Emerald Isle

The Saint and the Serpent

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

The One That Got Away

The boy who was to be Saint Colman was born in the northern kingdom of Dalriada, which held both Northern Ireland and Scotland in its power at the start of the sixth century. This was the time of the dawn of Christianity in Ireland, and it was a time when great terrors and monsters from primordial epochs still swam in the deep lakes and lazy rivers of Ireland!

Ancient wurrums, horn-hided serpents, slimy reptiles and fierce dragons of all sorts made bathing or even fetching water a hazardous business in many places, and you certainly wouldn't want to go for a swim!

After his studies at the Abbey of Nendrum on the pleasant shores of Strangford Lough, Colman who was also called Mocholmoc or Mocholmog, which is important to know since there are about six score Irish saints called Colman, moved to Dromore in the Northlands.

It was by the deep and dark slow-flowing waters of the river Lagan that Saint Colman liked to walk and pray, meditating on the mysteries he had learned at the Abbey – and some say when his mind wandered far, so did his feet, even over the waters of the river while staying dry!

But one day his peace was interrupted, for what happened but a young maiden came down to the river to wash her clothes, and so long was her dress and so muddy the river bank that she had to go out upon some stepping stones to do the job properly.

Next thing you know, from the hidden deeps of the river where great dark eyes had been watching, a terrible serpent reared up and surged forth in a powerful spring, swallowing her alive!

Knowing she was done for, the girl somehow kept her head and cried out in a fearful voice

“Oh holy Colman, save me!”

And some of her friends who were standing on the bank also let out cries and shouts of panic, for it was a dreadful thing to see a person swallowed whole.

Awakening from his meditations the Saint fell to his knees and prayed to Heaven for her release, and sure enough, repulsed by the sanctity of Saint Colman and the purity of Christian prayer, the unholy beast spat out the girl at the Saint's command, before vanishing forever more into the secret currents of the abyss.

The girl was unharmed, and to this day you can find the footprints of the Saint on the bank of the river, called St Colman's road, marked on the map below.

More Tales from the Historical Cycle

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