Tag Archives: trout

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.

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.

Well hunting off the N22

A trip to the airport always offers an opportunity for a bit of exploration. This time as slight detour was taken to visit a few wells off the N22.

Sunday’s Well, Tobar Riogh an Domhnaigh,Rooves Beg

Always a good sign

This little well is signed and can found right on the roadside: incidentally this quiet, scenic, road was once the main butter route between Kerry and Cork. We visited shortly after May Day, the start of Bealtine, and everywhere was looking immaculate! A neat stone wellhouse is surrounded by two curved benches and an array of potted shrubs, giving it a cosy and intimate air.

Sunday’s Well, Rooves Beg

A concrete cross lies on top of the structure, draped with a rosary; and a pretty plaque depicting the Mother and Child is pinned to the front.

Above the well a little shelf is painted in BVM blue and adorned with all sorts of offerings, blue being the predominant theme. Fresh bluebells mingle with wooden blue tulips. In the centre a statue of the BVM herself is enclosed in a blue painted niche, flanked by statues of Jesus and St Patrick. An array of candles, some of them still burning, spoke of recent visitation.

Blue altar

In front, an ingenious kneeler made out of a wooden stool complete with gardener’s kneeling pad – painted blue – makes life comfortable for pilgrims.

Steps lead down into the water, a stone slab at the front. The water is fresh and abundant and a rather jaunty red cup with a heart-shaped rim is available for drinking the water. I think it had come from a German Christmas market.

Another name for the well is Tobarin an Aifrinn, Little Well of the Mass, and Mass was held here during Penal Times – what look like the Mass Rock lies close to the well, also beautifully kept.

Mass Rock

The well was traditionally visited on Good Friday and Easter Sunday when rounds were paid, a drink from the well being included. Today the Rosary and prayers are said on August 15th but May is obviously also a popular time to visit. The water was considered efficacious and three  visits were required for a cure – two successive Sundays and intervening Friday.

This is obviously a much loved and still revered well. It has a very pleasant feel and some spectacular views out across the valley.

Views from Sunday’s Well

Lady’s Well & Sunday’s Well, Walshestown

Sunday’s Well lies to the left of the niche containing the BVM, and Mary’s Well is to the right

 

These wells are situated in Walshestown. One is covered in a complete arch. The relics of crumbling arches shelter the other wells. Remains of an altar, upon which Mass was celebrated in Penal Times, is still in a fair state of preservation.  Upon a stone plate on one of the arches the letters IHS are quite discernible still. The Cromwellian destroyers knocked down two of the arches. The ‘Mass’ arch escaped destruction though; the group of wells is known as ‘The Blessed Wells’, yet the water of two are used for domestic purposes. The water of the well beneath the Mass arch is only used to obtain cures. Almost every storyteller in the district has an incident to relate about the peculiar properties of the water. It will not boil, and is said to assume certain shades and volumes, each change indicating a cure or the likelihood of some disaster occurring in the neighbourhood. The most remarkable cure vouched for is the healing of wounds of a priest – Father Walsh. The surrounding district takes its name from this miracle.

Schools’ Folklore Collection 0345:356/35

The is an interesting description of the wells, recorded in 1937. If I’ve understood this correctly it seems there were three wells originally, each covered by an arch of stone. The central niche that now contains the statue of the BVM seems to have also had a well underneath it, the most potent and significant well. This has now disappeared. cement steps where it once was, leading up to an altar. Sunday’s Well lying to the left and Mary’s Well to the right still remain, minus their arches.

The wells are paved in a roughly octagonal shape approached by two steps down; empty niches lie in the surrounding curved walls. As mentioned, they both once had arched rooves, and also doors. The water in both was abundant but mucky, and the containers scattered around didn’t look as though they had had much use recently. The wells seem oddly neglected compared to the central niche containing the BVM. This is cared for and adorned with statues, flowers, candles and offerings. She has a rather baleful expression though.

