Hags of creation

18 Feb

Some more from Eleanor Hull, describing some of the most well-known tales associating the Cailleach (or her contemporaries) with creating certain places. 

At Glanworth, Co. Cork, where she has a “Bed” (Labba-cally), the Cailleach is said to have been the wife of a Druid and the mother of Cleena (Cliodhna) and Eevlin (Aoibhlin). The Cailleach Bheara was the banshee of some of the Leinster and Meath families, as Cleena was of the MacCarthys of Munster, and Grian of Cnoc Grèine of other Munster families; Aine of Knockainy of the O’Connors, Una of the O’Carrolls, and Eevill of the Dalcais.

This Hag, the builder of Carnbane, is also known as the monster woman of Garvogue, who ate enormously and was the terror of the neighbourhood. Dean Swift on one occasion visited the place with Dr. Thomas Sheridan, and they picked up the same legends of her dropping the heaps of stone which she carried in her apron. Swift wrote a comic account of the visit. All the Hags or goddesses seem to have been cairn or mountain builders. Grainne, who made the circuit of Ireland in a year and a day, carried stones in her apron to build a dolmen, but threw them down at night to make a sleeping-place. Aine and Cailleach Bheara, as we have said, made the “Cassan” or rude crossing of stepping-stones of the Cammogue Stream to the east of Knockainy. The legends of these Hags often overlap.

In Scotland we have the same mountain-building traditions about her. All the hills of Ross-shire were built by her, and Ben Wyvis was formed of rocks carried by her all alone in her creel. She built them with her magic mallet or hammer, which, when lightly struck, made the soil as hard as iron; but when heavily, a valley was formed. But one day her foot stumbled and her creel upset, so that all the rocks she was carrying fell out in a heap, and they formed the mountain called Little Wyvis. Another legend says that the “Auld Wife” came from Norway, and brought with her the stones to make the Scottish mountains. The loose earth that fell through her pannier or “cliath” formed the Hebrides; and Ailsa Craig fell through her apron. The enormous standing stones on Craigmaddy Moor, near Glasgow, are called “The Auld Wife’s Lifts.” She is especially connected with the Isle of Mull, where a quadrangular rock called by the people “The Standing Walls or Ruins of Cailleach Bheur” is said to mark the site of her house. When an unusually heavy storm is coming on, the people say,- “The Cailleach is going to tramp her blankets tonight.” When the storms of the vernal equinox are passing away and the masses of cloud make snowy islets in the sky, they say,- “The Cailleach has thrown her mallet under the holly,” for the heavy pounding of the hammer has ceased and vegetation will revive again. But no grass will grow under a holly-tree. The association with the hammer would support the assertion of the author of the Statistical Account of the Parishes of Strachur and Stralachan that this “gigantic female Cailleach Vear, who sends destructive tempests” is an impersonation of thunder. They add,- “a very large stone among the hills of Argyleshire has the same name.”

When Beara set herself to build the mountains of Scotland she carried the rocks and earth in a great creel on her back. When her creel tilted sideways, the rocks fell out and formed islands. These islands were called “the spillings from the creel of the big old woman.” She had eight hags who followed her; they also carried creels, and she built the mountains as the dwellings of her giant sons, who were very quarrelsome and fought one another by throwing boulders at each other across the valleys. They were the Fooars, and some were horned like deer and some had many heads. Other legends say that Beara had only two sons, one of whom was black with a white spot on his breast; the other, a famous archer, was white. His bride is, according to a Spey-side legend, Face-of-Light, the spirit of the River Spey. She is captured by the black brother, but is set free when his white brother kills him with an arrow. In Inverness the two brothers who fight with rocks throw only one boulder each in twenty-four hours, and these make night and day. The red hand of the giant of night is often seen at evening.

Hull, Legends and Traditions of the Cailleach Bheara or Old Woman (Hag) of Beare, in Folklore, Vol. 38, No. 3 (Sep. 30, 1927), p246-248.

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Posted by on February 18, 2012 in Uncategorized


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