1Borlase, William Copeland. The Dolmens of Ireland Their Distribution, Structural Characteristics, (...). Vol. 3. London: Chapman & Hall, 1897. 837-39.
Borlase is only one of a number of authors who have attributed this poem to Jonathan Swift. However Conwell (1864) suggests that it may have been a different writer: "I have also heard these lines attributed to Miss Brooke, daughter of Henry Brooke (a pupil of Dr. Sheridan's), who was then living at Mullagh, about two miles from Quilca. As [the verses are] possessing local interest, I submit them; although I suppose they have been corrupted since they were originally written." (Conwell, Eugene A. "On Ancient Sepulchral Cairns on the Loughcrew Hills." Proceedings of the Royal Irish Academy 9 (1864-1866): 357-58). Conwell also quotes John O'Donovan (1836) as writing about the legend, "In giving the jump, she [the Hag] slipped and fell in the townland of Patrickstown, in the parish of Diamor, where she broke her neck. Here she was buried; and her grave was to be seen not many years ago in the field called "[Irish] Cul a mota (i.e. back of the moat), about two hundred perches to the east of the moat in that townland; but it is now destroyed."
A rather amusing notice regarding the legend of the Loughcrew Hag, apparently taken literally by the author, appeared in 1836 in a Dublin magazine: "In the background are three hills, Corstown, Newtown, and Kearn Of Cairn-bawn, which signifies the white-heap, so called from an immense heap of stones, said by the credulous and ignorant, to have been deposited there in days of other years, by an ancient witch, who, filling her apron, hopped over to Newtown- hill. and there dropped a sufficient quantity to raise another large heap-then taking a second hop to Corstown- hill, she succeeded in emptying her apron, and forming a third conspicuous heap, 'but unhappily broke her leg; here is shown a large stone, formed like a sofa-bed, which is called the witches-bed or chair, and contained a hole for her pipe. How absurd an idea, as tobacco is rather of modem introduction; yet such are the legends and stories prevalent over the entire country. There is another stone shown which, it is said, marks her burying place-there are circles of stones on one side of the cairn, and similar· circles on the top of Kearn, bawn. I have no doubt but some of the learned of the present time may be able to assign some rational cause for the erection of those rude heaps." (Eastforest, Arab (sic). "Loughcrew, County of Meath." The Dublin Penny Journal 4.192 (1836): 287.)
The full text of the poem, as quoted by Conwell:
"Twelve giant elks, trained to the car,
Had brought the warlike dame from far
Bengore—where reigned the dreadful war.
When morning dawned, the board was spread
With cresses, nuts, and berries red;
And Garvogue left her heather bed.
Black Ramor, Crewe, and glassy Sheel
Sent up the bream, the brae, and eel,
At mid-day for her ample meal.
Twelve haunches of the fattest elk,
Twelve measures of the richest milk,
Twelve breasts of eagles from the height,
Composed the meal for eve or night.
Ere Finn and Gall had raised the spear—
Ere Caolta chased the mountain deer—
Titanic Garvogue held her sway—
The feast at night—the chase by day.
Her pack just numbered threescore ten—
No fleeter ever crossed a glen:
Ked Spidogue, with her broad, full, chest,
And Isogue, round ribbed, and the best.
Determined now her tomb to build,
Her ample skirt with stones she filled,
And dropped a heap on Carnmore;
Then stepped one thousand yards, to Loar,
And dropped another goodly heap;
Gained Carnbeg; and on its height
Displayed the wonders of her might.
And when approached death's awful doom,
Her chair was placed within the womb
Of hills whose tops with heather bloom."
2Conwell, Eugene A. "On Ancient Sepulchral Cairns on the Loughcrew Hills." Proceedings of the Royal Irish Academy 9 (1864-1866): 357-58.
This text may be read in its entirety here.
3"Loughcrew | Sliabh na Caillíghe | The Mountains of the Witch." Sacred Island, Guided Tours by Martin Byrne. Web. 04 Oct. 2012. <http://www.carrowkeel.com/sites/loughcrew/loughcrew.html>.
The Irish Cailleach Bhéara is pronounced "Kalyakh Vayra."
4Conwell. "On Ancient Sepulchral Cairns on the Loughcrew Hills." 377.
A report here suggests that new archaeological investigative tools have uncovered evidence of additional Loughcrew sites. A 1995 journal article calls the discovery of a ceremonial entranceway, the Loughcrew Cursus, "...an important addition to the monument complex at Loughcrew." (Newman, Conor. "A Cursus at Loughcrew, Co. Meath." Archaeology Ireland 9.4 (1995): 19-21.)
