I had previously commented on the deteriorating state of Lady’s Well in Cork city. Thanks to works by Cork City Council* the site has been cleaned up and new structures have been put in place around the well. The necessity for grids over the well may be seen as unfortunate, but will not impinge on the well excessively as does not seem to be used for religious-spiritual reasons. These additions will ensure the preservation of the site and perhaps a revival of devotional activity in the future?
*I had raised the matter with one of my local representatives, Kiernan McCarthy (corkheritage.ie), who has done significant work in promoting Cork’s heritage.
Last week Vickie Langan (artist, soundy person and all round lady) and I visited two holy wells, The City, near Rathmore, Kerry and Tubrid, Millstreet, Cork. Below are a number of photos, videos and audio recordings, punctuated with text, that came out of the excursion. I also have a post on Researching with your Smartphone, based on our previous excursion.
This photo of the well, which was posted while we were on site, shows the cement structure along with a cup and glass. Unlike many other wells, the one at the City is not adorned with many votive offerings or extra materials. Like the site itself, it has a certain rawness. On a wind swept Tuesday in February, with the threat of serious rain, we had the places to ourselves.
Using the Soundcloud App on my phone, I took several recordings of the cup in the water, you can hear me lifting it, submerging it, pouring out some water and replacing it. This simple activity is central to these wells.
Vicky with her hydrophone, a superb piece of equipment for working with wells.
The altar at Tubrid holy well, on the Rathmore side of Millstreet. The altar is sheltered by a structure with offerings, signs and memorial cards throughout.
This short video of the candles on the altar indicate the recent visits by numerous people that day. Each one serving as an elemental remnant of a believer’s intentions and memories.
The site is very well maintained, as is demonstrated by this rack made especially to hold the cups used to drink the water and the other structures. It is at this point, where the water bubbling up in the well flows out, that people collect and drink the water.
Another recording using the SoundCloud App, of the water flowing.
One of the most distinct aspects of Christmas in Cork is the presence of SHARE collectors throughout the city centre in the week leading up to Christmas Day (which, obviously from my point of view, creates unique geographies). SHARE (Students Harness Aid for the Relief of the Elderly) is a Cork-based charity which supports older people through housing, socialising and activities. It is a most excellent organisation that does a massive amount of work throughout the year. Also, it involves a special connection between older people and students in the city.
The annual Christmas collection is one of the charity’s main fundraising initiatives. It is run by young volunteers, mainly 16 and 17 year olds from secondary schools across Cork city, with a core group organising the project since September and hundreds of volunteers who give up their time to collect during the hectic days of Christmas shopping.
The SHARE Crib acts as a focal point for the week’s activities.
The presence of collectors across the city centre, with their distinctive yellow jackets and vests, gives the city a unique feel in the lead up to Christmas. Although, other worthy organisations and causes may be collected for, during this week Cork is SHARE territory. Collectors can be found on every street corner, while some go on fasts and collect throughout the night. The sheer volume of volunteers, along with their enthusiasm, means it is in your own interest to support them and get a yellow sticker, which provides you with an ‘immunity’ from other collectors. In an age of chuggers, the earnestness of the collectors and transparency of the organistion ensure the support of the shoppers.
The SHARE sticker, found on every coat for Cork people, leading up to Christmas.
The devotion and passion of the students, the local cause and the festive tradition combine to give SHARE a special status in the life of the city. The patterns of giving, the spread of volunteers, the shaking of the collection boxes, the meaning of the stickers, the Crib and the sentiments behind students helping the elderly, produce some of the geographies I feel compelled to mention!
The Lough (pronounced lock) is one of Cork city’s most well known features. It is a freshwater lake, with a selection of birds and fish, that serves as a centre of recreation. December 2010, when the photo was taken, was first time I’d ever seen it frozen, with the abnormally cold temperatures that winter causing many freak events. Until then, I never thought, I would actually see the Lough like this. The place has been forever changed, maybe enriched, after this, I am always aware of the potential changes that exist within the waters.
Reflecting from a much wilder winter, I am struck at how relatively minor temperature fluctuations have significant impacts on our understandings and experiences of place. Although my preference for human geography has involved me moving away from climatology and meteorology, it is still important to acknowledge the power of physical forces in defining and shaping our worlds.
Among the distinct features of Kent Station, Cork city’s train station, is this section of wall which is jam packed with so much stuff: functional and cultural, pragmatic and odd. My interest with this small space, which prompted me to take the photo, highlights the role of basic observation in not only research but in our daily lives.
A side interior wall of Kent Station, Cork.
