X-PO Kilnaboy

A X-PO Christmas

Christmas time at the X-PO Kilnaboy

“The most social place of all was the crossroads here outside the Killinaboy (1) post office. There was a huge tree and it was under that big tree people used to meet on a summer evening and we’d play pitch-and-toss (2) and the older people would be talking about farming and local topics or who was getting married, who was born or who was dying. I was only in my teenage years then”. These are the words of the late Vincent Lahiffe. Vincent was a native Killinaboy with a great fondness for remembrance of things past.
The tree at the crossroads has long since been cut down and most of the pitchers and tossers have passed away. Moreover, the other great social hub at the cross, the post office (P.O.), is no more either. It was closed down in 2002.
The Killinaboy P.O. closure is part of a bigger picture of the long, slow death of the rural post office. 310 post offices were closed in the period 2005 -2014. According to an Irish Postmasters’ Union statement this autumn, the government plans to soon close another 400 of the 1,100 post offices still trading.
The decimation of the network is taking place despite the fact that even our political masters accept that the post office is a key national resource – a very valuable social space as well as a centre of commerce. 

With the demise in 2002 of the post office as a commercial and civic space, Killinaboy cross was largely reduced to a junction for passing cars. That was until local artist Deirdre O’Mahony reopened the post office as a community and arts space in 2007. She cleverly christened the “new” space X-PO.

Deirdre O'Mahony / Burren and Cliffs of Moher Geopark Project

Deirdre O’Mahony and Mattie Rynne

Deirdre also set about archiving as much information as possible about the former postmaster John Martin “Mattie” Rynne. The post office was Rynne’s working and living space but the world was his oyster. At night he would listen to short wave radio and teach himself languages. By all accounts he was a private, sensitive man with a great thirst for knowledge about the big world.

Deirdre made a large wall-drawing of Mattie above the stove in the living room. It was in fact soot from the stove which was used in the drawing of the portrait. Locals say the drawing bears a remarkable likeness to the man himself. Mattie is now a giant at the shoulder of all who walk into his former home.
Since 2008 X-PO has been run by a team from the local community (including Deirdre O’Mahony). The X-PO activists are an interesting mix of long-term locals and “newcomers”. As of autumn 2017, X-PO plays host to a singers’ club on Monday evenings. A mapping group meets in the space every Wednesday. There is a film night once monthly as well as a monthly heritage talk. There are field trips in the spring and the core programme is supplemented by one-off X-PO events.

Singer, Kilnaboy

Singing circle at the X-PO

The mapping group, (Brendan Beakey, John Kelleher, Francis Whelan and Seán Whelan), has been meeting at X-PO on a weekly basis since the space opened in 2007. Perhaps the most remarkable achievement of the group thus far is the tracing in map form of the history of human occupancy in the 51 townlands (4) of the parish of Killinaboy over the last 150 years. The group drew on local knowledge and documentary sources to complete the monumental exercise in community mapping. 
The end result was the subject of an exhibition in the Courthouse Gallery in 2012 

The October and November 2017 film evenings feature rare public screenings. The October film was “Tim Robinson: Connemara” (2011), a portrait of the great landscape writer and mapmaker, by Pat Collins of Harvest Films. The film focuses especially on Robinson’s extraordinary Connemara trilogy of books (3). The highly acclaimed British nature writer Robert Macfarlane has called the trilogy ‘one of the most remarkable non-fiction projects undertaken in English’.

 The November screening is “The Revenge of the Mekons” (2013) – a Joe Angio documentary on the genre-defying cult band The Mekons, who have been together almost 40 years. The Corofin-based Lu Edmonds is a member of the group and will present the film on the evening. 
The X-PO is open from October to May each year. John Martin “Mattie” Rynne, former postmaster of Killinaboy and citizen of the world, looks on contentedly. Come and see.

• Killinaboy is the most south-easterly parish in the Burren region. It is home to one of only six national parks in the Republic of Ireland – the Burren National Park.

• Pitch-and-toss is a gambling game in which the player who manages to throw a coin closest to a mark gets to toss all the coins – winning those that land with the head up.

• Tim Robinson’s Connemara trilogy is “Listening to the Wind” (2006), “The Last Pool of Darkness” (2008) and “A Little Gaelic Kingdom” (2011). Publisher is Penguin Ireland.

