Banner: Knocknarea sunset
Tobernalt  - the Well of the Cliff.
Tobernalt - the Well of the Cliff. The altar can be seen above in the foreground, while a replica of the penal cross is placed in the shrine on the altar.


A beautiful and tranquil spot at the south foot of Carns Hill. Tobernalt is an ancient well, in use long before the first Christian bell was sounded in Ireland. The spring rises from under the cliff at Carns Hill - hence the name - Tober an Alt means the Well of the Cliff.

It is a powerful and fast-flowing spring, and it's water is said to have cures for both eyesight and madness. Perhaps for this last cure, people with handicaps and disabilities were taken here and washed in the waters in the past. The origins of the 'madness' cure probably has something to do with Maeve the Goddess, whose name means 'The Intoxicating One'.

Tobernalt is a fine example of continious use of a site since most ancient times. People began building monuments in this area more than 6,000 years ago, and the two massive cairns on Carns Hill are at least 5,200 years old.

The spring flows into Lough Gill nearby, and the neoltihic people would have revered this site, springs having been held as sacred since earliest times.

Old photo of Tobernalt
An old photo of Tobernalt.

The well was the site of Penal masses, when the Catholic religion was outlawed in Ireland between 1690 and 1828. People gathered at hidden, out of the way locations to celebrate the Catholic Mass, which was outlawed and punishable by death. Catholic priests were hunted down and killed for bounty during the penal times. There is a penal alter and cross at Tobernalt.

The original cross is kept at Cregg House.

Tobernalt penal cross replica.
Tobernalt penal cross replica.

Tobernalt also has prayer tree, which seems to move around over time. Prayer trees belong to an ancient Indo-european custom, where tying a piece of cloth or a ribbon to a sacred tree releases the doners prayer. The tree at Tobernalt is much used, and covered with all sorts of offerings.

Illustration of Tobernalt by William Wakeman.
Pilgrims at Tobernalt in 1879 painted by William Wakeman, image © County Sligo Library.