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County Clare Folk-Tales and Myths by Thomas Johnson Westropp


The Gods

In continuation of ‘A Folklore Survey of County Clare,’ I now present a collection of quasi-historic tales and traces of tales, ranging from mythical times to the early eighteenth century. Few counties can boast such a rich and unbroken series, and, although I dare not assert that all the tales have been passed from mouth to mouth ‘without book,’-and indeed hold an opposite view in certain cases,-it is probable that many were so transmitted. In some examples it may be instructive to compare the tradition with written history. I have arranged the tales in chronological order, and tried to eliminate all clearly derived from books in recent years. I shall, however, show how modern books on King Brian have veneered the purer tradition of 1890 near Killaloe, and record the oldest written tales about the district. There is no reason to believe that the local accounts of de Clare’s wars, the Armada, or the great Civil War of 1641-51, go back to any other than a remote traditional source.[1]. The tales of the saints were probably drawn, long ago, from the actual legenda read in the churches. The wild stories of gods and heroes probably came down orally from incredibly remote periods.[2] The belief that the ‘torch of tradition’ has burned continuously, without rekindling, is strengthened by the slight and bald narrations about the all-important Mound of Inauguration at Magh Adhair, despite its appearance in accessible works, from the ‘Collectanea’ of Vallancey onwards. It is also noteworthy that the bulk of the Clare stories are Dalcassian, the great tribes of the Corcabaiscinn only appearing in the tales of St. Senan, and those naming the Corca Modruad having seemingly died out.

The Gods
Ana or Danann, Mother of the Gods, is still kept in mind by Irish speakers in naming certain hills in Kerry,[3] and her children, the Tuatha Dé Danann, are not forgotten in ancient Thomond. Slieve Boughty or Aughty (Sliabh n Echtgha), on the north-eastern border of Clare, is named from ‘Echtghe the Awful,’ the divine daughter of the god Nuada Silver-Arm.[4] These hills were given to her by her lover, the cup-bearer of Gann and Genann, the eponymous ancestors of the Ganganoi of Ptolemy.[5] Tuath Aughty is the parish of Feakle. The god Lugh had a daughter Tailti, and a rath-builder, Alestar, dug a fort to appease her anger at a slight offered when her husband, Eochy Garbh, was clearing a forest to make a fair green in her honour. This fort lay at Cluan Alestair on Sliabh Leitreach (or Mount Callan), but its site is now forgotten. The two tales are recorded in ancient books, and the place-names themselves are still preserved.[6]

I have already noted [7] a warning in 1905 by two natives at Croaghateeaun, north-west of Ballinalacken Castle, to cross ourselves as a protection ‘against the Dananns,’ and not far away to the east, near Lisdoonvarna Castle, is the entrenched natural green hillock of Lissateeaun (Lios an t siodhain), the ‘fairy fort,’ which was in 1839 a recognised palace of the Dé Danann. This name recalls the early passages relating to the Sidh. The fifth century hymn of Fiacc says,-‘On Erin’s folk lay darkness, the tribes worshipped the Sidh,’ while Tirechan’s annotations in the ‘Book of Armagh’[8] tell of the ‘viros side aut deorum terrenorum,’ for whom Patrick and his clerics were mistaken. Much later Seean MacCraith [9] tells how, in 1317, the hideous hag Bronach revealed herself at Lough Rask to Prince Dermot O’Brien as one of the Tuatha Dé Danann, and again, as a lodger in the green fairy hills, in the following year, to Sir Richard de Clare at the ford of the river Fergus. She is still vaguely remembered in northern Burren.[10] In 1684 Roderic O’Flaherty tells us that the Irish call ‘aerial spirits or phantoms’ sidhe ‘because they come out of pleasant hills.’

Another of the Danann who played a large part in Clare was the smith Lon Mac Liomhtha. Perhaps the banshee Aibhill and the lady Gillagreine were of the same race. The latter may have been a daughter of Greine the sun, but in late legend (the ‘Agallamh’) she is a daughter of Finn mac Cumhail.



Chapter 2