I recently visted the beautiful Beara Peninsula, which straddles Counties Cork and Kerry, a place of extraordinary natural beauty. But it’s also the stuff of legends. Two of the great Irish myths have a strong connection to the Beara Peninsula.
The Hag of Beara
First there is the ancient and enduring story of An Cailleach Béara, a goddess of sovereignty giving kings the right to rein, she was seen as the harbinger of winter. She is said to have had seven periods of youth so that every man who had lived with her died of old age. The myth is widespread throughout Ireland with other sites also associated with her, such as Hag’s Head at the Cliffs of Moher and the Wailing Woman on Skellig Michael, created where she is said to have dropped stones from her apron (though as with all these legends these sites have alternative explanations).
The Hag however did live most of her time near Kilcatherine where she met her fate when she was caught stealing a prayer book of Naomh Caitairiin, a Christian preacher, who she saw as a threat to her powers. He turned her to stone at Ard na Cailli her face now perpetually staring out to sea. The haunting and poignant figure of the Hag of Beara holds a strong place in Irish culture and her memory is revered, with legends and feast days associated with her all over the country. The rock at Kilcatherine is visited by many who leave coins and trinkets to her memory.
The Children of Lir
Another myth known all over Ireland is the Children of Lir. A sad tale of love, loss, betrayal it still today inspires many cultural expressions, in song music and dance. It tells of the ancient King of Lir (of the Tuatha de Danaan clan) and his four daughers, who were turned into swans by a jealous stepmother Aoife. The spell lasted 900 years and they were banished for 300 on Lake Derravaragh in County Westmeath, three hundred on Straits of Moyle, between Scotland and Ireland, and three hundred more on Isle of Inishglora, off the coast of Mayo. The spell could only be broken when they heard the ringing of Christian bells with the arrival of St Patrick.
When finally they heard bells being rung by a monk in Allihies they landed and took on human form and rapidly aged. They were christened and buried by this holy man in one grave under some round boulders. This humble site is the only physical manifestation of this enduring legend.