St. Abbey, Abigail, Gobnait was born in the AranIsland of Inisheer. Her father was a chieftain named O’ Conaire Mór.
In the sixth century, she left Inisheer and travelled ‘deiseal’ (southwards) or clockwise to Munster. She rested at several places on her way where she saw white deer grazing at wells, One such place is Abbeyswell, in the parish of Kilshannig in North Cork where the traditional rounds are still made on February 11th each year, which is her feast day.
Many of these places associated with her have Gobnait in their placenames, for example, Kilgobnet or Kilgobban. The most famous of these is Ballyvourney where she finally settled and founded a convent. She is also buried in Ballyvourney where her grave is easily identified today.
There are many stories and legends associated with St. Abbey such as expelling plagues and putting curses on robbers. She was also highly regarded by farmers for curing diseases in animals such as ringworm, lameness, infertility and other such diseases. People always retained water from Abbeyswell in their houses after the pattern day.
A graveyard ‘evolved’ around the holy well as people wanted to be buried in this holy ground. Abbeyswell or Kilgobnet graveyard is one of the oldest in the country and contains some of the most decorative headstones as well as the traditional stone slabs of earlier times. Many of these are now legible, thanks to the voluntary work done by the members of the Laharn Community Action Group.
The well was covered with a beehive like masonry construction in 1874 by a local pious man, John O’ Callaghan of Lackandarra who was better known as “Johnny The Prayers”. He did this in thanksgiving to St. Abbey for expelling the plague. Over the well is a carving in stone of St. Abigail expelling the plague which reads:
“Johnny The Prayers” is buried near the well.
At the left inside the gate is an uneven mound of earth “The Famine Mound”. During the famine of 1845, ’46 & ’47, victims of the famine were buried without a coffin and corpses were covered with earth.
In olden times, the feast day or the “well day” as it is locally known was a three day event comprising of porter tents and hawker’s stalls which lined the roads around the well. Pedlars, beggars, cake women and music makers came to celebrate the feast day which was also regarded as a local holiday for the then local LaharnNationalSchool.
The prayer to St. Abbey/Gobnait/Abigail:
“Go mbeannaí Dia dhuit, a Ghobnait naofa,
Go mbeannaí a Mhuire duit, is beannaim feín duit
Is chughat a thánag ag gearán mo scéala
Is ag iarraidh leighis ar son Dé ort”.