A bit of a nostalgia trip for Finola and me this week: we spent a couple of days in Kerry and dropped in to Derrynablaha – the iconic valley which has some of Ireland’s most notable Rock Art. These stones were carved on natural rocks on the hillsides many thousands of years ago. To this day, we don’t know what they signify.
Some years ago, Finola and I organised exhibitions showing examples of Rock Art – many taken from Finola’s 1973 University of Cork thesis. The map above was drawn for the exhibitions: you can find Derrynablaha in the centre of the Iveragh Peninsula, left of centre. Below is a rendering of Finola’s thesis drawing showing – arguably – the most significant piece of Rock Art on this island:
Here’s a photo of these rocks which I took on my first visit to this valley, in 2012. It was a dull day! The next photo was taken on a better day three years later. This shows how weather conditions can affect the way that Rock Art motifs are seen:
On our most recent visit – last week – we didn’t have time to scale the steep hillside to view this rock formation, but we enjoyed just taking in the stunning landscapes of the townland.
Above, and in the header picture, you can see the ruin of the cottage, which was once the only dwelling in this valley. It was still lived in when Finola visited to carry out her survey of the Rock Art in 1972 – fifty years ago. Then it was occupied by John O’Sullivan and his sister, May. John’s brother – Daniel – discovered much of the Rock Art in the surrounding landscape and reported this in the 1960s to Michael Joseph O’Kelly, then Professor of archaeology at UCC, and his wife Claire. Subsequently the O’Kellys made some expeditions to Derrynablaha, as did the Italian rock art expert, Emannuel Anati. Daniel had died prior to Finola’s visits and she recalls that the remaining family were excellent stewards of the Rock Art, ensuring that it was preserved and not damaged. She has ‘hazy memories’ of being brought into the house and given cups of tea and brown bread.
After we had published earlier posts about Derrynablaha, Finola was contacted by Faith Rose – the great niece of the O’Sullivans who lived in this cottage in 1969: Faith had visited the valley in that year. She recalls:
. . . I remember their bedroom was downstairs, the staircase to the upstairs being unsafe. There were none of the usual services in the house. There was an old fashioned fireplace where you could cook with a settle at the side. I seem to remember being told it had been built under some government scheme and the original stone farmhouse was to be seen slowly returning to nature close by. I wonder if you recall any of this. My great aunt and uncle were shy people who extended us the best hospitality. To my sister and I it was a magical place, but the hardness of their lives there was clear . . .
Faith Rose 2021
There are the ruins of several other buildings set within this landscape, indicating that the settlement was once significantly more populated in earlier times. Now it is wildly lonely, but impressively beautiful. When Finola carried out her surveys, she recorded 23 pieces of Rock Art. Today it is recognised that there are 26 known examples, with a further 7 stones in the adjacent townland of Derreeny. Long term readers of this Journal may recall that we visited the townland in April of 2015 – together with a small group of enthusiasts – to seek out all the known examples. At that time Ken Williams was using techniques he had developed to photograph the carvings in fine detail. These employed several portable light sources. The following sequence shows one of the rocks (number 12) taken without lighting; Finola’s drawing traced in 1972; then Ken’s technique in action and his results, which are remarkable:
Once again you are reading about the Rock Art at Derrynablaha! There have been several posts on this subject over the years, but we make no apologies: we never tire of the beautiful landscapes of Kerry – and we have seen it in all weathers. It would be good if we could be closer to solving the meanings of these rock carvings; this is unlikely to happen. Over the last 300 years since the phenomenon was first recorded in Ireland (and Britain, and many other places in Europe and the world) there have been varying theories – dozens – put forward for its existence: none of them is conclusive. Think on . . .
. . . It is very seldomly violently cold here, and freezeth but little. There are commonly three or four frosts in one winter, but they are very short, seldom lasting more than three of four days together and with all their very worst, nothing so near so violent as in most other countries. But, how mild they ordinarily be, and how little subject to excessive cold. And as the cold in winter is moderate and tolerable, so is also the heat in summer; which is seldom so great, even in the hottest times of the year as to be greatly troublesome . . .
