Ballyvourney is a village stretched along the main road, about an hour from Cork. We chose to stay there the night before flying out to Paris, because there is a Holy Well nearby. We found our B&B, Bun a Baile, in the quiet country beside a babbling stream. Our wonderfully generous hostess offered us sandwiches (we had already eaten) and gave us a guide book of walks and directions to the Saint Gobnait Abbey and Well. I learnt that Gobnait translates into English as Abigail, and she is known as Abigail in the more English speaking parts of Ireland. Ballyvourney, like Dunquin, is a Gaeltacht region where Irish is the first language.
We walked through a beautiful forest, with strange mounds to our right, where earlier monastic buildings had probably been. The whole area felt deeply peaceful and light. We climbed several styles, including one into the cemetery, where Saturday afternoon groups were visiting graves. However one large group of women were laughing and photographing each other near the ruined church of Saint Gobnait. We noticed a small figure carved into the rock above a window, and realized it was a Sheelagh Na Gig.
This one is very worn, as it would have been much more explicitly female, with an exaggeratedly large vulva, expressing something about fertility and life. There are many ideas about the Sheelagh Na Gigs which are found throughout Europe, but I tend to go with the female reproduction / Goddess figure theories. This one is carved into a big old stone, which it seems was then reused as a window lintel when the church was rebuilt many centuries ago. Now the figure is tilted to one side rather than upright.
Pilgrims visit the old church, and a statue of Saint Gobnait, her grave and Holy Well, walking in a carefully prescribed pattern, reciting prayers. The instructions and directions are clear, and crosses are etched deeply into markers along the way. I followed the pattern, but said my own prayers for our Earth and the rise of the Divine Feminine that will restore balance and peace to us all.
The last station on the pilgrimage is the Holy Well, not the small one near the statue, but a larger one down the hill a little. Here a tree is festooned with ribbons and tokens, decorated with messages, prayers and thank yous, and there are cups from which to drink the sweet well water.