FATEFUL MEETING – Cailleach Part iv

The members’ lounge in the club had been nicknamed “The Snug” by its devotees who, during the week, were mostly men, oddly enough. It stood away from the main bar of the club, and its social hall in which dances, concerts, parties and other community events were held. The place was like a sanctuary from the noisy music and chitter-chatter that is so much a part of a club’s atmosphere, especially on week-end evenings. It was, however, far removed from the ‘Snugs’ that were an integral part of life in the public houses many years ago, which were a refuge for those ladies who liked to imbibe. That was a time when it was frowned upon for ladies to be seen entering a public bar, many years ago. Prohibited from drinking in the main bar area, ladies were obliged to take their drinks in the ‘snug’.

Secreted in the ‘snug’, ladies would have their drinks served to them through a sliding hatch that further ensured their privacy. This screened off area was the sole reserve of the female sex, but the more frequent visitors were almost always known by the male customers and bar staff. The idea behind the ‘snug’ has long disappeared and it is common these days for a man and a woman to go to the public bar and enjoy a drink together. The so-called ‘snug’ in the football club was much more a refuge for both male and female customers, who preferred conversation rather than having their ears assaulted with the sounds of modern music. In such a place Johnny was happy to sit with his drink in his hand, secure in the knowledge that he would catch up with all the local gossip and have some craic arguing about football.

Each evening there were at least three of Johnny’s pals in the club, but it was standard practice among them to each buy their own drink This is the way it had been for many years between them, ensuring that such a practice would prevent those with little money from being embarrassed. It also allowed each of them to drink as much or as little as they wanted without pressure. Furthermore, the practice helped them put a limit on their spending, depending on what they could afford, and not feel any sense of inferiority among friends. But, most of all, the practice suited Johnny who, though not miserly, could not have been regarded as the most open-handed person when it came to treating anyone to a drink. “A fool and his money are easily parted,” he would say, and he would go on to insist that he was no fool.

It was on a late summer’s evening, when he went to the club for his nightly drink with friends, that he first met Luig, “The Cailleach of Ballygan.” Although this first meeting did not make a great impression upon him, it was an encounter that would bring Johnny a new outlook on life, and radically change both his character and personality. Yet, at first, this initial encounter between the two showed no sign of the disaster, ruin and heartbreak it would bring upon a, heretofore, happy and loving family.

In nature there is a type of spider that is called ‘A Black Widow’, which reminds me of the attitude that Luig had towards men. The Black Widow spider entices the male of the species into her arms for a loving embrace. Then, after mating, she sinks her poisonous fangs into him, filling his body with poison, which allows her to suck out her mate’s life-force much easier.

At this time Luig was a woman in her early to mid-forties and not particularly attractive. She had recently tired of her most recent lover and rid herself of him, for there was nothing more that he could offer her. That particular evening she had gone to the club in the company of a girl friend, and she went with the intention of scouting out the local male population for a likely target into whom she could bury her fangs.

The football club was not exactly the sort of place that Luig would frequent under normal circumstances. But, she had not long moved into the area and had been invited out for a drink b this neighbour woman, who had befriended her. This new friend, however, was the type of woman who loved to know everything she could about a person. When she began talking she appeared to be speaking an almost incessant rant of rubbish. Sitting at a small table, Luig closed her ears to the voce of her companion, but her eyes had focussed on a man standing at the bar. This was Johnny Magowan and he had just received a pint glass filled with Guinness from the young barman. Standing there, with a pint glass in his hand, Johnny was smiling and joking with the barman, who appeared to be enjoying the conversation.

Luig turned to her friend and, indicating for her to be quiet for a moment, asked her, “Who is that man at the bar, carrying a pint of Guinness.”

Ah, sure that’s Johnny Magowan,” the friend began to explain. “He has worked in the Civil Service all his life and he has just retired.

He has a bit of money then?” Luig enquired.

I would say he has, why? Do you fancy him or something?

He’s a good looking man, so who wouldn’t fancy him?” answered Luig.

Ah, for Jesus’ sake you’re not the first, you know. But, he’s a married man with three grown up children,” laughed Luig’s friend.

Sure, why would that matter?” giggled Luig with a glint n her eye that certainly signalled of the mischievousness to come.

