THE SECOND COMING

  • By info
  • 11 Dec, 2017

Ballycasheen Portal Tomb, Killinaboy.

“Sometimes one really does have to wonder why some monuments get signposted and some don't. Of the many spectacular tombs scattered around the Burren this has to be one of the worst!
It is terribly neglected and very overgrown. There is so little of the tomb to see, just a few slabs that were once the chamber”.
Description of Ballycasheen portal tomb by www.megalithomania.com in 2002
Ballycasheen tomb prior to scub removal. Pic courtesy of Mary Howard B.C.V.

INTRODUCTION

It is December 2017 and I train my binoculars through my kitchen window onto a field a couple of kilometres to the north. I can see for the first time Ballycasheen ( Baile Chaisín Caisin’s place) portal tomb. The monument had been covered with blackthorn and bramble for decades. However, all changed on the 25th of November this year when a team of volunteers under the expert guidance of prehistoric archaeologist Ros O’Maolduin cut away the scrub in and around the monument.

The volunteer team is the Burren Conservation Volunteers (B.C.V). B.C.V. were set up in 2010 by the Burrenbeo Trust to answer a need for active conservation in the region. The Trust itself is a landscape charity. The Ballycasheen day was a hugely successful exercise in monument management.

B.CV. thus returned Ballycasheen in part to its former glory. I say “in part” as unfortunately the tomb is in a collapsed state with the two capstones no longer sitting spectacularly on the lateral standing stones. As a result Ballycasheen does not enjoy the “drama” of the sharply-tilted roof of the only other portal tomb in the Burren, Poulnabrone. The father of Burren archaeology, T.J. Westropp, lyrically referred to Poulnabrone as being noteworthy for ”the airy poise of its great top slab”.

Reference
“Archaeology of the Burren. Prehistoric Forts and Dolmens in North Clare”. T.J. Westropp. Clasp Press. 1999.


MEGALITHIC TOMBS

There are 3 types of megalithic tomb associated with the Early Neolithic period in Ireland (6,000 to 5,000 years ago). They are passage, court and portal tombs. Pioneer farmers reached the Burren and Ireland about 6,000 years ago. They brought with them a new mortuary tradition – interring their special dead in big stone structures. These megaliths are also very loud statements of territory. Perhaps most importantly of all, they served as temples. The living frequented the structures in order to commune with the otherworld.
The last in the suite of megalithic tombs is the wedge tomb, dating to the Late Neolithic period (5.000 to 4,000 years ago).

Conservation volunteers in action. Pic courtesy of Mary Howard B.C.V.

LANDSCAPE

Poulnabrone may have been a tribal boundary at the most northerly point of the Burren in Neolithic
times.
The tomb is located on a limestone pavement plateau in the uplands. Carleton Jones argues that the location may have denoted a frontier point with Ballyvaughan valley and its virgin oak woods below to the north.

Two of the eight Early Neolithic tombs so far discovered in the Burren are located between the river Fergus and Roughan Hill. They are the Ballycasheen portal tomb and a court tomb which lies 250 metres south-east of it. So in its turn,  the Ballycasheen portal may well have been built at a critical southern entry point to the region - situated as it is between the river and the hill.
This gap between hill and river seems to have also been a sought-after location of buildings of the élite in later, historical times – witness the Early Medieval (431 to 1169 A.D.) monastic site of Kilnaboy ; the ring fort of Caher Mór which may also date largely from the Early Medieval period and the Medieval (late 12th century - early 16th century A.D.) Leamaneh Castle entrance.

Refrences
“The Burren and the Aran Islands Exploring The Archaeology” Carleton Jones. The Collins Press. 2004.
“Temples of Stone. Exploring the Megalithic Tombs of Ireland” Carleton Jones. The Heritage Council. 2007.


FARMING

The economic and political power of the Neolithic communities was derived from farming - the most radical ecological experiment known to mankind. The pioneer farmers in the Burren opted to exploit the limestone pavement/thin soil areas (mostly in the uplands) rather than the thick glacial deposits over limestone (largely in the valleys). They chose the former as the tree complex of hazel and Scots pine was easier to cut with their polished stone axes. (The valleys had a dense cover of oak wood). The megalithic tombs are thus concentrated in the prehistoric upland farming landscape.

The pressure on the upland landscape of slash-and-burn and farming was heightened 3,000 years ago with a change to a wetter and windier climate. The result was a dramatic loss of soil and the exposure of more pavement in the hills.

The rocky hills were no longer viable for all year round farming due to dearth of soil. Economic activity and human settlement switched to the valleys.as the oak was removed. The overwhelming concentration of Early Medieval (400 A.D. to 1100 A.D.) monastic sites in the Burren valleys would suggest that by this period at the latest, most of human settlement had moved from uplands to lowlands.

