Home page link

Religious

Hag of Beara

Category: 
Place of pilgrimage and mythology

Summer of youth in which we have been 
I spent with its autumn; 
winter of age which overwhelms everyone, 
its first months have come to me.

At first hard to spot but instantly recognisable when you do, this lump of  weathered rock is said to be the rugged profile of An Cailleach Beare as she gazes everlastingly out to sea in search of her husband, Manannan, God of the sea. A powerful site still, much visited judging by the offerings scattered and squeezed into the rock.

The Cailleach, or Hag, is the crone - one of the three personifications of  the Great Goddess (maiden and mother being the other two). She is one of the oldest and most powerful mythological creatures - the White one, the granter of power, the ever-renewing. She is said to have ruled winter months - being turned to stone at Bealtine (1 May) and regaining human form at Samhain (November 1). Some believe she is the winter half of Bridget, the other extremely powerful Irish goddess. The focus of many poems and spiritual writings she is herself is the mythological narrator of one of the oldest Irish poems- The Lament of the Old Woman of Beare - written in the 10C,  where she laments the loss of her youth (see link for the poem in full).

Location: 
Kilcatherine peninsula; coast road Eyeries to Ardgroom, signposted but easy to miss, a small parking area is available
Fieldnotes: 

What an extraordinary and evocative thing! You wander along a tiny cliff path with the most incredible views out to the sea and across to the mountains and there is this lump of stone, possibly crouching woman-shaped but undeniably ancient and powerful. Little offerings have been left in every crevice - money, pottery, glass. A woman ahead of me looked puzzled 'I don't get it' she said, but I did. I could just imagine the Hag in all her many guises looking longingly out to see for a glimpse of her lover.

Ballinspittle

Category: 
Grotto and site of vision

"People have had very different experiences. But in July 1985 I saw something physically impossible at that grotto. I saw the concrete statue of Our Lady floating in mid-air. Not rocking too and fro but floating... The following morning I went up there and checked out that statue. I felt like someone was playing tricks on me and I was amazed to find no wires or trickery there at all. In 1985 there was a mingling of two worlds, our world and the mystical world, and something amazing got people praying."retired Sgt John Murray.

In 1954, Pope Pius X11 marked the centenary of the Dogma of the Immaculate Conception and it was decreed to be a Marian Year in honour of the Virgin Mary. Small grottoes, based on St Bernadette's vision at Lourdes, were built all over Ireland, including one just outside the small village of Ballinspittle. The life size statue of the Virgin, the work of Maurice O Donnell, was placed on a hillside with St Bernadette in an attitude of prayer looking up at her. Dressed in white with hints of blue, the statue is bedecked with a halo of light bulbs which originally illuminated. In July 1985 Kathy O Mahony and her daughter were walking home passed the statue when they both saw it move. They reported what they had seen. Between July and September more than 100,000 people are said to have visited the grotto - the pilgrims and the curious. 7 out of 10 of these people reported seeing the statue move in some way - opening and closing of eyes, movements of the hands, and rocking to and fro. Even hardened sceptics reported seeing movement. On one occasion a gang of Hell's Angels motorcyclists are said to have visited the shrine, and although they did not believe that the statue moved, they blessed themselves before putting back their crash helmets and driving off.

Strangely, there were 30 other records of apparitions all over Ireland during 1985.

To this day it is a place of prayer and and still attracts many visitors and ranks as one of the four places of major apparitions of the Virgin Mary. The others are:

Knock, County Mayo ( 1879)

Inchigeela, County Cork (1985)

Dungloe, County Donegal (2009)

See also

Gortaneadin Grotto

Townland: 
Ballinspittle - place of the hospital
Location: 
On the side of the road as you enter Ballinspittle from Cork Street
Fieldnotes: 

The signs warn you to drive slowly as you pass by the Grotto, a layby, seating, even a little shed containing toilets are all provided for the pilgrim. This grotto is kept immaculately (!) and painted in the BVM's colours of blue and white. Fresh flowers and lit candles. A steady stream of visitors park, wander across the road and pay their respects or just look on with curiosity.

St Augustine's Well, Kilshanny, County Clare

Category: 
Holy well

This little well was originally dedicated to St Cuana who died in 650 AD. Later an Augustinian monastery was built near the site and the well rededicated to Augustine. The wellhouse is small, compact and whitewashed with two niches. One contains the statues of St Augustine, probably St Christopher holding the Christ child and a small statue of Our Lady. The other niche hold a statue of the Blessed Virgin Mary. The site is kept immaculately and the water in the small well clean and fresh.

