Tag: Faith

Satan’s Creation

A Tale of Ireland’s West Coast

Along the west coast of Ireland there are many small fishing villages, and from one of these villages a narrow valley runs back from the sea into the mountains. It is a rugged valley created by two precipices that were torn apart ages ago and, when entering it along the road from the sea-shore, all that can be seen are the cliffs and craggy heights covered in patches of moss. Then, as you move further along the road, the valley narrows and the moss grows more thickly on the overhanging rocks. The trees that grow out of the clefts in the precipices, intermix their leafy branches and shelter the land below them from the strong rays of the midday sun. There a crystal clear brook runs swiftly over its bed of moss covered pebbles, flashing white as it leaps down a short decline, before taking cover once again under large ferns whose branches stretch from bank to bank. Then it reappears into the light, sparkling as it hurries on its way to the sunshine that engulfs a wider valley, and finally pours itself into the sea. Its origin lies in a spring that bursts out of a rock crevice into a a circular well, which had been partly scooped out and partly built up to receive the cool clear water. Above this well rises a sheer cliff-face to a height of fifty feet, where the rock changes shape, eroded by powers of nature into the shape of human face.
West Coast Cliffs 3The forehead of this rock face is shelving and its eyebrows are heavy and menacing. The nose that is so prominent is shaped like the beak of a hawk, while its upper lip is short, and the chin prominent and pointed. There, in the shelter of the crag that forms the nose is a thick growth of ferns that give the impression that the face has a small mustache and goatee. Above the forehead stands a mass of tangled undergrowth and ferns that many have likened to an Eastern turban, and an eye is clearly shown by a bit of lighter-coloured stone that gives the entire face a leer that could easily inspire fear among an ignorant and superstitious people. But on a level with the chin, and to its right is the mouth of a cave that can be reached by a path up the hillside, along which rudely hewn steps have been created to ease the steep ascent. Although the visitor to the cave must stoop to enter, inside they discover a large room seven feet high and twelve feet square. It was, without doubt, this cave was once home to a religious hermit because on each side of the entrance a cross has been carved deeply into the rock, and inside, a block of stone four feet high has been left standing at the far side and opposite the entrance. Above this altar a shrine has been hollowed out of the stone wall and over it another cross has been carved, over which has been written the legend, I.H.S.
The legend of the cave was told to my great-grandfather by a local old woman, considered to be a ‘Wise Woman’ by her neighbours, whose rendition of the tale was allegedly a tedious event. Nevertheless, she was a devout believer in her own story and told it with great earnestness and use of vocal intonations that kept her audience attentive. “It’s the cave of a saint, but I’m not certain of what saint it is. There’s some say it was Saint Patrick himself, but I don’t believe it. Others have said it was Saint Kevin, the one that conned the old King out of his land in the bargain he made for curing his goose, but I don’t believe that either. I tend to agree with those that said it was Saint Tigernach, you know that one who built the big Abbey at Clones in County Monaghan. Sure, didn’t Father Murphy say the same thing and there’s not a one who would know better than he.”
“Do you see that big head on the rock?” she asked. ” Well, that’s the devil’s own face that the saint made him put there, the time that the saint proved to be too smart for him when the evil one tried to cheat the blessed man. Aye, a quare story it is too, and the wealthy ones that come down here have a great laugh about it when it is told, saying they don’t believe a word of it. It’s because they don’t understand, but if men had to understand everything they believed in then they wouldn’t have much to believe in.”
