Áine of the Wisps and Gerald the Earl

"Midsummer Eve" (1908), Edward Robert Hughes

“Midsummer Eve” (1908), Edward Robert Hughes (Source: Wikimedia)

Midsummer is a very important day for a Deity who lives very close to my heart.  As I’ve mentioned previously, one of the most important Deities in my life is my family’s patroness, the Gaelic tutelary Goddess Áine (pronounced “ahn-yuh”).  Sometimes called Áine ń Chlíar or Áine Mór, She is one of Munster’s two ancient Land Goddesses, the Divine beings that tribal kings would ritually marry upon ascending to kingship.  In ancient context, She would have been the embodiment of the land itself, responsible for good harvest and healthy cattle.  Importantly, She was also the Goddess that the tribal king would be ritually sacrificed to should the crops fail and cattle die.  Tutelary Goddesses such as Herself were numinous among Celtic tribes.  In Ireland, other such Dieties included Macha (tutliary Goddess of Ulster), Medb (who may have been a tutliary Goddess of Connacht), and Ériu (for whom Ireland would eventually be named).  Importantly, each was a distinct Deity, associated with a specific region and the tribes that lived upon them.

Unfortunately, Áine isn’t as well known as some of Her contemporaries.  This may be due to an Elizabethan-era attempt to destroy all Irish manuscripts in Munster, described by Peter Berresford Ellis in [17].  As a result, She has largely dissappeared from the literary accounts of Irish mythology and traditional stories about Her hard to find in print.

She has been many things to many people over the years.  Most commonly among Neo-Pagans, one will find Her be worshipped as a Faery Queen.  To others, She is an ancient tutelary Goddess along the lines of Macha or Ériu, a spiritual embodiment of the land of Munster.  Stone Creed Grove, ADF honors Her as Áine Glas (“green Áine”), an important matriarchal Goddess and symbolic of the erotic power of renewal.  And thanks to Lady Gregory confusing Her with Anu in her Gods and Fighting Men (1904), She will sometimes be named as one of the Morrigna.

To Sliocht-Áine such as myself, She is a powerful Matriarchal figure.  A Goddess who blurs the lines between Ancestor and Deity.  In my experiences with Her, She cares deeply about those people whom She considers to be Her children.  She wants to be there for their births, to take them away at their deaths, and to be invited to all the little things in between: weddings, birthdays, holidays, vacations… when Her children get together for a life milestone or to have a party, She wants to be invited.  She also comes across as having a close relationship with those of Her children that have passed on; it has not been unusual for Her to pass along some sort of request from a long dead blood Ancestor.

Frustratingly, Áine had an active cultus until the turn of the 20th century.  In particular, an account from the 1870s describes Her yearly Midsummer rite and some of the folklore surrounding it.  Whereas other Deities had their cults disappear by the conversion to Christianity, Áine’s was lost due to the Irish genocide of the 19th century, the mass depopulation that accompanied it, and a modern belief in abandoning superstitious hogwash.

In the scant information commited to paper on Her, the primary source is an article published in Revue Celtique IV (1879-1880).  Titled “Popular Tales of Ireland” or “Irish Popular Traditions”, folklorist David Fitzgerald spends the last third of his article focusing on the Munster traditions surrounding Áine, Lough Gur, and my ancestor Garret FitzGerald.  Until now, this article has only been available as a scanned PDF of the 1880 original.  In order to make it more accessible to the general public, I have transcribed it here in a form that is readily shareable.  In the text that follows, I have maintained all of the author’s original footnotes and spelling, although I have modified a sentence at the end concerning errata (all of the noted errata concerned the non-Áine parts of the larger article).  I have added two additional footnotes: one addressing the common confusion between Áine and Her next-door neighbor Anu, and another citing the Peter Berresford Ellis’ claim on the Elizabethan-era destruction of Munster literature.  All the pictures that follow were added by myself to illustrate the article.


1. Lough Guirr [1]


Lough Gur, circa 2002 (Source: Wikimedia)

This lake, all Munster knows, is enchanted; but the spell passes off it once in every seven years. The lake then, to whoever has the luck to behold it, appears dry; and the Tree may be partly seen at the bottom of it, covered with a Green Cloth. A certain bold fellow was at the spot one day at the very instant when the spell broke, and he rode his horse towards the tree and snatched away the Brat Úaine that cove- red it. As he turned his horse, and fled for his life, the Woman who sat on the watch, knitting under the cloth, at the foot of the tree, cried out,


Chùghat, chùghat, a bhùaine bhalbh!
Marcach ó Thír na mBan Marhh
Á fûadach an bhruit naine dhom bhathas.