You should never mess with married men,” warned Luig’s friend in a very serious tone of voice. “Such actions can lead to a lot of heartbreak and trouble.”

Sure it’s no trouble to a determined and careful woman who knows what she wants,” Luig smiled conspiratorially and took another drink from her Vodka and lemon. Then, putting down her glass, she continued, “When I like something that I see, I usually get it. Now, that is a handsome man over there. I want him for myself and believe me when I say that I will have him all to myself!

Shame on you, Luig.”

For God’s sake, just look at him. He is tall, he’s handsome, and he’s not an old man. He’s certainly not short of a penny or two, and he’s just right for me,” laughed Luig.

The ‘Cailleach Luig’ had a very keen eye, like all witches, and her estimation of Johnny Magowan was not far off the mark. As she raised the glass once more to her lips, Luig stared at him with penetrating eyes, and she now began to review the strategy that she might employ to entrap her new target. In her eyes all she could see was a man of average height, who dressed well, and looked as though he was financially comfortable. He was far from being an old man, which was an added bonus in her eyes, and he seemed to light up when he was the apparent centre of attraction. Although, in truth could never, and would never, consider himself to be a rich man, he was happy with his lot in life. Taking early retirement left him with a high rate of pension from his last position, and he had been given a substantial ‘golden handshake’ because he accepted their offer of early retirement. What was amazing, though, was the manner in which Luig had picked him out from the rest of the men in the club. It was a mysterious talent, but one that appears to be common among all Irish witches throughout the generations.

The first stage of Luig’s strategy called for her to discover everything she possibly could about Johnny Magowan, and she wasted no time in setting quietly about her task. She used the ‘Cailleach’s” undoubted talent for making friends with others to achieve her aims. Then, by asking apparently innocent questions of those friends she made in the club, Luig quickly found the answers to all her questions about Johnny Magowan.

Luig discovered where Johnny lived, the location of his favourite ‘watering holes’, and who is closest companions were. One piece of good fortune for her came when she learned that the house she had recently rented was only doors away from the home in which Johnny and his family. More importantly, the knowledge that she had gained now gave Luig ample opportunity to observe both the man and his family. More importantly, the knowledge gave Luig more, apparently innocent, excuses to “accidentally” ingratiate herself with Johnny on more regular occasions, and thereby get to know him more intimately. Step by steady step, Luig managed to worm her way into the confidence of Johnny’s drinking buddies in the club, and could often be seen in their company.

Among all of his friends it could be said that both Bernie and Seamus were Johnny’s closest confidantes. These two men were confirmed, old-style batchelors and interested only in many pursuits. It wasn’t that either Bernie or Seamus did not enjoy the company of women, it was just that they did not want any ties to females that might hinder their carefree masculine lifestyle. They need not have worried about being overrun with needy females. As one woman member of the club put it, “Sure those two blackguards are as ugly as sin, and much too fond of their gargle, for any decent woman to be interested in them.” This was just what Luig wanted to hear, and both Bernie and Seamus were very much flattered when she began to make friends with them.

Being seen in the company of Bernie, Seamus and Johnny soon became a regular event for Luig. She would be seen chatting with them, laughing at their jokes, and even buying a drink or two for herself. In a very short period of time Luig had achieved her goal of becoming close confidante of Johnny Magowan. As week followed week, and months began to pass the friendship between Luig and Johnny grew more intimate. Seamus and Bernie, however, soon began to notice how bright the eyes of their new friend shone on each occasion that she was in Johnny’s company. This had been helped, in no small way, by the number of times when, after the football club closed for the night, Luig persuaded Johnny to see her home safely. Using the ploy of being a weak and vulnerable woman, Luig expressed her ‘fears’ of walking home, on her own in the darkness of the night. Johnny, always the gentleman, did not hesitate to offer himself as her escort and assured her that she would reach her front door safely. It was only a matter of time before Luig invited her escort into her house for quiet ‘night-cap’ before he went home. His first acceptance of the offer was innocent enough, but the invite became a regular event, and each one lasted a little bit longer than the previous event. One small ‘night-cap’ was stretched to two or three.