In 1998 we videotaped an interview with Phillip David, then a student in archaeology, as he conducted exploratory fieldwork at Loughcrew with a proton procession magnetometer.
5The passage into Cairn T is open, with OPW guides in attendance, daily during the months of June, July, and August from 10:.00 a.m. until 6:00 p.m.. Last admission to Cairn T is 45 minutes before closing. More information here. At other times a key may be borrowed for a €50 deposit and/or a driving license/passport from the tea house at nearby Loughcrew Gardens.
6Carnebane West is closed to visitors due to concerns regarding the transmission of agricultural diseases from other locations. Issues regarding the liability of the landowner may also have been a concern. In addition, the restored tomb on the hill, Cairn L, has a locked entry gate; the key is not available to visitors.
7In his articles and books published after his 1863 visits to the Loughcrew tombs, Eugene Alfred Conwell devised an alphabetic naming system for the monuments. This is still used to reference the tombs today.
8The interactive map, only visible when the virtual-reality tour is viewed in full-screen mode, expands the relative size of the Cairn T passage in order to allow the placement of its four different hotspots. Click here to see how this not-to-scale version of the tomb differs from a realistic depiction of the size of the passage.
9Apparently William Wakeman wrote a paper on Loughcrew, read at Oxford in 1858. It is unclear if Conwell was aware of this before he read his own paper in 1864. (Hobson, Mary. "The Great Burial Mounds at Loughcrew, County Meath." Journal of the County Louth Archaeological Society 2.3 (1910): 247.)
10Conwell. "On Ancient Sepulchral Cairns on the Loughcrew Hills." 357-58.
The paper was read by Conwell at the Academy in 1864.
In a later article, developed into a book, Conwell described his first impression of the Loughcrew vista:
"When the sun shines out resplendently over these hills, chasing away the gloom of darkness which occasionally, and often very suddenly, obscures their summits, the gorgeous panorama, displaying a profuse wealth of natural attractions, is seen with great distinctness of outline, and presents a prospect probably one of the most diversified and beautiful in the whole island. Nature seems to have lavished her choicest treasures upon the scene, and the magnificent combination of receding eminences, and distant lakes, and gracefully undulating plains, could not fail to quicken the imagination to a profound sense of solemn grandeur." (Conwell, Eugene A. "On the Identification of the Ancient Cemetery at Loughcrew, Co. Meath; And the Discovery of the Tomb of Ollamh Fodhla." Proceedings of the Royal Irish Academy. Polite Literature and Antiquities 1 (1879): 82-3.)
11Conwell, Eugene A. "On the Identification of the Ancient Cemetery at Loughcrew, Co. Meath; And the Discovery of the Tomb of Ollamh Fodhla." Proceedings of the Royal Irish Academy. Polite Literature and Antiquities 1 (1879): 73+.
Conwell credits William Fergusson as being the first to suggest the identification of Loughcrew with Tailteann. But he offers that he (Conwell) introduced Fergusson to the site: "The wild legend that a witch had scattered these great heaps of stones out of her apron has been doing duty in this locality, from time immemorial, for the real name and history of the place; and probably would have continued for many a day longer to perpetuate the fanciful story, had not James Fergusson, Esq., D.C.L., F.R.S., &c., on 16th of August, 1870, carefully gone over the hills under our guidance.
This practised explorer, acute observer, and clear-minded author has just published a large volume, entitled "Rude Stone Monuments in all Countries: their Age and Uses"-in our opinion the most sensible, best written, and best arranged book ever published upon the subject of which it treats. In this profusely illustrated Work he has the honour of being the first to suggest, and he deserves the hearty thanks of every Irish Archaeologist for having done so, that these carns must be the remains of the cemetery of Taillten, thus affording the means of restoring a name and history to the great and forgotten "city of the dead" on the heights now called the Loughcrew Hills."
In a 1930 article another author proffers additional evidence to buttress the Conwell and Fergusson arguments: "The next most necessary requirement in searching for Tailtean is to discover a PAGAN CEMETERY. Well, a pagan cemetery or trace of such a cemetery at Teltown there is none. 'Fifty mounds, the old poem in Leabkar na hUidhre' says, were on Tailtean. 'Oh they were there, but have been destroyed,'- say the apologists for Teltown. But vandalism was equally rampant and agricultural reclamation equally active at Brugh na Boinne, and yet they have not wiped away all traces of the pagan cemetery there. Nor would they at Teltown, had such ever existed there. Sliabh na Cailligh, on the other hand, is strewn for 2 miles with the remains of mounds and graves. Conwell in 1863 located and described the remains of thirty such sepulchral mounds or cairns. What a contrast!" (Morris, Henry. "Where Was Aonach Tailtean?" The Journal of the Royal Society of Antiquaries of Ireland Sixth 20.2 (1930): 113-29.)