1726: A Natural History of Ireland in Three Parts by Gerard Boate, Gerard and Thomas Molyneaux
I was attracted to the early 18th century quote by Boate (first paragraph), because it certainly always seemed to be the case that Ireland has the perfect climate: never too cold and never too hot. In these days of global warming, maybe that’s less so than it used to be: we are experiencing long, cold and wet winters (here we are in mid May and we have to keep our fires burning!) and some scorching summer days when it’s exhausting to be out in the sun. Nevertheless, I believe we are fortunate not to suffer too much from unhealthy extremes – as yet.
Today’s post sees us travelling again with our frequent companions Amanda and Peter (above, with Finola). Remember my post from last week? For that expedition we stayed at Kells Bay House, in Co Kerry: Peter and Amanda organised that wonderful trip. We decided we couldn’t leave that sublime place until we had visited the Primaeval Forest there.
. . . Rowland Ponsonby Blennerhassett (1850-1928), grandson of Rowland Blennerhassett, married Mary Beatrice Armstrong from London in 1876 and is recorded as living at Kells. He extended the original Hollymount Cottage and renamed it Kells. They also kept a house at Hans Place, Chelsea, near to the Chelsea Physic Garden. Rowland Ponsonby is widely held responsible for making additions to the garden which still stand today. He established the Ladies Walled Garden adjacent to the front of the house for his wife Lady Mary, planted the Primeval Forest and laid out the pathways through the gardens . . .
The History of Kells Bay House & Gardens Helen M Haugh 2015
One of the principal attractions of the gardens at Kells Bay – and the Primaeval Forest – is a series of sculptures carved from tree fragments, commenced in 2011, by Kerry sculptor Pieter Koning. Here is a striking portrait of that artist by photographer David Molloy:
The Dinosaur sculptures have blended well into the natural landscape over the years: we were delighted with them!
In addition to the Dinosaurs, which are well worth an exploration (I have only shown a few here to tantalise you into a visit!), there is a tree-fern forest planted by Blennerhassett, and spectacularly enhanced by the present owner, Billy Alexander, who has been awarded a Gold Medal at Chelsea Flower Show for his Kells Bay Gardens ‘mirocosm’. There are plenty of landscaping features old and new, and a ‘Sky Walk’ rope bridge, which is quite challenging.
Finola and I are at odds about this species: Gunneramanicata. Finola sees them springing up in the countryside where they ‘don’t belong’ – they originate in South America and are now spreading wildly, particularly here in the west of Ireland. Gunnera is listed on the Third Schedule of the EU Habitats Regulations which makes it an offence under Regulation 49 …to plant, disperse, allow or cause to grow this plant in the Republic of Ireland… So I can see Finola’s viewpoint. But I have always admired them. They grow so fast that you can almost see them getting bigger if you stand and stare for a few minutes. In this context, at Kells Bay House, they are part of an exotic collection dating from the 1800s, and therefore excused (says I).
I hope you will agree that Kells Bay House and Gardens is a ‘must see’ destination. And it’s well worth more than one visit. Include it – as we did – in a tour of landscape, archaeology and Holy Wells. The county of Kerry has so much to offer!
We embarked on a sea voyage in order to explore the island of Illaunloughan, which is off the coast of Kerry not far from Portmagee. To the north is Valentia Island. It is said that this tiny landfall – only 0.3 acres in area – is the smallest of Ireland’s offshore islands which contain medieval monastic remains.
Our sea journey was on board an aluminium fishing boat – there it is, below, with the island of Illaunloughan in the background.
And there’s the full crew (two pics below): myself, Amanda, Peter, David the boatman and Finola. We were – as you might guess – on an archaeological expedition in Kerry, which included the search for a holy well on this island.
You can see Portmagee in the background of the photo above. It’s not a long journey: just a few minutes from the harbour there. In fact it is said that on a couple of tidal events during the year you can actually walk across to Illaunloughan, but the voyage was far more exciting for us!
