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Customs, Lore and Legend of Other Clare Days:
Supernatural Animals

Co. Clare's version of the Loch Ness monster - the brocshee or fairy badger of Rath Lake near Corofin - managed to get front-page treatment in the Clare Champion after an alleged sighting by several local farmers in January, 1931. The tradition surrounding this otherworld creature seems to have had an enduring life. It is recorded in Frost's History of Clare that the badger first appeared in the area in the sixth century. It was his habit to come out from a nearby cave (Poulnabrocky) and commit depredations on the people and on their cattle. Pleas for help were made to all the holy men of the district, and finally the monster was brought to heel by St. Mac Creiche who managed to chain him to the bottom of the lake. This seems to have been a genuine folk-tradition for it was recorded many times over the past couple of centuries, one account, as already stated, as recently as 1931.

Brocshee, Rath, Corofin
Brocshee, Rath, Corofin

A more-or-less similar tradition comes from St. Senan's monastic island of Iniscathaigh (Scattery) in west Clare. Here the otherworld creature was a large cat (called the Foracat) who, amongst other things, devoured the saint's smith, Narach, but Senan rescued him in the nick of time and brought him forth alive. The story is recorded in the Life of St. Senan which goes on to state that the monster was chained by the saint to the bottom of Doolough lake, near Mount Callan. It seems significant that in both of these traditions an otherworld beast is overpowered by a saint or holy person - echoes of St. George and the dragon. In folklore monsters associated with water and the deeps are frequently regarded as symbols of chaos and death. The legends of the brochee and the monster or peist of Doolough could therefore be regarded as allegorical tales symbolizing the triumph of Christianity over the forces of darkness. A water sprite of a different kind was associated with the picturesque lake of Killone. This was a mermaid who reputedly used to swim from the lake along the stream that flowed under the cellars of the O'Brien mansion at Newhall, in order to steal the wine, until the lord of the manor concealed himself and stabbed her. Whereupon with an unearthly shriek she uttered the famous curse on his lineage:

As the mermaid goes on to the sea,
A wretched victim devoid of flesh and blood,
So shall be the departure of the O'Briens
Till they leave Killone in wild weeds.

Yet another fabled being frequently encountered in the folklore of Clare is the Swan Maiden of lake Inchiquin, near Corofin, who, as the story goes, was captured by, but later married a handsome chieftain of the O'Quins with tragic consequences for his race. The story is an attractive version of the mermaid or melusine-type tale which is found under various guises in the oral literature of many cultures. The hinterland of lake Inchiquin is also the setting for an assortment of Fenian tales, including the well-known Feis Tí Chonáin, or The Feast of the House of Conan.

Peists, Dysert O'Dea
Peists, Dysert O'Dea

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