The central niche; it seems there was a well once here too

Three carved stones are of interest, all in the central niche. One is a limestone slab set into the back of the recess. The letters IHS are just be discernible with what the Archaeological Inventory describes as an inverted heart beneath. IHS is a Christogram, the first three letters of the Greek name for Jesus: IHΣΟΥΣ. To the left another stone is visible behind an array of offering, a clear cross inscribed upon it. To the right another stone lurks, apparently containing a rough depiction of the crucifixion and another inscribed heart but this is very difficult to see and unfortunately I didn’t get a good photograph of it.

The water from the central well, now vanished, was considered  good for cures of tooth ache, earache and affectations of the head, and it’s interesting that the two other wells were allowed to be used for domestic purposes. They both have something a little special though. A trout is supposed to reside in St Mary’s Well, and an eel in Sunday’s Well. I saw neither, sadly. This story makes interesting reading, did the fish once live in the central well and is this why it vanished?

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).

The water obviously worked well for the wounded priest too, Father Walsh, mentioned in the first extract; was he a priest injured whilst celebrating Mass during Penal Times? The area is now called Walshestown, after his miraculous recovery.

The whole site is shaded by the most magnificent lime tree. Steps are cut into the cliff on each side of the wells, and were presumably once incorporated into the rounds. Another very pleasant site.

We attempted to find two others wells just beyond Ballincollig. The first was in Ballynora where we were distracted by a rather fine grotto.

Sadly there was no sign of the well, a Sunday’s Well, which sounded interesting:

 In pasture, on steep hillside. Water-filled hollow under sycamore tree; roots of tree exposed and enclose well; filled by water dripping through roots. Some water now drains into trough to SE. Archaeological Inventory

A second well, Dark Well, Tobar Dorcha,  once lay in the nearby townland of Ballinveiltig, but the area was too heavily overgrown for us to get anywhere near.
The location of these wells can be found in the Gazetteer.

St Dominic’s Holy Well, Glanworth

St Dominic’s Well, Tubbernacruinahur, Glanworth

This well was visited at the very end of an intense day of exploration. The light was fading and weariness setting in but there was just time for one more well – one I really wanted to visit for I had seen an enticing photograph and hoped against hope that the well and its rather wonderful and eccentric resting place for pilgrims might still be in situ. Colonel Grove Wright collected information from various sources and wrote vividly about the site and included a photograph:

st-dominic

Photo: Grove White, 1906, with Canon JF Lynch by the well

DOMINICK’S HOLY WELL.
Smith (pub. 1750) states: Near Glanworth Abbey, on the verge of the Funcheon river, is a fine spring, bubbling out of the limestone rock, of limpid water, held in great esteem as a holy well by the superstitious Irish; it is dedicated to St. Dominick, and visited on his festival. Over the well is a large old tree, on the boughs of which an infinite number of rags of all colours are tied, as memorials of their devotion to this water, which, they affirm, has performed several miraculous cures (i. 317). Windele, writing in 1849, gives this account of the Holy Well: There is a famous holy well at Glanworth, the water of which has this virtue, that anyone drinking will ever after have a longing desire to return to Glanworth. Somewhat of a similar virtue has the moat of Kilfinnan. Anyone once standing on it will wish to return to Kilfinnan again. I stood on it, but my yearnings do not justify this. (Journal for 1897, p. 379.) The Field Book of 1840 gives:Tubbernacruinahur Holy Well, ‘St. Dominick’s Well,’ or perhaps ‘the well of the priest,’ is situated in the south part of the townland of Boherash (about one chain west of the river Funcheon). There were patrons held in it formerly, but it is now done away with. (Ord. Sur. Off., Dub.) Colonel Grove White: Historical & Topographical Notes, Vol I

I left my travelling companions looking at the nearby friary and pondered on how to get to the well which I knew was down by the river, a good few fields below the car park. The first sign that I was on the right track was an elaborate stile – always a good indicator that something interesting lies beyond.

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Interesting stile, always a hopeful sign

A bit of over-field-under-barbed-wire-fence-tramping is required to skirt around a steep, brambly ridge in order to get down to river level below. The going then gets tough – very boggy and treacherous underfoot for this is part of the floodplain of the River Funcheon. The river is wide and elegant at this point: little natural weirs and small islets, flanked by green pastures.