Despite what some people may believe, neighbours and friends are not always blind to such dalliances between men and women. It is gossip about such things, whether true or not, is the life-force that keeps the leisure time of friends and neighbours filled. Not surprisingly, there were rumours that suggested an affair between Johnny and Luig had begun. There were those who were disgusted at Johnny carrying on a sordid affair behind his wife’s back. There were also those people who doubted the credibility of such rumours because they had known Johnny and his family for many years, and had a very great respect for them. Some who heard the rumours had, not unexpectedly, an instant sympathy for Johnny’s wife, Maura, but there were none among these who felt they had the courage to make Maura aware of her husband’s possible infidelity. There were, however, close friends of Johnny who, on hearing the rumours, wasted no time in approaching him and ask if he was indeed conducting an affair with Luig. He, of course, denied the rumours and would laughingly tell them, “I’m a married man for God’s sake, with three children. Do you not think I have enough trouble without getting involved with another woman? But, deep inside his own heart, Johnny knew that things in his life were changing, and that it would not now be long before the truth was out.

In recent months Johnny’s wife, Maura, had become quite ill and had only been persuaded by the pleadings of her eldest daughter to consult the doctor. Maura had never been a stout, or physically strong, woman and so, when she began to rapidly lose weight her entire family became concerned, including Johnny. She had always been a woman who kept herself busy at work and in the house, so when she began to become lethargic and complain about her tiredness it aused those who knew her well to become very concerned for her own health. Friends and family persuaded Maura to go and see a doctor, who told her that the symptoms were not uncommon among women of her age and that she was not to be worried. The ill woman was given a course of vitamins and tonics, and she was also advised to begin a much healthier diet than that which she had become used to. Yet, despite these precautions being taken, Maura’s symptoms persisted and worsened. Friends began to urge her to seek further medical advice, and suggested that it might be better if she went to a medical consultant privately. But, Maura would laugh away their concerns and tell them that, “It is only old age and, sure, there is no cure for that.” She, however, was only in her mid-fifties and old age’s problems were a long way off yet.

Elsewhere, the rumours about Johnny Magowan and Luigseach McGirr were persistent, and were growing among neighbours. “Have you heard what people are saying about us?” Luig asked Johnny, one evening as they walked home together from the ‘Club’.

What about us? Have they stopped saying that we are secret lovers?” Johnny laughed.

That’s just what they’re saying,” Luig told him. “This is not good for your reputation, Johnny, or mine. Do you think that we should, perhaps, stop being seen in each other’s company so often?

What?” Johnny asked her, “You want us to submit to a bunch of frustrated old women who have nothing better to do with their lives but to gossip about us? We have nothing to be ashamed of here, because we have done nothing wrong. Why should we stop being good friends?

But, that does not stop any of them from saying nasty things about you and me. Maybe we should just stop being seen together so often?

Do you?

No! I’m just concerned for you,” said Luig.

To hell with them! The nosey bastards! Why should we stop our friendship because of what some nasty person is spreading among gullible people?” replied Johnny.

Are you sure?

You just listen to me for a minute,” he told her, “I like you, I like your company, so let them talk and spread their lies.”

As Johnny spoke these words Luig smiled, satisfied that her plan was now working very smoothly. She looked into his handsome face, put her arms around his neck, and they began to kiss each other quite passionately. Within a few moments she took his hand into hers, and holding it firmly Luig led him inside the house, and up the stairs to her bedroom.

As previously pointed out to you, the reader,Luig was not blessed with ravishing good looks. Instead, if the truth be told, when she wore her reading glasses she would remind you of that ill-famed murderess, “Rose West”, in her appearance. In short, Luig was as far from being a hot ‘pin-up’ as a woman could possibly be. Any person who can recall this relationship between Johnny and Luig are at a loss as to understand what there was about her that would have attracted him. The answer, of course, might easily have been because she was fifteen years younger than he was. He may have been simply flattered by her attention and the sex being offered to him, apparently without cost. Whatever the reason, this sexual encounter, though short, may have been exceptionally gratifying. But, Johnny was also a man of conscience and, immediately after having had sexual intercourse with Luig, a great sense of remorse began to overcome him. He sat on the edge of the bed in his nakedness and wondered just how he had come to this stage in his life.

You’re feeling guilty, now. Aren’t you?” Luig asked Johnny as she continued to lie in the big double bed, her naked, portly body covered only by a white cotton sheet.

