Tag Archives: Schools’ Folklore Project

Fursey, Friday & Sunday

Day 2 of the Banteer explorations and the the first well on today’s agenda was very close to where we were staying. St Fursey’s Well (or Forsin or Forsa or Fursa) seemed to lie just outside an old graveyard. We found the graveyard easily enough, right beside the road and very enticing it was too but more of that in a minute. The graveyard was enclosed by a stout wall and peering over, there seemed to be a path running down the side of it which looked very promising. We were attempting to find a way in when a car stopped and the occupant looked at us with interest. Michael pulled over to have a chat and was extremely helpful and entertaining. He directed us down to the well which was indeed down the path, but first told us a little more about the graveyard and nearby buildings. He bemoaned the general delapidated state of the site and explained that various committees lay behind it all and not a lot was being achieved.

St Fursey’s Well, Tobar Ursa

We said farewells and attempted to venture down the path. It was badly blocked in several places by fallen trees, Storm Ophelia having occurred just a few weeks previously. We clambered through the branches and over a stout iron gate.

The pathway was substantial, encouragingly damp and verdant though littered with bottles, not of the holy water kind. It led directly to a well – pudding shaped, covered in moss and ivy with jaunty plumes of ferns emerging from it.

The pudding shaped dome of the well

I say a well for there is a story attached of course! Michael told us that the original well was enclosed with a stone surround in the late 1890s. The well was unimpressed, ran dry and popped up a couple of metres away to the west. This is borne out by several entries in the Schools’ Folklore Collection:

St Fursey’s Well is situated in the townland of Clonmeen in Mr Grehan’s field, two miles from O Neill’s cross at the right hand side of the road. People visit on Friday, Saturday and Sunday. The whole Rosary is said. I have heard the following story from my grandfather. Somebody walled in the well, it moved two or three yards away where it remains still. St Fursey is patron saint of the well. I have never heard of anyone being cured there. There is no certain cure in the well.  People drink the water. People leaves crosses, beads and any ribbons at the well. They offer copper there. There is a trout in the well. It was never tried to be drained. There is a whitethorn bush at the well. (009:0362)

Another entry gives a few more details:

… the following story is told about the well. The well was in the graveyard of Clonmeen long ago. People used to cross the country to it. The land around it was owned by Mr Howard. He had oats in the field nearest to the well and he stopped people coming to the well. That year the crops failed. The next year the people came again and he allowed them to go in. His crops were good that year. It is said that the first corpse (crops?) that come must draw water from the well till the corpse (crops) come … There is a story told how Mr Howard tried to drain the well. He built a cemet (cement) wall around it and when it was finished he took a step from it and the well sprung up again. It remains there still. (002/003:0362)

Colonel Grove White has another story which seems to suggest there were always two wells:

In Clonmeen North, about four chains north of Clonmeen church, is
 St. Fursey’s Holy Well. It is a fine spring well, dedicated to St. Forsin.
The people used to resort to it for the cure of various diseases, but have
discontinued to do so for some time past. (Field Book, 1838, Ord. Sur.
Off., Dub.) I visited this Holy Well in 1907. I was told people come Fridays,
Saturdays or Sundays for cure of pains and sore eyes. They pay rounds,
and then go to the church in Banteer to pray. Formerly it was called
Tober Ursa, which means prop or crutch. People used to come with
crutches, and being cured, left the crutches behind at the well. About
twelve paces to the west of the Holy Well there was an excellent well in
former days; about 1897 a wall was built round it, and afterwards it ran
dry. (Grove White, Historical & Topographical Notes etc Book 11, p222)

His photograph is certainly of the damp area to the west, though this photo, taken in 1907, shows the well to have a low stone wall, complete with cup and spectacles. The stones that marked this well are now now scattered and the exact spot undefinable.

