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Religious sites

There is a huge variety of interesting, and sometimes little visited, religious sites on the peninsula (and beyond!) These range from early Christian remains such as churches and crosses, to reminders of the Penal Times when Catholics had to worship in secret and illegally. Some of the sites, such as the holy wells, no doubt existed  pre the Christian period but were later taken over and incorporated into the 'new' religion. others, such as the cilleens, refer back to times when the Catholic church was less tolerant and embracing.  Older sites, that may well have had a religious significance, are to be found in the Prehistory section of this website. Some of the sites mentioned here, such as the Kilnaruane stone, are of national importance; others such as the holy wells are still cherished locally.

Cilleens & burial grounds

From the Medieval period onwards it was common practice to bury unbaptised infants and stillborn babies in specially designated but unconsecrated ground. These places, usually called cilleen, were often in isolated places. Many are marked on the OS maps but are very difficult to find. Others have been restored but remain a harsh reminder of an unforgiving time when the unbaptised were not considered to be proper members of the church or community.

Cilleen, Ahagouna
Cilleen
Derrgelavawe Burial Ground
Dunbeacon burial ground
Rosskerrig Burial Ground
Caher Cillen
Religious sites
Pieta, Sheep's Head Peninsula
Marian statue
St Crochan's Bed
Possible remains of earliest settlement founded by St Crochan
Holy wells

Most holy wells had their origins in pre Christian era, water having always been magical and significant to the early Celts. Most wells are natural springs emerging seemingly mysteriously from underground. Some have had special well houses built around them, others are very simple and unadorned. Many are associated with healing - sometimes generally or in other cases for a specific part of the body (eyes) or a specific aliment (headaches). Many are associated with a saint - Bridget, Mary, Brendan - and all would once have had a pilgrimage to it - a pattern - usually on the feast day of the patron saint. Many holy wells have disappeared or been forgotten about but some are still revered and visited. They will often be found near a church or monastery, or a ringfort, though some appear to be in the middle of nowhere. More than 350 have been identified in County Cork.

Maulinward holy well
Tober na nduanairidhe,Dromnea
Our Lady's Well, Beach
Toberanorane, Caher
Holy well
Blessed Well,Gouladoo
Mass rocks

Severe Penal Laws were passed in 1695 severely restricting the rights of Catholics to worship. Mass had to be held secretly and illegally, and a remote, well hidden spot was often chosen as a makeshift and open air church. Natural rocks were  chosen as altars and Mass was advertised by word of mouth. The congregation met in the open air, at risk not only to itself but more especially to the priest conducting Mass. By the 1750s, thatched Mass houses had become more common and in 1829 the Catholic Emancipation Act restored to Catholics the right to worship freely.

Mass rock, Beach
Mass rock, Glanalin
Pillar stones

Tall, narrow stones usually found in an eccesiastical context. They date from the Medieval period, 400-1400AD.

Kilnaruane stone
Ogham stones

Ogham is an early form of  writing, named after the Celtic god Oigmiu who is credited with having invented writing. it is based on the Latin alphabet but each letter is made up of straight lines, arranged above, below or across a baseline. There can be up to 5 strokes in each letter. Ogham is usually read from the bottom up.

Ogham stones are often located near ringforts and may denote boundary markers. They can also mark burials sites.

Ogham stone, Maulinward