Townland: 
Carrowkeel
Location: 
N27, south of Lisdoonara; I mile south of Kilshanny - follow the signs to the graveyard, then follow the small path to the side of the bungalow
Fieldnotes: 

Not especially easy to find but be bold and follow what looks like a private track by the side of the bungalow. The well feels ancient and slightly incongruous as though you've suddenly stepped into another era. A peaceful, contemplative spot.

St Gobnait Monastic site, Ballyvourney

Category: 
Place of pilgrimage

May God and Mary bless you,

O Holy Gobnait, I bless you too,

and come to you with my complaint.

Please cure me for God’s sake.

This is a fascinating and ancient site dedicated to St Gobnait, still much visited and revered, and still associated with healing.

St Gobnait is supposed to have been born in County Clare sometime during the 6C. Due to a family feud she was forced to flee, taking refuge on Inisheer, one of the Aran Islands. Here she was visited by an angel who told her to keep travelling until she spotted nine white deer whereupon she was to build a nunnery. Gobnait heeded the advice and set out. She eventually spotted three deer in Clondrohid, followed them until another six were seen in Ballyvourney. Here she stopped and founded a religious settlement for women which became famous as a place of healing. It still is in a way. It is a large and complex site, pilgrims often following a set path or turas where ten different stations have to be visited in a strict order. The first station is by the statue of the saint. This was erected in 1950 and sculpted by Séamus Murphy of Cork. She is decorated with bees, a reference to the fact that Gobnait in Hebrew means Deborah, which in turn means bee. Gobnait is also the patron saint of bees and is meant to have used honey in her healing. The stations continue clockwise around the site taking in the old church where many crosses have been scratched into significant stopping points over the years and the windows sills and niches are crammed with offerings. A tiny sheela na gig, a naked female figure, stands over the doorway and she is traditionally touched as part of the turas. An agate stone ball called the bulla, lying deep in the external wall, is also rubbed as part of the rounds.The story goes that when Gobnait arrived there was already a pagan shrine here. She threw her bowl at it and smashed it, and the bowl became embedded in the wall. Either that or it's a cannonball from the Cromwellian period! Also on the external wall is a small voussoir - a human head, reputed to be the likeness of a mason who worked on the church. He is mean to have stolen his colleagues' tools and his face set in stone is an eternal reminder of his shame. St Gobnait's grave lies outside the church, much revered and decorated and is another of the stations.

There are two holy wells on the site. The one by the statue is small but well used, a drink from this an essential part of the turas.The one down the road is the final station and much more potent and mysterious - follow the signs and you arrive at a small glade with a huge offering-adorned tree towering over the stone well. The water is clear and cold, and it is customary to collect some in bottle to take home. Many hopes and fears, wishes and thanks have been addressed at this place.

Personal pilgrimages take place through the year but the saint is venerated especially on her feast day the 11th February. On this day a thirteenth century statue of  Gobnait is displayed. It is made from oak and is reputed to have healing powers. Ribbons can be purchased or brought from home, cut  the exact length of the statue (68cm) they are used to touch or wind round the statue and are then taken home, imbued with healing powers.

The cemetery is still used for burials. Sean ó Riada, musician and composer is buried here. He was hugely influential in the revival of Irish traditional music in the 1960s.

Location: 
N22 Macroom to Killarney, signed to the left from Ballyvourney by the bridge. Either park here and walk up through the woods, or continue up to the site.
References: 
Map 70, W1967 7688
Fieldnotes: 

The best way to approach this magical site is to park down by the river in Ballyvourney and then to walk up through the woods until you arrive at the old stone walls surrounding the cemetery.  There was a steady stream of people paying their respects at Gobnait's grave or doing the rounds each time I have visited, some chatting companionably, arms linked; others lost in their own thoughts and contemplation.So much history and layers of meaning and importance, no doubt going back hundreds, if not thousands of years as there must surely have been a pagan shrine here well before Gobnait arrived. The little church oozes atmosphere and calm; it is hard not to be drawn in to all the rituals surrounding it - the pagan and devout mixing effortlessly and continuously together. When I first visited the second well the tree and surrounding area was literally covered with offerings- photos, rosaries, shoes, crutches, glasses, toys, prayers, but many have since been removed and the whole area tidied up. Nonetheless there is still a powerful presence, the water is clear and cold, the prayers palpable.

11.2.2015 I visited the site on the St Gobnait's feast day. A Mass was held in the church in the village to celebrate the day, all in Irish. The wooden statue of the saint was laid out on a table.  The statue is made of oak, much worn but still discernible as a human figure. It probably dates from the thirteenth century.You could buy ribbons, Gobnait's Measure, the exact length of the statue which you then took and placed on the effigy - first lengthways, then around her head and then around her feet. Some people also kissed the statue. The ribbons would then be taken home to ensure good health or to help someone who was sick.