Awake, awake, thou silent tide!
From the Dead Women’s Land a horseman rides,
From my head the green cloth snatching.

At the words the waters rose; and so fiercely did they pursue him that as he gained the edge of the lake one half of his steed was swept away, and with it the Brat Úaine, which he was drawing after him. Had that been taken, the enchantment was ended for ever.

(Source: Old woman from Askeaton, 24 April, 1879.)

2. Tadhg a bhi im lorgsa

There is another old tradition about this lake. Divided from it only by the road is the ancient burial-ground of Grange. It used to be found every morning that the graves here were ail bored with holes, and as it was thought that possibly this was the work of dogs, a neighbouring gentleman directed two of his men to go to the place provided with guns, and watch during the night. To the amazement of these men they saw a great eel rise from the lake, and coming ashore, roll on and on over the ground till she had worked herself into the church-yard. Then she began to bury her snout in the soil over a grave, and was fast making her way into it, to feed on the dead people, when the men fired and hit her. When they came up they found her lying motionless, and to ail seeming dead ; and in this state they carried her to their master’s place, and threw her down in a corner of the kitchen, where she lay ail the next day. Now on the night following the mournful cries of another eel were heard about the lake, and some of the men who had heard them came into the Colonel’s kitchen, and there began to tell what they had heard.

“Tadhg a bhi im lorgsa,” said the eel in the corner, raising herself up, “Tadhg that was looking for me.”

“Im- a thig go dti Thaidhg, in ainm an Diabhail,” cried one of the astonished Company, “Go to Tadhg, in the name of the Devil;” and the creature glided through the door, rolled herself towards the lake, and there disappeared.

(Source: Old man [M. Whelan] from Inchinlaurence. 26 March, 1877. The narrator, who is since deceased, had heard the tale from old people.)

3. Áine ń Chlíar

This lake is however most celebrated in legend as the dwelling of Geróid Íarla

Some couple of Irish miles from Loch Guirr, at the foot of the ancient hill of Cnoc-Áine, and close by the brink of the little river Camóg, stands the square tower of an old castle ; and at no great distance off is another spot, also by the bank of the river, called by the country people the Bonn, or foundation, which is the site of another castle. In these two castles, according to the tradition of the place, lived long ago a famous Earl of Desmond, and his more famous enchanted son, Geróid Íarla, Earl Gerald. They say that the Earl of Desmond led very much the life of a libertine, and that walking one morning along the river’s edge he saw a beautiful woman seated by the water, combing out her long hair after bathing. Her cloak was laid behind her on the grass, and knowing that if he had but possession of this he would have her in his power, the Earl advanced noiselessly from behind, and seized it before its owner was aware of his approach.

The beautiful woman was Áine ń Chlíar herself ; and she told the Earl that he never could have had his will with her had he not seized her cloak. She told him further that she would bear him a son, whom he was to bring up with ail possible care, like any other gentleman, spa- ring no cost on his education. One caution however she gave her lover: he was not to show surprise at anything, how strange soever, his son should do. When the usual time of nature was accomplished Áine brought one day to the Earl his infant son; and the father’s pride was great in him, then and after, as he grew up from year to year to man- hood. Of these years nothing specially strange is handed down. The young earl led just such a life as any other young lord of his day ; and he excelled in the accomplishments of his age and rank. But one memorable evening it happened that there was a gathering of great ladies and gentlemen at the castle of the Earl of Desmond. There was dancing, and of all the ladies none could vie with a certain one among the guests. The grace and the endurance of this young woman were however beaten, every one said, by those of the young Earl Gerald himself. When the dance was ended, this lady engaged him in another contest, for while all were seated at the supper-table she suddenly arose, and at one leap cleared guests, table, dishes and ail, and then leaped back again.

The old Earl of Desmond turned to his son and said, “Can you do anything like that?”

“No”, said Geróid.

“Well, stand up and try. Don’t let yourself be beaten by a woman.”