This is the view of the island as the boat approaches it: you can see various of the archaeological features. It doesn’t take long to explore – but it’s fascinating. A full survey of the surviving monuments was undertaken by Jenny White-Marshall and Claire Walsh in the 1990s: this resulted in the publication Illaunloughan Island: An Early Medieval Monastery in County Kerry, Wordwell Press, 2005. Here is a synopsis:
. . . The gable-shrine is one of a small group of reliquary shrines that occurs at the western end of the Iveragh Peninsula: similar examples are found at Killoluaig, Kilpeacan and Killabuonia. These shrines or specially marked graves are generally ascribed to the founder. The base of the gable-shrine at Illaunloughan consists of a large terraced mound, 9m by 7.6m, which rises to a height of 1.5m. The mound is partly built on an area of rock outcrop which was levelled off on its southern side with soil, stone and pea-gravel. Vertically set kerb-stones and masonry walling were placed along the edges to retain this fill; the mound has been eroded on the northern side by the action of the sea. White quartz stones of varying sizes were liberally scattered over the mound. At its western edge stone steps lead up to an area of rough paving that surrounds a rectangular drystone structure on which stands the slab-shrine. The end-slabs are missing. When the side-slabs were removed an underlying core of pea-gravel and white quartz was exposed. This sealed two small, irregularly shaped, stone-lined cists, each of contained neatly stacked exhumed human bones. A minimum of three individuals, all male, is represented in this skeletal assemblage which comprised fragments of the skulls of two individuals, a single mandible, and several long bones. Large numbers of scallop shells and white quartz pebbles were placed both within and around the cists. The eastern quadrant of the gravel mound was evidently planned as a cemetery for monks who wished to be buried close to their saints, for at least five bodies were interred here. These were laid side by side, and were extended inhumations oriented from east to west, with the heads to the west. Following excavation, much of the shrine platform was dismantled. This revealed three rock-cut graves, all oriented from east to west, sealed beneath the mound material. The graves, located on the north-eastern, the southern and the western sides of the shrine, clearly predate the construction of the mound and shrine. Fragments of human bone were recovered from two of them, including a sizeable part of a shattered femur, found at the western end of the grave. No bone was recovered from the third grave. It is hoped to determine, through trace element analysis, whether the bones in the earlier graves represent parts of the individuals translated into the cists beneath the gable-shrine. The evidence so far collated on the Illaunloughan shrine indicates that it is a multiperiod structure. The presence of a sacred focus (an earlier shrine?) is strongly suggested by the earlier graves, though no trace of any such structure survives. C14 (AMS analysis) dating of bone from the cists beneath the gable-shrine has yielded a date in the early seventh century for one individual and the middle of the eighth century for a second. Half-scallop shells, present in the fill of the cists and on their stone lids, were clearly of some significance to those who interred the translated bones. Some of the scallop shells from the shrine have been perforated and they may have been suspended from cords. The scallop is, of course, the emblem of St James, whose remains were ‘discovered’ in a field of shells in Compostela, north-western Spain, in AD 813. The shrine at Compostela rose to prominence as a place of pilgrimage in the eleventh century (Harbison 1991, 22). This may be further evidence of refurbishment of the shrine at a late period . . .
National MoNuments Historic Environment Viewer
Two views of the gable shrine (upper photographs) together with a scaled drawing from the National Monuments Service (above). This distinctive site, with its embellishments of white quartz pebbles and slate capping, suggests an internment of some great importance – probably a local saint. The gable-shrine was reconstructed after excavation and is now complete. Note from the description above (National Monuments Service) that three rock-cut graves were revealed under the present structure – empty – and the suggestion has been made that the later shrine was constructed to ‘translate’ the earlier burials because of the significant status of those who were buried there.
The gable shrine seen with the bridge from Portmagee to Valentia Island in the background. In front of the shrine are (probably much later) grave markers. It was common practice to put burials close to anciently sacred sites: in fact, up to the 20th century Illaunloughan was used as a cillín for the burial of unbaptised infants and as a graveyard by local people.
This plan of the island (National Monuments Service) shows the principal features: the gable shrine, an oratory, a stone hut and a well. It also serves to show how small the island actually is – yet it supported a community of men and children (one of the three burials in the shrine was seven or eight years old). Their main diet is said to have been fish and seafowl based. The drystone oratory (church) was excavated and radiocarbon dated to the 8th century. The excavations of the surrounding land revealed that a range of domestic and industrial activities were undertaken, including fine metal-working, bone-working and cereal processing (Irish Heritage News 2018).
