Tag: Legend

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.”

Cat Sidhe

The Demon Cat

demon-cat 2There are hundreds, perhaps thousands, of types and breeds of Cat which share this world with us. Among all these many natural types and breeds of feline, however, there are those from the world of the supernatural, which have particularly wicked and evil ways. The Cat Sidhe, (Cat Sìth-Scottish Gaelic) is one such has become a part of Celtic mythology, which is said to look like a large black cat with a white spot on its chest, that and mainly haunts rocky high ground. Although the greater number of legends associated with these creatures are to be found within the tales of Scottish folklore, there are a few stories that occur within the folklore archives of Ireland. It is customary within Irish folklore that such creatures as these are considered as demons, or witches’ “familiars”, that adopt the disguise of a cat to gain easy entry into human residences. And, once inside the homes of mortals, they can spy on all that happens and, thereby, bring about a range of terrible events.
The idea of the Cat Sidhe (‘Fairy Cat’) may have been originally inspired by the presence of the European Wildcat in the lands of the Celts. In those days the Wildcat was a much more numerous and widespread animal than it is now. Much like the wolf, it is extinct in Ireland but the memory of the large, all black cat with the white spot prominent on its chest, still lingers. Known as the ‘Demon Feline’ by some it was a creature never to be trusted. It was even thought capable of stealing a person’s soul before it could be claimed by God, and in several areas would hold special wakes to keep the creature away from the corpse before it was buried. At these, the people would play music, and all sorts of games to distract the Cat Sidhe away from the room in which the corpse lay. At the same time, no fires were lit in the room where the body lay for, it was said, the ‘Demon Feline’ was attracted by warmth.
Although never to be trusted when encountered, legend tells that on the feast of ‘Samhain’ the Cat Sidhe would bless any house that left a saucer of milk out or it to drink. But for those houses that did not leave out a saucer of milk, there was only a curse as a reward, such as having the cow’s milk dry-up. Such things, of course, led many to believe that the Cat Sidhe was a witch that could transform at will into a cat and back again nine times. It was said that should a witch choose to go back into their cat form for a ninth time, they would remain a cat for the rest of their days, and hence the tradition of the cat having nine lives.
demon-cat 1The ‘Demon Feline’, however, came into its own when ancient rituals for calling up the dead were practiced. From tribe to tribe these rituals varied, but generally involved torture or cruelty to animals and humans and, occasionally, included animal sacrifice. It was not unknown in some of these rituals for the bodies of cats to be roasted alive over the course of several days and nights. All these rituals were carried out to summon legions of spirits or demons in the form of black cats, with the devil at their head, to answer questions concerning the future.
The following tale from Ireland, called ‘The Fisherman’s Wife’, recalls an encounter with one of these ‘Demon Felines’ and the difficulties that she faced before overcoming the demon.
In the West of Ireland, there once lived a woman, whose fisherman husband was an industrious worker who also had good knowledge of the sea and knew where to find the best catches. He worked hard to ensure that his wife was always well supplied with a great variety of fish that she could clean, cure, store, and make ready for sale in the market. But, despite her husband’s good fortune, this woman’s life was not at all a happy one because, when the husband was out fishing, she was being constantly tormented by a huge black cat that would make its way into the house, where it would greedily devour all the best and finest fish that she had prepared for market.
Finally, she decided that if she was to successfully fight off this creature, then she needed to arm herself with a large, thick stick, and with it, in her hands, she would patiently await the cat’s next entrance. Then, one day, unexpectedly, as she was sat in the house gossiping with another woman from the village, the entire house suddenly fell into great darkness and the front door of the house burst open as if blasted by a great wind. Through the open doorway and into the house the huge black monster of a cat strolled, triumphantly marching all the way up to the glowing fire. When he reached the hearth, this demon cat turned toward the two women with a grimace on its face and roared like a lion. “Oh, dear God! Sure, it’s the devil himself!” screamed a young girl who was sorting fish on a bench not far away.
“I’ll teach you to call me names, woman!” snarled the huge, black cat and it leaped at the girl, scratching her arm deeply with its huge claws and caused blood to flow from the wound. A diabolical laugh echoed through the house as the cat sneered, “There, now, woman! You’ll hold a much more civil tongue in your head the next time a gentleman, the likes of myself, calls on you!” Saying those words, which rang loudly in the young girl’s ears, the demon cat jumped at the open door, slamming it closed again to prevent any of his captives from escaping. The cat deemed it vital now that the wounded young girl was crying hysterically from the fright and the pain she had been caused. Now, with this one terrifying leap, the huge black cat had cut-off every possible route of escape for the women.
demon-cat 5Just as the monster slammed the front door shut, a man, who was passing by the house, was stopped in his tracks by the series of loud cries and screams that were coming from the building. Being very much concerned by the terrible cries that he heard the man rushed up to the door of the house and, using every ounce of his strength that he could muster, he tried to force it open. But the demon cat dug in its heels and, doggedly standing its ground, it refused to allow the man to enter the house and help the women. The man, however, was carrying a large, thick blackthorn stick in his hands and he began to beat down on the monster with every muscle in his body and gave the demon several great blows that told. But, the monster feline was more than a match for the man and launched itself at him with force, tearing at his face and hands so badly that the man had no choice but to take to his heels and run away as fast as he could.
