The “night of the big wind” or as it is known in Irish “Óiche na Gaoithe Móire” was one of the worst storms ever recorded in Ireland leading to many deaths, mass homelessness, and apocalyptic levels of destruction around the entire country. The power of the storm and the resulting damage was so intense that people ascribed supernatural origins to it, with some believing that it was Divine retribution, and others thinking that the fairies were to blame.
The storm itself occurred on the night of the 6th of January (the 12th night/feast of the epiphany/Nollag na mBan) and the early hours of the 7th in 1839. The devastation of that night would be passed through the generations, with people recounting it to the next generation whenever a storm would break out.
The day started with snowfall, but throughout the day the temperature would rise by 10 degrees leading to the day becoming unnaturally warm and clammy by some accounts. A number of people noted that there was a sense of foreboding in the air and that there were ominous, motionless clouds and an unnatural absence of wind. As the evening pushed on, rain and hail started and the wind amped up in intensity from about 10pm onwards. The rudimentary weather measurements available at the time recorded extremely low barometric pressure, ideal for extreme winds, earlier in the day.
First-hand accounts of the event paint a picture of the absolute terror that must have been felt by people. One man, who was only a boy at the time tells how his brothers struggled to rescue all the animals before the outhouses collapsed around them. He tells us how the sound of the wind from that night stuck with him his entire life and that it was so loud that adults had to shout directly into each other’s ears for any hope of hearing each other. Other accounts tell us that it sounded like “a continuous peal of thunder” or the “bellowing of ten thousand bulls”. We can only imagine how terrifying this would have been, especially to a child.
The Newry telegraph was one of the first to report on the damage on the 8th and even though the full extent of the damage was unknown it reported that several ships and boats had been wrecked with a number of lives lost, houses decimated and unroofed, stacks of turf (the main source of fuel) destroyed, stored crops wrecked, livestock dead or missing and centuries-old trees uprooted (10,000 alone on the Ballymeyer demesne). In many cases, people lost everything.
To paint a picture of the conditions in the country at the time. The population was roughly 8.2 million (today it is 5 million) and the majority of houses were mud-walled thatched cabins, with an estimated 2 million people living in sod/mud cabins (like this). If you think of the fact that even the “big house”, stone churches, and castles were damaged, the ramshackle houses of the lower classes stood no hope at all. As you can imagine, the thatched houses brought their own problems. The wide chimneys and thatch were a disaster waiting to happen and fires broke out in many townlands, with varying degrees of destruction. More rural areas fared better than towns in this regard due to the houses being further apart. Loughrea suffered terribly with 87 homes being completely destroyed. The whole town might have been lost were it not for the wind suddenly changing direction. One policeman trying to help to quell the conflagration, received serious burns to the eyes from red-hot ashes blowing into his face. It’s hard to imagine the terror of the roaring winds, the screaming and abject terror and the pitch black of the night being broken by roaring fires and buildings falling around them. Outside of the losses to fire, 600 people in the area were left destitute. Many had to flock to churches and police stations in the following days for shelter. It was said that as a result of the storm “manys a one who lost their fortune and manys a one who found it” owing to the fact that many people kept their savings either stashed in the thatch roof, or in the chimney. For those unlucky enough to lose it, there were others who were unscrupulous enough to make their own fortune by gathering up the ill-gotten gains.
As I mentioned above, even the big houses weren’t safe. The large ornate chimneys of the mansions and stately homes of the landed gentry fell prey to the unnatural winds. Many deaths were a result of falling masonry and it is estimated that almost 5000 chimneys were knocked throughout the country (houses big and small). Some people were even forced to find shelter by hedges, hollows, and embankments. Eyewitness accounts tell how “huge limbs of oak flew like straws before the fury of the tempest”.
A number of anecdotal stories arouse out of the disaster. Herrings were said to be found 6 miles inland, supposedly carried by the winds after being pulled from the water. Salt brine was reported covering trees 12 miles inland. Waves were said to have come over the top of the Cliffs of Moher and the sound of waves crashing over was said to be heard miles inland, so loud that it could be heard over the thunderous roar of the wind itself. A canal was said to be stripped dry of water by the force of the wind. A pig was said to be carried a quarter of a mile and found safe and well stuck in a tree. And, given the vast destruction of trees and destruction of birds’ nesting and roosting spots (and the mass death of birds) the following spring was said to be almost devoid of birdsong. A massive tree was uprooted in a Carrickfergus graveyard, bringing “many of the dead to the surface”. An account from one area claims that the damage was so bad that it was the “big wind” that was the impetus for emigration and not the great hunger that would follow only a handful of years later. sand dunes formed from sand carried inland appeared in numerous areas. One account tells how years later while preparing to build a new house, an entire house was found 8 feet below the sand, having been entirely subsumed by the sand dunes.
As you could imagine, given the widescale destruction, it would come as no surprise that supernatural forces were blamed. Some gave divine retribution as a cause and that it may be a signifier that the world was about to end. The great scholar John ó Donoghue was spending the night in a hotel in Glendalough while carrying out fieldwork for the ordinance survey. As he survey the damage the following day, he remarked that the whole country looked like it had been “swept away by a broom” (ó Donovan was intimately familiar with Irish manuscripts, so I have to wonder if he is referencing Irish eschatological belief here, a tale where a giant broom will sweep the world clear on doomsday). Others ascribed the disaster to the sídhe (the fairies). A few different versions of this exist: invading fairies fighting Irish ones, massive groups of different factions fighting each other, or that it was the fairies finally leaving Ireland on magical tornadoes. An account in the national folklore collection tells us that a local spot normally associated with fairy music has been silent since.
The estimated damage done (in today’s money) is somewhere around the 250 million mark. The death toll is uncertain but is estimated at between 300 to 600 people. Thousands were left homeless, and many were injured. Stones were erected in some towns detailing the damage done. Interestingly, when the old age pension was introduced in 1908, the age of the people applying for it was determined by if they were alive at the time of the big wind.
We can only hope that we will never see a storm of this magnitude again in our lifetimes
‘Night of the Big Wind’, Frank Watters, Journal of the Pontzpass and District History Society, 1994 (pp.73-82) Irish Weather Online ‘The Calm Before the Storm’, Irish Times, 16th Oct 2017 NFSC, Vol.0313:0569, NFSC, Vol.0185:0569 NFSC,Vol.0909:288 NFSC, Vol.0186:364 NFSC,Vol.0113:376
In the politically fragmented and hierarchal society of Medieval Ireland, a country lauded as “The Land of Saints and Scholars”, few figures made an imprint on Irish society such as the one left by the intellectual powerhouses known as the filidh(poets).
The pre-Christian origins and activities of the filidh may be a bit nebulous due to the distinct lack of written records from the time, but the evidence available points to the fact that they were likely an offshoot, or at the very least a spiritual successor, to the Druids and as such, inheritors of their knowledge. It also suggests that they dealt in prophecy and had a function as a seer, but truth be told, little is known of them before the 7th century. A clear connection between the Filidh and magic can be seen with the esoteric nature of the skills required by a master poet:
Imabas Forosna(i): ‘supernatural knowledge that illuminates’. The mantic knowledge accessed by poets. Popularised in the stories of Finn Mac Cumhaill who gained this power from eating the ‘Salmon of knowledge’ (who itself had eaten the nuts of knowledge) and could access this esoteric knowledge by sucking his thumb.
Teinm Laedo: ‘Chewing the Flesh’, a form of divination
Dichetal do Chennaib: ‘Chanting the Heads’(?), a particular way of chanting.
Prophecy played a part in the wide-ranging skill set of these medieval polymaths, with this being evidenced in the stories and sagas, for instance in the story known as ‘The Colloguy of the Two sages’
Prionsios Mac Cana describes the Filidh as “a professional fraternity with a strong stake in society”. This statement is reflected by not only their legal status in society, but in the fact that they would inherit land as part of their occupation. Their status and honour price was second only to the king himself and the Filidh were the only lay people to be considered of full Nemed (privileged/sacred) status. In fact, Mac Manus suggests that they were even more sacred than the king, considering that the historical record shows the killing of many kings, but hardly any Filidh. The hereditary position came with many benefits including a parcel of land, free of taxes, and it was within their power to request that this land was located near the stronghold of the chief. Other benefits included getting the best cut of meat at a feast and sitting next to the king, as well as having the king’s confidence or acting as an advisor.
Their primary functions seem to have been related to the composition of panegyric poetry and Satire. They would praise the bravery of chiefs or curse their enemiesusing the magical power of satire or a curse to inflict harm. They would extol the victories and notable deeds of their patrons and record them in verse. These records were invaluable for the descendants of the chiefs as they were handy propaganda tools to legitimize their rule, to show where their ancestors came from and how they were connected to the world or kingdom they ruled. These records and stories, however, were not enough to give them this power or right to rule. The Filidh held the power in this regard. They acted as “provers of pedigree” and they could literally legitimise the ownership of land, the ruler’s connection to the tuatha (kingdom) and his suzerainty over them. The Brehon Laws mention “ten immovable rocks which hold fast every ownership of estates” including the fact that land and title are confirmed “by the words of poets” and that legitimate inheritance is “chanted by poets”. Given this, it is no surprise that kings bent over backwards to accommodate them throughout the centuries, but more on that later!
Praise poetry, satire and the legitimisation of land ownership were only a few of the arrows in the quiver of the multi-talented Filidh. They had to be a master of Coimhgne, which involved historical knowledge, advanced memory skills and the construction of Geneology.Even though they were typically employed by a single ruling family, they were one of the few people in society that had freedom of movement which allowed them to travel freely between kingdoms. As a result of this, a working knowledge of the genealogies of all the most powerful families was needed. The poets also had to have an encyclopedic knowledge of the Brehon Laws, the native, compensation-based justice system, which they would render down into rosc poetry (likely for mnemonic reasons to aid memory). Chiefs would often call on the Filidh to aid in making true judgements, as making a false judgment could be detrimental to the entire kingdom (in the form of crop failures and birth defects), but couldalso show the king as not being fit for rule.