The pics above show the oratory, a stone hut and the well. The latter would have been a necessity for any permanently based community on the island: Amanda’s particular interests in holy wells made her wonder whether this one had any local folklore or dedication.
Further areas of worked stone marked out enclosures or terraced areas which would have had some significance to the community based there. After excavation, the island’s features have been returned to good structural condition. The site suffered some serious vandalism in fairly recent years. Fortunately, its general lack of access has provided some protection.
This felt to us a very special site, and we were privileged to be able to visit it. If you read the book about it, you will see that the thinking of those who carried out the excavations was that it was active from the 7th to the 9th centuries. In more recent times this dating has been questioned – possibly because radio-carbon dating results have been revised since those findings. It is now being suggested that use of the monastic site may have continued into the 11th century: we have to note that a Hiberno-Norse coin of 1020-35 was found under the paving of the plinth surrounding the gable shrine. White-Marshall and Walsh suggest this could be evidence for the use or maintenance of the shrine in the 11th century, while another commentator – Cormac Bourke (in reviewing the excavation report) – has suggested the continuous use of the site into that period.
For Amanda, the dedication of this site to a local saint would be important. Two saints named Lochan appear in the Martyrology of Tallaght (c. AD 800); one could have been the founder. It’s also worth noting that Saint Finnbar of Cork was baptised Lochan: he was educated at Kilmacahil, Kilkenny, where the monks named him Fionnbharr (white head) because of his light hair. His dates in any case do not fit with Illaunloughan: Finnbar was born around 550.
The island of Illaunloughan is low-lying, and at some risk of future indundation if climate change leads to drastic sea-level rise. We were fortunate to get the opportunity to visit this magical place, thanks to our local boatman – who bore us safely back to dry land!
PS Many thanks to Amanda Clarke – Holy Wells of Cork & Kerry – for dreaming up this remarkable adventure. And for finding us a boatman!
You know we love the beauty of West Cork, and we can’t resist the odd foray into all our neighbouring parishes. They are perhaps a bit wilder and higher, with markedly remote open spaces. So here’s a little wander on to the Beara Peninsula and beyond: I have raided our archive of photographs to enthuse us – and, hopefully you – to travel those roads in the coming spring. Firstly, have a look at this:
There’s a house down there, nestled under some spectacularly steep fields! This is to remind you that you have to up the scale a bit if you are stepping across the county boundaries. This Kerry landscape is such a contrast to our own seascapes and islands. We have our hills, of course: Mount Gabriel was in the news this week because of the gorse fires which lit up its summit. Such fires are allowed up until the first of March – by longstanding tradition – to clear the land and improve the grazing. It all seems a bit incongruous, though, when governments are planning to outlaw wood-burning stoves because they lead to poor air quality, and we are being advised by the HSE about the adverse health effects of air polluted by smoke and ash. Fire on Mount Gabriel 26 February 2023 – photo by Magnus Burbanks – courtesy Southern Star:
Let’s leave that argument – and the drama – for others to debate, and return to the colour and spectacle of our neighbours. Below are fishing boats tied up in Castletown-Berehaven. You’ll note that ‘Iolair’ is registered in Skibbereen. If this seems strange, remember that our West Cork town on the Ilen River is still the Port Of Registration for all shipping on the south-west coast of Ireland between the jurisdictions of Cork and Limerick. My recent post on the Ilen described Skibbereen as “. . . a settlement served by water . . .” with perhaps up to nine historic quays and a Custom House located within the town in its heyday of commercial vessels working on the river. Present day Shipping registrations are administered by Customs & Excise in Bantry, even though the prefix ‘S’ (for Skibbereen) is still used – a somewhat quirky anomaly: the Custom House in Skibbereen was closed in 1890!