Thus commanded, Geróid Iarla rose to his feet, and making a spring from where he stood, leaped right into a bottle, and then leaped out again. There was great admiration at this feat; and with the rest the Earl of Desmond looked in the greatest astonishment at his son, saying he never thought he had such power.

“Were you not warned”, said the young Earl, “never to show wonder at anything I might do? Now you have forced me to leave you.” He turned about at the words, and walked from the hall, his father and others following him. He walked out on the brink of the Camóg, which almost washes the base of the castle, and they saw him step from the bank on the water. Up to that instant he had the shape of an ordinary man, but when he touched the water he was transformed into a goose, and in that form away he swam before their eyes. Where he went to was an island in Loch Guirr, and from this he has his name of Gé-an-Oileáin, the Goose of the Island. From this too comes the imprecation which many yet use in that cursing county, but few understand, “Im-theacht-Gédh-an Oileáin ort!”, “That you may go like the Goose of the Island.”

Though he no longer dwelt in the castle at Knockainy after this, it is said that Geróid used to sometimes visit his father; that when the old lord was drawing near his end he made his will in favour of Áine and his strange child; and that both mother and son came to the castle the night before his death.

After the death of the Earl o’ Desmond. Áine long continued to dwell on Cnoc-Áine — as indeed she dwells in it yet. But in those days it was not such a rich and fertile piece of land as much of its surface, where clear of rock, is now. Geróid came one day to visit his mother, and looking round on the bare soil he said, “Is fad’ ó cathadh eórna inso, a h Áine” (It is long since barley was winnowed here, Áine). Next morning when he looked at the hill it was ail planted with pease, set by his mother during the night.

Another time, coming from Loch Guirr on a like visit, it would seem that, though he was of the water himself, he was yet in danger of his life at the ford of Cnoc-Áine. “Is beag nár bádhag mé san áth-san thair”, he said, “I was ail but drowned in yon ford to the east.” The day following, when he returned to the ford, behold, Áine had laid down the casán, the set of massive stepping-stones by the aid of which people now cross the swollen water in safety. But some old people say that it was not Áine, but another enchanted woman, the Cailleach Bhiärach [2], that laid these stones.

 Diagram of Knockainey mounds from Thomas J. Westropp,   “The Ancient Sanctuaries of Knockainey and Clogher, Co. Limerick and Their Goddesses” Proceedings of the Royal Irish Academy 1917 - 1919

Diagram of Knockainey mounds from Thomas J. Westropp, “The Ancient Sanctuaries of Knockainey and Clogher, Co. Limerick and Their Goddesses”. Proceedings of the Royal Irish Academy 1917 – 1919

Áine is sometimes to be seen, half her body above the waters, on the bosom of Loch Guirr, combing her hair, as the Earl of Desmond beheld her by the bank of the Camóg. The commoner account is that she dwells within the hill which bears her name, and on which she has often been seen. Every Saint John’s Night the men used to gather on the hill from all quarters. They where formed in ranks by an old man called Quinlan, whose family yet (1876) live on the hill; and clíars, bunches, that is, of straw and hay tied upon poles, and lit,were carried in procession round the hill and the little moat on the summit, Mullach-Crocáin-lámh-lé-leab’-an-Triúir (the hillock-top near the grave of the three). Afterwards people ran through the cultivated fields, and among the cattle, waving these clíars, which brought luck to crops and beasts for the following year. There was this about the night of the clíars, that if you came, say, from some neighbouring village to join in the sport it was necessary that on getting on the hill you should look at the moon, and mark what her position was in regard to the place to which you had to return: otherwise you would lose your way when the clíars were out, and you had to get back home in the darkness. One Saint John’s Night it happened that one of the neighbours lay dead, and on this account the usual clíars were not lit. Not lit, I should say, by the hands of living men; for that night such a procession of clíars marched round Cnoc-Áine as never was seen before, and Áine herself was seen in the front, directing and ordering every thing. On another Saint John’s Night a number of girls had staid late on the hill, watching the clíars and joining in the games. Suddenly Áine appeared among them, “thanked them for the honour they had done her”, but said that now she wished them to go home, as They wanted the hill to themselves. She let them understand whom she meant by “they”, for calling some of the girls she made them look through a ring, when behold, the hill appeared crowded with people before invisible. Another time she came one night into the house of some people whose friends are yet living at one end of the hill, and brought them a sheep. Se long as the family kept this animal, luck remained with them, and when they parted with it, luck abandoned them.