I then went to the monastic site. Many people were there, doing the rounds. There are five stations to stop at, each with a requisite number of prayers: the first is at St Gobnait's house; the second is St Gobnait's Grave; the third is near the old church; the fourth is inside the church and includes touching the sheelanagig; the fifth is at the priest's grave just outside the church and includes touching the bulla. A drink of water from the second well completes the round. The atmosphere was an interesting mixture of intensely spiritual and personal, yet also relaxed and joyful. People wished each other Happy Gobnait's Day and broke from their prayers to talk and engage. Whatever your beliefs, something profound was occuring.

Toberin na súl, Lough Hyne

Category: 
Holy well

This little well of cold, fresh water is to be found at the base of a three-trunked tree at the edge of woodland. It is laden in offerings of all descriptions. The waters are said to be helpful in curing eye infections and are fresh and clear. It may have originally been dedicated to St Bridget. Two other holy wells are in the vicinity.

Nearby sites:

Skour well

St Bridget's Well

Location: 
Park in car park by lough; either walk through woodland following signs, or on the road; the well is on the left amongst the trees
Fieldnotes: 

This well has an ancient and pagan air to it. It is beautifully and unobtrusively sited in woodland, a three trunked tree growing above it. The trunks and branches of the trees, and the surrounding stones of the well area have been covered in all kinds of offerings, some poignant, some bizarre, some practical  - fluttering ribbons, children's toys, spectacle, walking sticks, rosaries, socks, crunchie wrappers! There is a definite atmosphere, a stillness. While I was there two women came with bottles to fill up with water. They laughed and chatted and sat comfortably on the stones  - sociable, everyday, special.

St Bridget's Holy well, Lough hyne

Category: 
Holy well

This tiny double deckered little well is dedicated to St Bridget, as is the nearby church.  Look carefully and the two indentations on the side of the well are reputed to have been made by the saint's knees as she knelt to pray.The well has two natural basins, surrounded by flowers.

 

Nearby sites

Skour Well

Tobarin na Súl

Townland: 
Barloge
Location: 
On private land, permission must be requested.
References: 
W 097 280
Fieldnotes: 

We were fortunate enough in meeting the owner on  the day we visited and she gave us permission to visit this very special site. She told us to look for the large stone just before you get to the church, to climb up and to carefully head towards the holly tree, on your knees preferably as the ledge is very small. Her instructions were exact.The little path, flower-strewn and beautiful, goes nowhere but to the tree, and the tiny well with its two chambers is carefully concealed amongst the rocks and greenery. The water is clear and fresh, and the indentations of St Bridget's knees were easily identified! Primroses, violets and bluebells bloomed profusely when we visited. The whole area felt magical and remote.

Garryvurcha, Bantry

Category: 
Ruined church and graveyard

This was the first Protestant church built in Bantry and may date from as early as the 1720s. It was certainly in use by 1749 but superseded by St Brendan's church in the square in 1820. It continued to be used for burials until the 1980s and gets its unusual name Garryvurcha (Garraidhe Uí Mhurchadha), meaning Murphy's Garden, from the Famine era when the Reverend Murphy worked closed with Father Barry to help those suffering. Unusually both Catholics and Protestant were buried here. The church is a fairly simple building but boasts a fine Hiberno-Romanesque revival archway, part of a memorial to William, the 3rd  Earl of Bantry who died in 1884.  Many of the graves are unmarked but others are elaborate an interesting. The whole site underwent a restoration in 2011 and is now open to the public.

Townland: 
Lowertown
Location: 
On the left heading up Main Street into Church Street, Bantry. Gates unlocked during the day.
Fieldnotes: 

The first time I visited the whole place was looking very sorry for itself, most monuments and the church itself swathed in vegetation. After extensive restoration the site was opened to the public in 2012. It is a fascinating place, full of interesting tombs and memorials from the modest and anonymous stone marker to great chest shaped vaults, like small houses. A variety of stone work delights the eye and tells different  family stories, a place where 19 year old private Thomas Andrew is commemorated with a simple stone, where the Vickery family lie forever in their vaulted tomb, and where the 3rd Earl of Bantry lies remembered by an impressive arch resplendent with marble and zigzag motifs.  An atmospheric place, full of history.

