Read introduction

Haibun is a Japanese form of prose poetry travelogue with a capping haiku or tanka poem. This is a travelogue of sorts inspired by visiting various Irish holy wells in Leitrim and Cavan. Turas is the Irish for pilgrimage.

Turas/Pilgrimage: A Haibun

Bee_at_beachby Bee Smith15 Oct 2013

At the base of the western slope of Slieve Anieran – the Iron Mountain - Tobár Bheo Aodh – St. Hugh’s Well - tucked in a wee glen. The well water runs rust red, the colour of coagulating blood. The glen’s stream runs downhill towards the eastern shore of Lough Allen, the only audible sound, reminding me of chatter, the excitement of the spread of rumour.

Here everything has two names
One not quite meaning the other

Beside the well we discover eight green acorns. When we get home I put them to soak to see if any will sprout, shoot roots, live to be potted on and begin to grow from a twig into a tree.

Eight green acorns
Brownie caps on
Teasing infinity

When you set a question it posits a testing of some hypothesis. Seemingly goalless, we encounter the classic quest challenge. There ought to be slippery slopes, stumbling blocks along the way – that is the narrative ordering of the universe.

At the beginning, high winds overturned an apple tree blocking our path to our first station. Overnight, there is one tree down and another precariously angled towards the earth.

How was it that the day before I took a notion to prune the hedge that makes an alternate route?

First step, a block
That seems only right.
What other way can we take?

Tobár Mhuire is where Our Lady appeared to a cooper, a maker of barrels. A decade ago the well was nearly in ruins, ivy clawing out mortar, the well choked with leaf mould. In the past two years it’s been repaired and rededicated, but it still is a come as you are affair- broken rosary beads, a Madonna who lost her head in a gale, plastic cemetery flowers tied to the tree beside the well along with the fading teddy and the shoelace that is standing in for a clootie ribbon.

I step down into the well and kneel before the wellhead. There is no thought. Just sadness as I wash my face and tip water over my head rather as a priest does when they baptise infants at the font.

I take one very small sip from it. Fleetingly, I think of e.coli rather than a cure. The water has no particular taste. I hope it is good. By which I mean wholesome as well as holy. Winnie McHugh drives by and gawks.

Country life:
One’s sorrows may be secret
Yet never strictly private


The map reader was faulty. Or it was because maps have tiny print and my tri-focals can’t cope. That was the fork after the rural post office/pub/shop. Double back. Lecture on how to recognise water courses on maps from the driver.

The map is not a mirror
What am I reading?


Tobár Niamh Padraig – St. Patrick’s Well- in Miskaun Glebe. Glebe because in the past the Protestant rector of Aughansheelin owned the land, which lies in the eastern foothills of Slieve Anieran.

We meet a couple who make roughly a hundred mile round trip to collect this spring water as their drinking water. Their two toddlers have known nothing else. The dad says, “It’s tested, ya know. No parasites, no radiation like that well up above that got hit by Chernobyl.”

Does he know the well’s traditional cure? No. But it has been good for his head he reckons. And then looking me straight in the eye he says, “It’ll cure anything if you believe.”

Drinking spring water
Tooth aching cold from the well
So this is how it should taste

Yet more wet ash woodland. The fattest ash tree I have ever seen is the clootie tree. It would take at least two person’s arm span to even attempt a tree hug. It is well over ten metres high and probably centuries old. It has been lavished with rags, as if someone with a heavy hand with tinsel has been at the Christmas tree. So many wishes.

The small spring is overshadowed by a youngish, by comparison, hawthorn. Someone has run piping from the spring and built a concrete well head to collect the water. It’s practical but aesthetically challenged. I collect water in old plastic milk jugs.

St. Patrick traces a benediction from his stone shrine. More unusually there is a cross here as well, with a shamrock emblazoned at its centre. There is a collection of stones lined up along the cross bar.

A stone and a scarf
Unburdening at a shrine
Wear beliefs lightly

At the house opposite I enquire about the cure. Warts, apparently. His family has lived in this townland or close by for three hundred years but they don’t drink from the spring themselves. “Gives us gallstones.” His family treks west, across Lough Allen to the foothills of Arigna Mountain for their spring water.

Lime dissolves rock
Calcifies in the gut
Seek your source elsewhere

Low cloud hangs over Slieve Anieran. It’s 585 metres high but we can’t see the peak. We take the boreen that crosses the moor and skirts Slieve Anieran and Ben Croy before dipping down to Ballinagleragh. The lane is about 500 metres at its highest point. Heather, rock, mist, sheep, experimental grouse moors and "No Shooting Allowed" posted. The occasional, solitary hawthorn. Ben Croy sports spruce plantation and mobile phone masts. It’s raw country colonised by the Ultach, come over from the north in Ulster back in the early 1800s, and the mythic Tuatha dé Danaan. In the half-light the moor grass has turned blood red, the mossy rocks psychedelically phosphorescent.

Mist so thick
A conflagration of precipitation
Weather watch

Dropping down a few hundred feet to Slievenakila the lane follows the Yellow River. The riverbed stones glow golden even under such overcast sky. Gradually, more varied vegetation – moor grass and rushes giving way to gorse, then alder, then species bursting on the scene like a biodynamic orgy amidst semi-derelict stone buildings – abandoned homesteads and the odd decommissioned National School. From Slievenakila we see Lough Allen on the horizon. Across is Arigna and the sun is shining on the western shoreline.

Take the next turning
Lure of geographic cure
A few miles difference
Bad land or better pasture?
Throw a stone, a star, read the sky

© Bee Smith 2013