The following dialogue is taken from a booklet originally published in 1870, and then reproduced for the Manx Quarterly (#23). The transcription here isn’t great and I’ve tried to correct what I can, but some of it is difficult to make sense of… 

The dialogue centres around Manannán, or Manannan-beg-mac-y-Leirr, as he’s called here (“Little Manannán, son of the Sea”) – a common title for him on the Isle of Man – who is speaking with an old woman, referred to in the original Manx as Yn Chen Ven (literally, “the Old Woman”). The overtones of her really being the Cailleach, or the Manx Berrey Dhône, are clear, and as they chat they talk about how the Isle of Man has changed over the years, lamenting that it is for the worse, for the most part, which has resulted in their being forced to move from one place to another as their homes have become unlivable.

As the introduction notes, Manannán’s “chief attributes [lie] in his knowledge of the weather, and his magical power over the air and sea. In his capacity of navigator, he [has] continual intercourse with the Isle of Man which was ‘looked upon by the Irish as’ one of the enchanted islands to which their heroes might and did resort. He is supposed to have fled thither, when the tribe he belonged to and led in Ireland was put to flight by later conquerors. On his arrival the was elected by the Manx as their King. The view has been hold that Mannanan [is] an eponymous hero, and gave his name to the Island, but later writers on folklore are inclined to reverse the order of the christening, because our hero was originally known as Orbsen. Once settled in Man, Mannanan is represented as living in a fairy palace, and he figures in many stormy encounters with this adversaries, sometimes rolling on three legs like a wheel through the mist, at others being endued with a giant’s strength and performing many prodigies.”

The tradition of Manannán is still strong in the Isle of Man, and this relatively modern tale, which interweaves much of Manannán’s lore throughout it, makes it clear that he always will be. Times may change and such horrors as “crinolines, bonnets without back or top, and rolls of hair twisted together set at the back of the heads of our women just like hay-risks…” may plague us, but Manannán will always be looking out for his people. 

A Conversation between Mannanan beg Mac y Leirr, the three-legged King of the Isle of Man, and an old Manx woman on the top of Snaefell.

THE OLD WOMAN: Good morning to thee, Mannanan beg Mac y Leirr, I wonder at meeting thee here. I have been looking for thee everywhere for many years without any sign of thee.

MANNANAN: O, my dear woman. It rejoices my heart to meet thee, because my sorrows have been so many, and my friends so few, that a little talk to thee once move revives my heart and raises such joy in my soul as I have not felt for many years.

THE OLD WOMAN: What is the nature of thy sorrow, O Mannanan beg Mac y Leirr, and whence has it come?

MANNANAN: Thou surprisest me that thou dost ask the question of me, old woman. Thou knowest very well that I have been a King in the Isle of Man, but in an unlucky hour, and through the craftiness of strangers, I was cast down from the highest pinnacle of fame and power to the most abject poverty in the Island, and what are its consequences now ? Those who cannot be compared with me in any way, either in learning or knowledge or wisdom, look at me with contempt and bear themselves towards me as to a robber. Once those who wore under my sway obeyed me and loved me. They brought me every year a small quantity of coarse meadow hay, or else rank grass from the top of Barrule to the dwelling-house of my chief officer at the foot of the mountain (a). Even the coin of our Island was spurious except the three-legged arms were stamped on it (b); but now, my dear old woman, am driven away from the dwelling-place of the living to wander on the sea-shoe or on the tops of the mountains (c). Eve the vary few pence that remain which are found with my token on them are thrown in a corner as bad money. The only thing they have now to keep up the memory of old times is the spreading a small quantity of rushes on the top of Tynwald (d).

THE OLD WOMAN: Where, then, is thy dwelling now?