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River Funcheon

At first I could see nothing, the whole area an entanglement of briars, bracken and bog grass, but then I spotted a little hummock glinting with what looked like white quartz. I slashed at the undergrowth but it was very hard to get close due to the wetness and difficult to make out exactly what I was looking at but the shape looked similar to the one in the old photograph. I thought I could just discern a flat plinth underneath the structure.

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Limestone hump: the well

It seems as though the spring bubbles out from underneath the well structure – I could see a small stream leading from it out towards the river. No sign of the clootie tree though.

I was, however, thrilled to see that the pilgrims’ tower remained, now seriously overgrown and consumed with greenery like Sleeping Beauty’s palace, with just hints of its former splendour.

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Remains of tower, a shelter for pilgrims

Frustratingly, I couldn’t get close but I suspect underneath all those briars it’s in fairly good condition. It was built by a local eccentric named Jack Sheahan. Mr James Byrne JP visited in 1908 and described the scene to Colonel Grove White:

…  I was at Glanworth yesterday (15 April, 1908) and went to see the place. One of the structures is in the form of a tower; its height is about 18 or 20 feet, square in form and tapering to a point. Several crosses are built into the work, and at one time it was surmounted by an iron cross. There is an arched chamber at the base. It was erected about 70 or 80 years ago by a labourer named Sheahan. I knew him. On Sundays he used to decorate his head with a wicker cap made into the form of a tiara. The idea of building the tower was to form a chamber into which the devotees coming to the well could retire in case of bad weather. There were stone seats in it. Still closer to the Holy Well is another smaller structure, on which is fixed a little wooden case containing statues. The well was surrounded lately by a wooden paling, but I noticed some of it was thrown down as if by cattle. Grove White Vol 1

I love the sound of that wicker tiara!

Whilst doing research I came across another very beautiful old postcard which clearly shows what an impressive site it was in its heyday. This photo dates from 1906, before the cattle did their work!

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Photo: by J Valentine, 1906. Source: The Historical Picture Archive

The tower, described here as a hermitage, is magnificent with its tiered roof, reminiscent of the Tower of Babel, the little seats just glimpsed inside. The shape of the well, whitewashed and sturdy, can easily be seen – still neatly fenced. Next to the tower is another smaller building, presumably the one that contained the statues. The two women and their two children are smartly dressed and in the background the impressive ruins of the friary can clearly be seen. I was pleased to discover that there are intentions to restore this site and found a short description of a fund raising event reported in the The Avondhu local paper, published in July last year.

….All proceeds (of the fund raising) will be given to the local clergy to restore St Dominic’s Well in Glanworth. The well has not functioned for 100 years, and legend has it that trout from the well hold curative powers.

Not much seems to have happened yet and I hope it’s not left too late for this site surely deserves to be restored.

Although the well seems to have been dedicated to St Dominic and was visited on his feast day, 8th August and on September 15th, it is also known as Cronee’s Well – Cronee being described variously as a local virgin or a possible brother of St Fanahan. A report from the Schools’ Folklore Collection has more interesting information, especially concerning how to use the water:

Near the ruins of Roches Castle in the village is a blessed well known as Cronee which gets its name from the saint who traditions says was the brother of St Fanahan . Patrons used to be held here in days gone by on August the 15th, the Rosary being said at certain points and cures were attributed to the intercession of the saint. From the well runs a small stream from which people with facial disfigurements, sore eyes etc used to bathe and get some relief.

This water gives great relief to sick people but there is a tradition about its use. The person bringing it must say some rounds at the well then go direct to the bed of the sick persons who must have the first sip – otherwise there would be no cure.

Should the carrier of the water stand to talk to those he meets the power of the cure would leave the water.

Alongside the well there used to be a bush upon which pieces of ribbons, sticks etc were put in thanksgiving for favours received.

