Tag: Witches

The Hag with the Bag

A Traditional Irish Tale

In our town, many years ago, there lived a widow woman and her three daughters. When her husband had passed away, the woman was certain that they would not want for anything, because he had left them a long leather bag that was filled with gold and silver. The husband was not long dead, however, when an old woman came to the house begging. While the mother’s attention was distracted for a moment, the beggar woman stole the long leather bag that contained the gold and silver, and she immediately left for Dublin. Once in the city the beggar woman booked passage on a ship and left the country, and no person knew where she had gone.
From the day that he long leather bag was stolen, the widow woman and her three daughters were forced to live in poverty, It was a hard struggle to live any kind of life without much money, and was made even harder by the responsibility of raising her three daughters. But when they had grown into adulthood, the eldest of the three girls approached her mother and said, “Mother, I’m a young woman now, and I am embarrassed to be living in this house and contributing nothing to our upkeep. Bake me a ring of bread and cut me some cold meat, and I’ll go away from her to seek my own fortune.”
The young girl set out on her adventure and left the country, to finally settle in a strange new land. In her search for a roof over her head and a job of work, she approached house after house. Then, going up to a little house on a tree-lined street, she knocked at the door. It was an old woman who opened the door to her and asked her what business she was about, to which the girl answered that she was seeking work, so she could begin making her fortune.
“Sure, how would you like to stay here with me, for I am in need of a maid?” asked the old woman
“What will I have to do?”
“Not too much,” said the old woman, “You will have to wash me and dress me and sweep the hearth clean. But I warn you that you should never look up the chimney, or it will be the worse for you!”
“That sounds great,” said the young girl and she entered the little house.
The next day, when the old woman arose from her bed, the young girl washed her and dressed her and, and when the old woman left the house, she swept the hearth clean. But, when this was done, she thought it would do no harm to have one quick look up the chimney. As she looked up the chimney her eyes were immediately transfixed by the sight of her mother’s long leather bag that had been filled with gold and silver. She immediately pulled the bag down from the chimney and getting it on her back she started out for home just as fast as she could run.
The girl had not gotten far on her road home when she met a horse grazing in a field. The horse saw the young lady hurrying his way and called out to her, “Rub me! Ah, give me a wee rub! I haven’t been rubbed in seven years or more .” But she was in a hurry and had no time for rubbing down horses, so she took a stick and struck the horse with it, driving him out of her way.
As she hurried onward, she soon met a sheep, who called out to her, “Oh, sweet girl, shear me! Please shear me! For I haven’t had my fleece shorn these seven years.” But just as she had done with the horse, she struck the sheep with her stick and sent it scurrying out of her way as she hurried on.
She had not gone much further, however, when she came across a tethered goat, who called out to her, “O, change my tether! Please change my tether! for it has not been changed in seven years and has become painful to me.” Ignoring him, the girl lifted a stone and flung it at the goat as she pressed on with her journey.
Next, she came to a lime-kiln, which begged her, “Clean me! Please clean me! for I haven’t been cleaned these past seven years.” But she only scowled at the kiln angrily and went on her way.
After another short distance, she met a cow, who pleaded with her, “Milk me! Milk me! for I haven’t been milked these past seven years.” She struck out at the cow and chased it out of her way and went on.
Then she next came to a mill, which asked her, “O, turn me! Turn me! for I haven’t been turned these seven years.” But she ignored all that the mill said and went into the building. It was growing dark and she lay down among some dry straw behind the mill door. Placing the leather bag under her head, the girl settled down for the night and closed her eyes to sleep.
Meanwhile, when the old woman returned home and found that the girl had gone, she immediately ran to the chimney to discover that the girl had carried off the long, leather bag. She immediately flew into a rage and immediately began to run after the girl just as fast as she could. But she had not gone far when she came across the horse and asked, “Horse, horse of mine, did you see my maid of mine, carrying my long leather bag, and all the gold and silver that I have earned since I was a girl, working as a maid?”
“Aye,” replied the horse, “the wicked child passed by here not so long ago.”
The old woman continued her pursuit and soon came upon the sheep, “O, sheep! sheep of mine, did you see my maid pass by here, carrying my long leather bag that contains all the gold and silver that I have earned since I was a girl, working as a maid?”
“Aye, I did,” said the sheep, “and it’s not long since she went past here.”
Onward the old lady ran, and it was only a short distance until she met the goat, and asked, “Goat, goat of mine, did you see my maid pass by with my long, leather bag, containing all the gold and silver I have earned since I was a girl, working as a maid?”
“Aye, I did,” replied the goat, “and it’s not that long since she went past here.”
The old woman ran on and soon came upon the lime-kiln. She asked, “Lime-kiln, lime-kiln of mine, did you see my maid carrying my long leather bag, containing all the gold and silver I have earned since I was a girl, working as a maid?”
“Aye,” the lime-kiln said, “it is only a short time since she went past me with a scowl on her face.”
Going onward it wasn’t long before she met the cow, and asked, “O, Cow, cow of mine, have you seen my maid carrying my long leather bag, containing all the gold and silver I have earned since I was a girl, working as a maid?”
“Aye,” said the cow, “it is not long since she passed here.”
The old woman ran on and soon came to the mill, and she asked, “Mill, mill of mine, did you see my maid carrying my long leather bag, containing all the gold and silver I have earned since I was a girl, working as a maid?”
Quietly, the mill told the old woman, “Yes, she is sleeping behind the door.” Without another word the old hag shipped into the mill and struck her with a white rod, turning her into solid stone. She then grabbed the bag of gold and silver, put it on her back, and went back to her home.
A year and a day had now passed since the eldest daughter of the family had left home and had not returned. The second daughter now approached her mother, and said, “My sister must be doing very well for herself and making her fortune. It is shameful for me to be sitting here, at home, doing nothing to help you or to help myself. So, bake me a ring of soda bread and cut me some cold meat, and I will go away to seek my fortune.”
The mother did what she was bid and asked her daughter would she have half the bread with her blessing or the whole ring of bread without. The daughter chose to take the whole ring of bread without, and she set off on her journey with all her bags. Just before she left, she told her mother, “If I am not back here in a year and a day, you may be sure that I am doing well and making my fortune.” Then the girl closed the door behind her and set off on her journey of adventure.
She travelled by road and sea until she came to a strange land. Unknown to her she had landed in the same place as her elder sister, and, like her, she went up to a little house that stood in a tree-lined street and knocked on the door. It was an old woman who opened the door and asked what her business was, to which the girl answered that she was seeking her fortune. “How would you like to stay here with me, for I need a maid?” the old woman asked.
“What will I have to do?” the girl asked.
“You’ll have to wash me and dress me and sweep the hearth clean. But, never look up the chimney, or else it will be bad for you,” the old woman warned.
“That sounds perfect,” the girl replied with a smile.
The next day, when the old woman got up out of her bed, the girl washed and dressed her. Then, when the old woman went out the girl swept the hearth and was tempted to have a quick look up the chimney. Believing she was doing no harm, the girl glanced up and saw her mother’s long leather bag of gold and silver. She grabbed it immediately and took it down. Ensuring that she placed the bag securely on her back she began to run for home as fast as she could.
The girl had not gotten far on her road home when she met a horse grazing in a field. The horse saw the young lady hurrying his way and called out to her, “Rub me! Ah, give me a wee rub! I haven’t been rubbed in seven years or more .” But she was in a hurry and had no time for rubbing down horses, so she took a stick and struck the horse with it, driving him out of her way.
As she hurried onward, she soon met a sheep, who called out to her, “Oh, sweet girl, shear me! Please shear me! For I haven’t had my fleece shorn these seven years.” But just as she had done with the horse, she struck the sheep with her stick and sent it scurrying out of her way as she hurried on.
She had not gone much further, however, when she came across a tethered goat, who called out to her, “O, change my tether! Please change my tether! for it has not been changed in seven years and has become painful to me.” Ignoring him, the girl lifted a stone and flung it at the goat as she pressed on with her journey.
Next, she came to a lime-kiln, which begged her, “Clean me! Please clean me! for I haven’t been cleaned these past seven years.” But she only scowled at the kiln angrily and went on her way.
After another short distance, she met a cow, who pleaded with her, “Milk me! Milk me! for I haven’t been milked these past seven years.” She struck out at the cow and chased it out of her way and went on.
Then she next came to a mill, which asked her, “O, turn me! Turn me! for I haven’t been turned these seven years.” But she ignored all that the mill said and went into the building. It was growing dark and she lay down among some dry straw behind the mill door. Placing the leather bag under her head, the girl settled down for the night and closed her eyes to sleep.
Meanwhile, when the old woman returned home and found that the girl had gone, she immediately ran to the chimney to discover that the girl had carried off the long, leather bag. She immediately flew into a rage and immediately began to run after the girl just as fast as she could. But she had not gone far when she came across the horse and asked, “Horse, horse of mine, did you see my maid of mine, carrying my long leather bag, and all the gold and silver that I have earned since I was a girl, working as a maid?”
“Aye,” replied the horse, “the wicked child passed by here not so long ago.”
The old woman continued her pursuit and soon came upon the sheep, “O, sheep! sheep of mine, did you see my maid pass by here, carrying my long leather bag that contains all the gold and silver that I have earned since I was a girl, working as a maid?”
“Aye, I did,” said the sheep, “and it’s not long since she went past here.”
Onward the old lady ran, and it was only a short distance until she met the goat, and asked, “Goat, goat of mine, did you see my maid pass by with my long, leather bag, containing all the gold and silver I have earned since I was a girl, working as a maid?”
“Aye, I did,” replied the goat, “and it’s not that long since she went past here.”
The old woman ran on, and soon came upon the lime-kiln. She asked, “Lime-kiln, lime-kiln of mine, did you see my maid carrying my long leather bag, containing all the gold and silver I have earned since I was a girl, working as a maid?”
“Aye,” the lime-kiln said, “it is only a short time since she went past me with a scowl on her face.”
Going onward it wasn’t long before she met the cow, and asked, “O, Cow, cow of mine, have you seen my maid carrying my long leather bag, containing all the gold and silver I have earned since I was a girl, working as a maid?”
“Aye,” said the cow, “it is not long since she passed here.”
The old woman ran on and soon came to the mill, and she asked, “Mill, mill of mine, did you see my maid carrying my long leather bag, containing all the gold and silver I have earned since I was a girl, working as a maid?”
Quietly, the mill told the old woman, “Yes, she is sleeping behind the door.” Without another word the old hag shipped into the mill and struck her with a white rod, turning her into solid stone. She then grabbed the bag of gold and silver, put it on her back, and went back to her home.
When the second daughter had been gone a year and a day and she hadn’t come back, the youngest daughter said: “Mammy, my two sisters must be doing very well indeed, and making great fortunes when they are not coming back home. But I am ashamed to be just sitting here doing nothing, either to help you, mammy, or myself. Will you bake me some bread and cut me some cold meats, and I will set out and make my fortune.”
The mother baked the bread fresh and asked her if she would have half of the bread or the whole bread without her blessing. The youngest daughter smiled sweetly and said, “I will take half of the bread with your blessing, mammy.”
With her mother’s blessing, the girl travelled far and wide until she came to the same strange country where her sisters had landed. She too found the same little house they had and met the old woman living there. When the old woman asked her what she was looking for, the young girl told her that she was seeking her fortune. The old woman then asked her, “How would you like to stay here with me, for I need a maid?”
“What will I have to do?” asked the girl.
“You’ll have to wash me and dress me and sweep the hearth clean, and on the peril of your life never look up the chimney,” the old women told her.
“That all sounds fine,” said the girl.
The next day when the old woman got up from her bed, the young girl washed her and dressed her, and when the old woman went out she swept the hearth, and she thought it would be no harm to have one wee look up the chimney. There she saw her mother’s long leather bag of gold and silver, which she immediately took it down and, getting it on her back, she began to hurry home as quick as her feet would carry her.
As she ran, she met a horse, who called to her, “Rub me! Rub me! for I haven’t been rubbed these seven years.”
“You poor horse,” replied the young girl, “Sure, I’ll rub you.” And she put down her bag and gave the horse a fine rub. After doing this, the girl hurried on and it wasn’t long before she met the sheep
“Oh, shear me, shear me! for I haven’t been shorn these seven years,” cried the sheep.
“You poor sheep,” she said, “I’ll do that for you.” And she put down her bag and proceeded to shear the sheep. Then, when she had finished, she went until she met the tethered goat.
“O, change my tether! Change my tether! for it hasn’t been changed these seven years,” the goat called out to her.
“O, poor goat, poor goat,” she said, “I can do that for you.” She laid down her bag and changed the goat’s tether before on to meet the lime-kiln.
“O, clean me! clean me! for I haven’t been cleaned these seven years,” begged the lime-kiln.
“O, you poor lime-kiln,” she said, “I will clean you.” And laying down her bag she set about cleaning the lime-kiln. When this was done the girl moved on again until she came across the cow.
The cow asked her, “O, milk me! Milk me! for I haven’t been milked these seven years.”
“You poor cow,” sympathised the young girl. “I can milk you now,” and she laid down her bag, milked the cow, and moved on again quickly.
At last, she had reached the mill, which called to her, “Turn me! turn me! for I haven’t been turned these seven years.”
“Poor mill, you poor mill, I’ll surely do that for you,” said the young girl and she turned the mill. But, as night was coming down quickly, she went into the mill-house, lay down behind the door and fell asleep.
Now, when the old woman came back to her home, she found the girl had gone. She ran to the chimney to see if she had carried off the bag. She became very angry and ran after her as quickly as she could. Very soon she came to the horse and asked, “O, horse! horse of mine! did you see this maid of mine, with my long leather bag, and all the gold and silver I have earned since I was a girl, working as a maid?”
In reply, the horse told her, “Do you think I have nothing better to do than watch your maids for you? Go and look somewhere else.”
Then the old woman came upon the sheep and asked, “Sheep, sheep of mine, have you seen this maid of mine, with my long leather bag, and all the gold and silver I have earned since I was a girl, working as a maid?”
The sheep replied, “Do you think I have nothing to do all day except watch your maids for you? I think you should go somewhere else and look for information.”
Angrily she moved further on and came to the tethered goat and asked, “O, goat, goat of mine, have you seen this maid of mine, with my long leather bag, and all the gold and silver I have earned since I was a girl, working as a maid?”
“Do you think I have nothing better to do with my time than watch over your maids for you? Go somewhere else and ask your questions,” the goat told her.
The old woman went on until she came to the lime-kiln. “O, lime-kiln, lime-kiln of mine, did you see this maid of mine, with my long leather bag, and all the gold and silver I have earned since I was a girl, working as a maid?”
“What is it with you?” replied the lime-kiln. “Do you think that I have nothing better to do with my days than stand watch over your maids? You need to go somewhere else for your answers”
Her anger had grown greatly by the time she met the cow. “Cow! Cow of mine! have you seen this maid of mine, with my long leather bag, and all the gold and silver I have earned since I was a young girl, working as a maid?”
The cow told her, “What makes you think that I have nothing better to do with my time than watch out for your maids? I suggest you go somewhere to get your answers.”
Finally, the old woman reached the mill and weakly asked, “O, mill! mill of mine! Please tell me, have you seen this maid of mine, with my long leather bag, and all the gold and silver I have earned since I was a young girl, working as a maid?”
The mill said, “Sssh! Come nearer to me and whisper.” The old woman went closer to the mill, and the mill dragged her under the wheels and ground her up. The old woman had also dropped her white rod out of her hand, and the mill told the young girl to take it and strike the two stones behind the mill door. The girl did what she was told, and her two sisters stood up. She lifted the long leather bag on her back, and all three of them travelled all the long way home. The mother had been heart-broken since they had left home, but her tears now disappeared quickly as she saw her three daughters return to her healthy, rich and happy.

