The Story Of
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THE FIRST PEOPLE
Until some months ago, it was generally believe that the earliest evidence of men in Ireland dated
back to around 5,500 B.C. that is about 7,500 years ago and. strangely enough that the north-east
of the island, today the least Irish part of it, has the longest archaeological record.. A new method
of dating pollen, charcoal and wood etc. by radio-carbon dating is much more accurate and Dr.
Peter Woodman, excavating at Mount Sandal on the river Bann, just south of Coleraine, has
shown just recently that here is the earliest record of men in Ireland, dated by radio-carbon to
between 8,700 and 8,600 years ago. Dr. Woodman, excavating at Newferry, which is at the N.W.
corner of' Lough Neagh, where the Bann makes its exit towards the sea, has found charcoal
which is 8,150 years old. Charcoal and wood col1ected from the raised beach at Cushendun,
which had been considered the place of the earliest evidence of man, has now been dated. 7,500
The basalt cliffs of Antrim show that the basalts have preserved beneath them a band of chalk
exposed on the cliff face - which is loaded with flints that were so precious to early man. Along
the Antrim coast, humanly worked flints are to be found in vast numbers, particularly in the
raised beach gravels at Larne, where they have long been collected and studied, and hence the
people who made and used them are known as Larnians. Who were these Larnians and where did
they come from? They came from Europe and reached Northern Ireland via Wales, England, Isle
of Man and Scotland. They lived entirely by hunting and fishing and were ever on the move,
especially along rivers and. along the shores of lakes. They had axe-like implements of chipped
stone, but they did not use these for forest clearing as their successors did. They do appear to have
made small clearings as seasonal camp-sites and these may have been fenced to keep out wolves
and foxes and. the occasional wandering bear. Most implements were made by a flaking process.
Suitable rounded pebbles of flint would be collected; one end would be struck off and a flat
surface produced; by striking blows at the perimeter of this surface, elongated flakes would be
detached and. the two types most sought for were parallel sided blades or knives and. leaf-shaped
flakes, to be used as pointed knives or mounted on a shaft to serve as an arrow or spear-head,
These people learned that a thin edge could be strengthened by removing small flakes at right
angles to the edge. Flakes were thus turned into scrapers and borers. In the same way one edge of
a flake could be blunted, so producing a ‘backed.' knife. Core-axes were occasionally made by
chipping off flakes from a chosen pebble until it was reduced to the desired shape.
It is believed that these people, who were nomadic, travelled slowly down the Dundonald valley
to make their settlements around Strangford Lough where fish and fowl were plentiful. They left
their evidence in the rubbish heaps and collections of fish spears, knives, axes, scrapers etc which
are found here and. there all along the valley. In 1958 some boys were sent to clear the new
playing fields at Comber Secondary School of stones to allow the new grass to be cut. Neil
Witham and. Jim Swindle each picked up a curiously shaped stone, which later were identified as
flint axe heads. They are now in the Museum in Belfast. Eventually these wanderers reached
Strangford Lough, where food was plentiful and encamped on a safe place, an island, later called
Slesny and later still Rough Island., at Island Hill. Here they caught any little animals that they
could and. gathered berries, roots and nuts, while from the sea they caught fish, seabirds and
gathered all kinds of shellfish. These were consumed at a communal eating place on the island,
the shells being thrown on to one big heap, seven or eight feet high, to be found thousands of
years later in 1936 by Americans from Harvard University excavating on the island for flints and.
other traces of their habitation. Later these wandering people spread round all the shores of the
Lough, which provided them with all their needs. Strangely enough not a single trace of these
people has been found on the shore-line from Donaghadee to Ballyhalbert, They were river folk.
This period lasted roughly until 3,000 B.C. These Mesolithic or Mid-Stone Age men were tall,
strong and hairy with broad noses and. large foreheads. They were wanderers clothed in the skins
of animals and carried heavy wooden clubs, wooden spears or flint hand-axes. They were quite
satisfied to do no more than get enough food.