Áine is spoken of as “the best-hearted woman that ever lived [3]” ; and the oldest families about Knockainy are proud to claim descent from her. These Sliocht-Áine (descendants of Áine) include the OBriens, Dillanes, Creeds, Laffins, ODeas. We must add Fitzgeralds, what few remain thereabouts.

(Source: From people at Knockainy and its neighbourhood, October, 1876.)

The meadow-sweet, or queen-of-the-meadow [4], is thought to be Áine’s plant, and to owe to her its fragrant odour.

Meadowsweet (Source: Ivar Leidus)

Meadowsweet (Image: Ivar Leidus)

Of her son’s appearances at Loch Guirr there are many legends. According to one, which differs from the foregoing account, a grand castle stood where now roll the waters of the lake, and in it lived Geróid Íarla and his wife. She bore him three children, each of which was taken from her at its birth. He warned her not to lament for their loss; but when the third infant was taken from her she could not restrain her tears. When the enchanted Earl saw her weeping he drew out his handkerchief and placed it over her eyes. That instant the waters rose over the castle and all in it, and Geróid showed his wife how the tears shed from her eyes had destroyed one of the eyes of her child. But placing his handkerchief to the infant’s eye, it became as sound as before. On a clear day, as you go over the lake in a boat, you can see the towers and windows of the castle far down in the water.

(Source: Episode of Geróid and his wife from old woman from Kilfinnane, 15 September, 1876.)

A man was once going to the fair of Hospital, on the ninth of July, with a black horse which he intended to sell. Near Loch Guirr he met a gentleman that he had never seen before, who asked him what he would take for that beast. The man said such and such a price, and the stranger told him he would give him that money, and that he need not take the trouble of going on to the fair. The purchaser brought the countryman into some large house near, which also was entirely new and strange to him, and there he showed him in the stable five other horses, all grey. The newly-bought black horse was put in with them, so that that made six. Shortly after the man prepared to return home, and asked the gentleman for the money. The buyer however now offered him a smaller sum, pretending to believe that the bargain was for that amount. The countryman stood out for the price agreed on; the other still maintained that he agreed for less. At last he told the man to go to the stable and take his horse back; he would have nothing more to say to him. The vendor accordingly went to the stable, but what was his bewilderment to now find six grey horses there, out of which he could never choose his own. Tears came into the poor man’s eyes, and he bitterly reproached the owner of the grey horses. That personage had only wanted to have a laugh at him from the beginning, and he at last brought out the man’s horse, in its proper colour, and sent him home, glad to get his property safe out of that bedevilled spot, and vowing to keep out of Geróid Íarla’s way for the future.

(Source: Horses episode from old man from Inchinlaurence, 26 March, 1877.)

In another story, omitted here for brevity’s sake, a countryman is shown three colts beneath the lake, and told that when those colts have grown to horses,, and their gold shoes are worn out, Geróid Íarla shall come back to head the Irish.

As to the manner of Geróid’s disappearance from the earth, one story (which must also be here omitted) relates that some men of the Clerys, whose enmity he had incurred, lay in wait for him near Loch Guirr, that they saw his horse, which he used to ride furiously, gallop swiftly by them, but the Earl was not to be seen on his back, and has never been seen since.

Others relate that the sudden disappearance of the Earl was due to the same woman knitting who is mentioned above. She could have saved him when he called on her, but she said, “Ní tiucfad an aóchor go gcuirfead an bireáń dr a chúil. I’ll not come at any rate till I put a the needle in the back of the stocking” (as knitters do when laying aside their work. Lár á chúil, “middle of the back” of the stocking). That much delay ruined him, and the enchantment came on him.

Others again say he was taken up into the clouds of heaven [5] ; and there is a rann to that effect remembered by old people, which names the three enchanted heroes of Munster:

Donn Fírinne; as Ribeárd a Chairn;
As Geróid Íarla a chuaig i nealthaibh.

Donn Fírinne; and Robert of the Mound;
And Gerald the Earl that evanished in the clouds.

(Source: Rann from old man from Kildorrery near 90 years of age.)


