Tag Archives: cailleach bhéarra

The Old Woman of Beare

This is a version of a well-known story about the Cailleach, which can be found in many different forms. In some versions of the tale it is not a friar or priest who visits with the Cailleach, but St. Patrick himself. In the south-west of Ireland, it is often a local saint such as Gobnait who is the visitor, however. Either way, the end result is the same; the Cailleach is so old that it is impossible to count all of the bones.

This version is from Douglas Hyde’s “Legends of Saints and Sinners.” 

There was an old woman in it, and long ago it was, and if we had been there that time we would not be here. Now; we would have a new story or an old story, and that would not be more likely than to be without any story at all.

The hag was very old, and she herself did not know her own age, nor did anybody else. There was a friar and his boy journeying one day, and they came in to the house of the Old Woman of Beare.

“God save you,” said the friar.

“The same man save yourself,” said the hag; “you’re welcome,[1] sit down at the fire and warm yourself.”

The friar sat down, and when he had well finished warming himself he began to talk and discourse with the old hag.

“If it’s no harm of me to ask it of you, I’d like to know your age, because I know you are very old.” [said the friar]

“It is no harm at all to ask me,” said the hag; “I’ll answer you as well as I can. There is never a year since I came to age that I used not to kill a beef, and throw the bones of the beef up on the loft which is above your head. If you wish to know my age you can send your boy up on the loft and count the bones.

True was the tale. The friar sent the boy up on the loft and the boy began counting the bones, and with all the bones that were on the loft he had no room on the loft itself to count them, and he told the friar that he would have to throw the bones down on the floor — that there was no room on the loft.

“Down with them,” said the friar, “and I’ll keep count of them from below.”

The boy began throwing them down from above and the friar began writing down [the number], until he was about tired out, and he asked the boy had he them nearly counted, and the boy answered the friar down from the loft that he had not even one corner of the loft emptied yet.

“If that’s the way of it, come down out of the loft and throw the bones up again,” said the friar.

The boy came down, and he threw up the bones, and [so] the friar was [just] as wise coming in as he was going out.

“Though I don’t know your age,” said the friar to the hag, “I know that you haven’t lived up to this time without seeing marvellous things in the course of your life, and the greatest marvel that you ever saw — tell it to me, if you please.”

“I saw one marvel which made me wonder greatly,” said the hag.

“Recount it to me,” said the Friar, “if you please.”

“I myself and my girl were out one day, milking the cows, and it was a fine, lovely day, and I was just after milking one of the cows, and when I raised my head I looked round towards my left hand, and I saw a great blackness coming over my head in the air. “Make haste,” says myself to the girl, “until we milk the cows smartly, or we’ll be wet and drowned before we reach home, with the rain.” I was on the pinch[2] of my life and so was my girl, to have the cows milked before we’d get the shower, for I thought myself that it was a shower that was coming, but on my raising my head again I looked round me and beheld a woman coming as white as the swan that is on the brink of the waves. She went past me like a blast of wind, and the wind that was before her she was overtaking it, and the wind that was behind her, it could not come up with her. It was not long till I saw after the woman two mastiffs, and two yards of their tongue twisted round their necks, and balls of fire out of their mouths, and I wondered greatly at that. And after the dogs I beheld a black coach and a team of horses drawing it, and there were balls of fire on every side out of the coach, and as the coach was going past me the beasts stood and something that was in the coach uttered from it an unmeaning sound, and I was terrified, and faintness came over me, and when I came back out of the faint I heard the voice in the coach again, asking me had I seen anything going past me since I came there; and I told him as I am telling you, and I asked him who he was himself, or what was the meaning of the woman and the mastiffs which went by me.

“I am the Devil, and those are two mastiffs which I sent after that soul.”

“And is it any harm for me to ask,” says I, “what is the crime the woman did when she was in the world?”