12Conwell. Discovery of the Tomb of Ollamh Fodhla. 26-8.
This book may be read in its entirety here. The site that Conwell describes as "Ollamh Fodhla's Chair" may be viewed in a photograph on our Loughcrew page and in its virtual-reality environment.
13Hutton, Ronald. The Pagan Religions of the Ancient British Isles: Their Nature and Legacy. Oxford, UK: B. Blackwell, 1991. 55-57.
Hutton also describes a ritual practice deduced from evidence found in a Welsh passage tomb: "The most peculiar rite detectable in one of these monuments, however, came not from Ireland but from the Welsh passage grave of Barclodiad y Gawres. The builders had made what virtually all who write upon it cannot help but describe as a 'witches brew': a stew containing oysters, limpets, a winkle, two fish, an eel, a frog, a snake, a mouse and a shrew. This was poured over the cremated bones of two young people laid in the chamber, which had themselves been mixed with the bones of sheep." (54-5)
Wood-Martin considered (and apparently rejected) astronomical associations for the megalithic rock art: "Another idea was, that these figures were designed to represent astronomical phenomena. This notion was perhaps the most obvious, and the least easily disproved. It harmonizes also with what has been handed down respecting the elemental worship of the Pagan Celts. Nevertheless it seems open to obvious objections. In astronomical diagrams, one could hardly fail to recognize a single symbol conspicuous amongst the rest as denoting the sun or moon, or two such symbols denoting both these bodies. One might also expect to see some delineation—even by the rudest hand—of the phases of the moon. We look in vain for these indications of an astronomical reference in the groups of lines and circles. (Wood-Martin, W. G. Pagan Ireland; an Archaeological Sketch: A Handbook of Irish Pre-Christian Antiquities. London: Longmans, Green, and, 1895. 48.)
Archaeologist Robert Hensey suggests that the different theories of the origin and meaning of megalithic art may each contain such truth: "There may be more validity to some previous interpretations than is usually acknowledged, but because we are constantly in the process of shelving the last account in favour of a newer or more theoretically sophisticated one we generally fail to allow for this. Often the issue is not whether a particular interpretation has validity or not but rather that archaeologists have tried to put their interpretation of the art forward as exclusively correct. Yet, when the time-depth and stylistic variety of the art is taken into account we realise that there may be more than one passage tomb art and hence more than one valid explanation." (Hensey, Robert. "Assuming the Jigsaw Had Only One Piece: Abstraction, Figuration and the Interpretation of Irish Passage Tomb Art." Visualising the Neolithic: Abstraction, Figuration, Performance, Representation. Ed. Andrew Cochrane and Andrew Jones. Oakville, CT: Oxbow, 2012. 161.) In this article Hensey also quotes Professor Muiris O Suilleabhain in a comment about the study of megalithic art during the 1990s: "Research into the meaning of the art was regarded as something of a cul-de-sac by many archaeologists and the field was effectively abandoned to pseudo-scientists." (O'Sullivan, M. 1996. comment on "Entering alternative realities: cognition, art and architecture in Irish Passage Tombs" by J. Dronfield. Cambridge Archaeological Journal 6.1, (1996): 59.)
A journal in 1996 humorously suggested that "[prehistoric art's] function is analogous to graffiti - that it could have been produced mostly by young Homo sapiens males who were luring young females down into this cave and saying: 'Here, look at those bison I've drawn, aren't they cool?'" ("Spoil Heap." Archaeology Ireland 10.1 (1996): 36.)
14Jones, Carleton. Temples of Stone: Exploring the Megalithic Tombs of Ireland. Cork: Collins, 2007. 160.
Jones imagines the rituals associated the passage tombs: "A liminal area is an area that is in between. In a spiritual context, a liminal area can exist between two different levels of consciousness or experience. At Loughcrew, it is likely that the people who built the tombs lived in the surrounding low- lands rather than on the hilltops alongside the tombs and that they regarded the hilltops with their cairns as a liminal area or a threshold between the land of the living and the land of the dead ancestors. It has been postulated, therefore, that rituals may have involved groups of people ascending the hills above the everyday landscape and then processing amongst the tombs and perhaps interacting with the remains of the ancestors before descending again to the familiar everyday world." (209)
Author N. L Thomas postulated his own Neolithic "Rosetta Stone" with his explanation of the megalithic art at Loughcrew and other Irish passage tombs. (Thomas, N. L. Irish Symbols of 3500 BC. Cork: Mercier, 1988. 29-30.)
