Fr. O'Donnell's Well is known to locals and visitors alike, situated as it is in Dysert, at the termination of the section of cliff path which has been improved by the Co. Council. It is in a little hollow on the cliffs of the Culam, the Cup and Saucer Rock to the eastern side of the little bay and the "Castle" (Coastguards' Watch Tower) on the headland above.
The present edifice surmounting the well dates from 1928 when a Mr. J. P. Rahilly from Limerick spent some time in Ardmore and decided to make it the Irish Lourdes. Prior to that the well had been lined by stones (not the present ones), and a very low wall surrounded it with a semi-circular flat stone on top; this still remains.
Nobody knows now for certain who the Fr. O'Donnell was. Michael and Tommie Maloney of Main St. Ardmore discussed the subject with Patsy Burke who was a very old man when he died in 1969, and their general conclusion was, that he was a silenced priest who came and read his office there. Jack Crowley concurs with this story. However, no-one can be sure of that now. A Fr. John O'Donnell was Parish Priest in Ardmore from 1911 to 1914, but he had no association with the well.
Great curative properties were attributed to the waters specially in the case of eye ailments. There was never any tradition of pilgrimage, rounds or prayers; as often as not someone was sent out to Fr. O'Donnell's Well to bring the water home. A number of instances were cited to me of improvements or cures, after using the water. In at least one case where this occurred it was to the amazement of the local GP Dr. Foley who had forecast probable loss of vision.
The rest of the story of Fr. O'Donnell's Well concerns J.P. Rahilly a visitor from Ballysheedy, Limerick who stayed at Mrs. Keane's house, Ivy Lodge. He was apparently recovering from an illness and he too found the water of Fr. O'Donnell's Well beneficial. There is a suggestion that he won a sum of money and decided to spend it on the well. On checking up with Mrs. Gormally of Limerick his granddaughter, she says he never drank or smoked but was partial to laying an occasional bet on the horses and won sometimes, so perhaps there is some substance in the story.
My sister Eileen remembers him in the kitchen at Tigaluinn speaking to my mother of his project, reciting his poem, "From the Cliffs of Ardmore . . . " and telling of how he had carried up the white round stones in his pocket from the beach, away out the cliffs to the well. He had probably been paying a visit arranging with my father, Martin Hurley, about the transport of building materials by lorry from Youghal. Pony and cart would have been necessary to convey these out to the well.
William Harris of Ardmore Hotel owned the land around the well and J.P. got ready permission from him to go ahead with the work; he too of course was a Limerick man. J.P. did all the actual work himself, deepening the channel leading from the well, lining it and the well with white rounded stones and the building of the edifice now surmounting the well. He had ready local helpers in quarrying out the stones nearby. Among them were Johnny Fitzgerald, Jack Hurley, Jimmie Flynn of Dysert, Jack O'Brien, Jimmy & Tommie Moloney, Main Street. He planted rose trees all around and planned to have the whole surmounted by a Star of the Sea. He was to get an axle of a cart wheel from Tommie Moloney in the local forge, embed it in the wall and the wheel would revolve and be lighted at night. Tommie Moloney has memories of J.P. working away at his project, humming to himself all the time.
The story is told that one day the members of the work force were partaking of refreshments some of which were alcoholic in content when a "nosy" neighbour passed by and went and reported to Fr. Galvin the parish priest, who promptly withdrew his approval and the whole project came to an end. This may or may not be one hundred percent true, but I gather his interest was rather lukewarm in any case, and that he thought one well, St. Declans, was quite enough for all.
The finished building over the well, still stands strong, as a child it always reminded me of a Red Indian Chief. A breast high stonewall surrounds it and there is an overflow from the well, to a lower small trough, where animals can come for water, to facilitate the landowner no doubt. The rambler roses and other plants set around survived in this unlikely environment for quite a few years.
Fr. O'Donnell's Well
J.P. (James Patrick) Rahilly was born about 1870. He married Annie Hartigan about 1894 and they had ten children. J.P. was an interesting character, a committed Redmondite and strong in his belief in the rights of small nations, and on this basis, was a recruiting sergeant for the British Army in World War One, in which his brother and two of his sons fought. On one occasion, at a recruiting meeting, when asked about the relationship between the Kaiser and the King, J.P. replied "We'll leave family matters out of this". He had a public house in Ballysheedy outside Limerick and his wife owned one, a few miles away, the "One Horn". The one in Ballysheedy is gone completely, the building of the "One Horn" still stands but not in a very good condition J.P.'s beliefs were not popular in the very early twenties and he was being harassed by the newer generation of freedom fighters, so quite suddenly he closed the public house of his own accord, to spare the others the trouble.