As entertainers and repositories of Senchas (traditional lore), the poet also had to know stories. The number of these Príomhscéala (Primary stories) that they needed in their repertoire depended on what grade they were. The highest grade, the Ollamh needed to know 350, whereas the lowest grade, the Focloc, needed to know only 30. The importance of this aspect of their craft can be seen in the adage “Níba Filí gan Scéla” (He is not a poet who does not have stories). Consequently, the level of training was also reflected in the number of poetic meters that a poet had to know and the final degree of training required them to be able to compose a poem on any topic extemporaneously. In terms of performing in front of chiefs and nobles, if a Filidh could not make it to perform, they might send a lesser poet, or Reccaire (Reciter) to present alongside a harpist.
As Christianity gained a foothold, the oral tradition of the Filidh had to contend with the new technology of writing and manuscripts, which flourished between the 6th-12th centuries in the monastic scriptoria. Ó Corráin argues that by the 6th Century, the line between the secular Filidh and the monastic literati was either seriously blurred or entirely non-existent. But, just because these traditions overlapped and interacted, doesn’t mean they were the same thing. There is evidence to suggest that the Filidh refused to take on the new monastic meters, naming them Nua Crutha (new forms), at least until the 9th century when they, at last, took them up. They also resisted letting go of the oral tradition in favour of literacy, and as a result, the monastic scriptoria were solely responsible for recording the entire corpus of tales before the second half of the 12th Century. The monastic scholars likely had visits by the Filidh who recited the tales, poems and genealogies to the monks who ultimately wrote them down, preserving the native tradition for future generations. The overlap mentioned above is further evidenced by the fact that a number of clerics were also Filidh in their own right. Early sources and annals do draw a clear distinction between the monastic scholar and the Filidh, but the Annals of Ulster, for instance, mention a cleric by the name of Mael Muire of Othain who is described as being Ríg-fhilli Éireann (Chief poet of Ireland), showing that being a monastic figure was no impediment to become a very prominent poet or vice versa.
As mentioned above, the filidh were of extremely high status in Irish society, and as a result, could become very wealthy from their patrons. They could be paid in rings, jewellery, cattle, silver and they also had a right to claim the wedding raiment of any woman married within the kingdom. The highest grade could have a retinue of up to 24, which in and of itself would be a great financial burden to anyone having to host them, but the Filidh knowing that no chief would refuse them (for fear of satire and loss of status due to lack of hospitality), would often turn up with three times the number of retinue they should have. The increasing audacity and ludicrous demands of the Filidh eventually reached a boiling point at the Mór-dál at Druim Cett in 575 AD when King Aodh wanted to disband the institution of the poets. Were it not for the intercession of the saint Colm Cille, it is very likely that the Filidh would have been exiled en masse. The Filidh were found guilty of Avarice, idleness and insolence and the Ríg-Fili Éreann, Dalán Forgaill was tasked with reforming the institution and with appointing a chief poet in each province who had to set up a bardic school. These renowned bardic schools continued alongside the monasteries and allowed the Filidh to hold on to prominence within Irish society throughout the middle ages, almost up until the fall of the Gaelic order in the 17th century.
 Alternatively named as éces, éigeas, fear dána, dámh, sgoil in some sources.
 Brezina, C. (2007), ‘Celtic Mythology’, New York:Rosen Central. Ó Siodhacháin, P.H (2012), ‘From History to Written Word: The History of Irish Law’, Studies: An Irish Quarterly Review, Vol.101, pp.327
 Mallory, J.P. (2016) ‘In Search of the Irish Dreamtime’, London: Thames and Hudson Ltd. The link with them being seers can also be seen linguistically with their name.
 Murphy, G. (1931), ‘The Origin of Irish Nature Poetry’ An Irish Quarterly Review, Vol.20, No.77, Dublin: Messenger Publications
 Mulligan, A.C (2009), ‘The Satire of the Poet is a Pregnancy: Pregnant Poets, Body Metaphors and Cultural Production in Medieval Ireland, Carey (1997), “The Three Things Required of a Poet.”, Ériu, vol. 48.
 Jackson, K (1934), ‘Tradition in Early Irish Prophecy’, Man, Vol34, Royal Anthropological Institute of Great Britain and Ireland.
 Mac Cana, P (2004). ‘Praise Poetry in Ireland Before the Normans’, Éiru, Vol 55
 The amount of cattle, silver or cumal (female slaves) that had to be paid if they were wronged or injured.
 Kelly, F. (2016), ‘A Guide to Early Irish Law’, Dublin: Dublin Institute for Advanced Studies, pp 43-44
 MacManus, S (1990), ‘The Story of the Irish Race’, Wings Books: New Jersey, pp176
 Breatneach, P.A (1983), ‘The Chief’s Poet’, Proceeding of the Royal Irish Academy: Archaeology, Culture, History, Literature, Vol.83C, pp. 61-65
 Clark, P (2010), ‘The O’Cleary’s Hereditary Historians and Poets’, History Ireland, Vol.18, No.3, pp. 20
 D’Alton, E.A (1912). ‘History of Ireland: From the Earliest Times to Present Day’, Gresham Publishing Company Ltd: London.
 Brady, L. (2021), ‘Origin Myths in Early Insular Pseudo-histories: Medieval or Modern’, personal notes from online conference “Pseudo-history Among the Celtic speaking Peoples: Medieval Propaganda”, 12th June 2021
 Kelly, F. (2016), ‘A Guide to Early Irish Law’, Dublin: Dublin Institute for Advanced Studies, pp.46. Typically only people of the Áes Dána or ‘People of Skill’, such as poets, Wrights, and other craftsmen could travel from kingdom to kingdom.
 The concept of making a true judgment could make or break a king in medieval Ireland. A false judgement could result in a king losing his status. It would also be reflected in his kingdom with storms, crop failure, murrain etc
 There were seven main grades of Filidh. In descending order. These were Ollamh, Anrúth, Clí, Cano, Dos, Mac Fuirmid, Focloc. (Breatneach, 1983:37)
 Two times leading up to the convention of Druim Cett this issue had been raised to exile them. 50 years after it, Ulster kings had to interject and save the poets (Ibid:182)
 Ó Siodhacháin, P.H (2012), ‘From Oral History to Written Word: The History of Ancient Irish Law’, Studies: An Irish Quarterly Review, Vol.101. pp327-8
* ‘Long Memoried Custodian of Tradition’, Breathnach, L. (2006), ‘Satire, Praise and the Early Irish Poet’, Éiru, Vol.56, Dublin: Royal Irish Academy.
Brady, L. (2021), ‘Origin Myths in Early Insular Pseudo-histories: Medieval or Modern’, personal notes from online conference “Pseudo-history Among the Celtic speaking Peoples: Medieval Propaganda”, 12th June 2021 Breathnach, L. (2006), ‘Satire, Praise and the Early Irish Poet’, Éiru, Vol.56, Dublin: Royal Irish Academy. Breatneach, P.A (1983), ‘The Chief’s Poet’, Proceeding of the Royal Irish Academy: Archaeology, Culture, History, Literature, Vol.83C, pp. 61-65 Brezina, C. (2007), ‘Celtic Mythology’, New York:Rosen Central Carey (1997), “The Three Things Required of a Poet.”, Ériu, vol. 48. Clark, P (2010), ‘The O’Cleary’s Hereditary Historians and Poets’, History Ireland, Vol.18, No.3, pp. 20 D’Alton, E.A (1912). ‘History of Ireland: From the Earliest Times to Present Day’, Gresham Publishing Company Ltd: London. Jackson, K (1934), ‘Tradition in Early Irish Prophecy’, Man, Vol34, Royal Anthropological Institute of Great Britain and Ireland. Kelly, F. (2016), ‘A Guide to Early Irish Law’, Dublin: Dublin Institute for Advanced Studies, pp 43-44 Mac Cana,p (1974), ‘The Rise of the Later Schools of Filidheacht’, Éiru, Vol.25, Royal Irish Academy, pp.126 MacManus, S (1990), ‘The Story of the Irish Race’, Wings Books: New Jersey, pp176 Mallory, J.P. (2016) ‘In Search of the Irish Dreamtime’, London: Thames and Hudson Ltd. Mulligan, A.C (2009), ‘The Satire of the Poet is a Pregnancy: Pregnant Poets, Body Metaphors and Cultural Production in Medieval Ireland, Carey (1997), “The Three Things Required of a Poet.”, Ériu, vol. 48. Murphy, G. (1931), ‘The Origin of Irish Nature Poetry’ An Irish Quarterly Review, Vol.20, No.77, Dublin: Messenger Publications Ó Siodhacháin, P.H (2012), ‘From History to Written Word: The History of Irish Law’, Studies: An Irish Quarterly Review, Vol.101, pp.327
For this edition of the animal folklore series, I am going to focus on a very divisive member of the animal kingdom, the goose. The goose has picked up a bit of a bad rep, especially online, as being an extremely aggressive and cantankerous creature. People have even gone so far as to label them as “Cobra Chickens”. Now, I have no doubt that some breeds, such as the Canadian goose that the term originates from, may in fact be more aggressive, but it is a shame that all of them are tarred with the same brush. Having spent the last 3 years visiting a local colony of Greylag geese (with a couple of Emden Geese thrown in) and befriending them, I can at least testify that the more domestic breeds are unfairly labelled in the same way. Given the fact they are some of my favourite birds, it is surprising that I have left it this long to write a piece on them, especially considering how they pop up in Irish myth, poetry and folklore.