Now that the potential rescuer of the women had been forced to flee the scene a huge expression of joy came across the face of the demon as he hissed at his captives, “Now, it’s time for me to eat my dinner.” Then with quick and eager steps, the cat moved toward the long bench-table upon which the fish had been spread out as if they had been made ready for him to examine.
“I hope these fish are as good as they look,” the cat sneered as it displayed its sharp, ivory-colored, teeth to the frightened women. “Now, listen to me, don’t even think of making any kind of a fuss, or disturbance while I am helping myself to this feast.” Then, using the great strength it had in its rear legs, the demon cat pounced up on to the bench-table and began to rapidly and hungrily devour all the best fish. With each fish that it gobbled down, the demon continued to stare and growl at the terrified women, who now began to fear that they too might be on his menu.
Suddenly, filled with renewed courage, the fisherman’s wife jumped up from her where she was seated and squealed at the monster, “Get away out of this place you, black devil cat!” As she squealed the woman also gave the demon several mighty blows with a set of large, brass coal-tongs that would have certainly broken the back of any normal cat. In her anger and rage, the woman screamed again at the monster cat, “Get away from here, damn you! You will have no feast of our fish this day!”
Unfazed by the woman’s screams, the huge cat turned slowly to face her and grinned triumphantly as he began to tear at and devour the fish, feeling none the worse for the heavy blows that the fisherman’s wife had struck him. Undaunted by the failure of their efforts to chase the predator away, the two women continued attacking the demon cat with whatever instruments that they could put their hands on, striking huge blows that appeared to be hard enough to kill. Still, the huge cat continued to stare at the women contemptuously, apparently unaffected by their efforts to hurt him, and it then began to spit out fire as he made a deadly leap toward them. The demon’s great claws and sharp teeth tore into the hands and arms of the women until their blood began to run freely from the wounds caused, and the women made their last-ditch effort, screaming in their terror, to rush out of the building to freedom.
Within a very few minutes of leaving the building, the fisherman’s wife sought out a bottle of Holy Water and with this, in her hands, she moved back into the building to confront the great demon. Tentatively, the woman peeked into the house through the open door and saw that the huge cat was still totally engaged in devouring the fish that had been laid out upon the bench-table. So, with great stealth, the fisherman’s wife quietly crept over to the place where her enemy stood and, without making a sound, she opened the bottle of Holy Water and threw the contents all over the unsuspecting demon cat. In an instant a dense black cloud of smoke filled the entire room, covering everything until the only object that could be seen in the darkness was the demon’s glowing red eyes, which burned bright like the coals in a fire. Then, as the thick smoke gradually began to clear away, the fisherman’s wife saw the huge cat as it was burning slowly until it finally became like a shriveled, black cinder and disappeared. It was a gratifying sight but, from that moment onward, the fish catch would remain untouched by the demon and safe from further destruction. The power of the ‘evil one’ was finally broken and the fearsome ‘demon feline’ was never to be seen again.
Now that we have reached the end of this tale, it is time to consider the long-held tradition which warns us about the very vengeful tendencies shown by all cats, and that we should make every effort to ensure that we never do anything to offend these animals. What can happen if we fail to abide by these warnings is demonstrated in the following story, which is alleged to be true –
demon-cat 3The story tells us that there was once a fine lady of quality, who had a habit of lifting her cat into her arms and to feed it from the food on her own table during dinner. She would select tasty morsels from the plate and give them to the cat with her own hands. One evening, however, the lady decided that she would give a special dinner party for her friends. On such an occasion the lady did not feel it was appropriate for her pet to be fed from the table around which her friends would be seated. The food was served, and the needs and expectations of the cat were completely ignored, while she was rebuffed on several occasions when she approached her mistress. The cat was greatly angered by the treatment it had received and she moved into a dark corner of the room, where it lay silently sulking and planning how it might get revenge for being treated so abysmally. It awaited its opportunity, which arrived after the lady had gone to her bed for the night. The vengeful cat crept silently out from its hiding place and, making its way to the mistress’ bedroom, sprang at the sleeping woman’s bared throat. The cat bit deep into the flesh and created a wound that was so severe that within a week the poor woman became gravely sick and eventually died from virulent blood poisoning.
There is a long-standing tradition, which says that there is a power that resides within the blood of a black cat which is to be held in the highest esteem by those persons who are proficient in the making the cures of ancient times. It is such as these that know the true power of the black cat’s blood can only be unleashed when it is mixed with magical charms, thereby providing relief to suffering people through ancient potions that cure even the worst of diseases. Those ‘wise people’ who prepare these magical charms and potions will tell you that three drops of blood from a black cat are more than enough to gain the desired effect. The custom among the ‘Fairy Doctors’ and ‘Wise Women’ is that they gather this blood by nipping off a small piece of a cat’s tail. But it is my opinion that untrained persons would be better leaving such tasks to the experts because cats can become evil demons and will seek to take a terrible vengeance upon anyone who offends them.