“That is a woman,” said the Devil, “who brought scandal upon a priest, and she died in a state of deadly sin, and she did not repent of it, and unless the mastiffs come up with her before she comes to the gates of Heaven the glorious Virgin will come and will ask a request of her only Son to grant the woman forgiveness for her sins, and the Virgin will obtain pardon for her, and I’ll be out of her. But if the mastiffs come up with her before she goes to Heaven she is mine.”

The great Devil drove on his beasts, and went out of my sight, and myself and my girl came home, and I was heavy, and tired and sad at remembering the vision which I saw, and I was greatly astonished at that wonder, and I lay in my bed for three days, and the fourth day I arose very done up and feeble, and not without cause, since any woman who would see the wonder that I saw, she would be grey a hundred years before her term of life[3] was expired.

“Did you ever see any other marvel in your time?” says the friar to the hag.

“A week after leaving my bed I got a letter telling me that one of my friends was dead, and that I would have to go to the funeral. I proceeded to the funeral, and on my going into the corpse-house the body was in the coffin, and the coffin was laid down on the bier, and four men went under the bier that they might carry the coffin, and they weren’t able to even stir[4] the bier off the ground. And another four men came, and they were not able to move it off the ground. They were coming, man after man, until twelve came, and went under the bier, and they weren’t able to lift it.

“I spoke myself, and I asked the people who were at the funeral what sort of trade had this man when he was in the world, and it was told me that it was a herd he was. And I asked of the people who were there was there any other herd at the funeral. Then there came four men that nobody at all who was at the funeral had any knowledge or recognition of, and they told me that they were four herds, and they went under the bier and they lifted it as you would lift a handful of chaff, and off they went as quick and sharp as ever they could lift a foot. Good powers of walking they had, and a fine long step I had myself, and I cut out after them, and not a mother’s son knew what the place was to which they were departing with the body, and we were going and ever going until the night and the day were parting from one another, until the night was coming black dark dreadful, until the grey horse was going under the shadow of the docking and until the docking was going fleeing before him.[5]

The roots going under the ground,
The leaves going into the air,
The grey horse a-neeing apace,
And I left lonely there.

“On looking round me, there wasn’t one of all the funeral behind me, except two others. The other people were done up, and they were not able to come half way, some of them fainted and some of them died. Going forward two steps more in front of me I was within in a dark wood wet and cold, and the ground opened, and I was swallowed down into a black dark hole without a Mother’s son or a father’s daughter[6] next nor near me, without a man to be had to keen me or to lay me out; so that I threw myself on my two knees, and I was there throughout four days sending my prayer up to God to take me out of that speedily and quickly. And with the fourth day there came a little hole like the eye of a needle on one corner of the abode where I was; and I was a-praying always and the hole, was a-growing in size day by day, and on the seventh day it increased to such a size that I got out through it. I took to my heels[7] then when I got my feet with me on the outside [of the hole] going home. The distance which I walked in one single day following the coffin, I spent five weeks coming back the same road, and don’t you see yourself now that I got cause to be withered, old, aged, grey, and my life to be shortening through those two perils in which I was.”

“You’re a fine, hardy old woman all the time,” said the friar.


[1] Literally, “He (i.e., God) is your life”; the equivalent of “Hail!” “welcome.”
[2] Literally, “the boiling of the angles-between-the-fingers was on me.”
[3] Literally, “before her age being spent.”
[4] Literally, “give it wind.”
[5] The fairies ride their little grey horse, and stable them at night under the leaves of the copóg or dock-leaf, or docking. But if they arrive too late and night has fallen, then the copóg has folded her leaves and will not shelter them.
[6] Literally, “man’s daughter.”
[7] Literally, “I gave to the soles.” Many people still say in speaking English, “I gave to the butts.” The Irish word means butt as well as sole.