Witches of the Bog

In every corner of Ireland you will hear wondrous stories of various Witches and Pookas, and the great influence that they have had on the lives of the people in any particular area. My Father, may God rest his soul, was a Tyrone man, born and reared and, when I was a young boy, we would visit many of his friends in the countryside around Carrickmore. It was during this period of my life that I was told the following story by one of my father’s oldest and most trusted friends. He told me that, not so many years previously, there was a small party of young and boisterous men who arrived in the area to enjoy several days of hunting and fishing.

Within the County of Tyrone hunting and fishing are still popular and very much loved past-times among the local country folk. But, in those days, the visit of several very well-dressed young men from the city was a rarely seen event so deep in the county’s heartland. My father’s friend told me that, at that time, there were very few visitors from outside of the county, because there were very few inns, hotels, or other facilities to accommodate them comfortably. To the locals the visit of these young men came as quite a shock, especially when it was known that they had brought their own tents and camping equipment with them. Along the bank of a small river, flowing with clear mountain water, the men established their camp just below a hill, known locally as “Sluggan Hill”. The hill itself was covered by thick woodland of mixed deciduous and conifer trees, which the local people called “O’Neill’s Planting.

The hunting party that had come out of the city was comprised of four tall, well-built young gentlemen, who wasted very little time in erecting their tents, and establishing their campsite on the river bank. One of their number placed a kettle of water upon the camp fire and, when the water was boiled, they each had a cup of hot, sweet tea with some sandwiches before they set out on their first hunt. As soon as the hunters had eaten their fill they gathered their guns and ammunition belts before they moved across the stream into the woods, where they immediately began to seek out their prey. Stealthily, with all the trickery of a hunter, the four men moved through the trees and bushes. All the while they attuned their senses to the cry of a pheasant or woodcock, or the rush of a big, buck hare breaking cover. Onward they went until one of the men was alerted by movement in some nearby bushes, causing him to raise his gun in anticipation. Before he had raised the shotgun fully, a huge hare jumped from its cover in the undergrowth, and he fired a shot in the direction of the scampering animal.