• A townland is the smallest officially recognized geographical unit in Ireland. It is smaller than a barony, parish or county. There are estimated to be over 60,000 townlands altogether on the island of Ireland. The smallest is less than an acre (2,700 square metres) in size. The largest is more than 7,000 acres (28.3 square kilometres).

Text: Tony Kirby / Images: Carsten Krieger

Holy Wells – Shrines of Redemption

Burren Nature Sanctuary Turlough

The cult of water in Ireland can be traced back to the Bronze Age (c. 2000-600 BC) at least. Many sacrificial deposits have been found in our lakes and rivers dating from that period. This form of religious expression to the gods continued into the Iron Age (c.600 BC – 400 AD). The most spectacular water find from the Iron Age is the Loughnashade trumpets. Four sheet-bronze trumpets were found in Loughnashade lake in County Armagh.

At some point our ancestors began to express public worship at small-scale water shrines known as holy wells. However, their precise origins remain obscure and can be hotly contested. Only a limited number of wells have been excavated and the findings have not shed convincing light on the vexed subject of their origins.

There are more than 3,200 holy wells recorded in Ireland – a staggering total. The eminent folklorist Criostóir Mac Cárthaigh (School of Folklore, University College Dublin) attributes the dense concentration to two factors. The first is the central role of cosmology in Ancient Ireland. Secondly, Mac Cárthaigh points out that the wells were important outposts of religious expression for Roman Catholics during the period of religious suppression in Ireland (late 17th to early 19th century).
Holy wells can have three diagnostic features. They are the divine water, the blessed tree and the stone. The latter may have a functional use in well house construction whereas a single stone may have magical properties defined by its particular shape. The blessed tree can spirit away ailments of the well habitués. However, the diagnostic features of tree and stone do not feature at all wells.

The holy well is a shrine of redemption – both spiritual and physical. People frequent wells for penitential reasons i.e. to seek forgiveness for their sins. Moreover, they visit them to seek healing from various ailments. Individual wells are renowned for cures for specific ailments associated with body and mind including eyes, warts, back, infertility and mental illness.
People also visited wells to socialize. The holy well has been the focus of great outdoor assemblies especially on the feast day of the saint to whom the particular well is dedicated. The dates of these patterns (patrún) most often occur in late July. This period corresponds with the pre-Christian festival of Lughnasa (the god of light) and the celebration of harvest.

The holy well has played a central role in the spiritual and social lives of the Irish for several centuries. The well was an especially important part of agrarian folk tradition in the 18th and 19th centuries. Though well worship is still robust at a small number of sites, the overall picture is one of dramatic decline in the last 150 years or so. Many wells are physically neglected now and the oral lore associated with them is dying with our elders.
One could argue that our ancestors’ instinctive reverence of water is still relevant today as mankind lurches from one water crisis to another.

Text: Tony Kirby / Images: Carsten Krieger

Lough Bunny

Lough Bunny

Lough Bunny Skyline in spring

Lough Bunny is part of the Burren Wetlands that occupy the south eastern border of the Burren. It measures about 2km in length, about 0.5km wide and less than 2meters in depth. Lough Bunny is a proper lake although it shows characteristics of a Burren specialty, the turloughs, seasonal lakes (or rather lakes dependent on the ground water level) that disappear completely during dry periods. While Lough Bunny never completely disappears it can show dramatic fluctuations of water levels throughout the year and during very wet winters it occasionally floods the R460 that connects Corofin with Gort and which runs right by the lake. These fluctuations are not only caused by the water falling into the lake, Lough Bunny is also connected to the mysterious underground water system of the Burren which when full up overflows to form the aforementioned turloughs and adds water to lakes like Lough Bunny, Travaun Lough, Skaghard Lough and a few other lakes in the area.

Lough Bunny

Lough Bunny in winter

Lough Bunny derives its name from the Irish Buinne which, among other meanings, describes a flood or torrent as well as a plant shoot or members of the reed family. Both translations would make some sense: The flood might refer the the fluctuating water levels while the latter might be a reference to the bulrush which grows in abundance in the lake and in the past was used for thatching.
For some reason Lough Bunny never rose to fame like other destinations in the Burren. The views from the eastern shore are however as good as it gets: On your left would be the iconic hills of the Burren National Park; Mullagh More, Slieve Roe and Knockanes. Straight ahead the long ridge of Turloughmore Mountain would dominate the skyline. To your right, at the northern end of the lake, the ruin of Boston Castle, also known as Cloondooan Castle, rises above the horizon of the otherwise flat plain that stretches between the lake, Kinvara and Gort.