1. Loch Guirr

This legend is obviously related to Mr. Campbell’s “Sanntraigh”, (West Highland Tales, II, 42-45), where the rhyme is

A bhean bhalbh — a bhean bhalbh
A thàinig oirnn a tir nan sealg;
Fhir a thán uachdar á bhruth etc.

Búaine (which is probably a corruption) is explained to mean the tide, the waters of the lake [6]. “Dead Women” probably means mortal women, like marbu dutaini, “shortlived mortals,” in the legend of Condla Cáin (LU. 120). The Tree in the lake, at whose base a Woman sits knitting, seems to correspond to the Eastern world- and fire-orsoma-tree, sprin- ging out of a lake, the identification of which with the ash Yggdrasill is one of the many striking features of Kuhn’s remarkable book (Die Herahkunjt des Feuers und des Gœttertranks, pp. 124-133). The Irish woman knitting, who is clearly connected in some way with Geróid’s fate, seems to answer to the Norse three Fates, Past, Present, and Future, (beings who appear as women spinning) whose office it is with water from the well of the Past to bedew the earth and keep it green and fresh.

The tree is conceived as subterranean (as the roots of Yggdrasill strike down to the lower world) ; and the Green Cloth above is perhaps the earth’s vegetation. The editor hopes to take an early occasion to treat the subject more at length, but he will here briefly indicate one or two of his conclusions.

a. The notion of a world-tree has left other ancient traces in Irish tradition. As in the Veda two birds sit on the top of the imperishable açvattha, one eating its figs and the other looking on (apud Kuhn, op. cit. 127) so in the Dá Brón Flatha Nime (the Two Sorrows of the King- dom of Heaven, LU. 17) Elias appears beneath the Tree of Life in Paradise, and a Gospel in his hand, for preaching to the birds upon the Tree, which are meanwhile eating its berries. « Large berries now those : « sweeter than ail honey, and more intoxicating than all wine. »

b. This same tree is named by the glossarist on the Félire Oenguso at the 20 april. « A great tree that was in the Eastern World, and the « heathens used to worship it, so that the Christians fasted against the a saints of ail Europe that the tree might fall, et statim cedidit » (sic) [7] (Leabhar Breac, facs. 86).

c. The legend of a Heaven-Tree is often transferred to an earthly loca- lity. An instance of this w^s the ever green tree of unknown kind which stood at a well before the temple at Upsala. The trees often ashesi over Irish holy wells had apparently a like pagan origin and significance. The belief about Saint Brigit’s Oak at Kildare,

that Oak of Saint Bride, which nor Devil nor Dane,
Nor Saxon nor Dutchman could rend from her fane,

recalls Yggdrasill, and Virgil’s oak

quae quantum vertice ad auras
Aetherias, tantum radice in Tartara tendit. (Georg. II, 291.)

As the lizard menaces the Iranian haoma, in the lake Vouru Kasha, near the tree bearing every kind of seed, and as serpents guard Yggdrasill’s roots, a lizard appears at foot of the oak, the crest of the Ui Duinn, who claim Saint Brigit as their kinswoman.

d. In this conception is to be sought the key to the meaning of the obscure name Beltene (May). The theory that the first element is the name of an old solar- or fire-god has many adherents yet, not by any means confirmed to the class of the superficial and half-educated. As hinted above, the editor has here only space to state conclusions, and will leave detailed inquiry for another occasion. The following however would seem to be the true explanation.

First, the Northern antiquaries seem to have been quite accurate in seeing a representative of the world-tree in the May-tree, or May-pole, and the Christmas tree. It will be noticed that the Félire reference occurs at the period of the great spring solar celebration. The usage yet survives in Galway, Donegal, Westmeath and elsewhere of planting a May-Tree or May-Bush (Crann-Bealtaine, Dos-Bealtaine) on the dunghill or before the farmhouse door, and eventually throwing it into the bonefire. The name of the festival, Lá Beltene, was the same as Lá Bile-tenidh (or Bele-tenidh), Day of the Fire-Tree, and came from the bonefire and May-tree usage [8].

