Tag Archives: Colonel Grove White

In search of Blessed Fish

Confined to barracks due to hurricanes and tidal surges, my thoughts turned to blessed fish. During the year and a half I have been exploring holy wells in County Cork, I have been fascinated by how many are said to contain a blessed fish – roughly one tenth. The fish are usually described as eels but could also be trout or salmon. What’s going on here?

The Salmon of Knowledge

It seems many cultures have venerated fish or chosen a fish as the symbol of a god or goddess, and by the 2nd century AD, a fish was being used in Christian iconography to symbolise Jesus Christ. In Irish culture, the veneration of fish must surely come from the ancient story of The Salmon of Knowledge  An Bradán Feasa, found in the Fenian Cycle of Irish Mythology, an Fhiannaíocht,  which largely focuses on the exploits of the renowned hero Fionn Mac Cumhaill,(usually anglicised to Finn McCool) including his boyhood adventures and how he gained the knowledge of the world.  Here’s a brief summary:

Nine hazel trees once surrounded the Well of Wisdom, Tobar Segais, and one day nine hazel nuts fell into the water.  A salmon ate the hazel nuts and by doing so gained all the knowledge of the world. It was said that whoever ate the salmon in turn would gain the knowledge. The druid Finegas (Finn Ecas)  heard the story and longed to gain all the wisdom for himself. He made his home along the banks of the River Boyne and spent years pursuing the salmon. He had a young apprentice, Fionn, who in exchange for tuition kept his house clean and did the chores. After seven years Finegas caught the salmon and ordered Fionn to cook it, warning him not to eat any. Fionn did as he was told but in cooking the fish accidentally burnt his thumb on the spit and sucked it to ease the pain. When the boy served up the fish, the old druid noticed something different about Fionn – an inner light seemed to be streaming from him. Anxiously he asked if Fionn had eaten any salmon. He said he had not but confessed to having burnt his thumb whilst cooking. Finegas realised that this was enough and that Fionn was the chosen one. He urged Fionn to eat all the fish. When he had finished he asked him if he felt any different. Fionn said he did not but then Finegas ordered him to suck his thumb for that was where he had first touched the salmon. Fionn did so and all the wisdom of the world rushed into him! Fionn of course went on to become  a poet, warrior and leader of the Fianna, the greatest band of warriors ever know in Ireland, and when he wanted to know something, he just sucked his thumb!

(A thought here on wisdom and eye wells, tobar na súl. A cure for sore eyes is the most popular cure contained by many wells – nearly a sixth of wells explored so far. I wonder if this search for improved sight could also encompass a search for wisdom and enlightenment, a reference to the well as a font of wisdom as well as the slightly more mundane search for a cure for sore eyes. Did some pilgrims visit eye wells for answers to questions and enlightenment? And if a fish resided within, was the well extra potent?)

Tobar na Súl, eye well, Lough Hyne, West Cork

Fish as supernatural beings

As mentioned the fish was chosen as a symbol of Jesus Christ and remains a sacred motif to this day. The symbol derives from the Greek word ichthys, meaning fish, which consists of five letters from the Greek alphabet: I-ch-th-y-s. These five letters are used as initials for: Iesous Christos Theou Yios Soter, translated as  Jesus Christ, God’s Son, Saviour.

 

Other fishy signifiers in the Christian religion include the name for initiates in early baptism rites: pisciculi – little fish, with the font itself known as the piscina, or fishpond. Wells could perhaps be seen as real or symbolic fonts and those containing fish considered to have extra potency, the fish being revered as the guardian of the well, the supernatural being that gives the well its healing power and innate wisdom.