The first shot missed, but was rapidly followed by shots from the guns of the other hunters as their sights lined up with the escaping hare coming their way. The rapid fire of the shotguns had broken the quiet of the woodland like shots from a machine-pistol, but none of the bullets hit their target, and the lucky hare continued on its merry way. These keen young men were, however, not prepared to accept anything that even resembled failure, and they immediately began to pursue the fugitive creature. They followed the escape route of that lucky hare, through trees, bushes, and the undergrowth, occasionally firing their guns as they moved along. Yard after yard they continued to chase the hare until it, finally, rushed through the open door of a small, thatched and white-washed cottage, which had been virtually hidden by all the greenery of the woodland. The cottage appeared from its condition to be unoccupied and they carried out their pursuit up to the door of the building. Just as they made ready to step through the door, they were brought to an abrupt halt when they were confronted by a huge, snarling, black dog that barred their way into the cottage.

Devil dogThis huge dog was a vicious black creature that resembled something which had been thrown up from the deepest bowels of hell. It glared at the men, baring its great ivory teeth, as if ready to tear them from limb to limb, and growling like the remnants of some great thunderstorm. Those glaring eyes of the great hound glowed red, like wooden embers taken from a blazing fire, but the creature itself was being restrained by a large, ringed-chain, collar around its thick neck, which was attached to a robust metal leash. There were great amounts of foam and spittle gathered around the hound’s snarling mouth as it continued to growl and snap at the unwanted visitors, increasing the very real sense of danger that they were now beginning to feel.

The man closest to the cottage door and, therefore the hound now turned towards his friends and called out to them, “Shoot that black devil!” This young man was of average stature, although he did have broad, muscular shoulders, and he differed from his friends in that he had bright, copper coloured hair. Even as he called out his orders to the others he was lifting up his own shotgun and began aim it directly at the monster dog. But, before he could raise his gun level with the target, the huge dog lunged at him and grabbed the barrel of the gun in its massive mouth’s vice-like grip. The hound’s great teeth bit into the gun barrel, chewing on it for a few moments before spitting it out on the ground outside the door. Such was the shock that all four companions suffered by this incident that they were frozen to the spot where they stood by fear. One of the taller four men came quickly recovered his senses, and immediately began to raise his gun slowly. The gigantic dog, however, was not about to allow itself to be taken unawares and it began to lunge at each one of the men, in turn, seizing their weapons in its jaws and destroying them before they could be fired.

As the last of the young men’s weapons fell, uselessly, to the ground the huge monster of a dog began to growl threateningly at the men. This was a deep eerie growl that sounded like nothing on this earth and it added greatly to their growing sense of terror. Each of the men took a step back from the door as their sense of vulnerability grew and, with the proximity of the monster to them, death seemed to them to be imminent. But, much to the amazement f the four friends, an old and bent over woman suddenly came to the door. She was almost bent double and she was dressed all in black, with long silver-coloured hair that hung limply over her face, almost covering her bright white eyes that appeared to be missing an iris. Those haunting eyes sat either side of her long, slender, crooked nose, below which her long, white, sharply pointed teeth protruded from her thin, bloodless lips.

Just what are you doing with my wee puppy dog?” she asked the men in a shrill voice that sounded like a steel rod being dragged over a pile of broken glass.

Although he was filled with a great fear, the young man with the copper-coloured hair, hesitatingly stepped forward to speak with the old woman. “We were hunting in those trees over there, and a prize hare we were chasing escaped us by running into your house.  We are sorry, but we didn’t think that anyone was living here, and we were about to follow the hare into the house until your large dog barred our way.” But, even as the young man was speaking to the old woman, the dog that towered above them both continued to snarl threateningly at all the hunters.

Now, lie down my little puppy dog, that’s a good boy!” the old woman spoke sweetly to the monster dog. Her sweet tones appeared to calm the dog, and then she turned to the four young men and gave them an invitation. “You are welcome to enter our home, gentlemen, if it is your wish.

Not surprisingly, none of the four young hunters were too willing to enter the old woman’s cottage and, nervously, the leader of the hunting party asked the old lady, “Are there any other persons in the house with you?

Without hesitation the old woman answered, “There are six of us here, and we are all sisters to one another.

I really don’t mean to be rude, but would it be possible to see all of you?” he asked. To his surprise, no sooner had these words crossed his lips than all of the six old women stepped out of the shadows of the white-washed cottage. As the men, finally, got to see all the women together they quickly realised that all the women were, indeed, related. Each of the old women resembled the first old lady in some way, but all possessed the long, sharp teeth that protruded from bloodless lips. It was something that none of these young men had never experienced before this moment, and they were very reluctant to go into the building any further. Slowly and quietly the men backed away from the cottage into the trees and, when they reached the cover of the woodland, they turned away as quickly and as quietly as they could. Several minutes later, as the four hunters made their way between the trees and the bushes, they came upon another mysterious sight. Ahead of them lay a large, fallen tree upon which were sat seven large, black-feathered birds that screeched threateningly at the approaching men.

Now that they were a good distance from the cottage, and feeling more secure, none of those four men were about to stop and investigate. One of their number, who had a pistol beneath his jacket, pulled out the gun and began shooting at the large birds. He fired bullet after bullet at these creatures but, again, not one of the bullets found a target, and the gun’s magazine soon ran out of ammunition. Then, as he began to reload the pistol’s magazine, he was surprised to see that a very old man, with a long grey beard, suddenly appear by his side.

Fool! Put away that gun!” the old man angrily told the young man with the pistol, and the attention of the other young men was suddenly directed towards him.

Those creatures are not of human flesh. They are the “Witches of the Bog” and they live in that white-washed cottage that you have just left. They are held there by a spell. It is an enchantment that has held them as prisoners in this cottage for over a hundred years. As a further protection, these servants of the underworld have a massive black hound that never permits any person to enter their little cottage. They also have a great fortress that has been built under the nearby lake, and there are many people who tell stories of these witches turning into seven swans before entering that place.

This was enough for one day and, thoroughly exhausted by their experiences, the young men returned to their campsite and prepared a meal for themselves. As they sat around their campfire, eating, they discussed all that they had been told by the strange old man in the woods. Although the men had been witnesses to several strange, and frightening apparitions they remained very dubious about the accuracy of the old man’s tale. Instead, they resolved that after breakfast the next morning they would make their way to the nearest chapel and call upon the priest, who may have a more realistic explanation for their experiences.

When they arrived at the priest’s house the next morning they found themselves being made very welcome by the elderly cleric. They began to their experiences from the previous day, and, he listened attentively to every word that they told him. The old priest, however, was as sceptical of their story as they had been of the old man’s tale. But, impressed by the fervour in which the young men spoke of their encounter, the old priest decided that he would accompany the hunters if they would return to the woodland cottage later that same day. Nervously, the four men agreed and the small party set off toward the woodland.

The old priest followed at the rear of the small group of men as they left to seek out the strange cottage once again. When they came to the cottage, at last, the first thing that the encountered was a huge, snarling, black mastiff dog, which was glaring at them with its fiery red eyes. At the rear of the group the priest gathered up his rosary beads, his gilt cross, and his small bottle of holy water, and put them out of sight in his cassock. At the same time, from one of his pockets he took out a thick book with gilt-edged pages, all of which were bound in a thick, black leather cover. Nervously, the priest opened the book and began to read some of the prayers it contained. But, just as the priest began to get into his stride, reading the prayers aloud, the gigantic hound began barking even more savagely causing the small group of men to be gripped in terror.

The wizened, bent over, old women who lived in the cottage came out from its shadows and stood defiantly at their front door. As they stood there they glared at the group of men before them and muttered curses toward them. The priest made his way through the group from his place at their rear, speaking prayers to God in a clear and a loud voice. When they heard the priest’s prayers the witches uttered a high pitched, piercing scream of pain, as though they had been struck through the heart by a spear. The scream was so loud and piercing that the men were forced to cover their ears to protect them from any damage. Despite the screams, the old priest continued to pray aloud and the old women began to transform themselves. Instead of wizened old women they became huge, terrifying, black birds like those the hunters had seen on the previous day, perched upon a fallen tree. They immediately opened their great black, shiny wings and flew up into an enormous tree nearby, the branches of which spread like a great parasol over the small cottage. Without showing even the slightest sign of fear the elderly cleric continued to approach the huge, snarling hound until he finally came within two or three feet of it. In a surprisingly swift movement this snarling monster leapt up from the ground, striking the priest with each of its four paws, and knocking him head over heels, in a backward motion. Immediately, the four hunters ran quickly to assist the priest but, as they lifted him up from the ground, they quickly began to realise that the old man was now both deaf and dumb. The dog, meanwhile, had not moved even one inch from its station at the cottage door. The hunting companions, however, were much more concerned for the health of the old priest and they gathered him up to bring him home to his own house, which stood just a few miles away. Seeing that the old priest’s strength was spent and that he was not going to defeat ‘The Witches of the Bog’, they sent a messenger post-haste to the to the local Bishop, pleading for his help in the matter.

