The Holy Wells of Cork

Kealkill Holy Well

There’s a new blog on the scene – and it’s just the sort of thing to appeal to Roaringwater Journal readers. Holy Wells of Cork is the brainchild of Amanda Clarke. We’ve written about Amanda before – she often comes along on our adventures and she and Peter are the team behind the book Walking the Sheep’s Head Way and the website Sheep’s Head Places.

Amanda on a holy well trip

Amanda’s always been fascinated by holy wells. We’ve gone to see quite a few over the last couple of years – often a case of hunting down an obscure reference or a dot on a map. She decided that the perfect day to launch her blog was, of course, St Brigid’s Day, February 1st, and that, in order to do it properly, she should visit a St Brigid’s well on that exact day. I tagged along as the recorder.

The holy well is up there?

It’s up there? And I have to go up on my knees?

St Brigid’s well, Tobar Breedy, is on private land on the side of Lough Hyne, south of Skibbereen, and Amanda had sought and been granted kind permission by the landowner to visit the site. You can read her account here – it’s all in her signature chatty style that manages to make you feel as if you’re on the adventure as well. 

Amanda at Tobar Breedy

As a bonus, there’s a tiny ruined medieval church, also dedicated to Brigid (Templebreedy).

Temple Breedy

However, all is not well in the land of holy wells. A recent post is about four holy wells that were once the focus of veneration in Cork City. Read how they have weathered the passage of time, and be glad that she is recording them before some of them disappear from public consciousness altogether.

The first time I went to this secluded holy well in Castle Haven I was afraid to venture over the crumbling bridge. But when we returned, the bridge had been replaced. Local people are often proud of their holy wells and keep them up

Amanda will be posting regularly so go on over and sign up so you will get the updates as soon as they are on the blog. There’s lots of background information as well.

Finding Tobar Abán

Believe it or not there’s a tiny well under all that decaying foliage

We’ve featured holy wells ourselves from time to time. One of our favourites was this time last year, just outside Ballyvourney, where we found the well of St Abán , who may have been St Gobnait’s brother.

altar at the well

Robert wrote about the other holy wells near Lough Hyne, one a Lady’s Well and one dedicated to curing eyesight. Last year, he attended the mass which is still said here every May.

Tiny holy well in the woods

This little well is in the middle of a small wood, with evidence it is still in use. Note the white quartz stones around it – white quartz is often found at prehistoric sites too

No doubt Amanda will record all of this properly in time. I’m looking forward to her future posts and to going along on the field trips!

Offerings at a holy well

I love the offerings that you see at Holy wells. Sometimes you get extras too. In the case below, St Lachtan’s Well, it’s frogspawn. Holy frogspawn, of course.

St Lachtan's holy well

Field Trip – with Jack Roberts

Jack Roberts expounds on holy wells

Jack Roberts expounds on holy wells

Anybody interested in exploring West Cork will have copies of Jack Robert’s books in their libraries. We have several but until this weekend we hadn’t really known the man himself. We were fortunate to be invited along on a field trip organised by old friends of his, on the occasion of one of his visits to West Cork.

Some of Jack's books

Some of Jack’s books

Jack arrived from England in 1975 as a fisherman. As he describes it, he was immediately intrigued with the landscape and the deep sense of history he saw all around him. He worked with Martin Brennan at Newgrange and Loughcrew, learning about the ancient monuments and observing first hand the astronomical alignments of passage graves and stone circles. Eventually returning to West Cork, he started to write guides to the ancient and spiritual sites of the area, illustrating them with his own charming and highly accurate pen and ink drawings. Well researched, delightfully succinct and displaying his vast knowledge of the area, these guides came to be prized possessions of those who purchased them. They’re still available, from Jack’s website, from Whyte Books in Schull and other bookstores, and on Amazon.

Jack lives in Galway now and has branched out. His latest book, The Sun Circles of Ireland, covers the whole country, as does his research into Sheela-na-Gigs. He makes jewellery based on prehistoric, Celtic and Early Christian motifs and has a stall in the Galway market.

Our field trip took us into parts of West Cork unfamiliar to Robert and me, to visit a wide variety of monuments. In Inchigeelagh we stopped to examine a strange stone built into a grotto in the grounds of the Catholic church. Listed under Rock Art in the National Monuments site inventory, it is an anomalous piece of carving that is as mysterious as it is interesting. Of course Robert and I can never resist a peek inside churches, and this one contained some very fine stained glass. Lots of lovely windows but my favourite was this one of St Columbanus, an early Irish missionary who founded monastic houses throughout Europe. One of his miracles was to tame a bear – and somehow he ended up as the patron saint of motorcyclists! 

Saint Columbanus

Saint Columbanus

A couple of holy wells followed, the first dedicated to St Lachtan had two stone bowls and a large concrete cross. The second was the complete opposite – a quiet little spot in a wood with a simple bullaun stone (more about bullaun stones in a future post), white quartz pebbles, and two cups to use for drinking. It was part of an ancient monastic site of which little remains.

We stopped to walk over an old clapper bridge, recently restored, and tramped through a field to where a standing stone loomed over us, standing guard in the landscape, and ended the day with a visit to a cross slab.

Restored clapper bridge

Restored clapper bridge

The next day Jack came to us for lunch followed by a trip to the Derreennaclogh and the Ballybane West rock art sites. At Derreennaclogh Gary, the discoverer of this spectacular site, showed us the lines of ancient field fences he is tracing through the bog. 

While Derreennaclogh was new to Jack, he had visited the Ballybane site many times and had cleared away scrub there, to reveal hitherto hidden carvings. We were particularly interested to hear this, as my drawings of the site, done in the early 70s, were missing some of the motifs that are now obvious and we had long wondered why.

Jack shows us where he cleared away the undergrowth

Jack shows us where he cleared away the undergrowth

It’s always a treat to put a face to a well-known name and with Jack it was a rare privilege. We enjoyed very much continuing our education into the wonders of West Cork, through his eyes. We highly recommend his books to anyone who wants to do the same.

Jack Roberts, author, artist, and one man encyclopedia of West Cork

Jack Roberts, author, artist, and one man encyclopedia of West Cork