I am,” admitted Johnny. “I am ashamed of myself, because this is something that I have never done before. I have always been a happily married man, and what we have done is wrong.”

Sure, it’s doing harm to anyone, Johnny. It’s only a wee bit of fun,” Luig tried to quietly comfort him. “It’s sex. There is nothing serious and there are no strings. It is simply something that happens when a man and a woman are suddenly attracted to each other.”

Johnny, unsurprisingly, was unsure about the logc behind what Luig was telling him. He knew that he liked this woman, and he did enjoy being in her company because she made him laugh. And yet, despite all this, he had never considered the possibility of being attracted to her in a sexual way. Naturally, as an older man, he felt very flattered that a younger woman, like Luig, would show such an active interest in him. But, now, after the event he began to feel a terrible guilt about having had sexual intercourse with a woman who was not his wife. There was a sudden realisation that a moment of lust had risked his marriage to Maura, his relationship with his children, and the respect he had among his wider family circle.

Above all, Johnny felt himself to be a hypocrite who had abandoned his own moral standards for lust. He had shunned the marriages of nieces and nephews because they had been pregnant, or caused pregnancy before their marriage. He had also been deeply embarrassed by his youngest daughter’s decision to live with her partner without getting married. He now felt a deep sense of shame, and he could not excuse his actions by saying that he was ‘making love’ to Luig. Johnny did not love Luig. He knew that it was all done through pure lust on the part of both of them. He knew that in the excitement of the moment his hormones had seized control of all his senses, and he seized the opportunity to copulate, as any healthy male animal would, when the female of the species presents herself to him. At this moment in his life he thought deeply about his love for his wife and children, which caused him to weep with the guilt he felt for betraying them. Feeling somewhat depressed, Johnny left Luig’s house after midnight and quickly walked the one hundred yards or so to his own house, which was in complete darkness. He discovered tat everyone in the house had gone to bed, and he took the opportunity to undress in silence in the bedroom, slip into his bed, and slept a very restless sleep that night.

Despite his deep feelings of guilt, however, Johnny and Luig would regularly repeat their lustful encounters, and not just on those occasions when he had left her home from the ‘Club’. In later years, when their affair finally came out into the open, people wondered just what had convinced Johnny Magowan to indulge in an affair with this woman. Some people suggested that Luig had, perhaps, told him that she was pregnant and then lost the baby. Others considered that both Johnny’s eyesight and mental capacity had been at fault. Seamus, one of Johnny’s closest friends, once confronted him by asking, “Just what the hell are you playing at, Johnny? Prince Charles is a dick-head for giving up Diana for that ugly Camilla. But, you are doing this on Maura for the like of Luig McGirr is even worse!”

Johnny could not defend himself, or his actions, to his friend. Sadly, observers can only assume that in Johnny’s case it was the tale of ‘forbidden fruit’ being made readily available, and man’s insatiable greed attracted Johnny to experience it. Like taking a drug, the more a man partakes in ‘forbidden fruit’ the more he becomes addicted, and he begins to feel the pain of guilt in his mind less often. It is said that among addicts, their consciences become quickly immune to any feelings of guilt, or remorse for any wrongdoing on their part. As a result, those things that once were unconfirmed rumours suddenly became fact, and they continued to spread throughout the town. Always in such cases, however, it is said, “The wife is always the last to know about her husband’s infidelity.” As far as Johnny and Luig were concerned, this was to remain the situation for a considerable period of time.

In that intervening period Maura’s ailments became worse and she began to worry about her own health. Being the devoted wife that she was, Maura had no wish to concern her husband about things that men would consider ‘Women’s Problems.’ But, Fiona, her eldest daughter, seeing the pain and difficulty that her mother was suffering urged her to consult the doctor and to get some tests done to find out what was wrong.