St Fursey’s Well, photo by Colonel Grove White 1907

The Archaeological Inventory has yet another version of events:

In wooded area, c. 200m NE of Clonmeen church (14411). Circular well surrounded by low stone-built wall (H c. 0.4m) and partially encased by concrete structure. Photograph by Grove White (1905-25, vol. 2, opp. 223) shows open well with drinking cup and spectacles alongside. Rounds paid on January 16th, (St Fursey’s Day); at any other time rounds were paid on three consecutive days, Friday, Saturday, Sunday or three consecutive Sundays (Bowman 1934, 221). Formerly called Tobar Ursa meaning well of the prop or crutch as these were reputedly left behind by people who were cured (Eldridge 1996, 76). According to tradition, well was located a few metres to the W until 1897 when a blind workman was cured and it moved to its present location (ibid.).

Whatever the case, (and I’m inclined to go with Michael’s story that the original well is the one encased in stone and concrete which moved once it was enclosed and sprung up in the boggy area to the west), you have to feel a little sorry for Mr Howard and his oats.

The remains of the walled well are clearly to be seen, substantial, circular, well made but now very mossy. There is an overflow outlet to the west. The well is full of damp leaves but it must originally have been abundant for the overflow area is high up on the wall.

Of the second well, or the area that the first well removed to, there are only a few scattered stones to be seen in an exceptionally wet area.

Possible site of second well

The well was obviously once revered with offerings being left. Interesting to hear that it was also said to contain a trout. There were no signs of and recent visitations though the local church is still dedicated to St Fursey. His Feast Day is 16th January. I wonder if Ursa is just a corruption of Fursa?

We returned to investigate the churchyard. Again so much history within: the remains of a small rectangular Protestant church, much patched up and neglected; a huge wall believed to be all that remains of an Augustinian monastery (its stones and window probably robbed to use in the construction of the smaller church); and some very old grave markers.

Just outside the walls an abandoned and very attractive old building was once the parochial school, built around 1837, replacing a hedge school run by a Mr Daniel Singleton who had 40 pupils, in the summer.

Friday’s Well, Tobar na hAoine

Another well lay close by, Friday’s Well. We stopped at the house and inquired. The teenage son knew of the well but looked doubtful. He went to consult his mum and reported back that it was now dry and covered in undergrowth. This entry from the School’s Folklore Collection suggests it hasn’t been used for many years:

The well is situated on the right bank of the Blackwater in Mr Grehan’s field, two miles from O Neill’s Cross. It was visited long ago but not visited now. Fr O Neill who was a curate in Banteer two hundred years ago blessed it on Good Friday. People say a girl with a sore hand of whom the doctors had given up all hope (was cured?) People used the water for house purposes some time ago but the man who had the well in his land stopped the people of using it. There is a whitethorn near the well. (007: 0363)

We left it at that and went From Friday on to Sunday.

Sunday’s Well, near Banteer

A picturesque drive through small roads and then into a valley with steep wooded sides, a tantalising glimpse of the well high up among the trees. We parked in the remains of a quarry. A sign lead across the river, chunky stepping stones thoughtfully provided. A million steps made out of concrete slabs, wound their way upwards, a metal hand rail most welcome as we climbed higher and higher among the trees.

What a wonderful spot.

Sunday’s Well, Fermoyle

Several tall trees lower over the well house which is roughly beehived shaped and made out of stone. A random mixture of other stones, some quite large, litter the area. On top of the wellhouse a statue of the BVM looks serenely down, covered in rosaries, a jar of fresh flowers at her feet. To the right another shrine contains statues, more flowers and offerings and a rosary-adorned holy water bottle. To the left a neat array of cups look very welcoming in a specially constructed stand, Other statues are tucked into various places around the tree and a few rags and beads have been tied to branches.

The well is obviously still much revered and was renovated in 2016 by the local community who made access much easier via the steps and stepping stones but it sounds as though it has always been a potent spot and much visited. In fact it has all the essential criteria of a powerful and vibrant well: cures, patron saint, a frog and a mind of its own.

