Myth, Fact or Legend?
The following stories have been passed down from generation to generation by my kinfolk. Are they myth, fact or legend? You be the judge!
The mystery of the Arranmore pearls started sometime in the 1920's and continues to this day. There are supposed to be a total of four pearls, presently located in a London bank vault.
Were the pearls once the property of Red Hugh O'Donnell, given to him by King Philip of Spain in the late 16th century? Did they come from a shipwreck off Arranmore? Did children really play with them thinking they were marbles?
The only facts known about the pearls is that they were once in the possession of Anthony O'Donnell, better known as Anthony the post, whose sister Mary somehow took possession of them. While living in London Mary had a close friend, a Mr. Ernest A. Chapman, who upon her death on March 25th, 1940, took a keen interest in the pearls, even publishing several pamphlets and leaflets about them. They then somehow landed in a London bank vault. Anthony the post died on January 24th, 1952 leaving the pearls a mystery forever. Ernest Chapman died in 1965 making no reference to the pearls in his will. If anyone has any information about the pearls please e-mail us your story.
In November of 1641 a terrible tragedy befell the people of Arranmore when one of Cromwell's captains, a Captain Conyngham of Doe Castle, along with his men, massacred almost the entire population of Arranmore.
The island people, upon seeing the galleys containing soldiers approaching Arranmore, hid themselves in a sea cliff cave for seven days as the soldiers scoured the island taking anything of value including sheep and cattle. As they were preparing to leave, having assumed that the islanders had somehow managed to escape to the mainland a women was seen at the cave's entrance or a baby cried loudly depending on who is telling this story. Whatever the reason the soldiers discovered the people and all were slaughtered except a few men who managed to escape prior to the slaughter. Two of these men were Aodh Bawn and Seamus Crone. One of those slaughtered was the mother of Aodh Bawn. Both of these men having lost relatives to the swords of Conyngham's soldiers swore that someday they would get their revenge. As fate would have it they observed Conyngham along with an attendant out riding one day. They caught up with them and while Conyngham pled for his life they killed him bestowing upon him the same mercy he had shown to the islanders in the Cave of Slaughter, as it has come to be known. His attendant was let go unharmed.
The Cave of Slaughter is near St. Crone's Church but we do not recommend looking for it as there are no signs posted and you could easily fall into it becoming a victim yourself.
As a very young boy I can remember my very wise but very superstitious (as many Irish Island women were and are for good reason) grandmother telling me about ghosts and fairies. There are many traditions and things to do to protect oneself when dealing with the fairies, such as bringing holy water onboard a boat to safeguard the crew and their catch. Always protect a hawthorn bush or fairy bush as it is fairy ground protected by the wee folk. If you do not believe just ask the driver of a JCB digger who around 1985 in Clonmany, Annagh touched a fairy bush with the digger only to have it break and upon returning home found his house containing all of his possessions burnt to the ground.
There was once a fisherman, Bill Quigley, who lived on Arranmore Island. He was a poor man who depended on the sea for his livelihood, especially if his crops failed. Normally either the land or the sea would be enough to keep him from poverty, but one particular year both failed him. The weather had been disastrous and no matter how long he perservered ar sea he failed to catch even a handful of fish but still he had to try as his only alternative was starvation. An event was about to occur, however, that was to change his fortunes, and his life, entirely.
While he was out enduring his hardship at sea one day, a sea maiden rose from the waves at the side of his boat. Bill was so engrossed in his own desperate situation that even the appearance of a water spirit did not startle him. She asked him politely if he was catching many fish, and he replied dejectedly that luck and fortune had truly forgotten him and things could only get worse. "What reward would you give me for providing plenty of fish for you?" asked the sea maiden. "Ace!" said Bill, "I have not much to spare." "Would you give me the first son you have? "queried the sea maiden. "I would if I were ever to have a son," he answered. "Go home and remember when your son is twenty-years old to send him to me and you will have plenty of fish after this."
Time passed; everything happened as the sea maiden had predicted and Bill caught plenty of fish and even his crops were good. He married a local girl and reared several children. Bill never related his encounter with the sea maiden to anyone. As the twentieth year approached the old man became increasingly sorrowful and heavy of heart, and found no peace or contentment day or night. The eldest son Diarmaid, noticing his father's distress, asked him one day, "Is there anything troubling you?" The old man replied, "Yes there is but that is nothing to do with you or anyone else." The son insisted and the father eventually told him the story about the sea maiden and the deal he had made with her. "Let that not trouble you," comforted the son, "I will not oppose." The father, whose grief had overcome him, cried out, "You shall not go! You shall not go, my son, should it mean I never fish again!" Diarmaid replied, "I think it is time for me to grasp my own fate and go to seek my fortune wherever it lies."