15Brennan, Martin. The Stones of Time: Calendars, Sundials, and Stone Chambers of Ancient Ireland. Rochester, VT: Inner Traditions, 1994. 46-8.
Many authors have referred to the decorated stone at Cairn X1 as the "Calendar Stone." This stone may be seen on our webpage in Du Noyer's illustration. One writer presents the statistics of passage tomb art and astronomical observations: "On a national scale, just 138 known passage tombs (64%) have extant passages, of which sixteen (11%) exhibit evidence for solstice alignment, being equally divided between the summer and the winter solstice. There is a strong association between solar alignments and the location of megalithic art in passage tombs. Approximately 35 (16%) passage tombs are decorated, of which about twelve exhibit kerb art, including five with decorated entrance stones, all in the Boyne Valley: Knowth 1 (both tombs), Knowth 13, Knowth 15, Newgrange and Dowth South. For that reason, artwork on the entrance kerbstone of site Xl at Loughcrew would place this site in exceptional company. It should also be noted that the rayed design featured on the decorated orthostat at site Xl is known elsewhere only at Knowth and Newgrange, occurring a number of times in both complexes, most spectacularly on kerbstone 15 at Knowth. (O'Sullivan, Muiris, Frank Prendergast, and Geraldine Stout. "An Intriguing Monument." Archaeology Ireland 24.1 (2010): 22.)
16Du Noyer, G.V., and W. Frazer. "On a Series of Coloured Drawings of Scribed Stones in the Lough Crew Cairns." Proceedings of the Royal Irish Academy 1 (1889-1901): 451-53.
Christine Zucchelli observed that, "Their [Fergusson's and Conwell's] ideas should only occasionally emerge in accounts from the 1930s, which mention that 'Queen Tailte and Queen Maeve' sat on the rock to proclaim their laws to the people." (Zucchelli, Christine. Stones of Adoration Sacred Stones and Mystic Megaliths of Ireland. Doughcloyne, Wilton, Cork: Collins, 2007. 23.)
17Ó Crualaoich, Gearóid. The Book of the Cailleach: Stories of the Wise-woman Healer. Cork: Cork UP, 2003. 48-52.
According to Professor Ó hÓgáin, "The Cailleach Bhéarra was credited with extremely sharp sight, being able to discern from a distance of twenty miles. It is said that she never carried mud on her feet from one place to another, and never threw out dirty water before bringing in clean." (Ó hÓgáin, Dáithí. Myth, Legend, and Romance: An Encyclopedia of the Irish Tradition, Prentice Hall, New York, 1991. 67-8.)
18Hull, Eleanor. "Legends and Traditions of the Cailleach Bheara or Old Woman (Hag) of Beare." Folklore 38.3 (1927): 229.
19Ó Crualaoich, Gearóid. "Non-Sovereignty Queen Aspects of the Otherworld Female in Irish Hag Legends: The Case of Cailleach Bhéarra." Béaloideas "Sounds from the Supernatural: Papers Presented at the Nordic-Celtic Legend Symposium" 62-63 (1994-1995): 147-62.
The author writes, "A huge population of the plain people of Ireland was, in those times, effectively beyond the reach of strict pastoral control or orthodox teaching by any church and that population's continued official and consciously - deliberate overall allegiance to Catholicism impinged to only a limited degree on ancestral loyalties in regard to the forces of the native Otherworld realm. These loyalties include in a pre- eminent way, loyalties to the name and the legends and the authority of the Goddess - and more specifically to her Cailleach / Hag persona - in its benign and nurturative as much as in its destructive and threatening forms."
In his book, Ó Crualaoich quotes Mairin Ni Dhonnchadha in the suggestion "that the author of the lament is an historical female poet, Digdi, who for the purposes of poetic composition, identified herself in the poem with the figure of Cailleach Bhearra." (Ó Crualaoich. The Book of the Cailleach. 48-52.)
20O'Donovan, John, and Michael O'Flanagan. Letters Containing Information Relative to the Antiquities of the County of Meath, Collected during the Progress of the Ordnance Survey in 1836. Bray, 1927. 96.