The most common fish to inhabit wells seem to be trout or eels, themselves boundary crossers: the trout leaves the sea to enter freshwater to mate, and the eel leaves freshwater to travel to  the Saragossa sea near Bermuda. Seeing a blessed fish was considered extremely fortunate and a sign that a pilgrim’s prayers would usually be answered. At Lady’s Well Rockspring, North Cork a positive outcome was not always guaranteed:

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

Lady’s Well, Rockspring

At Templemologa the pilgrims travelled hopefully:

St Mologa’s Well, once home to a trout

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. St Mologa’s Well, Templemologa  (Schools’ Folklore Collection, 0376: 001/002)

St Peter and St Paul’s Well, near Skibbereen, contained two blessed eels which were much venerated and the focus of an annual pilgrimage. The pilgrims brought bread with the specific intention of feeding the fish:

In Mr Carey’s land, about a mile and a quarter from Skibbereen, there is a Blessed Well. Pilgrims visit it annually on the Feast of St Peter and St Paul, 29th June. Prayers are said during the rounds. In it there is a blessed eel and the pilgrims throw bread to him.  Hundreds of people go to this well on the 29th June every year. The people take a piece of bread or cloth with them usually. There are two blessed eels in this well; it is said that long ago a blind woman and a lame man were cured there. It is said you must see one of the eels before you can be cured. People take a piece of cloth with them to tie to the whitethorn bush which is growing up over the well. I have heard that six unbaptised children were buried in a mound of earth a couple of yards from the well. May the Lord have mercy on their souls. The water that flows from this well drops from a rock that is over the well; if a person looked up he could see the drops falling down. Why people take a piece of bread with them is because they say the eels will live on that much food in the year.( 0297: 143/144)

It was essential to treat a holy well with respect, especially one containing a blessed fish. Using the holy water for domestic purposes usually ended badly. Back to St Mologa’s Well:

Close to Temple Mologa 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’. (Colonel Grove White: Historical and Topographical Notes Vol 1)

Not all wells were so forgiving and occasionally the well would take severe umbrage and dry up or move as happened at St Mary’s Well and Sunday’s Well, Walshestown near Cork City:

The story is to the effect that a local woman carried water home from the well to boil potatoes. Unfortunately the eel had been drawn out at the same time. To her amazement the water remained cold after hours of boiling until her husband found out what had happened and returned the eel and water to the well. But this did not appease the offended spirit which caused the water to dry up and it has remained dry to the present day. Cordner, from Carmichael Watson Project described as a blog for the Carmichael Watson project, which is based at Edinburgh University Library, centred on the papers of folklorist Alexander Carmichael (1832-1912).

Sunday’s Well & Lady’s Well, Walshestown

These two wells, on each side of the niche containing the statue, were said to contain an eel in Sunday’s Well (to the left) and a trout in St Mary’s Well (to the right). It seems that the central area, which is now a grotto, might have once been a third well – the holiest well. Was this the one that dried up after being disrespected?

The blessed fish as representative of the saint

Some fish are also considered to be the direct manifestation of a saint and therefore especially potent. The eel sometimes spotted at St Fanahan’s well, Mitchelstown was considered to be the saint himself and this belief is clearly depicted on two very different sculptures of the formidable, warrior saint. The statue above the holy well shows an elegant sinuous eel below the dainty feet of the slender saint.

Contrast that with the sculpture outside the Garda station in the town where the true light of the saint shines through. This clearly is a depiction of man who might have a crozier called Cennachathach (head battler!) and whose teeth might spark thereby causing the shafts of his enemies’ spears to burn! The eel is pretty chunky too.

As always a sighting of the eel was considered a fortuitious sign for the pilgrim and this well held a cure for lameness.

The blessed fish as water purifier 

Interesting at St Sylvester’s Well, Malahide, north Dublin, an eel was purposefully introduced into the holy well for it was recognised that eels keep water clean:

We are aware that many sacred fish are associated with holy wells and, here in Malahide, up to the close of the 1890’s, an eel was inserted into the waters of the well to purify it …. The custom of releasing an eel into the well water could also be a folk remedy for keeping the water pure as the eel will eat all the grubs, crustaceans, mites, flies, nympha and all aquatic insects which would otherwise contaminate it’s purity. Malahide Historical Society

St Sylvester’s Well, Malahide; Photo: Technogypsy

The dissenter

However, not all eels were the bringer of good luck – just one dissenting voice at Abbey’s Well, Kilshannig where a good fish/bad fish routine seems to be going on:

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

St Abbey’s Well, Kilshannig

I have a very good friend who has spotted a blessed fish in a Cornish well but I am still travelling hopefully.