There are several entries in the Schools’ Folklore Collection and this one gives an explanation as to how the well came to be regarded as blessed:

Sundays well is situated in Fermoyle woods about a mile and a half from this school.  It is unknown who blessed this well but this is how it was known to be a blessed well. A mason who was working at the Old Court near Kanturk had a very sore eye and a bit of lime went into it. He was living near Mushera Mountain and was taking a shortcut home and he passed through this field. He saw the well and bathed his eye in it. The next morning his eye was cured and he came the next day which was Sunday and built a stone arch around the well and since this man’s eye was cured the well is known to be blessed. It is situated in Timothy Horgan’s field …. (060:0361)

Another entry gives a different version (there’s a pattern developing!):

Sundays well is situated in a wooded incline in the townland of Fermoyle, Banteer. The well is still visited by great numbers on Good Friday. They come from far and near to pay rounds there. St Abbey is the patron saint of this well. It is believed that once when she was on her way to Ballyvourney she saw a white deer at this well and as it was on a Sunday she reached the well she blessed it and called it Sunday’s Well. (778:0361)

Another well dedicated to St Abbey is not far off at Kilshannig. Ballyvourney is where St Abbey, usually known as St Gobnait, founded a religious settlement and is buried. Normally a Sunday’s Well refers to Christ the King, just to make things more complex, and is often called Tobar Riogh na Domhnaigh: Well of the King of Sunday.

All versions agree that the main day for visiting the well was Good Friday and that it attracted a large crowd eager to pay the rounds:

The well is situated about one mile south of Banteer National School. Pilgrims visit it on Friday, Saturday and Sunday to pay rounds. The greatest number visit on Good Friday because on that day one visit will suffice but at any other time of the year three visits must be paid on successive days beginning with a Friday. (781:0361)

Prayers said at the well seem fairly flexible but this story has a humorous twist:

On one Good Friday a stranger came to the well and he was a cripple. He asked a boy what the rounds were. He said thirty-three rosaries for a joke. The man stayed all day saying the rosaries but he was well repaid for this because he was able to walk home. Beside the well are two bowls on which are written IHS and BVM. People rub the affected part with these bowls and they get cured. (060/062:0361)

There was no sign of the bowls presumably once carved by the grateful mason. They were still there when Grove White visited in 1907 but the inscriptions were faint even then. He also mentions that one stone bore the date 1840.

Like many North Cork wells this one also moved. Yes, there are two versions why!

… There is a story told about the removing of the well. One day – which was Maundy Thursday and the eve of the well day – a man threw dirt into the well so that people could not drink the water but the well removed from the field at one side of the road to a field at the other side of the road. It remains there still… (004:0362)

The water of course should never be used for domestic purposes as one woman found out:

Another legend tells that the well changed its position. On a certain day a woman drew water from the well for household purposes, as the usual spring was in a wet boggy place and she thought it too hard to get at. The holy well was at that time above the fence where it is now. The woman put down the water to boil potatoes but discovered that it would not boil. Next day she again came to the well to discover that it had moved below the fence … (639/640:0361)

It was traditional to drink the water and to leave offerings after your visit:

Several persons have been cured after paying rounds at this well. The rounds consist of five rosaries, five decades in each. The well is particularly recommended for sore eyes and pains of all sorts. Those who visit the well drink the water and rub it on afflicted parts. Relics such as hairpins, buttons, ribbons, rosary beads and holy pictures are always left behind at the well by pilgrims. There is a frog in this well and pilgrims who are lucky enough to see the frog in the water are sure to be cured. (778/779:0361)

Robert always likes to carry on the custom. He pronounced the water very good. I just put a dab behind my ears.

The frog is an interesting detail too, a change from blessed fish. Another intriguing comment concerns what is now labelled as a Mass Rock situated right next to the well:

Visitors can engrave names and dates of visits on a plain slab in the vicinity. (781:0361)

The rock is certainly covered in graffiti most of it quite old – unusual behaviour if it was considered to be Mass Rock for they are usually treated with great respect.

Mass Rock close to the well

Two very interesting and very different wells but each bearing similarities and contradictions.

Many thanks to Michael Kelleher for stopping to chat.
The location of these wells can be found in the Gazetteer.

St Ita & St Finnian, more exploring around Millstreet

North Cork is rich in holy wells and although we have made several fruitful exploratory visits already, there are still plenty of interesting sites to visit. We travelled with our friends Robert and Finola of Roaringwater Journal fame and treated ourselves to two nights in a large and spacious Airbnb just outside Banteer.