MANNANAN: For many years I was dwelling in the great cave of Ballagyr and sometimes I lodged do the ruins of Peel Castle, but I was driven away by those who were saying I was the “modde dhoo” (e). Seeing, therefore, that my life was in danger, I went to the waterfall of Glen Maye. There they treated as the Phynnodderee; therefore I shook the dust of my feet against the people of Gordon and Glen Maye, and passing right through the merry vale of Rushen I took shelter at last in the Chasms at Cregneish. But what is the use? The strangers have come among us so sneakingly and so full of inquisitiveness that they came with great leaden weights tied to long ropes, lowering the rope in clefts of the rocks and swinging it from side to side, sounding and banging (f). that they frightened me, and I ran to Langness at Ronaldsway; but even then I could not remain, because there was a light-house (1).to save the life of poor sailors my heart was almost broken within me seeing so many wrecks of ships broken in small pieces on the rocks and at hearing the awful cries of poor sailors drowning without help to save them. The feeling of my heart could not stand it any longer and I went to the mountains south and north, the two Barrules, Cronk yn Irr Laa, Snaefell, Slieu Whallian, and other mountains of the Island, which were no far from the shore where I was constantly bathing. But my peace was again broke in the mountains. They sold the poor mountains from me and from the public (g). Whilst they left me the rule, the people had as much to say in the matter of the mountains as in that of the air above them and the waters round about them. But now all the way from Douglas Head to Maughold Head, and over all the mountains of Man, they have staked them with great staves like sheep-poles (h), and they have given a big English name to the stakes, which thou and I my old comrade, do not understand very well, because Manks is our mother tongue, and we have not much liking for their English. The name of the stakes on the mountain used to be with us something like Abernethies (i), let me be right or wrong. But what a wonderful thing it is, woman (with everything else they have done) at Port Erin on the coast of our Island, they have buried in the water hundreds and thousands of tons of the rocks of the Howe in the bay (k), and spoilt the little port that formerly was the accustomed place of safety from the Calf to the Point of Ayre.

THE OLD WOMAN: But poor Mannanan where is thy dwelling now?

MANNANAN: I am dwelling now in one of the prettiest glens in our Island, that is to say, Ballure Glen it Ramsey, but I am afraid even there my peace and happiness will not last long, for quite lately I have heard a very unnatural shout and cry saying, “Where art thou Adam?” I imagined first of all that these doleful cries came from a ventriloquist, for his voice came at different times from each district round about. Then one day I asked a fairy I knew, and she told me that the voices I had heard came from a believer who revealed his mind sometimes to the people, and, fearing that someone might think his kindred at some time or other had descended from the Great Buggane of Gob-ny-Scuit (l), he spends the greater part of his time in arguing with the people and feeling very anxious that the first man who was created should again appear and help him to dispel all misgivings that there was a relationship between himself and the Buggane (the Great Buggane of Gob-ny-Scuit) he is continually calling in his mournful strain: “Where art thou’ Adam?” Whether this account given me by the Fairy, of the mournful cries which I heard was true or not, I know very well that I cannot stand it much longer.

THE OLD WOMAN: These wretched mischances that have befallen thee, O po Mannanan-my-Chree, have been because of the slackness of thy rule in thy Kingdom; If thou had’st in thy rule tightened thy halter a little more, and “put a tie on the sportive cow” (m), this certainly would not have overtaken us so soon, for trouble and anguish have come on me as well as on thyself.

MANNANAN: With all submission to thy judgment, my good companion, I am ready to assert that there has been no rule in Man to be compared with my own Government. In the days of my rule, the people lived in peace and happiness. They were not under the taxes as they are now. They had no highway labour, except a very little for the main roads. Drunkards were not amongst them, and, therefore, theme was no need in our Island for a fine big palace for insane people.(2) The cupboard was empty of bottles, for the use either of the for insane people.

The cupboard was empty of bottles
For the use either of the wastrels or the doctors;
The ardent liquor of the publican was forsaken;
My people were without distress or any adversity.

But now crime and poverty have filled our streets; but what trouble has come to thee my old woman?

THE OLD WOMAN: My sorrow is greater than tongue can tell. Like thyself I have been. banished and driven out of the country. For many years I got lodging in the Niarbyl and the great glen of Dalby. My enemies drove me out of that to Ronnag, Where I found the manner of living of its inhabitants spoiled by evildoers. I then went to Fistard (n), which was not much better, and from there to the Chickens; again they. found me these, and drove me away, and now for the last time I have come to the mountains of our sweet old Island, to take a last ;sight of her with her seacoasts, before going out of the country for ever, to Cleveland in America (o)where they love me and take compassion on me, far they speak my own language,. and keep it up every day.

