga’s Well and is about twenty yards in a southerly direction from the back wall of the ruined abbey. It is fifty yards from the river Funcheon and two ash trees grow one on each side of the well. The depth of the well is about 50 yards (?) and it is lined all round with a facing of stone. (0376:001)

img_3065-edit-tif

St Mologa’s Well

It is still there, a stone built rectangular basin, three slippery steps leading down to the water. It’s very overgrown, colonised by ferns, mosses and wallpennywort. The water is scummy and full of algae – 50 yards deep seems a bit hopeful. No sign of the two ash trees.

The young collector gives further information:

The annual pilgrimage to the well is held on Easter Sunday and people who have some disease still frequent it. The pilgrims make three or four rounds of the well reciting the Rosary and the Litany of the Blessed Virgin as they do so. Many visit this well for headaches and in this case wash their heads in water outside the well. The water of the well has never been used for domestic purposes and it is said that if anyone attempted to boil it the water would not boil. Money is never offered at the well but the cups and glasses used by the patients are left on a shelf and the pieces of cloth used to  in applying water to the sore parts are hung in the two trees. A trout lives in the well and the diseased people look out for it because they think their rituals more effective in the trout’s presence. In olden time sports were held at Mologga on the patron day. (0376: 001/002)

Colonel Grove White collected this story in 1905 which explains more about the trout:

Close to Temple Molaga is a copious spring well, which was always held sacred by the people and should be used only for drinking and curative purposes; but on one occasion, the lady of the manor, an unbeliever, would insist on cooking her husband’s dinner in the water of the sacred spring. When the water had time to boil, the cook remarked it was icy cold; more logs were placed on the fire, still to no effect. The logs were still being piled on, the fire blazed, but when the dinner hour arrived, the water was still as cold as ever. The lord waxed hungry, and, like other mortals, became angry; he rushed into the kitchen to ascertain for himself the cause of the delay, had the cover lifted off the huge pot, and, although the fire was crackling and blazing high about it, he felt the water was quite cold; but what astonished him more was to behold a beautiful trout swimming about in it, without apparently suffering the least inconvenience. He became wonder-stricken, and had his advisers called in. They told him to take the water back to the well without delay and pour it in. This being done, the trout again became invisible, and is since rarely seen, except by certain votaries. In the district it is a common saying when water is slow to boil: ‘perhaps the Molaga trout is in it’. (Historical and Topographical Notes Vol 1)

20170214-holy-well-templemologa170214

Photo by Colonel Grove White, 1905, showing the array of cups at the well

The water from the well was once considered highly efficacious and attracted many pilgrims on the saint’s Feast Days, 20th January and 3rd October, and on Easter Sunday. A different entry from the Schools’ Folklore Collection has more to say:

Close to the ruin (of the church) is a holy well called Mologga’s Well. It is below ground level about four feet and is reached by three stone steps. On the feast day of the saint- 20th January – in years gone by great crowds used to visit the well and honour the saint. There were no special rounds for these visits. People simply went to the well said ten Paters, Aves and Glorias  and after each set of prayers they took a drink of water from the well…. Visits to the well are unheard of today. The only time the existence of the holy well is brought to mind is on the occasion of funerals in the adjacent graveyard. On such occasions people (not many) pray at the well and drink the water.The Well water was said to be good for curing internal complaints and also for external injuries. For the former it was drunk and for the later it was rubbed over the injured parts. Some years ago a bottle of the water was to be found in most houses in the district but today the custom has died out and people do not even know the feast day of the saint. (0375:419/420)

Another entry describes very precisely how the rounds were performed:

Rounds must be performed at least three days in succession – Good Friday, Holy Saturday and Easter Sunday  are the best days for these Rounds. A person can expect to be cured if they see a trout in the water on the third day. The Pattern Day in olden times was Easter Sunday. Rounds are made as follows:

1. Entering the churchyard and facing the well say Holy St Mologga cure (name ailment)

2. Kneel at the right hand side of the well and say the Lords Prayer, Hail Mary and Glory be to the Father seven times in honour of St Mologga

3. A part of the Rosary is said at the same place

4. Kneeling centre way, another part of the Rosary is said.

5. The Round is finished at the left hand side of the well

6. Still in the same place, the Lord’s Prayer, Hail, Mary and Glory Be to the Father are recited five times in honour of the five wounds of Our Lord. if any person wants to bathe any part of their body in the water of the well they must do so outside the churchyard. (0375: 022/25)

 

img_3071-edit-tif

St Mologa’s Church, Aghacross

There is nothing remaining of the original monastery here at Aghacross, the ruins of the church (CO019—2004) are of mixed dates: the west is twelfth century sandstone, while the east is fifteenth century limestone. A ballaun stone can be found inside the building and on one of the exterior walls is a very worn sculpture of a head. Some interesting gravestones can be found surrounding the church.

