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The Burren: The Legend of Lon Mac Liomtha

In the northern part of the Parish of Kilnaboy is a townland called Teeskagh and near it a mountain called Slieve na Glaisé, the mountain of the celebrated cow called Glas Ghoibhneach, said to have belonged to the smith, Lon Mac Loimhtha, the first that ever made edged weapons in Ireland. He was a Tuatha De Danann by nation, and lived in a cave in this mountain unknown to all the Scoti except the few who lived in his immediate vicinity. This Lon was a most extraordinary being having three hands and only one leg! Two of the hands were in the usual position, and the third, with which he turned the iron on the anvil while he hammered with the other two, grew from the middle of his breast. He never walked after the usual manner of men, as is obvious from his construction, but bounded from his pedestal by the elastic power of his waist and ham, and whenever he ventured abroad, which was very seldom, he was observed flying over the valleys and bounding over the hills. He had lived a long time in Ireland before his art was in requisition, for before his time the Irish used no iron or steel implements of war, but fought with sticks having stone, flint and bronze heads. Lon was for many years supported by his invaluable cow called Glas Gaibhneach which used to graze not far from his forge on the mountain of Sliabh na Glaise which abounds in most beautiful rills and luxuriant pasturage. This cow he stole from Spain, but after having settled with her in various parts he came at length to the resolution of spending his life here, as being secure from enemies by the remoteness and natural fastness and then inaccessible situation of the place, and as he had found no other retired spot in Ireland sufficiently fertile to feed the Glas but this. This cow would fill with her milk any vessel, be it never so large, into which she was milked, and it became a saying in the neighbourhood that no vessel could be found which the Glas would not fill at one milking. At last two women laid a wager on this point, one insisting that no vessel, be it never so large, could be found in Ireland which the smith's cow would not fill, and the other that there could. The bets being placed in secure hands, the latter lady went to her barn and took out a sieve which she took to Slieve na Glaise, and into which, by consent of Lon Mac Liomhtha, she milked the cow. And behold! the milk, passing through the bottom of the sieve and even overflowing it, fell to the ground and divided into seven rivulets called Seacht Srotha na t-Aéscaíghe, the Seven Streams of the overflowing. Taescach, i.e., the overflowing, is now the name of a Townland lying to the west of Slieve na Glaise. Clear streams of water now run through the channels then formed by the copious floods of the milk of the Glas, and one of them forms in winter a remarkable waterfall. On the east side of Slieve na Glaise is a small valley in which is shewn a spot called Leaba na Glaise in which this cow is said to have slept every night and near it another spot called the bed of her calf. The hoofs of this cow were reversed by which her pursuers (for many sought to take her away by force) were always deceived in the course she took, and the impressions of her feet are shewn to this day in the rocks in many parts of the country around Slieve na Glaise.

In the same valley, in a field called Garraidh na Ceártan, is shewn a cave in a rock called Cearta Loinn Mhic Liomhtha, the Forge of Lon, Son of Liomhtha, and within it the cinders and dust of the forge.

This smith had seven sons, one for every day in the week, who took care of this cow each for a day in his turn. They held her by the tail and durst not turn her about, but let her go wherever she wished to graze during the day till sunset, when they turned her face towards her bed, and then she returned home directly. No blade of grass ever grew or could be made to grow on the spot called her bed.

Over Leaba na Glaise on the summit of the mountain, there is a remarkable cromlech under which many poor families have lived! It is, like all the other monuments of similar construction, called by the peasantry Leaba Dhiarmada agus Gráine, the Bed of Dermot and Graine, from a belief that it was originally constructed by Dermot O'Duivne to shelter Graine when he took her away from her husband Fionn Mac Cumhail.