In older texts, we are told that bird flight was observed carefully as a form of divination, as were the voices of birds. The ancient text of Cormac’s Glossary (Seanas Cormaic) tells us that the early arrival of Brent Geese (Cadhan) meant that storms and high winds were to follow. We see these beliefs repeated, to a degree, in more modern practice where birds would be observed for weather divination. The behaviour of geese was watched carefully in Donegal for instance and should a fisherman see a goose stick its neck in the air and beat its wings on its chest, it is very likely that he would not take to the sea in fear of high winds. In Mayo, the height they flew at was indicative of how the weather would play out: High flying = good weather, low flying = Rain.
The Irish language (Gaeilge/Gaolainn) placenames in certain areas are related to geese such as:
Gort na gCadhan (Field of Brent Geese): Galway, Roscommon
Inis Gé (Goose Island): Mayo
An interesting belief in west Cork claims that geese are capable of speech, and not only that but are said to speak to each other in Irish no less! The conversation between them involves a young goose asking an older goose about food, with the latter replying “It is certain that if you don’t Whisht here, that they will grab us and wring our necks” (Bíodh geall mara n-Éiste tú anso, go mbéarfear orainn is go gcasfar na sgrogaill orainn)
The NFC (National Folklore Collection) has many cures listed among its pages and some are more grounded than others. For those who are unfamiliar, the NFC is one of the largest folklore archives in the world and is one of the greatest sources we have on genuine Irish folklore and traditions. Luckily it is all digitised online at dúchas.ie and is well worth browsing. Be warned though, you are likely to fall down a rabbithole or two and will lose hours of your life.
Returning to geese, they pop up a number of times in relation to cures. Outside of using goose grease as an ointment for arthritis, these tend to fall into the category of extremely unusual to the point of wondering where the logic to it is. To enact one of these cures, the bill of the goose is placed into the mouth of the sick person or child, with the breath of the goose said to provide the cure. In some instances, the goose has to be specifically a fasting gander and is used for curing oral thrush.
The Barnacle Goose (Gé Ghiúrainn)
Some may find it ludicrous but there was a long-standing and pervasive belief in Ireland that the barnacle goose was in fact a form of shellfish that grew on old pieces of timber, hence the ‘barnacle’ in the name. The fact that they closely resemble a type of shellfish called the goose barnacle in terms of colour, and the fact that they don’t nest here has likely given rise to this belief. Classing them as fish allowed religious men to eat them during lent or when meat was forbidden from being eaten (such as on Fridays)
The Cambro-Norman chronicler known as Gerald of Wales wrote the following in his book ‘Topigraphica Hibernica’:
‘They [the barnacle goose] are produced from timber tossed along the sea and are at first like gum. Afterwards they hang down by their beaks as if they were seaweed attached to the timber and are surrounded by shells in order to grow more freely. Having thus in the process of time being clothed with a strong coat of feathers, they either fall into water or fly freely away into the air. They derive their food and growth from the sap of the wood or from the sea by a secret and most wonderful process of alimentation. I have frequently seen with my own eyes more than a thousand of these birds down on the seashore from one piece of timber and enclosed in their shells and already formed. They do not breed and lay eggs like other birds, nor do they ever hatch any eggs, nor do they seem to build nests in any corner of the earth. Hence bishops and religious men in some parts of Ireland do not scruple to dine off birds at the time of fasting because they are not flesh nor born of flesh”
Geese as lost souls
Pádraig Breatnach recorded a story in Galway about a hunter who was unable to shoot a bunch of wild geese one night because a wild hare kept getting in the firing line. He recounted this event to his priest who warned him that he should hunt only during the day and to leave the night to the spirit world. The reason he advised this was because he claimed that the geese were in fact lost souls who died unable to return to their homeland and who were taking the form of geese to do so. He mentions that the hare was a good soul helping them to achieve this goal and warned that if the hunter was successful in killing the geese, the souls would never succeed in returning.
Riddle me this
Ní fhuil is ní feoil is ní cnámh é
Ach is as fuil agus feoil a d’fhás é
Bain an ceann de agus gléas deoch dó
Agus beidh sé ag scéalaíocht go maidin dhuit
It’s not blood or flesh or bone
But it grows out of flesh and blood
Take the head off it and give it a drink
And it will tell stories until morning
ANSWER: A goose feather used as a quill
A fairy goose
An interesting story that I found when perusing the National Folklore Schools Collection relates to a goose gifted by a fairy and the resulting abundance that comes with it.
A poor woman is at home during a very bad storm, worried that her house will be blown down. A member of the ‘other crowd’ [a fairy] appears at the door and offers her a goose, asking her to mind it. Every day she has the goose, her wealth and status increase to the point she was able to keep a number of maids. There was a problem though. Every time the goose laid an egg, she got louder and louder. At some point the woman couldn’t take any more, so she started throwing anything she could get at the goose. As the goose ran around the house screaming, the fairy appeared at the door, admonished the woman and took the goose back. Within a few moments, all the windows were blown in and she was suddenly left with nothing again.
This is one of many tales where people fall foul of the other crowd for not appreciating gifts that have been given.
Fled Dún na nGéd (The Feast of the Fort of the Geese)
A number of tales and poems mention geese, but one tale features them as a central aspect. A middle Irish text, dated to the 11th to mid-12th century, called the “Feast of the Fort of the Geese” features goose eggs as a very important feature of the tale. This text, by modern classifications is placed in the ‘Cycle of the Kings’, a series of texts usually based around real historic personages, as opposed to say, the more mythical focus of tales featured in the ‘mythological cycle’.
The story relates to the revolt of Congal Claén (king of the Ulaid) against his foster father, Domhnall mac Áeda (over king of the Uí Néill) and ends with a brief account of the battle of Mag Ráth (which took place in 637) in which Congal was ultimately defeated.
Domhnall’s Fort on the banks of the river Boyne, called Dún na nGéd (The Fort of the Geese), provides the scene for the tale. The Fort itself was said to be modeled on the Fort at Tara. Domhnall was given a prophecy that one of his foster sons would betray him, but due to his belief in the bond of fosterage, he refused to put the foster sons in fetters.
In preparation for the feast, Domhnall instructed his men to go in search of goose eggs for the feast. They searched high and low for eggs but couldn’t find any great number. That was until they came to the hermitage of Saint Erc. The Saint himself wasn’t home, as it was his practice to go up to his armpits in the river Boyne from morning till dusk praying. The soldiers asked the woman at the house for the baskets of eggs, but she explained that they belong to the Saint and that all he ate all day was 1 1/2 eggs and 2 sprigs of cress upon returning from his prayers. They refused to listen and took the eggs. Needless to say, the Saint wasn’t happy and cast a malediction (for the tradition of cursing in Ireland see here) on the feast.
At the banquet, Congal said he would inspect the banquet before everyone arrived and while doing so, ate one of the goose eggs (and Domhnall was made aware, as per the prophecy, that whoever ate it would be the one who would betray him). Domhnall attempted to have the curse reversed by getting 100 saints to bless the banquet but it didn’t work due to the fact Congal had eaten before everyone else.
During the feast, every king present was given a goose egg presented on a silver platter, except for Congal who was given a hen’s egg on a wooden plate. This slight, along with the fact that he should have been seated at the right of Domhnall instead of another king, caused Congal to declare publically that he would seek revenge, leading to the battle mentioned above.
Saint Kevin of Glendalough and the Goose
Saint Kevin is usually associated with Blackbirds, but there is a tale that recounts how Kevin came to a chieftain to request land for his monastery. The Chieftain laughed at the request and pointed to an injured goose with a broken wing. He told him he could have all the land that the goose could circle. No sooner were the words out of his mouth, the goose took to the air recovered and flew around the entire valley. Another version involves a sick and ailing pet goose that the saint offers to heal if he can claim all the land that the goose circles on his first flight. This story is very similar to the story of Saint Brigid, who is told that she can have all the land that her cloak can cover, only for her cloak to magically expand and cover a large swathe of land.
A few Pics of Geese for your enjoyment
Fled Dún Na nGéd, A reapraisal by Máire Herbert
Birds of Ireland: Facts, Folklore & History by Glynn Anderson
Irelands Birds by Niall Mac Coitir The History and Topography of Ireland by Gerald of Wales
“With Roun-tree tied in the cow’s tail, And Vervain gleaned about the ditches, But a these did naught avail, Thou they Blest the cow, and cursed the witches”
Ballad of the Carnmoney witches
Ireland stands out as being relatively unique in the fact that we didn’t fare as badly as much of Europe (and beyond) when it comes to the witch craze that swept across the later medieval and early modern periods. As it stands, we only have a handful of documented, high-profile cases. One of these I covered in a previous article featuring the sorcery trial of Alice Kyteler and the subsequent burning of her maidservant Petronilla. You can read this article here.
The cases that we do have evidence of that feature diabolic witchcraft are found in towns of English influence (like in garrison towns such as Youghal and the case of Florence Newton in the 17th Century). The connection of diabolism never really caught on amongst the Gaelic population and typically the “witch” was seen as only attacking household produce and livestock (as opposed to demonic possession etc). You can read more of these ‘butter witches’ here. These butter witches were dealt with through a range of countermagic measures through consultation with a Bean Feasa (wise woman) instead of church (or judicial) involvement.
