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County Clare Folk-Tales and Myths by Thomas Johnson Westropp


Updated Tales

There are, of course, a number of tales that cannot be located in time, although sometimes attached to definite places, and other tales of a vague description.

Lisheencroneen, a splendid earthern fort with a deep fosse and high rings, lying near Doonaha in south-west Clare,[135] bore in 1815 the names of Dun Athairrc (Doon Aheirc) and Lios na fuadh. Despite a very definite letter of Eugene O’Curry in 1835, the Ordnance Survey saw fit to give the name Lisfuadnaheirka to another ring fort, for which the peasantry knew no name, but I heard a vague tale of ‘a horned ghost’ at the former.[136]

Knockaun Mountain, to the north-west of Lisdoonvarna, was called Sliabh oighe h Airim (or Slievyharrim, O’Harrim’s mountain), say the ‘Ordnance Survey Letters,’ after ‘Arim,’ a supposed son of Finn mac Cumhail, otherwise unknown.

The Matal (wild boar) and Faracat (a huge wild cat with a moon mark of white hair), already mentioned as appearing in a tale by Comyn in 1750,[137] possibly founded on folk-tales, have no place in present-day local story.

The lady Gillagreine [138] was the daughter of a mortal father and a sunbeam, and, when told of her ill-matched parents, sprang into Lough Graney, floated down the river Graney to Derrygraney, and was buried at Tomgraney (i.e. Loch Greine, Doire Greine, and Tuam Greine).

Near Sixmilebridge the tale ran that, in early days, Meihan mac Enerheny, a famous warrior, made the huge fort, or rather hill town, of Moghane [139] as a ‘fighting-ring’ for himself. He would never allow his tribe to go to war until he had himself challenged and defeated all the enemy’s chiefs. He reigned in great esteem from the Fergus to the Owennagarna river. In his fighting-ring he always gave his opponents the choice of the sun and wind, in despite of which he overthrew them all. There was no king, nor soldier, nor monster that he feared to fight. His admiring tribe gave him a gold-embroidered cap, and the name of Oircheannach (Golden Head), and he died unconquered.[140] I have never heard this tale in the neighbourhood of the fort. It seems artificial, and based on a folk-derivation to flatter the MacInerneys; it is perhaps genuine, though late.

The tale in ‘The Monks of Kilcrea,’ about the country from Inchiquin to Moher, is not found amongst the people, and is, I think, a pure invention by the anonymous author [141] of that pleasing poem.

One townland was transferred from Kilrush to Kilmurry parish, although embedded in the former. Tradition said that this was done because the abbot of Iniscatha, and his vicar at Kilrush, did not attend there during a pestilence to administer the last sacraments to the dying. The vicar of Kilmurry, hearing this, faithfully attended the victims, and the bishop afterwards assigned the townland to him and his successors as a reward.[142]

The little stone circles and little cairns on Creganenagh Hill in the Burren were, from the name, the centre of an early Aenach, (fair, or tribal assembly), but Borlase [143] heard that they were memorials of a battle. Neither Dr. MacNamara nor I were told this at Castletown or Cruchwill, near the hill. The historic battles of Clare (with the exception of Corcomroe, Dysert, Clare Abbey, and Kilconnell) have no legends, so the battlefields of Luchid, Magh Eir, Craglea, the Callow, Drumgrencha, Bunratty, Spansel Hill, Beal an chip, and Quin do not figure in this paper, nor do the sieges of Bunratty or Ballyalla.

The octagonal pillar called the ‘Leacht’ of Donoughmore O’Daly stands on the shore of Oyster Creek opposite to Muckinnish. Tradition in 1839 made O’Daly a brother of the sorcerer Macamh of Iniscreamha, County Galway.[144] I heard that he was the head of Corcomroe Abbey, and he was probably one of the Finvarra O’Dalys of the seventeenth century.

I have now set out all the quasi-historic tales of County Clare that have come within my reach, but, although I have collected them from childhood, and with careful diligence during the last thirty years, I am sure that many more might still be gathered. I have even heard of ‘probable people’ near Carrigaholt and in the hills between Tomgraney and Killaloe who had stores of ‘old tales’ (though I fancy stories rather than histories), but whom I have been unable to approach.

To record carefully and without leading questions is very slow work, but the result, even if bald, is of course far more valuable than matter polished into attractive shapes or procured through intermediaries possibly untrustworthy.

There is a great temptation to ‘tell a good story,’ and I have always discounted the testimony of those who appeared to yield to it, while regarding as invaluable the old people who repeated simply and crudely what had been handed down to them. I have indicated my sources as far as possible, and, where manuscripts and books have been used, I have tried to help the reader to assess their value. I may add that my feeling is to distrust the form, rather than the substance, of the tales supplied by Croker [145] and Lady Wilde, but to trust Graham. The ‘Ordnance Survey Letters’ I believe to be most reliable. My own collected material is only employed when I consider it trustworthy. So I have now brought home the sheaves I have reaped in the hope that others may be impelled to garner what is still left standing before it perishes or is trampled down.


Chapter 11