MANNANAN: My poor old woman, for myself my life is almost run, but if talon wilt go, many will grieve on thy account.

THE OLD WOMAN: I believe there are some in the Island yet who will feel for me, such as the parson of Kirk Arbory, the parsons of Kirk Braddan, Kirk Onchan, Kirk Lonan, end Kirk Bride, (p) with many people south and north who have been striving to restore me to the state I was once in. But what is the use! I will go, notwithstanding, and will take with me the names of Bishops Wilson and Mark Hildesley (q), and all the old parsons who translated the word of God into Manx, my own old language, and all those who have been striving since to keep it up, and they will be the Manx. friends of my heart.

MANNANAN: The old times past were splendid times:

THE OLD WOMAN: They were indeed splendid, times, but although our statutes and laws were a cause of terror to evil works (Rom. xlii, 3), yet there was no virtue in them unless spoken in my name. I argued the cause of the fatherless children and widows with the most powerful fluency,, and in the judgment seat where I constantly sat to decide the causes of the people, I cleaved always to the side of love and spirit of charity, neither did I suffer any witness to be perverted by crafty advocacy and crooked tricks. The guilt of the criminal I announced in very solemn words. The Church I constantly attended, and went with pious people to prayer and praise to the Lord, and my sermons sank deep in the hearts of the people. I went also with the young men to seek their wives, and when they had chosen them, I went with them to the wedding. By my advice they dwelt together in peace and comfort, but, alas! those happy days are gone for ever.

MANNANAN-BEG-MAC-Y-LEIRR: From thy talk my old Manx woman, I behold our sorrow and trouble have been much alike, how wonderful the changes which are made in our Island, both in customs, our laws, and manner of living. Our mountains have been sold, we are all under taxation, thousands (of pounds) coming into our Island are buried in the sea, fashions which have come amongst us have destroyed good manners, such things as crinolines, bonnets without back or top, and rolls of hair twisted together set at the back of the heads of our women just like hay-risks (r). But the conversation has quickly come to an end, and on my three-legs I must go my way, and take up my abode in the beautiful Glen of Ballure. Therefore, good-night to thee, and my blessing on thee for ever, O my old woman.

From Manx Quarterly #23.



(a) Old traditionary Manx custom on Mid summer Eve of paying rent to Mannanan. See ballad in Train, Vol. 1, p. 50.
(b) All Manx coinage. except tokens bore the 3 legs from 1709 until 1839.
(c) Old raying “The thief has the mountain and shore to live on.”
(d) Still part of the ceremony on Tynwald day
(e) Old Peel Castle legend.
(f) Obscure, but possibly a reference to the operations of the Ordnance Survey.
(g) In 1860 some Common Lands were sold to defray the cost of forming mountain roads.
(h) Meaning of original uncertain, but see Manx Society, v. xvi, p. 127.
(i) Probably derived from name of Engineer (Abernethy) who constructed Douglas Breakwater in 1862.
(k) Port Erin Breakwater. Begun in. 1864.
(1) A, place in Maughold (referred to by Kennish in “Mona’s Isle,” p. 14) where there is a cavern formerly supposed to be the haunt of a buggane from the wailing noises which came from it; found after to be due to the wind blowing through a hole in the rock.
(m) An old Manx saying.
(n) At Fistard a buggane was reported in the form of a black cat which grew like a big black bull in a. few minutes. “Manx Notes and Queries,” p. 11.
(o) There is still a large Manx colony in Cleveland and Manx may yet be heard spoken there.
(p) (l )J Qualtrough. (2) W. Drury (3) J. Howard (4) T. Caine, (5) D Nelson.
(q) The Bible and Prayer Book were translated mainly through the influence of these two bishops. ,
(r) Chignons of 60 years ago.

addtional notes fpc

(1) Lighthouse at Langness – not built until 1880 so reference a little obscure
(2) Ballamona Hospital

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Posted by on November 7, 2015 in Man, Uncategorized


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This poem is from Aígidecht Aithirni, or ‘The Guesting of Athirne.’ Athirne was a satirist and poet of the Ulaid, who, in this tale, went to stay with his foster-son for a night but got delayed each time he attempted to leave. The tale is preserved in three different manuscripts, and are of varying lengths and detail. Four of the poems detail the good things about a particular season.