Saved by a Pipe

“Saved by a Pipe! Yes, by God,” said Charlie Hannon one night as we sat at a wake. “Let me tell you, there’s a powerful lot of strange things to be seen and felt, and don’t let anyone tell me that there’s not!”
“I wouldn’t doubt it, Charlie,” said I.
Without even recognising that I had answered him, Charlie continued, “The night my father died I went to Dungannon for to get pipes and tobacco for the wake, and to tell my sister that lived there about the death of our da. Well, I left the house about eight o’clock, or thereabouts, for as you know I had a long road to travel – aye, fifteen miles if it’s an inch. I went by the Rock, for I had a fine lump of a mare with me that I had bought at the time. Her name was Sally, and sure there wasn’t another horse the likes of her to be had in all the parish. Now, it was pretty late when I left Dungannon, between midnight and one o’clock at least, but I didn’t hear or see a thing until I came as far as the wood on this side of Rock. We must have been just in the middle of it when the mare suddenly stopped, and she gave three snorts out of her nostrils. Well, as you know, I never was one to be afraid of anything, but I thought to myself that if maybe there’s something unnatural roaming around here now? You see, I never have known Sally to be afraid of anything dead or alive before that night.”
“’ Go on Sally,’ says I and patted her gently on the neck with my hand. But, the devil a bit would the poor mare stir. She just kept snorting, and snorting, and going back and back. ‘ Be you devil or sent by him!’ cries I, ‘man or beast, or whatever you are, get out of the mare’s way and let me get home to me father’s wake with the pipes and tobacco for the neighbours who are waiting for them.’ But, devil the answer did I get. Things were not looking good, I thought to myself, and what am I going to do now? It was then that I remembered that it was the right thing to do, to put a pipe in the lining of your hat whenever you come across anything unnatural. Sure, I had a couple of the pipes in the pocket of my coat that I couldn’t fit in the box and I put down my hand and took one up and put it inside the lining of my hat. Well, by all that’s holy! I had no sooner done that than up came a man on horseback.
“It was a clear night, and I swear that he must have come up out of the road itself, for there neither one thing or another that moved there before that. Sally kept on snorting and the man rode on past on my left. But just as he was passing, he stretched out one hand to me and pulled up his horse with the other, without speaking a word. ‘Here,’ says I, reaching him a pipe, ‘take it, if that’s what you want, and for God’s sake leave me alone.’ Well, he took the pipe, but as soon as he heard God’s name, he and his horse rose up into one big lump of fire, and the noise that was made as the fire struck against the wall along the roadside, was the fiercest thing I ever heard. And I hope that I never will hear the like of it again. The rattle of the stones falling, and the whizzing of the fire through the trees, is still in my ears yet.
“Sally went on, then, happy enough, and I thought to myself, ‘I’m all right now.’
Horseman of Death“But I was mistaken. I hadn’t moved but a foot or two until I felt something jumping up behind me on the mare, and I felt two hands around my back, and a cold breath on my neck behind. As I told you I never used to be afraid, but the fear of God was put in to my heart that night. The poor mare’s back was bending with the dreadful weight of the thing behind me. I tried to shake off the hold it had of me, but not a budge I was able to do at all, one way or another. I didn’t know, what in heaven, I was going to do. I wasn’t able to speak, and the mare wasn’t able to move. But praise be to God ! I wasn’t long that way until who should I see standing beside me on the road but the man on horseback that I had given the pipe to. He had no horse with him this time, but he had a whip in his hand. ‘Get off, immediately ‘ says he to the thing behind me.
“The Devil an answer did he get. ‘I tell you again,’ says he, getting very cross, and raising the whip above his head, ‘get off.’
“No answer. ‘For the third, and last, time,’ says he, in a terrible rage now, entirely, ‘I tell ye to get off.’
“Not a word did the thing behind me speak, nor a budge did it put out of itself. When the man seen that it wouldn’t come off, he began slashing, and slashing at it, and every slash he gave, I saw the fire rising above my head until at last I felt the weight go off the mare, and I knew I was rid of it. ‘Go home now,’ said the man, crying, ‘you won’t be troubled any more, but take my advice and don’t be out so late at night again by yourself.’”