In his large home the Bishop received the messenger but was reluctant to believe what he was being told. He was, however, very concerned that one of his own priests had been injured in the confrontation with the alleged witches. In the meantime, the news of what had happened to their Parish Priest had spread quickly through the district and the people gathered together to meet the Bishop when he arrived. Several of the leading men of the community came forward and began to plead with the Bishop to use every power that his faith could muster to rid them of these old witches. The Bishop listened to them, but lost for words to reply with, he began to doubt if he could do anything in this time, and decided to say nothing at this stage. As a Bishop, of course, he had knowledge concerning the sacramental actions that could be taken to oust the servants of the devil. In his case, however, the Bishop also had serious doubts about his possession of the necessary faith needed to succeed in such work. At the end of the meeting the Bishop stood in front of the people gathered there, and told them, “I have not the means of removing these terrible things from among you, but I ask you all if you will allow me to leave now and go gather all the knowledge that I shall need to succeed in my mission. Let me assure you all that I will return to this place at the end of the month, and I will banish this evil presence from among you.” The crowd now made way for the Bishop, who hurried off to learn what he could.

The old priest, stricken both deaf and dumb, lay in his bed nursing the injuries he had received in his encounter with evil. Unfortunately, the priest could not explain to the men around him that he now knew exactly who the old witches and their big black dog were. During his confrontation with these creatures he had been given a sudden revelation that unmasked their entire story. But, to help him explain what had been revealed to him, the old priest was handed a pen and a notepad, on which he began to write. The priest told the men that the ferocious, large, black hound was, in reality, a man who had once lived in the Parish among them, and he was known to all by the name, Dermot O’Malley. They, of course, had heard that name before, when men and women told of the man who had died in disgrace many years ago. The story of Dermot O’Malley told of how he was brutally murdered by his son because he had been found sleeping with the young man’s wife the day after their wedding. Dermot’s son was totally overcome by a great rage that gripped his entire body and made him blind to the consequences of his actions. He was determined that there would be no witnesses left to report his bloody actions and, in the bloodbath that ensued, he killed his sisters in fear that they would inform on him to the authorities.

In the meantime, the Bishop had begun to feel that he would be much safer in his own home, rather than facing down any creature that might have been sent by the Devil. Then, one night, after going to the elderly priest, the Bishop had a very disturbed night as he lay in his bed. His mind was troubled greatly by both thoughts and visions that caused him to toss and turn in his efforts to get some sleep before the daylight returned. In the dark of the bedroom the Bishop was certain that he saw one of the old witches open the bedroom door and enter the room. To suddenly see such a creature as this standing at the side of his bed startled the Bishop to such an extent that his body was overcome by a great chill as a cold sweat of fear soaked him. He couldn’t even speak to the creature, because his body felt as though it had lost control of hid faculties. The creature, however, spoke to the Bishop in a clear, though low hissing voice, “Do not have any fear of me, because I did not come into your presence in order to do you any harm. I have come so that I could pass on some very good advice to you. We have heard that you have promised the people that you shall return and remove us from our long-time home in “O’Neill’s Planting”. Our advice to you, Bishop, is that you should stay away because if you do come to do battle with us you will never leave alive.”

As the witch spoke to him, the Bishop continued to lie on his bed, very still and quietly listening to every word of the warning she gave him. He had been suddenly startled by her sudden appearance and yet he summoned every ounce of courage he could muster to answer her nervously, “I am a man of my word and I am not going to break my solemn word because of your threats.”

It was a brave response but the creature was not yet finished with him. “Listen to me, priest. We have only one year and one day left to enjoy the peacefulness of that lonely woodland bog,” she told him. “Surely a man of your stature has enough influence to ensure that they leave us in peace until that time comes.

I might just consider it,” said the Bishop, “but, tell me first, just how and why did you all come to be living in those woods, in the form that you have taken?

I will tell you that we six sisters and our father were all murdered at the hands of our brother,” she began to explain. “When we arrived at the gates of heaven, and stood before the guardian, we were told the judgement that had been passed upon us. The guardian told us that we could not pass through until we lived in this form for two hundred years. We were also told that the judgement upon us was so severe because of the great crime that our father committed when took our new sister-in-law to bed the day after her marriage to our brother. When our brother discovered the outrage that had been done against him he completely lost his mind, killing our father and all of us in his madness. The only refuge from the hardships of this world that was left to us now lies beneath the lake and we must be inside it every night.

I will admit that this was indeed a harsh punishment to be given to you and your sisters,” the Bishop sympathised. “But, we must all obey the will and the judgement of the guardian to the gates of Heaven. Be assured, however, I will not give you or your family any further trouble.

I thank you, Bishop, and we shall talk again, when we are gone from the wood,” said the witch, and she immediately vanished from his presence.

When the morning light appeared the Bishop arose quickly from his bed and dressed hurriedly, before he drove to the village. As soon as he arrived there he sent out a notice to all the inhabitants, informing them that they should gather in the parochial hall. Once the people had assembled, the Bishop began to speak to them, “It is the judgement of heaven that the magical spell that lies upon the cottage in the woodland bog will not be removed for another year and a day. I call upon all of you to keep away from that woodland bog until this period of time has ended. It surprises me that these witches had not been discovered prior to these hunters from the city arriving here. I shall only say that it is indeed a great pity that they did not stay at home in the city.

About a week after this meeting the elderly priest was in his room, alone and resting. It was a very warm, sun-filled day and he had the window in the room open wide to allow some cool, fresh air to circulate. Unexpectedly, a small red-breasted Robin flew in through the open window, carrying a small sprig of an herb in its beak. In response, the old priest stretched out his wrinkled hand and the small bird laid the sprig of herb upon his palm. He smiled at the little Robin softly and, thinking that he had been sent a gift from Heaven, the priest ate the herb. But, almost as soon as he placed the herb into his mouth he began to feel a lot better than he had been previously, and his eyes looked upward to Heaven. “A thousand thanks to Him who is Lord of all and against whom evil cannot stand,” he prayed.

At this moment, much to his surprise, the bird began to speak. “Do you recall the Robin with the broken foot that you kindly helped two winters’ ago?” it asked.

Yes, I remember that poor little bird well,” replied the priest. “I was so very sad when he went away as the summer came.

Well, be sad no more, for I am that same Robin,” declared the bird. “It is because of the love and attention that you gave to me that I am alive and well today. In return I have been able to ensure that you will not remain deaf and dumb for the rest of your life. Now, take my advice, and make sure steer clear of witches of the bog, and never tell a living soul that it was I who gave you the herb.” The old priest nodded his agreement and the little bird spread its wings and flew away from him.

An hour or two later the elderly priest’s house-keeper entered his room to discover, much to her astonishment, that he had regained both his speech and his hearing. The old priest wasted no time in ringing the Bishop to announce to him that he had been cured. When the Bishop questioned the elderly cleric about how he had been cured so quickly, the priest simply explained, “I have been sworn to secrecy, my Lord Bishop. But, I will tell you that a certain close friend of mine gave me a little herbal medicine, and I was cured almost immediately.

Everything in the village remained quiet as the weeks passed into months, and eventually the ear expired. It was at this time, when the Bishop was alone in his study, that the door creaked opened, and in walked the witch that he had met previously. In her strange voice she told the Bishop, “I have come here to let you know that we will all be leaving the wood bog a week from this very day. But, I would like to ask you to do one more thing for us, if you are able.

If it is possible to do something for you that does not go against my faith, then rest assured that I will do it,” replied the Bishop.

In a week from today there will be seven large vultures lying dead at the door of our cottage. My simple request is that you give instructions that they should be buried in the quarry that is sited on the other side of the bog.

Well, rest assured then, I will do that for you,” he told her and she left the room, never to return. The Bishop was not sorry to see the back of the witch but, exactly one week after this encounter, he went to the village and summoned the men together. On the morning of the next day, the Bishop led a group of these men to the witches’ cottage in the bog, where they found the huge black hound sitting by the door.  The moment that the hound saw the Bishop approach with a group of men it jumped to its feet and ran off screaming as if it had been scalded. The hound drove itself into the wood and did not stop until it finally jumped into the lake. The Bishop continued to the cottage, noticing the seven dead vultures at the door, and he turned to the men behind him, telling them, “Lift those dead creatures and follow me.” It didn’t take the men very long to clear the vulture bodies and carry them to the brink of the quarry. These men were now told by the Bishop to throw the bodies into the quarry just as he had been asked to, by the old witch. But, almost as soon as the bodies of the vultures reached the bottom of the quarry, there arose from the same place seven swans that were as white as snow.

Their penance has now been served, “sighed the Bishop, “and they have been called to their place in heaven.” From that mystical moment no person ever again saw the ‘Witches of the Bog’, or their huge, black hound.