In 1807 in the Presbyterian community at the townland of Carnmoney, County Antrim, an interesting case arose. A tailor by the name of Alexander Montgomery and his wife Elizabeth found that they were unable to make butter from the milk they took from their only cow. Elizabeth enquired with some of the older women in the area who explained that this was not an unusual occurrence, and all had heard stories of this happening before. They offered a couple of suggestions of countermagic that would help, including tying Rowan (also known as Mountain Ash) branches to the tail of the cow and hanging another talisman in the animal’s enclosure/byre. When this failed they got twelve women to pray around the cow and fed it vervain (a herb with magical association).
When these measures failed the women suggested enlisting the help of a local Bean Feasa/ Bean Chumhachtach (wise woman/woman with supernatual power) who specialised in curing bewitched cattle (but also dabbled in telling fortunes, finding stolen horses, and using divination).
Mary Butters was sought out and brought in to try and rectify the issue. Mary was born in Carrickfergus, a town famous for another high-profile witch trial featuring the ‘Islandmagee Witches’ roughly a century before (I will cover this case in a future article). She tried various remedies including trying to churn the butter herself while whispering an incantation, as well as drawing a circle around the churn and washing it out with south-running water. When these failed she instructed Alexander and another local boy to turn their waistcoats inside out and to go stand guard at the head of the cow and not move until she returned to them at midnight. She entered the house with Elizabeth, Elizabeth’s 20-year-old son David, and their elderly lodger Margeret. She blocked up the windows, doors, and chimney and took out a large pot/cauldron. Into this, she placed sulfur, milk from the cow, and some large iron nails and crooked pins. This countermagic relied on sympathetic magic in which the cauldron represented the bladder of the witch who cast the bewitchment. As it was heated it would cause tremendous pain in the target. Blocking up the windows and doors prevented them from entering the house and knocking over the pot/cauldron and breaking the counterspell. The pain would cause the person to subsequently break the original bewitchment on the animal.
Mary placed the pot on the fire and began the proceedings. Midnight came and went and as the hours passed on Alexander became worried and made for the house. He kicked the door in and found his wife and son dead on the floor with Mary and Margeret barely clinging to life. They were carried outside but Margeret died a few minutes later, with Mary coming round soon after. One source claimed that Mary was brought back to her senses after being thrown on a dungheap and beaten by the husband and some locals, although this appears to not be true.
The inquest was carried out on the 19th of August 1807 in front of 12 jurors. All deaths were declared as accidental due to suffocation as a result of the sulfurous fumes due to Butters’s ritual. A trial was held in 1808, but this was discharged by a grand jury.
An unpublished 19th-century memoir by W.O. McGraw claimed that there was more to Butters’s actions than met the eye. He claimed that she did it on purpose to murder Elizabeth and her son who allegedly had been instrumental in the conviction and subsequent execution of a relative of Mary Butters in 1803 for spreading messages of rebellion. According to the source, Mary had insisted that the son, who was married and living miles away, be part of the ritual. It also claims that she had on multiple occasions tried to force Margeret to not take part in the ritual and that it would be of great cost to her if she did. None of this however was included in the trial, not to mention the ritual (including the use of sulfur) was widespread. As such these claims appear unsubstantiated.
Mary appears to have moved from Carrickfergus to Carnmoney following the ordeal and continued to be hired by the locals for many magical services for decades following the incident. Another point to note is that the case is interesting for the fact it took place in a presbyterian community (with Butters herself being Presbyterian), showing that the Irish (based in catholic communities) tradition and belief in butter witches transferred into Protestant and Presbyterian communities. The excerpt of the poem at the beginning of this article is a contemporary poem and is the possibly only extant poem we have relating to Irish witchcraft. The full poem is as follows:
In Carrick town a wife did dwell, Who does pretend to conjure witches Auld Barbara Goats and lucky Bell, Yell no lang to come through her clutches ; A waefu’ trick this wife did play, On fimple Sawney, our poor tailor, She’s mittimiss’d the other day To lie in limbo with the Jailor : This fimple Sawney had a Cow Was aye as sleekit as an otter It happen’d for a month or two, Aye when they churn’d they got nae butter; Roun-tree tied in the Cow’s tail, And vervain glean’d about the ditches ; These freets and charms did not prevail, They cou’d not banif h the auld witches : The neighbour wives a’ gather’d in In number near about a dozen, Elfpie Dough and Mary Linn, An* Keat M’Cart the tailor’s cousin, Aye they churn’d an’ aye they fwat, Their aprons loos’d and coost their mutches But yet nae butter they could get, They bleft the Cow but curft the witches: Had Sawney summoned all his wits, And fent awa for Huie Mertin, He could have gall’t the witches guts An’ cur’t the kye to Nannie Barton ; But he may fhow the farmer’s wab An’ lang wade through Carmoney gutters, Alas’ it was a fore mis-jab When he employ’d auld Mary Butters; The forcereft open’d the fcene, With magic words of her invention, To make the foolifh people keen Who did not know her bafe intention, She drew a circle round the churn, An’ wafh’d the staff in fouth run water An’ fwore the witches fhe would burn, But fhe would have the tailor’s butter. When fable night her curtain fpread, Then fhe got on a flaming fire,
The tailor ftood at the Cow’s head With his turn’d waiftcoat in the byer; The chimney cover’d with a fcraw, An’ ev’ry crevice where it fmoak’d, But long before the cock did craw The people in the houfe were choak’d, The muckle pot hung on all night As Mary Butters had been brewing, In hopes to fetch fome witch or wight Whas entrails by her art was ftewing In this her magic a’ did fail Nae witch or wizard was detected; Now Mary Butters lies in jail, For the bafe part that fhe has acted. The tailor loft his fon an’ wife, For Mary Butters did them fmother But as he hates a fingle life, In four weeks time he got another; He is a crufe auld canty chiel, An’ cares nae what the witches mutters He’ll never mair employ the deil, Nor his auld agent, Mary Butters; At day the tailor left his poft, Though he had feen no apparation Nae wizard grim nae witch nor ghoft, Though ftill he had a ftrong fuspicion That fome auld wizard wrinkled wife, Had caft her cantrips o’er poor brawney Caufe fhe and he did live in ftrife, An’ whare’s the man can blame poor Sawney; Wae fucks for our young laffes now, For who can read their mystic matters Or tell if their fweet hearts be true, The folk a run to Mary Butters; To tell what thief a horfe did fteal, In this fhe was a mere pretender An’ has nae art to raife the deil Like that auld wife, the witch of Endor If Mary Butters be a witch, Why but the people all fhould know it, An’ if fhe can the mufes touch I’m fure fhe’ll foon descry the poet, Her ain familiar aff fhe’ll fen’ Or paughlet wir a tu’ commiffion, To pour her vengeance on fhe men, That tantalises her condition.
‘An Diabhal Inti’ TG4 Documentary, Episode 05, First broadcast 12.04.22.
‘Representing Magic in Modern Ireland: Belief, History, and Culture’ Andrew Sneddon
With the recent release of a book claiming to be “genuine Irish Tradition” by Amantha Murphy, I thought the easiest way to tackle this is through a public blog post since nobody involved with it is willing to properly address it. The publisher, Womancraft Publishing, claims this book to be a counter to cultural appropriation when in fact it is the exact opposite. All they do is shrug their shoulders and parrot Amantha’s rhetoric in its defense. The “author” Amantha blocks and deletes any comments calling her out on this and the scribe doubles down on Amantha’s BS, clearly sucked in by her charm. A great review of the book by Amy Coe can be found here.
This book, like many others, purports to be “ancient Irish tradition” but is nothing more than a sad attempt to cash in and create a brand by a woman selling “tradition” to innocent people looking to get in touch with their heritage . Seeing the “author”, the scribe and the publisher are all unwilling to address the issues involved in creating pseudo-Irish words, of cultural appropriation or any of the other highly problematic issues with this book, hopefully this open letter will help to dissuade people from filling the coffers of Amantha and the publishing house willing to defend her. I will start with the two blog posts by the scribe about the book, and then I will address some of the many issues within the book. EDIT TO CLARIFY: The cultural appropriation in question is not a woman of Irish descent using Irish material (although it is so far from genuine it can barely be considered as such), it is about her using terms like shaman, stone people, dragon lines etc. and trying to insert them into an “Irish” system of spirituality.
I will address the recent post by the scribe below and go through it point by point. The link to the original is here:
To Orla, the scribe, I feel sorry in a way that you fell under whatever charm or blind confidence that Amantha is using to convince people that what she is peddling is “genuine Irish Tradition”. This article of yours does not clarify things linguistically at all. It still remains grammatically AND linguistically incorrect, by a long shot. I will address this more below.
“It (Seabhean) was a word given to Amantha many years ago by an elderly woman who had heard it used in Donegal”–
While Amantha may have been told this, the truth is I have had MULTIPLE Donegal speakers refute its usage there and so it appears this is one of many origins of the word she chooses to mislead her readers about. Other explanations she has given for the origin include a Gaelscoil teacher in Howth made use of the word and then at another point Amantha admits she made it up herself. In fact, contradictory remarks are made throughout the book. She has also yo-yoed on the definition of “sea” being “yes” or “strength”.
“I searched Ó Dónaill’s Irish dictionary and the word ‘seabhean’ was not listed” –
Well, that’s because it doesn’t exist Orla. I’ve checked Dineen (the go-to dictionary for out of use, antiquated words), O Dónaill, De Bhaldraithe, Ua Maoileoin and eDil (the one that lists every manuscript mention of words in medieval Irish and early modern Irish). I have also scoured Ireland’s National Folklore Collection and there isn’t a single usage of the word. Because…it likely didn’t exist and its absence from so many sources over such a period of time should speak for itself.
The composite word seabhean (pronounced shavan) is a combination of the word ‘sea’ (pronounced sha) and the word ‘bean’ (pronounced ban). From a grammar and spelling perspective, the word seabhean is correct as a composite word using those two components”.