The castle of which only a few precarious leaning walls remain today was, according to the Annals of the Masters in 1586, one of the best fortified buildings in Ireland:

“… was not an inland castle in Ireland better fortified and more impregnable than Cluain Dubhain.”

This unfortunately didn’t change its fate: Mahon O’Brien, the chief of Cloondooan, was a known supporter of the Irish cause and had been involved in a number of uprisings against the English occupants. On the other side Sir Richard Bingham, Governor of Connaught, was renowned for his ferocity and in 1586, while another rebellion was brewing, he besieged Cloondooan Castle. In some texts it says that O’Brien held out for seven days, in others it is three weeks but in the end the castle was surrendered after Mahon O’Brien was killed while directing his defenses from the battlements. After that event the castle was abandoned and was left to the elements.

Apart from the view and peaceful atmosphere the shores of Lough Bunny are a proper wonderland for everybody interested in the Burren wildflowers. From spring until autumn there is always something special to be discovered. April and May bring with it the fluffy flowers of the creeping willow that grows alongside the early purple orchid, common butterwort and the turlough dandelion (or marsh dandelion) that can only be found around the lakes and turloughs of the eastern Burren. Summer greets with dropwort (a speciality that can’t be found anywhere else in Ireland), harebells, pockets of ling and bell heather and numerous species of orchids. In autumn a number of shrubs not only produce colourful leafs but guelder-rose, spindle, blackthorn, hawthorn and the rare alder-buckthorn also show off a beautiful display of berries.

Mute Swans

Mute Swan and chicks

Waterfowls can also be met at Lough Bunny: Mallard, tufted duck and mute swan breed occasionally on the small islands on the north-western side of the lake. The latter ones get very territorial and protective once their offspring has arrived: I once met a family with three chicks feeding in the pockets of bulrush on the north- eastern end of the lake. Soon after another pair of mute swans touched down at the opposite side of the lake. They were soon spotted and while mammy swan and the chicks disappeared deeper into the bulrush, daddy swan took on his best attack posture and swam towards the intruders. It took him more than five minutes to reach the other side of the lake. I couldn’t see what really happened then but soon two mute swans rose from the other side of the lake and swiftly disappeared eastward while daddy swan returned to his family.

Images & text by Carsten Krieger

The Carran Loop – A Burren Hill Walk

Fog in the Valley

Ascend to the plateau: The view south on a foggy winter day

Level: Hard
Length / time: 9km / 3–4 hours
Start / finish point: Park at Cassidy’s Pub in Carran — the trailhead is here.
Nourishment: Cassidy’s pub is open 7 days a week from April 15th 2017 and is home to good food. The café in the nearby Burren Perfumery is another excellent eatery nearby.

Termon Uplands

The view west towards Slieve Elva

This 9km loop begins in Carran — the only village in the Burren hills. The cultural highlight of the walk is Temple Cronan, a remarkable Early Christian monastic site set in a green valley, in stark contrast to the bare limestone massif of Termon you ascend afterwards.
Even though the peak is a mere 243 metres, it is never inundated with walkers. You may even have Termon’s generous plateau to yourself. Termon, coming from the Gaelic tearmann (sanctuary), is true to its name!


Stonewalls. hazel and hawthorn on the plateau

The views are lavish — to the south is Slieve Callan in mid-Clare; east is the wild, boggy terrain of Slieve Aughty; west is the dissident shale uplands of Slieve Elva in the heart of the Burren limestones. Most exhilarating of all are the views north — beyond Clare, into Galway Bay and chunks of Connemara.
Trek during the blooming season in May and June, and you’ll find patches of soil occupied by wild flowers with origins in different corners of the world. The most northerly point of the Termon plateau affords a stunning vista, too: a football stadium-sized depression known as the Glen of Clab. It’s a “darkly picturesque glen”, as described by the Irish antiquarian Westropp.

Glen of Clab

Glen of Clab

On the home stretch, there’s another sacred site — an eye-well dedicated to St Fachtna with a very impressive suite of dry stone penitential stations. It’s a vivid testimony to Ireland’s rich pilgrim past.