Fó sín smarad síthaister,
sám fid forard dorglide
nach fet gaíthe glúaiss;
Glass clúm caille clithaige,
cerba srotha saebuisci,
sén i fótán fó.

Summer is a fine season for long journeys,
Calm is the high, choice wood
that no breath of wind stirs.
Green is the plumage of the sheltering wood,
streams of wandering water are dried up,
there is a good omen in the fine turf.

From A Golden Treasury of Irish Poetry A.D. 600 to 1200, edited and translated by David Greene and Frank O’Connor, pp142-143.

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Posted by on April 24, 2015 in Uncategorized


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Seasonal Quatrain: Bealtaine

This quatrain, one of four, is preserved in two separate manuscripts (Bodleian codex Rawlinson B. 512, folio 98b, 2, and the British Museum MS. Harleian 5280, folio 35b, 2), both dating to the sixteenth century. The quatrain has clearly been copied from the same source in both manuscripts, and based on the linguistic evidence, it appears the quatrain goes back to an original composition from around the eighth century. 

Atberim frib, lith saine,
ada buada belltaine:
coirm, mecoin, suabais serig,
ocus urgruth do tenid.
I tell to you, a special festival,
The glorious dues of May:
Ale, worts, sweet whey,
And fresh curds to the fire.

From Kuno Meyer, Anecdota Oxoniensia: Medieval and Modern Series (Part 8), 1894, p49.

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Posted by on April 19, 2015 in Uncategorized


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In Praise of May

This poem, translated by T. W. Rolleston, is attributed to Fionn Mac Cumhail:

May-Day! delightful day!
Bright colours play the vale along.
Now wakes at morning’s slender ray
Wild and gay the blackbird’s song.

Now comes the bird of dusty hue,
The loud cuckoo, the summer-lover;
Branchy trees are thick with leaves;
The bitter, evil time is over.

Swift horses gather nigh
Where half dry the river goes;
Tufted heather clothes the height;
Weak and white the bogdown blows.

Corncrake sings from eve to morn,
Deep in corn, a strenuous bard!
Sings the virgin waterfall,
White and tall, her one sweet word.

Loaded bees with puny power
Goodly flower-harvest win;
Cattle roam with muddy flanks;
Busy ants go out and in.

Through the wild harp of the wood
Making music roars the gale —
Now it settles without motion,
On the ocean sleeps the sail.

Men grow mighty in the May,
Proud and gay the maidens grow;
Fair is every wooded height;
Fair and bright the plain below.

A bright shaft has smit the streams,
With gold gleams the water-flag;
Leaps the fish, and on the hills
Ardour thrills the leaping stag.

Loudly carols the lark on high,
Small and shy, his tireless lay.
Singing in wildest, merriest mood,
Delicate-hued, delightful May.

From Eleanor Hull’s The Poem-Book of the Gael.

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Posted by on April 19, 2015 in Uncategorized


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The Warrior Gods of Lugh

This is subtitled an “Irish Battle Chant” in P. J. McCall’s Irish Fireside Songs, but there’s not much more said about it. It’s curious that Lugh is said to be the son of the Dagda, since his father is supposed to have been Cian, though later sources sometimes mistake the fact that he’s often called “mac Ethne” or mac Ethliu” as being a patronymic instead of a matronymic, but I suppose stranger things have happened when it comes to mythical relations getting garbled! 

Unfortunately there’s no reference to where this ballad might come from originally, how old it is, or who might have composed it, but the imagery is beautiful in a highly romanticised sort of way:

Lugh, son of the Dagda (the good god) was a chief of those gods of Light and Life, whose adversaries were the Fir Bolg, the Fir Domnann, the Galioin and their gods, the Fomorians.

