Fr Twomey’s Holy Well Dungarvan Co Waterford

Yesterday  Dungarvan historian John Donovan brought me to see a holy well in Dungarvan associated with the famine. The well is located  just outside the walls of  the old work house now  Dungarvan Community hospital in the Springmount area of Dungarvan.

The old Work House in Dungarvan

The old Work House in Dungarvan now the Community Hospital.

Tradition for the areas tells that during the famine when the dead  were brought from the workhouse  they were carried on a cart through a gate into the wall that surrounded the  workhouse. The holy well was located opposite this gateway.  It was said that a local priest called Fr Twomey would come to the well each day and bless the dead with its water  as they left the workhouse on their final journey to the burial ground.


Gate from Work House opposite the holy well.

These actions had such an impact on local memory that the road the well is located on is known as  Fr Twomey’s road.


Fr Twomey’s Road runs along side the wall of the old Work House in Dungarvan

Another account of origin of the well is found Schools’ Folklore Collection recorded in the 1930’s. This account recalls that the priest ‘Rev Fr Toomey of the order of St Augustine was resident in this town‘.  He had a vision in which the Blessed Virgin  appeared to him and asked him to clean up the well and build walls around it. The same account tells that the well was a focus of pilgrimage  from the mid 19th century with devotion continuing into the 20th  century.

Rounds are to be made for nine days and certain prayers recited. Some people sat five Our Fathers and five Hail Marys, others recite the Rosary during the rounds, and bathe the part of the body afflicted. This well is renowned for the cure of skin trouble.

The account goes on to say the priest died in 1879 and was buried  in the Friary Church in Dungarvan.

The well was not  marked on the 1st ed. (1841) OS 6-inch map for the area. The wells absence from the map  combined with the folklore evidence may suggest that the well came into existence around this date. The well was marked as a rectangular enclosed area along with a cross on the 2nd ed. (1905) OS 6-inch map and the 25-inch (1907) OS map and named as Father Twomey’s well.


map FR T well

Father Twomey’s well located outside the walls of the old Work House on the 25-inch (1907) OS map

Today the well is a sad sight, devotion has long ceased the cross marked on earlier maps no longer survives. The outer wall was destroyed by a truck  some years back and the council later widening the road extending the road into  part of the well.  What survives  is covered in  concrete and has  a rather ugly appearance.  In its current position it is hard to imagine that this  was once a pilgrimage site and I couldn’t help but wonder what it looked like in times past. I am going to see if I can find out any more about the well and will keep you posted.


The Schools Collection, Clochar na Trócaire, Dúngarbhán (roll number 11461) Volume 0645  pages 0055-59 (


The Autumnal Equinox and the Sliabh na Calliagh Passage Tomb Complex

Sliabh na Calliagh Passage Tomb complex is  one  of Ireland’s finest prehistoric archaeological sites. I am delighted to present a  guest blog  by the wonderful Lynda McCormack   that explains the  archaeological significance of the complex and its role in the autumnal equinox.  Lynda  is currently carrying out  Doctoral Research at the Department of Archaeology at NUI Galway and Sliabh na Calliagh is one of her study areas.


The Autumnal Equinox and the Sliabh na Calliagh Passage Tomb Complex By Lynda McCormack


The Sliabh na Callaigh Passage Tomb Complex often referred as the Lough Crew Complex is located in the north west of County Meath on a raised ridge of lower carboniferous limestone which erupts in four individual summits known as Carnbane West, Newtown hill, Carnbane East and Patrickstown Hill. The central and highest hill within this ridge is Carnbane East. At a height of 274m this is the highest point in County Meath and from this position in the landscape it is allegedly possible to view up to 18 counties on a clear day.


A map of the Sliabh na Callaigh Complex showing the distribution of monuments (McMann 1995).

There are 31 archaeological monument found on the heights of summits and low valleys within this area. Antiquarian accounts of the area suggest there may have been many more monuments here with some dismantled in the past for the construction of walls in the 1800’s. Recent geophysical investigations which involve non invasive scanning of the ground to detect the signature of sub surface remains have clarified the pattern of monument distribution with the result that it is now possible to speculate that the arrangement of space within the Complex may have been quite different in the Neolithic (McCormack 2010, 2012, 2013, 2014).


Lynda carrying out geophysical survey  on the southern extent of Carnbane East.