St Ita’s Well, Tobar Slánan, Millstreet

Our first stop was south of Millstreet in Kilmeedy East. We parked near Kilmeedy Castle, the substantial ruins of a tower house built by the McCarthy’s in 1435 now used as a rather grand tractor store and space to dry washing. We inquired at the house for directions to St Ita’s Well, more commonly known as Slánan Well, and were directed back to the main road, lorries thundering past at quite a speed. We walked through green and boggy pastures following the GPS towards a wooded copse. This was in fact a graveyard, the old stone walls heavy with moss, the jumble of graves densely packed, their uninscribed markers like scattered green teeth. In one corner a huge railed tomb was slowly crumbling amongst the ivy, the final resting place of Henry Leader, who died aged 62, on November 9th 1809, and his two children. More of the Leader family shortly.

Tomb of the Leader family

It seems likely that this was once the site of a church dedicated to St Ita, also known as St Ide.The townland still bears reference to her name: Kilmeedy kill m’Ide Church of My Ide. Look carefully and near the Leader tomb are the low remains of a wall, possible foundations of the original church dedicated to the saint (CO048-018004). She was born in County Waterford in 480 AD and excelled in the Six Gifts of Irish womanhood : wisdom, purity, beauty, music, sweet speech, and embroidery. Her very name means thirst for holiness. She founded a community of nuns in Killeedy, Waterford, and died there around 570 AD. She was renown for her sanctity and spirituality and may have had the gift of prophecy and is commonly known as the Bridget of Munster and the Godmother of Saints. There are a number of churches dedicated to her in Waterford, Cork, Limerick and Kerry and her feast day is January 15th. This beautiful stained glass panel depicting the saint by is by Harry Clarke and can be seen in the Honan Chapel, Cork. More about Clarke’s extraordinary work can be found here.

St Ita, Honan Chapel. Photo by Finola Finlay.

The holy well is also dedicated to St Ita and lies just outside the graveyard in an exceptionally boggy area, slowly being engulfed with water and brambles, an enormous tree marking its presence.

Spot the well

The wellhouse is large, curved and stone built, now green, soft and springy to the touch. A cement cross, still bearing traces of blue paint, is fixed on top.

Mossy well

Several offerings affirm that the site is still revered: various statues of the BVM, a plate depicting a pope (Paul VI according to Finola) and some rosaries.

The water within was abundant and clear, flowing out from the well down into the pasture.

The well is also known as the Slánan Well, meaning the health-giving well and was famous for the quality of its water and the cures it held.

Once somewhat prolonged and efficacious rounds were required at this potent site as described by a local farmer in the 1930s:

The Slánan is situated in the most eastern part of the townland of Kilmeedy about 1½ miles from Millstreet. It consists of a Holy Well dedicated to the Blessed Virgin and St.Ita and a burial ground where many of those who died in the neighbourhood during the famine years were buried. There being only one coffin to be had, this was used to take the bodies to the graveside and was then taken back for the next corpse. For many years this burial ground had been used only for unbaptised children.
To the south-west of the well is the tomb of the Leader who owned the demesne close by.
A very efficacious “Round” is performed at this blessed well and it is the custom in the neighbourhood to perform it for any bodily ailment, and practically everyone in the locality can testify to some personal cure, and cures have repeatedly taken place on promising to do this round. Kneeling at entrance to the well beside the white-thorn tree which grows on its western brink the round is started. First an offering is made of the Round in honour of Our Lady, and the saint of the well for the desired cure or in thanksgiving for cure already effected on promise of this round. Still kneeling the person recites seven Paters, Aves and Glorias and then starts the Rosary. Rising to his feet on commencing the first decade he walks very slowly round the well by the left where there is a well defined path until he returns to the spot from  whence he started. Having now recited a decade or more of the Rosary he kneels and says again the seven Paters, Aves and Glorias. He then rises follows the same path as before and continuing the Rosary. Returning to the entrance to the well he again kneels on the spot as before and recites a third time the seven paters, Aves and Glorias. On rising he continues the Rosary following the same path as before and on coming to the place from whence he started he finishes the Rosary. He then takes some water from the well and bathes his hands and also any affected part of the body. He next gets more water from the well and takes three drinks in honour of the Blessed Trinity. The days for the round are Thursday, Friday and Saturday of any week in the year but it must be done on the three consecutive days and it is necessary to hear mass on the Sunday following in order to complete the Round.
Many articles of devotion are left at the well. It being a custom by everyone making the round to leave something on the final day. Over the well is a Crucifix and printed on it are the words ‘Lord hear my prayer and let my cry come unto Thee’.
What is known as the ‘Long Round’ is made in the same manner on twenty one consecutive days, starting on a Thursday. The ‘Short Round’ is then added on the last three days of the week making twenty four Rounds in all.
The owner of the farm (Mr Meaney) in which the well is situated built a room of his dwelling house on the passage leading to the well and the roof was blown off every time it was put on. Noises were heard in the room and it became uninhabited. Cattle were then put in there but they all died. The roofless part of the house is still to be seen. The present occupier (a son of the former owner) would not use as firewood any fallen branches from around the well. (Schools’ Folklore Collection: 095-098:0323)