Cailleach of Ballygran II

Luigsheach (pron: Luck-Shack)

The time has come, at last, to relate the story of the woman who is known to many of us as the “Cailleach of Ballygran”. Many of the ancient traditions of the Celtic nations, as we have seen, contain a rich source of myths about the famed ‘Cailleach’. They pre-date christianity and make it clear that the ‘Cailleach’ did not represent any one thing in particular, but she proved herself to be a complicated spirit. In more ways than one she was associated with death, deviousness, and a range of catastrophes that can be inflicted upon others. In the same way the subject of this story was a woman, who wanted to be seen by her neighbours and ‘friends’ as a saintly person, living a good life and doing only good for others. In reality, however, she was a selfish individual seeking only her own aggrandisement at the expense of others, and was far from being anything approaching saintly.

She would deny being anything like that ancient Celtic spirit, but this was only to be expected from a devious person.

Her face was blue-black of the lustre of coal

And her bone-tufted tooth was like red rust.

In her head was one pool-like eye,

Swifter than a star in a winter sky.”

This modern ‘Cailleach’ could not be described in this manner, because it was her heart that was blue-black like coal with the evil it contained. She did not have one large eye in her head, but she had two eyes that saw everything that went on around her, and ears that missed nothing. It was her natural appearance, however, that fooled quite a few people into believing that she was a caring person, who only had their best interests at heart. their blindness was eventually removed. But, the ‘Cailleach’ is a shape-shifter who can hide in any form she chooses until she succeeds in getting from them all that she needs. Only then do these poor people see her real identity and, instead of being a self-sacrificing person who hadn’t a bad bone in her body, they suddenly discovered her to be a cold, treacherous and conniving witch.

Regarded in ancient myth as “the daughter of the little sun,” the ‘Cailleach’ was, and remains, an elemental power of winter, bringing upon us all the cold, wind, and tempests of that season. But, it is not with such direct action that our ‘Cailleach’ strikes. Like the ‘Cailleach’ of old she has a sharp tongue that brings little joy or happiness to others, and leaves them feeling very cold after their encounter. In fact. she detests seeing others happy and comfortable with their lives and always seeks ways in which to bring them down. Like the ancient Roman God, Janus, this devil shows two faces to those with whom she comes into contact. One of those faces shows her to be both caring and sharing, while the other face is not normally seen by those she meets. Instead, this face is discretely displayed behind the backs of those people so they might not see just how vile and self-serving she is.

The ‘Cailleach’ of old came into her full power as the days shorten and the sun sits low in the skies.  The darkness appears to empower these creatures and so it is with the ‘Cailleach’ of our story. In ancient times the people were often adequately prepared for the actions of the witch. They would observe and watched for the definite meterological changes that would signal the days of the ‘Cailleach’s’ power, when she would bring snowfall and winter storms over the hills and fields. Our ‘Cailleach’ is a different creature, in that she does not give any definite signs of what she is going to do. Those who truly know her are certain that instead of the generous, caring person she portrays herself to be she will be as selfish, conspiratorial, and very destructive as she can. She will lie, flatter, slander and use every possible evil trick that she possibly can to attain her objectives, and she will care very little about the feelings of others.

This witch of a hag uses modern day tricks such as creating gossip, spreading lies, using the goodness of others and even stealing from those who think she is their friend. She is a woman of no conscience and wears a ready smile for everyone. Perhaps it a means by which she can keep her mind active and retain a standard of youthfulness. Throughout her life she has used her age and appearance to entrap victims in her web. When she was younger she used her youthful spirit to gain the attention of men, whom she would discard in a way that would affect them most, both emotionally and mentally. But this was one of her great powers, her ability to almost enchant men into her arms where she could take advantage of them in every way possible. You might wonder if she had learned her trade from the old ‘Cailleach Bhéarra,’  who was also called ‘Sentainne’ (“Old Woman.”). It was said by the Celts that “she passed into seven periods of youth, so that every husband used to pass to death from her of old age ….

In those ancient days the ‘Cailleach Bhéarra’ was said to reside within a deep cave that lay beneath a hilltop megalith near Slieve Gullion, in County Armagh. Traditionally, Slieve Gullion is called ‘Calliagh Birra’s House’, and the megalithic site ‘Carrownamaddoo’ is also called ‘Calliagh A Vera’s House’. In many places throughout the north of Ireland there are many standing stones, which are said to be people and animals she transformed.  One of these stands near Antrim and is a búllan (rock basin) that is known as the ‘Witch’s Stone’. The legend of this place is that when the ‘Cailleach’ finished building the Round Tower, she leaped off the top and landed on this stone, leaving marks from her elbow and her knee.