‘Seabhean’ isn’t even close to being grammatically correct, nor is it correct as a compound word. She has also yo-yoed on the definition of “sea” being “yes” or “strength” neither of which grammatically works as “seabhean” for a start, but then it wouldn’t be close enough for Amantha to make a play on words of the appropriated word shaman that she is trying to market and shoehorn into her distorted view of “genuine” Irish tradition.
“Meaning of those two words together is quite close to the essence of what the Irish healer woman is”
It’s almost as if there aren’t already multiple Irish terms for healer woman/ Wise woman i.e. Bean feasa (wise woman), Bean Ghlúine (midwife), Bean Leighis (healer woman) that could have been used in its place, but circle back to my point about it not being close enough to “shaman” for her purposes.
“Perhaps some Irish speakers from Donegal may know if the word is still used today for healer women there”
Having already established that there are no attestations of it ANYWHERE for almost 1500 years of the language being written down, a number of Donegal speakers confirming it isn’t a thing and not a single dictionary in existence mentioning it, I think we can safely say it exists entirely in Amantha’s imagination. Perhaps though, this could have been investigated by either yourself or Amantha at any point between conception of the idea, the writing and publishing of the book, especially since she keeps trying to claim “authenticity”. You know, research, the kind of things people do before releasing a book. It would really save face and the endless mental gymnastics to justify it. Although it’s fine for Amantha, she can just use her lackies to do the work for her while she retreats to fantasy land of culturally appropriated concepts.
“If she had used an Irish word, people would not have understood”.
So she just made up a pseudo-Irish word with false antiquity and that better explains it how exactly? Terms like Bean feasa, Bean Ghlúine, Bean Leighis etc are easily explainable.
“mainly indigenous or tribal cultures, many of whom would describe themselves as shamans”.–
Unless they are from Tunguska, no, they wouldn’t use the term “shaman” to describe themselves at all.
“seamhná – plural of seabhean”
The word doesn’t have a singular, let us not invent plurals of it please.
“Perhaps Amantha’s courageous sharing of this work” —
Are those her words or your Own Orla? Because that seems just like the sort of self-absorbed rhetoric she has been using ad nauseum when talking about this book.
How is it courageous exactly? Her mangling Irish tradition for monetary gain and a shambolic attempt at making a brand. I thought we left that carry on in the 19th century with the Anglo-Irish writers. And the shoehorning in of “the way of the seabhean” in every sentence by both of you is tiresome. Her claiming that she is courageous by releasing this information is only a subtle dogwhistle to her sharing “tradition” that has been kept secret, thus making it more exotic, and lends more credibility to her due to people not being able to refute these traditions due to them being “closed”. Of course it is all fabricated and appropriated on her part and nowhere near accurate. Sooo courageous of her, I’m sure there will be a public holiday named after her in no time.
It might not be as bad if she had just been honest and said “This is a system I’m working with. I have invented this word for it as an ode to the healer women/wise woman and it is very, very loosely inspired by Irish tradition”…But no it just had to be “this is genuine Irish tradition that has been passed down and this is an ancient term that was used”. The fact that everyone is willing to defend her behavior on this is sickening. And the fact that Amantha isn’t addressing this herself is very telling. We can only hope that this fizzles into obscurity and that I don’t have to spend the next few decades having to refute this nonsense online like all the other fake “genuine” Irish tradition that’s out there. It’s an insult to all the Seanchaí and the filidh before them, to all the Bean feasa through time and all the other repositories of Irish tradition, to all the collectors who travelled the country saving our lore. To quote Séamus Ó Duilearga, the director of the Irish Folklore Commission “We are certain that the nonsensical rubbish which passes for Irish Folklore, both in Ireland and outside, is not representative of the folklore of our Irish people”. And that legend of a man would be rolling in his grave having to read what Amantha is trying to pass off as genuine.
“The tradition of the seabhean has been passed down through generations of Irish women from ancient times, possibly since the time of the Tuatha Dé Danann”.
While traditions, customs and stories were carried through an oral tradition, even until modern times, this tradition was not known as The tradition of the seabhean, a thing that Amantha has created using a hodgepodge of outside traditions that are alien to the Irish tradition and packed with a nice neat bow of “my Irish granny told me”. And where do I even start with the trademarking of the term “way of the seanbhean” when it is a supposed “ancient tradition”. From her goodreads profile she states another fallacy “From early childhood Amantha Murphy was the girl-child chosen by her grandmother to be initiated into the ‘Way of the Seabhean’, a traditional Irish path of the healing woman and seer, a role passed down from mother to daughter (or grandmother to grand-daughter) since ancient times”
“their presence and practices have been kept secret”.
Again, more reinforcement of the “I’m a keeper of secret, esoteric knowledge and I’m brave for sharing this”
She believes (and has proved) that these practices and this way of being in the world is not confined to the few who inherit it, but can be learnt and used by all“
For a nominal fee of course for her workshops and apprenticeships. But hey, she has all this secret knowledge that her ancestors were persecuted for and is very, very courageous in sharing that with us.
“I hesitated at first but then I attended a workshop in which she kept thirty women spellbound for an hour-and-a-half. I thought to myself, if this is not written down, the world will be poorer”.
The world would be better off had you not. I’m not bashing what might help people. If something helps you or heals you, by all means do it. But this could be done in a new age book without claiming it as genuine ancient tradition and romanticising the life out of it. Or without selling herself as a bearer of tradition. You wouldn’t fit ten of Amantha’s feet into half a shoe belonging to any of the genuine bearers of Irish tradition that have long since passed on.
“all enriched with the oral tradition which she has INHERITED”
More justification. She has a right to this.
“put in context and written down (much of it for the first time)”
“Amantha uses the word shamanic to describe the way in which the Seabhean operates. While this work is essentially Irish, it also belongs to a worldwide shamanic system”.
Having skimmed the book, are you sure this Irish material isn’t in another book? Or is it lost somewhere amongst the chakras, stone people, other worlds or planes that don’t conform to the well established (over 1500 years of oral and written lore) notion of the Irish otherworld?
Amy’s goodreads review covers a lot of this so I won’t be repeating too much, but just to expand on them:
“a woman could divorce her husband at any time, but a man could only divorce his wife at Bealtaine.” (p. 87)
The Brehon laws allowed for divorce on both sides under specific circumstances. There was no specification that a man had to wait till Bealtaine. He could divorce for 7 reasons: Unfaithfulness, persistent thieving, inducing an abortion, bringing shame on his honour, smothering her child or being without milk through sickness. (Fergus Kelly, Guide to Early Irish Law, p75)
“Women still took their mothers’ names and owned land. Some women were chieftains.” (p. 76)
Women were expressly barred from chieftanship, there are no historical records of this ever being achieved afaik. Names were patronymic. The owning of land is one of the most cherry picked and misquoted things out there. Only yesterday I was accused of “wanting to put women in their place” by someone when I corrected them on women’s status in early Ireland. Women owning land was exceptionally rare. The banchomarbae (female heir) could only inherit land if there was no male heir. Considering multiple marriages were allowed, along with separation to impregnate another women for an heir (and every child whether legitimate or not being equally allowed to inherit), the absence of a male heir was typically not an issue. On top of this, her inheritance of the land was only a life interest and could not be inherited by her child on her death. It instead returned to the kin group.
Amantha’s grasp of mythology is almost non existent (or consists of researching new age books and websites as bad as her own) and this is covered well by Amy in her review. But in short her christianisation of Cú Chulainn (while he was alive that is, there is a tale where his ghost is christianised), “Cúchulainn knew that Maeve had a wicked temper , but he had taken to the way of the cross and was a Christian”. In the timelines presented in the lore, Christ was still alive when Cú Chulainn was. Hard to “take the cross” when the person in question had yet to be crucified.
“Bealtaine is the time of the green man” “When we celebrate Bealtaine with a group that includes men , it is also the place of the Green Man , a personification of the god Pan” .
The green man, a new age centered concept, not native to Ireland, has NOTHING to do with Bealtaine
Her use of mother, maiden, crone and the typical “sun god” nonsense for Lugh are just more examples of her inability to research and more solid proof of her separation from true Irish culture and tradition . And PAN…Really?
These proliferate throughout the book. As mentioned above about the word “seabhean”. At one point she proclaims “There is no “tradition of the seabhean”” to only come back a few pages later and claim “The seabhean is held in high regard in her community. This role has passed down through the female line in families since ancient times”.
“People came to me for readings and I did not charge them . I said to spirit , “ I cannot keep giving readings . I need to get a job to earn money . ” Spirit replied , “ What is your problem ? We’ve given you the tools . ” (p22 kindle)
She is trying, unsuccessfully, to tie this book into the wise women who existed in every community in Ireland. Only difference is…they didn’t charge people. But hey, Amantha now has been told to make money from the otherworld, and is now totally justified in ripping people off and selling made up “ancient tradition.
“I realised then that I was supposed to be charging money; there was supposed to be an exchange”…The exchange was not monetary in the actual tradition and was never asked for or expected. It was freely given.
The name Brigid also means bridge .
Brian Boru: “Each Bealtaine , he lay with a priestess of Medb at Tara and in this way he became the king of the people .
Where do I even start with that?
Ailill turned to her and said, “ I have a bull and my bull is the strongest and biggest bull in the whole land. Nothing and no one can come against my bull. So I no longer need you , Maeve , in order to rule this land .”
That isn’t how that story went…
If the relationship suited both , then they could have a handfasting ceremony at Lughnasa (pge87)
Handfasting does not appear in ANY record before circa 17th century in SCOTLAND. It was not an ancient or Irish practice.
“The children conceived at Bealtaine were born at Imbolc and were considered sacred”
No they weren’t.
