Tag Archives: rounds

Thwarted

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.

Mashanglass Castle

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.

Well may have been in undergrowth to far right

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.

Memorial to Sir Adrian Cartan de Wiart

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.

Possible site of the well

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.

Carrigadrohid Castle

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.

Fatima Grotto, Carrigadrohid

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.

Well of the Infant, original lintel intact

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.

Bullaun stone, Canovee

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.

Canovee 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.

The location of these wells can be found in the Gazetteer.
The Gazetteer can now be found on the main menu of the site which might make things easier. And there’s a new Feast Days page too.

Close Encounters of the Bovine Kind

Blessed Well, Tobairin Beannaithe, Cashelfean

I have been trying to find this well for ages. It is not marked on the current OS Landranger map but I was intrigued by three detailed entries in the Schools’ Folklore Collection. The first two are  especially interesting as they reference how the cure was said to work for both Catholics and Protestants. Usually a Protestant visiting a holy well causes much umbrage and mayhem – the well will go dry or move, or the Protestant will have an unfortunate accident! The outcome wasn’t entirely happy in this case either:

Holy wells were often visited by old people for the purpose of their cures. I heard the following story from an old man. Once, a woman named Mrs R… who dwelt in Lisacaha, had a daughter who was almost blind. One day she brought her to the holy well in Cashelane. It was customary for people visiting the well to leave Rosary beads, medals or some holy thing at the well. As the woman was a Protestant, she had none of these, so she left some money at the well. On the following day another little girl was walking near the well and seeing the money thought somebody had lost it, and, being unable to find an owner, she kept it. Next morning when she awoke she was almost blind and when the R…  girl awoke she was completely restored. (169/170;0289)

The well seems a little more forgiving in this extract:

The holy well is known locally as Cashelane Holy Well but the old people tend to call it Tobairin Beannaithe. It is situated against a little knob, near an old pathway leading through Cashelane to Rathura in a field owned by J… L.., Cashelane, which is about one mile from my house. No trees grown near it but at each side of it there is a bunch of briars. There are no stones there except for the little rock from where the water sprang. Rounds were made there on Friday, Saturday and early Sunday morning for the purpose of cures, but they were also made on Wednesdays. Good Friday was a special day for making the rounds.The well was visited for the purpose of curing ailments especially sore eyes. It was noted for the marvellous way in which sight was restored for both Catholics and Protestants. Rounds were also made in fulfillment of vows. If a person needed a favour and he could not visit the well at the time, he promised to visit the well if the favour was granted. He then fulfilled his promise whenever possible. No special prayers were to be said but any prayers wished by the person making the rounds, such as a Decade of the Rosary or Our Fathers, Hail Marys and Glories. For the curing of sore eyes the water of the well was considered efficacious.The water was applied to the affected part, the eyes being washed with the water. It was not drunk or carried away. People also blessed themselves with it. There were no distinctions in the offerings made by men and women. The offerings were placed on the earth near the edge of the well. Pieces of ribbons and cloths were also placed hanging on the briars. The well is now nearly covered with earth and grass and rounds are not made but very seldom there. (212/213: 0289)

The final entry shows how popular and revered the well still was in the 1930s:

….. There is a holy well in Rathora … The name of the well is Blessed Well because it is believed the well is blessed by God. Nearly every day of the week people visit the well, especially people who are suffering from any sickness. These people pray here and they walk around the well a certain number of times. They also believe they would not be cured except they leave something behind near the well. Rich people leave pence, rings, brooches and other ornaments there, and poor people leave hair-pins, rags etc. There is a pile of these relics there now on account of the number of people that go there. The water of this well has never been used for house-hold purposes. Some people drink the water in order to get rid of the disease … (0291:442.443) 

I visited the site a while ago and was frustrated to find nothing especially well-like and was determined to re-visit with more vigour. The approach is over a gate and down a very long grassy track, forestry on one side and rough pasture on the other. On the first visit I had been disconcerted to find a dead sheep in the ditch, and then, a bit later on, wondering whether the old farm house at the end of the track was inhabited or not, had gone round to the front only to be confronted by an extremely large bull and his harem lazing in the sunshine. I beat a slow and dignified retreat.

Old farmstead at the end of the track

This time I decided to see if I could find the old pathway mentioned in the above excerpts and drove to Rathura (now known as Ratooragh) and asked at a farm. The farmer and I peered at the GPS, he unable to make head nor tail of it until he fetched his glasses and then exclaimed that he thought he could remember a well. He suggested I returned to the original track and veered to the left away from the farmstead. This I did.

