I often drive aimlessly around the country lanes in West Cork. You might think that's not very exciting or interesting but, let me tell you, you never quite know what's around the next bend. In an earlier post I have spoken about the ancient monuments that litter the landscape around here. I've also mentioned the famine burial grounds from the mid 1800s. They can be quite an eerie experience. Usually the sites that I come across are well marked as sites of historic interest. It would be rare not to find some kind of plaque commemorating an event of this nature.
Recently I had a particularly exciting find. Just outside Dunmanway I was looking for a walk a local had told me about. Hopelessly lost, as all good horror stories start and as I all too often find myself on these exploratory trips, I came across one of the strangest signs I have seen in a while. It was on an old gatepost beside what turned out to be a graveyard.
There Be Dragons
Transporting me back to a time when grave robbing and body snatching must have been a more common occurrence, the sign informed me that grave digging can be a hazardous activity. It should, apparently, only be undertaken by professionals! As I had no intention of robbing any graves or indeed partaking of any grave digging for leisure or otherwise, I parked the car and ambled through the rusty and squeaking gate, paying no heed to the growing clichés so often used by the old Hammer House horror movies.
To make matters more creepy there wasn't any sign of an associated church or chapel. There also didn't seem to be any logical reason for the remote location of this graveyard. Its inhabitants took up residence centuries ago and though there are a few relative newcomers, the plots are predominantly marked with delapidated and weather worn stones.
Had there been a sign on the gate that said "Keep Out" I would most certainly have kept out, scary music in the background or not!
It turned out that this wasn't the only creepy site in the locality. A few metres down the road I found there was another rather ghoulish scene straight out of the sound stage of a Universal Studios lot. This time it was a holy well. OK, you may be thinking, there can't be too much that's creepy about a holy well. What about one that doesn't appear in the guide books and isn't on the maps?
St Finbarr's Well is a rather odd place. Beautifully kept and decorated, it has the rather sinister dedication on its entrance,
"In Memory of the Unknown Children who rest inside. 'Suffer little children to come unto Me'"
I have to say, this was more than a bit disconcerting. The well itself comprises a long walk up to a small mound with a pitiful and sad little white cross.
It was with some foreboding that I approached the cross on its mound and the murky well. It would be unadvisable to drink from many of the holy wells around Ireland and is was no exception.
The uneasiness that the whole scene created in me, particularly after the encounter with the graveyard, reminded me of a time when I visited Belsen once, where the Nazi concentration camp once stood. There was an unnatural stillness to the air and reflecting on it now I'd swear that there wasn't a single bird singing. I definitely didn't want to hang around.
Urban Myths and Local Legend
I resolved to find out something about this place. I went to the library. I couldn't find any mention of it in either the guidebooks or a local history project. I asked some of the librarians and they couldn't provide any details. Another patron of the library said she knew about it. They'd had to visit it on Sundays when she was a schoolgirl. She shook her head and said "Awful place!" but wouldn't say any more.
I've now been pointed in the direction of the local history association and I suppose I should really pay them a visit. I haven't yet and I probably won't. You see, in a way, I rather like the mystery I've attached to the events as they've unfolded so far. A very good friend of mine once said that if a story is worth telling then it's worth exaggerating. I agree with that.
It's Real Jim But Not As We Know It
I've attached a certain riddle to this story. It's one I don't really want to solve. I don't want to be disrespectful to anyone. I think there's a strong possibility that this spot is another one of the awful famine burial grounds that litter the countryside. People certainly don't like to talk about it and I'm not inclined to probe any further. Irish superstition being what it is, I like to keep it like that. And that's really my point.
I don't know what meaning that lady in the library attaches to this holy well. Whatever it is, it's not a pleasant one for her. I have another friend who is fascinated by holy wells and crusades around the country seeking them out. For her this would be another one in her collection. For me, however, this was a big adventure and I can see the potential for telling the story on stormy nights in a pub somewhere in front of a raging fire.
But that's the meaning I've attached to it. And just like everything else I attach meaning to, it's my own personal view and it affects the way I see the graveyard and the well. All our realities are coloured by whatever we choose to believe in or about a certain situation. I can't say that I believe in ghouls or ghosts any more than I believe that Michael Jackson was a zombie in the thriller video. But it certainly adds a bit of colour to what would otherwise have been another day lost in the country lanes of West Cork.