Folklore and Origin legends

The name Sliabh na Calliagh translates as the hills of the Witch and references a local explanatory narrative which attributed these enigmatic stone heaps to a mythological Cailleacht/Witch who allegedly dropped these stones from her apron as she jumped from hill to hill in her quest to rule all of Ireland. She apparently fell to her death on the lower slopes of Patrickstown hill but not before dropping these stone cairns in her wake. The detail inherent in these stories suggests that the locals who perpetuated these narratives were familiar with the distribution of sites across the ridge. Not only is the site named after her, one of the distinctively shaped kerbstones on the northern face of one of the largest monuments Cairn T is  named the Witches’ chair and it is thought that if she had succeeded in her quest then this particular stone could have functioned as her throne.


Cartoon of the caillech/withch dropping the stones from her apron after (Eibhlin Nu Sheinchin 1937).


Determined now her tomb to build, Her ample skirt with stones she filled,
And dropped a heap on Carnmore; Then stepped one thousand yards, to loar,
And dropped another goodly heap; And then with one prodigious leap
Gained Carnbeg: and on its height, Displayed the wonders of her might. (Jonathan Swift 1700).

Hags chair

Drawing of the hag’s chair from the Discovery of the Tomb of Ollamh Fodhla (Conwell 1973)

Passage Tomb Complexes and Passage Tombs

The Sliabh an Calliagh Passage Tomb Complex is one of our four major Irish Passage Tomb Complexes. There are over 236 of these monuments in Ireland, many of which appear within these four main concentrations. While many other Megalithic structures such as the Court Tomb, Portal Tomb and Wedge tomb most commonly appear in isolation. The Passage Tomb monument type is distinctive for its appearance in groups. These groups are commonly referred to as Cemeteries but are most accurately referred to as Complexes because a burial role can only have been one small part of their ritual usage. The most famous Irish Passage Tomb Complex is undoubtedly the Boyne Valley Complex where Newgrange and Knowth have been extensively excavated and reconstructed to facilitate tourist access via the Bru na Boinne visitor center in Donore Co. Meath. The two complexes in Co. Sligo are known as the Carrowkeel/Keashcorran Complex and Cuill Irra and both of these have been subjected to multiple research initiatives including excavation over the years. The Carrowmore distribution which is central to the Cuill Irra Complex is also accessible via an OPW visitor centre.

Cairn T

Plan of Cairn T plan showing the location of the hag’s chair (McMann 1995)

Passage Tomb monuments are named for the presence of a long passage which leads to a chamber which is concealed within a cairn of stones and retained by a kerb line of boulders. There is much variation in terms of size and while some monuments are small and compact and may never have facilitated human entry others are large and complex and appear to have been constructed to be as impressive as possible to a spectator.

Paul Naessens

Photograph by Paul Naessens Cairn T centrally placed on Carnbane East with Cairn U to the right and Cairn S in the background.

They date to the Neolithic period c. 3000BC and are complex ritual structures within which cremated human remains were carefully deposited. Although human bone is usually within these structures, they were not just built to contain to remains of the dead. These structures were built with ritual and used with ritual an in many instances excavation has revealed a series of foundation events which predate the structures suggesting that the very positions which they occupy within the landscape were of importance long before they came to be monumented in reflection of this in the Neolithic.
The Sliabh na Calliagh Passage Tomb monuments were brought to prominence by local school inspector Eugene Alfred Conwell in 1863 after a fortuitous visit to the summit of Carnbane East. It is most likely that the monuments were already well known to the locals and possibly also further afield but their significance was not understood or contextualised within the Irish Passage Tomb Tradition until Conwell began his investigations. He thoroughly searched the ridge and the surrounding hinterland and carefully documented each monument and implemented an identification scheme by which the individual monuments are still known today. Following his detailed field walking he undertook a series of investigations focused specifically on the recovery of human remains and the careful recording of each decorated surface. His records are of great value particularly because much of this art has been badly damaged and is no longer visible. Conwell also presented his findings to the Royal Irish Academy on numerous occasions and was responsible for the publication entitled The Discovery of the Tomb of Ollamh Fodhla. His research was conducted in the style of the time where different questions were asked of the data and so very little attention was paid to stratigraphy. Despite this however, Conwell was an industrious student and not only are his records detailed they are thoroughly engaging as he describes how he conducted his investigations under the watchful gaze of a number of ‘fine ladies’. Although the Sliabh na Callaigh Passage Tomb Complex is well known for its Neolithic Passage Tombs, it is a multi-period landscape which includes evidence for Mesolithic, Bronze Age and Iron Age activity extensively focused on the landscape to the north of the ridge.