The next morning he saddled his father's black horse and he took the world for his pillow. He had been traveling on the road some time when he chanced upon the carcass of a sheep. A great black dog, a gray falcon and a brown otter were standing around the carcass arguing over who should get what share. They stopped Diarmaid and asked him to make the decision. He came down from his horse and divided the carcass with his sword, giving three shares to the dog, two to the otter and one to the falcon. The animals were so pleased to have the argument settled that they decided to reward him for his good deed. If ever he were in need, the otter promised to help with swimming skills, the falcon with swiftness of wing, and the dog with fleetness of foot. On hearing this, Diarmaid thanked them wholeheartedly and continued onwards.
After a time had passed, he met and married a king's daughter. On the day his father had promised him to the sea maiden, Diarmaid and his wife happened to be walking along the seashore. Before they had gone very far the sea maiden appeared from the waters and seized Diarmaid, without leave or asking. The princess was heartbroken about her one and only love and was inconsolable in her grief. She took her harp to the seashore and played continuously in the hope of comforting her husband and in some way being close to him.
After a time, the sea maiden was so enchanted with the music that she rose from the waves in order to hear more clearly. The princess promptly stopped playing and refused to continue. "No not until I see my husband again," she demanded. So the sea maiden reluctantly revealed Diarmaid's head above the water. The princess played on for a short time and then stopped again. "I will not continue until you take him out completely," she insisted. The sea maiden responded by raising Diarmaid above the water but only to waist level. The princess continued to bargain with her until she eventually brought Diarmaid fully out of the sea and onto the shore.
The sea maiden, in her greed, decided that the princess would be a much better catch than her husband, so she left him on the shore and took her in his place. When the news spread about the sea maidens treachery there was great mourning in the area. Diarmaid spent so many lonely days and nights wandering up and down the shore searching for his wife that he began to lose all hope of ever seeing his young love again. Then one day he chanced upon a strange little man who was familiar with his predicament.
He began to tell Diarmaid about the only possible way of regaining the princess and ultimately his happiness. "In the island that is nearest to the shore there is a white-footed bird with the slenderest of legs and the swiftest step; and though she be caught, there may spring a houdi (the soul of a spirit) out of her; and though the houdi be caught, there may spring spring a trout out of her; and though the trout be caught there may be an egg in the mouth of the trout. The soul of the sea maiden will be in the egg and if the egg breaks she will be dead."
Diarmaid then decided to call on the great black dog, the falcon and the otter for help. They dutifully came to the rescue. Diarmaid mounted his horse and jumped the narrow strait onto the island. The black dog took off after the white-footed bird and soon had it trapped. Suddenly, just as the strange little man had predicted, the houdi sprang out from her and into the air. The gray falcon with sharp eye and swift wing tracked the houdi and quickly brought it to earth, whereupon out jumped the trout into the sea. The otter pursued and caught the trout which it dragged ashore. At once an egg appeared from the trout's mouth.
The sea maiden, realizing that her secret was out, emerged by Diarmaid's side and begged him for forgiveness and to spare her life. "Break not the egg and you will get all you ask," she pleaded. But Diarmaid took no pity on the selfish and greedy creature who had caused him such pain and sorrow. He demanded the return of his beloved princess. Before he could utter another word she appeared before him. Diarmaid gazed longingly at her, then lifted his foot and slowly crushed the egg that held the soul of the sea maiden. Diarmaid and his princess left the island and traveled home, never again to be disturbed by scheming female spirits from the ocean depths. This story was reprinted from the book That Land Beyond.
It is said that this story was told by Pádraic H. Pearse himself, sitting in front of a warm turf fire on a cold winter's night, sipping from a hot cup of tea in a cozy wee cottage on Arranmore.
Awalking-man, it was, come into my father's house out of the Joyce Country, that told us this story by the fireside one wild winter's night. The wind was wailing round the house, like women keening the dead, while he spoke, and he would make his voice rise or fall according as the wind's voice would rise or fall. A tall man he was, with wild eyes, and his share of clothes almost in tatters. There was a sort of fear on me of him when he came in, and his story didn't lessen my fear.
The three most blessed beasts in the world, says the walking-man, are the haddock, the robin redbreast, and God's cow. And the three most cursed beasts in the world are the viper, the wren, and the dearg-daol (`black chafer'). And it's the dearg-daol is the most cursed of them. 'Tis I that know that. Woman of the house, if a man would murder his son, don't call him the dearg-daol. If a woman would come between yourself and the husband of your bed, don't put her in comparison with the dearg-daol.