“But, as I was telling you, Saint Tigernach lived in that cave alone, a good man and more cunning than a fox. He made it to suit himself and every day he would say a thousand ‘Our Fathers’, five thousand ‘Hail Marys’, a thousand ‘Credos’, before he would go out among the poor. Thanks be to God there weren’t many poor in Ireland in those days, for times were better, and those that were there looked up to the saint. He fed them and, when he begged for the poor, there wasn’t a man or woman that wouldn’t give something to him because he would stick to them like glue until he would get the offering. All that suffered persecution, or were hungry, or without clothes would go to the saint like a child to its mother and tell him everything that was in their heart.”
The old woman muttered under her breath for a moment before resuming her story. “While that blessed saint lived here, across the hill and beyond the peat-bog lived a ‘hedger and ditcher’ by the name of O’Connor. He was only a poor working man, helped by his wife, while his daughter, Kathleen, took care of the house. Strange to tell, in that house they kept a wooden board in the corner, which acted as a bar and had a jug of poteen sitting on it. From the jug they would sell poteen to all who passed by, because this was the day before the customs men, bad luck to them all, and every man drank as much as he wished without paying a penny to the government. O’Connor, himself, made the poteen while Kathleen would sell it to the turf cutters on the bog, but they didn’t buy large amounts because they rarely had enough money. Kathleen, however, was a fine girl with eye that would melt the heart of the toughest man, young or old. She was always to be seen in a nice dress during the week, and had a special one for wearing on Sundays, and it was said one sight of her would make an old man feel young again. But there wasn’t a mischievous bone in her body, for she was as pleasant as sunshine in winter and as innocent as a new born lamb, going to Mass regularly and doing her ‘duty’. Kathleen, however, had fallen in love with a young fellow who was employed as a ‘ditcher’, and they were to be married when the house he was building was done, and his father gave him a cow. Although he was by no means a rich man, he had the love of this beautiful young woman and he thought he had a fortune.”
West Coast Cliffs 2“Now, in those days, the castle at the foot of the hill was owned by a lord, who was bedridden because of the rheumatism and pains he had in his body. But his son, Lord Robert, was a devil of a man for running after girls and had earned himself a terrible reputation in the entire County. He was the type of man who would chase after a girl and, when he had won her heart, he would break it like he was snapping a twig. There was many a young girl destroyed by his deceptions, for once that devil of a man had his foot on her neck she would never be able to lift her head again. Then, one day, the old Lord’s pains got the better of him and he died. They gave him a great wake and funeral, but while he was standing at his father’s graveside, Lord Robert noticed Kathleen standing among the crowd and he wondered who this beauty was. Inheriting the estate he filled the stables with horses and dogs, which allowed him to continue his hobby of hunting. But Robert was a soldier and he had a great number of troopers at the castle, who were at his call. But not long after his father was buried, Lord Robert went hunting in the hills and came upon O’Connor’s cabin and said to one of his men, ‘I wonder if they would have a wee drop to spare here, for I am dry as a bone.’ So, they went into the cabin, asked, and were served their drinks. But Robert’s wicked eye was fixed on Kathleen and said, ‘Aren’t you the fine girl and fit to be in the house of a prince?'”
The old woman smiled and told her audience, “But she was fit for him and told him, ‘Don’t be trying your fine talk on me, Sir. I know who you are and have never heard a good word said about you!’ Kathleen was a good girl and as firm as stone when she thought someone was up to no good. So, Robert went away that time and came again and again when he was hunting, and he always had a smart, impudent word in his mouth for her. When she told her parents they agreed that his behaviour wasn’t nice, but they did not fear for the girl’s safety and reminded her that he would spend more in one drinking session than they would normally take in a week. Although they did not want to stop Robert in coming to the cabin, their lack of action encouraged his bad behaviour and every time he he came to the cabin he went away more determined to have the girl for himself. Then, when he realised that he would never get her