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Posted by on March 9, 2013 in Uncategorized


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Hags of creation

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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The Cailleach’s magical feat

In a previous post I mentioned a quatrain attributed to the Cailleach, which describes her great age. It mentions a mountain, ‘Carn Ban’ (Carnbane), which the Cailleach says she knew as a lake before it became a mountain. In this following tale, the Cailleach is seen to be associated with the shaping of the mountain – if not the mountain itself, then the cairn upon it. There are many many tales of this kind, and in most cases it is ‘supernatural women’ – goddesses or spirits – who are responsible for the making of them; mountains, river, lakes, cairns and so on.

Before we get into the tale itself I’ve extracted the preceding paragraph to give a little context to where the story takes place. Further posts after this will also concentrate on how the Cailleach, or her associates, are responsible for shaping the land.

But the Cailleach Bheara is most closely associated with the great cairns at Loughcrew, about two miles south-east of Oldcastle, Co. Meath. The Hill called Sliabh-na-Caillighe is 904 feet high and a prominent feature in the landscape. It has three main peaks, two of which are covered with tumuli and cairns, while the third had a large tumulus on it which was broken up by the landowner to make walls round his property. The “Hag’s Chair” is the most conspicuous, though not the largest monument. The cairn is 126 yards in circumference, 21 yards from base to summit, and is surrounded by 37 stones laid on edge, varying in length from six to twelve feet. It faces the north; and, set about four feet inwards from the circumference, is a stone nine feet long, three feet high, and two feet thick with the rude seat hollowed out in the middle called the Hag’s Chair. The back appears to have fallen away, but it is in its present state nearly two tons in weight. A rude cross has been carved in the centre of the seat, probably in recent times.

The legend, which was commonly related in the neighbourhood up to fifty years ago, was that a famous old hag of antiquity called Cailleach Bheara came one day from the North to perform a magical feat, by which she was to obtain great power if she succeeded. She took an apron full of stones and dropped a cairn on Carnbane; from this she jumped to the summit of Sliabh-na-Caillighe, a mile distant, and dropped a second cairn there; then she made a third jump and dropped a cairn on another hill about a mile distant. If she could make a fourth leap and drop a fourth cairn, the feat would have been accomplished; but, in making the jump, she slipped and fell in the townland of Patrickstown in the parish of Diamor, where the poor old hag broke her neck. Here she was buried, and her grave was to be seen in a field called Cul a’mhóta, “Back of the Mote”, about 200 perches east from the mote in that townland, but it is now destroyed.

Hull, Legends and Traditions of the Cailleach Bheara or Old Woman (Hag) of Beare, in Folklore, Vol. 38, No. 3 (Sep. 30, 1927), p245-246.

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Posted by on February 18, 2012 in Uncategorized


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Three great ages, and other things

Some lore about the Cailleach here, excerpted from the notes of Kuno Meyer’s Aisling Meic Conglinne, or The Vision of Mac Conglinne. She is mentioned in passing during the main text as “a white nun, of Beare,” (on page 6), and Meyer brings together some lore and commentary regarding her later on. He refers to a quatrain that the Cailleach herself is said to have recited, and in it she comments on just how old she really is:

‘Mise Cailleach Bhéara bhocht,
iomdha iongnadh amharcas riamh,
chonnarcas Carn Ban ‘na loch,
cidhgo bhfuil sé ‘nois ‘na shliabh.”

“I am the poor old woman of Beare,
Many wonders have I seen,
I have seen Carn Ban a lake.
Though now it is a mountain.”

Of the reference to her in the Vision itself, Eleanor Hull comments: “One of the earliest mentions we find of the Cailleach Bheara is in the twelfth-century satire called the Vision of Mac Conglinne, where, in a poem recounting the names of eight persons in Armagh who were “proclaimed for their deeds” in poems, we find the Cailleach Beara ban or “White Nun of Beare” associated with such fairy or pagan personages as “the Dark One of the two Tribes” (Dubh da Thuath), “The Dun Raven,” “Garbdaire, son of Samhain” (“Rough Oak, son of Hallowe’en”), and Becan, Becnait, “Little Man, Little Wife,” who are said to be “Father and Mother of Marban” the Dead Man,”–clearly all fairy people. It is singular to find the names of eight fairy people proclaimed after midnight in the central church of Irish Christianity, but we must remember that we are dealing in this poem with a scathing satire on the church, and we must beware of pushing its statements beyond their legitimate limits.”1

The following excerpt is a little longer, and Meyer credits a Father O’Growney for collecting the lore, sayings and tales from ‘a friend’ near Slyne Head:

Three great ages: the age of the yew tree, the age of the eagle, the age of Cailleach Bhéara.