Paddy Kelly’s Riches

Many years ago, I am told, there was a man by the name of Paddy Kelly, who lived quite near to the market town of Lurgan in the beautiful, ‘Orchard County’ of Armagh. One bright morning, as was his custom, he rose up from his bed when the sun was not much above the horizon. He had no watch on his arm and he was unsure about what time of day it was. A confusion not at all helped by the fact that the fine light coming through his window originated from a watery early morning sun. But, Paddy did know what day of the week it was, and that he had wanted to rise early so that he could go to the fair in town. There he had high hopes of being able to sell his young, healthy donkey, which he had raised from birth.

 Paddy washed and dressed before taking his breakfast of porridge and toast, Then, as he finished his white enamel mug filled with strong tea, Paddy gathered his coat before he set out on his journey to the fair. He had not gone more than three miles along the road from his home that morning when a great dark cloud dimmed the light of the early morning sun, and a heavy shower of rain began to fall. Paddy looked about him and, about five hundred yards from the road, slightly obscured by some trees, he caught sight of a large house. Without a second thought he decided that he would make his way, as quickly as possible, to the house and shelter there until the rain came to an end. In his rush he was a little out of breath when he finally reached the house, and he was very surprised to see that the door before him was already opened wide. Thinking that maybe the owner had seen him rushing to the house in the rain, and opened the door for him, Paddy went into the house unannounced. As he entered he saw a large room to his left, with a grand, welcoming fire already burning in the grate. Paddy decided to sit himself down upon a small stool that stood beside the wall to await the house owner’s arrival. But, the warmth from the fire soon filled the room and rapidly began to make Paddy sleepy. weaselThen, just as his eyes started closing in sleep, he noticed a big weasel coming to the fire place and it had something very bright and yellow in its mouth, which it dropped on the hearth-stone before hurrying away again. Within a few moments the weasel returned with a similar object held tightly in her mouth, dropping it on the hearthstone before again disappearing. The weasel soon came back again with the same object in her mouth, and Paddy realised that it was a bright gold sovereign that she had. Once again, the weasel dropped the coin on the hearth-stone and scampered from his sight. But, she kept coming and going until, at last, she had piled a great heap of shining sovereigns on the hearth. When Paddy was sure that she was finally gone from the room he quickly rose up from the stool and walked over to the fireplace. Then, using both hands he rapidly bundled all the gold coins, that the weasel had piled up on the hearth, into his jacket pockets and, as quietly as possible, he hurried out of the house.

Despite his best efforts, Paddy was not as fast on his feet as the weasel, and he had not gotten very far before he heard the noise of the angry animal coming after him. The irate weasel was screeching and screaming loudly at Paddy, like a set of Uileann-pipes that were being played very badly. Filled with wrath the weasel quickly overtook Paddy on the road, where she jumped and twisted herself in the air, making every possible effort to get a hold of his throat, so she could tear it out. But, Paddy carried a good thick stick of oak and he used it to keep the snapping weasel from him. Then two men, who were travelling along the same road as Paddy, and in the same direction, came up to him. With one of these men was a large, sturdy dog that began snarling at the angry weasel and chased it into a hole in the wall.

Paddy continued along the road to the fair in the company of the two men and arrived there without any more interruption. Earlier that morning Paddy had headed off to the fair with the sole aim of selling his donkey and returning home immediately with the money he earned from the sale. By the afternoon things had changed and instead of coming straight home with the money he got for the donkey, Paddy went to a trader and bought himself a horse with some of the money he had taken from the weasel. He felt like a wealthy man and he wanted to come home just as a wealthy man should, proudly riding a horse. As they trotted along Paddy reached the place where the dog had chased the weasel away from him. Suddenly, seemingly from nowhere, the angry weasel came scrambling of a narrow hole in the wall. With great athleticism the weasel leaped up from the ground, catching Paddy’s horse by the throat and causing the terrified animal to bolt.

Tormented by the pain of the weasel’s bite the horse rushed off and Paddy could only keep his tight grip on the animal’s mane with the greatest of difficulty. Finally, blinded with agony, the poor horse took a huge leap that brought his rider and he into a big, wide drain that was filled with brackish water and black mud. Both horse and rider were out of their depth, choking and drowning very rapidly, until a small group of men, coming along the road from Portadown, saw the difficulty they were in and they managed to chase the weasel away from the scene. They also helped Paddy and his mount to exit the drain and put them back on their way along the road.  Paddy, now in a very dishevelled condition, finally brought the horse home with him and put him into the byre, while he went to his bed and fell fast asleep.

It was very early, the next morning, when Paddy rose up from his bed and prepared himself to go out to the byre and give his new horse some fresh hay and oats. But, when he finally reached the byre door, Paddy saw the weasel scampering out of the byre with her fur completely soaked with a large patch of thick red blood. “Christ almighty! A thousand curses on you and may each one be worse than the one before,” screamed Paddy, “Satan’s polecat and killer of the innocent, what have you done now?”

Paddy hurried into the byre wondering what he would find. There, lying on the hay covered floor, he found the horse, two of his dairy cows, and two newly born calves lying dead in pools of blood. Shocked, upset and angry, Paddy came out of the byre cursing and swearing loudly, and he went immediately to his large farm dog, which was already fighting in its chains, barking and snarling at the weasel as it glared menacingly at Paddy. He now took hold of the chains, loosened them and set the massive dog at the evil killer. The dog snapped at the weasel, taking a tight grip of the struggling creature which, at the same time, took a strong hold of the huge mastiff. Although Paddy’s dog was an excellent farm guard-dog, and despite his size, he was quickly forced to loosen his hold of the weasel before Paddy could reach the battle site.

As the vicious weasel scampered off to make good her escape, Paddy kept his eyes on her movements. He followed her every twist and turn, through grass and bush, until he saw her slink into a small, disused and badly dilapidated cottage that stood at the edge of a shallow lake. Paddy, with the dog at his side, now ran rapidly to catch up with their fleeing enemy. When, at last, he reached the front of the small cottage Paddy took a tight hold of the dog, shook it violently to make the animal very angry and prepare him for the vicious fight ahead.

With his hound well prepared, Paddy sent him into the cottage before he would enter it himself. As the dog moved into the hovel it began to bark loudly and growl threateningly, which encouraged Paddy to go into the building after him. But, as his eyes became accustomed to the dark of the building, he noticed an old hag of a woman lurking in a corner of one room. Taken completely by surprise with the presence of the old woman, Paddy nervously asked her if she had seen a weasel running through the building.

I saw nothing,” said she quietly. “Sure, isn’t it myself that is all destroyed with a terrible sickness that’s upon me. You must get out of this place as quickly as you can before you catch it and are destroyed yourself.

As Paddy and the old woman were talking, the large dog quietly keptCailleach creeping up closer to them. Unnoticed by Paddy the dog came to a point from which it suddenly gave a big leap upward and caught the old woman by the throat. With a piercing and terrified scream of pain the old woman cried out, “Paddy Kelly get your dog off me, and I’ll make you a very rich man.”

Paddy taking a tight hold of his dog once again, forced it to loosen its hold on the old woman. He shouted at her, “Tell me who you are, you old witch, and tell me why did you kill my horse and my cows?

“First tell me why you stole away my gold that I had been gathering, throughout the hills and hollows of the world, for five hundred years or more?

I thought you were a weasel,” Paddy said, “or I wouldn’t have touched your gold.

And, another thing,” said Paddy, “if you have been living in this world for five hundred years already, is it not about time that you went to your eternal rest now.

I would if it were not for the fact that I committed a great sin when I was very young,” explained the old woman, “and now I can only be released from my terrible sufferings if you can pay the cost of one hundred and fifty masses for my soul’s salvation.”

Where would I get all the money to pay for them? ” asked Paddy.

If you would go and dig under a bush that stands over a little well in the corner of that field over there,” she pointed, “you’ll find a pot filled with gold. Just you pay the money for the masses, and you can keep whatever is left of the gold to yourself. But, I will tell you that there is a great stone that covers the pot and, when you lift the stone off, you will find a big black dog rushing out. This hound might look fierce to you, but don’t be afraid of him, because he is a son of mine. As soon as you retrieve the gold from the pot, buy the house in which you saw me for the first time. There is no doubt that you will get it at a cheap price, for it is well known that the house has a ghost haunting it. Then, look and you will discover my son down in the cellar of the house. He will not do you any harm, but he shall be a good friend to you. Then, in a month from this day, I will be dead and, when I am dead, I want you to put a fire under this little hut and burn it down so there is nothing left. Be assured that if you never tell any living soul a thing about me, you will have a great amount of good luck in your life.”

Just tell me one thing before I leave, old woman; What is your name? ” asked Paddy.

Maura Keown,” she told him.

Silently, turning away from the old woman, Paddy left her standing alone in the hut and went home. But, when the first dark shadows of night fell across the country, Paddy grabbed hold of a spade and took it with him as he went to seek the bush that was in the corner of the field, which the old woman had indicated to him. As soon as he had come upon the bush, Paddy immediately began digging with the spade, and it did not take him very long to uncover the pot. As he had been told, when he removed the large stone off the pot, a big black dog sprang out of the hole and ran off, with Paddy’s dog in close pursuit. Meanwhile, Paddy worked quickly to collect up the gold and brought it back to his home, where he hid it in the cow-house.