Entrance to the long track

The track felt equally long and exposed the second time of tackling it. I could see cattle further away in the pasture. They all stood up and regarded me and there was a lot of mooing and bellowing but that was that. I was armed with a walking pole just in case. I couldn’t help but think of the awful and recent case of the poor British woman who had ventured to some obscure archaeological site in Greece and had been eaten by wolves.

The watcher

The terrain  was incredibly muddy, great pools of bogginess  complete with large cowpats. Everywhere the sound of running water with a myriad of little streams. The GPS led me to an extra muddy area, much turned over by the cattle, they seemingly having skidded up and down the cliff edge with relish.

The Blessed Well?

Water did appear to be bubbling up from underground and the whole area was saturated. Was this all that remained of the Blessed Well? There did seem to be slabs amongst the mud and watercress, as described by the Archaeological Inventory but no sign of any recent visitors apart from the cattle:

….. In rough grazing land, at the foot of an outcropping rock. The holy well is roughly triangular in shape (L 0.7m at N; 0.6m at W and 0.9m at SW) and is defined by the vertical face of the outcropping rock at SW and elsewhere by stone slabs. The well is 0.4m deep and about half full of water. According to local information, it is still in occasional use.

I was interested to see that the rocky outcrop nearby was labelled on the Historic 6 inch map (1829-41) as Foilaphuca, Cliff of the Púca. A púca is a particularly Irish fairy/goblin/spirit, a rather sinister shapeshifter whose appearance can change depending on its mood and the landscape. One to be treated with utmost respect and easy to imagine that it was still lurking, keeping the secrets of the holy well to itself! Time to return to the car.

Foilnapuca: Cliff of the Fairies

A magnificent view on the walk back: rough pasture, little streams, rugged hills, and a huge view out towards Dunmanus Bay, glimmering with silver tones.

Looking out towards Dunmanus Bay

This whole area has a strange and empty feel as though steeped in the past, awash with scenic ruins: the old Kilthomane National School built in 1909 and now an eyeless shell; a ruin in the opposite field, possibly the old school house; up on the hill the circular gorse entangled remains of Ratooragh ringfort (CO139-023) and a mile away the picturesque and ancient ruins of the old church (CO139-020003) and graveyard, known as Cill Cheangil. There is also a Mass rock and bullaun stone lurking under all the undergrowth as yet unfound.

On my way home the cattle encountering continued, not once….

… but twice.

The location of this well can be found in the Gazetteer.

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 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.

En route to Doneraile 1: Dripsey

I’m just back from a few days in North Cork, a long list of wells on the agenda. We based ourselves in Doneraile but the journey up offered several opportunities for exploration. First stop – Dripsey where there were two wells, side by side, in what, according to the OS map, looked like the middle of nowhere.

 Sunday’s Well, Dripsey

We parked and surveyed the map. There seemed no clear way to the field we wanted to get to, no handy little path. Fortunately a car stopped and a man came to our assistance. Yes, he knew of the well but wasn’t sure if there was anything to see. We had to go high up and cut across the fields. But if there was a bull in the field do not go in. We promised we wouldn’t and followed his instructions. A grassy boreen went past some houses complete with a quartet of very yappy Jack Russells. No sign of any bulls though there were some cattle in the distance. After much ducking under wire and keeping a sharp eye out for roving bulls, we eventually saw the small copse where we hoped the wells might be.

Wooded copse, site of Sunday’s Well

A muddy patch, much trampled by the cattle and containing a few stones including quartz looked hopeful but disappointing. Then my husband gave a shout, He had spotted a cross in the undergrowth, over the stream and across a wall. We hauled ourselves over the stone wall and into the woodland. And there was the well – Sunday’s Well, discretely hidden but still much revered.

Sunday’s Well

A horseshoe of mossy stones curved around the well, a lintel slab over this upon which were many offerings — holy water bottles, statues, figurines, candles, a crucifix bearing an elongated and emaciated Jesus.

Lintel with offerings

Another slab lay in front of the well, allowing access to the water which now flowed adjacent to the well. A wooden cross stood near the well and on the stone to the right, hidden in the moss, another tiny Jesus. Crosses were etched onto the lintel stone and the mossy side stones,

Behind the well lay a jumble of stones, like a little cairn – pebbles left by pilgrims as part of the rounds?

Possible cairn, stones left by pilgrims?

The Schools’ Folklore Collection has a little information about this well:

There is a holy well situated not far from my house in Timothy Kellerher’s field at the junction of three townlands Magoola, Agharinagh and Dromgouna.