The Fairy Bush

There are, in many parts of Ireland, certain bushes which are looked upon by the local people as being sacred to that most well-known species of inhabitants of the mystic world, the Sidhe, the Sheeogs (Fairies). There is no Irishman or Irishwoman who would do harm, or destroy, or interfere with, such bushes for any reason. There is one in Cillmartin that stands in the centre of a ploughed field, and many years ago I asked the question why it had not been removed to aid cultivation. I was quickly told that the farmer, who was English, could not get any man in the district to dig it up, out of the ground. At one time he sent for a nearby farm labourer, called Pat Cairn, whom he often employed at harvest time. Pat was instructed by the farmer to go immediately and clear out the old thorn tree that stood in the middle of ‘Big Field’.

Ah, now, man dear,” said Pat, “You know I’d rather not have anything to do with the likes of that

Oh ! Stuff of nonsense, man, nonsense! Don’t be a silly clown! Really, what harm is there in cutting down an old thorn bush ? You’ll be well paid for your work and the entire job won’t take you more than ten minutes.”

Well, now, I might as well tell you the truth, I wouldn’t cut that bush down even if you were to give me a hundred thousand pounds,” Pat told him emphatically.

Get away out of this! You stupid superstitious idiot of a man!” the farmer exclaimed angrily, stamping his foot heavily on the ground. “I’ll just the bloody tree down by myself to-morrow.

As planned, the farmer made his way to the ‘Big Field’ the very next morning, where several men who had already refused to undertake the job had gathered. “You men haven’t found the courage yet to uproot that old bush for me,” he said loudly to the gathered men.

Harry McFarland, who taught in the local village school, shook his head and told the Englishman, “Not yet, sir! Sure, only an eejit would dare to upset the ‘Good People’ and I’m no eejit!”

By God! Even an intelligent man like yourself believes in such silly tales and would have the audacity to call me an idiot! Well we will soon see the truth of it,

Well, really sir, everyone here to whom you have spoken has assured you that it would not be ‘lucky’ for you to cut it! I would urge you, at this time, do not do this thing.”

I’m surprised at you, who should know better, should allow such silly superstitions to enter into your head. Have you a hatchet about, that I can borrow ?