The limestone pavement areas are still farmed to an extent in winter. It a transhumance tradition of uncertain origin whereby some farmers transfer their stock from the valleys on to what is locally known as the “crag land”.
The tradition has been in decline over the last 50 years or so with the inevitable ecological succession of scrub. Scrub is an enemy of archaeology and that is why the BCV opted to remove it in Ballycasheen.



Poulnabrone portal tomb with one of two capstones still in place.

WHAT MAY LIE BENEATH

There are just less than 100 megalithic tombs recorded in the Burren and Poulnabrone is one of the few have been excavated. We can surmise to an extent from the Poulnabrone findings what may lie below the earth at the Ballycasheen portal.

It was Ann Lynch and a team of National Monument archaeologists who excavated in 1996-98. They found the remains of 33 individuals. Some of the remains were charred and some unburned. The team also found bones of wild and domestic animals as well as grave goods including stone and bone artefacts and a small polished stone axe.

Ann Lynch concluded from examination of the human bones that the interred had had short, physical and violent lives. The date range of the bones is about 600 years – 3800 B.C. to 3200 B.C. approximately – extremely selective burial of the dead.

Reference
Poulnabrone: An Early Neolithic Portal Tomb in Ireland”. Ann Lynch. Department of Arts, Heritage and the Gaeltacht. 2014.

The sign post at Ballycasheen

MYTHOLOGY and FOLKLORE

The Ballycasheen sign post on the road refers to the tomb in Gaelic as “Leaba”. There are still a small number of elderly people in the parish of Killinaboy who refer to certain megalithic tombs as “leabas”.

Diarmaid and Gráinne are two parts of a love triangle in a tale from the Fenian Cycle of Mythology. Many Stone Age tombs with flat roofs around Ireland were believed to be used as overnight refuges by the couple in order to hide from the pursuing warrior Fionn Mac Cumhaill. These monuments were known as Leaba Dhiarmada agus Ghráinne – Diarmaid and Gráinne’s bed.

W.G. Wood Martin points out that the monuments were also linked with “aphrodisiac customs”. Martin recounts Hely Dutton’s experience related to his search for the Ballycashen monument in 1808. Dutton was visiting the monument as part of his work for the publication “A Statistical Survey of County Clare” commissioned by the R.D.S.

When Dutton asked a couple of local women directions, they indulged in an animated chat together in Gaelic. The younger one eventually undertook to accompany Dutton to the tomb on the understanding that he was a stranger to the area (not local) and that he would give her his name.

Dutton became impatient and rode off. He subsequently told another local woman of his encounter and her comment was 'No wonder for them, for it was the custom that if she went with a stranger to Diarmaid and Gráinne's bed, she was certainly to grant him everything he asked.'

The “leabas” were also centres of fertility ritual. Wood Martin comments that “No doubt but that from Pagan times comes the widespread notion that these "beds" were efficacious in cases of barrenness. Hely Dutton remarked that if a woman were infertile, a visit with her husband to Diarmaid and Gráinne’s bed would cure her.

References
“A Statistical Survey of County Clare” Hely Dutton, 1808.
“Traces of the Elder Faiths of Ireland ; A Folklore Sketch ; A Handbook of Irish Pre-Christian Traditions” W. G. Wood-Martin, 1902.

Poulnabrone with displaced capstone lying on the ground

TOURISM

The original structures of Poulnabrone and Ballycasheen each had two capstones. The only capstone surviving on lateral stones now is the one at Poulnabrone.

This massive sloping capstone explains in part why Poulnabrone attracts up to 200,000 visitors per annum, (electronic counter on site). The antiquity of the monument and the accessibility of the site are the other main reasons why Poulnabrone is the most visited tourist site in the Burren. (The site is roadside on the R480, a major arterial route through the region).

From my own observations, I would find it hard to imagine Ballycasheen having any more than a couple of hundred visitors per annum. The monument’s tiny visitor numbers are explained in part by its location on a minor road ; its occlusion by scrub for decades ; its collapsed state and the displacement of its tilted roof.


EXCAVATION

Excavation of archaeological monuments in the Republic of Ireland can only be acted on with an excavation license. Under the National Monuments Acts, ownership of any archaeological object with no known owner is vested in the State. This means in effect that all archaeological findings must be transferred permanently to the National Museum of Ireland after examination. Thus, Poulnabrone is a funerary monument devoid of its dead - an empty tomb.

Only a minority of archaeological finds are actually exhibited in the National Museum’s public site in Kildare St in Dublin. The majority of objects are held in a facility in Swords, North County Dublin. The National Museum of Ireland – Central Resource Collection is in an industrial unit which was formerly the home of a Motorola electronics assembly plant.The 18,000 square metre building is the size of two football fields and houses several million archaeological objects.

There are no plans currently to excavate the Ballycasheen tomb. As only a small fraction of the region’s archaeological monuments has ever been excavated, the fate of our ancestors at Ballycasheen may be to rest in peace in their house of death.

Ballycasheen tomb after scrub removal.

CONCLUSION

Ballycasheen is one of only two portal tombs in the Burren. Moreover, it is one of the few Early Neolithic tombs which has been discovered in the region. It is a monument of real cultural significance in the Burren’s prehistoric landscape.

