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

A Folklore Survey of County Clare by Thomas Johnson Westropp


Miscellanea and Addenda

Treasure Legends and Hunting
Many forts have been much defaced by persons seeking treasure, though treasure legends are few. Caherscrebeen, near Lemeneagh castle (the Caherscribnib of 1551),[236] is said to be the richest fort in Ireland, having three rooms full respectively ‘of gold, deer’s tallow, and beor lochlanagh’ or Dane’s beer (made by a lost recipe from heather and ‘the finest of all drinks’).[237] Treasure-hunting is, so far as I have learned, in nearly every case in consequence of a dream, especially of a dream repeated more than once. No particular ceremony seems to have been used. The dreamer went, usually by night and sometimes alone or sometimes with a few friends, to the spot indicated, and dug until tired and hope of success was lost. Most of the damage done to stone forts and castles results, in the former from rabbit hunters, and in the latter from people getting material for other buildings. Silver (money) is believed to be buried in the mound of Lismehane castle, and near the curiously scribed rock of Cloch-an-airgid (rock of the silver) near Bohneill castle. I have seen in the field within Dunlicka castle, near Kilkee, the holes made by a seeker who was told to dig where he saw a rush growing. ‘The great Clare gold find’ in 1845, near Moghane fort, enriched archaeology rather than folklore. But the finders in some cases believed it to be fairy gold, and the people of Newmarket-on-Fergus tell that those who got it, with one exception, did not profit by it; the one lucky exception did not find his prosperity permanent. The only interesting treasure tale I have found is that of the townland of Skaghvickencrow (MacEnchroe’s hawthorn), told by Dr. G. U. MacNamara.[238] A certain Flann MacDonnchaidh, a very poor man, lived near the bush long ago, and dreamt ‘again and again’ that, if he went to the Bald Bridge, Droichiod maol-na-Luimneaigh (Ball’s Bridge in Limerick City), he would find money and make his fortune. He went there and walked up and down until he was worn out. He was on the point of going away when a cobbler asked him what he was about, and he told his story. The cobbler laughed, and told how he himself had dreamed of finding treasure under a bush at a place called Skaghvickencrow, but had wasted no time in looking for it.[239] MacDonnchaidh returned home, dug, and found a flag with an inscription in an unknown tongue. He left the stone on his hearth, and, as no local scholar could read it, he troubled no more about the matter. Years went by, and one night a wandering schoolmaster asked for hospitality, and of course got it. The ‘angel unawares’ translated the inscription as ‘one side is more lucky than the other.’ Next day, when his guest was gone, MacDonnchaidh dug, and found so much money as to make rich men of himself and his descendants.[240]

Funerals and Graveyards
Though I have frequently attended funerals of persons of all classes and denominations in many parts of Clare, I have very little to tell of the ceremonies. Sometimes I have seen spades crossed on a grave, and long ago saw three crosses, made of twigs from a hawthorn tree in a graveyard, placed on a coffin. The body is usually carried feet foremost round the graveyard sunwise, and sometimes, but rarely, three times. The horrible habit of digging out all the contents of the grave is usual; the older coffin planks are thrown away, and the human remains placed on the new coffin. Where burials take place at short intervals the results are best left untold, but such cases are rare. A consequence of this fearful overcrowding is that no old graveyard is free from coffin planks and plates, bones, and fragmentary or whole skulls. Those who saw Quin ‘Abbey’ before 1879 will remember the enormous heap of skulls, (even then, however, much diminished), heaped round a tree near the graveyard gate. At Tomfinlough the bones and skulls were neatly stacked in a recess, at Kilmacreehy they were heaped on a sort of side altar in the chancel, and in other churches (Coad etc.) I have seen single skulls staring out of holes in the wall.