“Since the time of Christianity , there has been a systematic effort to rid the world of magic and to regard our more ancient deities as evil and against life” .
Not in Ireland there wasn’t. Priests used magic, Saints used magic, the people used magic. Still did widely until very recent times and may of the practices are still carried out.
“The fairies I played with when I was young were tiny , light-filled elementals “.
Completely going against HUNDREDS of years of accounts in Ireland of “fairies” and on top of that she actively tells people to seek them out. Not a single Irish person who has even read enough stories of the “othercrowd” that they could count on one hand, would ever tell you to go anywhere near them. Hundreds if not thousands of tales of people being killed, maimed, blinded or driven insane would tell you not to do this. And her claim of restoring the fairies (sídhe) to a locality is laughable. The sídhe would make mincemeat of this woman if she went anywhere near them.
And suggesting leaving urine as a gift for the sídhe? Have you even the SLIGHTEST bit of knowledge about them? Absolute proof the author is full of shit and completely detached from actual Irish tradition. Urine, has for centuries, been known to be a massive deterrent to the sídhe/fairies.
If you made it this far – thank you for reading to the end, and hopefully the examples given above are enough to convince you not to fill the coffers of this charlatan or support the publisher and scribe willing to bend over backwards to defend this fraud’s approprition of multiple cultures not just the Irish one. I will leave some suggestions for books and sources at the bottom
To Womancraft Publishing: You should be ashamed for marketing this as a weapon against appropriation or for defending it. Do the right thing and never reprint this.
To the scribe, Orla: Wash your hands of this immediately and stop defending her
To Amantha: Stop deleting comments and face up to the fact you are uncovered for the fraud you are. Stop watering down our legends, folklore and mythology because you are completely incapable of even basic research. Stop ripping people off by pretending to be a repository of ancient tradition and stop telling people your completely bastardised version of “Irish tradition” is genuine. You are an absolute disgrace and should be ashamed of yourself, although considering the self-absorbed rubbish I’ve seen so far, it’s unlikely that you know what shame is.
Suggestions for decent, accurate sources on Irish folklore, celtic studies and Irish culture
Probably one of the most recognisable traditions of Saint Brigid’s feast is the “Brigid’s cross”. These were and still are traditionally made from either reeds or straw (but feel free to make them from paper or whatever is available to you. For examples of paper crosses see folklore.ie here). These were prepared on the eve of the feast in a highly ritualised manner. Depending on the region these vary in complexity. The simplest resembling the characteristic four armed Brigid’s cross. They were typically nailed to the thatch of the roof, over doors and in animal byres to protect from fire, lightning and fairy influence. To read more about the traditions of Saint Brigid’s day traditions, including more about the cross please see my article here .
Anne O’ Dowd’s book Straw, Hay and Rushes also has an excellent section on the crosses, including photos and information on the museum examples and types.
What you will need:
Fresh rushes (or straw)
Elastic bands or string
Trim the rushes to about 30 or 40 centimeters, depending on how big you want your cross. Pick the best rushes from the bunch.
Take a single rush for the center piece. Take a second rush and squeeze the middle and fold in half, like the photo below:
Now wrap this around the first rush like so:
Bend another rush and place it as follows (Making sure to always hold the center tight to stop it all unravelling):
Again, bend another rush as place going this direction:
Now, TURN THE CROSS ANTI-CLOCKWISE once. The rush you just placed that was facing to left should now be facing down. (If you think of a clock, it should go from 9 to 6). Now bend another rush and place it as follows:
Now every single time you add a rush, turn it anti-clockwise once and keep building up the pattern like below ( so add rush, turn, add rush, turn, add rush, turn until you are happy with the size of the cross):
Before placing the last piece, loosen a piece like the photo below and thread the final piece through it, placing it the same way you did the previous steps. Then pull the piece tight. This will hold the hold the whole thing together for you to tie off the ends, and will keep the pattern woven tighter:
It should now hold together for you to tie the ends off and trim:
Hopefully this was of help for you and you should now have your own Brigid’s cross to protect your home or animals. Don’t forget to follow on Facebook at: https://www.facebook.com/Irishfolklore and feel free to leave pics of your completed crosses in the comments of the facebook post. Happy Saint Brigid’s Day!
Few historical characters have made such an imprint on Irish folklore and legend as Gráinne Ní Mháille (Anglicised as Grace O Malley, or simply Granuaile). Luckily outside of the oral tradition, we have a number of historical accounts (almost all from English sources) detailing the life and exploits of this extraordinary woman.
Her family were accomplished seafarers, with her father known to have travelled often between Ireland, Scotland and Spain. This seafaring lifestyle set the O Malley’s apart from most clans. The family motto “Terra Marique Potus” (Powerful by land and sea) illustrates their overall efficacy quite well. Control of the waters of their territory allowed them to levy tolls for safe passage and for fishing rights. In 1579, we see an account from an English admin claiming that each year 50 English ships would have to pay a “great tribute” to the O Malleys in order to fish there. The fertile waters filled with Hake, Herring, Cod, Ling, Turbot, Salmon and shelfish provided an important source of income for the O Malley Clan as well as making nets and building fishing boats. They also supplemented their coffers by means of piracy, a long standing family tradition, and in this regard Gráinne was lightyears ahead of her ancestors.
Born circa 1530, she was the daughter of Eoghan Dubhdara (Black Oak) Ó Mháille, chieftain of Umhaill, Co Mayo. Although Gaelic tradition barred her from holding the chieftainship, This certainly didn’t stop her being a trailblazer by sea, even though it was a rarity for women to helm a ship (not to mention them generally being considered bad luck on ships). This fact no doubt accounted for her notoriety and made her stand out. Had she been born a son to Eoghan, she may have faded into obscurity as just another seafaring O Malley. And this was a century and a half before the Irish women Anne Bonny and Mary Reid were forging their high seas careers in the Caribbean. Spending time as a child with her father on his trading and fishing voyages helped hone her skills on the sea, which taught her how to travel by star or by compass, how to divine the weather and navigate the treacherous waters. This intimate knowledge of the hard to navigate (and largely uncharted) inlets of her own territory certainly made her a force to be reckoned with.
Her first marriage to to Dónal “an Chogaidh” Ó Flaithbheartaigh (Donal of the Battles) produced two sons (Eoghan and Murchadh) and a Daughter (named Margaret after her mother). Eventually however Gráinne chose to leave Iar-Chonnacht, taking many of Dónal’s clansmen with her to live under her rule in Mayo. It was from here that she would start to really make a name for herself in her supposed 40 year career of piracy. From here they would swoop on merchants, many trying to make their way to Galway, and exact a toll for safe passage. These attacks by the Flahertys and the O Malleys were recorded in correspondence between Galway city and the English council in Dublin. Coming back to Dónal, he was Táinaiste elect for the O Flaherty clan and next in line for the chieftanship. Queen Elizabeth 1 threw a spanner in the works in that regard by promoting an upstart minor O Flaherty chieftain as chieftain of Iar-chonnacht. This was a complete repudiation of the native Brehon law system and a very effective divide and conquer technique*.One of many things that would set English law and Brehon laws on a collision course. Donal however, would be killed not long after this event, falling at the hands of his rivals, the Joyces. (*another common tactic at the time was that any captured children of Gaelic lords should be indoctrinated in English ways, thus transforming them from Gaelic chieftain to Anglicised Lord.
“A Nurse for all rebellion in the province for 40 years”
English military governor, Sir Richard Bingham referring to Gráinne, 1593
One of many legends relating to her tells of a time when Gráinne was on a religious Saint Bridget’s day pilgrimage to a holy well on Clare Island. News reached her of a shipwreck on Achill Island and neither the rough seas nor religious observance were enough to beat the draw of potential salvage. Among the wreckage, she was said to have found one Hugh de Lacy, son of a wealthy merchant from Wexford. The two soon became lovers. This however was to be a short romance as he was tragically killed by the Mac Mahons. she bided her time to get her revenge, till one day while looking from the parapets of her castle, she spied the Mac Mahons on pilgrimage to a nearby Island. She quickly swooped on them, destroying the ships and slaughtering them all. This not being enough, she went to Doona castle, routed it and claimed it for herself.
Another legend involves the heir to howth castle. She arrived at the castle one evening and was refused hospitality, a very serious slight in Irish culture. As she was leaving, she encountered the heir and subsequently kidnapped him. She was said to have been offered a significant amount of gold and silver that she turned down. Her terms: leave a side door to the castle open and always have an extra place at the table (The door is said to be still open to this day). Records do exist that mention that she was given a ring as a pledge.
By 1567, Gráinne now in her late 30’s had married again. This time to Richard an Iarann* Bourke, the owner of the castle most synonymous with Gráinne, Rockfleet Castle. Richard was also heir to the MacWilliamship, the most powerful title in Connaught (*The Iron, said to be either from the fact he wore an ancient suit of armour, or from the iron foundry on his land). They had one child issue from this marriage, Tibbot ne long or Toby of the ships (owing to the fact she was said to have given birth to him on her ship, mid battle). After a year, she was said to have made use of the Brehon Law practice of dismissing a trial marriage. She locked him out of his own castle and dismissed him from atop the parapets. They would however fight alongside each other for a couple of decades after this. Rockfleet Castle remained her main residence till her death in 1603. I should mention here also that both Gráinne and Richard made extensive use of the Gallóglaigh (Gallowglass) warriors from the Scottish Isles. These mercenaries, renowned for their fighting skill and prowess, were typically shipped over between May and October to be hired by Gaelic chieftains. The Ferrying of these soldiers of fortune was one of the many forms of seafaring activities and income of the O Malley’s. The clan most associated with the west of Ireland was the O Donnells. Clan Donnell would eventually settle in the west of Ireland as sub-chieftans of the O Malley’s in Umhaill. While these Gallowglass remained the mercenaries of the land, Gráinne and her sons were mercenaries on the water.