Today it seems there are few visitors paying rounds, long or short, and we saw no evidence of the roofless cabin. However, the local football team is still called the Slánan Rovers!

There is meant to be a bullaun stone (CO048-018004) in the vicinity too but search as we did we could not find it. A rather magical spot, serene and hidden, despite being so close to the main road.

Mount Leader

We repaired to Millstreet for lunch in the Wallis Arms and were given instructions how to get to the ruins of Mount Leader House, the home of the occupier of the impressive tomb in the graveyard. Actually this house dates from 1833, replacing an earlier building, the remains still palatial with a huge porticoed entrance and fine period features. The house is perched up high with commanding views and once had ornamental gardens, the lake and some massive trees still extant. Behind the ruins a jumble of stablings, coach houses, walled gardens, kennels and corn drying areas gave glimpses into its opulent past.

Mount Leader

St Finnian’s Well, Flugh Feigh Well, Nohaval Upper

It was starting to get dark by the time we ventured out of Millstreet towards the Kerry border and Nohaval Upper, in search of St Finnian’s Well. Small roads, the imposing Paps to our left and then a long boreen ending up in a farmyard. What a wonderful encounter. After a moments surprise, Jim donned his wellies and offered to take us to the well. His young grandson Hugh accompanied us, both apologising for the bogginess of the terrain – there had indeed been a lot of rain. We paused at the top of a very green field and Jim pointed out where the grass was a slightly different colour, the possible site of a church ( CO029-033002) and a burial ground, the field being known as Pairc an tSeipeil, or Chapel Field. Jim said there was also evidence of a fulachta fiadh. It seems likely that the well is actually in the fulachta fiadh for it was called Flugh Feigh Well on the 1842 OS map, just the way Jim pronounced fulachta fiadh. It was still being referred to as the Folach Fiadha in the 1930s and recognised as being both a fulachta fiadh and a holy well:

Mrs Bohan’s son Patrick (PO) a noted man and a fellow who is often called on to dig graves told me in connection with the Folach Fiadha (the Holy Well) that when Hugh Twomey came to Nohoval (1899) he (Patrick) worked for him and one day and for days they took stones out of Páirc a’ tSeípéil They were fine well-dressed stones and they were used to make a piggery at Twomeys. They dug up what looked like ashes there too and someone must have been living there. (Schools’ Folklore Collection: 508: 0358)

The evidence of burnt material is promising. Fulacht fia are a common archaeological features, characterised by the presence of heat shattered stones. Also known as burnt mounds, they were probably open-air cooking places in which a stone trough was filled with water and heated by the immersion of hot stones, which had been heated by on a nearby fire. Once the water was heated the stones were cast aside giving rise to the usually characteristic crescent shaped monument. Sometimes, as here, they have been ploughed out and just the scattering of burnt materials remain  – and the essential water source.