Map 2

Multiperiod Sliabh na Calliagh (McCormack 2010)

The Equinox at Cairn T Sliabh na Calliagh

Many of the passage tombs on the height of the ridge are orientated towards the east and Cairn T in particular is carefully positioned with the effect that it captures the rays of the rising sun on the mornings of the Equinox in March and September. This alignment takes place over the course of five mornings and lasts for up to 30 minutes provided that the sun can penetrate the clouds.

Sunrise LC

Facing the rising sun on the 21st September 2015

Having visited the Equinox for over 15 years myself, I can say that it is easier to see it in March around 6am in comparison to September around 7am when the weather can be a little more unpredictable. Each year on the mornings of the Equinox, hundreds of tourists climb Carnbane East in the dark to watch the sun rise and to access Cairn T where they can watch the light travel over the floor space of the passage until it eventually reaches the highly decorated backstone which is directly aligned with the entrance portal.


The illumination at 6.30AM

chamber.jpg 3

Illumination at 7.05AM

Those who enter the chamber of Cairn T on the mornings of the Equinox can watch the sunlight trace its decorated path across the surface of the stone, starting in the top left hand corner and moving right in front of their eyes until it comes to rest on the chamber orthostat to the right of the recess.

light chamber

The illumination at 7.10AM

Interestingly, the quality of the light changes as it moves across this stone, as the sun rises. The colour of this light also changes from a deep red to a vibrant golden yellow.

chamber.jpg 2

The illumination at 7.30AM


The decorated backstone has been extensively studied and Shee Twohig (1981) notes that the ‘sunburst motif’ which is illuminated by the sunlight on the mornings of the Equinox is not found elsewhere within the Complex or within the Irish passage Tomb Tradition.

Chamber 5

Illumination at 7.15AM, the light showing the decoration on the backstone.


Within Cairn T in particular there are 19 decorated orthostats, 2 decorated sill stones, 8 decorated roof stones and one decorated kerbstone known as the Witches’ chair (Shee Twohig 1981, p. 214). Another interesting motif which is found on the surface of this stone is the offset motif which is also known as the scaliform motif (Robin 2008), Robin’s recent research into the structured placement of megalithic art within Passage Tomb monuments has shown that this particular motif is commonly found in association with entrances and sill stones and places of transition within the monument.

scaliform motif

The Scaliform motif (Robin 2008) Decorated back stone Cairn T (Conwell 1873)


Antiquarian sketch of decoration backstone cairn T

Antiquarian sketch of decoration back stone cairn T


Its appearance here on the backstone is potentially indication of a metaphorical transition seeing as it is not possible to physically move thorough this space. Perhaps the presence of this motif on this surface is also connected to the transition of the sunlight across the surface of the stone. Megalithic art is commonly referred to as abstract art. There are multiple interpretations of what the individual motifs might represent and each interpretation is a valid as the next but it is impossible to be sure of the true meanings affixed to the individual motifs. One thing is certain though, this art was undoubtedly integral to the ritual experience of the site and undoubtedly had a deep meaning for those who constructed and used these spaces in the Neolithic.

CT 2

Cairn T photographed from the west on the morning of the Equinox 21st September 2015.

Visiting Sliabh na Calliagh

The central hill of the Sliabh na Calliagh Passage Tomb Complex known as Carnbane East is state owned and access can be gained free of charge to this site throughout the year. The key to Cairn T can be obtained from a local coffee shop and so access is facilitated to this monument even after the OPW have withdrawn their tour guiding presence which extends throughout the summer months .This Monday on the 21ST of September at 7AM hundreds of us made our twice yearly pilgrimage to the heights of Carnbane East in the dark hoping to experience the sun light trace its decorated path across the backstone of Cairn T. In doing so we were potentially re-tracing the footprints of our Ancestors who constructed these monuments 5000 years ago who may have climbed this hill with comparable anticipation. Those who made the trip this year were rewarded by the sight of a sunrise from the highest vantage point in County Meath, We were also rewarded by the sight of the sunbeams carefully captured within the monument for this short period of time.
We will gather again in March 2016 for the Vernal Equinox which marks the return of the light and the lengthening of the days but until then we are left with an evocative image of how these monuments may have been used to measure the passing of time in the Neolithic.