Eldest of Plains art thou, Plain of the Triune Mist!
Wave-leafing, foam-flow’ring rivers around thee flow!
Throngs of great heroes, their ringlets by dawn be-kissed.
Over thy meadows of gold under greenness go —
The Warrior Gods of Lugh!

Salient and straight their tall bodies like pine trees be:
Eyes, ocean-skimmers, sky-wingers, blue orbed all!
Teeth that out-glitter the foam from the western sea:
Thin ruddy lips of the Quicken Tree’s burning ball —
The Warrior Gods of Lugh!

Shield to each one his huge disc of Findrinna white —
Sea horse entwined and out-twisted its boss adorns!
Sword to each one his swift falchion blue-beamy-bright —
Wondrous its hilt of deer-branchy red-metal horns —
The Warrior Gods of Lugh!

Woven they halt in strong pliant-knit battle rows:
Fair in their midst the good son of The Dagda stands!
Horns wind for conflict! With lips breathing flame he goes,
Kissing and kindling their swords into flashing brands —
The Warrior Gods of Lugh!

Foemen they scatter bewhirled like ghostless chaff:
Captives they bind under bonds of nine-knotted thongs!
Sweetness o’er bitterness rises their feast’s light laugh,
Rippling its gladness from hearts that are wells of songs —
The Warrior Gods of Lugh!

Matchless in war each is champion, coequal, good!
Peerless in peace each is poet, to curse, to bless!
Lore singer, love lilter, minstrel beneath green wood!
Winner in turn of the final hard game of chess —
The Warrior Gods of Lugh!

Eldest of Plains art thou, Plain of the Triune Mist —
Wave-leafing, foam-flow’ring rivers around thee flow!
Throngs of great heroes, their ringlets by dawn be-kissed,
Over thy meadows of gold under greenness go —
The Warrior Gods of Lugh!

From P. J. McCall’s Irish Fireside Songs, 1911, pp13-15.

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Posted by on February 19, 2015 in Uncategorized


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Maclachlan and the Glaistig

Although the title of this tale refers to a glaistig, Maclachlan himself addresses her as a Chailleach, and the confusion between the two beings is common. This is a fascinating tale in some respects, clearly referencing the tradition of Fionn and how he came to possess his powers, as well as the common belief that such powers are gifted to people by the daoine sìth or other kinds of Otherworldly figures like the Cailleach.


The first of the MacLachlans of Ardnamurchan lived in Glenahurich. In his herd of horses he had a fine grey mare, whose first foal he wished to keep. But the Glastig frequenting the rocky sides of a neighbouring ravine or waterfall knew this; and because she hated him as an intruder in the place, she resolved to disappoint him.

As soon as the foal was born, she took it and thrust it into a hole opening over an underground stream, in which it was drowned. On the following day MacLachlan found the foal dead in the hole, but thought that it had fallen in accidentally. Next year the same thing happened, the second foal being found dead in the same hole, and in the same underground stream. His suspicion was now aroused, and so he resolved to watch the mare next summer at foaling time.

When the season arrived, he went one day to the hill to see the mare; but the Glastig was there before him, and was busy pushing the third foal through the hole into the stream underneath. He knew well how to defend himself from fairy influence; and, therefore, he seized the Glastig in his arms, and with a great effort succeeded at last in throwing her down.

“Your death is over you, Carlin,” said he, as he stood over her. ” My ransom is mine own,” she replied. “What ransom wilt thou give me?” said he.

“The vision of the two worlds to thyself and prosperity to thee and to thy descendants after thee.” On these terms he let her go.

Some time after, being in the Braes of Lochaber, he took his rod, and went to the river Spean to fish. With the first cast he hooked a fine fish, which he landed on the river bank. Being hungry, he kindled a fire at the river side, and placed the fish upon it.

Soon afterwards he happened to press with his finger a blister which rose on the upperside of the fish. The heat burnt his finger so badly that he put it into his mouth to cool. No sooner had he done this than he obtained the vision of the two worlds, or, in other words, the second sight. The first part of the Glastig’s promise was then fulfilled, and it is said that the other part was fulfilled afterwards.