A few paces from the blessed well is what is called Jack Sheahan’s Castle built by an eccentric as a shelter for pilgrims at the well. Local tradition has it that if the water of the well were boiled it would turn into blood. (0373:120/121)

It seems that three rounds had to be made to the well, the eyes bathed in water, the water drunk and a rag left on the clootie tree when the rounds were completed. I didn’t drink of the water but I certainly have a longing to return to Glanworth, it would be rude not to for not only is this a fascinating and quite magical site but points of interest in the immediate area include Roches Castle (CO027-042001), wonderfully silhouetted in the nearby fields, and the Dominican Friary (CO027-040) also within view.

And just out of town is the impressive Labbacallee wedge tomb (CO027-086). The restoration of St Dominic’s Well would surely be yet another jewel in Glanworth’s already rather glamorous crown, or should that be tiara.

Labbacalee Wedge Tomb

Labbacallee wedge tomb; photo by Finola Finlay

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Many thanks to Viola da Marjola for sending in these photographs, taken approximately six years ago – a huge change.

Vox Hiberionacum also has some further thoughts on the possible meaning of the well:

… cruinniú/cruinnithe/ ‘gathering of people, meeting, assembly. Hence, Tubbernacruinahur could be something like ‘Well of the Gathering’. This might also go a way towards explaining ‘Cronee’ i.e. a garbled rendition of ‘cruinniú’,

Great to have feedback, always much appreciated.

Edit: I revisited the well in August 2017 and it has been cleared a little, a not attached to a pole informing that archaeologists were hoping to do further work here. Nice to be able  to see the well more clearly but the pilgrims’ house is now completely submerged in brambles. Hopefully that might be cleared next.

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

Our Lady’s Well, near Cloyne

A few days in east Cork on a holy well expedition proved fascinating and rewarding. The very first well visited was probably one of my all time favourites and really the epitome of all that’s special about Irish holy wells.

Lady’s Well, Titeskin

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Postcard, circa 1910

Near the ruins of the old church of Titeskin (or Kilteskin) is Tober Muire ‘Lady’s well’, much frequented by the peasantry for devotional purposes on the 15th August and near this a stone with a rude representation of the crucifixion

Guys Directory, 1889

This old postcard dates from 1910 and I had seen a more recent photograph of this well but the real thing proved even more attractive and intriguing. Approached down a long rather slurry-filled boreen, the well sits serenely in a field of pasture. Rather horrifyingly an enormous pylon is right next to it but you must quickly dismiss and ignore this insensitive intrusion.

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Spot the well

The well is surrounded by a whitewashed stone wall, obviously ancient for a huge ash tree, itself quite an age, has literally grown over it in a close and gnarly embrace. It seems that the well was once known as Whitewell and attracted pilgrim from all over county Cork. It looks like it still gets its fair share of visitors.

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The ash tree embraces the wall

A gap in the wall and some steps lead down into the interior. The well itself is under a hefty metal cover but once lifted the water within is crisp, cold and clear. Little cups nestle in an alcove ready for use.

A very attractive statue of the BVM, snug in a pointed alcove, looks down on proceedings: her face sympathetically painted, a clutch of rosaries in her hand and a shy rose-adorned foot peeping out from under her robes.

Next to her flutter an assortment of ribbons and rags, the old ash now being used as a clootie tree with hopes and prayers attached to the rags. Little statues and crosses are tucked here and there and high in the branches of the tree is a boxed-in statue of Our Lady.

Just outside the well is an enigmatic stone with interesting carvings on each face, seemingly dating from the late eighteenth century. Facing the well is a carving of the crucified Christ, crosses inscribed on his chest and above his head, INRI carved above him. There are suggestions that the stone may have broken at some point as the carvings go no further than Christ’s knees. This reminds me so much of the figure carved on the outside of the well at Castlemagner, variously interpreted as a sile na gig or St Bridget. Possibly another alternative could be considered? On the other side is the profile of a face, surely the BVM complete with spiky radial halo. The inscription, now very hard to read, is said to be:  Seven Pater Nosters and Seven Ave Marias. The Honour 1731