Indeed ? Bring the hatchet to me and I’ll make sure the tree is cut down, damn quick. Then, you will see just how little I care about your fairy-folk and their devilish spells.”FairiesHarry managed to retrieve the hatchet and gave it to the farmer, who, accompanied by several of his farm labourers, immediately entered the field and approached the hawthorn bush, that stood about four feet high. The villagers were totally amazed at the foolish and daring deed that this English farmer was about to perform, and they kept a good distance back, terrified by the evil that they expected to fall upon him. ” Now then,” said the farmer, as he balanced the hatchet in his right hand, ” let me see what’s the best way to go about this.”

He walked around the bush twice, and then he walked back a few feet to a spot from where he could critically survey it. He cleared his throat loudly first, then took a good luck around him at the faces that were watching his every action. Then he spoke, “It is pretty after all! You know, I never even considered it before. But, by God, it’s quite an attractive addition to the field.”  Turning to Harry McFarland he smiled warmly and spoke in a loud voice, “It’s really very pretty, Harry, and now that I have seen it in a new light, I think it would be a pity to cut it down. Instead, I’ll send down a gardener to-morrow, who will clip it and trim it nicely. Aye! yes, indeed, it would be a pity to dig it all up.” There was a huge sigh of relief from those that were standing around the scene, and then a hint of suppressed giggles as they turned away to hide the expression on their faces. They knew the truth of it. The farmer had “thought better of it,” and that he had suddenly realised that “caution was the better part of valour.”  You have probably already concluded that the farmer’s idea of creating and ornament of the bush was nothing more than a pretence. I can assure you that the bush has never been trimmed, and there it remains, practically the same as it was over fifty years ago in its size and appearance.

In my sixty-five years of life I have been blessed to see many similar bushes in various parts of the country. One very particularly memorable specimen exists along the south shore of Lough Neagh where, many years ago, a substantial stone wall had to be built a narrow country road near the shore. But, in the line along which the wall had to be built, there grew a “fairy bush,” which the workmen refused to remove from the spot where it stood. Every request and promise of increased payment, and threats of job loss failed to move them. The men, point blank, would not touch the fairy bush. The result of all this was that the bush was left undisturbed in the centre of the wall and arched over it. This unusual position in the stonework has proved to be something of a local attraction, which has also frequently attracted the attention of visitors who pass that way.

Just while we are considering the subject of things that are sacred to the “wee folk”, we should look at “cairns,” or heaps of stones. I can recall one very remarkable incident that goes a long way toward supporting the belief among many rural Irish people that it is not right to take away, or utilise for building purposes, any of the stones in those “cairns.”  Cathal Hughes was building himself a new house on the outskirts of the town. While making his plans, Cathal remembered that he had seen a beautifully suitable keystone in the “fairy cairn.” The same man had been told that it was not sensible or right to interfere with any of the stones in that heap. However, there was one stone that he had set his eyes upon, which was so well suited for his purposes that he tempted to take a chance. Cathal, therefore, took the stone from the cairn and inserted it in the wall of his new house. But, the first night that he slept in the house, or rather lay down to sleep, he was disturbed by a most mournful crying coming from the very corner in which he had placed the stone. All through that night, until dawn broke, that bitter and plaintive wail continued. Cathal decided he would remove the stone after breakfast, but some of his neighbours suggested that it would be a waste to take the wall away. In the faulty belief that he would not be annoyed any further, Cathal decided that he would postpone his decision to remove the stone until he was sure that the weird cries were at an end. Unfortunately, he had not long to wait, for on the second night of his stay in the new home, the crying, lower but more sorrowful, continued again until morning. This disturbance settled the matter as far as he was concerned. The stone was taken out and replaced on the cairn, while another less attractive stone was selected to fill the space that was left in the wall. With this the crying ceased, and Cathal swore loudly that he would never, ever, again meddle with the stones of the “fairy cairn”.

Dining Belle Fey

Guest item written by Sean Carney – March 2018

This is the first guest item I have included in my blog and I present to my readers for its interest value, and in the hope it will encourage others to send in their stories.

Browsing through Donegal Town’s official website recently, I came across some snippets of information from long ago regarding the anecdotes of a local character by the name of Belle Fey. A Faye, being a fairy, or Siog [sheog] a name given to her by her Dromore neighbours as a result of her strange ways. Belle Melly being her real name according to the 1940/41Donegal town electors list, for Dromore.