The habits of Cailleach Bhéara: She did not carry the mud of one pool beyond the next pool. She did not
eat when she was hungry. She did not go to sleep until she was sleepy. She did not throw away the dirty water until she had clean water in the house.

Her advice: One night she was on the sea with her children. The night was still and dark, and it was freezing. The cold went to their very marrow. She told them to make themselves warm. ” We cannot,” said they. “Bale the sea out and in,” said she. “Take the scoop, fill the boat, and bale it out again.” They did so and made themselves warm until the morning, when they found opportunity to go ashore.

She had a bull called Tarbh Conraidh. There was no cow that heard him bellow and had not a calf at
the end of the year. Wherever the grass was best and sweetest, there she would drive her cows and the
bull. One day the bull heard the lowing of a cow. He ran from the Cailleach until he reached the cow, and the Cailleach after him. She followed him until they came to Mainin. He swam across a small creek that lay in his way. When he reached the dry land, the Cailleach had leaped across the creek, struck him with her druid’s rod, and turned him into stone. The bull-shaped stone is to be seen to this very day.

Meyer, Aislinge Meic Conglinne: The Vision of Mac Conglinne, 1892, p133-134.


1 See Hull, Legends and Traditions of the Cailleach Bheara or Old Woman (Hag) of Beare in Folklore, Vol. 38, No. 3 (Sep. 30, 1927), p229.

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Posted by on February 18, 2012 in Uncategorized


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The Old Woman of Lia Nothain

Here’s an intriguing one, which I can only conclude contains a relatively obscure reference to the Cailleach Bhéarra. Nothain – a cailleach, an ‘old woman’ as Stokes translates it, is shown here to have a sister who is called Sentuinne, or ‘Old Woman’; I can only assume the Berre mentioned here is the Beare most commonly associated with the Cailleach, suggesting that Sentuinne may be the Cailleach Bhéarra herself. Like the Cailleach of Gleann Cailliche in Glen Lyon – where there is a shrine to the Cailleach and her family – she is married to an old man (called the Bodach in Glen Lyon, the shrine being called either Tigh nam Bodach or Tigh na Caillich).

Nothain being taken out onto the plain at Bealtaine seems to be hint at some sort of seasonal/fertility associations here. Mythological women or goddesses are commonly associated with clearing and dying at plains, which naturally provide pasture or fields for crops to grow, and so their deaths might be seen as a sacrifice for the sake of their people’s well-being. 

Nothain (was) an old woman of Connaught, and from the time she was born her face never fell on a field, and her thrice fifty years were complete. Her sister once went to have speech with her. Sentuinne (” Old Woman”) was her name: her husband was Sess Srafais, and Senbachlach (“Old-Churl”) was another name for him. Hence said the poet:

Sentuinne and Senbachlach,
A seis srofais be their withered hair!
If they adore not God’s Son
They get not their chief benefit.

From Berre, then, they went to her to bring her on a plain on May-day. When she beheld the great plain, she was unable to go back from it, and she planted a stone (lia) there in the ground, and struck her head against it and….and was dead. ” It will be my requiem….I plant it for sake of my name.” Whence Lia Nothan (“Nothan’s Stone”).

Nothain, daughter of Conmar the fair,
A hard old woman of Connaught,
In the month of May, glory of battle,
She found the high stone.

Stokes, The Bodleian Dindshenchas, Folklore Vol III, 1892, p504-505.