Termon, Autumn Evening

The home stretch on a summer evening.

The Termon Hill accounts for 5km of the 9km walk. So just over half of the walk features the region’s renowned craggy terrain. However, the biggest challenge in this rocky landscape may be the trees! Hazel is steadily advancing across some Burren hills due to the decline of the out-wintering of cattle. The hazel tends to obscure the way markers… so detective work may be required!

*This blog first appeared in the Irish Independent on 1st April 2017 as 1 of 7 walks in the article entitled “7 Amazing Walks in Ireland: Fresh air for every fitness level.”

A Holy Well, A Female Saint


Iníon Baoith is a localised female saint whose cult is mostly found in mid-Clare. The eminent local historian, Michael Mc Mahon, has identified at least 17 holy wells, with a mid-Clare geographical bias), dedicated to Iníon Baoith in the Ordnance Survey name books from the 1840s. The wells are located at Killinaboy, Kilnamona, Glensleade, Kilshanny, Kilmanaheen, Inchicronan (Crusheen), Doora, Quin, Kiltcaky More and Quakerstown. (Mc Mahon ; 2013).

KIltacky More and Quakerstown are townlands on the border between Counties Clare and Galway. Both wells are now known locally as St Colman Mac Duagh wells despite the official Iníon Baoith dedications. This would suggest that at some stage the Iníon Baoith cult weakened as it neared the border with south-east Galway.

Killinaboy parish is home to highest number of Iníon Baoith holy wells (4). Other Iníon Baoith dedications in the parish include the medieval church, Suíochán Iníon Bhaoith (a stone seat with healing powers) and the Tau cross (formerly known as the cross of Iníon Baoith). The plethora of dedications would suggest that the cult of the saint was strongest in Kilinaboy parish area. All of the Iníon Baoith sites were the focus of ritual in the past.

Saint Iníon Baoith’s origins are most unchristian as her cult seems to have migrated from the south Limerick/North Cork area with a 1st millenium A.D. tribe.
It is interesting that a couple of of Inion Baoith dedications do in fact survive in the south Limerick/north Cork region.
The Cork dedication can be found at a holy well in Dromtarriff, a few kilometres south of Banteer. The Limerick evidence of the Inion Baoith cult can be found in the Glenmore in the parish of Killeedy as Glenmore’s former name was Killinewee.  (Killinewee is an anglicisation of the the Gaelic Cill Iníon Baoith, the Church of Iníon Baoith). (O’Riain ; 2011). 

Christianity arrived in Ireland in the 5th century. At some stage during this religious revolution, the pagan idol of Iníon Baoith was re-invented as a Christian saint in a process known as syncretism… a process whereby some pagan custom and idols were incorporated into Christianity. This pragmatic approach by the Christians ensured that their revolution was not only successful but peaceful also.

There are over 1000 entries in Pádraig O Riain’s de profundis “A Dictionary of Irish Saints”. Female saints are very much in the minority in the publication which spans the Early Medieval period (c.400 to late 12th century A.D.) in Ireland. Saintesses of greater renown than Iníon Baoith include St Brigid of Kildare, St Ita of Killeedy County Limerick and St Gobnait of Ballyvourney Co Cork. This “triumvirate” are credited with founding nunneries. (Condit and Cooney ; 2007). It is also  indeed highly plausible that there was a nunnery dedicated to Iníon Baoith at the Killinaboy monastic site.

Iníon Baoith’s cult waned significantly in the 19th century. Visitation of her cult sites in the parish declined. The practice of christening girls with the name Innerwee also faded in the 1800s. (Curry ; 1839).
Moreover, both the 19th and 20th century churches in the parish have eschewed the Iníon Baoith dedication.

Bibliography –
The Parish of Corofin A Historical Profile by Michael Mc Mahon. Michael Mc Mahon (2013).
A Dictionary of Irish Saints by Pádraig O’Riain. Four Courts Press. (2011).
The Other Monasticism by Tom Condit and Gabriel Cooney. Archaeology Ireland Heritage Guide No. 38. Wordwell Books. (2007).
The Antiquities of County Clare. Ordnance Survey Letters 1839 by John O’Donovanand Eugene Curry. Clasp Press. (1997).



