Tobar An Athar Calbhach, The Bald Priest's Well, Ballyelly Holy Well  

Tobar An Athar Calbhach, The Bald Priest's Well, Ballyelly Holy Well  
Tony Kirby

Townland: Ballyelly, Killonaghan

Description of Holy Well and Landscape Setting

This holy well is situated on the north side of Slieve Elva. It is at an altitude of 280m and is probably the highest well in North Clare. The well is at the southern side of a green road which links Lismorahan to the south with Ballyelly. A green road is an unsurfaced track which functioned as an old  cattle highway. The road joins with the long-distance walking route, the Burren Way, just a kilometre west of the well.

The well water lies about a metre below the surface. The well house is a dry stone construction and is built in to the earth to facilitate access. A couple of metres behind the well is a facsimile high cross on a round pedestal. It is a stone monument about 2 metres high. A half metre high, water-worn limestone flag is inserted in to the ground just behind the well.

Saint and Feast Day Associated with Holy Well

There is no pattern date or ritual recorded for this holy well. The date of the coins left at the well suggest that the site was still being visited for religious purposes in the first half of the 20th century.

Poll an Tobar, ‘The Cave of the Holy Well’, was discovered by the Bristol Exploration Club on the 17th April 1984, and the account of this discovery makes reference to Tobar an Athar Calbhach above:
‘The cave showed evidence of much flooding,
At the most easterly part of the cave the bottom of the holy well, Tobar an Athar Calbhach, was discovered. Many religious articles were found as well as many coins that date between 1913 and 1949. These relics should not be disturbed. There is no evidence of the well from the surface’

The date on the coins at the well suggest that the site was still being visited for religious purposes in the first half of the 20th century. At least some of the recent offerings may have been left at the well by walkers on the nearby Burren Way.

Lelia Doolan records that the well is known for a cure for eye ailments and toothache and was once linked to Saint Colmán.

Natural Heritage around the Holy Well

As the well is located on shale, the plants growing around the holy well are typical of acidic soils. They include much common heather and bell heather, as well as plenty of rushes. Mike Simms writes that:
‘The holy well is ‘actually a short unroofed section of minor vadose stream cave, fed by a stream sinking 50m to the east in a small hollow marked by a goat willow bush’.

Nearby Heritage Attractions

Fanore Village is 7 kilometres west of this holy well

Discover More…

Clare County Library

Doolan, L 2001, ‘Lore and Cures and Blessed Wells’, in O’Connell, J.W, Broad, R and Korff, A (Eds.), The Book of the Burren, Tír Eolas, Kinvara.

Simms, M 2001, Exploring the Limestone Landscapes of the Burren and the Gort Lowlands, Burrenkarst.com, Belfast.

Record of Monuments and Places

RMP CL 004 – 01620

 

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