Thwarted at every turn today by cattle, streams, briars and tiny winding roads with five rather obscure wells on the agenda, roughly between Macroom and Carrigadrohid. No great successes well-wise, but I did encounter a few things of interests and the day was beautiful.
Well of the White Fort, Tobar an Ratha Bhain
Toberbaun or Tober na Raithe Ban means White Well or Well of the White Fort. This sounded an enticing well from the Archaeological Inventory but I knew there wasn’t likely to be much left, the well itself having been inundated when the Lee Hydro-Electric Project was built between 1952-1957:
Known locally as ‘Tobar an Ratha Bhain’ (Hartnett 1947, 17). Identified as wheel-house of horizontal wheeled mill (9309) and excavated by Fahy (1956a,13-57), prior to flooding by Lee Valley Hydro-electric Scheme. He described well as having been ‘three-walled, drystone structure (H 5ft; 2ft x 7ft) open to W but enclosed in a mound on the other three sides’; religious objects and personal mementoes were affixed to ash tree on W side; cups and containers in front. Believed to have cured infirm children; visited Easter Sunday, Palm Sunday and Whit Sunday. White pebbles found around well during excavation were identified by workmen as ‘Hail Mary stones’ (ibid.) deposited by pilgrims. Stone wheel-house survives.
In his book The holy Wells of Ireland (1980), Patrick Logan has a little more information about the well and quotes an Ordnance Survey Book of the 1840s describing how the water could speedily kill or cure infirm children. It seems that a sick child had to be taken before the rising of the sun and plunged into the water; if the child turned red she would live, but if she went pale she would die. The well was also considered especially efficacious for the treatment of rheumatism and once crutches were left here as evidence. This is confirmed by an entry from the Schools’ Folklore Collection from the 1930s:
Tobar Rómánac (?) (pronounced Tobar na Bán) situated in the lands of James Kelleher of Mashanaglass. Situated at the foot of a large tree in the centre of a marshy field, the well is uncovered but surrounded with large flat stones. There is no special time for paying rounds to this well, nor are there any particular prayers to be said, but one must leave something when leaving. Hence it is that there is quite a collection of various objects about the well – cups, basins, medals, scapulars, buttons etc. It is claimed that many cures have been made by visiting Tobar Rómsnac and making the rounds. Michael L (?) who still lives in Mashanaglass is one of these. He suffered so much from rheumatism that he could barley stagger about with the aid of two crutches. He paid the rounds to the well every morning while fasting, for nine mornings. On the ninth morning, having finished the prayers, he discovered he could rise from his knees without the help of his crutches. He discarded the crutches and has never used them since.
The story is also told that long ago, parents brought their infants and immersed them in the waters of the well. When the infant was brought out the parents knew it was healthy if it were red in colour, but should it be pale or white they knew it was delicate. (352/353:0342)
I hoped that maybe there was something remaining. Once off the R618 and on to the little peninsula, the roads down towards the townland of Mashanaglass become exceptionally small. I went as far as I could in the car, then set off across the fields. There were cattle in one field but an attempted detour resulted in me slipping and actually sitting down in a stream, everything drenched and not an auspicious start to the day. The next field was full of even larger ginger bullocks and I could see no sign of any wheel house, just field. I returned to the car to attempt to dry off.
I did stop briefly to admire the gaunt remains of Mashanaglass castle (CO071-096002), built in 1585 by the MacSweenys, the SE corner apparently blown up by vandals in 1864! Now a handy log store.
Well of the Church, Toberatemple
The second well on the list also sounded fascinating and was in the nearby townland of Caum:
Spring well which, according to Hartnett (1939, 95), is associated with grave of Fr John O’Callaghan in graveyard (CO071-102001-) to S. Water from well was mixed with earth from grave and mixture either swallowed (for internal ailments) or applied externally to the sufferer. Cross incised on tombstone by those who performed rounds; three successive visits (Sunday, Friday and Sunday) were paid. (Archaeological Inventory).
The church, once the parish church for Aghinagh, was most attractive – ruined but well kept and the graveyard still used. The church was unroofed in 1656 but later repaired and used for Protestant worship, eventually being dismantled in 1889.
The well appeared to be in rolling green pasture behind the enclosed graveyard but I could find no evidence of it. I suspect it was in the dense overgrowth near the wall attached to the graveyard.
There was nothing in the pasture itself except for an enormous memorial to the wonderfully named and quite astonishing Sir Adrian Cartan de Wiart who died in 1963.