Of the Cailleach, Ó Crualaoich writes, "This personage is regarded in traditional cosmology as the personification, in divine female form, of the physical landscape within which human life is lived and also of the cosmic forces at work in that landscape. These forces can range from the power of wind and wave - seen at their most dramatic in fierce winter storms - to the pastoral and nurturing fertility forces of plant and animal life-orders within the landscape." (Ó Crualaoich. The Book of the Cailleach. 10-11.)
21The two songs excerpted here are "Season of the Witch" (1966) and "There is a Mountain" (1967), both written and performed by the Scottish folksinger Donovan. According to Wikipedia the inspiration for "There is a Mountain" derived from a Buddhist saying describing the effect of Chan (Zen) on perception: "Before... I saw mountains as mountains, and rivers as rivers. When I arrived at a more intimate knowledge, I came to the point where I saw that mountains are not mountains, and rivers are not rivers. But now that I have got its very substance I am at rest. For it's just that I see mountains once again as mountains, and rivers once again as rivers."
A further explanation of the powers of the Cailleach is provided by Ó Crualaoich: "This personage is regarded in traditional cosmology as the personification, in divine female form, of the physical landscape within which human life is lived and also of the cosmic forces at work in that landscape. These forces can range from the power of wind and wave - seen at their most dramatic in fierce winter storms - to the pastoral and nurturing fertility forces of plant and animal life-orders within the landscape. They can also be the geotectonic forces whose workings have left the physical landscape as it presents itself to human consciousness and to human life." (Ó Crualaoich. The Book of the Cailleach. 10-11.)
Today there continue to be spiritual seekers who may find within the legends of the Cailleach a deeper understand of their own place in the world.
22Ó Crualaoich, Gearóid. "Continuity and Adaptation in Legends of Cailleach Bhéarra." Béaloideas 56 (1998): 154-57.
In his book, however Ó Crualaoich expands on this theme, explaining that the Wise Woman's role in opposition to humankind may have been a Christian interpretation intending to raise the role of the priest: "[They were] well-regarded women, always ready to help those who seek their aid. Their powers and their knowledge are clearly shown as grounded in their access to the native otherworld and not, as in the clerical view, to an anti-Christian diabolic order. This mistaken clerical view is portrayed in story after story showing the wise-woman as a mediator (on the community's behalf), with the native otherworld, rather than with any version of the Christian supernatural. In many stories her power is shown to be equal to or better than that of the priest in respect of the diagnosis and healing of affiiction..." (Ó Crualaoich, Gearóid. The Book of the Cailleach: Stories of the Wise-woman Healer. Cork: Cork UP, 2003. 75-6.)
According to Concannon, some of the other names of the divine hag goddess included Aoibheal of the O'Brien dynasty of North Munster, Cliodna of the O'Keeffe dynasty of East and North Cork, Síle of the O'Gara dynasty, and Mauveen of the O'Neill Buidhe of Clannaboy. (Concannon, Maureen. The Sacred Whore: Sheela, Goddess of the Celts. Cork: Collins, 2004. 138.)
The dramatic figure of Cathleen ni Houlihan, invented by W.B. Yeats and Lady Gregory in 1901, blends together a beautiful young woman with the ancient Cailleach Bhéara. The fidelity to the legends of the Wise Woman Hag, however, were likely maintained by Lady Gregory, as Yeats' early version of the Cailleach—in The Celtic Twilight's story "The Untiring Ones"— was "Clooth-na-Bare," portrayed only as a woman who traveled widely looking for a lake deep enough to drown her faery life. (Merritt, Henry. "Dead Many Times: 'Cathleen ni Houlihan,' Yeats, Two Old Women, and a Vampire." The Modern Language Review 96.3 (2001): 644-48.)
23Ó Crualaoich. The Book of the Cailleach.109.
The author quotes from a story told by a woman in Co. Mayo in 1941: "Isn't it a great wonder how a child isn't able to walk as soon as it's born, along with every other kind of young. Not to compare a child to a calf or a lamb, but neither' of these is born more than an hour, before it's able to walk and the child will be two years of age before it's able to put a foot under itself. They say that it is Cailleach Bhearra who is responsible for that. At a time that a certain child was born - but I don't know which child - she put her hand to the small of his back and that left children, ever after, unable to walk quickly, when they have come into the world. Cailleach Bhearra left that handicap on them."
24Ó Crualaoich. The Book of the Cailleach. 81-2.