by fair means, he decided that foul means were all that was left to him. Finally, when she rejected his advances again and refused to accept a present he had brought her, Lord Robert told her, ‘I’ll bring you to heel young lady, if you will not accept my presents,’ and he went away. Frightened by the threat, Kathleen told Tim McCarthy about Lord Robert and what he had said to her. An angry Tim swore that he would break every bone in Robert’s body if he so much as touched Kathleen. Then, as he got to thinking about the situation he became anxious about Kathleen’s safety and decided that he should marry her immediately and move to another county. ‘If that blackguard dares to come after her he’ll have his head crushed like an egg shell,’ he said to himself, knowing that many of the next county’s menfolk had little love for the English aristocracy. Without another thought he left his job and went immediately to Kathleen and told her, ‘I’m afraid for you, my darling, and I would rather be dead than see any harm being done to you. I believe, then, that we should get married immediately.'”
“Kathleen agreed, gathering up her best Sunday dress, and they both set out for the saint’s cave in belief that it was the nearest place where they could be married, for being married by him would be the same as being married by a priest. They hurried along the road to the large oak tree, where the footpath leaves the road and takes them along a boreen. Suddenly, from behind them, they caught the sound of a loud noise and they stood closer to the hedge, through which they peeped to see what was following. It was Lord Robert and a dozen of his men, with their weapons and armour shining in the moonlight, and they were riding swiftly toward O’Connor’s house. Tim and Kathleen realised that they had made a narrow escape and as soon as Lord Robert and his men were out of sight they sped along their way. They left the path and went to cross over the hill, which was mistake. If they had kept to the hedge and went around by the footbridge, took the footpath along the other side of the stream that runs in front of the mill they would have kept themselves hidden and safe. But as they crossed over the hill, one of Robert’s men spied them, for Robert had discovered from Kathleen’s father that she and Tim were gone and he had began to search after them. The soldier who had seen the two fugitives blew on his trumpet and the rest of the company rode swiftly after them. Kathleen and Tim now came stumbling down the slope and staggered into the cave just minutes before Lord Robert’s men pulled up there with their horses puffing, and their armour rattling loudly. “
“In a corner of the cave, on a pile of straw, the saint snored peacefully in his sleep after a tiring day’s work and was undisturbed by Tim and Kathleen’s entry into the cave. Meanwhile, Lord Robert and his men left their horses just below the cave and climbed up the short distance to look in. But, they could see nothing because it was so dark and Robert called out, ‘Come on, now, Kathleen! Come out, now that I have found you safe and well.’ Neither Kathleen or Tim answered him, but Robert heard a noise that was the saint turning himself uneasily in his sleep. ‘Come along out of there,’ Robert repeated, ‘and you, Tim McCarthy, if you come out, you can return to your ditch digging, but if we have to drag you out then the crows will be eating your corpse at sunrise. Strike a light you men!'”
“Robert’s men did as they were ordered and almost immediately they saw Tim and Kathleen standing, one on each side of the altar, holding tightly to the cross that was on it. ‘Drag him out of there!’ Robert roared loudly and his men went in to do his bidding. But before they came within distance of their target, Saint Tigernach had stopped snoring because he was disturbed by the light and the noise, and he now stood up before them. ‘Hold on,’ said the saint, ‘What’s the matter here? Why is there all this noise?’ Lord Robert’s men drew back in fear of the saint and what he might do. Lord Robert then came forward and explained that the girl was a servant of his, who had ran away with a ditch digger. The saint, however, immediately saw through Robert’s deception, “Stop it! Don’t try to trick me with your lies! Get away now, with your murdering band or I’ll put a great curse upon you all before you can count to five.’ With these warnings in their ears the men left the cave, followed by Lord Robert, who was still vainly trying to urge them to go back after the girl.”