You can keep up todate with Lynda’s research on twitter at  @LyndaMcCormack1 and on

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Conwell, E. 1873. Discovery of the tomb of Ollamh Fodhla. Dublin, McGlashan &Gill.
McCormack, L. 2010. A Comparative and Multiperiod Landscape Analysis of the Sliabh na Callaigh Hills. Unpublished MA Thesis. NUI Galway.
McCormack, L. 2012. A Geophysical Investigation of the Sliabh na Callaigh Passage Tomb Complex Phase 1. Unpublished report NUI Galway
McCormack, L. 2013. A Geophysical Investigation of the Sliabh na Callaigh Passage Tomb Complex Phase 2. Unpublished report NUI Galway.
McCormack, L. 2014. A Geophysical Investigation of the Sliabh na Callaigh Passage Tomb Complex Phase 3, Unpublished report NUI Galway.
McMann, J. 1995. Loughcrew the Cairns a Guide, Meath, After Hours Books.
Robin, G. 2008. Neolithic Passage Tomb Art around the Irish sea Iconography and Spatial Organisation. Unpublished Ph.D thesis, Nantes.
Shee Twohig, E. 1981. The Megalithic Art of Western Europe. Oxford, Clarendon Press.

Votes needed for Pilgrimage in Medieval Ireland for Blog Awards Ireland 2015

I am delighted that Pilgrimage in Medieval Ireland has been short-listed in the best Arts and Culture  category in the blog awards Ireland.

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A big thank you to the people who nominated the blog  I still cant believe I have gotten this far. Also thank you to everyone who supports and reads this blog.

Part of the judging process is a public vote so if  you’d   like to vote for  the blog  just  click here.  I have also added links to the voting areas in the blog’s sidebar.



The Medieval Statue of Our Lady of Dublin

On Monday on my way back from the National Archives, I popped into the Carmelite church on Whitefriar Street Church, in Dublin city.


Whitefriar Street Church taken from

Within the church is the Shrine of Our Lady of Dublin.  The shrine contains a  very  fine medieval  statue of the Blessed Virgin and Christ Child. I had to use my phone to take the photos but below is they are a little blurry but I hope they give you a sense of the statue and inspire you to pay a visit.


Shrine of Our Lady of Dublin

The statue of 15th century date originally belonged to the Cistercian abbey of St. Mary’s located on the north bank of the Liffey in Dublin.

The statue is life-sized and carved of oak. It was originally brightly painted and traces of gold and bright blue polychrome were found in its crevices until the early part of the last century.  It was whitewashed over at a later date.

During the Reformation, St. Mary’s was dissolved in 1539 and stripped of all its valuables and treasure. The statue survived but it was said that it was used as a pig trough  in the  yard of an inn beside the monastery. The statue  was laid face down, and hollowed out back a common feature of medieval stature faced upward and formed the make shift trough.


Our Lady of Dublin

The statue was later mentioned 
in an account of the Catholic chapels of Dublin written  in 1749 suggesting it was rescued from the yard and its new domestic role in the years that followed.

 In Mary’s Lane is a parochial chapel whose jurisdiction extends from one side of Boot Lane to one side of Church Street. It is a large and irregular building. On the Epistle side of the altar stands a large image of the Blessed Virgin with Jesus in her arms, carved in wood; which statue at the dissolution belonged to St. Mary’s Abbey (MacLeod 1947,  56).

The Mary’s Lane chapel no longer survives  and was located at  St. Michan’s House. In 1816 a new church was built for St. Michan’s parish and the old chapel was converted for use as a school.

The statue seems to have made its way to a second-hand shop on Capel Street.  Father Spratt of Whitefriars saw  the statue in the shop in 1824 and purchased it. He had the statue placed on the Epistle side of the high altar in the new Whitefriars church. In 1915 the statue was sent for cleaning and all traced of white wash and medieval paint were removed. When the statue was returned it was placed in a new elaborate marble the shrine erected in the Carmelite church.


Prayer to Our Lady of Dublin

The statue is still visited today and the  feast day of Our Lady of Dublin is celebrated on September 8.


