Emerald Isle

Carmun the Sorceress

Irish and Celtic myths and legends, Irish folklore and Irish fairy tales from the Mythological Cycle

Carmun, by means of every spell of fame, destroyed all sap of swelling fruit!

In ancient times the Gaels would hold great festivals at different seasons of the year, such as the Tailteann Games, Tlachtga, Raigne and Lughnasadh, and it was at the beginning of August, every three years, that the festival of Carmun would be held during the festival of Lugh.

Mighty were the celebrations held, with the racing of horses and the meeting of thrice fifty young men to a side in games of hurling, demonstrations of athletic prowess, bardic competitions and matches of fidcheall, the ancient chess of Ireland. Long did the druids chant and work their magic, and then all would gather around to hear the tale of Carmun, who would have ruled Ireland as her own.

It would take two years to prepare for the Aenach Carmun, and on the third it was held, for if it was not then hunger and sickness would overcome Ireland, and the curse of Carmun would be fulfilled.

The druids spoke to the assembled hosts, chieftains and kings of the time before the Gaels when the Tuatha Dé Dannan held sway over Ireland, and it was in that legendary era that a dark power arose in the south and east, a place they called Minoa. Hungry it was, and knowing the magic glimmering in the stones and forests of the isle of Ireland, it travelled over wave and wind along with its three sons.

It took the form of a powerful witch-queen called Carmun, who in its own land it was called the reaper or scythe, she who cuts the grain. Indeed if she was not given her due veneration the grain would fall rotten to the ground, and the fruits of the trees and beasts of the field alongside them!

Her three sons were called Dubh, which means darkness, Dothur meaning evil, and Dian whose name was violence, and when these four landed on the shores of Leinster, all hell broke loose.

With sweeps of her great scythe of ur-gold, Carmun worked terrible spells of blight and disease which fogged the berries of the forest with fungus, turned the apples on the trees sour and bitter, filled the roots of the earth - good for stews and broths - with blighting worms, and caused the animals to sicken and give no milk.

Even the bees fled before her pestilence, so there was no honey for mead or for bread, nor any grain to make the bread, and a great hunger came to the people of Ireland.

Meanwhile her three sons lived up to their names, and among the Leinstermen day turned to night for those who opposed Carmun, violence fell upon them, and evil upon their families. Many were the curses laid, and nights of the sickle moon festered with shadow demons clambering the mountains like goats and digging deep to find those who would hide in the caves and low places.

But word reached the Tuatha Dé Dannan, who dwelt chiefly in the west, and they knew the scourge would be upon them before too long if it was allowed to put down roots. They assembled four heroes, three men and a woman to match the invaders.

Bé Chuille the war-witch was to lead them, she who had fought alongside Dianann when they had enchanted the trees, stones, and grasses of the earth to drive back the Fomorians with horror and affliction, and it was she who later fell to the grey demons of the air. Deep in the knowledge of plant and plough was she.

Lug Laebach son of Cacher, the magician without peer also went, as did Ai son of Ollam whose poetry was fit to make one man as three, and Crichinbel, bitter satirist whose words promised eternal shame.

So the conflict began over weeks and months by hidden fae-paths and Sí-mounds, along the liminal trackways of the clouds and in shifting oghams swaying among the weeds of the deepest lochs - and for every blasphemous evil done by Carmun, the Tuatha returned the same upon her.

At last the eight met and did ferocious battle, until the bright heroes of the Tuatha triumphed, and said to the invaders:

“A woman is here to match your mother,
three men to the brothers three;
Death to you - no choice ye would choose,
no blessing, no lucky wish!
or else leave with good grace a hostage;
depart from Erin ye three only!”

Which meant Carmun and her sons could die on the spot, or leave her as a hostage and accept a binding which would trap them in the abyss of the north until the sea no longer surrounded Ireland!

Not seeing there was much of a choice indeed, they took the bargain and Carmun was imprisoned in a narrow cell until death came upon her in the ungentle shape of grief in Wexford, where she was buried by Bres among the ancient oak trees.

And today in Wexford can still be found a place called Ard Carmen, an echo of ancient times marked on the map below.

From The Metrical Dindshenchas:


Hearken, ye Leinstermen of the graves,
O host that rule Raigne of hallowed rights,
till ye get from me, gathered on every hand,
the fair legend of Carmun high in fame!

5] Carmun, gathering place of a hospitable fair,
with level sward for courses: —
the hosts that used to come to its celebration
conquered in its bright races.
A burial-ground of kings is its noble cemetery,

10] even specially dear to hosts of high rank;
under the mounds of assembly are many
of its host of a stock ever-honoured.
To bewail queens and kings,
to lament revenges and ill deeds,

15] there came many a fair host at harvest-time
across the noble lean cheek of ancient Carmun.
Was it men, or a man of mighty prowess,
or woman with passionate emulation,
that won a title of
without disrepute ,

20] and gave its proper name to noble Carmun?
Not men it was, nor wrathful man,
but one fierce marauding woman —
bright was her precinct and her fame —
from whom Carmun got its name at the first.

25] Carmun, wife of the son of fierce Dibad,
son of right hospitable Doirche of the hosts,
son of Ancgeis rich in substance,
was a leader with experience in many battles.
No supply of gain appeased them

30] in their ardent desire for noble Banba;
because they were distressed perpetually in the East,
the children of the son of Dibad and their mother.
They fared westward for the second time
— Dian and Dub and Dothur, —

35] from the East out of distant Athens,
they and Carmun their mother.
In the borders of the Tuatha De
the folk of a hostile wedlock ravaged
the fruit of every land to the shore:

40] it was a dreadful lawless pillage.
Carmun, by means of every spell of fame,
destroyed all sap of swelling fruit,
after strife waged with all arts unlawful,
and the sons through battle and lawlessness.

45] Then the Tuatha De perceived them;
horror and hideousness betrayed them
for every cruel deed they did,
the Tuatha De inflicted the like number upon them.
Crichinbel — no deception this!

50] and Lug Laebach son of Cacher
Be Chuilli into which I shall go above all battlefields
and Ai son of Ollam,
The stern four, equal-strong,
said to them on overtaking them,

55] "A woman is here to match your mother,
three men to the brothers three;
"Death to you — no choice ye would choose,
no blessing, no lucky wish!
or else leave with good grace a hostage;

60] depart from Erin ye three only!"
Those men departed from us;
stern means were found to expel them;
though it seemed distant to them, they leave here
Carmun — alive in her narrow cell.

65] Every pledge was given that is not transgressed with safety,
the sea with its beasts, heaven, earth with its bright array,
that the strong chiefs should not come southward
so long as the sea should be round Erin.
Carmun, death and yearning carried her off.

70] increase of mourning visited her
she found her fate, as was right,
among the oaks of the strong graves.
Thither came, for the delight of her beauty,
to keen and raise the first wailing over her,

75] the Tuath De over this noble plain eastward:
it was to the first true fair of Carmun.
The grave of Carmun, who digged it?
do ye learn, or do ye know?
according to the judgment of every esteemed elder

80] it was Bres son of Eladu: hearken!

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