“‘No Lord,’ they told Robert. ‘We have eaten you food and drank your drink, and we’ll do your Lord’s bidding in all that is right. We are perfectly willing to wait until morning and take the girl, and murder the ditch digger, when they come out of the cave, but the saint must not ind out. That would be too much of a risk, for we all have souls to save!'”
The armed men all mounted their horses and started back to the castle, with Lord Robert following them. But Robert’s evil heart was set upon having Kathleen and he couldn’t bear the thought of someone else getting her. Then, when he reached the turn in the road he halted and swore loudly, ‘ It’s the great eejit, I am. Sure, why didn’t I think of using the witch before?'”
West Coast Cliffs 4“There was in those days a great witch living in a cabin built near a rath that lay in the break between the mountains beyond the mill. She was well known in the county for bringing storms, causing cows to stop producing milk, and many other black deeds. She would have been taken long before and drowned, but the people feared that the devil, himself, was at her elbow when she did these things. So, it was to her cabin that Lord Robert went, and he was allowed to enter after he had rapped on the door. She sat in the middle of a long row of black cats, holding a skillet of serpents that were stewing over the fire, and she knew who he was because she had done many deeds for him before this. Without even greeting her, Robert made the reason for his visit clear to her. The old hag made a charm to call her master to her and, within a minute, he stood by her side sporting a large smile and waiting for her to speak. But it was Robert who spoke and began to make a complicated deal with the devil, with which he hoped to cheat Satan. The devil, however, was no fool at making contracts and he tried to make this one as strong as it could be. There was much talk and dealing between the two and, finally, the Devil agreed to do all that Lord Robert asked of him for twenty years, in exchange for his body and soul. If the Devil failed in any way, however, that would be an end of the bargain. Although pleased, at first, the Devil’s face grew longer when he heard that his first task was to bring Kathleen out of the cave and take her to the castle. Scratching his head in puzzlement, Satan said to himself, ‘It’s not going to be an easy task taking that girl from the power of a saint like him. But we will try.'”
So, Robert, the Witch and Satan mounted the one horse and rode like the wind toward the cave. When they came near the top of the hill they all got off and hid in the bushes standing between the cave and the spring, and the devil explained that every night the saint would go to spring to get a drink of water to ease his thirst after saying his devotions. At the same time the saint would also bring back to the cave with him a bucket of the cool liquid. ‘We’ll stop him by the spring with the witch, ‘ said the Devil. ‘You and I will steal the girl while he’s talking.'”
“So, as the clock struck twelve o’clock, the saint came out with his water bucket and walked down to the spring. When he got there and was taking his drink, the witch approached and began to tell him about a son that she had, who was as lazy as a cart-horse and as useless as a sore thumb. She asked the saint’s advice about what she could do with her son, but she was lying to the saint in order to distract him and allow Satan and Lord Robert to get into the cave unobserved.
The Devil picked up Kathleen in his arms, but he wouldn’t have dared do that if she had been on the other side of the cave and away from the altar. Tim, however, was standing by it, and joined with Kathleen kicking and scratching her attacker. When Tim ran to grip him, Satan simply tossed him back and caused him to fall on the floor. ‘Hold on until I stab him,’ Lord Robert called and pulled out his sword.”
“‘Come on, you buck-eejit,’ Satan replied to Robert. ‘Sure the saint will be on top of us if we don’t hurry,’ and almost as soon as he had spoken those words, the door opened, and Saint Tigernach rushed in with a bucket of water on his arm, for he had an inkling that something was wrong.”