ODonovan had the explanation of Bealtaine before his eyes ; for the Four Masters, at the age of the World 5503 record the mythic battle of Bile-Tineadh, and in a note that deservedly honoured Celtic scholar correctly translates Bile-Tineadh « the ancient Tree of the Fire », and attempts to localize the battle in Meath. The battle was perhaps nothing but the fight at May between Summer and Winter which is represented by a mock battle on Celtic ground on May Day yet (Train, Histy. of the Isle of Man, 1845. II. 1 18. Waldron, Description, 154). Bele, beile, Anglic[ized], « bellow-tree [9] », is a parallel form to bile, as is noted by ODonovan, who mentions the connexion of such a sacred tree in the popular mind with fire. « They believe that the house in which any part of it should be burnt would soon meet the same fate. » (OD. ad OReilly s. v. Bile.) With Bile-tenidh cf. the similar compound Craf-tine = Craebh teinidh, which occurs as an ancient proper name.

It is unnecessary to remind Irish scholars of the numerous references to sacred trees which occur in the ancient literature. One however may be cited from the Leabhar Breac, which would go to show that each church had its tree — often, no doubt, over a well. « … is a Mucraime an iarthar Connacht ata Daire Echdroma, ocus atcither bile na cille don muig, ocus in tan tiagar for a hiarrad isin doire ni fagubar hi ; ocus atcluin- ter guth in chluig ocus in sailinchedul indsin ocus ni fagubar in chellfessin… » « It is in Mucraime in the western part of Connacht that Daire Echdroma is ; and the tree of the church is seen from the open country, and when one goes to look for it in the oak-wood it is not found ; and the Sound is heard there of the bell and of the psalmchanting and the church itself is not found. »

(Note on the Félire, L. B. facs. 87.)

2. Tadhg a bhi im lorgsa

These words are proverbial in the south of Ireland. Some interesting variations (from Galway, etc.) are omitted. The notion of evil creatures feeding on the dead occurs in Eastern stories (Arabian Tales, from the French into English by R. Heron. Edinburgh. 1792. Vol. I. pp. 240-241).

3.Áine ń Chlíar

Áine, Ánu [10] is an Irish divinity in whom lunar characteristics are easily recognisable. She is understood to be surnamed ń Chlíar from the wisps lit in her honour ; but chlíar (which seems unknown to dictionaries) is perhaps corrupted from Clíach the ancient name of the territory in which Cnoc-Áine is situated. The reader will bave noticed the significant belief about the necessity for observing the moon when ascending the hill on Saint John’s Night. Áine here appears as the mermaid love of the Earl of Desmond, and as the ancestress of certain familes, like the Mélusine of French tradition. Her association with the particular hill in question may possibly be due to its shape, for it seems to form a rough crescent. One of its old names was Carrán Fearaidhe (Transs. Oss. Socy. 1857. P. 114, note 4. cf. carrán, a sickle). ODonovan however makes « Carn Fearadaigh » a different hill (ad OR. s. v.).

Ribeárd á Chairn is one of the Barrys enchanted in Cárn-Tighernaigh near Fermoy. He is the subject of a legend admirably told by Croker.

Passing to the Geróid Íarla legend, its chief elements seem to be (a) his birth from a waterwoman, who has been allied to a mortal lover ; (b) the alliance of Geróid, himself a being of the waters, with a mortal wife ; (c) the young earl’s leap into and out of a bottle ; (d) his disappearance as a [11] ; (e) his disappearance from his horse’s back, or into the clouds ; (f) the horses legend ; (g) his present enchantment among the Sídhfir, whence he is to return. We can only select the more noteworthy of these features for remark here. The tradition of Geróid’s origin recals classical legends of the birth of heroes on the banks of rivers:

….. ille Aeneas quem Dardanio Anchisae

Aima Venus Phrygii genuit Simoentis ad undam (Aeneid. I. 617-618), where the reader may be referred to Heyne’s note.

