It was George Moore the Novelist who penned “Everyman has a lake in his heart”. George was referring to the wondrous Lough Carra on his doorstep. I’m twice as lucky as George because I have an abiding love for two lakes in my heart! Lough Carra with its magnificent wild trout and its historic hinterland and Carnacon Lough (locally known as Lough Joe) nestling close to Carnacon House on the West and adjacent to the many small farms of Parks and Lower Parks to the East. This lesser known Lough features two small islands, (originally Crannogs) where once small boys waded knee deep to view baby seagulls as their fearful mothers swooped and shrieked overhead. Here too on the furthest island the gallant mare that had brought the leader of the Pike men, General James McDonnell safely home from the massacre at Ballinamuck in 1798 is believed to be buried. Legend has it the black mare collapsed and died after the arduous journey.
While these lakes are ‘the giants’ of local waterways my concern is for ‘the fairy folk’ of waterways ‘Spring Wells’. My favourite was located at Towerhill- a big bubbly spring and a babbling brook. Here in the early 1960s a ten year old boy waited for Tony R.I.P, to arrive with his horse and cart with empty barrels. The buckets were filled and handed up to Tony. At the end of the task, frequently a half a crown was handed over – a fortune for a small boy.
I remember my first fifteen mile cycle to the bog in Dererrin. Three miles from home, father filled a small can from Farragher’s well. “Son” he said “this water would give you a pain in your teeth”! It often did – flowing out from under a rock on the roadside, it was artic pure.
The bog well in Dererrin was dissimilar. Its waters were a peaty brown but boy! Oh boy! – It made the tastiest tea a bogman ever had! I can still visualise the singing, steaming kettle on the bed of hot coals.
On Sunday evenings as a small boy I was packed off with an older sibling sister and accompanied by her friends, we journeyed to the well in Mountpleasant. This well was close to the wayside at a T junction. In those days it had a secure stone surround and stepping-stones that led down to its clear shimmering waters. On haymaking days with oat meal added, the water was most refreshing.
Lower Parks also had a well but it was more remote. We trudged through “Galway’s bottom” and crossed over a rickety plank that bridged a stream to gain access. Tip toeing over that shaky plank was thrilling. Indeed it often was the main reason Duffy’s well was included in our circuit.
The well that is most memorable is etched in my school day memories. Sixth class boys were kings. Our teacher Michael Waldron R.I.P appointed boys on rota to fetch water from Higgins well in Carnacon. There was a steep downward incline and between two adjoining banks, the well parented a stream. We had a large peculiarly shaped steel pitcher with a handle and spout. I often used to try and include some tiny fish to add to the mix but I was never successful!
Due to development, drainage and contamination almost all of those wells have disappeared or are unusable. Why as a community and custodians of our stunning landscape have we shown such blatant disregard for something as exceptionally unique as a Spring Well? Shame on us!