Tag Archives: National Inventory of Architectural Heritage

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.

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.