Clare County Library
Clare Folklore
Home | Search Library Catalogue | Foto: Clare Photo Collection | OS Maps | Search this Website | Copyright Notice

County Clare Folk-Tales and Myths by Thomas Johnson Westropp


The Red Branch Heroes

The great Setanta, surnamed Cuchulainn, (the Hound of Uladh and for a long time its sole defender against the hosts of Queen Medbh, whether a real hero or the Brocken spectre of one, a sun god, or the son of the god Lugh), has set his mark in place-names far and wide, from the Cuchullin Hills in Scotland to Cuchullin’s Leap [11] at the mouth of the Shannon. At the latter place a huge and lofty rock tower, rising some fifty or sixty feet away from the end of Loop Head, appears at one time to have been walled, and may, like other cliff forts, have been approached by a plank or natural bridge before the chasm widened. Before 850 Irish writers called it Leim Chonchulainn, so that probably his name and a story were attached to it in the ages left without record by the ravages of the Norse and Danes. But in later days his name was forgotten. ‘A hero,’ said the natives, was loved by Mal (a ‘Hag,’ though not necessarily old or ugly), and was pursued by her into the extreme angle at Loop Head.

Closely pressed by her the hero leaped over to the island, was followed by her, and gathered his strength and sprang back to the headland. Mal was not to be discouraged, and followed, but fell short, and her blood stained all the sea as far as Hag’s Head, her abode.[12] Local etymology says that Malbay owes its name to her. The same tale of Cuchulainn and the too fond dame is told in the Dindsenchas, but located at Fich m buana, near Dromsna, on the upper Shannon.[13]

Cuchulainn and the Red Branch Heroes, Conall Cernach, Cet, and Ross, fought the champions of the Firbolg Clann Umoir, and slew them. Several of the chiefs of the sons of Umor, are commemorated in Clare; Irghus at the fort Caherdooneerish or Dunirias (not Caherdoonfergus as on the maps), on Rinn Boirne or Black Head; Daelach at Lissadeely, Ballydeely, and the Daelach river; Ennach at Tech n Ennach, up the same river, where the great fort of Doon stands above Kilfenora; Beara at Finnavarra; and Adhar at Magh Adhair.[14] Unless the story at Magh Adhair,-that ‘it is the tomb of a king,’-refers to Adhar, no trace of the tale has survived except the place-names. I am myself rather inclined to think that the localities in the tale are places of similar name in Co. Mayo, where early writers place a branch of Clann Uathmor.

The O’Conors and O’Loughlins of Corcomroe claimed descent from Fergus mac Roigh and Medbh, and possibly they, rather than the intruding Dalcassians, preserved the Red Branch stories.


Chapter 1


Chapter 3