Meandering south of Mallow

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

Ania’s Well, Tobar Aine, Dromore

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

Saint Hulaman’s Well, Kilcolman

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

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

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

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

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

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

Blind Well, Tobar Caoch, Skarragh

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

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

Skarragh Well. Photo by Grove White 1913

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

View from the vicinity of the Blind Well

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

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

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

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

A shame that we could not find this potent well.

Abigail’s Well, Kilgobnet

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

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

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

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

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

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

The wellhouse is a wonderful structure:

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

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

Abbey’s Well

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

Inscribed plaque over entrance

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

Interior of the well, now dry

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

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

Whitewashed

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

 Gregory’s Well, Tobercarrown, Ballyshonock

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

Remains of palette covering well

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

After a little careful clearing

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

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

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

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

Hints of masonry

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

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

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

Astonishing how interesting a neglected piece of water can be.

St Catherine’s Well, Ballydeloughy

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

Entrance to the remains of St Catherine’s Church

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

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

Carved head of St Catherine; photo by Peter Clarke

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

The scant remains of Ballydeloughy Castle

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

St Dominic’s Well, Glanworth

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

The Rakes of Mallow

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

Well of the Breast, Toberaroughta, Mallow

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

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

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

As close to the well as I got!

 

 

St Peter or St Patrick’s Well, Mallow

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

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

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

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

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

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

The New Ballad on the Hot Wells of Mallow, 1753

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

The Spa House, Mallow

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

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

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

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

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

The National Inventory of Architectural Heritage describes it thus:

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

Lady’s Well, Mallow

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

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

Lewis,1837, has more to say about it:

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

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

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

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

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

Lady’s Well, still bubbling

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

Beauing, belleing, dancing, drinking,

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

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

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

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

Spa pump & trough

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

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


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

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

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

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

The Three Marys

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

Prayer to Our Lady

Take my hand, O Blessed Mother

Hold me firmly lest I fall.

I am nervous when I am walking,

And on you I humbly call.

Guide me over every crossing,

Watch me when I’m on the stairs,

Let me know that you’re beside me,

Listen to my fervent prayer.

Bring me to my destination safely every day,

Help me with every undertaking

As the hours pass away.

And when evening falls upon us

And I fear to be alone,

Take my hand O Blessed Mother

And protect my life and home.

Board at Lady’s Well, Castleharrison

Lady’s Well, Castleharrison, near Charleville

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

Route down to well with Stations of the Cross

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

Lady’s Well, Castleharrison

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

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

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

Ornate benches for devotions & prayer

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

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

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

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

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

Altar with plaque dated 1987

The well was very active in the 1930s:

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

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

Lady’s Well, Templemary, near Buttevant

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

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

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

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

Lady’s Well, Templemary

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

The welhouse replaces the old ash tree

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

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

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

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

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

Lady’s Well, Tobermurray, near Liscarroll

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

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

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

Lady’s Well, Rockspring

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

Some Curious Wells near Doneraile

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

St Coneela’s Well, Doneraile

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

Well of the Eyes, Tobersool, Knockacur

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

Jungle in Dreenagh Woods, once part of Doneraile Park

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

Tobarsool, Doneraile

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

Lady’s Well, Doneraile Park

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

Doneraile Park, once home to the St Leger family

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

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

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

Lady’s Well, Doneraile Park

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

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

Well near public car park

St Branit’s Well, Wallstown

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

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

The Archaeological Inventory description gives further intriguing details:

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

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

Gortaneadin Grotto, Inchigeelagh

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

The path down to the well

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

Castle Curious, home to Johnny Roche

The eircom history website offers this description:

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

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

Collapsed pilgrims’ shelter

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

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

St Branit’s Well

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

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

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

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

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

A Motley Quintet

The last five wells from our recent expedition to North Cork are all unloved, neglected or forgotten, a motley crew indeed yet one or two exciting discoveries were made, as usual.