The author states: "The term cailleach, of course, has its own complex etymological history that reflects the way in which it has carried competing cosmological, religious and literary connotations. These have been succinctly outlined and discussed by Miirin Ni Dhonnchadha in an article that convincingly proposes a line of semantic development for the word cailleach that originates with its derivation from the Latin word pallium, meaning 'veil'. In its primary meaning of 'veiled one' cailleach is shown to be a term relating to a Christian categorization of women who were either 'spoken for' in marriage or consecrated as nuns and thus 'spoken for' in marriage to Christ. In this context cailleach also developed the sense of denoting the married woman who moves (as in widowhood) from human sexual union to embracing the status of consecrated celibacy, as a nun. It is this latter sense of cailleach that is counterpointed (to such moving literary effect) in the ninth-century 'Lament of the Old Woman of Beare' with its pre-Christian sovereignty queen personification of territory and landscape. The sense of cailleach as 'supernatural figure, hag-witch', develops through its association with manifestations in medieval Irish literature of the terrifying, destructive aspect of the sovereignty queen as death-goddess."
Ó Crualaoich also considers the origins of the Mother Goddess: "The evidence of pre-history and of mythology has been taken to suggest that in the Old European, Neolithic era, before the spread across the 'European' world of Indo-European-Ianguage cultures, cults of a mother- goddess type prevailed throughout the continent. Ireland, too, was inhabited for thousands of years before the coming of the Celts, our first Indo-European immigrants, by peoples whose ideology can be understood to have encompassed religious and cosmological sensibility in respect of a divine female agency who was conceived of as the origin of the physical universe itself and of the life forms contained in its landscapes...Neither should it be imagined that in pre-Indo-European ideology a single, monolithic mother-goddess figure - or cult - existed throughout Old Europe and in earliest Ireland. Such a conception is the product of modern and contemporary reconstructions that arise out of both Enlightenment humanism, and the feminist liberation movement and is without any real basis in history or ethnography." (25-6)
A guidebook to sacred sites in Ireland considers the place of the Cailleach in the pantheon of Celtic spiritual figures: "The Cailleach represents death and rebirth, transformation and winter, in contrast to Brigid, Celtic goddess of healing, creative inspiration, eternal flame, and springtime...The Cailleach's time is often said to begin at Samhain (1 November) and end on Imbolc (1 February), while Brigid rules the rest of the year." (White, Gary C., and Elyn Aviva. Powerful Places in Ireland. Santa Fe, NM: Pilgrims Process, 2011. 89-90.)
25Concannon, Maureen. The Sacred Whore: Sheela, Goddess of the Celts. Cork: Collins, 2004. 55.
The author writes, "The Sheela archetype was brought forward from the vast wisdom incorporated from the goddess religion and integrated by the Druids, initially into the Heroic period and later into Celtic Christianity."
Most archaeologists and writers, such as guidebook author Anthony Weir, maintain a very different point of view on the sheela na gigs, not considering them to be pre-Christian at all.
26Ó Crualaoich. The Book of the Cailleach.150.
A scald-crow is another term for the hooded crow. Crow in Irish is badhbh. But in Irish mythology, the Badhbh was a war goddess, taking the form of a crow, and was thus known as Badb Catha ("battle crow"). It came to mean a witch, fairy, or goddess, represented in folklore by the scald-crow. See Wikipedia.
Ó Crualaoich recounts a story, from Connemara, in which the Cailleach is in opposition to St. Patrick: "As everyone knows this cailleach is supposed to have thousands of years of life. She was there thousands of years before the time of St Patrick and when St Patrick was travelling about the country he happened to meet up with her, himself and his servant. He enquired of the cailleach and how old she was and she told him like this:
'I buried nine times nine people on nine occasions in nine graves in Tralee'.
'What gave you that length of life?' said Patrick.
'I didn't ever carry the muddy dirt of one place beyond that of another place without washing my feet'.
'Have you any other ideas, cailleach, about your age?'
'No seven years of my life ever passed that I didn't toss the bones of a slaughtered bullock up onto that loft there and if you like you can go up there and count them.'
Patrick sent up the servant onto the loft and he started to throw down bones for Patrick to count. It wasn't long before the floor was covered and Patrick asked up to his servant if there was any prospect of their coming to an end. What the servant answered was that he was beginning to make a start on them and that was all. 'Oh, throw them back up again out of my sight', said Patrick. The servant did as he was told.
