Tag Archives: cillin

Island Wells 5: Heir Island, Inis Uí Dhrisceoil

Heir island is a remarkable place, tiny at just 2.5km long and 1.5km at its widest, but it has rugged cliffs, sandy beaches, green boreens, and wild moorland. It is home to more than 200 different wildflowers and a haven for birds. 26 souls enjoy it year round but in the summer the numbers swell as the holiday homes fill up and the Sailing School, Island Cottage Restaurant , Firehouse Bakehouse  & Bread School and galleries all thrive. There is also a holy well – Tobar a’Lúibín, Well of the Little Loopsited close to a Mass Rock and a cillín, the object of my visit.

The route down to Cunnamore Pier is a wonderful start to the adventure for as soon as you leave the N71, the roads become small, fuchsia-hedged with wonderful glimpses out to Roaringwater Bay and Kilcoe Castle ,glowing ochre amongst the grey. The road snakes past Whitehall and Rincolisky castle (CO149-007), as the road getting even smaller, edges the sea.

Scenic lobster pots, Cunnamore Pier

The ferry crossing is a mere five minutes as the handsome skipper sails out in his teeny boat, maximum 12 passengers.

MV Thresher, the ferry for Heir Island

What a crossing though. Heir, also known as Inis Uí Dhrisceol, after the powerful O Driscoll family who dominated this area for centuries, is one of Carbery’s Hundred Isles and quite a few of them can be spotted on the journey across including East Skeam with its picturesque fringe of trees and sturdy ruin.

East Skeam Island

The Mass Rock

Interest was aroused on the ferry which I happened to be sharing with the island postman. He offered to take me on his rounds to meet someone who might know where the Mass Rock was and maybe glean some information about the holy well, which seemed rather elusive and unknown. Off we went in an island car, stopping off at several homes to inquire about the rock. We found the landowner in his tractor and he too kindly offered to take me to the Mass Rock. We walked through his fields, he unfazed by the appearance of a colossal bull (new to the island apparently and a fine Limousin). The Mass Rock (CO149-037) is large and solid with magnificent views out to the bay below. I was shown where the congregation would have gathered below and where the rock had been purposefully cut to hold the chalice.

Paris

The well still proved elusive and I decided to follow my GPS. Bidding farewell to the farmer, I walked off towards Paris, the exotically named hamlet on the east side of the island. To get to Paris, (probably named from the Irish prais meaning broken into little pieces, or maybe referring to a fish ‘palace’) you have to go over a most remarkable and skinny humped back bridge, cars literally only just able to squeeze onto it.

The bridge to Paris

Paris is a cluster of 17 houses, some ruined, some restored for holiday homes, and some lived in all year round. They all seem to fit perfectly into the landscape. Most of them date from the 1920s and are the result of a Government rehousing project specific to the island. The decrepit old houses were replaced with new ones, each with a uniform plan: single storeyed, a porch leading into kitchen/living room, two bedrooms on the ground floor and a loft above. New houses tend to be built in a similar style and look just right.

Well of the Women

I had been told there was another well by the bridge and to look out for a railway sleeper made into a seat. Here it was, to the right of the bridge, two natural indents in the rock full of clear fresh water. I hope I have remembered correctly that this is the well the farmer referred to as Tobar na mBan, Well of the Women, and this is where they used to come to wash clothes, collect water and have a natter. Not a holy well as such but interesting nonetheless.

Well of the Little Loop, Tobar Lúibín

Two chaps were out for a gentle walk and I asked them about the Tobar Lúibín. They were both born and bred on the island but had never heard of a holy well but once a bit more was described remembered where it might be and directed me up to another house. I followed their instructions and went up. There was no one at home but just behind the house was a boreen which looked very promising. The boreen led down to the sea and Trá Bhán, White Strand, and got wetter and wetter as I went down, always a good sign. The Archaeological Inventory has this description about the well:  

In rough gorse and heather-covered grazing land, on a SW-facing slope overlooking a beach known locally as ‘Trá Bhán’, on the S side of Hare Island. A spring well called ‘Tobar a’ Luibín’ emerges from the base of a SW-facing field boundary and flows into a naturally occurring hollow (0.6m NE-SW; 0.5m NW-SE; D 0.4m) from which it flows in a SW direction towards the seashore.

A bit of exploring and the well was located, actually a spring, the water gushing forth from the bank, falling over a stony slab and collecting in a small natural basin.

Tobar a’ Lúibín, Well of the Little Loop

The water then overflowed and trickled down the boreen towards the strand.

Not much seems to be known about the well, the only information I can find being in the Schools’ Folklore Collection which offers a little more insight into cures and well etiquette:

This well is situated on the south side of the hill which is called “Cnoc-a-trágha-báin” – and overlooking the strand known as the “Tráigh bán (?)”
I remember when I was a young man, people suffering from sore eyes used to visit this well.
There was no fixed day for those visits. They used to go there three mornings – early- in succession, and on each visit they used to recite a decade of the Rosary, and then bathe the eyes with the water from well. People suffering from pains and other sickness used also visit the well. The custom no longer prevails on Island.( 007:0296)

What a wonderful position with the sea in the strand below a luminous grey, and two choughs  chattering and wheeling over head, such tranquility.

I wandered back past the cillín (CO149-036), the little grave markers clustered in the field. There has never been a church on the island, giving more significance to the well and the Mass Rock. I passed the old school, closed in the 1970s and returned to the pier.

The peace and calm and gentleness of this very special place was almost soporific yet restorative. I will return.

And a quick stop on my way home to investigate an interesting looking well in the roadside – not holy but rather finely made and probably to do with Whitehall mentioned at the beginning of the blog.

The location of the well can be found in the Gazetteer.
Sincere thanks to the islanders who came to my assistance and were so generous with their time.

Ferry times to Heir Island

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.

Three wells dedicated to St Gobnait, Ballyvourney

IMG_5687-2

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

 

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

Kilgobnait holy well

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

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

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

Pilgrimage in Medieval Ireland   Roaringwater Journal

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