St Abbán's,Baile Bhuirne, Ballyvourney

Category: 
Holy well & Shrine

These two sites, dedicated to St Abbán, are very close together, very hard to find but utterly magical. Once the site of St Abbán's church, all that remains now is his burial place and a tiny holy well. There is a tradition that St Abbán was the brother of St Gobnait but it is likely that he was her patron and adviser. He is credited with having established at least 10 religious establishments throughout Ireland and may have founded the original religious house in Ballyvourney, later giving it to Gobnait. He died, apparently at a a great age, in Ballyvourney in 650AD. His remains lie in a stone cist, surrounded by a now very mossy cairn. There is a a large ballaun stone on the cairn and three standing stones around it. One of the standing stones has Ogham text carved onto it. The little well a few metres away is dedicated to the saint - a very damp and bumpy place with a tiny well, full of fresh clear water.

St Abbán's feast day is the 15th March

Townland: 
Ballyvourney
Location: 
Ballyvourney, see below for directions
References: 
OS Map 79, W 1967 7688
Fieldnotes: 

Two sites which are very hard to locate but persevere. Leave you car in Ballyvourney village, somewhere near the Post Office is ideal, and set off on foot. Take the road out towards Ballingeary, across the bridge. Walk towards across the fields on your right and aim for the single oak tree. Above that is a rough track, continue along that. Red rags tied in the trees now guide your way as you enter the woodland. A short diversion to the right and a sign announces St Abbán's well. A tea tray secured with a piece of white quartz covered the tiny well, full of fresh cold water. A plastic box of assorted cups lay near by, shrouded in oak leaves. We left a couple of St Gobnait's Measures as offerings.

A little above the well is the traditional burial place of St Abbán - a cairn of mossy stones surrounding a stone cist (box) that in turn is surrounded by three upright stones, one of which has Ogham on it. Little offerings were crammed into the stone, and rosaries adorned a cross. This felt such an otherworldly and ancient site, tucked away in the woods, full of presence.

Although someone was keen that the track be clear, It didn't feel as though anyone had visited for some time but as we emerged dazed into the 21st century, two other pilgrims were struggling across the booggy grounds, inquiring whether we had found him. We had. We gave instructions and they went off to pay their respects, asking us if we had seen the bones. We had not but it appears St Abbán is till in situ.

Skour Well, Loch Hyne

Category: 
Holy well, place of pilgrimage

Skour well is one of the three holy wells around Lough Hyne - an astonishing clear, deep water lake with its own unique ecosystem. Skour Well is on the edge of a steep road (indeed scour may come from the Irish work sceabhar, meaning slope). The well is surrounded by a simple well house made of stones and pebbles, now whitewashed and containing many icons to the Blessed Virgin Mary. Hawthorn trees surrounding it contain a rich display of offerings. The water is cold and clear. It was traditional to visit this well on May Eve, to do the rounds and drop a white pebble near it. Rather pleasingly, an open air Mass is still held here on the 30th April, and the ground is littered with white pebbles.

Nearby sites:

Tobarin na Súl

St Bridget's Well

Location: 
Parking available at Lough Hyne, see fieldnotes for how to find the well
References: 
W092295
Fieldnotes: 

To find this well, park at the lake side, follow the road up the hill until it forks - take the left hand, walking on the edge of the forest. You first past Tobarin na Sul, silent and imposing and rag strewn, and then arrive at the Skour Well, snugly fitting into the hillside. The Skour well is well kept, almost a bit too prettified though I notice many of the folksy hand painted icons are slowly disappearing. A carpet of white pebbles surround it, a reminder of how many pilgrims have visited over the years. A rich array of offerings cluster on the ledges, many with a BVM theme. The bushes are similarly adorned with ribbons and rags, rosaries and shells.

A Mass is still held here on May Eve and in 2015 I visited, curious. A small altar covered in a white cloth, a sturdy wooden cross, a jovial priest and a large and crowd. Mass was said in English, but contained sections in Latin and Irish. The emphasis was on the beauty of nature and thanksgiving; prayers were said, hands clasped and above us clouds of midges swarmed and bit. Little children played patiently in the grass, older pilgrims rested on the walls, heads bowed, the smell of wild garlic, the crystal clear notes of the bell ringing out in the still evening air. Rather special.

St Bridget's Well, Liscannor, County Clare

Category: 
Holy well and place of pilgrimage

This extraordinary, vibrant and potent site is centred around a an ancient cemetery. Circular walks follow the Stations of the Cross, ending with the Rite of the Holy Well. The well lies at the end of a manmade tunnel,it's water is crystal clear. A white trout is said to live within, whoever seeing it being guaranteed to have desires recognised.  Dedicated to St Brigid, patroness of healing amongst other things, every inch of the wellhouse is festooned with prayers, offering, states, photographs , an incredibly intimate and poignant collection.