The Early Medieval monastic site of Iníon Baoith consisted of 811 plantation acres. (The Irish acre or plantation acre is a measurement in disuse now. It approximates to 1.62 statute acres or 0.66 hectares). The monastery tenants also had access to another 900 acres of ‘rocky pasture’ for their common use. This approximates to what we know today as the townlands of Commons North & Commons South, though some small portions of other townlands were also included. Of the Commons, only about 40 acres were considered profitable. (Mc Mahon ; 2017).

Thus Tobar Iníon Baoith, which is located on the rocky pasture of Commons South, is situated within the monastic termon of Iníon Baoith. Moreover, there are two other holy wells in Commons South within the termon. They are the second well named after the saint, Tobar Iníon Baoith, and also Tobar Bhaighdeán.

Holy wells are often located near the ruins of medieval churches (or on the sides of hills or mountains or by the seashore) (O’Sullivan and Downey ; 2006).

Bibliography –

Know Your Monuments Holy Wells  by Muiris O’Sullivan and Liam Downey. Archaeology Ireland. (Spring 2006).

Buiochas le…/Thanks to…

Michael Mc Mahon for the information on the area of the Early Medieval monastic site of Iníon Baoith.


The house is an elliptically-shaped dry stone construction enclosing the well. It is 2.8 m long and measures 2.5 m at its widest point. Access to the well is by an aperture in the house which is 0.45 m wide.
The house is single stone-width (0.45 m approx) except for the rear wall which has a depth of up to 1.3m of stone. The altar is flat piece of stone (0.4m by 0.2m) which is known locally as “the flag”. The flag is inserted in to the interior of the rear wall. It overhangs the well at a height of 0.29 m above the ground.
The flag serves to denote the sanctity of the space but also acts a repository for devotees’ offerings.
There is a small depression in the pavement under the flag and just behind the well water.
This naturally occurring feature has been re-invented by devotees as another point of deposition of the offerings or “devotionalia”.


THE OFFERINGS (Site visited 7th February 2017)

There were a medallion and 4 religious figurines on the altar.The following offerings were recorded in the small depression in the pavement behind the well – approximately 90 coins in the new currency.

Two small pieces of limestone. 2 other small stones – one red in colour, the other grey.
These latter stones are from geological areas other than the Burren and were deposited as offerings probably because of their exotic look.
Two secular tokens – a plastic bottle top and an ear ring.
The following religious tokens – the Madonna in a grotto ; a wooden crucifix ; 2 metal crucifixes ; 6 religious medals ; a headless figure of Mary ; a photo of the holy family Jesus, Mary and Joseph.

There were 20 coins clustered on the ground a few centimetres from the well.

Finally, one small piece of granite was recorded in the interior wall of the well house.



The well is a natural solutional hollow in the limestone. There are many similar features in the surrounding pavement.
The hollow is fed by rainwater draining from the surrounding pavement at shallow depth (920-30cm). This is known as epikarst drainage and it is quite common in the Burren karst.
The water drains horizontally and fills the hollow up to a depth of 15cm before overflowing. Thus there is a mini-pool just below the surface with no outlet. Even with no inflow in dry weather, the water would take a month or two to evaporate altogether. As it never goes that long without rain in the region, the mini-pool never dries up.

Killinaboy parish is mostly agricultural and that is why floods and even droughts are keenly noticed as they both have a negative impact upon the pasture. The stability of the water supply in the well was a source of local fascination in the past and is still the subject of some comment today.

“And no matter how dry the weather is or how wet, the well would not get bigger or smaller” (Teller John Costelloe, Coad ; collector Joseph Costello 1937/38).

“It never increases or decreases after the biggest flow or the greatest drought” (Teller George Pilkington, Leamaneh ; collector Seán Pilkington ; 1937/38).


There are a number of similar solutions in the surrounding area which begs the question as to why the water from this particular hollow was ordained to be “blessed”.

The answer lies in part in the fact that the hollow “is in the shape of a  human eye” (Seán Pilkington ; 1937/38).
Holy wells, known to cure for eye ailments, may on occasion resemble an eye (Janet Bord ; 2006).
Another example in the region of an eye-shaped holy well is St Colmcille’s at Crumlin in Fanore. The well consists of two solutional hollows resembling a pair of eyes and St Colmcille’s  is also renowned for eye cures. The natural likeness of the well to an eye helps to endorse it as a supernatural antidote to eye ailments.

