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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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Further Folk and Faerie Tales of Ireland
Not all that long ago there lived a decent family on the border of Tipperary, Michael Flannagan and Judy his wife were the two that were in it. Although they were not blessed with wealth, they were blessed with children, four sons to be exact. Three of these lads were as fine and stout a trio as you'd ever hope to see, and it was enough to m ... [more]
One of the many ancient Irish traditions whose origin has been lost to the ever-deepening mists of time is that of the wishing tree. They were also called rag trees, raggedy bushes, or clooty or cloughtie trees, and they can often be found growing next to or near holy wells and springs. When people gathered around the old turf fires in Ireland, ... [more]
The Sceach Geal is a tree that grows in Ireland and throughout the north of the world and its name means “bright thorn”. It was known in Brehon law as an Aithig fedo or a Commoner of the Wood, a quickthorn like its ferocious cousin the blackthorn, and it is also called hawthorn, the gentle bush, the lone thorn, the May tree, the hedgeth ... [more]
Throughout Ireland can be found many holy wells and blessed springs, most of which predate the arrival of Christianity on the island, but which were consecrated by the Church to the service of Christ. Within some of these wells and deepnesses, the old legends tell, swim sacred guardians and fish of strange repute! To this day the people of Irela ... [more]
Lough Gur is a place of great antiquity and the source of many strange rumours and legends, surrounded by misty forests and low rolling hills, not all of which are natural in origin! Once there was an island in the middle of the lake, but now it is a peninsula, and it is joined to the eastern shore by a causeway, not far from the village of Aney ... [more]
There was a farmer in County Kerry who had a nice little cottage for himself and his wife, but the thatched roof was in a terrible state of disrepair and unlikely to last another winter. Unlike the stone houses and cottages in the west, Kerry cottages were less sturdy, and so he knew he had to build himself another place to live. He searched thr ... [more]
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 thes ... [more]
The people of Ireland before the time of Saint Patrick had many strange customs, and some of these survive even to this very day, often mixed and combined with Christian rites and beliefs! One of those traditions was the sunwise walk. What this meant was, in order for good luck to attend an event, you had to walk around it sunwise or deiseal, pr ... [more]
We have a saying in Ireland, that it's the only place in the world where you can get all four seasons in the one day – well there's truth in that, but Irish weather can be even stranger than most people realise! So it is with the Gaoth Sidhe, which means “the fairy wind,” and is pronounced “gwee sheeha”. Oft ... [more]
One upon a time in Ireland, in the farthest west of County Clare, there lived a brave young chieftain whose name was O'Quinn. A kindly enough man was he, and fair to behold, of ruddy locks and clean limbs, and he made his Dún on a flat plain near to a clearwater spring, the purest in all of Ireland and perhaps all the world. He was co ... [more]
Cursing of various sorts has a history as long and rich as Ireland's own, stretching from the very earliest tales of the first settlers in Ireland all the way to the modern day. Whether a quick muttered malediction on someone who had crossed you or an elaborate, lengthy poem intended to satirise and ruin the legacy of a king, the mallacht, or c ... [more]
Much has been said but little written of the old Irish piseóg, the word of the curse. Now the same term is often used to refer to general traditions and superstitions in Ireland, things like if you're ever lost, turn your socks inside out to find your way home, or opening the back door if you hear a knock at the front door, to let the fa ... [more]
Dotted around Ireland in many places can be found bullán stones, meaning “bowls”, which are stones, large and small, with a depression or bowl in them, often filled with water. These are usually of great antiquity, stretching back before the time of St Patrick and before the time of Cú Chulainn and Fionn Mac Cumhaill, and ... [more]
There's a common misconception some might have about fairies, which is the idea that fairies are nice friendly little spirits, trailing pixie dust and turning pumpkins into luxury vehicles. As any of the old folk of Ireland could tell you, nothing could be further from the truth, for a fairy in wrath is more dangerous than a hive of wasps or a ... [more]
Sometimes when out and about travelling the lesser known byways of Ireland, you might come across a little stone arrowhead or piece of flint shaped by hands long gone, and people would tell you not to touch it for fear it might carry the tinneas sióg, the sickness of the fairy mounds! For it was that fairies, the sidhe, were known to hurl ... [more]
The sinister crone of the woods, the wishing thorn, there are as many tales told of the blackthorn trees of Ireland as there are spiky thorns on its branches. The people who came before, whose blood still runs in some, planted them around their tombs and sacred places and bound the lunantisidhe, or moon fairies to protect them, save only on the ful ... [more]
Once upon a time there was a poor woman with three daughters, and one day the eldest decided to seek her fortunes in the world. “Mother,” she said, “bake me a cake and kill my chicken, for I am away to the wide world.” And so her mother did just that, and when all was ready, her mother asked “which will you have ... [more]
A fair witch crept to a young man's side, And he kissed her and took her for his bride. But a shape came in at the dead of night, And filled the room with snowy light. And he saw how in his arms there lay A thing more frightful than words may say. And he rose in haste, and followed the Shape Till morning crowned an eastern cape. ... [more]
Once upon a time, not so long ago, a lovely young couple had just gotten married in the Irish countryside. It was a wonderful ceremony and all had remarked on how beautiful the bride looked, when suddenly their festivities and dancing were interrupted by the groom, who rushed into the crowd shouting that his Margaret was missing! Well they ... [more]
They do say that once upon a time, long ago, there lived a lady of great beauty in a castle on a lake, and her hair was fair as gold, shining in the summer sun. She had been promised to a king's son, the lord of a nearby kingdom, but as he was coming to see her one dark November evening, who should come upon him but the warriors of a jealous lo ... [more]