Clare County Library
Clare History
Home | Search Library Catalogue | Foto: Clare Photo Collection | Search this Website | Copyright Notice

Ring-Forts in the Barony of Moyarta, Co. Clare, and Their Legends
by Thomas Johnson Westropp

Part I.—From Loop Head to Carrigaholt

The legend of the Sons of Turrolbh mac Stairn

The interest attaching to these ruined forts, apart from their being of stone in a region of earthworks, lies in a legend preserved, though perhaps in a corrupt form, by Michael Comyn (1750) in a romance, “The Adventures of the three sons of Turrolbh mac Stairn.” [21] He was the best Clare antiquary of his day, and is known to have been interested in folk-lore. O’Curry seems to receive it as at least approximating to local legend in 1839; and it genuineness is favoured by its having a recognizable, if divergent, counterpart at Bohercrochaun, near Liscannor, which agrees in connecting the raid of the three chiefs “from Dunbeg” with the subsidence of the lost church and island of Kilstapheen. This last event we incline to connect with the earthquake and tidal wave of our Annals, which split Inis Fitæ, on this coast of Corcavaskin, into three, [22] destroyed one thousand persons, and heaped the shore with sand and rocks in about A.D. 800. In Mayo, also, people related how the detached rock at Doonaderrig promontory fort subsided, and the great pillar of Dun Brista was split from Downpatrick Head by the same convulsion that broke down Slieve Crohan in Achill. [23] The name Bohercrochaun tallies with the legendary name “Crochaun” in the Loop Head Legend, which is closely bound up with the fort titles, giving

“to airy nothing
A local habitation and a name.”

The story is of the type of that of Danaë, which has had such an attraction for the Irish mind, as appearing in the legend of Deirdre and the sons of Usnach, or in the weird and savage tale of Balor’s daughter at Tory Island in Donegal. [24]

The three sons of “Turrolbh mac Stairn” [25] —Crochan, [26] Sall, and Daithlionn [27] —had a most beautiful sister, of whom it had been prophesied by Cathba, the chief Druid of King Conor mac Nessa, just before the Christian era, that should she desert the single life, her brothers’ lives were fated to end. They accordingly built a fort named “Cathair na haon mna,” the stone fort of the one woman, and immured her in it, building three forts for themselves to the landward, called after their owners, Cahercrochaun, Cahersaul, and Dundahlin. There they long warded their hapless sister, till three brothers—chiefs of the Corcomodruad tribe (in Corcomroe)—made a raid into Corcavaskin, and took the cattle from Loop Head. [28] Their names were Ruadhin of the fort of Moher ui ruidhin, at the Hag’s Head, Ceannuir of Liscannor, and Stuithin of the Magic Island of Kilstuithin or Kilstapheen in Liscannor Bay. [29] The three chiefs of Loop Head pursued the plunderers,whom they overtook at Creachoilean (the sand-bar of Creachalan at O’Brien’s Bridge, near Lehinch), [30] overthrew and slew them in a fierce battle, plundering and destroying their forts, save that of Stuithin, which sank beneath the waters of the bay, to reappear with evil omen to the beholder only once in seven years.

Meanwhile the too-amorous Dermot O’Duine, who had long since fallen in love with the description of the “lone woman,” learned by his magic ring that she was unguarded. Launching his magic “curragh,” he sped across the Shannon, won her affections, and bore the willing girl away. The heroes returned, laden with spoil, to find their sister gone; following the foot-prints, they tracked her to the cliff of Aillantriur, and from its summit saw her and her lover landing far away in Kerry. Beneath their feet yawned, then as now, the abyss of Pollnapeiste, where a hideous “piast” or sea-dragon had long made its lair till Dermot slew it. [31] The brothers saw their doom accomplished. Destiny had won, so, to escape any deadlier end, they grasped each other’s hands, sprang over the cliff, and perished in the waters.

To students of folk-lore the legend is an interesting mass of personification:—the “piast” is “the Deep, couching beneath”—the hungry surf, coiling, roaring, and ready to devour—in its rock-cleft. “Crochaun” is the low “humped hill”; “Sall,” the brine that flew across those storm-swept fields; and Dermot, perhaps, the conquering sun, breaking into the prison, giving life and love, but doomed to die, like Adonis, by the boar’s tusk of Winter.