Circa 1577 after a botched raid of the Earl of Desmond, Gráinne was captured and imprisoned. She would spend the next few years incarcerated, first in Askeaton, then on to Limerick prison, Then Dublin castle. Desmond had originally intended to present Gráinne to the queen as a show of loyalty (but only 3 years after this he would be labelled a traitor and start a rebellion). After two years of incarceration she was released. The merchants of Galway didn’t waste any time upon her release, and hired a large sea borne force to attack her at her castle. She found no difficulty in routing this attack.
Not one for the quiet life. She would soon encounter one of her greatest adversaries, Sir Richard Bingham. Bingham would relentlessly harass Gráinne for many years. To the point she would try on numerous occasions to have him removed from his post. Somewhere around 1586 she was captured by Bingham, but her release was organized by her son in law, “the Devils Hook”. This was due to fact he was the only one of her relatives that wasn’t in open rebellion and as such, could be trusted. She wasted no time in gathering her galleys and heading to Scotland to hire more Gallowglass warriors. A storm damaged her galley and she ended up in Ulster. Here she struck up an alliance with Hugh Dubh O’ Donnell and Hugh O Neill (Táiniste of the Uí Neill chieftaincy). These men, who had once been bitter enemies, decided to bury the hatchet to form an alliance after seeing the effect the English had on Connacht and knowing what was likely in store for them also.
Circa 1591 Gráinne would receive news that her son Murrough ne Moar had submitted to Bingham. Gráinne was clearly incensed by this and “burned his town, spoiled his people and their cattle and killed three or four of his men”. A woman such as Gráinne would not let the simple fact of familial associations get in the way of her wrath. One legend tells of a time when her other son, Tibbot ne Long lost his nerve in battle and supposedly ran behind her. Gráinne was said to have shouted at him “An ag iaraidh dul i bhfolach ar mo thóin atá tú, an áit a dthánig as? (Are you trying to hide behind my backside, the place you came from?). There was no special treatment when it came to cowardice with Gráinne.
By 1592, Gráinne, her son and her step son were some of the only people who had not submitted to Bingham His relentless harassing of Gráinne would lead to him impounding her galleys, murdering her son, taking her cattle and ravaging her lands. Gráinne, now in her 60’s was still a force to be reckoned with. These events would lead her to try and petition the Queen in person, and that is exactly what she did in June 1593.
Legend would have you believe she stormed up the Thames in her Galley and waltzed right into court to Queen Elizabeth. She would spend a few months at court waiting to be seen. That being said, given her record of piracy, there aren’t many Gaelic chieftains who would have been bold enough to set foot on English soil, let alone stroll straight into court with a petition. The only other recorded chieftain to do this was Shane O Neill (1562). On being summoned to court, she was said to appear barefoot in Irish costume before Queen Elizabeth. A famous story of this meeting says that when presented with a fine lace trimmed handkerchief, Gráinne blew her nose in it and threw it in the fire. Elizabeth remarked how she was meant to put it in her pocket, to which Gráinne retorted that the Irish had a better standard of cleanliness. She was famously said to have declined the offer of the the title countess, as she was already an equal. As powerful as Elizabeth was, she had led an army or captained her own ship on the seas (despite giving herself the moniker of “the mistress of the seas” and could never compare to Gráinne in any way. Gráinne applied for a license so that during her life she would “invade with fire and sword, all the Queens enemies”. The reasoning behind this was that she could could undermine Bingham and do what she had been doing, but be untouchable by the English
Bingham would continue to be a thorn in Gráinne’s side for a number of years, by putting detachments of soldiers on her ships and pitting her against relations by saying they were rebels (Bingham still managed to undermine her licence by not only keeping tabs on her, but putting her under financial strain by having to support the Queens troops). Gráinne, not one to be undermined, offered to man her ships with 100 soldiers at her own cost from Easter till Michaelmass.
The exact circumstances of her death are unknown but it is believed to have occurred circa 1603 at Rockfleet castle. Whether she outlived Queen Elizabeth, who died the same year, is not known. She is said to be buried in the ruins of the Cistercian abbey on Clare Island. Even though she is absent from the Irish Annals, her legend continued strong within the oral tradition and still remains so to this day. There are few who have not heard Gráinne Mhaol and her fame will not be forgotten for many centuries to come.
Great news today in that the book, commonly referred to as The Book of Lismore, has returned home to Cork after spending almost the last 100 years in Chatsworth, UK at the seat of the Duke of Devonshire. It will be stored in University College Cork and will eventually be placed in a publicly accessible exhibit, along with a number of other manuscripts and artifacts in the university’s possession. But, Lismore is in Waterford I hear you say, so how is it coming ‘home’ to Cork? I will touch on that below as well as the contents of what is widely referred to as one of the “great books of Ireland”
This 15th century manuscript gained it’s name “The Book of Lismore” owing to the fact that it was found hidden in a wall in Lismore Castle during renovations and structural work in 1814. Its other name “The book of Mac Cárthaigh Riabhach” comes from the fact it is believed to have been composed for its patron Fínghin Mac Cárthaigh Riabhach, Lord of Cairbre, Co. Cork. The evidence for this rests on a poem to him and his wife Caitilín (the daughter of Thomas Fitzgerald, the 8th Earl of Desmond). A scribal note also mentions a couple (Lánamhna) for whom the book was written, although this has been argued that it might have been Fíngin’s father and mother and that the poem was added in later. It was then believed to have been housed in Killbrittain Castle (belonging to the Mac Cárthaigh clan) until 1642 when Lord Kinalmeaky (son of Richard Boyle, Earl of Cork) mentions in a letter to his father that he took a manuscript after sacking the castle. The book was then sent to Lismore Castle, then in the possession of Richard Boyle. So, how did it end up in the wall? This was believed by some to have happened in 1643 when Lord Muskerry was besieging the castle, although this is disproved as a scribal note on one of the pages has a date of 1745 revealing someone had access to it at this point which leaves us with more questions than answers.
Following the discovery of the manuscript in the walls of Lismore Castle it made its way to a few scholars and scribes in Cork and of course in the process a number of folios were lost, not to mention that the workers who found it were said to have taken off with entire sections of it (a total of 66 folios/pages are believed to be missing). Then in 1856 the parts that now feature in the book were returned to Lismore. In 1930 it made its way to the Duke of Devonshire’s (the then and current owner of the castle) seat in Chatsworth. In 1950 a facsimile of the book was created and then in 2011 the original manuscript was briefly displayed in UCC while plans were put in place for it to be placed there permanently. Yesterday, the 28th October 2020 was that historic day. Looking to the future, the manuscript will prove to be an excellent resource for all students of language, paleography and Celtic studies for many years to come.
Stokes, O Grady and Macalister identified three main hands: In Bráthair Ó Buaghacháin (this was later found to be not the case as he is believed to have been the scribe responsible for an earlier version), Aonghas Ó Callanáin and an unidentified scribe but there is also evidence of an “intrusive hand” in the texts, sometimes mid text. This is evidenced by different sized texts, changes in ink, the number of lines per page etc, suggesting that another scribe (or scribes) took over the work.
Macalister referred to the manuscript as “not being for the library, the monastery or the professional scholar, but for the use of the intelligent, cultured layman”. The wide-range of material contained within certainly points to this. The religious material is to the front, giving way to the more secular works of entertainment later on. It contains a diverse array of texts from different sources and genres such as vita, myths, law tracts, travel texts and more. Some of these are:
A number of Saints’ lives (vita) 9 in total including at least one local, Finnchu of Brigown. Finnchu is unusual in the fact that he is comparable to Cú Chulainn’s riastrad when he becomes enraged. Flames and sparks were said to have issue from his mouth when angered. He was also said to have uttered a curse in a strange language from his mothers womb which caused barrels of ale to explode when his mother was refused a drink at a tavern. This is identical to the store of the Pre-Christian filidh (poet) Aitherne (This story and the corresponding ale charm can be read in Carey.J(2019), Charms in Medieval Irish Tales). All the other saints mentioned with the exception of Patrick are Irish, compared to the similar and contemporary Book of Fermoy (which mentions continental saints). The other lives include Brigit, Columcille, Seán of Scattery, Finnian of Clonard, Brendan of Clonfert.
The geographical text Crichad an Chaoilli that describes north Cork.
Irish apocryphal texts (one of which, In Tenga Bith Nua I touched on here) and the story of the Tenga is to be found in the link in the bibliography.
Enumeration of the 8 deadly sins.
A tract on the Anti-Christ.
Description of the day of judgement.
The Battles of Cellachán of Cashel. This was a propaganda text of the Mac Carthys.
Texts of an otherworldly nature such as The Adventure of Loegaire Mac Crimthann and the otherworldly visit of Tadhc Mac Céin.
Munster-centric texts such as The Siege of Drum Damguaire and poems to Munster Kings including Aillil Ólomm
A tale relating to an underwater monastery (Tale of the Pigs Psalter). For a deep discussion of the phenomenon of underwater monasteries see Carey.J(1992),Aerial Ships and Underwater Monasteries:The Evolution of a Monastic Marvel, Proceedings of the Harvard Celtic ColloquiumVol. 12 (1992), pp. 16-28 (13 pages)
Irish Kingship texts such as tales of Diarmuid Mac Cearbhaill, the last king to hold the pagan Feis Temro at Tara. It also has material relating to the privileges of the Uí Neill and tracts on rights. The manuscript also has texts relating to foreign rulers such as The History Charlemagne (who Mac Neill claimed that many Irish kings modeled themselves on).