THE NEOLITHIC AGE - The First Farmers
We now come to the Neolithic Age (New Stone Age), which was very roughly around. 3,000
B.C. until 2,000 B.C. - that is four or five thousand years ago. The sea-level had come to stand
approximately where it is today though there were some later fluctuations. It was from this time
onwards that the Atlantic coasts of Europe were settled by small groups of colonists from the
South - the Mediterranean -seeking land for their crops (wheat and. barley), fodder for their
livestock (cattle, sheep, goats, pigs and dogs), and flint and. other hard stones for their tools. They
came to this district from the Iberian Peninsula and Brittany, the light soils attracting them. These
were the first farmers and in choosing the land which best suited their purpose, the farmers had to
clear the mixed oak forests and for felling or ring barking the most serviceable tool was the axe of
hard, fine grained stone which could be ground and polished into shape. Ideal stone for this
purpose was found in the north-east of Ireland and a trade in axes developed with other parts of
Ireland and with England.
Farming meant that they had to stay near their growing crops, so life was more settled and. they
learned among other things to build. better houses and to spin and. weave The homes, at first,
were crude shelters made from branches and. leaves, later they were probably huts in the form of
a cone of logs, held firm by a double ring of stones at the base. Very much later they were houses
made of wood and thatch surmounting stone walls.
We still do not know a great deal about these people, but we are slowly adding to our knowledge.
We do know however that they left very impressive monuments behind them - great stone tombs
- which indicate their interest in magic rites of food production and hopes of future reward. The
term MEGALITHIC is applied to these tombs, because in many cases they were constructed of
large stones -from the Greek - Megas - great and. Lithos - a stone. These are sometimes locally
called "Giant's Gravel", "Giant's Ring", "Druid's Altar", etc but they are all chambered graves,
some containing many burials. We should remember that when we are looking at a Megalith that
we are often looking at the skeleton of the tomb only, the covering mound or cairn of small stones
and soil and subsidiary features having been removed. Outside this, further standing stones were
often placed surrounding or leading into the mound. Thus we see the chamber, consisting of
supporting stones and the roof, when the cairn of stones and soil, which once hid it has gone, or
the uprights only may remain after cairn and roofing material have vanished.
The grave goods such as the leaf-shaped arrowheads are the product of high craftsmanship and
long practised skills and their pottery vessels are of very high quality. One of these arrowheads,
of great beauty, was found by Mr. William Steele, when digging the garden of his new home on
the Glen Road, in 1975. We have several examples of these Megaliths in the Comber district and.
they are well worth a visit. The best example is at Greengraves where we have the Kempe Stones.
This is a portal grave, that is, a single chamber grave with tall entrance pillars. The chamber
measures about five feet square and is entered over a sill, rising to half the height of the wellmatched
portal stones. The back of the over sailing capstone - 8½ ft. x 7½ ft. - rests on a smaller
horizontal roofing slab. All the stones are basalt. Traces of the cairn survive - apparently a long
cairn. The height of the Megalith is ten feet and, the weight of the capstone is 17 tons.
Other examples in the district are the locally known "Giant's Grave" on the left hand side of the
Killinchy Road, in Ballygraffan, another on the right hand side of the Ballynicholl Road, known
locally as "The Five Sisters" and yet another on the right hand side of the Ballygraffan Road near
the old Windmill Stump. In a Year Book of 1887 it was stated that beside the "Five Sisters" was a
capstone measuring 18 feet long, five feet broad and four feet thick. This has now disappeared. In
all these cases the stones were probably dragged on rollers (tree trunks) from the shore of nearby
Strangford Lough. This huge capstone, known as "The Druids' Altar" was used by Roman
Catholics as a place of worship, when they were not allowed to worship anywhere, as it was off
the beaten track.
THE BRONZE AGE - The Metal Workers
The Bronze Age was roughly from 2,000 B.C. until 500 B.C. The New Stone Age people
discovered that the earth contained such materials as gold, copper, tin, silver and iron. They
looked on them as unusual sorts of stone. They could not be chipped but could be hammered or
beaten into shape and would last a long time. Much later and more slowly it was discovered that
the metals could be melted by great heat and poured into shapes to harden again. Then moulds
were invented and. it was found that many well-shaped weapons and tools could be made easily.
Again it was found eventually, that a mixture of two metals sometimes gave a harder and better
weapon. Copper and tin were the first metals to be used in such a way and eventually it was found
that the proportion of one part tin to nine parts copper was the best. This was bronze.