When that much was done, Patrick walked over to the cailleach and told her that she wouldn't toss up another bone there ever again. He caused her to disappear in a red flash and that was the end of her." (144-45)
The author continues, "It would be a remarkable and touching poem wherever it was written. It is of the tenth or eleventh century; but it reminds us of much more recent verses, Beranger's " Grand'mere " or Villon's " Regrets de la Belle Heaulmiere ja parvenue avieillesse," as Dr. Kuno Meyer has pointed out. But the Irish poem is more artistically wrought than either of these. From the point of view of folk-motif as applied to poetry, it is a beautiful example of the wide- spread idea that human life is ruled by the flow and ebb of the sea-tide, with the turn of which life will dwindle, as with the on-coming tide it waxes to its full powers and energy. Life should always come in with the flood and go out with the ebb"
The poem is sometimes entitled "The Lament of the Nun of Beare."
Ó Crualaoich comments, "The author of the ninth-century Lament proceeds to exploit ideological ambiguities in inventing the figure and name-form of the aged female who is at once the lingering representative of a profane, native eternity of earthly sovereignty and the Christian nun finally embracing the prospect of an eternity of the heavenly sovereignty of the male Christian god." (Ó Crualaoich. The Book of the Cailleach. 86-7.)
28Hartnett, Michael. Translations. Ed. Peter Fallon. Oldcastle, County Meath, Ireland: Gallery, 2003. 52-55. Originally published in 1969, Dublin: New Writers' Press.
From the Old Irish (ninth century, anonymous)
The woman of Beare sang this when old:
As to the sea laps low tide
to me falls fading of age;
grief for myself at fading,
greed in the teeth of my days.
I am Buí, the hag of Beare,
I wore an eternal gown;
but I am naked today
of even a cast·off shroud.
Money was all you loved,
and not people.
but we, while we were alive,
our love was for the people —
for we loved the peopled plains
we rode, and we loved our hosts;
hospitable, good, they made
of no giving a long boast.
Today you claim all, yet you
grant none nothing: if you give
you shame the given with great
boasting of a little gift.
Now my body, bitter, finds
the corridors of final
recognition, the gaze of
God in his own possession.
Now my hands, wrinkled to long
bones, hang down dead, hands that locked
kings of this land in loving,
in the old days, my lost days.
O hands, wrinkled to long bones
even at my odd hours of lust
I must tell young men begone
should they come. I have no love.
The bodies of young women
bound as rabbits in springtime.
I only regret. I am
a barren unloved woman —
for my tongue hides no honey
and I look to no wedlock;
white what is left of my hair
hidden under a hag's cloak.
Not the old I envy:
they die; but youth
and monuments, both assailed
as I am, and they still hold.
Winter makes war with the waves;
today no king will come here,
nor the lowest road-walker.
I expect no one today.
I know what they are doing,
liquid horses of the sea;
spaced far in their maned groups,
they gallop away from me.
I wasted my self to age,
but beauty leaves me alone:
I am told, and no lust stays.
When the sun
beats a haze of hotness from
the sea, so yet I must go
clothed. I am spent, and old.
And yet to waste by loving
is no waste: for I am glad
I was made old by pleasure,
I am glad my flesh was glad.
Green to grass comes back each spring;
I am eternally old.
Each acorn gives way to earth,
bright tables fall to bare boards.
Past, in my days of firm breasts,
wine was my drink and sweet words
my food, tall men my lovers;
now curds, sour as my own milk.
Beneath my cloak my skin hides,
grained with age and unlovely;
a white hair covers my skin
like fungus on a dead tree.
Robbed of me my blue right eye,
lent for land I own forever;
and robbed of me my left eye
secures it, mine forever.
The three floods
in which I would dream to drown:
a flood of loves, of horses
and of gentle slim grey hounds.
death-wave, your bore, you broke me;
you, last, I will know your face
when you must come to take me.
though great, my friends in darkness
are — yet come and make your use
of me. I never refuse.
Well for the islands to which
again the flood-waves come: now
I, alone on my ebbed beach,
I know no face nor no house.
'The Hag of Beare' by Michael Hartnett from Translations (2003) reproduced by kind permission of the author's estate and The Gallery Press. www.gallerypress.com
A photograph from this source, showing the decorations on the underside of the capstone of the western recess of Cairn T, may be viewed here.
According to archaeologist Gabriel Cooney, Cairn T can be regarding as the focal monument of th entire Loughcrew Complex due to its "central location, the evidence for quartz behind the kerb at the entrance, quartz settings outside the entrance, the unusual shaped and decorated kerbstone on the north side of the cairn known as the Hag's Chair and the range and elaboration of the internal decoration." (Cooney, Gabriel. Landscapes of Neolithic Ireland. New York: Routledge, 2000. 162.)
