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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 Declan, St Leonard & a Poor Child

St Declan’s Well, Tobarnadeecla

Be warned this well, dedicated to St Declan or St Decla, is marked on the current OS map but on the wrong side of the very busy N20 just north of Buttevant! The GPS on, I was risking life and limb trying to access where I thought the well was, traffic roaring past me and a bull watching with interest from within the field. My husband, who had parked the car on the other side of the road, stopped a farmer who had also parked his tractor in the layby and asked him if he knew of any well. He pointed to a few metres away and there was a sign, hidden in the foliage: St Declan’s Well. What a very kind  man, he offered to take us down and gave us a little further information

The well is approached down some steep concrete steps then along a little leafy boreen. A tree had recently fallen down, just missing the well, but encasing it in a leafy bower.

Recently fallen tree just missing the well

A sign explained that, after years of neglect, the the whole area was renovated in 1997,

Incidentally, the well goes back beyond the early 1900s for it is marked on the earliest OS map (1841) as Tobernadeecla. The later historic OS map (1913) names it as St Decla’s Well. Presumably this is the same saint as St Declan for I haven’t been able to find any reference to a St Decla. There are also the ruins of an old church and a graveyard nearby to the west.

St Declan’s Well, restored 1997

The well is fascinating. During the renovations a new shrine was built over the well. It is made out of stainless steel with a curved domed roof topped with a metal cross. A transparent door, a bit like a washing machine, can be opened. Inside is a statue of St Theresa and some offerings: cards, medals, rosaries, statues. St Theresa was chosen as the resident saint because the well was restored during her centenary year, 1997. It’s a rather lovely statue, the saint clutching a crucifix and some roses.

The well itself is two-tiered, a little niche above the well itself once used for offerings. A circle of stones protects and defines the well which then flows off into the foliage. The water underneath is a bit ferny and leaf-strewn. It was once considered good for the treatment of sore eyes. Rounds were once paid here and the path is just visible winding through the trees. There seems to be another well opening too, now almost covered by the fallen tree. A tranquil place, secretive and surprising.

Edit: Some interesting comments have come in about this well. One is a suggestion that it may be dedicated to St Thecla , a follower of St Paul. There are several churches dedicated to her in Galicia and the UK. Other information I have received puts the original well as under the main N70.

Trinity Well, Charleville

Charleville is about as far north in Cork as you can go and boasts a large and impressive graveyard on the outskirts of the town, dedicated to the Holy Cross. The scant remains of two ancient churches lie within as does a well, Trinity Well, marked on both early OS Maps (1841, 1915). We had a wander around the graveyard and found nothing resembling a well. Eventually we asked a man who was visiting. He directed us to the man in charge of mowing the grass. Paudie looked doubtful when I mentioned a well and said he’d never seen nor heard of it but … he knew someone who might. His mobile was retrieved and a phonecall made. He stared at me in astonishment. There was a well and it was right behind us!  A keen visitor of wells, he had been to Tubrid in Millstreet and Inghne Bhuide’s Well in Dromtarriff, but was amazed to learn that there was one on his patch. Easy to see why he had never noticed it for it was a sorry looking thing.

Trinity Well, Charleville

The well is roughly circular in shape, with a chunky stone and cement base out of which sprouts a fir tree, dead heathers surrounding it. A bottle underneath the foliage I suspect was not for containing holy water.

I have found no other information except for the rather mournful information that the well supposedly dried up because a diseased infant was bathed in it.

St Sinnades Well, Toberlenade, Newtownshandrum

St Sinnades Well, or St Leonard’s (it is referred to as Toberlenade on the historic OS maps) proved elusive though it sounded interesting:

 In pasture, on E side of field fence. Well lined with wall of stone and cement. Wall built up on one side to encase flat unmarked slab. Metal cross mounted on top of wall. According to local information, ‘visited in May and associated with Our Lady’. Local tradition that well moved to here from its original site at Crannavella Tree (14044) c. 1.4km to SW following use of well water for washing. Dunworth (1989, 51) names it ‘Tobarineid that is St Sinnades well’ and noted that it ‘contained a cure for eye complaints and in the old days people with sore eyes used to come to it from far and near.’ He (ibid.) also noted that it had a ‘pattern day’ but does not give a date.

By now the weather had closed in and the going was unpleasant. The next well proved exceptionally difficult to locate and I had a very soggy time looking in a very wet GAA pitch then in some fields behind bungalows. Again more cattle, still curious. Eventually I asked at the local shop. The woman looked askance but remembered a Mass being said recently and a spring and cups being involved. That sounded promising but was a red herring but an attractive one – part of the village had been tidied up as a memorial  which included restoring this stream area.

Further rummaging around and the GPs led me to some rather uninspiring muddiness. Could this be all that remains of St Leonard’s well?

Sadly it was too wet to check out the Crannavella tree from whence the well was meant to have come and several other possible sites were postponed due to the deluge. I will be back.

Many thanks to Paudie for his help in locating Trinity Well.
The location of these wells can be found in the Gazetteer.