While the physical limits of a photo can sometimes be rather frustrating, in this case they actually frame the scene perfectly. These different objects have clear functions, many of which make sense in the context of a train station, but a still find it necessary to comment. On this patch of wall there is:
an internet kiosk (out-of-order) (modern-ish, but increasingly irrelevant with the rise of smartphones),
a public phone (an utter rarity with the growth in mobile phone ownership in the last 15 years, although their role in places such as trains stations ensures their presence for another while, until they’ll all be stored in museums, right next to the home phone section, complete with hall table),
a change machine (an object in a symbiotic relationship with the phone/kiosk),
a post box (a continuing strong feature of the Irish landscape testifying to the role of post and the letters),
a fire hose (seems a little high to reach in an emergency) and a poster outlining the ‘Public Evacuation Plan’ (although, I doubt many of the public actually check it out),
a wireless internet router (in many ways a direct challenge to the internet kiosk and even pay phone – and by implication the change machine)
a vending machine (when everything else is closed),
a statue of Our Lady/Blessed Virgin Mary – dubbed ‘Our Lady of Kent Station‘* by Eoin O’Mahoney (check out his excellent blog 53 Degrees) (the Marion statue is another prominent aspect of the Irish landscape; this statue, there since 1966, was on the opposite wall until renovations a few years ago saw it move across – indicated a recent intentional decision to retain this religious/cultural icon),
a security camera – the bottom of which is visible on the top left (a cog of the constant CCTV-based surveillance in which we lead our urban lives), and,
the arches and drain pipe (the Station is a pro-typical old train station in many ways, with high pitched roofs, long platforms and ornate red-bricked walls; although, the main platform is curved making it rather distinct).
Although this wall-space is a noteworthy thing to write a short blogpost on, the greater point is the importance of observing the world around us. The world is generally filled with things ready to be noticed and appreciated. Observation was one of the primary skills emphasised in my geography undergraduate courses. It is in truly engaging with the world around us that we can understand it and be motivated to preserve, change or improve it, as required.
A good example of this is in an episode of the podcast 99% Invisible (it explores architectural ideas in a very interesting and insightful way) which highlights the great many public staircases in California. It shows how these fascinating features are generally unknown and under-used; how they can be discovered and explored with enthusiasm; but also, how they can be blocked by private interests and re-opened by committed activists.
Ultimately, while observation is an essential research tool, it is also a duty of the citizen more generally to be observant. Take in what is going on around you, be involved in the world. While the commuters, tourists and people of Cork pass by the wall-space the eclectic collection will remain, or maybe not, have you noticed?
Lady’s Well is one of the few wells within Cork city. It is located north of the city centre, on the eastern slope of the small valley that leads out to Blackpool. It gave Lady’s Well Brewery, just below the well, its name, while what is now Leitrim Street was formerly called Lady’s Well Street.
The well has had a varied modern history. There seems to have been no record of religious activity on the site and by the 1980s no surface trace of the well existed, although the shrine to the Blessed Virgin Mary was on the site, which was demolished in the later 1990s. A City Council sponsored excavation in 2000 revealed a cast-iron basin surrounding by sandstone flags as being the likely earliest flooring at the well. At that time, the well and grotto were consolidated.
I visited the site on 26th Feb 2012 and again on 24th Feb 2013. When I intended to blog about the site recently, I returned to get more recent photos. On my initial visit I found the site to be untidy and generally a bit run down – in particular, drinks cans allover the site and in the well. This poor state was one of the main motivations for revisiting the site, as it didn’t want to misrepresent its current condition. However, the site was in an even poorer state on my second visit. Messiness and evidence of drinking was compounded by neglect and vandalism. The photos below which compare the site over the two visits clearly illustrate the change, especially in terms of the well itself, which is now inaccessible as the basin is completely filled in with bits of broken paving.
Although, the well is an acknowledged heritage feature and was renovated with community support, it seems to have slowly deteriorated. Its location on a secluded section of the hillside above the brewery but out of site of the houses above means its an ideal location for ‘anti-social’ behaviour, with evidence of drinking, vandalism and fire-lighting.
I am slightly conflicted over what the visits have revealed. Firstly, it is a shame that one of the few examples of a holy well in the city is in this condition; and, as a result, I have contacted one of my local councilors about the issue, who will raise it at the City Council. However, this also presents a study in the decline of a holy well. Many hundreds of the 3,000 holy wells that were believed to have existed across Ireland can no longer be found or have deteriorated beyond recognition. Although, intentional actions are involved here, the site is a metaphor for what has happened to so many sites. Wells which are no longer the focus of devotional activity can fall into disrepair and become unattractive, furthering their demise. It would seem the central reason for the survival of so many wells is the role of devoted people who frequent and upkeep them.
While the physical structures and role of Lady’s Well in the nomenclature of the city ensure the site will remain in the future, what exact form this will take is uncertain. I shall return to the site and the topic.
Two views, one from each visit, looking south at the site: it resembles a mini-amphitheatre, with a curved shape on one side and it is spread over three levels – a back support level with the ground behind it, a middle level with an empty grotto at the far end and the lower level which has the well at its centre.