Another rather odd extract from the School’s Folklore Collection confirms that this well was associated with a fulachta fiadh:

Folach Fiadh is a bank of burned stones. Long ago the Danes used to cook their meals there. There is always a well near it. There is one of those wells in Jerry Buckley’s land in Doon. Some time long ago the water was scarce and big people bought it. A man near Mallow went to this well to buy the water. Two women lived near him and one of them dreamt that she would get water better a mile from the well near the Folach Fiadh. One day the woman got sick and she asked the man for a drop of water and he would not give it to her and she said that he would not get any more water at that well. A taste came in the water and he got no more water there. When he went away the water was all right. (139/140:0358)

Fulachta fia are most commonly dateable to the Bronze Age, way before those hungry Danes.

The well lies in Pairc an tSeipeil and is flush with the ground, with an overflow seeping off into the pasture.

St Finnian’s Well

The well is almost coffin -shaped, stone built and reinforced with concrete slabs, some acting as seats or kneeling places.

A stone slab forming part of the wall, has five crosses inscribed upon it, one large central cross and four smaller ones at each corner. Hugh showed us where the little stone was kept that was used to do the inscribing and Finola made her mark.

The cross inscribed stone, and water bubbling up from underground

Another stone protruding from the wall almost looked as though it had been worked, a fragment perhaps from the old church. The well is beautifully kept, fenced off from the cattle and regularly cleared of weeds and algae.

The water is fresh, abundant and sparkling, you could see it bubbling up from underground. It was said to be exceptionally good – Jim’s mother in law used to come down daily to collect two bucketfuls and take them back across the field. The water contained a cure for sore eyes but was considered good for all ailments. Another very short reference to the well reveals its potency:

Other Piseóga :- Bringing can of water first from the well on the morning of the churning. (507:0358)

Piseógs were superstitions that attended every aspect of human behaviour and were generally feared, strong precautions having to be taken against them. They could be seen as the evil eye or magic, and could be of varying levels of nastiness from a bit of neighbourly spitefulness to some serious cursing and ill will. In this case some water from the well was taken to ward off any evil intentions when the all important churning took place. Farm Ireland has an interesting article on piseógs and Eddie Lenihan, the well known folklorist and storyteller explains about piseógs and churning:

Piseógs were often associated with certain families and certain parishes, with the piseóg being passed from mother to daughter. The female connection was due to women being in charge of butter making and butter was a source of wealth in the old days. If the butter failed, you couldn’t pay rent so were out on the road… (3rd May, 2011)

A trout was also said to live within the well but Jim hadn’t seen him yet.

Once the well received many visitors, the pattern day being centred around St Finnian’s Feast Day, 13th December. (The well seems to have been called St Finnian’s by the 1913 OS map, and is referred to as such today). Traditionally  the rounds were paid over three consecutive days: 11th – 13th December. The first two days were focused on the site of an ancient ecclesiastical enclosure at Nohaval Lower where there are the remains of a church, graveyard and site of a round tower (CO038-001002) . On the third day, St Finnian’s Feast Day, the pilgrims walked the mile across the fields to end at the well. Jim could remember many offerings being left here: medals, money and rosaries. He laughed as he recalled how, when his son when very young he helped himself to some of the money!

One last story, and another odd one:

There was another well in Mikie Sweeney’s land of Doon. All the neighbours used to get water there. One day two men who were not agreeing went to and met at the well and one of them killed the other and the well closed in. A few months ago Mikie Sweeney and his son aged about 5 years went into the field where the well was. There is a green patch where the well was. The son said ‘O Daddy there was a well here’. ( 139/140:0358)

Today the well receives few pilgrims but it is beautifully kept by Jim and his family, and Jim himself has never missed a visit down to the well on St Finnian’s Day.

Many thanks to Jim O Sullivan and his grandson Hugh for taking the time to show us St Finnian’s Well.
There is good article on the well and surrounding area on the excellent Millstreet website
The location of these wells can  be found in the Gazetteer.
Other wells nearby include Tubrid Well and St John’s Well. Trinity Well is also built on the site of  a fulacht fiadh.

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.