Moreover, David Drew points out another peculiarity about the well – Even with no inflow in dry weather the water would take a month or two to evaporate dry. As it never goes that long in County Clare without rain, the well never dries up.
This characteristic was the subject of comment and wonder locally in the past (John Costelloe and Seán Pilkington ; 1937/38) and still is to a limited extent today.

“And no matter how dry the weather is or how wet, the well would not get bigger or smaller” (Teller John Costelloe, Coad ; collector Joseph Costello 1937/38).

“It never increases or decreases after the biggest flow or the greatest drought” (Teller George Pilkington, Leamaneh ; collector Seán Pilkington ; 1937/38).

Thus the constancy of the water also helps explain why the well is the subject of veneration.

Finally, another peculiar trait ascribed to Tobar Inion Baoith was that its water could not be boiled (John Costelloe ; 1937/38). We are obviously in the realm of folk belief here rather than science. This non-boiling belief was common regarding the water of many holy wells and served to distinguish the blessed (abnormal) water from the secular and prosaic domestic water. The latter would always behave “normally” when one tried to boil it.


The well water is known to cure two ailments – warts and sore eyes (Mrs Hawes, Kilnaboy ; 1937/38).  Most holy wells are known to cure just one affliction. However, 4 of the 9 holy wells in Kilnaboy were renowned for both eye and wart cures. The other two “twin cure” wells are Tobar Bhaighdeán in Commons South also, Bullán Phádraig in Poulnalour and St Anthony’s in Caherblonick (no longer extant).

A wart is an infection to a top layer of skin which causes the growth of cells. This growth of cells creates the wart. The portal for the infection is often cut skin. Good hygiene helps to  stop warts developing in the first place. When contracted, the warts can be counteracted by tending to the cut skin.

However, life in rural Ireland in recent centuries featured tough manual labour and poor hygiene conditions for the huge numbers of destitute. Poor people were often dirty and were unable to heat water in the 18th and 19th centuries (Liz Curtis ; 1994).

The fact that 4 of the 9 wells in the parish were renowned for curing warts, (as well as eye ailments), would suggest that warts were a widespread affliction in the past.

There is one other Inion Baoith well in North Clare formerly resorted to for the wart cure. It is known as Toberinneenboy (an anglicisation of Tobar Iníon Baoith). The well is located in Glensleade in Kilcorney parish north-east of Kilnaboy.

The writer and map maker Tim Robinson shared an amusing story with me related to this latter well. During the course of Robinson’s field work in the Glenseade townland for his 1999 Burren map, a local elder told him of an incident at the well when he was young – two local boys robbed some of the coins which had been left as offerings at Toberineenboy. The next day the lads were both afflicted with warts.
It would appear that not only were devotees obliged to leave an offering as part of the well ritual, but also on no account should anyone remove the offerings of devotees.

Though wart wells were numerous, the most widespread holy well type was the eye-well.
All 9 holy wells in Killinaboy were resorted to for cures for eye ailments. Moreover, a very disproportionate number of holy wells in the national context in Ireland are  eye-wells. The international situation seems to mirror that of Ireland.
The treatment of eye ailments seems to be the most recorded attribute of holy wells (Varner ; 2009).

Gary Varner ascribes the eye-well predominance to Vitmain A deficiency in the diet of the “commoners”. The deficiency causes xeropthalmia or dry eyes. If the condition is left untreated, it causes ulceration and ultimately blindness. A poor diet (or lack of dietary diversity) was certainly the lot of the rural poor in pre-Great Famine Ireland surviving as they did on a diet of potatoes and a liquid accompaniment. The potato had been introduced into Ireland in the 16th century. However, it began to play a dominant role in the diet before the end of the 17th century. The rural poor accounted for more than 80% of County Clare’s population at the start of the 1840s – the decade of the Great Famine. (Mc Mahon : 2010).

The housing conditions of the rural poor in Ireland were very unhealthy prior to the Famine. According to the 1841 Census, over 85% of the houses in the Burren parishes were fourth-class, defined as single-roomed mud dwellings. (Smyth ; 2012). A minority of these houses had chimneys and fewer still had effective chimneys .  The smoky interior was a cause of eyesight deterioration and also helps explain why there is such a dense concentration of eye-wells in the countryside.

The terror induced by the thought of failing eye sight or blindness may also explain why eye-wells comfortably outnumber wells renowned for such as back, tooth and wart cures. The demand was reflected in the supply.