MacLeod, C. 1947.’Some Late Mediaeval Wood Sculptures in Ireland’. JRSAI, Vol. 77, No.1, 53-62.

Pochin Mould, D. 1964. Whitefriar St. Church: A Short Guide, by Daphne.
Carmelite Publications. Dublin.



Paupers graves at St Mary’s Collegiate church Youghal

Last week  I was lucky enough to go on a guided tour of the  St Mary’s Collegiate Church  in Youghal. The tour was led by archaeologist Dan Noonan. The church is an amazing building, filled with  many interesting features and I highly recommend  a visit.


St Mary’s Collegiate Church

The church is surrounded by a really interesting historic graveyard located in the north-western corner of the town walls. The graveyard has a very unusual  and interesting feature. This is a coffin-shaped recess built into the town walls.  Tradition has it the recess was used to hold a coffin for pauper burials.  Those who could not afford a coffin were place within this coffin temporarily during the burial process.


Recess for coffin in the graveyard wall of St Mary’s Collegiate church Youghal

The deceased was carried to their  grave  in this coffin and then they were removed and placed in the grave. The coffin was then returned to the wall  to await the next burial.


Engraving of the coffin-shaped recess dating to the 19th century

Id be really interested to know if anyone has come across anything similar at  other graveyards.

Heritage Week 2015: Walking tour of the Pilgrimage and Holy Sites of Cork City

This year for Heritage Week I have teamed up with geographer and holy well expert Dr Richard Scriven to give a walking tour of the pilgrimage and holy sites of Cork City.

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St Fin Barre’s Cathedral Cork City

The walking tour will begin at St Fin Barre’s Cathedral on 29th August 12:00 PM

The tour   is FREE !!!!  It   will take about  90 min  and will  taken in of sites such as  St Fin Barre’s Cathedral,  Nano Nagle’s grave,  the medieval statue of Our Lady of Graces at the Dominican Friary at  Popes Key and  a number of holy wells around  North Mall.   These sites are just some of the holy places that will feature in book on the holy  and pilgrim sites of Cork City that Richard and I are in the final stages of working on. Will keep you posted on that.


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Nano Nagle’s Grave


Please spread the word and I hope to see some of you there.

For any additional information contact me at

Abbey Well: The forgotten pilgrimage at Holycross abbey

Holycross abbey, Co Tipperary is one of my favourite pilgrim sites. During medieval times the abbey was famous for its relic of the true cross that attracted pilgrims from across Munster. In a previous post I discussed medieval pilgrimage at the abbey.

View of Holycross abbey Co Tipperary

View of Holycross abbey Co Tipperary

The abbey was also associated with a holy well. The well was recorded as ‘Abbey Well’ on the 1st, 2nd & 3rd ed. 6 inch Ordnance  Survey map of Tipperary. The  well  is located close to the west bank of the River Suir, c. 10m east of the chancel of the abbey church.

3rd ed 6inch Ordanance Survey Map showing location of Abbey Well

3rd ed. 6 inch Ordnance Survey Map showing  the location of Abbey Well

The earliest reference to the well and  its associated pilgrimage dates to 1628 when a man called John O’Cullenan was cured of pain after visiting the well ‘near the front of the abbey church and drinking its water three times’ (Hayes 2011, 13).  A Short Account of Holy Cross Abbey published in 1868 states the well was visited by pilgrims up to the beginning of the 1800’s when the pilgrimage was suppressed by the orders of Archbishop Bray. The book also makes note of  pilgrim rituals at the well. The rituals  included pilgrims going around the well on their knees three times before drinking the water. No doubt set prayers were also recited. In the ensuing years the wells importance declined and by the 1950’s  pilgrimage had ceased and the well was reduced to a wishing well.
The wells importance declined even further  and today the well is covered over. This took place when the  land  surrounding the well was landscaped and turned into a prayer garden  to commemorate the visit of Pope John Paul II in 1979.
If anyone is interested in visiting Holycross abbey guided tours of the abbey are available on request (further information / 086-1665869). Also thanks to Kilkenny Archaeology for the references relating to the holy well.


C. M. E. A Short Account of Holy Cross Abbey /. Dublin: Edward Ponsonby, 1868.

Hayes, W. J. Holycross : The Awakening of the Abbey /. Roscrea: Lisheen Publications, 2011.