Island Wells 5: Heir Island, Inis Uí Dhrisceoil

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

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

Scenic lobster pots, Cunnamore Pier

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

MV Thresher, the ferry for Heir Island

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

East Skeam Island

The Mass Rock

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

Paris

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

The bridge to Paris

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

Well of the Women

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

Well of the Little Loop, Tobar Lúibín

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

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

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

Tobar a’ Lúibín, Well of the Little Loop

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

Ferry times to Heir Island

In search of Blessed Fish

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

The Salmon of Knowledge

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

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

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

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

Fish as supernatural beings

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

 

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

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

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

Lady’s Well, Rockspring

At Templemologa the pilgrims travelled hopefully:

St Mologa’s Well, once home to a trout

A trout lives in the well and the diseased people look out for it because they think their rituals more effective in the trout’s presence. St Mologa’s Well, Templemologa  (Schools’ Folklore Collection, 0376: 001/002)

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

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

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

Close to Temple Mologa is a copious spring well, which was always held sacred by the people and should be used only for drinking and curative purposes; but on one occasion, the lady of the manor, an unbeliever, would insist on cooking her husband’s dinner in the water of the sacred spring. When the water had time to boil, the cook remarked it was icy cold; more logs were placed on the fire, still to no effect. The logs were still being piled on, the fire blazed, but when the dinner hour arrived, the water was still as cold as ever. The lord waxed hungry, and, like other mortals, became angry; he rushed into the kitchen to ascertain for himself the cause of the delay, had the cover lifted off the huge pot, and, although the fire was crackling and blazing high about it, he felt the water was quite cold; but what astonished him more was to behold a beautiful trout swimming about in it, without apparently suffering the least inconvenience. He became wonder-stricken, and had his advisers called in. They told him to take the water back to the well without delay and pour it in. This being done, the trout again became invisible, and is since rarely seen, except by certain votaries. In the district it is a common saying when water is slow to boil: ‘perhaps the Molaga trout is in it’. (Colonel Grove White: Historical and Topographical Notes Vol 1)

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

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

Sunday’s Well & Lady’s Well, Walshestown

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

The blessed fish as representative of the saint

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

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

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

The blessed fish as water purifier 

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

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

St Sylvester’s Well, Malahide; Photo: Technogypsy

The dissenter

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

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

St Abbey’s Well, Kilshannig

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

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.

Island Wells 4: Inis Earcáin, Sherkin Island

After two days of solid rain the sun came out and we headed down to Baltimore to catch the ferry to Sherkin Island, in search of a well. The journey over is a short one but highly picturesque as you sail past the Beacon, glimmering like a gigantic sugar cone. Some impressive clouds today but miraculously we didn’t get wet.

Sailing past the Beacon

Sherkin island, Inis Earcáin  (island of the sea pig or porpoise), is a beautiful place, one of Carbery’s Hundred Isles. There is evidence of human occupation going way back for there are standing stones, a megalithic tomb, the remains of an O Driscoll castle  (Dun na Long), and the impressive ruins of a fifteenth century Franciscan friary – the first thing you see on disembarking.

The small winding lanes and wild windswept hills feel like going back in time, yet the island is thriving, the home of 114 islanders according to the last census of 2011.

Shady groves

It attracts many artists and it is even possible to study a BA in Visual Arts here – a collaboration between the Dublin Institute of Technology, West Cork Arts Centre and Sherkin Island Development Society. It is also the home of Sherkin Island Marine Station, a centre of excellence renown for its pioneering work concerning marine biology and ecology. There is one dampener on all this positivism, the National School closed a year ago and all island children now have to take the ferry to the mainland for their education.

The original village school, now a home

The Smith’s Well, Tobar Gabha, St Mughain’s Well

We, however, were in search of a well, the only one on the island as far as I can ascertain. Known as Tobar Gabha, or Smith’s Well, or even St Mughain’s or St Mona’s Well (discussed later) it is located in the townland of Kilmoon. It is marked on the current Landranger OS map (88) but beware for, as we were to discover, it is inaccurately marked.

The well lies in the direction of Horsehoe Bay. What a beautiful spot, an elegant, curved bay with crystal clear water, calm, but exceptionally cold.