Unlike the untamed ‘Cailleach’ of old, who tossed boulders and leaped hilltops, roamed through the mountains with forest animals or, took their shape, the modern form is somewhat different. Now she is seen as the average woman, powerless, unhappy with their lot in life, apparently vulnerable and crying,

banshee

 

“I am the veiled Old Woman,

  I used to be ever-renewed.

  Today my standing has been lowered,

 But my powers are undiminished,”

 This anonymous poem about the Cailleach was written sometime in the 11th century, and it betrays to us the work of Christianity on local traditions. The priests recast the ‘Cailleach’ in the minds of the people by stripping down ancient myths and reinterpretating them in line with Christian norms. Under these terms, female position in society takes a secondary role. Tales and poems still included references to death, winter, and decay. Though there remains mention of ‘Cailleach’ and its links to winter and the season of little sun. But their odes and stories are also filled with female bitterness and intense loss. Age is no longer something powerful that should be venerated, rather it is seen as contemptible and weak. With her beauty gone, the ‘Cailleach’ sits at the fringes of society, seeking revenge.

Our ‘Cailleach’ is just this kind of creature. She sits on the fringes of society, being neither rich nor poor. She was never a beautiful person, inside or out, and this may have helped in keeping her at the lower end of the social scale, but she was able to hide her weaknesses well, keeping herself immune from attack. The modern ‘Cailleach’ sits like the lioness and waits for her prey to come along, using every one of the senses she has.

There is a wise old saying that tells us a Leopard cannot change its spots, which is a damning judgement on the ‘Cailleach.’In the minds of those who think in this way, the ‘Cailleach’ is born as an evil entity and will remain so throughout her long life. She constantly tries to climb the social ladder and attempts to get ahead in this world at the expense of others that she meets. These are the characteristics that best describe the witch that is known to us as ‘The Cailleach of Balligran.

Luigseach McGarr (pron: Luck-Shack) preferred to be known by the shorter version of her first name, namely ‘Luig’. As a child until adulthood Luig was always possessed a small, squashed stature. She kept her dirty blond hair quite short, but never followed the modern styles of hair fashion. Luig’s thick rimmed glasses dominated her plump, round and pale face, about which there was nothing notable that would help her stand out from the crowd. In height she stood only a few inches over five feet tall, in her stocking soles, and she spoke with an oddly pitched and uncultured voice that could sometimes grate on one’s mind. There was, therefore, nothing that reflected the fact that Luig was a woman of intelligence. Although there was really no question about this, she much preferred to make an effort to hide it from others. This was one reason why she consistently portrayed herself as just a simple woman with very simple tastes.

Throughout history it appears that witches, in all their forms, represented a very impressive obstacle to conquest in the minds of all warriors. Their chief weapon in the battle was the cultural influence that they possessed among the people. This influence among the people of her society was strong enough for the ‘Cailleach’ use it as a breakwater to combat the incoming tide of patriarchy that automatically assigned all authority and all privilege to the male, the husband, the warlord, and  the priest.

Just as her predecessors had, the one blessing that Luig missed, was that of being given the beauty that would entrap all men. Everyone who knows Luig would agree that she could never have been described as being a pretty, or petite lady. Everyone would also agree that this failure did not appear to lessen her relationships with a variety of men in any way. As a man, speaking for men, it makes me so sad to admit that many men are easily fooled by the female sex. They will always forgive a woman for her lack of handsome features, especially when they are able to benefit from the comforts that she freely gives to them.

Even before she was married, Luig had a reputation for ‘playing the field’ and for enjoying herself while doing so. She used all her well-honed wiles to get her claws into the man who would be her future husband. Apparently, this young man was fortunate enough to have his eyes quickly opened, and he planned to call their relationship off. Unfortunately, in those days, society’s norms called for a man to marry a woman whom he caused to get pregnant. This is how the young man became her husband, and they married before she was even twenty years old. His problem lay in the fact that he could not be sure that he was the father of Luig’s baby.