30Conwell. "On Ancient Sepulchral Cairns on the Loughcrew Hills." 371-73.
31Conwell. "On the Identification of the Ancient Cemetery at Loughcrew. 88-9.
Conwell elaborated: "The apparent cross carved into the centre of the seat, as well as two others on adjoining marginal upright stones, are not to be mistaken for characters of ancient date, as they were cut for trigonometrieal purposes in the year 1836, by the men, then encamped on Sliabh-na Caillighe, and engaged in the triangulation survey of the country under Captain Stotherd and Lieutenants Greatorex and Chaytor, R. E."
In his earlier article Conwell commented, "The ornamentation and inscriptions on this megalithic seat point to its having been formerly used for some important purpose. Probably it has been a coronation or inauguration chair; or, perhaps, a seat round which councils have been held, or from which justice has been administered in far distant ages." (Conwell, Eugene A. "On Ancient Sepulchral Cairns on the Loughcrew Hills." Proceedings of the Royal Irish Academy 9 (1864-1866): 371-73.)
32Conwell. Discovery of the Tomb of Ollamh Fodhla. 26-8.
The author writes, "At that remote period in the history of man, before the advent of Christianity, it is well known that the sun was an object of worship; and the very fact that the entrances to the interior chambers of the majority of the carns on the Loughcrew Hills point to the east, or the rising sun, bears strong internal evidence that this form of worship prevailed when these tombs or earns were constructed. If such were the case, for we are without any absolute historic evidence on the point, we can well imagine how appropriately a 'great seat of justice was placed in the north side of the great law-maker's tomb, from which, with all the solemnity attaching to the place, his laws were administered, say at midday, with the recipients of the adjudication fully confronted with the great luminary, the object of their worship. For these reasons we propose, henceforth, to call this remarkable stone chair, emblazoned as it is, both on front and back, with characters at present perfectly unintelligible to us, 'Ollamh Fodhla's Chair.'"
33Conwell. "On Ancient Sepulchral Cairns on the Loughcrew Hills." 373.
34Conwell. "On Ancient Sepulchral Cairns on the Loughcrew Hills." 374.
36Conwell. "On Ancient Sepulchral Cairns on the Loughcrew Hills." 362-64.
37Tempest, H.G. "Bone Objects from an Irish Burial Cairn." Man 49 (1949): 13-16.
The author describes how Conwell's finds were lost: "He took a box -of the human bones to London for examination by Professor Owen, leaving them at the Anthropological Society's rooms there. They were never examined by anyone. When Conwell, in despair of any report, asked for the return of the box, the only result was a statement that it could not be traced!"
38Cooney, Gabriel. Landscapes of Neolithic Ireland. New York: Routledge, 2000. 132.
A similarly-placed standing stone guarding the predominent recess of a passage tomb was discovered, broken into two pieces, when Carrokeel's Cairn F was excavated in 1911.
Quoting a mid-19th century writer, Jean McMann provides a suggestion of the origin of the term "whispering stone" some modern writers apply to the standing stone in Loughcrew Cairn L: "In the county of Westmeath, in one of the Hills of Loughcrew, which are called by the peasants the Witches Hops, is an extensive excavation, consisting of three large chambers with a narrow passage leading to them. In one of these rooms is a flat altar- stone of considerable size; near to this artificial cave stand two lofty pillar stones known among the people by the names of 'the Speaking Stones' and 'the Whisperers.' Names evidently traditional of there having been oracles or divinations given from these 'dark places of the earth.'" (Louisa Beaufort, 1828) McMann suggests that Beaufort may have been partially confusing the Loughcrew stone with the nearby Farranagloch Speaking Stones. (McMann, Jean. Loughcrew: The Cairns. Oldcastle, Co. Meath: After Hours, 1993. 9.)
39Conwell. "On Ancient Sepulchral Cairns on the Loughcrew Hills." 366-69.
40Conwell, failing to discover a passage into Cairn D, concluded that the monument must be a cenotaph, also known as a "blind cairn," a monument with no burial chamber, perhaps used as a memorial. However as Martin Byrne points out, "It is highly unlikely that the Loughcrew builders would put so much effort into such a massive cairn and leave it blind." (Byrne, Martin. "Cairn D at Loughcrew." The Sacred Island. Web. 24 Nov. 2013. <http://www.carrowkeel.com/sites/loughcrew/cairnd.html>.)
41McMann, Jean. Loughcrew: The Cairns. Oldcastle, Co. Meath: After Hours, 1993. 42.