Tuesday, June 30, 2009

My Search for Tobernea

First, the etymology of the word. 'Tobar', 'tubber', 'dubber', and 'tober' are Anglicizations of the Irish word for 'well'. 'Nea' has been thought by many to refer to St. Nathy, who is a saint local to Sligo, Roscommon, and Dublin. Taney Parish, Dundrum is thought to be named for him. (More info on Taney Parish and St. Nathy here.) So 'Tobernea' is St. Nathy's Well.

I already had an interest in holy wells by the time I came to Ireland to visit UCD last June, 2008. I had visited a number of them around the country on various trips over the years and found them to be dynamic, peaceful, and thought-provoking places of prayer and inner power. In preparation for the two weeks I would be staying in Ireland I printed out a list of holy wells from this website and brought it with me, thinking finding them would be as easy as rolling into a town and asking where the nearest holy well was! To my delight, there was a well listed in Blackrock, Co. Dublin, where I would be studying the coming year. I was visiting the campus on this trip so thought to enquire about it when I arrived in Blackrock.

No one knew anything. The professor I visited, an elderly woman at the local church, a bar full of pub goers - no one - though everyone I asked was very interested in the idea, and that a Yank was going around asking about a holy well! I finally asked an elderly gent who I met in a park called - you guessed it - Tobernea Park on Newtown Avenue. He didn't know about the well, but brought me to Tobernea Terrace, which is a small street and cul-de-sac with a view of the sea. We crept down into the Scouts Field, which was open, and poked around. Nothing. I asked the person who was locking up. Nothing. I poked around the neighborhood a little. Nothing. It was time for lunch and a pint, so I headed back to the village and went into Jack O'Rourke's.

In O'Rourke's I met Paddy, the bartender/manager with whom in the past year I've struck up a lovely friendship. Paddy and some locals sitting at the bar listened as I asked about the well. No one knew anything but Paddy kept enquiring after I left. When I returned in September 2008 to start my studies, I went back to O'Rourke's to hear that someone had a lead. I was given the address 4 Tobernea Terrace to call over to. Someone thought the well was built over by this house. I was starting to give up.

In December I had an essay due which was laying the groundwork for my thesis. As part of my research I read Patrick Logan's The Holy Wells of Ireland, in which he wrote

Near Blackrock at Newtown, Tobernea was also a seashore well. This was a strong trickle of water which flowed down the face of a rock. It was close to the sea until the railway embankment was built there.

took all the past tense and talk of the railway to mean it had been destroyed. At this point I was so immersed in my master's work that I only had the well in the back of my mind. I had given up.

Currently in the process of finishing a draft of my thesis, which is about holy wells in Brian Friel's Dancing at Lughnasa, I automatically have my ears piqued for any mention of wells. I'm quite obsessed with them. I have often wished there was one nearby to visit when I need some mental quieting. I think of Tobernea and how nice that would be.

On 6 June I attended a quiz at the Cup and Coin in the Blackrock market. A lady on my team, Pat, was like minded, and mentioned that there used to be a well on Tobernea Terrace. My attention immediately snapped to. She said she knew intuitively that it was still there, that it must be blocked up because there's some wonky energy in that area. I was back on it.

I did yet another Google search, this time including the Scouts as Pat felt certain it's in their field. This search yielded one positive result- it linked me to the county council and a concern which had been raised in 2006 about the well on the Scout's property. I was in business. I emailed Councellor Marie Baker and the main contact for the Scouts. I had positive responses within a day: Tobernea still exists! Not only that, but people have been coming out of the woodwork since then who want to help me in various ways. I have three contacts at the Scouts now, one of whom was a random one - the first cousin of a dear friend who lives in Kerry. It's amazing how questions get answered when the time is right.

The information I've gathered so far says that there was a pilgrimage to Tobernea up until about 10 years ago. The well is kept hidden because they don't want the Scouts going near it for safety reasons, which I completely understand. One of my concerns when learning it was in the field was for safety for young people, and also fear that younger people who are raised without the traditional awareness of holy wells might mistreat the site. I saw a well in Kerry in the middle of a housing estate completely filled with trash. It was so sad.

My goal is to visit this well, which is happening in under an hour from now when Cllr. Marie Baker is accompanying me to the site (!!), see what state it's in, and communicate with the Scouts about having it maintained in some way. St. Nathy's feast day is August 9, and Lughnasa is August 1, I think arranging a pilgrimage for this year is possible. I want to raise awareness of these holy wells, and for the people in the area to know it exists. The fact that I asked so many people who live in Blackrock this year about it and no one had heard of it is ridiculous. If it's not someone's cup of tea, I understand, but I believe all should at least have the knowledge of its existence.

So here's to the search for Tobernea! If anyone is interested in helping or attending a pilgrimage, please be in touch. I reaffirm - I have no intention of doing anything to the grounds or arranging any meetings without the permission of the Blackrock Scouts. The well is on private property and I ask anyone who reads this and is interested to remember that. I will eventually be able to publish contact information for those in charge, but again, I want to do this with permission.

Thanks to David Quin for the photo and information!

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