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Posted by on February 14, 2012 in Uncategorized


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Áine and the Fitzgerald family

Áine is a goddess closely associated with Knockainey (Cnoc Áine) and the nearby Lough Gur, as well the Fitzgerald family – an Anglo-Norman family who appear to have adopted Áine as a legendary ancestor in order to legitimate their claim over the land that was taken from the Irish and given to them.

The following tales give a few examples of how closely related she came to be with the Fitzgerald family, and given the name of the author of the article these are taken from, it’s probably no surprise that he goes into such detail: 

Some couple of Irish miles from Loch Guirr, at the foot of the ancient hill of Cnoc-Áine, and close by the brink of the little river Camóg, stands the square tower of an old castle; and at no great distance off is another spot, also by the bank of the river, called by the country people the Bonn, or foundation, which is the site of another castle. In these two castles, according to the tradition of the place, lived long ago a famous Earl of Desmond, and his more famous enchanted son, Geróid Íarla, Earl Gerald. They say that the Earl of Desmond led very much the life of a libertine, and that walking one morning along the river’s edge he saw a beautiful woman seated by the water, combing out her long hair after bathing. Her cloak was laid behind her on the grass, and knowing that if he had but possession of this he would have her in his power, the Earl advanced noiselessly from behind, and seized it before its owner was aware of his approach.

The beautiful woman was Áine-n’-Chlíar herself; and she told the Earl that he never could have had his will with her had he not seized her cloak. She told him further that she would bear him a son, whom he was to bring up with ail possible care, like any other gentleman, sparing no cost on his education. One caution however she gave her lover: he was not to show surprise at anything, how strange soever, his son should do. When the usual time of nature was accomplished Áine brought one day to the Earl his infant son; and the father’s pride was great in him, then and after, as he grew up from year to year to manhood. Of these years nothing specially strange is handed down. The young earl led just such a life as any other young lord of his day; and he excelled in the accomplishments of his age and rank. But one memorable evening it happened that there was a gathering of great ladies and gentlemen at the castle of the Earl of Desmond. There was dancing, and of all the ladies none could vie with a certain one among the guests. The grace and the endurance of this young woman were however beaten, every one said, by those of the young Earl Gerald himself. When the dance was ended, this lady engaged him in another contest, for while all were seated at the supper-table she suddenly arose, and at one leap cleared guests, table, dishes and all, and then leaped back again. The old Earl of Desmond turned to his son and said, “Can you do anything like that?” “No,” said Geróid. “Well, stand up and try. Don’t let yourself be beaten by a woman.” Thus commanded, Geróid Íarla rose to his feet, and making a spring from where he stood, leaped right into a bottle, and then leaped out again. There was great admiration at this feat; and with the rest the Earl of Desmond looked in the greatest astonishment at his son, saying he never thought he had such power. “Were you not warned,” said the young Earl, “never to show wonder at anything I might do? Now you have forced me to leave you.” He turned about at the words, and walked from the hall, his father and others following him. He walked out on the brink of the Camóg, which almost washes the base of the castle, and they saw him step from the bank on the water. Up to that instant he had the shape of an ordinary man, but when he touched the water he was transformed into a goose, and in that form away he swam before their eyes. Where he went to was an island in Loch Guirr, and from this he has his name of Gé-an-Oileáin, the Goose of the Island. From this too cornes the imprecation which many yet use in that cursing county, but few understand, “Im-theacht-Gédh-an Oileáin ort!” “That you may go like the Goose of the Island.”

Though he no longer dwelt in the castle at Knockainy after this, it is said that Geróid used to sometimes visit his father; that when the old lord was drawing near his end he made his will in favour of Áine and his strange child; and that both mother and son came to the castle the night before his death.

After the death of the Earl o’ Desmond, Áine long continued to dwell on Cnoc-Áine — as indeed she dwells in it yet. But in those days it was not such a rich and fertile piece of land as much of its surface, where clear of rock, is now. Geróid came one day to visit his mother, and looking round on the bare soil he said, “Is fad’ ó cathadh eórna inso, a h’ Aine” (It is long since barley was winnowed here, Áine). Next morning when he looked at the hill it was all planted with pease, set by his mother during the night.