Places for the burial of strangers and unbaptized children are common, and are usually killeens, old forgotten church sites, sometimes in a fort, sometimes at a well, or enclosed in a field.[241] Those at Kilquane near Ennis; Fomerla, near Tulla; Kyleeáne, near Barefield (with Doughnambraher stone); and Kilvoydane, near Spansil Hill, have basin stones. Some killeens, such as that between the forts of Mortyclogh, near Corcomroe Abbey, and that at Fortanne, have crept back into favour for adult burial, but several ancient churches at which bones are found have not been so used in traditional memory (e.g. Toomullin, Crumlin, Killonaghan, and Kilbract, round Lisdoonvarna; Templeline, in Carran; Temple-an-aird, near Carrigaholt; St. Senan’s, on Mutton Island; Temple aed O’Connell, near Ruan; and several churches on Scattery and Iniscaltra). The church of Kilcashen was not remembered to have been a burial place before Eugene O’Curry’s grandfather, Melachein O’Curry, in a pestilence about 1760, charitably collected the deserted unburied corpses ‘on carts and sledges’ and buried them at the ruin on his farm.[242] Bodies were similarly buried during the Great Famine at the Lisheen, near Lough Fergus. Oughtdarra, near Lisdoonvarna, has the remains of a church of St. Sinnach MacDara,[243] where children under seven years of age are buried; after that age bodies are taken to the parish graveyard at Killilagh. In Shanakill, on the Shannon bank opposite Scattery, it was believed that the dead were moved supernaturally under the river into the Sacred Isle.[244] I know of a case in eastern Clare where parents, having lost several of their children, tried to break the deadly record by changing their burial place, but, alas! without success.

I am not aware of any belief in Clare that the spirit of the last-comer in a graveyard has to watch the place or to bring water to the souls in Purgatory. There was, however, recently a race between two funerals to Rathblamac graveyard, which may imply some such belief. The custom of burying a stone from a church or an ancient tombstone in a new grave, (which has led to the disappearance of several early monuments at Clonmacnoise), prevails at Tomgraney, two ancient tombstones having recently been recovered on digging new graves. As we have already seen, St. Mochulla’s well avenged the encroachment of its landlord on the killeen beside it, but the graveyards of Kildimo, near Kilkee, and St. Catherine’s at Kells, near Corofin, are under cultivation. Dr. MacNamara noted a curious allusion to the last-named in O’Daly’s fierce satire on ‘The Tribes of Ireland’ in 1610. The people of Kells are there reproached for ‘digging the churchyard in the snow.’ The oldest Irish Law Code, the ‘Seanchus Mór’, has a clause against digging in a churchyard or breaking bones there. Kildimo was levelled, and its site included in an orchard by 1816.[245] Interference with human remains is deeply and dangerously resented, yet spells are sometimes worked with them. The stealing of a dead man’s hand for a butter charm is said to have taken place near Kilkee, and the bones of a Franciscan with the brown cloth of his gown still adhering, found during the repairs at Ennis Abbey, were nearly all taken, but probably from most reverential motives.

Marriage Tabu
In eastern Clare, a newly-married woman attended Mass on the Sunday next after her marriage, and was severely criticised for doing so. Local opinion held that she and her husband ought not to attend public worship until the second Sunday after the marriage.[246]

Ghosts or Fairy Men
Mary (Mescal) Doyle, of Newmarket-on-Fergus, tells how she saw two ghostly men in black walking on a road near that village.

Stolen Bride
A legend of a stolen bride at Querin on the Shannon is told in Lady Wilde’s ‘Ancient Legends etc. of Ireland’ (1887), vol. i., p. 49.

In concluding this survey of the traditional beliefs (other than folk-tales) of County Clare, I am quite prepared to learn that I have failed to secure much that is well known to residents in the county. Even my mistakes and omissions, if they lead the people of Clare to abandon their apathy and to correct and supply the deficiencies of my notes, will have helped on the cause of Irish folklore study, and much that is on the point of being forgotten may be rescued for scientific workers on that most important and fascinating subject.

Thos. J. Westropp.


Chapter 19