Sunday, 15 October 2017

At the Well of the White Tree

Driving through the Blackstairs mountains I was in a daze.

Irritated that I had forgotten the map, I took the wrong direction out from town and now I needed to clear my head. Negotiating a bend in the road I was thinking the perfect place to stop would be at a sacred well...

... minutes later there it was, an ivy covered sign and a path leading away from the road.

By chance I had stumbled upon Tobar Cranabhán, the Well of the White Tree, a ritual site and holy well. 
Also known locally as “Saintly Cranavane”  its’ name is said to derive from a silver birch tree which grew over the well and tradition tells that it was once the site of pre-Christian ceremonies associated with druids and aligned to the sun. 

Today a whitethorn grows above the well.

In later times it is thought that St. Finnian, born at nearby Myshall, founded a monastery on the site and other sources connect Cranabhan to St. Barrach, whose church lies in ruins along the road.

The stone near the well is said to bear the foot print of St. Finnian. 

In common with many holy wells in Ireland, sacred water, a tree and a special stone are all present at Cranabhan and collected folklore tells of a circle of standing stones which once stood between the well and the old church.

The nine stones may refer to the large slabs now built into the surrounding walls,
thought to be grave markers or perhaps they are stones with a more ancient use. 

Tobar Cranabhan where water rises to the surface as a spring.

The well holds cures for soreness of the eyes, pains and afflictions of the limbs, and the water 
is especially powerful if taken during Bealtaine, May. 

In the past hundreds of people came to Tobar Cranabhan on the pattern day, May 3rd however, 
during the Rising of 1798 gatherings were banned by the British authorities and the visits ceased for 
a time.
Large crowds returned in 1800’s when whiskey and poteen were sold by the roadside and faction fights ensued. 
The pilgrimage to the sacred well was finally banned in 1870 by the parish priest.

At the entrance to the well there is a large, stone lined, coffin-shaped trough where it was customary to bathe
delicate children on the third day of May.

There was also a local tradition of dipping coffins in this water before taking them on 
for burial in nearby Barragh graveyard.

A few metres to the north of Tobar Cranabhan there is a second spring well.

Above this, a third well once flowed but its location, name and any traditions associated with 
both these wells has been lost.

Over time the wells at Cranabhan became overgrown although they were still visited by local people.
In 1998 the community cleared the foliage and landscaped the site and it was officially opened with a mass at the well in 2000.

From Carloviana - Journal of the Old Carlow Society 1994-1995.

The sacred wells were restored but remained as they were originally constructed and a stone cairn 
was re-built which may have been a pilgrimage station or the remnant of some other ritual.

Today the site is well maintained and peaceful.

I wandered away from the well and into the trees where the light was green and calm.

Along a path lined with mossy stones and the bones of a home reclaimed by nature
I sat within the old walls.

Clear-headed and finally relaxed I resumed my journey.
Tobar Cranabhan had worked its’ magic.


You can find read my other posts about Sacred Wells in Ireland by clicking these links:


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