Local tradition (and there is no better source of knowledge!) has it that you can relieve any eye problems with the waters from Tobarín Súl – one of the holy wells close by Lough Hyne. The name is Irish for Little Well of the Eyes and, if proof were needed of the efficacy of the cure, you will find hanging from the branches of the trees around the well white canes and spectacles presumably left behind by modern day pilgrims who are no longer in need of them after visiting the well.
There is no doubt that Tobarín Súl and its near neighbour – Skour Well – are actively visited: offerings abound. Most commonly, rags and ribbons adorn the surroundings of a well. According to Anna Rackard (Fish Stone Water – Holy Wells of Ireland, Atrium 2001):
…Traditionally, rags were used to wash the afflicted part of the body with water from the well and were then tied to the tree or bush. As the rag deteriorated, the pain faded away. In some parts of Ireland, when the rag is tied to the tree, the tree itself ‘takes on’ the pilgrim’s pain…
Tobarín Súl is set beside a narrow lane which winds up Knockomagh Hill in the townland of Highfield, to the north of Lough Hyne. The Skour Well is a little way further up the same hill. Nobody seems to know the origin of the name: one suggestion is that the word Skour comes from the Irish ‘sceabhar’ meaning ‘slope’ or ‘slant’, indicating its position on the side of a hill. Whatever the origin, it’s another colourful well, also adorned but with a more religious flavour – rosary beads, candles and statuettes.
Some sources suggest that this well is dedicated to St Brigit, but I think that is a confusion with two more holy wells which are reputed to be close beside an ancient ruined church dedicated to her on the south side of the lake. Skour Well, however, is clearly devoted to Mary and ’rounds’ are performed here: it’s said that pilgrims drop white pebbles into the water on completing each circuit. On May Eve the local priest conducts a mass at the roadside here.
So here we have a fascinating meeting of beliefs: two wells almost side by side, one seemingly an ancient centre for traditional cures and the other a Christian site. Both are powerful places.
We have mentioned the lake itself in previous posts. We have yet to visit St Brigit’s little church to try and find the other wells (the Archaeological Survey database says they are no longer visible) but we must look for the place where St Brigit knelt and left imprints of her knees in the rock!
Amanda found St Brigid’s knee prints… “…The forecast being good I decided an adventure was needed. We headed out for Lough Hyne – I had read that there was an ancient church, holy well and cross slab in the vicinity. It looked do-able on the map. We parked and set forth. Quite a long walk down a small road skirting the lough, so green and leafy with sheer rocky sides dripping with moisture. We got to where the smaller road should have been leading onto a peninsula jutting out onto the lake but it seemed to go onto private land and there were big gates. Suddenly a woman came out to check her post and I was over there like a flash. Once she’d got over her amazement that anyone should know about this obscure church she was very helpful. The whole headland was her land and it was brimming with interesting things. She gave us firm instructions and allowed us to venture forth. The boreen down was long and green and so beautiful – full of the most amazing variety of wildflowers – primroses, buebells, anemones, violets, Irish spurge. We found the church – teeny, roofless with a beautiful arched doorway. Her husband was buried close by – his epitaph had him down as a philosopher. Her instructions to the holy well were exact – climb up onto a stone and approach on your knees, – for safety rather than holy reasons I imagined, but maybe not. A teeny, two pooled well with lovely fresh water – and the knee prints of St Brigid on each side! Really. I tested. Perfect fit…” (taken from Amanda’s Blipfoto description) Amanda mentions the cross slab – there’s a story about this in Brigid: Goddess, Druidess and Saint by Brian Wright – The History Press 2009:
…There are traditions from many parts of Ireland and Britain of stones that return to their original spot when moved and an example of such a ‘homing stone’ involves St Brigid’s Church, Lough Hyne, Co Cork. There, about 150ft north east of the church is a piece of a broken pillar about 18 x 15in bearing an incised cross. One Day this was carried away by a fisherman who took it to his house, but the very next morning he found it had gone and it was discovered back in its original spot. The fisherman drowned shortly after and everyone knew he had been punished for daring to remove this holy stone…