To return to the smith Lon Mac Liomhtha. He resided for a long time in Slieve na Glaise in obscurity and totally unknown to the Scotic warriors by means of whom only he could turn his art to any account, as his own Dedanite tribe were conquered and compelled to live in the shees as wizzards and witches, or in caves and fastnessess, as robbers, tories and ex-artizans. At length he was determined to offer his services to some Irish Lord of warlike fame, and hearing of the fame of Fionn Mac Cumhail who was then stationed with his warriors at Binn Edain Mic Ghannlaoigh, now called the Hill of Howth. He set out one fine morning to confer with him. It did not take him long to perform the journey for he bounded over every hill and sprang over every valley until he reached the far-famed promontory of Bin Hedar, and when he arrived in the presence of the Fenian Chief, he was, as usual, interrogated as to his name, country, profession and business on the occasion, to which interrogatories he thus replied:- "I am Lon, the son of Leefha; I am acquainted with intricacies of every art, but my particular art is that of a smith, in which capacity I am at present in the service of the King of Lochlin." "I came to lay a gesa (i.e., an injunction which every warrior was bound by the most solemn obligations of his order to perform) on you to overtake me before I reach my forge." He then took to his heel (agus do thug sé cnoc do léim agus gleann do thuslóig) and passed a hill in every bound and a valley in every spring and he delayed not till he arrived at Slieve na Glaise, confident that none of the Fenians would be able to pursue, but in this he was mistaken for he was pursued by the swiftest of the Fenians, by name Caoilté of the slender hard legs, who, coming up with the smith at Leaba na Glaise just as he was on the point of entering his forge, struck him slightly with the palm of his hand on the back of his head saying:- "Fóil a ghaba na teirghe 'sa pholl ad t-aénar. Avast Smith, do not go into the the cave alone." "Success and welcome, O true soldier of the illustrious Fionn" said Lon "for my visit to you was not for the purpose of witchcraft or incantation, of which you are accustomed to accuse my people, the Dedanites, but to induce you to come to my forge that I might make for you swords of valour and edged weapons by which you may the more easily destroy your enemies and extend your fame." Caoilté and the smith remained together working in the forge, and at the end of three days Fionn and seven others of his warriors joined them, and the smith sold them eight iron swords, well tempered and steeled. On this occasion, Goll and Conan, the sons of Moirné, broke the smith's anvil they were so powerful in striking with the sledge, but not until they had several swords made for themselves.

After this Fionn and his seven warriors proceeded to the summit of Ceann Sleibhe where a party of the Tuatha De Dannans were stationed, having guards posted on the principal corras or causeways on the pass leading to that conspicuous green and beautiful hill. These were the causeways of Corra Mhic Buirrin near the Castle of Ballyportry, of Corofin one mile to the west of it, Cora Mhic Eoghain one mile to the west of Corofin, and Cora-na-Maididhe further to the west. Fionn and his seven warriors here attacked the party of the Dedanites who were there located and cut them to pieces with the swords which the smith had made for them. There is a spot on the summit of the hill of Ceann tSleibhe still called Suidhe Finn, i.e., Sessio Finni, and the bones of the Dedanites are daily dug out of the graves in which they were interred.

It is not told what finally happened to Lon the smith and his cow, but it is believed that the cow was shortly afterwards stolen from him by a man from Ulster, and that he was obliged to depend on his trade only for support. See similar stories about this cow written by me at Ballynascreen in Derry, the cross roads opposite Tory island in Donegal and in Glengavlen in Cavan. This cow seems to be the cornucopia of Irish tradition, but it is strange that no written account of her has hitherto been found. A cow called Glas Teamhrach is referred to by the writers on the ancient topography of Tara, and it would appear that a mound was erected in honour of her on that hill, but no legend about her has descended to our times as far as I know.

The above story has been very correctly taken down by Mr. O'Donovan from the lips of the most illustrious Seanchaidhe of the Kinel Owen now living, John Reagh O'Cahane, tailor, of Corofin.

John O'Donovan and Eugene Curry, 'The antiquities of County Clare': letters containing information relative to the antiquities of the County of Clare collected during the progress of the Ordnance Survey in 1839. Ennis, Clasp Press, 1997.


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