There are approximately 357 holy wells in County Cork at the last count (Archaeological Inventory of Cork). A few are still the site of pilgrimage, others receive occasional visitors and some are neglected, forgotten or have even disappeared. Some are tiny indents in natural stones, others have imposing wellhouses and some are fern-strewn basins hidden in the undergrowth. All have their stories to tell and individually and collectively provide a fascinating glimpse into a way of life and set of beliefs that are steadily disappearing. Once every community would have had at least one well which was revered and visited for its healing qualities.
I set out on St Bridget’s Day 2016 to discover the state of the county’s holy wells and to record what I found. Three years later I have visited around 300 wells (the remaining 50 are mainly classified as no visible trace). Roughly speaking, one third have gone, one third are inactive and one third are still revered. But what an astonishing variety remain and what adventures have been had on the way.