This was the Age of the "Beaker Folk" known for their distinctive type of pottery, (Beakers). In
Southern Ireland these people most likely came from Iberia and in Northern Ireland from Central
Europe. Early in the second millennium they began to exploit their native sources of copper and
copper axes and other small tools and weapons were being made in Ireland. About 1750 B.C. a
bronze industry was established. The need to import tin to add to the native copper stimulated
contacts already established with Spain and Central Europe as well as with Cornwall and the
Early Irish Bronze Age was a time of brilliant achievements with, not only copper and bronze, but
with silver and gold. Ireland at this tine, had some of the finest goldsmiths, silversmiths and
coppersmiths in Europe, and supplied much of Britain with bronze implements as well as silver
and gold ornaments.
These new people brought with them new customs and new ideas, but the places where they lived
are not known with any certainty except for the many artificial islands (Crannogs - from crann
meaning a tree) built in lakes and marshes. Hunting was still important for food, but farming did
improve slowly. Wheat, oats, rye and barley were grown and wooden spades, graips and yokes as
well as flint and bronze sickles were in use, flax was probably first grown in this age and the
horse was first brought into Ireland. Clothing also improved with long, loose dresses for the
women and short kilts for the men, made of cloth woven from wool and goat's hair. Many
ornaments of stone, shells, bone and metal were worn by both men and women, but they were
often charms against evil. This improvement in clothing became important because around. 500
B.C. the weather became wetter and stormier and as a result peat began to cover large areas and
probably hid traces of the earlier inhabitants. Characteristic of this period are the ceremonial
circles of earth or standing stones or a combination of the two. These had some magic - religious
significance to Bronze Age man, probably connected with sun and fertility worship. Examples of
these are to be found at "The Giant's Ring" not far from Purdysburn and at Ballynoe, south of
Downpatrick. These are the most mysterious relics of antiquity as they are places of ritual and not
burial or habitation and. therefore their excavation produces little to serve as evidence of date.
The "Cock and Hens" stones at the ‘hairpin' bend in Dundonald are also an example of this.
There are also many single ‘standing stones' in the countryside like those at Dundonald (The
Long Stone), Ballyhalbert and outside Dundrum on the road to Maghera, which are also of this
era, from these stones evolved the stone gate posts of later years, the belief still clinging that if
one drove one's animals between these posts, they would prosper and be more abundantly fertile.
Also associated with this period are the box-like graves of stone slabs, called ‘cists' - containing
cremated remains, in an earthenware urn and often with a food vessel beside it. Some of these
were found west of the Primary School in Comber, beside the river in 1858, at the entrance to
Andrews' Bleach Green in 1850, by a farmer in Ballyloughan in 1885 and on the site of the
Primary School when it was built in 1937. These are now in the Museum in Belfast.
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The Early Christian Era runs roughly from 450 A.D. until 1200 A.D. In Europe this period was
"The Dark Ages", when Christianity and Learning almost died out, following the collapse of the
Roman Empire. It was also the period, when Ireland earned the name - "A Land of Saints and
Scholars". The story of St. Patrick and the numerous legends concerning him are well known, but
the truth of some details is weaker than often supposed. His birthplace is by no means a certainty,
but the general opinion is that it was somewhere along the estuary of either the Severn or the
Clyde, and that he was born late in the fourth century.
The Britonic Picts of Galloway had their St. Ninian and "Candida Casa", 398 A.D.in
Wigtonshire, long before Ireland had St. Patrick. This was just across the Channel from
Strangford Lough (Loch Cuan), and had become a celebrated Monastery and College. The Mull
of Galloway is quite close to Down and no doubt there was trade and social contacts between the
two places and possibly resulting in some Down people becoming Christians, before the arrival of
St. Patrick. However, his success as a missionary was so great that he has become the Patron
Saint of Ireland. His original name was Sucatus or Sochet and he later adopted the Roman name
of Patricius. He most likely did land on the shore of Loch Cuan at the mouth of the river Slaney
and met the local Chieftain, Dichu, who was converted and who gave him a barn, in Irish -
Sabhall - which became his first Church - Saul.
