Corpus of Electronic Texts Edition
The Natural History of Ireland (Author: Gerard Boate)

chapter 7

Of the Springs and fountains, item, of the Brooks and Rivulets of Ireland

Of the Springs and fountains.

HAVING sufficiently spoke of the sea wherein Ireland lieth, and of whatsoever belongeth thereunto, we shall now, before we come to treat of the land it self, speak of the waters within the land, first of the springs and brooks, afterwards of the rivers, and lastly of the loughs or lakes.

As for the first, to wit, fountains and springs, Ireland is very full of them every where, not only in the mountainous and hilly parts, but even in the flat and champain countries. Which springs for the most part are all of one and the same fashion, being like unto a small pit full of water up to the brim; at the lower side whereof the water doth run forth, without making any noise or bubling. For that kind of fountains which forcibly burst out of the side of a rock, or spout their water on high, are very rarely to be found in this kingdom. The water of these well-springs is for the most part cool, clear, and pure; free from all strange smell and taste in which properties nevertheless, and in the wholsomness of the water, the same differences are found, and for the same causes, as in other countries. For those which spring out of a gravelly or sandy ground are purer than those that spring out of earth or clay; those that rise out of a stony or rocky ground, cooler than any of the former, those that are exposed to the sun, and freely receive the beams thereof, especially of the morning sun, have lighter and wholsomer water, although less cool than those which are contrarily seated; and so for the rest.

Spaws and Holy-wells in Ireland.

A FEW years since some fountains have been discovered in Ireland, some of them not far from Dublin, and others in other parts, whose veins running thro' certain minerals, and washing off the vertue of the same, yield a medicinal water,


apt to open the obstructions of man's body, and to cure other accidents thereof, which kind of fountains are commonly called Spaws, a name borrowed of a certain village in the country of Liege, in which there is a spring of that sort, absolutely the principallest, and the most effectual of all those of the same kind, and therefore of very great renown in near and in far countries. Besides these spaws there are also a great number of other fountains throughout the land, called holy wells by the inhabitants, whose water not differing from that of other wells, in smell, taste, or in any other sensible duality, nevertheless is believed to be effectual for the curing of several diseases. But experience doth shew, that those vertues are not found in the springs themselves, but only in the vain imagination of the superstitious people; the which also having dedicated every one of those to some particular saint, do expect the supposed vertue rather from the power of them, than from any natural efficaciousness inherent in the water it self.

Of the fabulous Fountains of Giraldus Cambrensis.

AS FOR those wonderful springs mentioned by Giraldus Cambrensis, one in Munster, whose water presently maketh them grey that wash their head or beard therewith, one in Ulster, of quite contrary vertue, so that the persons washed therewith never come to be grey; one in Connaught, whose water good and commodious for the drinking, and other uses of men, is hurtful, yea deadly to cattle, sheep, horses, and all other sorts of beasts; and yet another in the same province, the which being on the top of a high hill, far from the sea side, ebbeth and floweth twice a day, in the same manner as the sea, I could not hitherto come to the speech of any, who in our times had seen those fountains, or observed any such thing in them, which maketh me doubt, that that good man hath been deceived herein by his credulity, as in innumerable other things, the which being evidently untrue and fictitious, are by him related for certain truths. As in this matter, who seeth not the idleness of that fiction concerning a certain fountain in Munster, whereof he writeth, that as soon as any body doth touch it, or but look at it, it beginneth presently to rain most heavily over all the province, and continueth so to do, until a certain priest, appointed for that purpose, and who hath never lost his maidenhead, do appease the fountain, in singing a mass in a chappel standing not far from thence, and built expresly for that end, and in besprinkling the same fountain with holy water, and with the milk of a cow of one colour.


Of the Brooks in Ireland.

No country in the world is fuller of brooks, than Ireland, where the same be numberless and water all the parts of the land on all sides. They take their beginning three several manner of ways. Some have their source of fountains, the which for the most part are very small, not only those who carry the water but of one spring (most of which are rather like unto a gutter, than a brook) but even those into which the water of several fountains doth flow together. Others rise out of bogs, the which besides their own universal wetness being full of springs, and by reason thereof gathering in them more water than they are able to drink in or contain, do necessarily send out the same in convenient places, and so give a beginning unto rivulets and brooks. The third sort take their beginning out of certain small loughs, which brooks ordinarily are of a reasonable bigness, and far surpass the other two sorts, although there do not want some, even of this kind, which are very little. And there is very few of any of these kinds, who come to any notable bigness, as long as they continue to be solitary, and until having received the water of several other brooks, do thereby grow more considerable than they were in their first original.