“‘God’s preserve us!’ exclaimed the blessed saint, when he saw the devil before him. Great goose-bumps began to rise on the blessed man’s back and the sweat poured down his face. He had known Satan well enough, and he began to think that ‘Old Nick’ had come for him because of a bit of meat that he had eaten that day, and it being a Friday. But he didn’t eat the meat. He had only tasted it and then spit it out again to settle a quarrel between the butcher and a woman who had bought the meat and said it was bad. Nevertheless, he feared that Satan hadn’t seen him when he spat the meat out again. ‘God preserve us!,’ said the saint, as he speedily crossed himself. In a moment, however, he saw that it wasn’t him, but Kathleen, that was in trouble, and he let go of the water, caught the blessed cross that was hanging on him with his right hand and gripped Satan by the throat with his left. While, in the same movement, he pushed the cross into the Devil’s face. In shock, the devil dropped Kathleen like she was a bag of meal, and she rolled over and over on the floor like a worm until she reached the altar and she took a hold of it as tight as the bark on a tree. And it was a fine scene with the black enemy of our souls just lying there trembling in fear, and with the saint’s foot on his neck.”
“‘Glory be to God,’ declared the saint. ‘Just you lie there while I make an example of you,’ he continued as he turned to look for Lord Robert, because he knew that the two of them would be in this together. That blackguard, however, needed no invitation to be walking away from this, but when he saw what had happened to the devil, he ran away with all the speed his feet could carry him, and the witch with him. While, behind them Tim was chasing and hurling stones from a fistful he was carrying. But Lord Peter and the witch quickly left him behind and got completely away. Tim ceased his pursuit and came back to  where the devil and Kathleen were standing.”
“‘Get up,’ Saint Tigernach ordered the devil, ‘and stand in the corner, for I’m going to marry these two at once, without fee or license, and you shall be the witness to it.’ So the saint married them, while the devil looked on. It’s the truth I’m telling you, but it’s not the only wedding that the devil’s been at, and he’s not often seen at them when he’s in as low spirits as he was at Tim and Kathleen’s. Yet, this was the way that they were married, with Satan for a witness, and there are some who say that the saint transported the young couple all the way to County Kerry. Personally I don’t believe that story, for I think that they walked all the long way to Cork and got a fisherman’s boat to Kerry. Nonetheless, after they had started, the saint turned to Satan and told him, ‘No more of your tricks with them two, my fine fellow, for I mean to give you a job that’ll keep you out of mischief for a while at least.’ The saint was greatly angered with him coming into his cave that way, as if the place belonged to him. ‘Go you to work,now’ he began to say, ‘and put your face on that rock over the spring, so that as long as the mountain stands men can come and see what sort of a dirty looking beast you are.'”
“So Satan went out and looked up at the rock, smiling, as if to say that it was not a hard task, and when the blessed saint saw the grin that was on his face, he told him, ‘None of your enchantments are allowed, at all. It’s honest work you’ll be doing, and in that spirit, here’s my own hammer and chisel that you’ll take.’ That soon wiped the smug smile off the devil’s face, as he began to realise that the cliff was granite.”
“‘Surely you’re joking,’ he complained, ‘you don’t mean it. Sure there’s no harder bit of stone between here and Donegal.’ And wasn’t he the very man to know, since he was familiar with all the land.”
“‘Bad luck to you and your lies,’ said the saint. ‘Now, take your tools and get stuck into it, you old blackguard, for the sooner you begin, the quicker you’ll be finished, and you can be sure that the stone won’t soften any by your wating. Just you remember to keep a civil tongue in your head while you’re doing the job, or it’ll not be the only thing that you will suffer this day,’ says he, looking daggers at him.”
“So, it was with great displeasure that Satan took the hammer and chisel, and he climbed up the cliff face to begin work cutting his own face on the stone. But he soon discovered that it was as hard as iron and, after he had hit it a couple of cracks, he stopped and shook his head and then scratched over his ear with the chisel as he looked around at the saint as if to say something. The blessed saint looked at him again so ferociously that he made no further remark, turning back to the cliff quickly and began to hammer away in earnest until the sweat stood on his heathen face like drops on a water-jug.”
