All is well
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
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.