The well’s poor condition, marked by litter mainly, in Feb 2012 is replaced by one of complete disrepair in Feb 2013, presumably through intentional vandalism.
The view of the site in Feb 2012 from the laneway between Richmond Hill and Leitrim Street.
Part of research, in fact a large part, involves activities that are unsuccessful or at least not what you had hoped for. A trip to archives only turned up a book that was not what the title suggested, or an important interview is cut short or an event is cancelled. This is a necessary part of research The adventure and curiosity that drives research centres on the fact that you don’t know what you are going to get. But we can, of course, learn from these instances.
The map and areial photo detail from the archaeological record: CO074-018 (Archaeological Survey of Ireland, Record Details) on http://www.archaeology.ie. Posted: 14 Jan 2009
This morning, a cool but sunny spring Sunday, I went in search of Toberbarry, a holy well, in Kilbarry just north of Cork city. The well, a spring in a depression, was linked with St Fin Barre’s first Church in Cork. Working off archaeological records, maps and google maps, I knew fairly accurately (within a few square metres) where the well was. However, the site does not appear to be in use and it is located in overgrown rough land. Even with precise directions it was going to be a challenge.
I was unsuccessful in finding the well. The search was challenging in that the area I needed to get to was beyond a large patch of brambles, which I had to work my way through, over and across with the assistance of a stick. The small area in which I estimated the well was located was less overgrown but it was still very difficult to make out surface features. I did come across a hollow or pit, which may potentially have been the well, but there was no sign of water. Despite not achieving my main objective I did photograph the site and record some thoughts, as well as being reminded that research involves interesting experiences in which you never know that you’ll find, or not find!
Any future attempts to locate the well, or its remains, will be based on local knowledge. Timing didn’t allow knocking on a few doors, but maybe next time I can ask a few residents if they could offer assistance on the quest.
The rough land I had to get through to the well site.
The rough location of the well.
A depression in the ground, a potential holy well.
Audio recording of some thoughts I had on-site:
CO074-018 (Archaeological Survey of Ireland, Record Details) on http://www.archaeology.ie. Posted: 14 Jan 2009
A photo of the short path leading down to the well, which has briars and different plants growing into it. The path is barely noticeable from the road.
A photo showing the holy well at the end of the path. The well, on the right, is set into the hillside and is surrounding by a simple stone structure with a stone drain channel, capped by a slab at the well, running directly out from it. On either side of the well two rocks, which are part of the setting, each have a cross ingrained in them from pilgrims using stones.
The well, referred to as ‘Sunday Well‘ in maps, is small and pleasant, although it looks like it is rarely used. The archaeological record refers to rounds which were performed their in the past. The site is clean and tidy, but the path down is slightly overgrown and unless you were looking for it, it is unlikely that you would see it. It seems as though it may be visited by a small number of people, presumably locals.
The well occupies a space between sites of devotion and activity and ones which have been abandoned. In this, there is a something nice and intimate about visiting the site, although there is the risk that it may fall into disuse and poor repair.
ArchaeologicalSurvey ofIreland Sites and Monuments Record (SMR) Number: CO087-017
CO087-017 (Archaeological Survey of Ireland, Record Details) on http://www.archaeology.ie. Posted: 14 Jan 2009
St Gobnait, who is venerated at different sites in the south of Ireland, has her feast day on 11th February. St Gobnait’s house and holy well in Ballyvourney, Cork, is one of the main sites of devotion associated with the saint. On the feast day or pattern day, people come to do the rounds and visit the well. The site located just outside the village is very well maintained an attracts visitors throughout the year.
Pilgrims praying in the rain at the statue of St Gobnait
The grave of St Gobnait which is a focus of devotional activity. It is a station on the rounds and people frequently leave votive offerings here.
Looking down on the pilgrimage site from beside the statue. One of the wells is in the foreground, with the grave in the middle ground to the right and the old church, which is also part of the rounds, is in the background.
St Gobnait’s Well which is adjacent to the graveyard; it is the final station on the rounds
A recording at St Gobnait’s Holy Well Ballyvourney Cork on 11th Feb 2013, the feast day of the saint. The recording captures the lifting a cup form above the well, taking up some water, drinking some, returning the water, the ambient sound in the well structure and returning the cup.
While there is a massive emphasis on the lead up to Christmas, the post-Christmas period – the traditional Twelve Days of Christmas, between 25th December and 6th January, the feast of the Epiphany – can often be overshadowed. So, I was heartened to see that the Christmas lights were still lighting in Cork city on 3rd January. While the Christmas lights seem to go up too soon (mid-November), at least we can say that they have not been taken down too soon.
Christmas Lights on St Patrick’s Street, Cork, 3rd Jan. The photo, taken outside Penny’s, looks eastward, showing displays of lights which run across the street, rows of lights going from the lamp posts to adjacent buildings and a Christmas tree at the top of Winthrop Street.