Ballycaseheen has had the good fortune to be “unveiled” again by conservationists. The second coming of the tomb means that a visit to the site is now a gem of a Burren experience. Its luck could hold out as it will never be overwhelmed by visitors and may also elude the excavators.

The turning of the year was an occasion of real spiritual significance to prehistoric farming communities. It marked the start of the journey from darkness in to light. The Ballycasheen site is a very soulful place to be on a sunny mid-winter’s day. Enjoy the holidays and the turning of the year.

BLOG

By info 23 Jan, 2018
I led a Dutch group on a wild flower walk in the summer of 2016.  The walk took place in Ballyryan on the coast in the south west of the Burren. Ballryan is a botanical paradise located in an extensive area of limestone pavement and thin soils . Huge numbers of visitors stop at Ballryan everyday in high season to take in the dramatic views of the Burren,  Galway Bay, the Aran Islands and Connemara. 

Our last stop on the walk was a wedge tomb. Wedge tombs date from the Late Stone Age in Ireland,  5,000 to 4,000 years ago. The wedge tomb is in fact the last in the sequence of megalithic tombs from the Stone Age period in Ireland (6,000 to 4,000 years ago). Wedge tombs are so called because they are funnel-shaped - one end wider than the other.

I was holding forth on the historical context of the tomb when a birder in the company drew our attention to a nest in the tomb. There were two eggs in the nest at the time. The gentleman was able to identify the bird as the meadow pipit from its eggs. The pipit's eggs are pale creamy-grey with fine brown speckles.
Meadow pipits are common and widespread birds in Ireland. They are called pipits as their call note is a "pipit" sound.  "Meadow" is explained by the fact that they are ground nesting birds - favouring habitats like bogs, uplands, scrub and pasture.  Pipits are quite small - only about 14 centimetres in length. Pipits are mainly brown above and buff in colour below.

The nest at Ballryan was in fact located in pasture. Cattle graze in the area in winter only. (They graze in the Burren's fertile valleys in summer). Pipits like to nest in low-intensity agricultural landscapes like this one. They feed on insects and invertebrates. Ballyryan is not only rich and varied in wild flowers species but also in insect and invertebrate types due to the "sympathetic "farming model.
By info 11 Dec, 2017
“Sometimes one really does have to wonder why some monuments get signposted and some don't. Of the many spectacular tombs scattered around the Burren this has to be one of the worst!
It is terribly neglected and very overgrown. There is so little of the tomb to see, just a few slabs that were once the chamber”.
Description of Ballycasheen portal tomb by www.megalithomania.com in 2002
By info 30 Nov, 2017

Start/finish: Gortlecka Cross Roads, Burren National Park, Kilnaboy.

Description: Way marked trail with orange arrows suitable for most levels of fitness. Highlights include a turlough, mature ash/hazel woodland, flower-rich grasslands and some fine views of the National Park's iconic hill, Mullaghmore.

Distance 1.3 km (0.8 mile) .

Map: The Burren - a two inch map of the uplands of north-west Clare.   Folding Landscapes. Scale 1:31680 or Discovery Series Map No 51. Ordnance Survey of Ireland. 1:50 000

The first two fields you walk through are very rich and diverse in wildflower species and are defined as flower-rich grasslands. Horses and ponies graze in the fields in winter thus preventing the encroachment of the surrounding hazel woodland. The horses and ponies are an uncommon sight in the hills in winter as it is primarily cattle which are transferred to altitude from November to April each year. Hay may be saved on occasion in these meadows but only after the flowers have gone to seed. The fly orchid ( Ophrys insectifera ) and the bee orchid ( Ophrys apifera ) are two of the most spectacular flowers here in summer with their remarkable exercises in insect mimicry.

By info 07 Nov, 2017
THE HIKE
By info 30 Oct, 2017

"The most social place of all was the crossroads here outside the Killinaboy (1) post office. There was a huge tree and it was under that big tree people used to meet on a summer evening and we’d play pitch-and-toss (2) and the older people would be talking about farming and local topics or who was getting married, who was born or who was dying. I was only in my teenage years then”. These are the words of the late Vincent Lahiffe. Vincent was a native Killinaboy with a great fondness for remembrance of things past.

The tree at the crossroads has long since been cut down and most of the pitchers and tossers have passed away. Moreover, the other great social hub at the cross, the post office (P.O.), is no more either. It was closed down in 2002.

The Kilnaboy P.O. closure is part of a bigger picture of the long, slow death of the rural post office. 310 post offices were closed in the period 2005 -2014. According to an Irish Postmasters’ Union statement this autumn, the government plans to soon close another 400 of the 1,100 post offices still trading.
The decimation of the network is taking place despite the fact that even our political masters accept that the post office is a key national resource – a very valuable social space as well as a centre of commerce.