It was about a month after this episode that Paddy went up to the fair at Dromore. While he was there he bought a pair of cows, a horse, and a dozen sheep for his farm, much to the surprise of his neighbours. These people were very taken aback at Paddy’s new spending power and they wondered and discussed among themselves the source of the man’s new-found wealth. Of course, there were rumours circulating that Paddy had been granted a wish from the fairy folk, while others speculated that he had captured a Leprechaun and received his crock of gold as the ransom. Paddy, however, paid little attention to the rumours and speculations of his neighbours. Then, one day, Paddy dressed himself in his best clothes and set off toward town. He had decided to pay a call on the man who owned the large house where he had first seen the weasel, and he asked the owner if he could buy the house from him, as well as all the land that was round about it.

You can have the house without paying any rent at all” said the owner, “but there is a ghost in it, and I wouldn’t like you to go to live in it without my telling you. However, if you wish to purchase it I must tell you that I cannot part with the land unless I can get at least a thousand pounds more than you have offered me.

Perhaps I have as much money as you require,” replied Paddy. “I can be here to-morrow with the money, but only if you are ready to give me immediate possession.

I’ll be ready,” the gentleman assured Paddy, who immediately went home to tell his wife that he had just bought a large house and a considerable holding of land.

Where did you get the money?” asked the wife anxiously.

Never you mind,” Paddy told her. “It isn’t any of your business where I got it?

Leprechaun 2The very next day Paddy went to meet the gentleman again, gave him the money, and got possession of the house and land. Alongside this, the gentleman left him the furniture and everything that was in the house, as part of the bargain. Then, to confirm his possession, Paddy stayed in the house that night. After darkness fell he made his way carefully down to the cellar, as he had been instructed to by the old woman. In the cellar, to his surprise, he saw a little man with his two legs spread out upon a barrel. “God be good to you for an honest man,” said the wee man to Paddy.

May God be good to you to,” replied Paddy, nervously.

Don’t be afraid of me at all,” says the little man. “I will be a constant friend to you, if you are able to keep a secret.

I can be assured that I am able to do that. Sure, didn’t I keep your mother’s secret, and be confident that I’ll keep yours as well.

Maybe you’re thirsty?” asked the little man.

I am indeed,” said Paddy, “just a little.”

The small man put his hand into the pocket of the coat he was wearing and took out a finely made goblet of gold material. He gave the goblet to Paddy, and told him, ”Draw some wine out of that barrel under me.

Paddy took the goblet and filled it wine from the barrel, and he handed it to the little man. “You have the first drink,” the man said.

Paddy drank the wine and then drew another full goblet from the barrel, which he handed to the little man, who drank it.

Fill up and have another drink,” said the little man. “I feel like having a good session tonight.”

The pair of them sat there drinking until they were both half drunk. Then the little man leaped down to the floor, and asked Paddy, “Do you like music?’

Of course I do, ” said Paddy, “and I’m a good dancer, too.”

Lift up the big flag-stone over there in the corner, and you’ll get my pipes under it.

Paddy lifted the flag-stone, got the pipes, and gave them to the little man. He squeezed the pipes on the bag and began playing a fine melody. Paddy began dancing in time to the music until he had tired himself out. Then they had another drink together, and the little man spoke to him softly, “Do as my mother told you, and I’ll show you great riches. You can bring your wife in here, if you wish, but don’t tell her that I’m there, and she won’t see me. If you need a drink of ale or wine at any time, feel free to come here and help yourself. Goodbye for now. Go to your bed and sleep, then come again to me to-morrow night.

Paddy went to his bed, and it wasn’t long before he fell fast asleep. Early the next morning Paddy went home, and he brought his wife and children to the big house, where they made themselves comfortable. That night Paddy made his way down to the cellar, where the little man welcomed him and asked him if he wanted to dance.

Not until I get a drink,” said Paddy.

Drink your fill,” said the little man, “that barrel will never be empty as long as you live.

Paddy drank the full of the goblet, and then gave a drink to the little man. The small companion accepted the drink from him and told him, “I am going to the fairy castle tonight, to play music for the good-people, and if you come along with me you’ll see some great fun. I’ll give you a horse, for the journey, the likes of which you have never seen before.

I’ll go with you, of course,” replied Paddy, ” but what sort of excuse will I make to my wife.

There is no need for you to worry about that. I will bring you away from her side without her knowing it, when you are both asleep together, and then I will bring you back to her in the same manner,” explained the little man.

That sounds like a good plan,” smiled Paddy, “but we will have another drink before I leave you.” Paddy drank goblet after goblet until he was half drunk, and then he went to bed with his wife. When Paddy awoke, however, he found himself riding on a huge horse near to the legendary fairy castle, and the little man was riding on another horse by his side. When they came as far as the green hill of the castle, the little man said a couple of words that Paddy did not understand. At that moment the green hill opened, and the two men went rode into what was a fine chamber.

Paddy had never saw such a gathering of people like of that which was in the castle. The entire place was filled with little people, men and women, young and old, and they all welcomed the little man they knew as ‘Donal the Piper’, into their midst with Paddy Kelly. From among the crowd the king and queen of the fairies stepped forward and said to them, “We are all going on a visit to-night to Knockmore, to the high king and queen of our people.”

At the king’s signal they all got up from where they were seated and went out of the chamber. There were horses ready for each one of them and a coach prepared for the king and the queen to travel in. The king and queen got into their coach, while each man leaped on his own horse, and Paddy followed close behind them. The wee piper had gone ahead of them all and began to play music for them as they rapidly rode off into the night. With the magic of the good people it did not take them long until they came, at last to the hill of Knockmore. As they arrived at the hill it opened, and the king passed in with the rest of his followers.

Awaiting them all were Finvara and Nuala, the High-king and Queen of the fairy host of Uladh, surrounded by thousands of their little people. Finvara came up to them and told them, “We are going to play a hurling match tonight against the fairy host of Munster, and unless we beat them our fame and magic will be gone forever. Our match is to be fought out on the ‘field of gold’ that lies beneath Slieve Gullion”.

The host of Uladh cried out in unison, “We are all ready for the fight, and we know that we shall beat them all.”

“Let us all get out there then,” cried the high king, “or the men from the hills of Munster will be on the ground before us.

They all went out of the hill, with little Donal and twelve more pipers moving ahead of them, playing music they could march to. When they came to ‘The Field of Gold’ the fairy host of Munster had gathered in great numbers before them. For those who don’t know fairy lore, it is a requirement at such events, whether they are for fighting or playing hurling, that the fairy host have two live men beside them. This was the reason that little Donal took Paddy Kelly with him and, meanwhile, there was a man they called the “Rory Geary“, from Cork, who stood with the fairy host of Munster.

Hurling 1

In moments the two fairy hosts had lined up their teams and the ball was thrown up between them. From that moment the real fun began in earnest. They were hurling away, and the pipers playing music, until Paddy Kelly saw the host of Munster was starting to get the upper-hand, and he began to help the fairy host of Uladh. The man ‘Geary‘ came up and he made a move toward Paddy Kelly, but Paddy was the quicker of the two and turned him head over heels. It didn’t take long for the two opposing groups of fairies to abandon hurling and begin fighting. But, in a very short period of time the host of Uladh had gained victory by beating those from Munster. Defeated and deflated, the host of Munster turned themselves into flying beetles and, in revenge, began to eat every green thing that they came across. They were destroying the entire country before them until they came as far as the place where the Bann River flows into Lough Neagh. At that place there rose up thousands of doves from out of the trees, and they began to swallow down the beetles and, since that time, this place has been known to all folklorists as ‘The Sanctuary of the Doves’.

When the fairy host of Uladh had won their battle, they came back to the hill of Knockmore filled with a great joy. Finvara, the High King of the fairies, gave Paddy Kelly a purse of gold and, after the presentation, the little piper brought him back home, putting him into the bed beside his wife, and leaving him sleeping there.

Another month passed by, but without much happening. Until, one evening, Paddy went down to the cellar. When he reached the cellar the little man, Donal, said to him sadly, “My mother is dead, and it is time to burn the house over her.

I should have remembered,” said Paddy. “She told me that she had only a month of life left in this world, and that month was up yesterday.

The next morning Paddy went to the hut and he found that the old woman was indeed dead. Just as he had promised, Paddy put a lighted coal under the hut and set it on fire. When he returned home, Paddy visited the little man and told him that the hut was burned according to his mother’s request. In return, the little man gave him a leather purse and said to him, “This purse will never be empty as long as you are alive. From now, you will never see me again, but in your heart always hold a loving remembrance of the weasel, because it was she who was the beginning and the prime cause of your prosperity.” Then Donal went away from view and Paddy never saw him again.