“The next day, Lord Robert thought he’d call with the old enemy, and remind him that, as he’d failed to get Kathleen, their bargain was now off. So he made-up the charm Satan had given him, but he didn’t come for any protest. ‘Bad luck to the Imp,’ said Lord Robert. ‘Sure, maybe he’s mighty busy or else he’s forgotten the  entire thing.’ So lord Robert went out to see the witch, but she wasn’t in. He was not very far away from the saint’s cave and thought, while he was waiting for the witch, he would have a wee peep to see if Tim an’ Kathleen were still there. So he crawled over the top of the hill beyond the cave like the snake in the grass that he was, and when he came down a little, he saw the old Pooka on the cliff, with the hammer in one hand and the chisel in the other, pounding away at the rock and hanging on by his tail to a tree. Lord Robert thought his eyes were deceiving him, for he saw it was the devil, but he couldn’t clearly make out what he was doing. So he crawled down until he had a better view, and when he saw what was happening, he got up and went to a big stone that stood before the cliff, where he sat and slapped his legs with his hands, roaring with laughter and the tears pouring out of his eyes.”
“‘Helloo Nick,’ says he, after he had gotten his breath back again and could speak. ‘Is that you up there?’ He had the quare cheek speaking so impudently at the devil, but the man had a tongue like an adder, and he could use it too.”
“‘Keep away from me,’ said Satan to him angrily, and without turning his head to look at him. ‘Leave me alone! Gobshite, or I’ll wipe the cliff clean with your carcass if ye come any closer!’
“‘A-a-a-h, now. Be easy, you deceiving old blackguard,’ says Lord Robert boldly, for he knew that the devil dare not leave the job to come after him. ‘Will you keep your temper? Sure you haven’t got the manners of a goat, to be speaking to a gentleman like that. I’ve just come to tell you that because you failed the task, our bargain’s off,’ says he.”
“‘Get out of here,’ the devil answered, turning himself half around and holding on to the big shone nose he’d just done with one hand, while shaking the other fist with the chisel in it at Lord Robert. ‘Do you think that I want to be aggravated with the likes of  you, you white-faced wee troublemaker, and losing the whole day, while I’m so busy at this time of the year, and breaking my back on this job, and my fingers sore with working the chisel, and my tail skinned with having to hold on? Damn this stone anyway, for it’s harder than a Scotchman’s head, it is, so it is,'”
 He was just turning back again when he noticed the saint standing at the door of the cave. Without hesitation he began a digging away at the cliff as if his life depended upon it, swearing under his breath, so the saint couldn’t hear him, every time he gave his knuckles an unlucky crack with the hammer. ‘You’re not worth the trouble,’ says Satan to Lord Robert, being filled with a rage that he couldn’t hold in. ‘Sure, It’s a waffling wee boy I was for trifling with when I was sure of you.'”
“‘You’re a liar,’ said Lord Robert, ‘you deceiving black heathen. If you were so sure of me why did you want to make a bargain?'”
“‘You’er another,’ replied Satan. ‘Isn’t a sparrow in your hand better than a goose on a string?'”
“So they were continuing with the insults, when the blessed saint came out again, and stood at the door watching to make sure that old Nick didn’t a mess of the job. He now spoke up, ‘Hold your peace, Satan, and keep working. And, as for you, you mouthy, milk-faced villain, with a heart as black as a crow, walk away and go down on your hardhearted, unbelieving knees, or you’ll come to no good.’ And so he did.”
“Do I believe the story? Well, I don’t know. There were quare things happened in them old days, and there’s the face on the cliff as ugly as the devil could be and the hammer and chisel are in the church. Sure, what better proof could you ask for? You might ask what became of the the lovers, but I know nothing. They probably grew old together, stayed poor and forgot the spring-time of their youth in the winter of their age. But if they lived a hundred years, they would never have forgotten getting married in the saint’s cave, with the black face of the Evil One looking on from the dark corner.”