Mochaoi (pronounced Maughee, or by the English - Mahee), founder of Nendrum (the island of
the nine ridges) Monastery and its first Abbot, was converted by Patrick on a journey from Saul
to Bright. Mochaoi's mother, Bronach, was the daughter of Milchu, the farmer of Slemish, where
Patrick had been a slave for six years. (From the Triparte Life;) - "In 433 A.D. as Patrick was
going along the way he saw a tender youth herding swine, Mochaoi was his name. Patrick
preached to him and baptised him and tonsured him and gave him a gospel and a Menistir (a
sacred vessel). The meeting place was at Ballynoe or Legamaddy (site of a circle of standing
stones)" Mochaoi was educated at Templepatrick and later had a cell at what is now called
Kilmakee in Co. Antrim, i.e. the Church of Mochaoi. Mochaoi founded Nendrum in 445 A.D., St.
Colman, a pupil of Mochaoi, founded Dromore around 500 A.D., St. Finnian, a pupil of St.
Colman and of Whithorn, founded Movilla in 540 A.D. and St Comgall founded Bangor in 555
A.D. He, like St Finnian, graduated in the schools of Co. Down and finished in the older
established "Magnum Monasterium" of Galloway and then went to the Continent. At first these
places were devoted to the ascetic life, simple, frugal and industrious but became in turn the
centres of material culture and were a powerful influence in founding the tradition of Irish
Learning which was to spread over Europe.
Tradition has it that Christianity came to Comber about 1500 years ago. Apparently Patrick
having visited his favourite convert, Mochaoi, travelled north on his way to Donaghadee and
hence to Scotland and the famous monastery at Whithorn, where he was always welcome. When
passing through the Comber district, Patrick was abused badly by Saran, one of the sons of
Caelbadh, the local Chieftain of the area. Conla, brother of Saran, hearing with great sorrow, how
uncivilly Patrick had been treated, went to apologise for his brother' a behaviour and to venerate
Patrick. He consecrated himself and all his property to his service, offering to him a remarkable
field called the Plain of Elom, for the purpose of erecting a church thereon. Conla built the church
and Patrick blessed him and. told him that his family and descendants would be great and.
powerful. This came to pass as Conla was the ancestor of the great Magennis family of South
Down, who later became the Earls of Roden. The widow of the fourth Marquis of Londonderry
was the daughter of the third Earl of Roden. She became a Roman Catholic in 1855, being largely
influenced by Cardinals Manning and Newman. She built at her own great expense the beautiful
Chapel and Schools in Newtownards and provided a set of Communion Plate in pure gold. She
also gave a very large subscription for the building of the Roman Catholic Chapel in Comber. She
is buried in a vault; beside her husband in the Old Priory in Court Street, Newtownards.
Conla's Church flourished and in the course of time became an Irish Monastery with many
buildings for its many activities. Its situation was most likely on the plain across the river from
the present Cricket Green. This would be "The most remarkable Plain of Elom."
The lane leading down to the site of the old Andrews' Flour Mill and Bleach Green, past The Old
House" (built in l744 and site of the present Cinema), is known to the older generation of
Comber, as "The Monks' Walk", possibly as it leads to the site of the Monastery.
THE IRISH MONASTERY
St. Columbanus, a monk of Bangor, who did outstanding work in Europe, saw the monastic life
as contemplating and. practising the presence of God. For him, Jesus is "the joy of Man's
desiring" and "to long for God is greater bliss than any worldly pleasure or any earthly
fulfilment." This is the idea we still have of life in a Monastery, but some Irish saints were not
meek and mild; indeed some were depicted as violent, vengeful and mighty cursers.
The head of the monastery was the Ab or Abbot, who might be in Holy Orders and yet again he
might not. He directed all the activities in the monastery and. his word was law. Under him was
the Bishop, who attended to the religious services and who ordained, consecrated and performed
other sacramental duties. There was the head of the monastic school, where the sons of the
wealthy were educated, together with the eldest sons of the lay monks, They were taught Latin
from a Latin Psalter, which they loved and constantly recited; (I wonder was it from this that
children in National Schools learned everything by rhyming aloud in class, including spelling,
tables, geography, history, grammar, and. Euclid. A method that was not always successful).
They also learned to read, to write, to draw and to illuminate letters with beautiful designs. So
they produced copies of beautiful and famous books, which took a long tine to complete and
which became part of the monastery treasure. This work would be supervised by the Scribe, who
would order the work to be done again, if it was not perfect, and they believed strongly in
corporal punishment for carelessness.