Finally, apart from “aquatherapy”, a number of other types of unofficial medicine, including herbalism, were resorted to in the past by the rural poor in order to treat ailments. For example eyebright has been recorded in Killinaboy as a plant resorted to by some in order to treat eye maladies. “A herb called eye bright can cure sore eyes by rubbing it to the eye three times.” (Teller – Mícheál O Cuinn, Coad ; Collector – Áine Ní Chuinn, Coad ; 1937/38).

Bibliography –
The Cause of Ireland by Liz Curtis. Beyond the Pale Publications. (1994).
Sacred Wells A Study in the History, Meaning, and Mythology of Holy Wells and Waters by Gary R. Varner. Algora Publishing. (2009).
The Rural Poor in Clare before the Great Famine by Anne Mc Mahon. From The Other Clare. (2010).
Atlas of the Great Irish Famine . Edited by John Crowley, William J. Smyth and Mike Murphy. Cork University Press. (2012)
Wiilim J. Smyth p.187.
The Schools’ Collection (National Folklore Collection of Ireland ; 1937/38).


In order to get the cure, the well must be visited on two Mondays and a Thursday (Mrs Hawes Kilnaboy ; 1937/38).

As at all holy wells, prayers are recited as the devotee walks around the monument in a sun-wise fashion, known in Gaelic as deiseal. If one wishes to invoke a malediction against somebody, one prays and walks in an anti-clockwise fashion (tuathail). In the case of Tobar Iníon Baoith, the prayers invoked are one Our Father and three Hail Marys (Mrs Hawes, Kilnaboy ; 1937/38).

On completing the rounds, the devotee must leave a blessed offering (Mrs Hawes, Kilnaboy ; 1937/38).

Finally, the well water at Tobar Iníon Baoith must be rubbed “to the eye or the wart” (Mrs Hawes ; 1937/38). At other sites, the custom is that the water must be drunk….and in more cases again, the water is also carried away largely for the benefit of devotees who are unable to reach the site. Question 10 of National Folklore Collection questionnaire is quite instructive in this regard as it asks “is the water applied to the afflicted part? Is it drunk? Is it also carried away?”

In the case of Tobar Mogua in Noughaval (eye cure), water was drawn from the well on occasion up to the 1960s and conveyed to Australia to exiled Noughaval parishioners so that they could access the magic drop. (Source – local elder).



Tobar Iníon Baoith, Commons South. Eyes and warts.
Tobar Bhaighdeáin (The Maiden’s Well), Commons South. Eyes and warts.
Bullán Phádraig (St Patrick’s Well), Poulnalour. Eyes and warts.
St Anthony’s, Caherblonick (no longer extant). Eyes and warts.

Tobar Inion Baoith, Anneville. Eyes.
Tobar Iníon Baoith, Ballard. Eyes.
Tobar Iníon Baoith, Commons South. Eyes.

Tobar Mháirtín (St Martin’s Well), Leamaneh. Eyes.
Tobar Duibh (The Black Well), Caherfadda. Eyes and swollen limbs.

Text by Tony Kirby / Images by Carsten Krieger – All Rights Reserved

Captured Beauty

“Useless to think you’ll park or capture it/More thoroughly” Postscript by Séamus Heaney.

The photograph was taken by Shelly Wolf from L.A. He and his wife Barbara were on a Burren tour with me on a golden autumn day – the very first day of October 2016.
We stopped at a lay-by in the townland of Fahee South about 5 km east of the tiny village of Carran as this photo opportunity presented itself. The camera itself is pointing even further eastwards.

I like the image a lot as it can be read as having at least four different frames:


The lush green pastures in the foreground are in Glencolmcille (locally known as ”Glan”). The placename is an Anglicisation of Gleann Cholm Chille (the valley of St Colmcille). The monastic site (now ruins) in the valley are dedicated to this 6th century monk.
Like all Burren valleys, Glencolmcille has generous glacial deposits of sands, clays and gravels overlying the porous limestone. It makes for excellent terrain for pastoral farming. However, the valley would have been covered in oak trees in prehistory. It was farming communities in prehistoric/early historic times who converted the forest in to the grasslands we see today.


