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Autumnal Rambles about New Quay, County Clare

“She back to Arethusa's spring returned,
And, sitting on the margin, bade her tell
From whence she came, and why a sacred well?”
                                         Ovid's Metamorphoses

St. Patrick's Well on Beha Mountain
St. Patrick's Well on Beha Mountain

It is not necessary for the reader, Ceres-like, to accost the spring about to be described, “Cur sis Arethusa, sacer fons?”—for there is scarcely a fountain of pure water in Ireland that was not formerly supposed to be holy, and, as such, under the protection of some tutelary Saint. The primitive missionaries of the Gospel in this country were so fond of bestowing their patronage in this way, that some of them even acquired an agnomen from the practice. Thus we read of “St. Kyran of the Wells,” because it is said that no less than seven fountains were dedicated to him. One of his favoured waters, called Tubber Kierawn, is on the road side between Templemore and Burrisileigh, in the county of Tipperary; and, another of them, which seems to be highly impregnated with copper, rises near a curious old tree at the Pike, in the barony of Lower Ormond, and same county. The latter is much esteemed as possessing the property of causing ulcerated and foul sores speedily to heal.

Patrick's Well is about two miles and an half from New Quay. It is by common acknowledgment dedicated to the patron saint of our green isle. This saint certainly was some time in the ancient district of Hy-Fiachria, in Connaught. There were formerly two territories of that name, one of which was called Hy-Fiachria-mui, and was situate near the river Moy, in the county Sligo. The other, Hy-Fiachria-aidne, was what is at present known as the Barony of Kiltarton, in the county Galway, which extends to Curranrue village, not more than half a-mile from the fountain forming the subject of this paper. Probably St. Patrick may have visited both these districts: for he thrice crossed the Shannon, and spent seven years in Connaught. The well now bearing his name, and being written of, gushes from a limestone rock on the north-east side of the craggy mountain of Ras-Raly, at a perpendicular elevation of two hundred and fifty-three feet above the level of the sea, and about four hundred and sixty-nine feet below the summit of the mountain. When the visitor of Patrick's Well looks towards the east, his eye is met by nought save bare-looking limestone spread over the face of the country, until vision grows faint in the distance. Yet, such appearance of barrenness is deceitful, for there are not only rich sheep-walks to be found among the rocks, but this richness has been generated and continues to be supported by the disintegration of the limestone, which seems to the unskilful to be so unproductive. A solitary exception to this cheerless sameness of landscape presents itself in a ragged white-thorn bush, growing on the side of the mountain a little above the well, and which wears the appearance of having long encountered the withering winter's blast.

At a little distance from the fountain stands a low and now mutilated pillar, serving at present as a pedestal for some uncouth weeds and brambles which have accidentally taken root upon it. In the eastern face of this pillar a tablet presents itself. It is inscribed with the following extraordinary specimen of orthography:—


It is very probable that John Corney, named in the inscription, was the person who caused the well to be so neatly enclosed as it is. A wall of four feet high shelters it on two sides, where the rocky declivity affords no protection against profanation. In the month of August, 1834, the heat of the atmosphere here was 66 degrees of Fahrenheit, yet the temperature of the water at the same time did not exceed 52 degrees. In September, 1838 the thermometer, in the air, stood at 58 degrees—and in the well,—water at 51 and an half; and in the beginning of September, 1842, the water maintained a similar temperature, notwithstanding the unusually hot summer which had passed. This spring supplies a delicious beverage to the curious or scientific pedestrian, when wearied by traversing the mountain on a sultry day. A small beachen cup is always at hand. It occupies a place among rags, pins, and other worthless offerings of devotees in a nitch in the wall enclosing the fountain. A notion prevails amongst the people of Munnu that the water, if taken up within the enclosure of Patrick's Well, will not boil. At all events their superstitious fears prevent them from trying the experiment, for it is not thought prudent to incur thereby the displeasure of St. Patrick.

The water, immediately after issuing from its source, enters a subterranean conduit laid by Mr. Bindon for its reception, and it is thereby conveyed down the declivity of the mountain, at least a quarter of a mile to the side of the public high road. It there supplies a large tank erected in a neat slated house by the same gentleman. This tank always contains a store of water sufficient for the use of the neighbourhood. The current flowing from Patrick’s Well is so pure, that we may truly say of it, with the poet

“The stream is so transparent, pure and clear,
That had the self-enamoured youth gazed here,
So fatally deceived he had not been
While he the bottom, not his face, had seen!”

On the either side of the fountain is a row of large, but rudely shaped, stones, ranged apparently in religious order.

Even here, beside St. Patrick’s Well, it was that the writer of these Rambles first became acquainted with the talented author of “A Tour in Connaught,” who is known to the readers of the “Dublin Penny Journal” by the literary Nom-Deguerre, Terence O’Toole. His stately image is now fresh before the mind. It was on a fine day, in the month of September, we accidentally met on the mountain’s side, and we were both invited to spend that evening at the hospitable board of a neighbouring gentleman. Memory yet paints in liveliest colours the portly and comely personage. The reverend C.O. (Caesar Otway) was not then what could be termed an aged man, though he was fast running into “the sear and yellow leaf” of years. At the time we met, he was busied in exploring the natural beauties of the locality. Perhaps he was even then intent on giving them to the world in the pungent raciness and flowing luxuriance of dress, for which his compositions are deservedly admired. Perhaps, too, he then, in the full enjoyment of health, contemplated some new work-half history, half romance-whose golden pages were at once destined to justly ridicule and condemn the superstitious worship of wells, and to draw into unmerited contempt the priesthood and the religion of the people of his country. But the reverend and fascinating tourist has since journeyed to that “undiscovered country from whose bourn no traveller returns.” Let us charitable forget the bitterness, while we remember the alluring drollery and inviting sweetness of his writings. May the earth not press heavily on his resting place!

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