The people of the Beara Peninsula quite likely think of themselves foremost as an entity, rather than a mixture of Corkonians and Kerry people. In Eyries a Seanchaí – or storyteller – is celebrated: Pádraig Ó Murchú. His story is a somewhat sad one, certainly not untypical of many remote areas in Ireland. He was born in Gort Broc (Gortbrack, Co Kerry – north of Kenmare Bay) on 15 February 1873. His parents were Seán Ó Murchú whose wife Máire Harrington. (‘Caobach’) and he had four sisters and two brothers. Five of them, the boys and three of the girls, went to Butte, Montana. Seán died in Gort Broc at the age of 47 when Pádraig himself was a young boy. None of his forebears ever returned home but he would receive a letter every now and then from one of his aunts. Folklorist Martin Verling states that 707 men and 431 women emigrated to Butte from the parish of Aorí between 1870 and 1915. An account of how his great-grandfather, Seán Ó Murchú, settled in Kerry was taken down from Pádraig’s mouth (or Patsy as he was called): Seán was abducted by one of the ‘Cithearnaigh’ (a name given to certain Irish landlords in Beara) in Kerry and sold in France as a slave. When he managed to escape, he landed in Beara.
Commemorating Pádraig Ó Murchú in Eyries
Measles affected Pádraig’s eyesight so badly that he was given a blind pension; ‘flickering’ left him unable to read or write. He spoke English fluently, with Irish his native tongue. Until she died in 1923 his mother lived with him, and it fell to him to tend to her during the decline of old age. He earned his living by farming and fishing and was always in good health, apart from his eyesight. Writer and folklorist Máirtín Verling recorded memories of him from men who were young boys during Pádraig’s old age. Pádraig was part of a culture now vanished, and Verling states “. . . the day Pádraig Ó Murchú was lost as an old man – the habit of storytelling, and the habit of speaking Irish, died together in Béarra . . .”
Map of the Beara Peninsula from the Royal Society of Antiquities of Ireland, T J Westropp 1919. Principal archaeological sites are indicated.
These Beara landscapes are typical of the remote grandeur of the territory. Human settlement has encroached upon it – the patchy forestry plantations above are unnatural and uninspiring – but there are sufficient wild prospects remaining to ensure that the all-embracing beauty can never be eroded. Plenty of living history remains in evidence.
Archaeology, colour and community are all part of the local scenes on the Beara. The tourism industry is undoubtedly thriving, bringing fresh life with it.
We hope you will agree that the Beara – whether it’s Cork or Kerry – is deserving of a visit – and a stay: you have to delve deeply into the lifestyle and traditions. Enjoy!
(Above – the work of stained glass artist George Walsh. A visit to the little church in Eyries to take in more of this is a must)
It’s time for another look at Ireland’s history, through the medium of early maps. We have previously examined the Down Surveyhere and here (the latter looked specifically at West Cork). You may remember that the project was instigated by Oliver Cromwell to catalogue the ownership of land given to British settlers after his invasion of Ireland which commenced in 1649. The Act of Settlement 1652 formalised the changes. We don’t like the recollection of those times, but we do find all early maps fascinating when we compare them to our present day topographical knowledge.
Kerry: it’s one of our favourite destinations. Visually spectacular, it offers a dramatic natural terrain of coastlines, mountains – and remembered history. Above is a view from Church Island, on Lough Currane near Waterville. The Down Survey gives us a mid-17th century aspect of the landscape, but there are earlier maps. The header is a part of Ortelius’ Theatrum Orbis Terrarum, published in many editions from 1570. Note Queen Elizabeth prominently displayed. Here’s the full page map (courtesy of the David J Butler Collection of Maps of Ireland):
Above is an enlarged detail from the Theatrum Orbis Terrarum showing much of today’s Cork and Kerry counties. You have to get used to thinking through ninety degrees: it was the convention in many early maps to put West at the top of the image, and North to the right. Here you will see Roaringwater Bay over to the left. To make things easier, here is a much enlarged view of part of this map, although with some loss of definition:
You will recognise Dorsey (Dursey Island), Croke haven (Crookhaven), Cape Clere (Cape Clear Island), Baletymore (Baltimore), Tymolay (Timoleague), Kynfale (Kinsale), all within Movnster (Munster). Going round the corner we find Balenftyn (Valentia), Kery (Kerry), Trayly (Tralee), and many more, including names we cannot now relate to.