It’s an ancient and peaceful site. The name Aghacross – ford of the cross – may  refer to the wooden high cross that Mologa is said to have erected – either to mark the ford or to mark the extent of the Tearmon. A stile near the well leads to where the original ford may have been.

Labbamologa

Five miles north east of Templemologa is LabbaMologa, site of another monastery founded by Mologa and said to be his final resting place and possible site of another holy well.

img_3224

The impressive blocky entrance to the oratory

It is an extraordinary site: a walled ecclesiastical complex including two ancient churches (cO010-003004/3003), numerous cross slabs, the saint’s bed, a well, and in the field outside four standing stones (CO010-003007). More from the Schools’ Folklore Collection:

At Labbamologa are the ruins of two churches which stand side by side, in an old graveyard adjacent to the public road. The more important and ancient of these it the Leaba of the saint. This is an early Oratory with the chief characteristics of that type of structure, square headed doorway, inkling jambs and prolongation of the side walls. The doorway in the west gable still stands and is a perfect example of its kind. It is four feet ten high and two foot three wide at the top while it is three inches wider than that at the bottom. Within this little building is the reputed grave of St Mologga. The second church was built later and is larger than the Oratory. It is situated north of the Oratory. It is very dilapidated and it’s built of sandstone ashlar which suggests a pre-invasion date. This is known locally as the Eidhnean or ivy covered church of Mologga. It is thirty five feet by eighteen feet internally though unfortunately neither door nor window remain to give a guide as to its period …. In a field adjoining the cemetery on the south side is a monument of general Bronze Age. This consists of four massive pillars of stone arranged in the form of a rectangle and suggest the corner supports of  a house. The largest pillar stone is about six feet tall and two and a half feet broad. The origins of these stones is unknown but it is thought they were connected with pagan ceremonials in ancient times. (0375:418)

The little oratory may date from the seventh Century. Inside is the saint’s Leaba, or bed, his burial place:

… within it there is a kind of cist, consisting of a large flagstone, resting on low side stones and leaving an open space beneath, said to have been Mologa’s bed… Formerly a well of clear water was here and a brown stone cross , which rested on the covering stone of the leaba. (Colonel Grove White, Volume I)

img_3226-edit-tif

St Mologa’s leaba or bed

The large flagstone remains, bearing a curious carving described as being a volute. This seems to mean a spiral – now well worn at the top of the carving. Could the whole thing represent a crozier? Traditionally pilgrims would rest on the bed or crawl underneath it, this being seen as a special cure for rheumatism. This wouldn’t be possible today but the interior of this little church still contains a quiet and sacred air. The reference to the well inside the church is also interesting – was this the holy well? Apparently it vanished when a woman washed her dirty laundry in it. Irish Megaliths suggests the well is somewhere else and describes how it is now hidden in a tangle and was once part of the the turas or rounds and was visited on Easter Sunday – the same date as the rounds at Templemologa. I wondered if the site was just over the stile in the north wall of the enclosure, to the right where there was a jumble of hedge/ rubbish etc and definite signs of bogginess.

There are also meant to be cursing stones associated with the site; a skull that reappears in the walls no matter how often it is buried and then in the fields the four standing stones – possibly originally eight. Folklore explains them away as being four thieves who robbed the monastery. On their way out one dropped a chalice, went to retrieve it and was turned to stone – his partners in crime presumably suffering the same fate.

There is also reference to another odd relic:

…. There is another relic of Mologga in the locality and great faith is placed in its healing and protective powers. The relic is of sandstone and about the size and shape of a goose egg and it is said that the mother who has it in her possession on the occasion of childbirth will be protected from dangers attendant to that occasion.

Could this have been the origin of one of the cursing stones? There seems to be a childbirth theme throughout Mologa’s story – first his exceptional birth, then later he was supposed to have brought a recently dead mother back to life:

The saint was supposed to possess wonderful and even miraculous powers. He cured the sick, saved people from epidemics and even raised the dead. On one occasion he visited the dun of Cathal, king of Munster. Cathal’s wife had just died in childbirth and he was so touched at the grief of the king that he prayed over the dead woman and brought her back to life. (Grove White)

And finally the reference to the odd stone.

One last thing connected with the increasingly fascinating and enigmatic Mologa (I’ve got a bit sidetracked!) is his connection with bees. After his auspicious beginning, it was recognised that Mologa was destined for a spiritual life. As a young man he went on a missionary journey to Scotland and Wales, including spending some years with St David. On his return to Ireland he may have brought with him the first domesticated bees though this story gets quite confused with another saint St Modomnoc/Molochomog – also variously described as St Colman or St Dominic!

My jar of very good honey attributes full honours to St Mologa!

For more information about St Mologa visit this interesting account at Roaringwaterjournal. Voices of the Dawn also has some fascinating information about the site at Labbamologa.

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