He seems to have been a most talented man, a gifted sign-writer and artist, he painted and decorated the local church at Raheen, decorated the altars for big events, and when the PP died lined his grave with moss and flowers. He cycled to Lisdoonvarna every year for his holidays and was kept in the guesthouse free of charge after the time allotted, because of his gifts as a Pianist. He also wrote poetry and contributed articles to the Limerick Leader.
J.P. Rahilly was one of the founder members of the South Liberties G.A.A. Club of which the Grimes brothers and other important hurlers were members. He later wrote a history of the Club. Cycling races for veterans featured in the local Garda Sports in Limerick and in his eighties he was a regular Competitor. He died in 1953, in his late eighties, having lived a long, eventful and very full life of which his sojourn at Ardmore, his building project at Fr. O'Donnell's Well and his poem are an enduring facet. We are glad to re-introduce him to you and to revive his memory.
Acknowledgement: Sincere thanks are offered to Mr. Kevin Hannon, Consultant Editor of the Limerick Journal and to Mrs Maureen Gormally, granddaughter of J.P. Rahilly for their assistance in researching this article.
St. Declans's Home, Ardmore
St. Declans's Home, Ardmore
[Poem written on the cliffs of Ardmore, Co. Waterford]
J.P. Rahilly - Ballysheedy, Limerick, 7/10/28.
From the cliffs of Ardmore, where St. Declan
Switched the light on a dark, dismal scene,
One sees the Atlantic still greeting
Its woodland and valleys of green.
On the waters, that ne'er fading sunshine
Reflect silvery ripples through blue,
Which respond to the soft breeze of heaven
Till the mossy banks glitter with dew.
There's the huge, modern ship in the distance
Bearing wandering man to and fro,
While some who are maimed in life's battle
Proceed where the blessed waters flow;
The fisherman rows through grim danger
While honest sweat pours from his brow,
And his frail barque, in fighting the tempest,
Is shaken from stern to bow.
The Mariner is sometimes alarmed
When an angry sea rages high;
The dark clouds have hidden the sunshine,
Is it nature's last scene e'er he die?
When all hopes of his rescue have vanished
He still has no need to despair;
There's a chart showing a far sweeter harbour
Where the helm to handle is prayer.
There, too, are the battle and troop ships
The emblems of earthly strife,
Where vanity and greed foment warfare
At the cost of that God-given life.
Alas! man has to fear one another
Where some even lurk in the deep —
While others like dragons fly o'er us
Oft causing some loved ones to weep.
A more civilised march of Creation
Will be nurtured and fostered some day,
When perfection in weak human nature
Will mature as men turn and pray
To the Master and Author of all things
Both human as well as Divine —
Whose Heaven will still keep on shining
When all nature has vanished with time.
This was foreseen by St. Declan,
When he lit the bright lamp in Ardmore,
That his teaching may spread, and keep spreading,
From those sanctifying spots on this shore.
There's the ruins of his Church, soul inspiring.
On the cliff by the side of his well,
With the miraculous stone on the foreshore,
Which crossed o'er the seas with his bell.
His tomb overlooks the surroundings,
'Neath the shade of the stately round tower,
While his ashes have reached many places
By clients who petition his power.
The tourist, as well as the pilgrim,
Who add to the patrons' roll,
Imbibe a sweet spell of enchantment,
As well as some balm for the soul.
The wells that adorn the hill-sides,
Keep tinkling a sweet hymn of praise,
As the crystal-bright, blest, healing waters,
Ripple on towards the charming bays.
This rose-bedecked town by the sea-side
Where hospitality — that virtue sublime —
Harmonise with the santified venue
Daily blessed in the neat modern shrine.
The curtain now falls on the day-scene,
With its torture as well as delight,
But the next scene surpasses description —
The celestial Heavens by night.
The scientist is vainly attempting
To converse with the wonders up there,
While St Declan relied for an answer
On the more ancient "wireless" — sweet prayer.
Scanned by: Kathleen Paton
Author: Siobhán Lincoln