(Above) – here’s another pre-Down Survey map: Hiberniae, Britannicae Insvlae nova descripto, published by Abraham Ortelius (1527-98), a Flemish engraver. The map is thought to date from 1598 and is in the collection of The Library of Congress, Geography and Map Division, Washington, DC. Here’s a detail of the area which interests us today – again, many names can be recognised:
Another present-day Kerry scene: in fact a photograph from a friend’s garden. To add a further dimension to our review of Kerry through time, this Jack B Yeats painting – Kerry Landscape – dates from 1913 (current whereabouts unknown – it was offered for sale by Adams in 2016):
Getting back to The Down Survey, the following details are from the available survey documents which were taken in the years 1656-1658. They show parts of Clare, Limerick and Kerry:
Here is a specific County map of Kerry in greater detail: it encompasses the land divisions spanning from Kenmare to the mouth of the Shannon (Down Survey GIS 1641 – 1670).
Above: a ferry across the Shannon, c1890. Below: this map is also from The Down Survey collection and is titled Landowner Map 1641 – 1670.
Before leaving this little outline of Ireland’s ancient western coastline, I can’t resist going back to the Twelfth century and to Giraldus Cambrensis (c 1146 – c 1223). Described as a Roman-minded Cambro-Norman cleric, Giraldus lived most of his life in Wales but visited Ireland in 1183 and 1185. He wrote descriptions of what he encountered there, and they are entertaining. Here are two examples: though not specific to Kerry, they are not geographically distant.
. . . There is an island called Aren, situated in the western part of Connaught, and consecrated, as it is said, to St Brendan, where human corpses are neither buried nor decay, but, deposited in the open air, remain uncorrupted. Here men can behold, and recognise with wonder, grandfathers, great-grandfathers, and great-great-grandfathers, and the long series of their ancestors to a remote period of past time . . .
. . . There is another thing remarkable in this land. Although mice swarm in vast numbers in other parts of Ireland, here not a single one is found. No mouse is bred here, nor does it live if it be introduced; when brought over, it runs immediately away and leaps into the sea. If it be stopped, it instantly dies . . .
Further Reading! Some past Roaringwater Journal posts which look at early maps and the West of Ireland can be found here and here.
It’s midwinter here on the shores of Roaringwater Bay. It brings hard frosts (above – Rossbrin), clear days and spectacular skies – we caught the one below in 2020:
Winter is the time of the Cailleach.
. . . The Cailleach is the goddess of the winter months and is said to control the weather and the winds as well as the length and harshness of winter. Depicted as a veiled hag or an old crone, with one eye and deathly pale skin, she is said to have a bow-legged leaping gait, striding across mountains with a power to shape and transform the landscapes as rocks fall from her gathered apron . . . The Cailleach, or the Hag, has been feared and revered across Celtic cultures in Ireland, Scotland and the Isle of Man, for hundreds of years. She is called Beira in Scotland, and has strong associations with the Beara Peninsula in Ireland, which straddles County Cork and County Kerry . . .
The Hag of Beara petrified in Hag Rock (above): she forever looks out across the Beara. Below – this is the Hag’s permanent view over her landscape.
Lest there be any doubt about the Hag’s longevity, this is instructive:
. . . There is a tale of a wandering friar and his scribe who came to the old woman’s house. He inquired as to her great age, which he had heard stories of. She replied that she didn’t know, but that every year she killed an ox and made soup from the bones—and perhaps they could gauge her age by the number of ox bones thrown up in the attic. The young scribe climbed the ladder and threw the bones down one by one for the friar to count. The friar duly made a mark on his paper for each bone, and a great pile of bones grew until he had run out of paper. He called up to the young scribe, who replied that he had not even cleared one corner of the pile of bones, such was the great age of the Cailleach . . .
Above – The Wailing Woman (courtesy of Ronan Mac Giollapharaic) – dramatically depicts another Hag rock, overlooking the Skelligs on the Iveragh Peninsula, Co Kerry. It is a given that Cailleach is one of Ireland’s most ancient inhabitants. Even older, in fact, than Cessair, Noah’s grand-daughter, who we know arrived on our own West Cork shores some five thousand years ago. With her in her Bronze Age crew were her father – Bith – and Fionntán, together with ‘a large company of women’ whose combined purpose was to repopulate the world after the Great Flood.