Other Officers were the Lector or Reader, the anchorite, the butler, baker, cook, carpenter and. the
most lowly - the janitor, who had his hone in the outside wall and. who rang the bell for the
services, of which there were six daily.
The monks went to bed when the sun went down, slept and then rose for Nocturnes round the
middle of the night. At dawn they attended Lauds then Terce at 9.00 a.m., because Christ was
given to Pontius Pilate at that hour. Sext or mid-day was the next service as Jesus was put upon
the Cross at that hour, then None or 3.00 p.m., because at that hour Jesus died on the Cross and
finally Vespers was said in the evening. In the monastery, the smith included all branches of
metal working in his craft. Not only did he work with iron, but he was a goldsmith, silversmith
and coppersmith as well and produced many beautiful articles in gold and silver that became
treasures of the monastery. He was the "gowan", one of the most important members of the
community and was held in the highest esteem. The name is preserved in hereditary surnames,
and place names like Gowan, Macgowan, Magowan, Ballygowan (the town land of the smith)
Some of the monasteries, with their bishops and priests, had frequent lapses from grace as in the
case of Columkille or Columba. While studying with Finnian at Movilla, he, without permission,
in the dead of night copied the Psalter from St. Martin's manuscript of the Gospels, brought by St.
Finnian from Whithorn. He was found out and Finnian claimed the copy and. when Columba
refused to give it up the case was taken before the Ard-ri, who pronounced his famous judgement,
"as every calf belonged to its mother cow, so every copy belonged to its mother book". Columba
refused to accept the judgement and. war resulted with the slaughter of 3,000 men.
St. Colomba's condemnation by a Synod, his anathema by book, bell and candle, and his
banishment to the Celtic colony just formed at Iona, is a chapter of history forgotten and more
frequently replaced by the garbled tales of self-banishment on the part of this fiery churchman,
whose early title was "The Wolf" and the name Columba, the Dove, only bestowed on him as a
term of' sarcasm, The evening of his life spent amongst the savage people of North west Scotland
made some atonement for the bloodshed of his early years.
THE AGUSTINIAN MONASTRY
The first Monastery in Comber was part of the ancient Celtic Church, which was organised, not
on a diocesan basis but rather on a tribal one. It continued to flourish and grow wealthy, owning
several townlands and considerable treasure. In the Annals of Loch-Ce it is recorded that in A.D,
1031 the Vikings burned Kill (or Cill) Combuir with its oratory, killed four clerics and carried off
thirty captives. In the Annals of the Four Masters it is recorded that in 1121 A.D. Cormac, Abbot
of Comar was killed. At the Synod of Cashel in 1101 A.D. Cellach, Bishop of Armagh began the
reform of the ancient Celtic Church and by 1110 A.D. at the Synod of Bresail, the Roman
Diocesan Episcopal system was adopted, with Cellach, as High Bishop or Archbishop of Armagh.
It was at this time that continental Orders were being introduced to Ireland.
The Benedictines were never popular in Ireland, though they did settle at Down and Nendrum.
The Augustinian Canons were popular and though leading a celibate life under religious rule, they
wanted to be near people to whom they might minister, so they often set up their establishments
in old monastic centres like Comber, where the Augustinian Rule was adopted by the existing
community. It was known locally as the Black Abbey, because of the black habit worn by the
monks. The Abbey became obscured in later years by the fame of the Cistercian Abbey sited near
the present Square, and it completely disappeared from history, the Cistercians taking over its
townlands. Portions of the buildings remained until 1644.
THE NORMAN ENGLISH. - John de Courcy 1177 A.D.