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Posted by on June 11, 2014 in Uncategorized


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A Banshee Story

The Caointeach was a Banshee. She followed the Clan MacKay and other clans in the Rhinns of Islay. When a death was going to happen in one of these clans, she would come to the sick man’s house with a green shawl about her shoulders, and give his family warning by raising a sad wail outside the door. As soon as the sick man’s friends heard her voice, they lost all hope of his getting better. They had heard the Caointeach lamenting, and that was proof enough to them” that his end was at hand.

The Caointeach has ceased to give warning to the people of the Rhinns. She was last heard at a house in that district many years ago.

A sick man was then on his death-bed, and his friends attending him. It was winter, and the night was wet and cold, with rain and wind. She stood at the wind-ward door of the house; and there she raised a low, melancholy wail. The family heard her mourning; and one of them so pitied her that he went out at the leeward door, and left her an old plaid on a seat at the side of the door. He then returned within, and cried to her: “Come to the sheltered side, poor woman; and cover yourself with a piece of my plaid.” In an instant the lamenting ceased; and from that time to this the Caointeach has not been seen or heard in the Rhinns. 



James MacDougall, Folktales and Fairy Lore in Gaelic and English, 1910, p215.


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Posted by on June 11, 2014 in Uncategorized


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The Great Selkie of Sule Skerry

With thanks to Laurel from Unfettered Wood for posting this on Facebook!

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Posted by on September 21, 2013 in Uncategorized


Lugh and Weather

The following is a loose translation from the original Irish given by MacNeill, detailing some weather lore concerning Lugh, as well as a tale of how his grandfather Balor was killed. In spite of Lugh lending his name to the festival (and thunder storms being common at this time of year), he doesn’t feature heavily in the surviving tales relating to the many Lughnasa sites around Ireland. Instead, it is Patrick who takes the honours, although MacNeill notes that in at least some cases, Patrick may simply be a substitute for Lugh:

When there is thunder and lightning it is said:

‘Lugh Long-arm’s wind is flying in the air tonight!’

‘Yes, and the sparks of his father!’

Balor Béimeann, the father, had nine folds of cloth over his evil eye. There is folklore in Co. Mayo that says it was a blacksmith who killed Balor, and there is blood on a stone that marks where he was slain. The blacksmith thrust an iron shank he had heated in a fire into Balor’s eye, before Balor could lift the ninth fold from it.

Maire MacNeill, The Festival of Lughnasa, 1962 (2008), p598.

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Posted by on July 31, 2013 in Uncategorized


The Burnt Offering

Appendix I of Maire MacNeill’s The Festival of Lughnasa gives a detailed account of the many different tales associated with the festival. Some of them are more Paganish in context than others, so in the next few posts I’ll excerpt a couple of them.

This one has a couple of versions; the first version describes Crom Dubh as a tyrannical Protestant landlord who insisted on his tenants burning a bullock in his honour in celebration of his birthday, whereas this one describes him as a pagan and “a kind of a small god”; either way the resulting sacrifice is made in his honour, but eventually the practice shifted to a different day. The first version says it was when Crom died and the people built a bone-fire of old bones on St. John’s Eve to herald his end, but the following version evidently tries to reconcile the surviving practice of a “beef-animal” traditionally being killed at Martinmas (roughly coinciding with the Old Style date of Samhain):

Crom Dubh was a landlord, a pagan and a kind of  a small god.1 Each year on the last Sunday of July each householder had to put the best beef-animal on his farm into a fire in Crom Dubh’s honour. That is why the days was called Domhnach Chrom Dubh. The animal was laid between two stone walls or stone heaps and the fire was lit beneath it. When the Catholics won they changed the feast to St. John’s Eve, and that was the night on which the beef was roasted afterwards. Some say it was to St. Martin’s Eve the change was made. Others say that Crom Dubh was a saint but they know no more about him.

Maire MacNeill, The Festival of Lughnasa, 1962 (2008), pp583-584.


1 The original Irish: Deirtear gur tighearna talmhan ab eadh Crom Dubh. Págánach a bhí ann, agus bhí an ghráin shaoghalta aige ar na Caitlicigh bochta.

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Posted by on July 31, 2013 in Uncategorized