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Glenbuchat Heritage

76 White Hill, Well of Cul-dearg. Holy Well
The Glenbuchat Image Library
76 White Hill, Well of Cul-dearg. Holy Well

Cul-Dearg: Meaning: cul back, hill-back: dearg red

“Well of Cul-dearg. A spring well; in 1740 seven people were found dead, one after the other, from famine or fatigue.” Name Book, 1866.

This brief Historical note raises a number of interesting issues relating to the well, climate changes, the famine and the deaths.

Holy Well
Note entry about Holy well on Ben Newe

A holy well is a spring. or other body of water, revered either in a Pagan or Christian context, often both, as holy wells were frequently pagan sacred sites that became Christianized. The term 'holy well' is commonly employed to refer to any water source of limited size (i.e. not a lake or river, but including pools and natural springs and seeps), which has some significance in the folklore of the area where it is located, whether in the form of a particular name, an associated legend, the attribution of healing qualities to the water through the numinous presence of its guardian spirit or Christian saint, or a ceremony or ritual centred on the well site. In Christian legend, the water is often said to have been made to flow by the action of a saint, a familiar theme especially in the hagiography of Celtic saints.

In Ireland and Great Britain, sacred wells derive their distant origins from megalithic and Celtic times. In those pre- and early historical times people frequented such places often in the belief that imbibing the fresh water from a rocky pool, a woodland grove or a hollow in a grassland clearing, cured or palliated certain illnesses. Common-sense supports the view that water containing natural nutrients (such as spa water) benefits the health. Ancient peoples on these islands believed the sacred waters derived their magic from spiritual forces. Hence Celtic deities were venerated and implored at sacred groves.

As the Celtic Church expanded, wells became associated with local saints, who were declared to be their patrons. Using a corruption of this word in later centuries, patterns were held annually on saint days, when people converged on selected wells for pilgrimage activities. In several localities around Ireland today the custom of 'patterns' persists, generally with the sanction of clergy, who often lead the custom from behind, impelled by the momentum of folk tradition.

A Celtic saint, St Walloch, was believed to be resident in the Glen in the 700’s

Climate Changes

“1739-40: Severe winter, one of the worst. It may have been worse than that of 1715. Late December saw a severely strong Easterly gale set up, brining very cold air over the UK. Ice formed on the Thames, once again. Streets were blocked up with ice and snow, which made travelling hazardous. The Thames remained frozen over for about 8 weeks. Some reports said this winter was the most severe on record, with temperatures falling to -24c in early January (1995 beat this and holds the record for the coldest minima in the UK ever). The Easterly gale persisted, with snow and frost becoming an increasing hazard to all. Northerlies also started up, very strong in places, with again snow and ice. This winter can be noted as one of the most severe of all time (since records began).”

Scott Magazine: Oct 1740 Act of Town Council Dec 19 1740
“A frost which began on the 26th of the previous month lasted during the whole of this, and was long remembered for its severity and the many remarkable circumstances attending it. We nowhere get a scientific statement of the temperature at any period of its duration, but the facts related are sufficient to prove that this was far below any point ordinarily attained in this country. The principal rivers of Scotland were frozen over and there was such a general stoppage of water mills that the knocking stones usually employed in those simple days for husking grain in small quantities, and of which there was one at nearly every cottage door, were used on this occasion as means of grinding it. Such mills as had a flow of water were worked on Sundays, as well as ordinary days. In some harbours the ships were frozen up. Food rose to famine prices and large contributions were required from the rich to keep the poor alive. The frost was severe all over the northern portion of Europe. The Thames at London being thickly frozen over, a fair was held upon it, with a multitude of shows and popular amusements. At Newcastle men digging coal in the pits were obliged to have fires kindled to keep them warm and one mine was through this cause ignited permanently. In the metropolis coal became so scarce as to reach 70s per chaldron and there also much misery resulted among the poor. People perished of cold in the fields and even in the streets and there was a prodigious mortality amongst birds and other wild animals.”