Pope Adrian 1V "for the purpose of extending the limits of the Church, checking the torrent of
wickedness, reforming evil manners, sowing the seeds of virtue and increasing the Christian
religion and in consideration of a payment of one penny per house per annum" gave Ireland to
Henry 2nd of England. Leinster and the South and West quickly became the spoil of the King's
Knights, but Ulster, the difficult, remained untouched until 1177 A.D. when John de Courcy, with
twenty-two Knights and about 300 followers invaded Down, defeated the Irish at Downpatrick
and paid his followers with large estates in the land of the rolling hills, Geoffrey do Marisoo
(Morris) got Dundonald and his neighbour de Hanwood has left his name in Ballyhanwood;
Ralph do Rossal (Russell) Ballyrussel got the Comber district, where he erected two and possibly
three "Mottes". We have the remains of one near Maxwell Court, one at Ballyalloly and one at
Ballyrickard - a mound at the Moate Corner on the Newtownards Road. On the opposite side of
the road leading to Scrabo was a small church - a ruin in 1622 and all trace of it has since
disappeared. Ballyrickard or White Richard was a Parish containing six townlands - Ballyrickard,
Ringcreevy, Baliyneganeme, (Glass moss and Longlands), Ballyhenry, Castleavery and
Carnemuck. Carnennuck was near the island of Slesny (Rough Island) and seems to be the
townland of Cherryvalley which in 1679 was called Chirivally also Carrowcrossnemukley.
The Normans resettled existing religious foundations as at Nendrum in 1178, which de Courcy
repaired for Benedictine monks from St. Bee's in Cumberland. In 1183 he repaired Downpatrick
and established monks from Chester. In 1187 he founded a Cistercian Abbey at Inch, outside
Downpatrick. This was on the site of an older Abbey called Erinagh, which he had destroyed.
Another Cistercian Abbey was built by Affreca, wife of de Courcy, at Greyabbey in 1193.
Affreca was the daughter of the King of Man, and on a journey from there to Co. Down, she was
caught in a fierce storm at sea and vowed that if she reached land safely, there she would build a
CAPTAIN GEORGE JAMES BRUCE D.S .0. M.C
13th BATTALI0N, THE ROYAL IRISH RIFLES. ( 1st CO. DOWN VOLUNTEERS)
GENERAL STAFF OFFICER ON THE HEADQUARTER STAFF ULSTER DIVISIQN.
George James Bruce was the eldest son of Mr. Samuel Bruce, of Norton Hall Campden,
His mother was Louise Mary Julie Colthurst of Blarney Castle, County Cork. He was of Scottish
descent, an ancestor having been killed at Flodden in 1513. Another ancestor was the Rev. Michael
Bruce, Minister of Killinchy, who suffered much persecution on religious grounds.
George Bruce was born in 1880, was educated at Winchester and in 1907 married Hilda, daughter of
Mr. John Blakiston-Houston, D.L. of Orangefield, Belfast. Before the 1914 - 18 War he resided at
CUAN, Killinchy Road, Comber and was Managing Director of the Comber Distilleries Company
Ltd., of which his father was Chairman. He was a most versatile sportsman. He played cricket for
North Down and for The North of Ireland Club, was a Plus Two handicap player in the Golfing world,
was a magnificent shot and a fine tennis and billiards player.
There is a tablet to his memory in Comber Parish Church.
"LEST WE FORGET"
COMBER :- 426 men answered the call to arms in 1914.
79 made the SUPREME SACRIFICE.
The War Memorial was unveiled on 14th April, 1923.
Athea, archaeology; Went, Arthur E. J. 1956 102-103 "Two Irish Salmon Spears" - one of which came from Gortnagross near Athea
Westropp, Thomas 1909 42-58, 350-368 "The Desmonds' Castle at Newcastle Oconyll, Co. Limerick"
Dinely, Thomas 1867 188-189
Fitzgerald, Walter 1923 143 ref to Patrick Crosbie's effort to take over Glin Castle.
Hewetson, or Hewson family
Garstin, J. R. 1906 428-429 "The Hewetsons or Hewsons in Ireland"
Hewetson, John 1909 155 reference to Limerick Hewsons in article "The Hewetsons of
the County Kildare"
Hewson, George James
1905 83 notice of death of this Adare resident, frequent contributor to
Lacy, Francis Maurice, Field Marshal
Cavanagh, 1926 97 biographical note of Lacy, son of Count Peter Lacy of the
Lieut-Col. family of Ballingarry in article "Irish Knights of the Imperial
Military Order of Maria Theresa"
Cavanagh, 1927 121, 125 2 mentions of Lacy in article "Irish Colonels Proprietors of
Lieut-Col. Imperial Regiments"
Lacy, William, Count
Cavanagh, 1926 100 biographical note of Lacy of Ballingarry in article "Irish
Lieut-Col. Knights of the Imperial Military Order of Maria Theresa"
O Danachair, 1955 193-217 "The Holy Wells of County Limerick"