There is a wonderful write up about the well in the Schools’ Collection, compiled by the National Folklore Collection during the late 1930s when every National School in the country was asked to participate in a survey about its local area. Each child above the age of 11 was asked to interview members of their family about their home area, including information on holy wells. I think this is worth transcribing in full for it hold so much information. Well done Máirín for this excellent write up:

folklore-2There is a holy well situated on our lands at Kilteskan in the parish. It is enclosed by a circular wall in fairly good repair. A very large ash tree is growing on the western side. The tree appears to be very old. There is an outlet from the well on the northern side to carry away the surplus or overflow of water which is fairly large and which never seems to vary in quantity in any weather. Even in the very driest of weather the quantity from the well seems the same as in the wettest winter. A curious fact about the water is that it seems warm in winter and very cold in summer. There is a limestone slab about three feet high standing on the western side of the well. It is about ten feet distant from the wall of the well and has an inscription in Latin on it. The well is called our Lady’s well and it has a pattern on the fifteenth of August. Eight days before the fifteenth of August and eight days after large numbers of people come to make rounds there from distant places even as far as County Waterford, Cork city etc. Numerous cures are reported to have taken place here. Here is one. A man came to visit the well. He was crippled and had two crutches. When he had the rounds finished he went to a pool formed by the overflow of the well and washed his legs in it. folklore-3He was instantly cured. It is said he left his crutches under the tree. Another cure is that of a little boy of seven years old who was unable to walk. He was brought in a perambulator to the well by his parent who washed him in the water outside the well. He was instantly cured, His father in thanksgiving put a statue of the blessed Virgin in the tree over the well. This boy’s father also in thanksgiving promised to visit the well every pattern day for as long as he lived. He has not come now for three years. Another lady was cured of deafness. She also in thanksgiving had erected a beautiful statue of Our Lady. This statue is about three feet high and last year was covered with a concrete shelter at the order of the cured lady. Very many other cures are reported to have taken place there. Local opinion has it that one such cure takes place every year. There is a trout in the well and I was told my grandmother brought a jug of water from the well to make tea. But though she did her utmost to boil the water she could not do so. She then took the water back to the well, and in pouring out the water she saw the trout coming out of the kettle. She again filled the kettle and had no trouble boiling it. It is said that anyone who sees this trout is instantly cured of any disease. My grandmother used to tell me about a man from County Waterford paying his rounds at the well. It happened about fifty years ago. He had two of his rounds done  when it began to rain very heavily. My grandmother went to the well for water and she told him to go to the barn and not to get wet. He did so. Next morning was very wet and he could not finish his rounds. He had to return home with his friends. A labouring man employed at my grandmother’s house dreamt three night sin succession that this man came to him and asked him to finish the rounds for him. He told my grandmother about the dream. She told him to go immediately and finish the rounds for the poor man was now dead and it was her fault he had not finished the rounds himself.

Collected by Máirín O Ruiseáil, interviewing her father Tomás O Ruiseáil, from Sciart Liath, Mainistir na Corann,( Scartlea Upper, Midleton)

The Schools’ Collection, National Folklore Collection

Fascinating to read about the cures and the rituals. Another child writing in Lisgoold Nation School, Tomás O Riordan, mentions how:

… a boy was cured of sunstroke, a man of paralysis and a woman who was ill for sometime previous of constant headache walked from Lisgoold to Whitewell on August the fifteenth some years ago and was cured.

Tomás also explains that the best time for these cures was at twelve o clock in the night. Of course there had to be a trout residing within and the overflow water is still abundant; and today, the water was feeling pretty cool. Incidentally, the whole Folklore Project is now online and can be viewed at Dúchas.ie .

The well is obviously much cared for and still revered. The statue, put up in thanks in the 1930s, still looks fresh and graceful, and a statue in the trees seems to have re-appeared. No sign of any crutches though. There is still an annual mass here on the 15th August, the Assumption of the Blessed Virgin. And a word about the unusual name for the townland: Titeskin – not pronounced remotely like it looks and its seems to be known as Kilteskan locally. A kind friend explained that it means tigh antSeiscinn which translates as house in the swamp, which seems very fitting as it was certainly damp and boggy; all that wonderful holy water.

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The location of this well can be found in the Gazetteer. It is on private land but has public access.