Like the honourable man he was, Luig’s husband stayed with her for several years and she had several more children in that time. Rumours, and advice about the truth of those rumours, finally caused the poor man to eventually abandoned her and the children for his own survival. Some might condemn him for abandoning the children, but there are those within the community who will tell you that the husband could not be sure that he was the father of those children. In fact the same people would also confirm that the possibility of there being separate fathers for each of Luig’s children is quite high. Her days of ‘playing the field’ did not, apparently, end on the day she took her matrimonial vows.

Luig’s former husband, it appears, was a very handsome and popular young man in the town, and yet none of Luig’s children can be said to have inherited his handsome looks or features. By this time, Luig had reached her late thirties had become a more portly woman. Heavy with make-up and with thinning blonde hair she tried, without much success to maintain her youth. Her failed efforts, however, did not appear to have a detrimental effect in striking up new relationships with men. Luig seemed to have in her possession some special power that caused some men to actively seek her company. The string of affairs, which were said to be a major problem for her husband, continued and Luig’s reputation among the women in her home town declined. Because Luig did not distinguish between married and single men, but had affairs with both, continuing to reside in her home town was considered untenable and she decided to move away.

Once she had secured a move to a house in a nearby town, Luig began to make herself known to the local male population in various bars and clubs, but affairs were few and far between. Maybe it was her age, or perhaps these men were intelligent enough to take what she was offering and to leave before there was any further involvement with her. But, as seems the case in all these type of stories, there is always one man who is foolish enough to fall for her tricks and destroy the love of both his immediate and extended family.

Part Three of this story will appear soon. I hope you like it so far. There is a form to contact me with your constructive comments and I look forward to hearing them…

Cailleach of Ballygran I

INTRODUCTION


The “Cailleach” (pronounced “kye-luhkh”) is said to be an ancient spirit, and is described as being one of the most fascinating, powerful, and most terrifying of the Celtic underworld. By Celtic Bards she s described …

She crouched like a wild beast ready to spring,
She of the long nails, she of the long teeth,
She ran through the hills like thunder
.”

The ‘Cailleach’ is a mystery, whose memory and presence has survived many centuries after tribal worship to her died out among the Celts. She is, however, known in Celtic tradition as a very ancient spirit. In fact her tradition is so old that we know almost nothing of her origins, or the myths and rituals that surround her. The ‘Cailleach’, however, is found in the ancient traditions of Ireland, Scotland, and England, traceable through the folklore of those countries, the names of ancient monuments, natural wonders, and through the ancient verses and stories handed downfrom generation to generation.

We know that the Celts came to these lands over two millenia ago, bringing with them their own pantheon of Gods and Goddesses. But, when they arrived here the tradition of the ‘Cailleach’ was already ancient. It is almost impossible for us to know, or understand, what this particular spirit meant to those who worshipped her, but she must have been very important because, unlike countless deities and demons, she did not disappear. In fact, there are many who insist that the ‘Cailleach’ is still alive, and still a power in these lands and we must know something about her if we are to understand the story that follows.

In Celtic folklore the “Cailleach” is known by many titles, but chiefly as the ‘Old Woman of Winter’. She shows herself in late autumn as the days grow shorter and the weather turns wintry. It is said that the cold winds of winter, which scour the land is the breath of ‘Cailleach Bheaur‘ , or the Blue Hag of Winter. It is she who is responsible for bringing cold, snow and the treacherous weather that steals life from the land. She is the Goddess of Winter, Mother of Mountains, Ageless Lady of Dark Places, and the Ancient Crone of Wisdom.

When the winter came to an end, it is said that the ‘Cailleach’ used a magic rod, which she carried in her right hand, to strike the grass into blades of ice. The end of Winter, of course, brings with it the Spring, and she could not bear the grass and sun. On first sight of the season of renewal she would fly into a temper, throwing down her wand beneath a holly tree, before disappearing in a whirling cloud of angry passion. Some accounts say that the ‘Cailleach’ turned herself into a grey boulder to await the end of the warm days, when she would be renewed. The boulder, it was said, would always be moist to the touch, because it contained slumbering substance of the spirit.

There are other tales that tell us the ‘Cailleach’ changes herself into a beautiful young woman at this time, for the other face of the Cailleach is Briege, once goddess, who has been amalgamated into Christian saint, whose feast day, February 1st is said to mark the return of the light. Tales tell us that on the eve of this feast day the ‘Cailleach’ journeys to a magical island in whose forests lies the miraculous ‘Well of Youth’. At the first glimmer of dawn, she drinks the water that bubbles in a crevice of a rock, and is transformed into Briege, the beautiful spirit whose magical, white wand turns the bare earth green once more.