. . . Legend has it that Fintan the Wise of the hundred lives accompanied Noah’s granddaughter, Cessair, to Ireland before the great Biblical flood. He thought himself the first to set foot on the island but found Cailleach living there, and could see she was far more ancient than himself. He is said to have asked of her, “Are you the one, the grandmother who ate the apples in the beginning?” but received no answer . . .
The Cailleach rules over the the dead of Winter (above – Rossbrin Cove in that time). If you research the Schools Folklore Collection you will find over 830 entries referring to her: many are recorded in Irish.
. . . An Cailleach Béarach according to tradition was supposed to be a witch who is believed to have erected most of the round towers and castles in this country. Tradition tells us that she built each of those buildings with three pocketfulls of stones. As well as being a famous builder, she is believed to have been a great mower. At the time of her death, it is said, she was 121 years and one day . . .
. . . The Cailleach Béarach started one day mowing with a score of men. The men led off & she took up the rear. After an hour’s work, she caught up to the man who was last and mowed off his legs from above the ankles. She continued the work until she caught up to the man who was second last & she cut off his legs also. This procedure continued until all the men but one had their legs cut off. At this stage, they went to their dinner . . .
The most frequently occurring references to the Cailleach are her feats in sculpting the landscape. Many features in the west of Ireland are attributed to her work.
. . . There is a hill in this locality called Keash Hill. Caves at the back of this hill are still pointed out as places where giants lived. Nearby there is a hollow with a flag flooring which is called the “Giants’ Table” and likely it is here they cooked and eat their food. Running parallel to this hill and at the back of it is a place called “Dun Ui Bhéara” where the Cailleach Bhéara is supposed to have lived. Old people tell stories of a fight between the Cailleach Béara and one of the giants. He stood on the summit of the hill and fired stones down at her. She lifted stones and earth and fired them up at him. The stones that reached the top of the hill form a “cairn” which is still to be seen. The place from which they were taken formed a small lake which remains to the present day. Some time ago if children were bold their mothers threatened to tell Cailleach Bhéara and immediately they got quiet. She was able to walk across Lough Arrow and the waters at their deepest part just reached her arm pit . . .
SCHOOLS FOLKLORE COLLECTION – INFORMANT MR James Benson, Kesh, Co Sligo
. . . When the Summer came the Cailleach Bhéara drove the bull out to the grassy parts of Béara. One day when the bull was being driven out, he heard a cow lowing in Kerry, so he started off towards her. The Cailleach went ahead of him, but he jumped into the tide and started to swim for Kerry. The Cailleach struck him with her wand and as she was doing it, the bull called the cow, and her calf with him, and they form the Bull, Cow, and Calf rocks now . . .
Finally, we must not overlook a poem written by Pádraig Pearse, one of the leaders of the Easter Rising in 1916. Pearse was executed on May 3 in that year – aged 36 – for his part in this ‘rebellion’. In this photograph, Pearse can be seen reading the oration at the funeral of the Fenian Jeremiah O’Donovan Rossa on 1 August 1915. I am completing this post with the words of Mise Éire, written by Pearse in 1912.
Mise Éire: Sine mé ná an Chailleach Bhéarra
Mór mo ghlóir: Mé a rug Cú Chulainn cróga.
Mór mo náir: Mo chlann féin a dhíol a máthair.
Mór mo phian: Bithnaimhde do mo shíorchiapadh.
Mór mo bhrón: D’éag an dream inar chuireas dóchas.
Mise Éire: Uaigní mé ná an Chailleach Bhéarra.
I am Ireland: I am older than the Hag of Beara.
Great my glory: I who bore brave Cú Chulainn.
Great my shame: My own children that sold their mother.
Great my pain: My irreconcilable enemies who harass me continually.
Great my sorrow: That crowd, in whom I placed my trust, decayed.
I am Ireland: I am lonelier than the Hag of Beara.
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