Frustratingly I could find no sign of Father O Callaghan’s grave either. There is a very interesting entry in the School’s Folklore Collection which describes in detail just how the complicated rounds were paid:
Rounds are paid at this grave. They may be paid on any Friday of the year, but the most important days are Palm Sunday, Good Friday and Easter Sunday. The rounds are paid in the following manner. When a person suffers from a disease or injury of any kind he must first of all enter the graveyard, climb over the wall to an adjoining field and get some water in a well known as the Church Well. Returning to the graveyard he takes a pinch of earth from Father O Callaghan’s grave and puts it into the water. Then he rubs the water to the affected part. This is the first part of the round and perhaps the following sketch will help to make what follows more clear. The person stands by the tree at the foot of Father O Callaghan’s grave and walks to an unmarked grave immediately to the left and then to an unmarked grave on the right and so back to the tree. Up to this no prayer has been said. Then he kneels at the foot of Father O Callaghan’s grave and says Five our Fathers, Five Hail Marys and Five Glorias for Father O Callaghan’s soul…
The entry then explains (at some length) that the same process must be repeated for the pilgrim’s mother, his father, for Father O Callaghan’s father, and for Father O Callaghan’s mother. The process is then repeated saying only one of each prayer. Finally:
… The person next goes to any other grave in the church yard and say a whole Rosary (on the beads) for all the dead who are buried in the graveyard. Next he proceeds to a flat whitish stone a short distance nearer to the gate than father O Callaghan’s grave. On this stone there is another about the size of an egg. The person takes this small stone and makes the sign of the cross five times with it on the other, meanwhile repeating the Glory Be to the Father. Next he comes to where a Father O Leary is buried. This grave is easily identified, standing just inside the outer gate of the graveyard and being enclosed in an iron railing. The round is completed at this grave by saying any prayer for the repose of Father O Leary’s soul. (345-356:0342)
You no longer need to climb over the wall for there is a small stile, but the well and graves remained elusive.
Well of the Story Teller, Tobernatanhee, Tobar a’tSeanchaidhe
Still damp, the next well also looked rather obscure but the name, Well of the Story Teller, Tobar a’tSeanchaidhe, sounded romantic. Optimism flagging somewhat, I headed off to the oddly named townland of Rosnascalp ( Ros na Scailp – shrubbery of the clefts or shelters). This well was said to be in a fulacht fiadh, an ancient possibly ritualistic cooking area. There was a long and extremely muddy boreen leading down towards the field in which it was once located. A cluster of trees, a possible horseshoe shape indicative of fulacht fiadh and some stones scattered here and there. I could hear water but I couldn’t get across the second fence and the stream, and reluctantly called it a day here too.
Heading off the peninsula my route took me via Carrigadrohid. The castle was looking magnificent in the late Autumn sunshine – built in the 15th century by the McCarthys. What an amazing position.
The rather imposing grotto at the end of the bridge was also worth a stop – a Fatima Grotto as opposed to the usual Lourdes grotto, distinguished by the three children and their sheep, erected in the Marian Year 1954.
Well of the Infant, Tober a Naoidheanain, Toberanoonan
A small, steep and very damp lane lead upwards to Cappanagraun. I parked where I could and followed the GPS. Finally a definite well, though much altered. A lot of drainage work had been going on here, an arch built over what looked like the original lintel of the well house, pipes coming out from all over the place, and the entrance to the well blocked with bags full of gravel. But in spite of all this the well was intact, stone-lined and full of fresh clear water, very hard to photograph due to the bright sunshine and shadows.
Next to it lay a bullaun stone (CO071-73207) – possibly not in its original position as it looked like it has just been dumped next to the well. I think it was once slightly further away.
St Bartholomew’s Well, Tubar Parrinane, Bawnatemple
A possibly interesting though widely spread complex comprising a monastic site, a bullaun and a holy well was last site on the agenda.
I arrived at the monastic site first. It seems to be known as both Bawnatemple graveyard and Canovee graveyard and has two distinctive yew trees and some interesting gravemarkers. Across two fields was the earthfast bullaun stone – rather impressive in its solid isolation.
I wonder if this was one of the stones mentioned in this odd story, found in the entry for Canovee graveyard on the Historic Graves website:
This story was included in a project entitled Bawnatemple Graveyard put together by four girls in Canovee N.S., Helen Dunne, Angie Moynihan, Shaunagh O’Sullivan and Shauna Lyons. The story was collected by American Folklore Society from two girls in Canovee in 1895. Historic Graves
There is a current tradition that the church of Cannavee and the graveyard about it many years ago were, during the night, removed by the saints to the present site from a place a short distance (perhaps a quarter of a mile) away. The story is that a man who had risen before dawn, to attend to some farm work, looking upward, saw the church, graves, tombstones, and so on passing over his head. But the gaze of one in sin caused such disturbance that two stones from the church dropped to the earth, and to this day lie in sight in the field where they fell. Some say that it was to place the graves near the road so that the occupants might have the prayers of the passers-by that the miracle was performed, for in its present situation the churchyard is only seperated from the road by a wall, but in its old site it was not bordered by any road. The field reputed to be the former place occupied by the graves is never tilled. It is said that slight elevations, and now and then a footstone, yet show where graves used to be.
The bullaun was once believed to hold a cure for toothache and could perhaps be considered a holy well in itself, though the water today was stagnant and scummy. There were great views down to the enclosed monastic site.
The well lay in the other direction (maybe where the original monastic site was?) and I stopped at group of houses. I talked to two local men who knew nothing of the well but having looked at the GPS gave me hints as to how to approach it. Again, each time I got near the site I was frustrated by more huge ginger cattle or streams or briar enclosed fences. I’m afraid I didn’t find St Bartholomew’s Well and suspect it has since vanished. Once visited on the saint’s feast day, 24th August, it was said to hold a cure for ague.
By this time, I was in need of that cure myself.