Emerald Isle

The Druidic Revenant

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Irish and Celtic myths and legends, Irish folklore and Irish fairy tales tales of Ireland

You cannot keep a good man down, but bad men can rise up too

Long ago in Ireland, at the dawn of the Christian age, Irish monasteries and schools were famed throughout Europe and the world for the depth of their knowledge and the quality of the education they gave to princes, lords and nobles who travelled from all parts to attend them.

One of the most famous early Christian theologians who taught in these schools was Saint Manchán, Patronus de Coolcasheen, who is associated with Mondrehid in County Offaly, not one of the other seven Saint Mancháns.

At that time the druids still walked the fair green fields and misty forests of Ireland, and often they went to war with the new Saints, using the swords of the chieftains, threats, and dark sorcery they had mastered over uncounted centuries!

Rumour has it that one of the most powerful of these druids, whose evil was so great that his very name was excised from the spoken and written histories, had made his home close to where Saint Manchán had established himself, and the enmity between these two men was no small thing!

Whether it was by coincidence or as a result of more sinister dealings, the Annals of the Four Masters record a deadly plague that struck Ireland shortly thereafter – as they called it, the great mortality, and when it had passed neither Saint nor druid was left standing.

In Dysartgallen in County Laois, Manchán's followers built a church and shrine to his memory and whatever had passed in that place. A high cross decorated with biblical scenes was planted straight into the holy well on the site, and plugged up its waters for a thousand years.

Then came the time of the English plantation of Ireland, when the native Irish were driven forth from their homes by planters, whose aim was to replace the population entirely with English!

It was a time of great savagery and even greater treachery, and there were few worse traitors to the people and country of Ireland than Owen McHugh O’Dempsey, leader of a Laois clan who sided with the Tudors in 1573. He built his castle and made his estate nearby, and during the nine years war which followed, the church was desecrated by the protestant invaders, and the high cross vanished. Whether it was broken up or lies yet buried in the church grounds is not something the stories tell.

But the people of Mundrehid and Dysartgallen have their own tale to tell about the events which followed. On the Samhain after the destruction of the church and cross, a brief but fierce earthquake struck the area with a tremendous roaring sound, like many boulders falling off a cliff.

Straight away the earth opened wide in a great crack, and a figure leaped forth! Black and wizened with age and soil, face puckered, shrivelled and shrunken, dessicated by dry centuries, he was a man wearing armour which seemed too large for him, and of a very antique fashion.

About his waist he wore a girdle, and upon that girdle hung a sword, which he drew from his sheath, and holding it above his head, raced three times around the graveyard before plummeting back into the hole from which he had emerged.

The old people in the area say he can still be heard or even seen on moonless nights at certain times of year, and during the 19th century the landowner cleared the graveyard and levelled the land. But the locals relate that his desire to open flat pastures as a range for cattle did not prosper according to his wishes, as many of them were carried off by disease, while the herds of other farmers were spared ruination!

A final thought for you – there was a Professor Sayer who was a friend to the late great Professor Tolkien, whose name you may have heard, and he recalled a conversation they had between them:

“I’ve gone for one or two walks with Tolkien, and he did talk to me about natural scenes he visited. One of the things I noticed, which surprised me from the start, was the way in which he regarded certain natural scenes as evil.

This came up most strongly after he’d been examining in order — that is to say classifying students in an Irish University according to their achievements in the English language and literature. He described Ireland as a country naturally evil.

He said he could feel evil coming from the earth, from the peat bogs, from the clumps of trees, even from the cliffs, and this evil was only held in check by the great devotion of the southern Irish to their religion. This was a very strange view, and was not one I could even have guessed.”

The place of the old church is marked on the map below.


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