With the demise in 2002 of the post office as a commercial and civic space, Killinaboy cross was largely reduced to a junction for passing cars. That was until local artist Deirdre O’Mahony reopened the post office as a community and arts space in 2007. She cleverly christened the “new” space X-PO.

Deirdre also set about archiving as much information as possible about the former postmaster John Martin “Mattie” Rynne. The post office was Rynne’s working and living space but the world was his oyster. At night he would listen to short wave radio and teach himself languages. By all accounts he was a private, sensitive man with a great thirst for knowledge about the big world.

Deirdre made a large wall-drawing of Mattie above the stove in the living room. It was in fact soot from the stove which was used in the drawing of the portrait. Locals say the drawing bears a remarkable likeness to the man himself. Mattie is now a giant at the shoulder of all who walk into his former home.


By info 27 Oct, 2017

LIMERICK, DUBLIN and BOLOGNA

I was born in Limerick city a few decades ago. I am quite proud of my birth place. My full name is Anthony Gerard Martin John Kirby. My father was extravagant when it came to naming me. His own name was Alf and I remember him being described as a “charismatic insurance salesman” in a book on the life of actor Richard Harris. My father passed away in 1977. My mother did likewise two and a half years ago at the age of 99 .

I studied French and English literature in University College Dublin in the late 1970s. I graduated without distinction but the education did give me an enduring love for words and languages. Whilst in college I happened to sit a civil service exam. I remember meeting the comic genius, the late Dermot Morgan, in the exam hall that day. He was a good friend of my cousin. I got the call to work for the state after I left college. I became a public servant. Morgan didn’t. Sometime later he became Father Ted in the eponymous and wildly successful TV comedy series.

Thankfully my public service did not stretch to licking envelopes or asking people their mothers’ maiden name . However, the job did not enthral me either.  I finally invoked an escape clause and made good for Italy. A five year long sabbatical. I taught English as a foreign language in the medieval city of Bologna. I also spent one sublime summer in the city of Matera – a world UNESCO heritage site. Five years is the career break limit so I opted for the Irish public service again when the sabbatical expired. I returned to Dublin in 1997. I still miss Italia .


By info 20 Sep, 2017
INTRODUCTION

It was Peter Curtin, the extravagant Lisdoonvarna publican, who first drew my attention to a curious looking mound in the townland of Oughtdara in the south-west of the Burren.  The landmark is about 1.5 km east of the coastline at Ballyryan.

Peter is the founder of the Burren Tolkien Society and the annual Burren Tolkien Festival. He maintains that J.R.R. Tolkien's masterpiece The Lord of the Rings may have been inspired in part by the Burren landscape. Peter reasonably considers Cruach An tSláin to be a Tolkienesque-like feature in the landscape.
By info 05 Apr, 2017

This 9km loop begins in Carran — the only village in the Burren hills. The cultural highlight of the walk is Temple Cronan, a remarkable Early Christian monastic site set in a green valley, in stark contrast to the bare limestone massif of Termon you ascend afterwards.

Even though the peak is a mere 243 metres, it is never inundated with walkers. You may even have Termon’s generous plateau to yourself. Termon, coming from the Gaelic tearmann (sanctuary), is true to its name!

The views are lavish — to the south is Slieve Callan in mid-Clare; east is the wild, boggy terrain of Slieve Aughty; west is the dissident shale uplands of Slieve Elva in the heart of the Burren limestones. Most exhilarating of all are the views north — beyond Clare, into Galway Bay and chunks of Connemara.

Trek during the blooming season in May and June, and you’ll find patches of soil occupied by wild flowers with origins in different corners of the world. The most northerly point of the Termon plateau affords a stunning vista, too: a football stadium-sized depression known as the Glen of Clab. It’s a “darkly picturesque glen”, as described by the Irish antiquarian Westropp.

On the home stretch, there’s another sacred site — an eye-well dedicated to St Fachtna with a very impressive suite of dry stone penitential stations. It’s a vivid testimony to Ireland’s rich pilgrim past.

The Termon hill accounts for 5km of the 9km walk. So just over half of the walk features the region’s renowned craggy terrain. However, the biggest challenge in this rocky landscape may be the trees! Hazel is steadily advancing across some Burren hills due to the decline of the out-wintering of cattle. The hazel tends to obscure the way markers… so detective work may be required!

Level:   Hard.

Length/time: 9km; 3–4 hours.

Start/finish point:   Park at Cassidy’s Pub in Carran — the trailhead is here. 

Nourishment : Cassidy’s pub is open 7 days a week from April 15th 2017 and is home to good food. The café in the nearby Burren Perfumery is another excellent eatery.

*This blog first appeared in the Irish Independent on 1st April 2017 as 1 of 7 walks in the article entitled “7 Amazing Walks in Ireland: Fresh air for every fitness level.”

