Tobar Ghobnatan Cross Etchings
* Tobar Ghobnatan * Ballyvourney (a.k.a. Baile Bhuirne), County Cork, Ireland *
An interesting custom I came across while visiting the Tobar Ghobnatan monastic site were these scratchings in the rocks of sacred sites of a Celtic Cross. They were done hundreds of times atop each other. Actually, the first time I saw this was at St. John’s Well in County Cork. I thought it was an anomoly, but that changed at Tobar Ghobnatan. Tobar Ghobnatan has an unlimited number of examples of this practice. This practice seems to have Pagan roots, but definitely absorbed by Catholicism in practice within County Cork, especially at the Stations while doing rounds or turas.
Throughout the Stations at Tobar Ghobnatan one can see that modern pilgrims have attended the stations and marked the stones around the shrine with Celtic crosses (equal armed crosses) with a stone by scratching the symbol over and over into the stone as part of their prayers. You first see this at the site when you enter the main entrance to the statue, hut, and well – the two gateway stones are marked by crosses, as are the modern cylinder shaped pillars found within the hut and church. This practice can be see at St. John’s Well outside of Cork, St. Declan’s Well at Ardmore, and many other sites around southern Ireland. The practice can be dated as early as the medieval period continuing to present day. It is unknown of how early the scratching of the cross began. Often small pebbles and rocks are left atop the stones so other pilgrims will continue the repetition and practice, each etching the sign of the cross as they say their prayers at the station shrine.
The etching in stone found at Tobar Ghobnatan are considered to be dedicated to the Matron Saint of Ballyvourney and sacred Bee-Keeping mistress, Saint Ghobnatan holy pilgrimage site and monastic settlement known as “Tobar Ghobnatan”. This is the legendary home of St. Gobnait/Ghobnatan. It is located a kilometer south of the village of Ballyvourney where her church Móin Mór (a.k.a. Bairnech) was built.
Her purported grave can be found in the church yard opposite the hut. This is marked Stations 3 and 4 on the pilgrimage stations/turas map. This is a small artificial prehistoric mound that looks like most other megalithic cists. On its south end is a large stone slab which is the location where many believe her body to rest. Atop this stone pilgrims scratch the cross into the stone slab (Station 3). The slab atop the cist (Station 4) is also covered with scratched crosses. There are said to exist three Bullaun Stones here, the third of which may be in the station 3 stone slab.
How to get here: Drive West from Macroom to Kerry on the N22. As you pass through Ballymakerry (Baile Mhic Ire), you will pass a church on your right-hand side and will take the first left hand turn after the church that has a sign post. Follow the road 400 meters and you will see the first (and main) holy well on the right. You’ll need to go up the hill a bit for parking as it is a very narrow road. Take the next right hand road (near where you can park by a graveyard) up the hill to see the other holy well, statue, hut, church ruins, and main graveyard. There is also a modernized porta-toilet in this parking lot so you don’t have to use the bushes. The GPS coordinates are: 79: W 1967 7688. Longitude: 9° 10′ 5″ W, Latitude: 51° 56′ 18″ N.
Article by Thomas Baurley, Leaf McGowan, Technogypsie Productions and Research Services: Technogypsie.com. © 2013: All rights reserved.
Article on the Church, Shrine, Graveyard, and Well found at http://www.technogypsie.com/reviews/?p=14339. Article on the Holy Well found at http://www.technogypsie.com/chronicles/?p=7591. Article on the Tobar Ghobnatan Wishing Trees, Saint Ghobnatan, and Tobar Ghobnatan cross etchings.
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