Horseshoe Bay

We asked a woman having a quiet sunbathe outside her house whether she knew of any well. She didn’t but was curious to hear that we did and looking at our map directed us up towards the hills. A wonderful walk through bracken and heather, passed an attractive but closed house, and sublime views out to sea. We stopped at another house, the door painted a sunny yellow and lavender lining the path. I went to inquire. Seán answered the door – he was busy changing the duvets ready for his next group of holiday makers. What a place to stay. He had time to talk though and knew of the well, giving us clear instructions: plough through the field, head for where the mountain comes down to the land, take a sharp left and follow the valley, looking out for a fuchsia bush. He warned that it would be challenging. We went off through thick grasses and brambles, aiming for the toe of the mountain and the veering off to the left. The bracken was shoulder high and the brambles treacherous but the colours of the heather and gorse were incredible.

As we went further into the valley an amazing vista of sea, mountains, Beacon and lighthouse was revealed. It was, however, a completely different direction to the one in which the map and GPS wanted us to go, but we trusted local knowledge – wisely, as it turned out.

The approach to the well

To the right, a clump of straggly fuchsia bushes swamped by bracken came into view – the only ones on the hillside.

A bit of scrambling upwards, some scratchy, prickly negotiation inwards, more careful pulling back of the bracken and brambles and there was the well:  a small semi-circular basin, moss-  surrounded, built into the hillside, a spongy green slab in front. The water was clear, copious and dripping from above.

Tobar Gabha

What a magnificent position – wild and remote, secretive and magical.

An entry in the Schools’ Folklore Collection has this to say about it:

The well on Sherkin Island is situated on the hillside overlooking Horseshoe Bay. It is a small well surrounded by fuchsia bushes. There is an old legend connected with it that people get cured there and on that account it is visited on certain times of the year, May Day Eve and St John’s Night.

If a bird is heard singing when any person suffering from a disease is praying there, it is considered a very good sign of being cured. It is the custom of people to take something with them when they visit it such as part of a rosary bead, a medal, a bunch of flowers or a bit of rag. People usually cross the hills when they visit the well. It is said the old well takes its name (Tobar na Gabha – well of the blacksmith) from an old smith who was supposed to live nearby in olden times.

The water in the well is quite fresh and it is said to never go dry. When a person wants to get his wish he must walk around the well and say four Hail Marys each time he walks around. Once in the month of January there were primroses seen there when there was not a primrose to be seen anywhere else. (194/195:0295)

The birds were certainly singing but there was no sign of any offerings and it would have been very hard to pay a round so dense was the undergrowth. The fuchsia bush was still flourishing.

We hacked our way back through the bracken and brambles, stopping off tell Se,an that we had found the well. Back in one piece? he smiled. He reckoned he had last visited the well about 20 years ago but could remember that it was once visited by many islanders and that it was customary to leave offerings. He recalled that his aunt, suffering from a bad back, had trekked through the valley to visit the well and returned cured.There had once been stepping stones along the track making the route a little easier.

When I mentioned that the well was called Tobar Gabha, Well of the Smith, he said it was was dedicated to St Mona. (The church on Sherkin is also dedicated to her). There is a reference to a similar name inThe Genealogy of Corca Laide (CELT,UCC) where the well is referred to as Tobar Mughaine. The townland in which it is located is called Kilmoon – Cill Mughaine, church of Mughain. Interestingly  there is another Kilmoon in County Clare which is reputed to be named after this elusive saint. Omnium Sancrorum Hiberniae has her named as St Mughain of Cluain-Boirenn with a feast day on the 15th December. Confusingly the historic OS maps refer to it as Toberngow – Well of the Smith, as does the Schools’ Folklore extract. Could Gabha be a corruption of Mughain, or vice versa? I’d be delighted to receive any other information.

Many thanks to Seán for the chat and directions.
Ferry timetable to Sherkin Island
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.

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

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

 Gregory’s Well, Tobercarrown, Ballyshonock

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

Remains of palette covering well

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

After a little careful clearing

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

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

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

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

Hints of masonry

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

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

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

Astonishing how interesting a neglected piece of water can be.

St Catherine’s Well, Ballydeloughy

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

Entrance to the remains of St Catherine’s Church

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

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

Carved head of St Catherine; photo by Peter Clarke

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

The scant remains of Ballydeloughy Castle

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

St Dominic’s Well, Glanworth

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

The 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.