The Famine

“It seems rather self-evident that a climatic downturn that results in decreased crop yields may lead to famine in agriculturally dependent areas. If there is any doubt, however, we need only look to the Irish demographic crisis of 1740-41 (Drake 1968) which began with a severe frost on 27 December 1739.”

“It was, however, in the last decade of the 17th century that the worst famine of all during the Little Ice Age would hit Scotland. This is the so-called 'ill years of King William's reign', when there were 7 years of harvest failure out of 8 between 1693 and 1700. All harvest failures occurred in the upland parishes of Scotland, and caused more people to die of starvation at that time than caused by the Black Death of 1348-1350. Also a bigger proportion of the total population died than during the Black Death. There are also numerous reports from travellers of the time of permanent snow on the tops of the Cairngorms and elsewhere on the Scottish mountains” (Lamb 1995).

“The great frost ended in the middle of February 1740. How many people died while it lasted we shall never know. That the number was perhaps quite large is indicated by one source, the burial register kept by the church of Ireland rector in the Dublin parish of St Peter and St Kevin. ... Many of these deaths were probably of old people succumbing to the diseases said to be particularly prevalent at the time.... No doubt malnutrition resulting from the loss of employment in the towns or the loss of animals and potatoes in the countryside took its toll.” (Drake 1968: 111-12)

“In consequence of the failure of the crop of this year, Scotland was now undergoing the distresses attendant upon the scarcity high price of provisions. The populace of Edinburgh attacked mills certain granaries in Leith and sundry meal shops and themselves of several hundred bolls of grain, the forces being too limited in number to prevent them. Several of the rioters being captured a mob attempted their and thus led to a fusillade from the soldiery by which persons were wounded one of them mortally. Great efforts made by the magistracy to obtain corn at moderate prices the people by putting in force the laws against reservation of from market and the dealing in it with a view to profit by the more rational method of subscriptions among the rich the sale of meal at comparatively low rates to the poor. “


The effects of the climatic downturn and the resulting agricultural disaster were felt the following year in the spreading of disease, a rather typical aftermath of famine arising from any of a number of conditions.

“The spread of the bloody flux through 1741 was helped not only by the weakness of the population due to the food shortage, but also due to weather conditions. The year was an unusually dry one and the summer was unusually hot. Under such conditions food and water easily became contaminated while the bacillus producing dysentery could be carried through the air in particles of dust.” (Drake 1968:117)

“The dreadful famine fever, which ravaged Scotland and Ireland from 1740-42 was as essentially a relapsing fever, as the notorious recent famine fever of Ireland of 1846 49, for it is recorded of the cases that the patients were subject to relapses even to the third and fourth time. The fevers of the last century were described too imperfectly to enable us to trace how often this form of relapsing fever appeared among the epidemics, but the relapsing fever was recognised as constituting no small proportion of the cases in the epidemics of 1798 1800 in that of 1810-11 in that of 1817-20 in that of 1826-29 in that of 1841-42 in that of 1846-49 and has even appeared in the epidemic at present prevailing over Scotland. Nay more according to the accounts which have reached us from Russia it constitutes a large proportion of the cases of that virulent epidemic which is at present devastating that country”

The lancet London
“In no part of the British dominions however has fever existed to such an extent as in Ireland, faithful accounts of which have been published in the excellent reports of Drs Barker and Cheyne, from which it would appear that the Irish epidemics from the numbers affected and great mortality resembled the plague of the sixteenth and seventeenth centuries. It has been computed that by the fever that raged throughout Ireland in the middle of last century 1740-1741 upwards of 80,000 were carried off”

Picture added on 21 July 2010 at 00:23
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The OS Pathfinder map has the Well of Cul-dearg clearly located at NJ36651893, a different location from the one on the map above. We visited this well on Sunday afternoon and found it after a bit of searching and map checking. It is a good going spring which feeds a small burn that flows away from it. We didn't look for the well on the map above. Is the Pathfinder map wrong - or is the above map wrong?! The website is a great piece of work - congratulations to all contributors.

Site of well now corrected as noted in 1850 OS MAP ... Web Administrator
Added by Peter Craig, Cromar History Group on 13 October 2010
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