Emerald Isle

The Last Dragon in Ireland

Irish and Celtic myths and legends, Irish folklore and Irish fairy tales from Irish Gods and Monsters

Who can defeat the might of the dragon of the north?

When Saint Patrick banished the serpents from Ireland, there was one who was overlooked, perhaps because he slumbered or was abroad himself, and that one was called Lig na Paiste, or the “Last Great Reptile”. Soon after Saint Patrick passed away, he made his presence known as he was known of old to the people of Owenreagh!

A giant serpent he was, and he could spit fire and venom in equal measure, tall as two men standing one atop the other at the shoulder, with mighty curling ram's horns, an ancient remnant from the beginning of the world. He was long enough to curl around a green hill in the dark valley near the Owenreagh River and hold his tail in his mouth. Black was his tongue and sharp his fangs, and his armoured scales were impenetrable plates larger than a man's head.

No warrior could defeat him and he began a reign of terror from the slopes of the Sperrins to the shores of Lough Foyle, burning crops, cattle and people before devouring them in hunger and vengeance for his banished kin. The people of the area were at a loss as to what to do, so at last they turned to a holy man of the new faith, Saint Murrough O'Heaney, who had built a church in Banagher whose ruins can still be seen today.

St. Murrough heard their cries and fasted for nine days and nine nights, as was the way of the Christian about to face a mighty enemy, and while praying he saw a vision of how he might defeat the dragon.

He brought three long reed rods with him and came to the dragon's pool, where the beast curled up between raids, and called out. Well Paiste raised his fearsome head, all dripping with pondweed and mud, and laughed aloud, for he thought the locals had sent him a sacrifice as his kind had come to expect in the days of the pagans!

The dragon mocked him and made as if to draw closer, but Saint Murrough kept his cool, and asked the dragon if he could perform an ancient ritual of his clan. Greatly amused at this human folly, the dragon laid down and allowed the Saint to lay the rods across his back.

Just as Paiste began to tire of this game and announced it was time for dinner, Saint Murrough asked for just a little longer so he could pray to complete the ritual.

With that, he went to his knees and prayed to God the Father Almighty with great passion and faith to turn the reed rods to unbreakable steel, making the sign of the cross, and so it was done! The reeds wound about the dragon and tightened, and no matter how much he thrashed and howled, shaking the earth for miles around, he couldn't escape, and the more the fought, the tighter his bounds got.

Paiste finally wearied and groaned, complaining that he had been tricked, but the Saint wouldn't let him go, for he knew the dragon was a malevolent beast with no honesty in its heart. Again the dragon protested, saying that no human could have authority over him, but Saint Murrough explained that Paiste was a living creature created by God, and so was subject to God's commands.

Then the Saint declared that his punishment was to be cast into the waters of Lough Foyle, but before he did so, Paiste begged one last favour, that he might be allowed to look upon the Ciannact, that is the stretch of land from Banagher and the Sperrins to the shores of Lough Foyle from his watery tomb. This much mercy but no more did Saint Murrough allow, and into the deeps the dragon went, until the Judgement.

To this very day, people in the area say they feel fear when they cross certain parts of Lough Foyle, and the odd tides and disturbances in the water's currents defy explanation. When the river  Owenreagh floods, they say it is due to the dragon struggling with its bindings.

Lough Foyle, the grave of the dragon, can be seen on the map below.

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