Mitchelstown Holy Well

Confusingly this little well is not in Mitchelstown itself but in a small townland of the same name a few miles out of the town, a lovely drive through beautiful rolling countryside, lush green fields and seemingly content cattle. We pulled in near a farm and looked around. A farmer was doing something in his yard and I inquired of the well. He was highly amused, instructions were given but he warned that there was not much to see. I asked him if he knew anything about the well. No, but he did have one story: a diggerman had gone into the field. He had been warned about the presence of the well but had ignored all heedings and driven right over it. His digger immediately broke down!

We followed his instructions heading for the lone palm (fir tree) in a billowy field and searched hither and thither.

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The rather inconspicuous well

There were rabbits, the gentle sounds of a tractor chuntering in the distance and finally the well was spotted– now enclosed in a circular concrete pipe, flush with the ground. It looked rather unprepossessing and forgotten but looks can be deceptive, it was obviously still potent!

The area had a very pleasant air, rather magical with the green fields, fir trees and interesting humps and bumps in the ground – it seems there was an old graveyard nearby (CO010-047). The whole area was once part of the Mitcheltown Castle Demesne, seat of the Earls of Kingston. The castle itself was colossal, the largest neo-Gothic building in Ireland, burned down by the IRA in 1922, the stones later used in some parts of Mount Melleray Abbey in Waterford. Incredibly nothing remains of it today,

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Humps & bumps, site of an old graveyard

Priest’s Well, Gortroe

img_3204Next stop Gortroe, a well apparently right on the road side distinguishable as a mound. Yes, a large, ivy and fern strewn hump looked promising. The well kit was unpacked and after a bit of lopping it was clear that the well was stone-built, semi-circular with a flat lintel on top.

The water, once revealed, was abundant, an old light bulb floating within. A large tree grew out from behind it.

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The well revealed

Two dogs came to inspect proceedings, one grey and wolf-like, hobbled by being attached to a tyre. We asked at the house and the lady, who had lived there for 50 years, knew of the well but said no one had visited in her memory. The 6 inch historical OS map (6inch- 1829-41) has the well named as Priest’s Well.

There was once a church and graveyard (CO010-042001)in the adjacent field, 130m to the NE but little remains. It was known as Cill Ruadh – it’s not too huge a leap of the imagination to surmise that the well might be dedicated to the same saint – St Ruadh/Ruadhan? His feast day is the 15th April and there are two wells dedicated to him near Kinsale.

St Cranat’s Holy Well, Garranachole

This well has an interesting history but was impossible to find. St Cranat or Crannat or Cranit or Craebhnat or Crawnat was renown for her beauty. She attracted the admiration of many suitors including a Prince of Munster who fell desperately in love with her. Cranat was uninterested, concerned only with leading a holy and pious life. The prince pined and his family decided to take the girl by force. When the kidnapping party arrived Cranat in desperation marred her beauty by plucking out one of her own eyes. She threw it on the ground and up sprung an ash tree. The prince was broken-hearted and returned home and Cranat was left to her piety. The tree flourished and was known as Crannahulla or Crann a’Shúile, Tree of the Eye. The tree was considered to be incombustible. A fragment of it was also considered to give protection from drowning and pilgrims literally hacked pieces of it until by the 1860s there was not much remaining. When Colonel Grove White visited Killuragh in 1905 he noted that another tree had sprung up, maybe an offshoot. Sadly I didn’t have time to visit the site but the tree is described as being fallen in the Archaeological Inventory (CO026-105001). I will have to return.

A well  also sprang up near the tree (CO026-105002) dedicated to St Cranat of which nothing remains today. Like many wells in North Cork it took umbrage at disrespectful behaviour and moved from its original position:

Nearby is a Holy Well dedicated to St. Cranat … where the landowner, being fed up with the pilgrims, built a wall surrounding it. On completion of the wall, Cranait herself gathered up the well in her apron and moved it to its present site. Rounds were paid here on March 9th. Another aspect of her cult relates to Crann na hUlla. Legend has it that she was the beautiful sister if SS Nicholas (Monanimy) and Branat (Doonawanly), who aroused the passions of an unprincipled Prince. In order to quell his fire, she plucked out her eye and cast it from her. Where it landed, a tree grew, known as “Crann na hUlla” (The Tree of the Eye). A twig from this tree was reputed to be a charm against shipwreck, and, as such, was stripped during the great emigrations of the 19th century. As can be imagined, it no longer stands. Grove White, Vol 2

