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The Cow Legend of Corofin

02 Feb

This next tale has a little bit of preamble before it with some snippets of lore I thought I’d leave in; a sign of the time, the author is keen on patronising the ‘peasants’ on whom he relies for his stories…But he does make a good point; the tale is indeed very similar to some Scottish legends as well. I wouldn’t agree that the tale is of ancient descent, but rather more the product of the popularity of the Fionn Cycle in more recent times. Nonetheless it’s an unusual tale in that it attributes membership of the Tuatha De Danann (the spelling used below – ‘Danaan’ – is incorrect, but common for this period, influenced by the Greek Danaans) to a smith who is otherwise not usually numbered amongst them in older sources as far as I’ve seen:

Corofin and its neighbourhood is a happy hunting-ground for folk-lore even in these degenerate days. Much more so in 1840, when Eugene 0′ Curry took some pains to gather a few sheaves of that abundant harvest, much of which may still be saved, though till lately left untended. We still hear among the peasantry legends of Claraghmoor (Richard de Clare, 1318), Tige Ahood (Teige Acomhad, 1460), and Maureen Rhue (Mary O’Brien, 1641); with recollections of Ossian, and of the wonderful leap of the hound, Bran, and the deer, from the top of Inchiquin hill; of the discovery of turf-cutting by the warriors cleaning their blood-stained swords in the peat, and throwing the clods on the fire; with wild and sometimes beautiful beliefs in the swan maidens of Inchiquin, the banshees of Rath, and the “cursing-stone of Kilmoon,” the turning of which “maledictive stone” twisted the mouths of the victims awry. But a still more famous story was told by the older generation, and this I adapt from the invaluable pages of the Ordnance Survey Letters. It was told, in 1839, by Shane Reagh O’Cahane, an old tailor and shanachee of Corofin, and it coincides with the shorter form of the legend still told at Tullycomane:

On the ridge of Glasgeivnagh, in Teeskagh townland, in Kilnaboy parish, the high land adjoining the edge of Barren, ages ago, lived Lon mac Leefa (Liomhtha), a Tuatha De Danaan [sic], and the first smith who made edged weapons in Erin. He was strange to behold, for he had only one leg and three arms, the third of which grew out of the middle of his chest, and enabled him to turn the iron on the anvil, while he wielded the heavy sledge with the others. When he walked he would bound over valleys and hills, his one leg acting as a powerful spring. He had gone to Spain, and stolen a famous cow called Glasgeivnagh, on whose milk he lived. His race having been defeated by the Milesians, he long sought a ‘desert’ place sufficiently fertile to support his cow, and at last found it at Teeskagh. There the…(‘Seven Streams of Teeskagh’) still attest the legend how a lady made a bet that she would find a vessel which the cow could not fill, and milked her into a sieve; the milk ran down the hillside, forming the pretty waterfall and streams, which run across a deep gorge to sink into clefts of the rock. Beside the water were shown the ‘Leabas,’ or beds, of the cow and her calf; no grass could grow on them. Many sought to steal the cow, but her hoofs grew backward, so they could never track her (though her footprints remain all over the rocks of the district), for one of Lon’s seven sons, holding her tail, would follow her each day of the week to the top of the hill, and then pull her round and let her graze home again.

Lon’s life of obscurity was, however, to end. Unlike others of his race, who sulked in the ‘sidhs,’ or fairy hills, he longed to astonish the Milesians, by making a famous sword for the most illustrious of their warriors. The fame of Fin mac Cumhal reached him, and he set out in his usual expeditious method, and reached the fort of Ben Edar, or Howth. Springing into the presence of Fin and his astonished court, “I am Lon,” he cried, “skilled in smiths’ art, and a servant of the King of Lochlin; I lay on thee a ‘geasa’ to overtake me ere I reach home.” Off he bounded, and the Fenians were soon hopelessly distanced, except Caoilte, “of the slender, hard legs,” who kept the smith in sight, and coming up with him just as he entered his cave in Garraidh-na-Ceartan, where the ashes of his forge remain, to refute all sceptics, he slapped him on the shoulder. “Stay, smith,” said Caoilte, “enter not thy cave alone.” “Success and welcome, true soldier of the Fionna,” said Lon, in delight, “not for witchcraft did I visit thee, but to lead thee to my forge, and give thee a weapon to make thee famous”; and they worked at the forge for three days. At last Fin and seven of his men arrived, and Lon sold them eight swords. There the work ended, for the anvil was broken under the strokes of Goll and Conan, the sons of Morné.

Meanwhile a party of the Tuatha De Danaan mustered on Ceann Sleibhte (now Keentlae), or Inchiquin Hill, and posted troops on the causeways round Glasgeivnagh, namely, Corad mac Burin, 1 opposite Ballyportry, Corad mhic Eoghain, one mile west of Corofin, and at the Corad Finn itself. Their precautions were of no avail, for the strangers routed the outposts, and exterminated the main army in a pitched battle near Suidhe Finn, where bones are still found.

The legend ends tamely and abruptly, by stating that “an Ulster-man stole the cow.”

This legend is widely spread,2 and of ancient descent; it occurs at Ballynascreen, in Derry, and in Donegal, opposite Tory Island. Professor llhys gives fully the legend (singularly like the myth of Danae), of Balor’s daughter, and Kineely, “the wolf head,” the owner of the stolen cow, Glasgaivlen. Similar legends are found in Glengaulen, Cavan, on the Hill of Tara, and in Kerry. Nor are they confined to Ireland. The Rev. James Campbell tells an identical smith story of Tiree and Argyll: ” Lon mac Liven, son of Una, daughter of Vulcan,” with “one leg, and one eye on the top of his forehead,” comes to Fin, stating that he worked for the Norse King of “Givlen,” and flies, “taking a desert and a glen at each step,” to “a grey, sickly glen,” being overtaken by Caoilte Daorglas, who finds “seven ugly smiths” in the cave, and the tale ends in the splitting of the anvil, and a fierce combat. In Skye a Glasghoilean cow, the property of Fin, had “a bed,” which is still shown. The Scotch stories have more classic affinities (to Vulcan and the Cyclops) than our Clare myth, while the Glas Gavlen cow descends from the sky at Dun Kinealy, and is unmistakably a relative of the rain cows of the Vedas.

From ‘Miscellanea’, The Journal of the Royal Society of Antiquities of Ireland Volume V, 1895, p227-229.

 

Author’s Notes

1 The Coradh mac am burion of the “Wars of Torlough” in 1317, lay where “Kells Bridge” is marked on the maps, as established, from the recollection of the older peasantry, by our Local Secretary for North Clare, Dr. Mac Namara.

2 Ordnance Survey Letters, Co. Clare. R.I. A., p.66; also those of Cavan and Donegal. “Hero Tales of Ireland” (J. Curtin) Introduction, pp. xliv. and 1. Rev. J. Campbell’s “Waifs and Strays of Celtic Tradition.” “Hibbert Lectures, 1886” (Professor Rhys), p. 315. “Annals of the Four Masters,” vol. i., p. 18, note. Our Journal, 1852-1853, p. 315. “Journal,” Cork Historical and Archaeological Society, May, 1895, p. 210.

 

 
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Posted by on February 2, 2012 in Uncategorized

 

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