Formerly it was a place of great interest to the old people but nowadays, like everything else, veneration for it is dying out. it is neglected now, its sides are falling in, but still it is loved by a few old people. Many cures are said to have taken place at this well. Cripples who came to be cured went away leaving their crutches after them for they needed them no longer.

There are many stories connected with this spot one of which was about an old man from Dromgouna whose name was Paddy Sullivan. He thought he was called one night to plant a tree alongside the well so that people could hang their offerings on the branches. He rose next morning and planted the tree which can still be seen growing there.

It is said that Mass was celebrated there in Penal Times. It is now known by the name of Sundays’ Well and people still visit it on a Sunday to pray. (0348:177)

A secret but powerful place, quietly known to those it matters to. I wonder if that tree on the left is the one planted by Paddy Sullivan. I hope it is.

Lady’s Well, Dripsey

We almost stumbled over the second well, just a few metres in the pasture from Sunday’s Well – a sad little thing, flat within the ground, a circle of stones around it. It looked as though a metal container had once been within it or placed over it as a cover- now squashed and misshapen. It reminded me of a bog body – poor Grauballe Man perhaps.

The sorry looking Lady’s Well

A short extract from Seamus Heaney’s wonderful poem The Grauballe Man:

… As if he had been poured

in tar, he lies

on a pillow of turf

and seems to weep

the black river of himself,

The grain of his wrists

is like bog oak …

Dedicated to Our Lady, it seems that it was still being revered in 1939 when Hartnett described it as:  …  a shallow spring well, partly covered by a flat horizontal stone. There area few faded flowers and ferns laid on top of this.

Interesting how one well can still be revered and another, just a few metres away, totally ignored.

St Batt’s Well, Kilmartin Lower

The next well lay at the side of the road near Donoughmore in Kilmartin Lower, a prickly thicket of nettles, ferns and ivy at the entrance.

Hacking this back I was delighted to see a little beehive-shaped well still intact behind, covered in the faded remains of foxgloves and other plants.

The well is now dry but a spring had once flown out underneath the lintel. The lintel had several crosses inscribed upon it, relics of past devotions as described in the Schools’ Folklore Collection:

There is only one holy well in our district. It is situated in the townland of Lower Kilmartin. It is called after St Bartholomew and is known locally as St Batt’s Well.

Many people perform rounds there. They generally go on a Friday and Sunday, and the following Friday again. They say certain prayers and drink some of the well water, and rub more of it to the affected part.

Nearly everybody who visits the wells leaves something there, such as old beads, medals, scapulars* and other articles. People never leave food or money there.

The well is in a space off the road and there is a whitethorn tree growing over it. (066/067:0347)

Should you be wondering, like me, what a scapular is, Wikipedia has the answer:

The devotional scapular typically consists of two small (usually rectangular) pieces of cloth, wood or laminated paper, a few inches in size, which may bear religious images or text. These are joined by two bands of cloth and the wearer places one square on the chest, rests the bands one on each shoulder and lets the second square drop down the back.

Essentially tokens of religious devotion, often to a particular saint.

Another entry describes how the well moved from one side of the road to the other but gives no explanation why:

There is a well in Kilmartin named Batt’s Well. It was removed from one side of the road to the other, and there is a tree growing over it … There are many offerings. There are rosary beads, small pictures and little flower pots, with flowers growing in them (0346:141)

I like the sound of the flower pots. It seems to have been a potent well too:

A great number of people used to pay rounds for many ailments. It was customary to leave some article at the well. A woman who had never heard of that well had a dream one night, that if she came to Donoughmore she would be cured. She came to the well and the dream (became a) reality… (142/143:0346)

I wonder when and why this little well fell out of favour.

The journey continued with three wells dedicated to St Lachteen, but they deserve their own blog entry. To be continued!

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

A clutch of Bullauns

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

The Bishop’s Head, Bullaun stone, Stouke

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

Bullaun stone plus offerings

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

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

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

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

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

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

The Rolls of Butter, Kerry

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

The stone in its setting

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

Bullaun stone in hedgerow

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

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

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

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

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

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

Island Wells 4: Oileán Baoi; Dursey Island

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

Cow in a holy well?

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

The only cable car in Ireland

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

All options covered

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

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

Herringbone patterned walls, an island feature

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

The road less travelled

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

Tubrid Well, Ballynacallagh

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

Beware!

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

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

Tubrid well, cupmarked stones in centre

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

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

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

 

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

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

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

Tobar na gCliathrach, Well of the Hurdle Passage

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

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

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

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

Well of the Hurdle Passage

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

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

Scariff Islands looking mysterious

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

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

Pursued by a cloud

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

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