by Jim McCarthy
Over the centuries this was a great time of pilgrimage in the parish of Churchtown, when people came in their hundreds to do the rounds at St. Brigid’s Well in the townland of Mountbriget, two miles south from Churchtown, on the road to Buttevant. Here over the well there grew a great ash tree which was hundreds of years old. This old tree gave its name to the district around it and it became a name known the world over, as “Biddy’s Tree”. Sadly during a great storm in the 1960s the great tree was blown down. I am now glad to see that beside a beautiful statue of the saint at the well a young ash tree is growing up and I am also delighted to be told that the young tree is a sapling from the great old ash.
Sixty or seventy years ago the late Con O’Brien, the Bard of Ballyhea, composed a fine poem on the great ash tree that grew over St. Brigid’s Well, near Churchtown.
THE TREE AT THE HOLY WELL
Oh tell me thy tale, thou grey ash tree,
Left alone where they comrades stood,
A story proud may be told by thee,
The last of the noble wood,
Hast thou no voice in thy spreading boughs,
With their leaves of the deep dark green,
Oh there in the shade while the high sun glows,
Pray tell me what thou hast seen.
I’ve seen the forest shadows cast,
Where workmen now reap the corn,
I’ve seen the kingly chase rush past,
Through the echoing glades of morn,
With many a gallant glancing spear,
And many a weaving plume,
And the bound of a hundred startled deer,
In the depth of the woodlands gloom.
I’ve seen the knight and his train ride past,
With his banner hung wide on high,
And over my leaves was a brightness cast,
From his glittering panoply,
The pilgrim old at me feet has laid,
His palm branch amid the flowers,
And counted his beads as he knelt and prayed,
At the peaceful vesper hours.
The minstrel resting in my shade,
Has oft made the forest ring,
With the rousing tale of the warlike raid,
At the call of the chief or king,
The peasants yet pray at the holy well,
That spring at my knotty feet,
As they did when the tolling of hermit’s bell,
Ran soft through the woodland sweet.
Oh, great grey tree, thou lonely tree,
Left mourning for the past,
A peasants home in thy shade I see,
Safe sheltering from every blast,
and the village bell rings sweet on the breeze,
That rustles thy leaves, great tree,
Then how can I mourn in scenes like these,
For the long lost past with thee.