Cures at the Graves of Saints

Dromahair Abbey
Dromahair Abbey

At Dromahaire Abbey, in County Leitrim, many years ago there was a man saying his prayers in a part of the sacred enclosure. It is said that, when he rose from his knees, he took an iron spoon that lay under a slab covering a grave and put his hand into a hole up to the shoulder and drew up a spoonful of the clay. This he wrapped up in paper and told people it was for a sick person who subsequently mixed it in water, and he drank it for a remedy. he declared that this was the grave of Father Peter and that he had been a very holy man.

ARDMORE

There are many legends and superstitions that surround these beautiful ruins of Ardmore Abbey and its round tower. It was said to be Saint Declan who founded the original abbey and its tower, building the base course in one night, while on the second night he built it up to its second level, carrying it to the third level on the third night. But an angry old woman scolded the saint and asked, “Will you never be done?” Saint Declan immediately completed the final part of the structure finishing it off with a conical cap.

Ardmore Abbey
Ardmore Abbey, Co Waterford

It was also said that Declan went on a pilgrimage to Rome, and on his return, as his ship approached Ardmore some gigantic pagans tried to prevent his landing and ran out to sea threatening him. But Declan transformed them into rocks, and they stand there to this day, forming a reef. At this time also, it is reported, that a large glacial boulder floated behind Declan’s ship all the way from Rome. It followed in the ship’s wake and lodged itself safely on a ridge near the ship and cried out, “The clerk forgot the bell,” whereupon they found the bell and his vestments on the rock although they had been left behind in Rome. The stone lies there until this day, resting upon an outcrop of local rocks on the shore, and it is said to work miraculous cures to those who rub their backs against it, or creep under it in the hollow between two supporting rocks. There is a warning, also, that anyone attempting to gain a cure with a stolen garment or having unabsolved sins on their soul will have the stone press down upon them and prevents their passage through.

At Ardmore, County Waterford, in the churchyard of the ancient and most interesting ruined abbey, they show the spot where it was said Saint Declan, the founder, was buried. It is walled around, but inside the soil has been excavated to a considerable depth in past times and the custodian of the place was selling the earth as a cure for sick people.

Ardmore Holy Well
St Declans Well, Ardmore

Also, in the graveyard the practice of creeping beneath stones is seen when a childless woman creeps under a tombstone in their quest to become mothers. (from ‘Notes on Irish Folklore’, Folklore vol.27, No.4, 1916, pp419-426: JSTOR, www.jstor.org/stable/ 1255596)