Thereafter, Paddy Kelly and his wife lived for many years in the large house and, when he died, he left a great wealth behind him, and a large family to enjoy it.

 

O’Hara – The Fairy Man

Part 1

Spirit CouncilIf we were we to believe the stories and old wives’ tales handed down to us by our grandmothers we would not be faulted for thinking that, at one time, Ireland was a land controlled by spirits and demons. Ireland is filled with tales concerning witches, warlocks, white ladies, fairies, and leprechauns. It seems that the earth, the air, and the sky, were peopled by these mysterious beings at one time. In every crumbling and desolate cottage on the uninhabited moorland or woodland lived a witch or warlock. Elsewhere, the margins of our beautiful loughs, the hearts of our silent and isolated glens, the recesses of our romantic mountain valleys, the mould covered walls of every ancient ruin, and the mystic circle of each hill-fort, were said to be the chosen to all sorts of strange, unearthly beings.

These beliefs were not just held to by the ignorant and uneducated peasantry. In fact, many who were well educated and moved in more enlightened circles within society were equally infected by such beliefs. There were very sensible and well-informed people in the land who turned a deaf ear to any voice of reason and the dictates of common sense. In fact, such people would more easily doubt the truth of the Holy Bible than the existence of supernatural beings influencing life. The stories of such beings had become so interwoven in the superstition of the entire people, and social system, that no event could happen to a person during their lifetime in which the ‘Good People’ were not implicated, either for good or evil.

If the head, or a member, of a leading family died, the wail of the banshee was sure to be heard in the twilight calling for the ‘Death Coach’ to come. Should a favourite child in a family be brought down by disease, it was believed that the beautiful, beloved child had been changed for a squalling, ravenous, and decrepit starveling. If a farmer’s cattle ailed, or his milk cows were not productive, it was likely that the cattle had been touched by the fairies or bewitched. Should your much beloved wife be suddenly taken away from you, it was alleged that the fairies were the culprits. They took her in her most kind, loving, and the most interesting persona, and left you a bland, unattractive, wooden person in her stead.

I can recollect clearly the thrill of fear, mingled with a certain amount of pleasure, with which I listened to the tales of a great aunt. It is over fifty years since that time, when my great aunt would visit and warm herself at my mother’s fireside. She would chat idly over a cup of sweet tea and speak to me about all the spiritual beings that she had knowledge of. She was an educated woman, and very pious, but she would sooner doubt herself than the existence of witches and fairies. Her mind and memory was a fountain of knowledge and a store-room of memories of those occasions when they had played a role in the life of her family. These stories I then began to believe in most implicitly, particularly because in many instances the people involved were also members of my own family. For instance, she told me the story of how her grandfather, one autumn morning, detected a large hare, which was in the act of milking one of his cows. He fired his gun at thief, wounding it, and when he tracked the blood trail left behind, he discovered that it was flowing from the thigh of an old woman who lived in a nearby ruin of a cabin.

This knowledgeable woman could also relate how an elder brother had surprised a leprechaun as he was in the middle of making a pair of shoes for his people. Her brother could describe his clothing down to the smallest detail, and how the leprechaun had escaped captivity by pretending to strike at my uncle’s eye with his awl. This tactic caused my uncle to wink just at that moment when he was in the act of seizing the creature, and thereby prevented him from gaining his fortune. She also told the story of a child which was taken from its mother’s arms one night while she slept. Luckily, the child was missed before he could be carried out of the house, through the key-hole, and on hearing the cries of the heartbroken parent the child was dropped to the floor without suffering any injury. It had never occurred to my great aunt that the child might have rolled out of the bed accidentally.

There was another tale that she would often tell me, and it would have been worse than heresy to doubt the truth of it, because she knew the parties involved very well. There was an honest, hardworking man called John M’Kinney, who lived in a nearby village. One night, reluctantly, he was obliged to leave his warm bed during “the witching hour”. He had almost forgotten something of importance that was needed the next day and he went immediately to fetch it. While he was on his way back home the silence of the night was disturbed by the strokes of an axe reverberating through a neighbouring area of woodland. As he stopped to listen, John heard some voices in conversation with each other. His curiosity caused him to draw up and listen to what was being said. It was then, when he distinctly heard the question asked, “What are you doing to-night?” and to his dismay the response was, “I’m making a wife for John M’Kinney.”

“Devil the bit of it!” said Jack, “you’ll make no wife for me, for I have enough trouble already. I think I’ll do very well with the one I have.” With these words John turned on his heels and rushed home, hardly drawing his breath until he had his wife held tightly in his arms. He gripped her so tightly it was almost a death-grip he had on her, and we would not loosen his hold until the crisis was over, and in this way he had foiled the plans of the fairies,

In years gone by the entire social system within Ireland was deeply pervaded by the idea of supernatural influence. As a consequence of this there was an indefinable aura of dread and fear, which hung like the ‘Sword of Damocles’ over the heads of all, and embittered their very lives. It is true that the evil was only imaginary, but not on that account any the less hurtful. Superstition is a mental malady is, therefore, very difficult to counteract or eradicate, and often led to a sense of real anxiety and distress among people. Just as the case of M’Kinstrey, whose ideas were filled with witchcraft and fairy freaks, never even thought that the noise and voices he had heard might be a practical joke played by some of his neighbours. As a consequence, therefore, he suffered all the feelings of suspense and trouble that warned that there was real danger nearby.

The spread of useful knowledge and the dissemination of sound education among all classes in our society have lately effected a great change in the intellectual powers of the people. Such encounters with the supernatural, like those described herein, are still sometimes used to “adorn a tale,” are now unheeded. In fact, there are few of my countrymen who would hold, even for a single moment, any belief in the absurd idea of evil creatures. Nevertheless, there are always some exceptions. These exceptions might include a few old women, who may be still haunted by the sprites of their younger days. In some remote districts of the country a belief in witchcraft certainly prevails among the local folk. But, most of these beliefs and fears have been ingrained by prejudices from youth, and they have been fostered and kept alive by the practices of con-men and others who say they can prevent the effects of these beings with counter-charms. These low-lives exist and continue to prosper because of the credulity of the public. In general, throughout Ireland, belief in witches, fairies, and the like is virtually defunct now.

FATEFUL MEETING – Cailleach Part iv

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

Shame on you, Luig.”

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

Do you?

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

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

Are you sure?

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

Cailleach of Ballygran III

Johnny

Derryard

The man who inadvertently walked into Luig McGarr’s life at this stage was a fine, well-educated man in his mid-fifties. Johnny Magowan was still a very handsome man, despite his age, and he was happily married to Maura, who had borne him three fine, healthy children. But, of all the men that had passed through Luig’s hands, it was to be Johnny, who would allow her time to play her tricks and to gain almost total influence over his every action.

Johnny was well situated in a top Civil Service job, after a career that stretched over thirty years, and he enjoyed a salary that reflected his high pay grade. But, that does not mean that Johnny Magowan was a wealthy man, who consorted with the upper class in society. He was, in fact, far from being the type of person who considered himself wealthy, living a simple lifestyle and preferring the company of those men with whom he had grown up in the town. A pint of Guinness was his usual tipple, he enjoyed having a bet on the horse-racing, and took a great interest in the local Gaelic Football team. In fact, when he was a young man, Johnny played for the local team and gave up much of his time to coach the schoolboy teams. Such physical activities were now a thing of the past when Johnny reached the age of fifty-five years and chose early retirement from his post.

Taking retirement at the early age of fifty-five years old was entirely his own decision and, as was his way, it was made without any consultation involving his long wife, Maura. Nevertheless, in taking voluntary retirement, Johnny did receive a considerable cash sum to go alongside the ample pension due to him, through the grades he had achieved by means of the promotions he had secured.

There were some who said that Johnny was not the easiest of people to live with, but Maura had been in love with him since she had been a teenager. In fact throughout their courtship she had worked hard to earn enough to help with Johnny’s finances, while he studied through university. She didn’t pay anything toward tuition, but she did finance much of the leisure time that they enjoyed together. It came as no surprise then, that within a few months of his graduating  from university and the securing of a permanent post, Johnny proposed to Maura. Of course there are always envious people in this world who speak cruelly about other, and some of these cruel minded people suggested that Johnny had felt obliged to marry Maura because of the money that she had spent on him while he was still at university. It was easy to tell that Maura was in love with the man, but they did not appreciate the fact that Johnny was the sort of man who would not do anything because he felt obliged to. He married Maura because he was in love with her, though it was not the sort of thing that he would have admitted.

 To those who knew the young couple in those days, their marriage did not come as a surprise, for Johnny was one of the most handsome, well-dressed and well-mannered young men in the town. As an added bonus for any young woman he also came from a well-respected family, whose father had his own business. Maura, for her part was a tall, thin, raven-haired, beauty whose sharp features reminded some of the film stars of the period, or the models in glossy magazines. There were many men who lost their hearts to Maura, but she only ever had eyes for Johnny.