Another time, coming from Loch Guirr on a like visit, it would seem that, though he was of the water himself, he was yet in danger of his life at the ford of Cnoc-Áine. “Is beag nár bádhag mé san áth-san thair,” he said, “I was all but drowned in yon ford to the east.” The day following, when he returned to the ford, behold, Áine had laid down the casán, the set of massive stepping-stones by the aid of which people now cross the swollen water in safety. But some old people say that it was not Áine, but another enchanted woman, the Cailleach Bhiarach1, that laid these stones.

Áine is sometimes to be seen, half her body above the waters, on the bosom of Loch Guirr, combing her hair, as the Earl of Desmond beheld her by the bank of the Camóg. The commoner account is that she dwells within the hill which bears her name, and on which she has often been seen. Every Saint John’s Night the men used to gather on the hill from ail quarters. They where formed in ranks by an old man called Quinlan, whose family yet (1876) live on the hill; and cliars, bunches, that is, of straw and hay tied upon poles, and lit, were carried in procession round the hill and the little moat on the summit, Mullach-Crocáin-Iámh-lé-leab’-an-Triúir (the hillock-top near the grave of the three). Afterwards people ran through the cultivated fields, and among the cattle, waving these cliars, which brought luck to crops and beasts for the following year. There was this about the night of the cliars, that if you came, say, from some neighbouring village to join in the sport it was necessary that on getting on the hill you should look at the moon, and mark what her position was in regard to the place to which you had to return: otherwise you would lose your way when the cliars were out, and you had to get back home in the darkness. One Saint John’s Night it happened that one of the neighbours lay dead, and on this account the usual cliars were not lit. Not lit, I should say, by the hands of living men; for that night such a procession of cliars marched round Cnoc-Áine as never was seen before, and Áine herself was seen in the front, directing and ordering every thing. On another Saint John’s Night a number of girls had staid late on the hill, watching the cliars and joining in the games. Suddenly Áine appeared among them, “thanked them for the honour they had done her,” but said that now she wished them to go home, as They wanted the hill to themselves. She let them understand whom she meant by  “they”, for calling some of the girls she made them look through a ring, when behold, the hill appeared crowded with people before invisible. Another time she came one night into the house of some people whose friends are yet living at one end of the hill, and brought them a sheep. So long as the family kept this animal, luck remained with them, and when they parted with it, luck
abandoned them.

Áine is spoken of as “the best-hearted woman that ever lived”; and the oldest families about Knockainy are proud to claim descent from her. These Sliocht-Áine (descendants of Áine) include the OBriens, Dillanes, Creeds, Laffins, Deas. We must add Fitzgeralds, what few remain thereabouts.

The meadow-sweet, or queen-of-the-meadow, is thought to be Áine’s plant, and to owe to her its fragrant odour.

David Fitzgerald, ‘Popular Tales of Ireland,‘ in Revue Celtique Volume IV, 1880, p186-190.


1 The note that Fitzgerald gives here comments that the Cailleach’s name means ‘a hooded woman’; indeed it does, but the meaning suggested for her second name, ‘horned’ is less likely; as Grant notes, it most likely relates to ‘peak, point, pinnacle’ – as in the mountain tops with which the Cailleach is so frequently associated. Fitzgerald himself mentions this in his note, and gives some interesting lore as well: “she has given her name to mountains; and the fine well at Oranmore, which runs wine every seventh year, is called from her, Tobar-na-Cailllghe Béaraighe…She appears in Cantire tradition, wherein she repairs every seventh year to a certain medicinal well to renew her youth (The White Wife etc., by Cuthbert Bede. London, 1865. P. 124)…She places stepping-stones etc. in the waters; and the floods, it is said, can never rise above them…”

In Ireland, the Cailleach is most commonly known as Cailleach Bhéarra.


Posted by on January 31, 2012 in Uncategorized


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