 

 

 

By info 27 Feb, 2017
THE SAINT

Iníon Baoith is a localised female saint whose cult is mostly found in mid-Clare. The eminent local historian, Michael Mc Mahon, has identified at least 17 holy wells, with a mid-Clare geographical bias), dedicated to Iníon Baoith in the Ordnance Survey name books from the 1840s. The wells are located at Killinaboy, Kilnamona, Glensleade, Kilshanny, Kilmanaheen, Inchicronan (Crusheen), Doora, Quin, Kiltcaky More and Quakerstown. (Mc Mahon ; 2013).

KIltacky More and Quakerstown are townlands on the border between Counties Clare and Galway. Both wells are now known locally as St Colman Mac Duagh wells despite the official Iníon Baoith dedications. This would suggest that at some stage the Iníon Baoith cult weakened as it neared the border with south-east Galway.

Killinaboy parish is home to highest number of Iníon Baoith holy wells (4). Other Iníon Baoith dedications in the parish include the medieval church, Suíochán Iníon Bhaoith (a stone seat with healing powers) and the Tau cross (formerly known as the cross of Iníon Baoith). The plethora of dedications would suggest that the cult of the saint was strongest in Kilinaboy parish area. All of the Iníon Baoith sites were the focus of ritual in the past.

Saint Iníon Baoith's origins are most unchristian as her cult seems to have migrated from the south Limerick/North Cork area with a 1st millenium A.D. tribe.
It is interesting that a couple of of Inion Baoith dedications do in fact survive in the south Limerick/north Cork region.
The Cork dedication can be found at a holy well in Dromtarriff, a few kilometres south of Banteer. The Limerick evidence of the Inion Baoith cult can be found in the Glenmore in the parish of Killeedy as Glenmore's former name was Killinewee.  (Killinewee is an anglicisation of the the Gaelic Cill Iníon Baoith, the Church of Iníon Baoith). (O'Riain ; 2011). 

Christianity arrived in Ireland in the 5th century. At some stage during this religious revolution, the pagan idol of Iníon Baoith was re-invented as a Christian saint in a process known as syncretism....a process whereby some pagan custom and idols were incorporated into Christianity. This pragmatic approach by the Christians ensured that their revolution was not only successful but peaceful also.

There are over 1000 entries in Pádraig O Riain's de profundis "A Dictionary of Irish Saints". Female saints are very much in the minority in the publication which spans the Early Medieval period (c.400 to late 12th century A.D.) in Ireland. Saintesses of greater renown than Iníon Baoith include St Brigid of Kildare, St Ita of Killeedy County Limerick and St Gobnait of Ballyvourney Co Cork. This "triumvirate" are credited with founding nunneries. (Condit and Cooney ; 2007). It is also  indeed highly plausible that there was a nunnery dedicated to Iníon Baoith at the Killinaboy monastic site.

Iníon Baoith's cult waned significantly in the 19th century. Visitation of her cult sites in the parish declined. The practice of christening girls with the name Innerwee also faded in the 1800s. (Curry ; 1839).
Moreover, both the 19th and 20th century churches in the parish have eschewed the Iníon Baoith dedication.

Bibliography - 
The Parish of Corofin A Historical Profile by Michael Mc Mahon. Michael Mc Mahon (2013).
A Dictionary of Irish Saints by Pádraig O'Riain. Four Courts Press. (2011).
The Other Monasticism by Tom Condit and Gabriel Cooney. Archaeology Ireland Heritage Guide No. 38. Wordwell Books. (2007).
The Antiquities of County Clare. Ordnance Survey Letters 1839 by John O'Donovanand Eugene Curry. Clasp Press. (1997).

LANDSCAPE CONTEXT

The Early Medieval monastic site of Iníon Baoith consisted of 811 plantation acres. (The Irish acre or plantation acre is a measurement in disuse now. It approximates to 1.62 statute acres or 0.66 hectares). The monastery tenants also had access to another 900 acres of 'rocky pasture' for their common use. This approximates to what we know today as the townlands of Commons North & Commons South, though some small portions of other townlands were also included. Of the Commons, only about 40 acres were considered profitable. (Mc Mahon ; 2017).

Thus Tobar Iníon Baoith, which is located on the rocky pasture of Commons South, is situated within the monastic termon of Iníon Baoith. Moreover, there are two other holy wells in Commons South within the termon. They are the second well named after the saint, Tobar Iníon Baoith, and also Tobar Bhaighdeán.

Holy wells are often located near the ruins of medieval churches (or on the sides of hills or mountains or by the seashore) (O’Sullivan and Downey ; 2006).

Bibliography -

Know Your Monuments Holy Wells  by Muiris O'Sullivan and Liam Downey. Archaeology Ireland. (Spring 2006).

Buiochas le.../Thanks to...

Michael Mc Mahon for the information on the area of the Early Medieval monastic site of Iníon Baoith.