The site still attracts a steady stream of pilgrims and the curious. A sign tells you what is expected:

Introduction Go on your knees in front of the status of St Brigid and express your intention (e.g. you come to have your headache/arthritis healed). Then say:

Go mbeannaí íosa duit, a Bhrighid Naofa, Go mbeannaí Muire duit is go mbannaím Féin duit; Chugat a thána’ mé ag gearán mo scéil chugat Agus d’iarraidh cabhair in onóir Dé ort

Translation:

May Jesus salute you, O holy Brigid, may Mary salute you and may I salute you myself. It is to you I have come making my complaint and asking your help for the honour of God

  • Go on your knees and say 5 Our Fathers, 5 Hail Mary’s and 5 Gloria’s.
  • Stand and proceed to make a round of the Statue of St Brigid (sunwise/desiceal keeping the statue on your right)
  • Recite the creed while moving.
  • Do this 5 times.
  • Go on your knees at the Well.

San Ula Uachtarach (In the upper Sanctuary)

  • Go on your knees and say 5 Our Fathers, 5 Hail Mary’s and 5 Gloria’s.
  • Stand and make a sunwise circumambulation on the long path while reciting the Creed
  • Do this 5 times.

At the Cross

  • Make a circumambulation (sunwise/desiceal) of the Cross while saying once the Our Father, the Hail Mary and the Gloria.
  • Kiss the Cross.
  • Do this 5 times.

At the Well

  • Descend the steps to the Ula Iochtarach and go to the Well.
  • Drink the water 3 times.
  • Go on your knees and express your intention again.

Pattern days (days of devotion) are still held on:

St Brigid's Eve (31st January)

Garland Saturday and Sunday (last weekend in July)

The feast of the Assumption, 15th August.

The well has no doubt been revered for many centuries, possibly  beyond St Brigid to believers in the ancient, powerful and potent Celtic Goddess, also named Brigid.

 

Location: 
1 mile north of Liscannor, parking next to the pub
Fieldnotes: 

I don't think I've been anywhere quite like this - there is such a presence and feeling of continual worship and adoration. The small tunnel leading to the well is dark and womb like, lit by candles offered by visitors; the only noise dripping water. It is the sheer abundance and variety of offerings that is amazing - every inch of wall space is covered. There are photographs, prayers, a mass of statues, pleading letters, letters of thanks, newspaper cutting, hundreds of rosaries draped over necks of saints, a plastic cast for a leg, faded flowers, You feel in the presence of something very old, something very intimate, something very precious. I took so many photographs but it almost felt like an intrusion and very personal offerings have not been included here. Too many desperate stories, too many hopes, too many fears.

Lady's Well, Kealkil

Category: 
Holy well

This much venerated holy well can be found by passing through Kealkil cemetery and walking across the field. A stream runs the length of the field and the small well of clear water runs into it. A large and benevolent statue of Mary oversees the site which is beautifully kept, painted in blue and white. A jaunty stack of blue chairs are thoughtfully provided. Little niches containing statuary and offerings jostle attractively together. It has a wonderful feeling of peace and timelessness.

Townland: 
Lisheen: little fort
Location: 
The well is behind the cemetary, just outside Kealkil village and is clearly signed
References: 
329 551

Gortaneadin Grotto, Inchigeela

Category: 
Site of vision

This grotto, dedicated to Our Lady of Lourdes, was officially blessed on the 19th January 1969. It was built by a local family, the McCarthys, at the request of their daughter Mary. Mary suffered from ill health at a very early age. Aged 8, she was taken out by her mother for some fresh air. She asked her mother to stop at Gortaneadin, then a wild and overgrown spot, and told her the place should become a grotto. Shortly before she died, Mary asked her father to carry her to the same spot and described exactly where the statue of Our Lady and that of St Bernadette should be placed.  After her death in 1962, the family duly built the grotto exactly as Mary requested. It seems that Mary had been having visions since she was four years old.

The grotto has become a site of pilgrimage and hope for miraculous visions have been reported here, most notably throughout 1985 and 1986 when Our Lady was said to have spoken to several people, outlining her desire for the world . Today the grotto remains very much as it has always been, beautifully kept and freshly painted in blues and white. The small covered seating area is plastered with offerings,prayers and hopes.

Location: 
Two miles outside Inchigeela village, right on the side of the road, parking available
Fieldnotes: 

This is an extraordinary place, still much venerated. It has a peace and quietness, yet feels full of ghosts and watchfulness. There is something very poignant about the homespun shelter with the mismatch of chairs and cushions, the interior festooned with so many  hopes and fears.

Subscribe to Religious