The stony hill of Turloughmore is perched above Glencolmcille. The Burren hills have been compared to a giant staircase with their classic terrace and cliff topography.
Moreover, the rocky uplands in the region make for a strong contrast with the lavish soil cover in the valleys below. The Turloughmore range extends for more than 6 km. The highest point is 267 metres. The great mapmaker/landscape writer, Tim Robinson, records 7 prehistoric tombs along the range.
The Burren uplands are home to one of Europe’s most distinctive landscapes – limestone pavement. In fact the region boasts the most extensive area of limestone pavement in the European Union. So much of the bedrock in the hills has been exposed due to glacial erosion and uber-enthusiastic prehistoric agriculture. Thus, one could argue that the Burren uplands are in part a deeply humanised landscape.
Hills like Turloughmore are still farmed today albeit in the autumn/winter only. Cattle are transferred to the uplands for the period November to April. This farming regime is highly unusual and is called reverse transhumance.


The white Derrybrien wind turbines are just about visible in the middle left of the image (behind Turloughmore). The turbines are built on Slieve Aughty –  a 25 km-long Old Red Sandstone hill range extending from east Clare into south east Galway. It is a wild and desolate landscape of uplands bogs. (Bogs are wetlands that accumulate peat, a deposit of dead plant material). The highest point on the range is Maghera (400m).
The Derrybrien wind farm has 70 wind turbines and was one of the largest wind farms in Europe when it was built in 2003. The farm, constructed by the semi-state energy body E.S.B., precipitated a 0.5 million tonne peat slide with significant environmental damage and a fish kill of 50,000. Bogs are notoriously unstable environments. Construction of large-scale infrastructural projects on bogs without proper environmental impact assessment can lead to environmental chaos.


The final frame in the image is the “cloud formation” as Shelly phrased it. It was a remarkably still, bright autumn day. The clouds were frozen on the canvas.

The 1st of October was a day from heaven in Ireland and the month kept giving. Met Eireann, the Irish Meteorological Service, summarised October as “extremely dry almost everywhere” with “mean air temperatures on or above average nearly everywhere”. However, November has returned to the form of most of 2016 – unsettled and changeable. We will look back on October 2016 as mí na míosa – the month of months.

Shelly informs me that the shot was taken with a Nikon D5 camera and a 20mm Nikon lens.
Thanks to Shelly and Barbara for the company and the sublime photo. Go n-eirigh an bóthar libh. May the road rise with you.

Tony Kirby

Burren Hills, Fahee North

This image was made on another, more gloomy autumn day a few years ago. This is without a doubt one of the most dramatic viewpoints in the Burren and because it is right beside the road it is being visited and photographed by many.

I fell in love with this spot some 20 years ago on one of my first visits to the Burren. I remember that the stonewall winding its way uphill got me mesmerized and I think I spent a whole role of film on this wall alone. Since then I have come back countless times and experienced this place in all conditions: The fresh green of spring, the heavy green of summer, the barren brown of winter and even covered in snow. Autumn however remains my favourite: The time when the green of summer is disappearing but still visible while warm yellow and brown tones start to take over and paint the Burren landscape with a kaleidoscope of coulors.

This image was made with a Canon EOS 5D III and a 24mm lens. Shelly Wolf’s image (I reckon) was made with a 200mm and not with a 20mm lens.

Carsten Krieger

Mullagh More Winter Walk

Sunshine, showers and light winds, that is the perfect winter day in Ireland. On days like this there is nothing better than pack up the camera and head for the hills and that’s exactly what I did on this crisp January afternoon. With no particular plans I started the ascend to Mullagh More. In the end I didn’t make it to the summit because not surprisingly I got sidetracked a number of times and ended up in a rarely visited part of the National Park.

Burren National Park

A lone ash tree a bit off the main Mullagh More track became my first model for the day.

The slopes of Mullagh More

A perfect example of an glacial erratic sitting on the slopes of Mullagh More.

Burren National Park

The Burren National Park from above: Limestone pavement, dry stone walls and pockets of hazel scrub.

Mullagh More

Definitely off the beaten track: The western side of Mullagh More.


The view to Knockanes from the western slopes of Mullagh More.

Mullagh More

The standard view of Mullagh More after a heavy downpour on the way home.

Photographic note: All images were made with a Sony 7R II & 24-70mm/2.8 lens (except image number 3 which was made with a 70-300mm lens) on a tripod. A polarizer was used for some images.

Carsten Krieger