THE WELL HOUSE


The house is an elliptically-shaped dry stone construction enclosing the well. It is 2.8 m long and measures 2.5 m at its widest point. Access to the well is by an aperture in the house which is 0.45 m wide. 
The house is single stone-width (0.45 m approx) except for the rear wall which has a depth of up to 1.3m of stone. The altar is flat piece of stone (0.4m by 0.2m) which is known locally as "the flag". The flag is inserted in to the interior of the rear wall. It overhangs the well at a height of 0.29 m above the ground.
The flag serves to denote the sanctity of the space but also acts a repository for devotees' offerings.
There is a small depression in the pavement under the flag and just behind the well water.
This naturally occurring feature has been re-invented by devotees as another point of deposition of the offerings or "devotionalia".

THE OFFERINGS

Site visited 7th February 2017.

There were a medallion and 4 religious figurines on the altar.The following offerings were recorded in the small depression in the pavement behind the well - approximately 90 coins in the new currency.

Two small pieces of limestone. 2 other small stones – one red in colour, the other grey.
These latter stones are from geological areas other than the Burren and were deposited as offerings probably because of their exotic look.
Two secular tokens - a plastic bottle top and an ear ring.
The following religious tokens - the Madonna in a grotto ; a wooden crucifix ; 2 metal crucifixes ; 6 religious medals ; a headless figure of Mary ; a photo of the holy family Jesus, Mary and Joseph.

There were 20 coins clustered on the ground a few centimetres from the well.

Finally, one small piece of granite was recorded in the interior wall of the well house.

THE HYDROLOGY OF THE WELL


The well is a natural solutional hollow in the limestone. There are many similar features in the surrounding pavement.
The hollow is fed by rainwater draining from the surrounding pavement at shallow depth (920-30cm). This is known as epikarst drainage and it is quite common in the Burren karst.
The water drains horizontally and fills the hollow up to a depth of 15cm before overflowing. Thus there is a mini-pool just below the surface with no outlet. Even with no inflow in dry weather, the water would take a month or two to evaporate altogether. As it never goes that long without rain in the region, the mini-pool never dries up.

Killinaboy parish is mostly agricultural and that is why floods and even droughts are keenly noticed as they both have a negative impact upon the pasture. The stability of the water supply in the well was a source of local fascination in the past and is still the subject of some comment today. 

"And no matter how dry the weather is or how wet, the well would not get bigger or smaller" (Teller John Costelloe, Coad ; collector Joseph Costello 1937/38).
 
"It never increases or decreases after the biggest flow or the greatest drought" (Teller George Pilkington, Leamaneh ; collector Seán Pilkington ; 1937/38).

THE PERSONALITY OF THE WELL

There are a number of similar solutions in the surrounding area which begs the question as to why the water from this particular hollow was ordained to be "blessed".

The answer lies in part in the fact that the hollow "is in the shape of a  human eye" (Seán Pilkington ; 1937/38).
Holy wells, known to cure for eye ailments, may on occasion resemble an eye (Janet Bord ; 2006).
Another example in the region of an eye-shaped holy well is St Colmcille's at Crumlin in Fanore. The well consists of two solutional hollows resembling a pair of eyes and St Colmcille's  is also renowned for eye cures. The natural likeness of the well to an eye helps to endorse it as a supernatural antidote to eye ailments.

Moreover, David Drew points out another peculiarity about the well - Even with no inflow in dry weather the water would take a month or two to evaporate dry. As it never goes that long in County Clare without rain, the well never dries up.
This characteristic was the subject of comment and wonder locally in the past (John Costelloe and Seán Pilkington ; 1937/38) and still is to a limited extent today.

 "And no matter how dry the weather is or how wet, the well would not get bigger or smaller" (Teller John Costelloe, Coad ; collector Joseph Costello 1937/38).
 
"It never increases or decreases after the biggest flow or the greatest drought" (Teller George Pilkington, Leamaneh ; collector Seán Pilkington ; 1937/38).

Thus the constancy of the water also helps explain why the well is the subject of veneration.

Finally, another peculiar trait ascribed to Tobar Inion Baoith was that its water could not be boiled (John Costelloe ; 1937/38). We are obviously in the realm of folk belief here rather than science. This non-boiling belief was common regarding the water of many holy wells and served to distinguish the blessed (abnormal) water from the secular and prosaic domestic water. The latter would always behave "normally" when one tried to boil it.

THE CURE

The well water is known to cure two ailments - warts and sore eyes (Mrs Hawes, Kilnaboy ; 1937/38).  Most holy wells are known to cure just one affliction. However, 4 of the 9 holy wells in Kilnaboy were renowned for both eye and wart cures. The other two "twin cure" wells are Tobar Bhaighdeán in Commons South also, Bullán Phádraig in Poulnalour and St Anthony's in Caherblonick (no longer extant).

A wart is an infection to a top layer of skin which causes the growth of cells. This growth of cells creates the wart. The portal for the infection is often cut skin. Good hygiene helps to  stop warts developing in the first place. When contracted, the warts can be counteracted by tending to the cut skin. 

However, life in rural Ireland in recent centuries featured tough manual labour and poor hygiene conditions for the huge numbers of destitute. Poor people were often dirty and were unable to heat water in the 18th and 19th centuries (Liz Curtis ; 1994).