Maura did not live far from Johnny’s family’s front door and had attracted the young man with her long, black hair, glided over her shoulders with a sheen on it like silk, and it always brushed to perfection. She was a dark-eyed beauty whose face was pale, but in a beautiful porcelain-like manner that was unblemished. On her lips, Maura always spread a red lipstick, which undoubtedly increased the seductiveness of her appearance and, when she walked past you, it was like one of those magazine super-models had just floated by.

Handsome Johnny, however, was often not so well thought of. There were those who thought he was both vain and conceited, but his friends would deny any such accusations. They would tell you that, even as a young boy, Johnny took care about his personal appearance and hygiene. Girls admired him for his ‘Tony Curtis’ good looks, his taste in clothes, and for his perfectly groomed hair. He, for his part enjoyed being admired by the young ladies in town, but his heart had been given to a girl called Maura McConnell and it her that he married.

Married life for the young couple was not easy, however, because Johnny was selfish in some ways. He was a man who considered his earnings his own, and it was he who took control of the household finances. But, he was much more concerned with maintaining appearances than he was about purchasing the home and the lifestyle that matched his station in life. Strangely, he never took Maura on holidays, but managed to travel the world himself with his friends. While he was away, Maura would stayed at home raising a family of three children and maintaining a house in which almost every item had been chosen by her, with his agreement. With the birth of their first child, even Johnny’s social life did not have much room for his devoted wife, because he preferred golf, horse racing, football and a few pints with his friends rather than taking Maura out for a drink, or a meal. There were many, of course, who thought it was a strange relationship and couldn’t understand it. But, nevertheless, Johnny and Maura appeared happy and raised their three children in a home that was filled with welcome and warmth.

It is unfortunate that Maura never appeared to be among Johnny’s first choice as a travelling companion on any of his journeys. In their entire married life there were only a few occasions when he made a point of takng Maura, and any of the children with him. These trips were usually short holiday excursions to his sister’s house in England. There were certain advantages that Johnny saw in these trips among which were keeping Maura and the children happy, they were not far from home and there was no accommodation to pay for. On other occasions his itchy feet took him further afield and he would be away for several weeks at a time. Just for the adventure of it all he woud take summer jobs in the Channel Islands, France, Canada, and the U.S.A. It was not until a few years before his retirement that he stopped taking these holidays, but a few years after he was retired Johnny was back on the road and shaking the dust off his shoes. There were, furthermore, at that time other changes made to his life that he took, which eventually led to a terrible revelation.

Several years before retiring, Johnny took up playing golf in his leisure time, encouraged by several colleagues at work. He became very proficient in the game for an amateur player and there was a period of time when his photograph never seemed to be out of the sports’ pages of the local newspaper, winning some golfing trophy or other. This was not unusual when it came to Johnny because, whatever he took up, he always strived to be the best he could be at it, especially if it was a sport. When he announced that he was taking early retirement, his friends teased him that he now would have plenty of time for playing golf. Within two years of retiring, however, he stopped playing golf completely, much to the surprise of friends and golfing partners alike. At this time in Johnny’s life many things were changing, and he was changing in himself.

Throughout his life, for example, Johnny had used public transport to travel from one place to another, including his workplace. Rain, hail, snow, or shine but Johnny could be seen on the bus for over the thirty years he had worked in one place. Some days, when he was working late, he would manage to get one of his colleagues to take him home in their car, even if the journey would take them miles out of their way. When I say they would take him home, they really dropped him off at his local club where, religiously, every evening he would have two pints of Guinnes with friends. It was a habit that Johnny had enjoyed almost all of his adult life, and it was about the only thing about him that did not change after early retirement. Every evening at about eight o’clock he would arrive in the club, sin in the members’ bar and have a sociable drink with friends. Just two drinks only, before he returned home at about ten o’clock to watch the news on television before going on to bed.

Maura was quite pleased that her husband was taking early retirement. She looked forward to spending more time with each other as a couple, which had not been the case since their early married days when they had moved into an apartment in a recently built block of flats. It was a comfortable first home, but as one child followed another it soon became time for the couple to find somewhere a little more commodious. Maura found a house next door to her mother’s, where they lived for quite a few years before moving into the home in which they resided at the time of this tale.

Maura was concerned about what way he would use all the spare time that he would soon have. She knew that Johnny was not the sort of man who did hobbies, and she had been surprised when he decided to try golf. Maura was just as surprised when he stopped golfing, just at the time when he had more time on his hands to devote to it. She was surprised even further when he started to work in the garden, because she was fully aware of the fact that, when it came to growing things, Johnny was not ‘Alan Tichmarsh’.

Hunting, was yet another hobby that Maura thought her husband might take up again, though he had not hunted for many years. With his brothers, Johnny had actively hunted through the hills and bogs for many years. But as his brothers passed away, Johnny lost all liking for the sport. The idea was plausible, of course, but she thought that after so many years away from it he would be reluctant to start again. Who could he persuade to go parading across heather covered mountains with a gun in their hand, or sit for hours among reed beds awaiting the arrival of ducks back on some lake? There was yet another possible problem, which bothered Maura. She wondered, after all that walking and stalking of the birds, “could Johnny still hit the target?” The question, of course, was never answered because Jimmy no longer had any love for a sport he had once shared with his dead brothers.

In Johnny’s mind, the major problem with retiring early was that all of his friends, and even his wife, were still in full-time work. It was unfortunate, but Johnny always appeared to be at a loose end, and he began spending more time watching horse-racing on the television, or playing snooker at the club. Then, one day, completely out of the blue He visited a local garage and purchased a small car for himself. Without telling anyone, Johnny had applied for his driver’s licence, learned to drive, and passed his test first time.

All through his youth and years of working in the Civil Service Johnny had never shown any inclination to drive a car, being happy with public transport, or getting lifts in other people’s cars. Now, however, he found himself with much more leisure time on his hands, and he began to feel that he would like to travel a little more. This he felt would give him much more independence but, as is always the case, he did not travel very far, mostly into town and out again.

It seemed odd to some people that Johnny would buy a car, but other strange things also began to occur. Maura noticed that the hours he would spend in the club, especially at weekends, had also changed. There were days, also, when he would drive of in the car somewhere, telling nobody where he was going, and not returning home until late at night. At this time too, his family began to notice strange behaviour and could not quite explain it to themselves. While Johnny had always taken a pride in his appearance, he now began to take extra time every morning in the shower, moisturising his body, shaving and oiling his face, and spraying all sorts of expensive male scents about himself. More surprisingly, Johnny began not to wear smart long-sleeve shirts, ties and flannel trousers, exchanging them for bright-coloured short-sleeved shirts denims, or chinos. To match these, Johnny’s hairstyle received a more modern cut, and the parts that were turning grey suddenly appeared to return to their former dark colour. With all these things happening, it is not surprising that some neighbours became suspicious that there were hidden reason for these changes. But, these people were only in a small minority, and most chose to disregard the ugly rumours as being unthinkable when it came to a man of his standing in the community.

Nevertheless, the changes in Johnny Magowan’s lifestyle continued. He was a man who, as we have said, could appreciate a good pint of Guinness and usually imbibed his pint in the Club. But, after retiring he began to explore other oases during the day. He began frequent some of the more popular public houses in the town. In those hostelries he was certain of being able to buy a decent pint of stout, and could also be sure of a decent lunch at a reasonable price. He was often seen entering the “Railway Tavern”, or “The Olde Oak”, where he regularly spent an hour or two eating and drinking, while watching the horse-racing on the television behind the bar. Both public houses were sited on the same street in town, and situated ideally half-way between them was the “Turf Accountants” where he could place his bets. This street now became the destination for his daily trips into town.

Johnny’s evening trips still took him to Ballygan Football Club, and he still met up with the friends whose company he enjoyed. The club was little more than a quarter of a mile from the house, the walk to which he often described as his nightly exercise. You could be sure that every evening he would be in that club, standing at the bar and ordering his first drink. He was so prompt in fact that the barmaid could have set the clock for him coming in. Johnny would lift his glass at the bar and take his first drink of the stout to ensure none of the precious liquid would spell as he took it to the members’ lounge, where he would join his friends.

Cailleach of Ballygran II

Luigsheach (pron: Luck-Shack)

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

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

Her face was blue-black of the lustre of coal

And her bone-tufted tooth was like red rust.

In her head was one pool-like eye,

Swifter than a star in a winter sky.”

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

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

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

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

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

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

banshee

 

“I am the veiled Old Woman,

  I used to be ever-renewed.

  Today my standing has been lowered,

 But my powers are undiminished,”

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

Cailleach of Ballygran I

INTRODUCTION


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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

“The Cailleach sees with an all knowing eye,

A dark spirit with two faces,

One of which is bluish-black and

is filled with the knowledge of the ancients.

She is a withered old crone,

and older than time,

who watching over the land,

and guiding victims back to her.

With a quick and terrifying strike,

She is eager to unleash her power,

Causing mayhem and destruction in the world,

To bring about her renewal of life.”

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