A list of the requirements to get into Finn Mac Cumhaill‘s Fianna.
Acallamh Na Senórach (The Colloquy of the Elders). This is chronologically (in therms of the setting of the tales) the end of the Fianian Cycle. It focuses on the remaining two members of Finn mac Cumhaill’s Fianna, who have somehow survived for centuries, as they travel around the country relating tales of the pagan past to Saint Patrick. They explain how places got their names and lament the old ways of the past. This tale takes up a significant portion of the manuscript.
Acallamh Becc (The Small Colloquy)
Lebor na Gceart (Book of Rights). This related to the rights of the kings of Cashel, from whom the Mac Cárthaigh were descendants, and how they had supremacy over all other kings in Ireland.
The only surviving Irish language translation of Marco Polo.
The feast day of Saint Finbarr, the patron saint of Cork City, falls on the 25th of September, but the rounds are observed on the closest Sunday to this date. Like many of the most popular saints, this involves visits to the holy wells associated with them to perform the “rounds*” in the hope of gaining the blessing of the saint in question. The site of pilgrimage associated with Finnbarr is Gougane Barra but he is also associated with the site that is now occupied by the Anglican cathedral that bears his name in the city. This is reputed to be the site where he set up his monastic settlement at Corcach Mór na Mumhan (The Great Marsh of Munster). Although he is much loved and still revered by the city folk as their patron saint (with the name Finbarr still being a very popular name for boys) and the pilgrimage to his shrine still draws numbers, research by the the noted hagiologist Professor Ó Rían created waves when he claimed that the saint may never have set foot in the south, and that it was in fact his cult that came here and grew in popularity. This as you would imagine, was received very coldly by the locals! We have no contemporary accounts of Finbarr in Cork, with the first “life” of the saint being written in the 13th century. So, whether he set foot here or not may never be revealed, but we have no shortage of folklore built up around the saint, some of which I will share below. He is often depicted with a bright shining hand, said to be touched by God himself. This was said to be so bright that he had to wear a glove to hide it. The Harry Clarke stained glass window (shown in the banner picture) depicts him as such. His legacy today exists in the sheer number of churches, roads, estates, sports clubs, people and the cathedral named after him. He is also the patron saint of University College Cork whose motto is “When Finbarr Taught, Let Munster Learn”.
* The rounds or turas are usually a set number of pilgrim stations where the pilgrims circumambulate in a sunwise (deiseal) direction performing a proscribed number of prayers or a specific ritual such as carving crosses into a stone.
First I will detail the historic accounts of the pilgrimage to Gougane Barra.
Gougane Barra and the Pilgrimage
Gougane Barra is the supposed site of the hermitage of Saint Finbarr and was the site of pilgrimage for centuries. The pattern (the word pattern derives from the word patron, i.e the patron saint associated with the site) there was recently revived, albeit without many of the more profane activities for which we have accounts. Thomas Crofton Croker gives us a fine example of the mix of sacred and profane goings on at this pattern in his book Researches In The South Of Ireland. He is clearly shocked by how “drunken men and the most depraved women” are side by side with the pious pilgrims and how an “uproar of prayers and oaths, of sanctity and blasphemy” could be heard simultaneously. In most of the other accounts, the observers tend to draw a line between the sacred aspect taking place during the day and gradually giving way to revelry as the night progresses. In Croker’s account, he places them side by side and shows no end to the religious aspect, which continues through the night alongside the secular activities. Here he tells us that both the holy well and chapel are still crowded at midnight while the dancing, drinking and fighting were happening. He likens the tents set up to a gypsy camp, an interesting choice of language no doubt to point out its wild, secular nature. He also tells us how “intoxication becomes almost universal” at these tents and goes to great effort to point out the hedonistic nature of these encampments where people are singing “rebellious songs” and have pipers in every tent. We can see clearly that he doesn’t agree with dancing being compatible with a religious event and claims it is an “amusement of which the lower orders of Irish are immoderately attached”. The most profane aspect he mentions in his writing is the lighting of bonfires on the hillside in the evening which he says has nothing to do with the pattern or the saint but instead harkens back to a bygone era with origins in pagan sun worship. In terms of how shocking many of the supposedly sacred practices were to the uninitiated observers, one can only imagine how striking it was to witness the hillside littered with fires reflecting on the lake below.
While on the subject of sacredness we will turn our minds to the sacred aspects of the pattern as recorded by Crofton Croker. Here he gives us detailed accounts of the religious side of pattern similar to the much more sombre side that we see today at these pilgrimages, albeit with much more rigorous observances. The extreme nature of the rounds are a common feature throughout multiple accounts with many obscure practices being recorded. In relation to Gougán Barra the most obscure ritual the author provides to us is the placing of a rusty iron object by the devotees on the head of the person next to them three times while reciting a prayer. Beyond providing a sketch of the item and telling us that it was of “considerable importance” and that it was passed around with “much ceremony”, we are told no more about this object. We do however get the impression that this was a very sacred object and a crucial ritual in relation to the pattern. When speaking of the sacred aspect of pilgrimages, or indeed of pattern days, one cannot fail to mention the importance of the holy well. In terms of pattern rounds it is oft a central, if not the most important aspect of the observance. Of the sacred waters at the well in this instance, we are given a very graphic account of how people with “the most disgusting sores and shocking infirmaties” washed themselves and thrust their arms or legs into the water to obtain a cure. He also tells us of how people eagerly drank this “polluted water” in hopes of receiving a blessing. Rigorous prayer is another common feature of pattern accounts. In regard to praying Croker tells us that an “immense concourse” of people were involved in a number of different acts of devotion. Many prayed on their knees with their arms uplifted with “considerable gesticulation”. Just as in modern patterns, a certain number of prayers had to be said at each ‘station’ as part of the ritual. Here Croker tells us how people kept track of these prayers. Some “counted their beads with much apparent fervour” or used small pebbles as a substitute. He also notes how men notched their cudgel or a piece of stick. Here with the mention of the cudgel we most likely see an intersection of the sacred and the profane. Men first mark the number of prayers on the cudgel that they possibly use as part of the faction fighting that was often found at pattern days.
The ‘Péist‘ (water monster) at Gougane Barra
The saint was said to have encountered a péist, a type of serpentine beast often encountered by saints (postulated by some as being the domination of Christianity over paganism, though I don’t subscribe to that myself as the connection of snakes and paganism is extremely tenuous). He arrives at Gougane and successfully banishes the serpent. In its attempt to escape to the sea, it created the channels of the river Lee as we know it today and the stones thrashed up in the process formed the island where Finbarr would later set up his monastic settlement.
Folklore of the Saint
In the National Folklore Schools Collection (digitised on Duchas.ie) there is no shortage of folklore based around the saint and sites associated with him.
First we get a story from Séan Ó Brian, Castledonovan, Co.Cork. He tells us of the ’rounds’ at the well associated with Finbarr in the townland of Kilbarry. He tells us that these rounds are carried out for the benefit of diseases and that people would throw pieces of bread or apples into the well as they pass it. He also tells us that a great fair or Óenach was held on the feast day in the town of Drimoleague that people would travel from far and wide to take part. (NFSC,Vol.0303:224)
Mrs K O Riordan supplied a wonderful story of when the saint was making his way to Cork from Gougane following instruction from an angel to do so. As he and his retinue of other saints ran out of water he struck a rock with his staff and a spring burst forth (which would later become a holy well called “tobar na naomh” or “the well of the saints”. This particular motif is quite common in the lore of saints and is often listed as the origin of many holy wells). Following this he realised that he had forgotten his book and spectacles and left them on a rock at “drom a bpóca”. He had one of the saints retrieve them but it is believed that to this day that the rock still bears the imprint of the book and spectacles. (NFSC, Vol. 0456:304)
We have two stories from the collection that curiously feature fairy lore. The first comes from Mrs Daly from Granig, Co Cork. She tells of hidden treasure said to be located at the subtlety named Castletreasure, south of Douglas. Legend tells us that there was a large sum of gold, in a golden chest, taken from saint Finbarr’s college by the Danes (who often appear anachronistically in Irish tales). They were said to have hidden it for fear the Irish would happen upon them and take it back. Scores of people were said to have looked for it over the years, but were often thwarted by an otherworldly black bull and a fairy woman who have chased people away (and even said to have killed some). (NFSC, Vol. 0321:057)
The second story was collected from Denis MacCarthy and again features a lot of interesting motifs found in fairy lore. In this account we are told of a family who live near a rath/lios (fairy fort). The fort was said to have an entrance going into the ground (possibly a soutterain) from which ‘the other crowd’ were said to emerge. The father of the household had previously been taken by the ‘other crowd’. One night the son had arrived home from playing at a wedding and started playing a strange, haunting tune on his fiddle that he had heard coming from the fort. His mother warned him that it was fairy music, the exact same his father was playing prior to having been taken, and that he should stop playing it. He ignored this and later played it at a wedding. The ‘other crowd’ came and claimed him. His mother went to see the local wise woman and she produced a relic (bone) of saint Finbarr and said she would be able to get her son back. It is interesting here, IMO, to see the mixing of native (bean feasa, wise woman) and christian elements as a solution as they are often opposed to one another. They proceed to the fort and she sees her son surrounded by the ‘other crowd’. She runs up and embraces her son while holding out the relic. The ‘other crowd’ upon seeing the relic use magic to turn some plants into horses and flee. (NFSC, Vol.0346:127-9)
Croker, T.C. (1981), Researches in the South of Ireland, Irish Academic Press, pp.278-281
Corkery, K (2017, Cork Folk Tales, The history Press Dublin
Duchas.ie, National Folklore Collection,Vol.0303:224, Vol.0456:304, Vol.0346:127-9