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A Folklore Survey of County Clare by Thomas Johnson Westropp


Spectral Lands and Cities

Clare formed a part of the outmost fringe of the ancient world, and its people were deeply impressed with the mysteries and wonders of the Outer Ocean. The voyage of Maelduin tells of the son of a Clare man sailing out into ‘the great endless deep’ and finding isles of surpassing beauty and wonder, and the ‘Hui Corra’ in deep repentance sailed towards the setting sun from the creek at the northern bound of Clare ‘to meet the Lord on the sea.’[94] St. Brendan, eager to seek out new islands, went for advice to St. Enda, a saint closely connected with Clare, (where Killeany bears his name), and its appanage, Aran. In the bay to the north of Clare William Ires, a native of Galway, became accustomed to the ocean which he crossed with Columbus, and it may be that his tales of Hy Brasil, of St. Brendan’s Isle, and of the ‘thrice fifty distant Isles in the ocean to the west of us. Larger than Erin, twice is each of them, or thrice,’[95] encouraged the frightened sailors of the great Admiral to persevere a little longer.

Hy Brasil,[96] the Isle of the Blessed, is possibly a legacy from ancient paganism, which placed its Tirnan-oge, The Land of Youth, in the waves ‘on the west side down from Aran, where goes the sun to its couch.’[97] The desire for the ageless, deathless land prevailed all up the western coast, and was strong in Kilkee in 1868-78, and perhaps even still. I myself saw the mirage several times in 1872 giving the prefect image of a shadowy island with wooded hills and tall towers springing into sight for a moment as the sun sank below the horizon. I have also heard from Kilkee fishermen legends, like that embodied in the verses of Gerald Griffin, of men starting seaward to reach its fairy shores, and never returning.

Another magic island was Kilstuitheen, or Kilstuiffen, in Liscannor Bay. On the southern shore, in 1839, there was said to have been an ecclesiastical city swallowed up by the earthquake that split Innis Fitae into the present three islands,[98] which suggests derivation from O’Conor’s then recent version of the various Irish Annals. On the northern shore the tradition was fuller. Kilstuitheen sank when its chieftain lost its golden key in battle, nor will it be restored until the key is recovered from its hiding place, under the ogham-inscribed gravestone of ‘Conan’ on Mount Callan. (When that place was dug out only bones and rusted iron were found.)[99] The island, with its golden-roofed palaces, churches, and towers, may at times be seen shining far below the waves, but once in seven years it rises above them, and those who see it then are said to die before its next appearance. The fishermen

‘point how high the billows roll above lost Kilsafeen,
Its palaces and towers of pride
All buried in the rushing tide
And deep-sea waters green.’[100]

Comyn, in ‘The Adventures of the Three Sons of Thorailbh’ (1750), connects it with the raid of Crochaun, Dahlin, and Sal in the time of Finn and their defeat of Ruidin, Ceannir, and Stuithin. Legend near Lehinch places the battle at Bohercrochaun. A pretty legend in 1878 told how those rowing over the sunken island smell the flowers of its fields through the waters.[101]

Another sunken island off Loop Head is named by the Rev. John Graham and the Halls, [102] and called Kilstiffin or Kilstapheen. I heard no such tradition in Moyarta, but O’Curry alludes to it without contradiction, although he was a native and son of a veritable repertory of the local legends of the Irrus.[103] The towers and other edifices were visible at times under the waves, and its inhabitants sometimes raised destructive storms over its site when all around was calm.

The large lake of Cullaun (Cullaunyheeda) near Tulla is reputed to cover a palace or a city. Tradition said that a chief, Sioda MacNamara, (probably the restorer of the beautiful ‘Abbey’ of Quin in 1402), was carried into the depths by a ‘water horse’ which he had caught and trained. The rock off which his treacherous steed leaped was shown before 1870, and the chief was believed to be sleeping till ‘the last weird battle in the west,’ doomed to win Ireland her liberty and a glorious place amongst the nations. It seems likely that it was from the same lake that magic cattle issued, as I heard about Kilkishen, near it, in 1877. A local bard, Michael Hogan, refers to the lake in one of his poems,[104] but how far he embodies local legend I am unable to say. His light-hearted, if lawless, hero is surprised on coming to ‘Cullaun’s fairy waters’ to see a noble park instead of a lake. He hits his cow in surprise, and she leaps the fence. Following her he reaches the palace of an ancient chief, who entertains him and dismisses him with his marvellously fattened cow. He finds that he has been absent for a year under the waters of the lake.

‘Thro’ wild Cullane’s embowering shades—
Beneath the silver starlight, sleeping,
He pass’d—the trees, with silent heads,
Upon his darken’d path hung weeping.
He turned to see the Lake’s blue plain,
With all its emerald glories round it;
But there appear’d a grand demense,
By towering elms and poplars bounded.
          .      .      .      .      .      .      .

He look’d behind—the scene was gone—
A thrill of wonder gather’d o’er him;
For, nothing save the blue Lake shone
With all its silver curls, before him.’

There was another legend, but a very vague one, about a city submerged by a magic well under the beautiful lake of Inchiquin. The legend seems to have died out near Corofin. Another curious legend about Inchiquin lake was found by Dr. G. U. MacNamara, to the effect that the lake originated from an old woman piercing the earth with a spindle, when waters burst out and filled the valley.


Chapter 8


Chapter 10