The fact that 4 of the 9 wells in the parish were renowned for curing warts, (as well as eye ailments), would suggest that warts were a widespread affliction in the past.

There is one other Inion Baoith well in North Clare formerly resorted to for the wart cure. It is known as Toberinneenboy (an anglicisation of Tobar Iníon Baoith). The well is located in Glensleade in Kilcorney parish north-east of Kilnaboy.

The writer and map maker Tim Robinson shared an amusing story with me related to this latter well. During the course of Robinson's field work in the Glenseade townland for his 1999 Burren map, a local elder told him of an incident at the well when he was young - two local boys robbed some of the coins which had been left as offerings at Toberineenboy. The next day the lads were both afflicted with warts. 
It would appear that not only were devotees obliged to leave an offering as part of the well ritual, but also on no account should anyone remove the offerings of devotees.

Though wart wells were numerous, the most widespread holy well type was the eye-well.
All 9 holy wells in Killinaboy were resorted to for cures for eye ailments. Moreover, a very disproportionate number of holy wells in the national context in Ireland are  eye-wells. The international situation seems to mirror that of Ireland.
The treatment of eye ailments seems to be the most recorded attribute of holy wells (Varner ; 2009).

Gary Varner ascribes the eye-well predominance to Vitmain A deficiency in the diet of the "commoners". The deficiency causes xeropthalmia or dry eyes. If the condition is left untreated, it causes ulceration and ultimately blindness. A poor diet (or lack of dietary diversity) was certainly the lot of the rural poor in pre-Great Famine Ireland surviving as they did on a diet of potatoes and a liquid accompaniment. The potato had been introduced into Ireland in the 16th century. However, it began to play a dominant role in the diet before the end of the 17th century. The rural poor accounted for more than 80% of County Clare's population at the start of the 1840s - the decade of the Great Famine. (Mc Mahon : 2010).

The housing conditions of the rural poor in Ireland were very unhealthy prior to the Famine. According to the 1841 Census, over 85% of the houses in the Burren parishes were fourth-class, defined as single-roomed mud dwellings. (Smyth ; 2012). A minority of these houses had chimneys and fewer still had effective chimneys .  The smoky interior was a cause of eyesight deterioration and also helps explain why there is such a dense concentration of eye-wells in the countryside.

The terror induced by the thought of failing eye sight or blindness may also explain why eye-wells comfortably outnumber wells renowned for such as back, tooth and wart cures. The demand was reflected in the supply.

Finally, apart from "aquatherapy", a number of other types of unofficial medicine, including herbalism, were resorted to in the past by the rural poor in order to treat ailments. For example eyebright has been recorded in Killinaboy as a plant resorted to by some in order to treat eye maladies. "A herb called eye bright can cure sore eyes by rubbing it to the eye three times." (Teller - Mícheál O Cuinn, Coad ; Collector - Áine Ní Chuinn, Coad ; 1937/38).

Bibliography - 
The Cause of Ireland by Liz Curtis. Beyond the Pale Publications. (1994).
Sacred Wells A Study in the History, Meaning, and Mythology of Holy Wells and Waters by Gary R. Varner. Algora Publishing. (2009).
The Rural Poor in Clare before the Great Famine by Anne Mc Mahon. From The Other Clare. (2010).
Atlas of the Great Irish Famine . Edited by John Crowley, William J. Smyth and Mike Murphy. Cork University Press. (2012)
Wiilim J. Smyth p.187.
The Schools' Collection (National Folklore Collection of Ireland ; 1937/38).

THE RITUAL

In order to get the cure, the well must be visited on two Mondays and a Thursday (Mrs Hawes Kilnaboy ; 1937/38).

As at all holy wells, prayers are recited as the devotee walks around the monument in a sun-wise fashion, known in Gaelic as deiseal. If one wishes to invoke a malediction against somebody, one prays and walks in an anti-clockwise fashion (tuathail). In the case of Tobar Iníon Baoith, the prayers invoked are one Our Father and three Hail Marys (Mrs Hawes, Kilnaboy ; 1937/38).

On completing the rounds, the devotee must leave a blessed offering (Mrs Hawes, Kilnaboy ; 1937/38).

Finally, the well water at Tobar Iníon Baoith must be rubbed "to the eye or the wart" (Mrs Hawes ; 1937/38). At other sites, the custom is that the water must be drunk....and in more cases again, the water is also carried away largely for the benefit of devotees who are unable to reach the site. Question 10 of National Folklore Collection questionnaire is quite instructive in this regard as it asks "is the water applied to the afflicted part? Is it drunk? Is it also carried away?"

In the case of Tobar Mogua in Noughaval (eye cure), water was drawn from the well on occasion up to the 1960s and conveyed to Australia to exiled Noughaval parishioners so that they could access the magic drop. (Source - local elder).