`God save us,' says my mother.
He didn't speak again for a spell. We all listened, for we knew he was going to tell a story. It wasn't long before he began.
When I was a lad, says the walking- man, there was a woman of our people that everybody was afraid of. In a little, lonely cabin in a gap of a mountain, it was, she lived. No one would go near her house. She, herself, wouldn't come next or near any other body's house. Nobody would speak to her when they met her on the road. She wouldn't put word nor wisdom on anybody at all. You'd think a pity to see the creature and she going the road alone.
`Who is she,' I would say to my mother, `or why wouldn't they speak to her?' `Whisht, boy,' my mother would say to me.`That's the Dearg-daol. 'Tis a cursed woman she is.' `What did she do, or who put the curse on her?' I would say. `A priest of God that put the curse on her,' my mother would say. `No one in life knew what she did.'
And that's all the knowledge I got of her until I was a grown chap. And indeed to you, neighbors, I never heard anything about her but that she committed some dreadful sin at the start of her life, and that the priest put his curse on her before the people on account of that sin. One Sunday, when the people were gathered at Mass, the priest turned round on them, and says he---
`There is a woman here,' says he, `that will merit eternal damnation for herself and for every person that makes familiar with her. And I say to that woman,' says he, `that she is a cursed woman, and I say to you, let you not have intercourse or neighborliness with that woman but as much as you'd have with a dearg-daol. Rise up now, Dearg-daol,' says he, `and avoid the company of decent people henceforth.'
The poor woman got up, and went out the chapel door. There was no name on her from that out but the Dearg-daol. Her own name and surname were put out of mind. 'Twas said that she had the evil eye. If she'd look on a calf or a sheep that wasn't her own, the animal would die. The women were afraid to let their children out on the street if the Dearg-daol was going the road.
I married a comely girl when I was of the age of one-and-twenty. We had a little slip of a girl, and we had hopes of another child. One day when I was cutting turf in the bog, my wife was feeding the fowl on the street, when she saw---God between us and harm---the Dearg-daol making on her up the bohereen, and she with the little, soft pataire of a child in her arms. An arm of the child was about the woman's neck, and her shawl covering her. Speech left my wife.
The Dearg-daol laid the little girl in her mother's breast. My woman
took notice that her clothes were wet. `What happened the child?' says
The other woman went off before she had time to say more. My wife fetched the little wee thing inside, she dried her, and put her to sleep. When I came in from the bog she told me the story. The two of us prayed our blessing on the Dearg-daol that night.
The day after, the little girl began prattling about the woman that saved her. `The water was in my mouth, and in my eyes, and in my ears,' says she. `I saw shining sparks, and I heard a great noise; I was slipping and slipping,' says she; `and then,' says she, `I felt a hand about me, and she lifted me up and she kissed me. I thought it was at home, I was, when I was in her arms and her shawl about me,' says she.
A couple of days after that my wife noticed the little thing away from her. We sought her for the length of two hours. When she came home she told us that she was after paying a visit to the woman that saved her. `She made a cake for me,' says she. `She has ne'er a one in the house at all but herself, and she said to me I should go visiting her every evening.'
Neither I nor my wife was able to say a word against her. The Dearg-daol was after saving our girl's life, and it wouldn't be natural to hinder the child going into her house. From that day out the little girl would go up the hill to her every day.
The neighbours said to us that it wasn't right. There was a sort of suspicion on ourselves that it wasn't right, but how could we help it?
Would you believe me, people? From the day the Dearg-daol laid eyes on the little girl, she began dwindling and dwindling, like a fire that wouldn't be mended. She lost her appetite and her activity. After a quarter she was only a shadow. After another month she was in the churchyard.
The Dearg-daol came down the mountain the day she was buried. She wouldn't be let into the graveyard. She went her road up the mountain again alone. My heart bled for the creature, for I knew that our trouble was no heavier than her trouble. I myself went up the hill the morning of the next day. I meant to say to her that neither my wife nor myself had any upbraiding for her. I knocked at the door. I didn't get any answer. I went into the house. The ashes were red on the hearth. There was no one at all to be seen. I noticed a bed in the corner. I went over to the bed. The Dearg-daol was lying there, and she cold dead.
There wasn't any luck on me or on my household from that day out. My wife died a month after that, and she in childbirth. The child didn't live. There fell a murrain on my cattle the winter following. The landlord put me out of my holding. I am a walking man, and the roads of Connacht before me, from that day to this.
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