The sleight was caused by the then owner of the land building a wall around the well, annoyed by so many people traipsing over his land. The well, aided by the saint herself, moved 900m NNW and sprung up in Garranachole. We searched high and low for this well, along the banks at the side of the road, stomping through a very muddy field, cutting back brambles in the hedge but had no definite sighting.

We inquired at the nearby house and the woman could remember visiting as a child but said no one had been for many years now – the site was too overgrown to get to. She pointed to the field behind and said that people would gather there for sports and recreation.

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This is born out by a description in Grove White given to him by an elderly man who:

… remembers to have seen hundreds of people paying rounds on 9th March between 6am and 9pm; now only very few go there. They came for all kinds of ailments. They drank at the three corners of the well and also bathed their faces. In the time of his father, people came on 8th March, and stayed until 10th March, remaining all night.’  Grove White, Vol 2.

No sign of any stone walls but I think this old hawthorn may mark the spot.

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The 9th March is St Cranat’s Feast Day. Astonishing how quickly a potent place can fall out of memory.

St Nicholas Holy Well, Monanimy

Things are never straight forward though and another version of the story has the insulted well from Killuragh moving one mile south east to Monanimy.

There is a tradition that the Well of St. Nicholas was situated near Killura House, but a poor man walking the road visited the house at the time of churning. As was custom, he gave the handle three turns to add his luck but the lady of the house did not reciprocate his kindness. He was angered and announced that he would give them a walk for their water, he took a capful of water from the Well, which then dried up. He carried the cap to Monanimy and setting it down on the ground, the present well sprang up.

Interestingly this St Nicholas is meant to be the brother of St Cranit and his well seems to have been nearly as forgotten as her well. Both accounts also explain that a person physically carried water to the new well spot.

The GPS was called into action and we crossed a green field, passing a World War 2 lookout post.

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World War 2 lookout post on top of hill

Grove White recorded in 1905:

There is a spring well prettily situated underneath a rock and shadowed by a large tree, which is called St Nicholas’s Well.

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The Archaeological Inventory describes the site as being very overgrown, situated at the base of a rocky outcrop.  We found the outcrop complete with a jumble of trees and bushes overhead. 

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Rocky outcrop near well

The well lay nearby, a large pool of water full of green weeds, a scattering of rocks around it.

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We searched for evidence of pilgrims’ crosses and thought we might have found one but this may be wishful thinking. The only bottles in evidence looked like rubbish rather than being used to collect holy water.

There’s an odd little story in the School’s Folklore Collection:

There is a well over on Castle Hill in the parish of Killavullen. It is known as St Nicholas’s Well. There is a story connected with it. Once there was an old woman living in Killuvullen village  and she had a servant working for her.  Every evening the servant used to go over to the well to get water for the morning. One night she did not come home until twelve o clock and she had to get water before she would go to bed. She got two buckets and went to the well. When she was coming home she saw a big boot full of gold. She was afraid to go near the boot and she ran home as fast as she could to tell her mistress. When she got home her mistress was in bed asleep and she woke her up. So she dressed quickly and went over to where the girl had seen the boot of gold but they could not find it. The mistress thought the girl was only joking her and sacked her. (0372:117)

Seems a little harsh!  Another neglected and forgotten site, hiding in plain sight.

Kilcanway Holy Well

I have been able to find out virtually nothing about this rather unusual well. It’s to be found just off the roadside, a handing parking spot available.

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Kilcanway holy well

The well is large and full of water, albeit scummy. A stone wall encloses the well to the south and a small opening allows the water to spout through. The area is much overgrown.

Behind the well there seems to be a pathway meandering through the trees and to the north west is located a cilleen, or children’s burial ground. That’s it!

Any feed back on these wells would be much appreciated.

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