LIST OF the 9 HOLY WELLS IN the PARISH OF KILLINABOY and THEIR CURES

Tobar Iníon Baoith, Commons South. Eyes and warts.
Tobar Bhaighdeáin (The Maiden’s Well), Commons South. Eyes and warts.
Bullán Phádraig (St Patrick’s Well), Poulnalour. Eyes and warts.
St Anthony’s, Caherblonick (no longer extant). Eyes and warts.
 
Tobar Inion Baoith, Anneville. Eyes.
Tobar Iníon Baoith, Ballard. Eyes.
Tobar Iníon Baoith, Commons South. Eyes.

Tobar Mháirtín (St Martin’s Well), Leamaneh. Eyes.
Tobar Duibh (The Black Well), Caherfadda. Eyes and swollen limbs.
 



By info 06 Jan, 2017

An image from a grocer’s store on the Sheep’s Head peninsula in the south west of Ireland on the morning of the 3rd of January 2017. The store is in the village of Kilcrohane, the most westerly village on the peninsula (there are two other villages – Ahakista and Durrus, the latter the most easterly).

O Mahony’s is a store, coffee shop, post office and wine bar (wine bar open in high season). The owner is the ultra-genial Frank O’Mahony and his stamp (excuse the pun) is all over the premises. The place is crammed with knick-knacks and memorabilia and even the ceiling is maximised to reflect some of Frank’s passions. Stand-outs for me were the L.P. covers (including a Richard Clayderman!) and the Donald Trump shrine called The World According to Donald. The coffee is excellent. O’Mahony’s is arguably one of the most idiosyncratic shops/P.O.s in Ireland.

We spent a post-Christmas week on Sheep’s Head - one of 5 Old Red Sandstone peninsulas in south-west Ireland defiantly jutting out into the Atlantic. Mizen is the most southerly peninsula and above Sheep’s Head there is Beara, Iveragh (a.k.a. Ring of Kerry) and the Dingle. The latter two are the most trafficked whereas the first three mentioned remain largely unspoiled.

Sheep’s Head is a very narrow peninsula at only 4 kilometres wide…whilst it is 21 kilometres long.
The highest point of the region is Seefin (348m). The peninsula is characterised by a rugged, mountainous spine with the better land of glacial tills (and inhabitants) more concentrated towards sea level.

The region is a magnet for walkers who are attracted by the excellently way marked Sheep’s Head Way. The Way is 175 kilometres long and boasts 20 looped walks.

We hiked about 40 kilometres with the kids during the week. It was a very rich experience as the Way features the most lavish scenery……mountains, bog, lakes and ocean. We were often entranced as we walked by the vista of two bays – Bantry to the north and Dunmanus to the south. On occasion we could view sections of four of the five peninsulas i.e. all except Dingle. One of the many highlights for us was dolphin watching from the light house at the most westerly point of the peninsula.

Cork city and airport are a 1 hour 20 minute drive to Kilcrohane and the remoteness explains in part why Sheep’s Head remains a secret of Ireland’s Atlantic landscape. Moreover, there is not one sandy beach on the peninsula and hence the relatively small number of family groups which holiday here in high season. (I am told however that the Kilcrohane pier is a popular swimming spot in summer).

Apart from Frank’s emporium, Kilcrohane is home to a very cosy pub, Eileen’s. The only tin-roofed pub in Ireland is in the nearby village of Ahakista. Its beer garden sweeps down to the sea. Friendly and family-run by the Whooleys, the Tin Pub is hard to beat. Arundel’s is the other pub in Ahakista and it is located on the pier. A beer, coffee or chowder here al fresco as the sun declines is a peak experience as they say in the U.S.

We did miss out on some coffee shops with strong reputations as they were closed during our winter stay –  Bernie’s Cupán Tae is in Tooreen in the far west of the peninsula ; The White House Gallery and Coffee Shop is a kilometre west of Kilcrohane and The Heron Gallery Café is just outside Ahakista.

A final, honourable mention of the people of this part of peninsular Cork – uber-friendly and most willing to stop time to strike up a conversation. If you are looking for a bit of Nirvana far from the venal roar – Sheep’s Head is the place for you.

Ath bhliain faoi mhaise duit – Happy 2017.

WALKING BOOK and MAP

Ordnance Survey Ireland Discovery Series. Map Number 88.

Walking the Sheep’s Head Way
2nd edition Main Trail and 17 Loop Walks by Amanda Clarke. Wildways Press.
2nd edition published 2015.

SHEEP’S HEAD BOOKS

The Story of Kilcrohane by Frank O’Mahony.
First published by Frank O’Mahony 2000.
A history of the parish of Kilcrohane by the uncle of current Kilcrohane grocer Frank O’Mahony.

Jack’s World by Seán Sheehan.
Cork University Press 2007.
The story of the life of a Sheep’s Head farmer, Jack Sheehan, as recorded by his nephew Seán.
A record also of the place names of the fields on Jack’s farm and the 20th century changes to the landscape of the peninsula.

 

 

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