Three wells dedicated to St Gobnait, Ballyvourney

IMG_5687-2

11th February is St Gobnait’s Day,  the feast day of a very popular saint in north Cork and one who still has a very well attended Pattern Day where many pilgrims visit the sites in and around Ballyvourney to pay their respects and do rounds (Turas Ghobntan).

 

 

Tobar Ghobnatan
It seemed an appropriate day to visit. Many people seem to first attend Mass in St Gobnait’s Church (there were several Masses being held throughout the day), then go to the old church and St Gobnait’s shrine to do the rounds, finishing off with a visit to the second holy well just down the road. I went back to front and ended up at the second well first. This has recently been tidied up with smart new entrance gates and a large sign advertising its presence.IMG_0940What a beautiful place though, right on the edge of the river and nestling amongst mature trees. No one was there when I arrived but a jumble of plastic bottles were available for those who wanted to take the water home with them and a neat row of cups and glasses were lined up on top of the well. The well is sturdily constructed with steps down to the basin, and seating arranged around it.

The water is exceptional – clear, and very cold. A large tree behind is adorned with a variety of offerings. A woman came down with her grandson. She drank two cupfuls of water with gusto and declared the water good. I fully agreed.

The Rounds
I then went to the old church. Actually there are two churches there now – a church of Ireland church, and the ruins of a much older church. Many people had already arrived and were doing the rounds. The pilgrimage starts at the statue of St Gobnait, takes in the small well to the right of this, and finishes at the second well down the leafy lane.

IMG_0965Most walked slowly and respectfully, stopping at each of the five station to say prayers, others just came in and visited St Gobnait’s grave, took the water and shot off again. There are some intriguing artefacts that are now part of the stations: a tiny carving of a Sheila na gig high above a window, and an agate ball embedded in the wall – both of these are traditionally stroked as part of the turas or round.The atmosphere was reverential but also had a holiday feel. Everyone smiled and greeted each other.

Bees & Deer
Everywhere you will notice deer and bees for the story goes that St Gobnait was born on the Aran Islands and an angel appeared and told her to travel until she found nine white deer grazing together, and there she would find her resurrection. After much travelling she finally spotted the deer in Ballyvourney. Here she built a religious establishment for women. She became famous for her healing and for many miracles. One miracle concerned cattle rustlers who were trying to steal all the local cattle. She sent a swarm of bees after them; the rustlers were blinded and the cattle restored.

IMG_5704The bees are especially beautiful on the statue of St Gobnait carved by the renowned sculptor Seamus Murphy. Incidentally St Gobnait is patron saint of, among other things, bee keepers and metal workers.

The statue
I then went on the current Catholic church in the village. Mass had ended but a steady stream of visitors, young and old were coming in and out. This is the only day of the year that the ancient statue of St Gobnait is made available to pilgrims. It is supposed to date from the 13th century and is made of oak, now much worn but what an extraordinary artefact it is. She is laid on a table and people queue to visit her. First though you must buy your ribbons, each cut to the length of the statue (Tomas Gobnatan, or Gobnait’s Measure). You wait your turn then once at the statue wind the ribbons around her neck, around her body, lengthwise on her body and some people scrunched the ribbons up and placed them over her heart. Finally St Abbey, as I heard her referred to, is kissed or embraced. (Abigail or Abbey is the anglicised form of Gobnait).

You take the ribbons home and they protect you from illness over the coming year. It seems she was once considered effective against smallpox for this prayer was regularly said in Irish:
O Gobnait, bring us safely through the coming year, and save us from every harm and infirmity especially smallpox.
It looked as though many people still thought she was very potent. She seemed much loved and respected, almost like a much adored member of the family.

Kilgobnait holy well

20160211-IMG_1041160211I then decided to visit the well and shrine of her supposed brother, St Abbán, found just outside the village but you’ll have to wait for this, he deserves his own blog entry! I did travel a little further out of Ballyvourney to Kilgobnait and visited a spot where St Gobnait is said to have prayed. This small walled enclosure right on the side of the road, now surrounded by fir trees was an extraordinary place. It seems it may have originally been a cillín (unconsecrated childrens’ burial ground) for there were many stone markers and interesting bumps and contours. Most extraordinary of all was the little well: a large ballaun stone filled with water, an odd milky blue. Quartz stones had been carefully laid around it, a few cups thoughtfully provided, and a small statue of Infant of Prague watched proceedings. There is also a large circular stone – could this be associated with the ballaun as a wishing or cursing stone?  A tiny tree growing up behind it gave this place a magical quality. Originally this formed part of the rounds on St Gobnait’s Feast Day but I don’t know how many other visitors it was going to get today.

A small postscript to Kilgobnet. I have just had supper with a friend from the area who confirmed that it was indeed a cillín and one held with special reverence as the site was considered to be as good as consecrated ground as it had St Gobnait’s blessing and protection.

A few extra images of a very snowy St Gobnait’s Day 2018

Others have  written excellent accounts of the pilgrimage Here are two accounts I would recommend:

Pilgrimage in Medieval Ireland   Roaringwater Journal

Information about the location of these wells  can be found in the Gazetteer.