These brooks, besides the great good they do the land in watering the same, and beside the commodity they afford of drenching the cattle and other beasts, do also greatly serve the inhabitants for another good use, to wit, the grinding of their corn, whereunto the windmills are very little used in Ireland, because they have the convenience through the great number of brooks, to erect watermills in every quarter where it is necessary, which bring a great profit to the owners, being kept and maintained with less cost and labour.

Of the swelling and overflowing of the brooks.

Some of the brooks do flow in an equal bigness all the year long, without receiving any notable increase or diminishing, but far the major part do change according to the wet or dry seasons of the year, and as many of them as come out of the mountains, or run through hilly countries, swell so excessively, when any great rain doth fall, that they not only overflow the next low grounds, doing many times great damage in them, but also bring the way-faring men into great distress, for it cometh to pass very oft, that a brook, which ordinarily is very shallow and still, riseth so mightily through the multitude of the rain water, which from the next mountains and hills descendeth into it, that a good horse cannot pass without swimming, where at other times a child easily


may wade over; and with that abundance of water is commonly joined so strong and impetuous a current, that man and horse are often carried away with it, to their extreme danger; and whatsoever we say herein of the brooks, is much more to be understood of the rivers, the which otherwise in convenient places or fords may be passed over; wherein the aforesaid danger is greater yet so that few years pass in Ireland, in the which some persons are not drowned in that fashion.

Strange invention of a man to pass a Brook, greatly risen by the abundance of Rain.

It shall not be improper to insert here a particular observed by a very credible and reverend person, Theophilus Buckwort, bishop of Dromore, the which he hath several times related to my brother and others, being this; The Lagon, a little river or brook, which passeth by the town of Dromore, upon a certain time being greatly risen through a great and lasting rain, and having carried away the wooden bridge, whereby the same used to be passed at that town, a country fellow who was travelling that way, having stayed three days in hope that the water would fall, and seeing that the rain continued, grew impatient of staying longer, and resolved to pass the brook whatever the danger was; but to do it with the less peril, and the more steadiness, he took a great heavy stone upon his shoulders, whose weight giving him some firmness against the violence of the water, he passed the same without harm, and came safe to the other side, to the wonderment of many people, who had been looking on, and given him all for a lost person.

Of the brooks of Drumcondra and Rathfarnum by Dublin.

OF these dangerous brooks there are two hard by Dublin, both running into the haven some what more than a mile from the city, the one at north side thereof, a little below the village Drumcondra, which is seated upon the highway from Dublin to Drogheda, and the other at the south side, close by the Rings-end. This called Rathfarnum water of the village by which it passeth two miles from the sea, and the same distance from Dublin, is far the worst of the two, as taking its beginning out of those great mountains southwards from Dublin, from whence after any great rain such abundance of water is descending to it, that the same, which at other times is of very little depth, groweth thereby so deep, and exceeding violent, that many persons have lost their lives therein, amongst others Mr. John Usher, father to sir William Usher that now is, who was carried by the current, no body being able to succour him, although


many persons, and of his nearest friends, both a-foot and horseback were by on both the sides. Since that time a stone bridge hath been built over that brook (as over Drumcondra water there hath been one from antient times) upon the way betwixt Dublin and Rings-end, which was hardly well accomplished, when the brook in one of those furious risings quite altered its channel for a good way, so as it did not pass under the bridge as before, but just before the foot of it, letting the same stand upon the dry land, and consequently making it altogether useless: in which perverse course it continued, until per force it was constrained to return to its old channel, and to keep within the same. To go from Dublin to Rathfarnum, one passeth this river upon a wooden bridge; the which although it be high and strong, nevertheless hath several times been quite broke, and carried away through the violence of sudden floods; although at other times, and when that brook doth only carry its ordinary water, a child of five years may easily and without danger wade through it, and a tall man on horseback riding underneath it, not being able to reach it, in the great floods the water many times riseth so high, as that it doth not only touch, but floweth quite over the bridge.