The Priest Catcher

A Tale of Divine Justice

CromwellAfter Oliver Cromwell’s ruthless attack on the Irish Catholic Population, every effort was made to ensure that the Catholic Mass and sacraments could not be celebrated by the faithful. The ‘Penal Laws’ introduced and enforced after William III’s victories, gave the persecution of Irish Catholics the protection of ‘Law’. As well as outlawing Roman Catholic religious rites, Catholic Bishops were banished from Ireland and Catholic priests had to register with the authorities to preach. All these actions by the English government made the practice of Roman Catholicism in Ireland both difficult and dangerous, and saw the creation of ‘Priest Hunters’. These were ruthless men who were paid to seek out and arrest unregistered priests and present them to the authorities, who would execute them in the most barbarous of ways. The following story is a tale about the fate that met one particular ‘Priest Catcher’ in the northern portion of the country.
Charlie McCann had been hunting down a large dog fox that had been preying on the chickens that he kept around his cottage, but he had lost its track and was angry that it had gotten away. On his way home he had been met Mrs. O’Brien and described to her the loss of his prey. While she too had suffered from the predations of the fox, Mrs. O’Brien was a woman who was always full of advice. “Charlie,” she began to say, “I think that bog, where your fox escaped, was the same place where a ‘Priest Catcher’ met his fate in the days of the Penal Laws.”
“By God, Mrs. O’Brien,” Charlie replied, “do you know that I have heard two different stories, and I have forgotten both. Perhaps, you could relate the story that you know?”
“I will to be sure,” replied Mrs. O’Brien. “There was once a poor priest, who was making his escape from danger as well as he could in those terrible times. He was terrified, tired, hungry, and filled with despair sore. As he was passing through Moneyreagh, he came across a small cabin that stood just off the side of the road and went inside, where he found a woman standing near the hearth cooking some food in a pot. Breathlessly he apologised for entering without invitation into her home and asked the woman if she could spare him something to eat, and somewhere where he could lie down for a while and get some rest. Poor though she was, the woman gave him the best of what she had, which was only a square of barley-bread, some milk, and some soup. In his hunger, the priest devoured what food he had and lay down in the cabin’s only bed, where he fell Cromwell 2asleep in a very few minutes. But, about an hour later, the woman’s husband came home and was quite taken aback to see a stranger in the bed. His wife immediately explained the entire story to him. the man’s head was filled with the silver coin given as a reward for handing in the priest, and in his greed, he decided at that moment to go and inform the local authority. Without any bye or leave the man rushed as fast he could to see the local magistrate, who lived at Derrymartin, while his wife watched in disgust. She knew, well enough, what was in his mind, but she never said a word in protest. Instead, the poor woman thought and prayed about what she should do until, finally, she decided that she could run over to the house of Mr. Whitten and tell him the entire story. She was sure that although he was Protestant, like herself, he was a kind-hearted man who would not hurt the hair on the head of a priest or a bishop. After telling Mr. Whitten her story he told her to awaken the priest and send him over to his house immediately, where he would be waiting for him at the hall-door, and try to get him into the house without anyone seeing him. He also gave her a large coat for the priest to put over his own clothes as a disguise.
“Well, everything turned out alright, and no one in the house knew of the priest being there, except Mr. Whitten and his wife, and one servant that they both knew they could trust with the secret. Mr. Whitten had every intention, as soon as nightfall came, to take the fugitive to a safer place. Well, the priest-catcher set out on the very same path as your fox to bring the information he had to the local magistrate. On his return home, just as he was passing near the bog that you mentioned, he saw a bull running at full-speed toward him from across the field. The attack was so sudden that the poor man had no means of avoiding the charge and, so, turning around he made for the bog, and within seconds he found himself up to his chin in the sludge. Down he went, there being nothing to which he could hold on to. Throwing up his arms, his hands slapping at the water for a moment, and crying out to God for forgiveness, he was sucked down, and no trace of him was ever seen again. Meanwhile, Mr. Whitten kept the fugitive priest in his house for several days and then helped him on his way. But he didn’t let him go empty-handed.”
Cromwell 3“I am sorry, Mrs. O’Brien, that the pathway across those lovely meadows has such a terribly dismal story associated with it. On the day of my first communion, some of my school friends and I myself went along that pathway to Derrymartin chapel. I remember seeing the fine and beautiful oil-paintings, one of which represented the ‘Nativity’, and another the ‘Healing the blind man’. There was also the style and beauty of the altar, which was so much better than any other altar I had seen. Father Prentice’s pleas to us about maintaining both piety and perseverance, gave us all a deep sense of prayerfulness and increased our faith that, indeed, the Lord was really present in the sacrament we were going to receive. It seemed in that moment to us, as children, that some presence converted the paintings, the altar and the sanctuary area into a paradise. It appeared to welcome us warmly and made us feel that we would have been glad to leave this world. But, unfortunately, all too quickly did life and the hardships of school return and cause that wonderful spiritual pleasure to vanish, causing reality to return. Nevertheless, Mrs. O’Brien, I suppose that the neighbours around him did not forget the great kindness shown by Mr. Whitten?”
“Indeed they did not,” Mrs. O’Brien told him, ” and they gave the same respect to all his descendants. In fact, it was because of this kindness that Tom Whitten’s life was later saved during the rebellion. Did you know that the old chapel where it all took place stood above the bridge yonder, between the river and the Killeagh road? Indeed, it’s not that long ago since I heard the old people talking about some of the ‘corner-boy ne’er-do-wells’ who would gather in an old dry sheugh outside the chapel to play cards during the Mass. They never moved until someone called to them that they better get up out of it because the priest was coming out. Now, wouldn’t their souls be in a nice state when the Lord would call upon them, and them not hearing the Mass with any devotion, and forgetting the struggle there was to keep the faith alive.”