The name, “Cailleach”, in simple language means, “Older wise woman”, but the title is very much connected to the tradition of witches and the dark arts. At a cultural level, this Dark Goddess appears in a number of forms, and her role was to facilitate tribal elders at important times in Celtic society, such as declaring war and the choosing of kings. The ‘Cailleach’ was described as being of fierce and terrifying in her appearance. She was described as having only one eye, but it was an eye of exceptional sight, and sat in the middle of her blue-black face. Another outstanding feature of the ‘Cailleach’ was her red teeth and her white hair, that was like a snow covered mountain top. Over her head she wore a kerchief of sorts, and over her dull grey clothing she wore a faded plaid shawl. But, it is important to remember that this old woman can take on many disguises and, in many parts of Ireland, is said to be responsible for the placing of cairns and barrow mounds on the hills and mountains. It is her association with such things that reveals her intimate connection to the underworld and the ancestral realms of death.

This Celtic spirit not only controls the seasons, the ‘Cailleach’ is considered to be a goddess of the earth and sky, the sun and moon. In the guise of an earth goddess she can create life and nurture it, but she is also a destroyer that brings only death in all its forms. The ‘Cailleach’ can also form, alongside other spirits, the group known as ‘The Storm Hags’, who can control the winds and the weather for their own means. In Ireland, alongside, ‘Babh’ (Crow), and Macha she is part of a group who unleash their magical powers to bring mists, clouds of darkness, and showers of fire and blood over their enemies. Their howls of menace can cause blood to freeze, bringing a paralysis to soldiers on the battlefield. Any aspect of this goddess might appear among opposing armies as crows or ravens, all of which are considered to be sinister black carrion birds of death.

In times of battle the warriors might just see a lean, nimble hag, hovering above the fighting, hopping about on the spears and shields of the army who were to be victorious. Another of her guises is the ‘Washer at the Ford’, which takes the form of an old woman who can be seen washing the clothing of a soldier who is about to die in battle. When the warrior saw her at this task, he knew that he would soon be crossing the river that separates life and death, and he embraced the dark side of life. They, the Celts, took to war like a lover, plunging into battle naked, while singing gloriously boastful songs. They were fearless in the face of death, which their belief in reincarnation taught them was “…but the center of a long life.” It was their belief that the blood and carnage on the battlefield fertilized and replenished the earth. War and death gave way to life and a flourishing land. In fact, it was not an uncommon thing for a man to lend money to another and agree on repayment in a future lifetime. Darkness, then, within Celtic tradition, was closely associated with new beginnings, such as the potential of the seed below the ground.

In some ancient tales, the ‘Cailleach’ does not turn to stone at the end of winter, but appears at a house where there was a young man lying. At this house she begs that she might be allowed to warm herself by the side of the fire, which is granted. But, later she would creep into the young man’s bed, and through her wily, magical spells the young man did not throw her out. Instead, he only put a fold in the blanket between them. But, after a while, the young man awoke with a start, for this old crone had changed into the most beautiful of women that man had ever seen. Such tales in Celtic folklore reinforce the tradition that says the ‘Cailleach’ endlessly chases youth, using magic means to seduce the young men. It is, therefore, right that the ‘Cailleach’, in her many disguises, is deeply feared because of her authority in the land of the dead. It is said that she outlives many husbands and lovers, while she remains youthful and mothers many children.

“The Cailleach sees with an all knowing eye,

A dark spirit with two faces,

One of which is bluish-black and

is filled with the knowledge of the ancients.

She is a withered old crone,

and older than time,

who watching over the land,

and guiding victims back to her.

With a quick and terrifying strike,

She is eager to unleash her power,

Causing mayhem and destruction in the world,

To bring about her renewal of life.”

The ‘Cailleach’. then, is known to all as ‘The Keeper of the Mysteries” promising all a new life, after the long sleep she brings to the world. But, as with any witch, the ‘Cailleach’ is interested only in her own aggrandisement. And so we meet the ‘Cailleach’ of Balligran…