All is well

Irish Examiner - County - - Front page - Pet O’Con­nell

Two an­cient holy wells are now ac­ces­si­ble to the pub­lic once more thanks to the ef­forts of a com­mu­nity group.

Two an­cient holy wells which have lain over­grown for decades are now ac­ces­si­ble to the pub­lic once more thanks to the ef­forts of a com­mu­nity group.

Tobair Lach­taín, two basins just inches apart, are cut into a rock near the vil­lage of Réidh na n Doirí in Cork’s Múscraí Gaeltacht, their wa­ter re­puted to be a cure for eye ail­ments.

Though a pop­u­lar site of pil­grim­age and prayer within liv­ing mem­ory, the wells, ded­i­cated to the 6th cen­tury saint Lach­taín, had fallen into dis­use un­til re­cent ren­o­va­tion work un­der­taken by lo­cal devel­op­ment group, Coiste For­bartha Réidh na n Doirí.

A Mass said by parish priest Fr Dick Browne marked the re­open­ing of the holy wells last Sun­day and the site is now ac­ces­si­ble via a drive­way, with sign­post­ing erected on the L3402 Béal Átha ’n Ghaorthaidh road.

Though its pop­u­lar­ity had waned in re­cent years, Tobair Lach­taín was once a wellat­tended holy site where pilgrims did the ‘rounds’ in sim­i­lar custom to prayer rit­u­als ob­served nearby in Gougane Barra and Baile Mhúirne.

In ad­di­tion to their prox­im­ity to other pil­grim­age sites in Múscraí, the wells are sit­u­ated in the town­land of an ear­lier druidic site, the 20ft Clo­hina gal­lán, known as ‘The Fire Al­tar’. This great stone is be­lieved to have been used by an­cient druids for cer­e­mo­nial fires, in­clud­ing those at the fes­ti­vals of Beal­taine and Samhain.

It was close to this pre-Chris­tian site that St Lach­taín founded his church in the mid­dle of the 6th Cen­tury near the an­cient high­way the Bealach Fe­abhradh.

Ac­cord­ing to an ac­count of the area writ­ten by Clo­hina man Conor Mur­phy in the Cork His­tor­i­cal and Ar­chae­o­log­i­cal So­ci­ety jour­nal in 1895, the church or ‘cill’ built by Lach­taín gave the parish of Cill na Mar­tra its name. The word ‘mar­tra’ de­notes the saint’s re­mains or relics which were once pre­served there and were be­lieved to have heal­ing pow­ers, mak­ing the area a place of pil­grim­age.

A 12th cen­tury bronze and sil­ver reli­quary of St Lach­tain’s arm, the ‘Lámh Lach­taín’, pur­port­edly made to con­tain some of his bones, is now housed in the Na­tional Mu­seum in Dublin.

Lach­taín, born around 550 in Co Cork, is also ven­er­ated in Donough­more, in Clare, and in Kilkenny, where an­other To­bar Lach­taín still ex­ists, also re­puted to have heal­ing prop­er­ties for eye ail­ments. Lach­taín died in 622 and his feast day is cel­e­brated on March 19.

No trace of Lach­taín’s orig­i­nal church is now vis­i­ble, it hav­ing been plun­dered by the Danes, re­built and fi­nally aban­doned in the 16th cen­tury.

But among sev­eral fonts and re­mains as­so­ci­ated with the site, Tobair Lach­taín were de­scribed by Mur­phy as “prob­a­bly the most in­ter­est­ing ob­jects of the kind to be found in Ire­land, for we have yet to learn of the ex­is­tence of any oth­ers sim­i­lar to them in the coun­try”.

Not­ing that Lach­taín was “said to have been skilled in the stoneworker’s art”, he added that the wells were “hol­lowed or bored down into the solid rock”.

“They are most per­fectly round in shape, of equal size, and sim­i­lar in ev­ery re­spect, be­ing about 3ft deep by 18” in di­am­e­ter, with a di­vid­ing wall of 4” be­tween them.

“From an artis­tic point of view they are sim­ply mar­vels of perfection. So beau­ti­fully pol­ished is their fin­ish that not the least mark or im­pres­sion of the tools with which they were made is dis­cernible,” he wrote.

“A very sin­gu­lar thing in con­nec­tion with them is that while they have no vis­i­ble source of sup­ply or out­let, yet they keep filled with wa­ter all the year round, even in the dri­est sum­mer sea­son.”

Mur­phy made ref­er­ence to the wells’ lo­ca­tion hav­ing been lost un­til 1851, when a woman from Kerry is re­puted to have seen a vi­sion while vis­it­ing the area.

He con­tin­ued: “So ac­cu­rately did she de­scribe their lo­ca­tion that my fa­ther, John Mur­phy... went di­rectly to the very place and found them.” He de­scribed how the wells were cov­ered with rushes and filled with small round stones but said the site be­came a place of pil­grim­age again upon their re­dis­cov­ery.

A cross erected in the 1950s served to mark the site of the wells un­til the cur­rent round of works, which were aided by fund­ing from Air­tric­ity, Cork County Coun­cil, and wind en­ergy de­vel­oper Michael Mur­nane.

Ex­ten­sive lo­cal fundrais­ing also took place, while vol­un­teers gave their time for clean­ing and gar­den­ing work. The pro­ject would not have been pos­si­ble with­out the site and ac­cess be­ing given to the com­mu­nity by landown­ers John O’Con­nor and Colm O’Leary.

“While they have no vis­i­ble source of sup­ply or out­let, yet they keep filled with wa­ter all the year round

Pic­tures: Pet O’Con­nell

Mem­bers of Coiste For­bartha Réidh na nDoirí, Jerry Ó Lo­ingsigh, Breda Uí Thuama, Siob­hán Ní Lo­ingsigh, Seán Vaughan, and John Ó Lo­ingsigh.

The twin holy wells of Tobair Lach­taín in Clo­hina, near the vil­lage of Réidh na nDoirí.

The in­scrip­tion on the cross erected in 1950 at Tobair Lach­taín by Muin­tir na Tíre.

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