Poor Belle, I’m sure she’d turn in her grave if she were able to read the comments. Who’s to say she was just an old eccentric, had the author taken leave of his imagination, really! Doesn’t anyone believe in fairies or the little people anymore.? In my opinion Belle’s name ought to be up there in lights amongst Donegal’s countless legendary characters. Perhaps a song or a poem ought to have been composed in her honour. As far as I’m concerned, she was the real thing, a real living Siog. Belle, could, tell fortunes too, and see into the future just like her wee fairy friends who would come and sit at the foot of her bed during the night: she often said, the male Sioga would also visit her bedroom, a fact which greatly annoyed her – herself being a modest female and all.

I ought to know better than most folk about Belle’s, mystic talents because as an Eight-year old I had the doubtful privilege of meeting this wrinkled, steely-grey-haired, plaid-shawled old creature, and, being on the receiving end of a ‘Belle spell’, so to speak.

When we were youngsters my father and mother often brought our family on the gruelling twenty-four-hour journey to Donegal during our summer holidays. My dad emigrated to Yorkshire in the UK and was a coalminer in Yorkshire’s forbidding and dangerous 3,000 ft deep coalmines.

We usually stayed for the two weeks holiday with my dad’s brother and sister–the postman John, and Mae Carney; their house was situated in Dromore, up the lane at the top of the hill off the Donegal road. Their slate roofed cottage stood on the brow of the winding hill with its magnificent panoramic views over Donegal Bay, and the Blue Stack mountains–when it wasn’t raining that is! And was just a stone’s throw across the lane from Belle Fey’s faded whitewashed, thatched cottage. Belle must have had her eye on me, this wee buachailin ban, [ fair haired boy] as I was often up and down the lane with my sister Patricia, with Mae’s old enamel bucket to fetch water from the well, which bubbled up from a wee crystal–clear spring at the side of the lush green overgrown lane. Aunt Mae swore the water was “the best ever for making tae.”

As I recall, it was the day my father Hugh, was visiting his youngest sister Maggie Quinn at her pub, ‘Quinns Bar’, (Lazy Bush) at the top of Mountcharles, where he often went to catch up on the local gossip and discuss the price of cattle and imbibe in a few pints with his old school cronies. That particular occasion was a signal for Belle, to make her move on me, as she invited herself into John and Mae’s, house. Shortly a whispered discussion took place with my mother and aunt Mae, who herself was fond of reading the tea-leaves and such-like, as well as blowing her cigarette smoke up the turf blackened chimney of their huge open fire-place, which puzzled this eight-year old at the time. Many years later it transpired that John hated Mae smoking!

To continue the story; I was ushered into aunt Mae’s, dimly lit front parlour, which contained a dusty dark wood dining table and chairs, with the odd religious picture randomly placed on the whitewashed walls.

Situated on the inside gable of the house was an old fashioned black Victorian cast-iron fireplace, into which Belle, proceeded to set light to a crumpled newspaper in the empty grate. As the paper blazed away brightly, shooting orange blue flames up the chimney, Belle began mumbling as she stooped over the grate, while I stood mystified at the side of her, I didn’t have the faintest idea what she was saying, but I swear it wasn’t English. After a while Belle rose from the hearth in her usual bent posture, declaring authoritatively to my mother and Mae, in her rich Donegal accent. “This wee caddy will remain fair haired for the rest of his life”.

Sixty-five years on, and a bit more, and guess what? Short of having a bit of the thatch missing at the back, I still have a modest head of fair hair, despite a lifetime of trying to alter its colour by dousing it with strong tea, before I hit the town with the lads on a Friday night.

My mother and father, brothers and sisters, were all blessed with fine heads of typically Irish, dense, wavy auburn hair. Ultimately with the passing of time and sadly for them their hair turned grey and then white. Uncle John’s, hair may have been a bit sandy looking which he got from Ding, and Grandma Sweeney’s, side of the family, but with no stretch of the imagination was he blonde. So where in the blazes, excuse the pun, did mine come from? Belle Fey, “just an eccentric old woman? My foot!

Submitted by Fergus452@btinternet.com September 2018

Brought to you by http://www.irelandsloreandtales.com