Of the many stories of alliances between waterwomen and Christian men we may select a typical one from Vincent of Beauvais. The original Latin text is not at hand, and the tale may be presented in the French of De Lancre (Tableau de l’inconstance des mauuais anges et demons. A Paris, MDCXIII). « Le roy Roger regnant en Sicile, vn ieune homme fort bon nageur se baignant de nuict aux rais de la Lune auec plusieurs autres ; voyant ce luy sembloit quelqu’vn qui se noyoit, croyāt que ce fust de ses compagnons il court aprés pour le sauuer : et comme il eust bien auant plongé le bras dans l’eau pour le secourir, il trouue que c’est vne femme : laquelle ayant empoignee il tire hors par les cheueux : et ne pouvant sur l’heure en tirer aucune parole, il la mene en son logis, et la trouuant de tres-belle forme, il s’en amouracha si fort qu’il l’espousa publiquement, et en eut vn bel enfant. De là à quelque temps vn sien compagnō et luy estant en propos, comme il luy eust asseuré que c’estoit vn phantosme, il s’en va à elle, et désirant rompre son silence, il luy dict fort aigrement. Que si elle ne vouloit reueler son origine et extraction, qu’il tueroit leur enfant deuāt elle. A quoy elle respondit : Ha miserable, tu me prives de ta présence me contraignant de parler, car si tu m’eusses permis de garder tousiours le silence qui m’estoit commandé, i’eusse demeuré auec toy à tout iamais, au lieu que maintenant tu me perds et ne me verras plus. Ce qu’ayant dict, soudain elle disparut et s’esuanoüit : et l’enfant deuenu grand, et aimant à nager comme son pere, s’estant faict considérer à plusieurs qui le voyoiēt nager au mesme endroict que sa mere fut trouuee, cette mesme femme phantastique parut, qui le rauitdeuant tout le mōde, et ne se vit iamais plus. » Geróid betrays his supernatural origin by his power of leaping into a bottle, as in a tale of Indian origin the demon who assumes the form of the minister’s son diminishes his size and enters a jug, a feat impossible to the real son. (Jülg, History of Ardshi-Bordshi Khan apud De Gubernatis, Zoological Mythology, I, 136; Sagas from the Far East, 260 [12].)

The legend of Geróid Íarla’s trick upon the countryman is old, as is shown by a letter written from Limerick in august, 1640, by a Mr. Holme to the Archbishop of Armagh, who was at Oxford, in which it is related as fact. Castleconnell was then believed to be haunted by « the enchanted Earl of Desmond » and his people (ODonovan in Irish Penny Magazine, 1841, p. 186). The story is also associated with a moat near Letterkenny, Donegal, called Marcach’s Stable, and was no doubt told of Marcach (a grandson of Manannán mac Lir) when Desmond and Kildare were still under the rule of chiefs of Irish race [13].

The historical personage around whom these traditions have gathered is Garrett , fourth Earl of Desmond , called « the Poet » and « the Magician ». Irish writers praise him for his knowledge of the native learning, and his bounty to its professors ; and he is the « Gerroyd erle » to whom were attributed some of the poems in The Dean of Lismore’s Book (Edinburgh, 1862, pp. XCI, XCIV, XCVI). The Four Masters and other Irish writers record his death in the ordinary course of nature, after the victory of penance, in 1398 or 1399. A learned writer however in the Kerry Magazine for 1855, who would seem to have had access to family papers, agrees better with popular tradition in stating that Earl Geróid « disappeared mysteriously from his camp or castle » of the Island in Kerry in 1397 (p. 125).

There appears to be little doubt that the « Island » referred to in the name Gé-an-Oileáin is the Castle of the Island, and that the legend of the disappearance of Geróid Íarla has been transferred from Kerry to the lake in the neighbouring county, where, according to ODonovan (ad IVMM. 1398) Earl Garrett had a castle. It is plainly a mistake to say, in the tradition as presented above, that Geróid « used to some- times visit his father » after his transformation, for Imtheacht Gédh-an-Oileáin is emphatically Imtheacht gan casadh go bráth — to go and never come back. There is probably some connexion in tradition of the carrying off or disappearance of Geróid — who came from the waters and went back to them — with the fact that the son of the historical earl was also drowned in the Suir (IVMM. 1398. 1399, O Daly).

The legend or myth of the transformation of Garrett of Desmond, Geróid Íarla, and his return to the watery realm of his people, may have found its way into Ireland from the continent of Europe, whence his family originally came. For in the first form of the story Garrett, Geróit, Gerald, must have been united to an ordinary woman, obliged to leave her through her disregard of a certain prohibition, and then carried away on the waters in the shape of a goose. (In some printed legends he takes the form of a huge eel.) This is in substance the story of the good Gerhard Schwan, or Gerhard Gans, Duke of Swabia, Charlemagne’s brother-in-law, and that of the Swan-Knight, Helias, Lohengrin. In most of these versions of the legend the goose is replaced by a swan, though both « Gerard Swan » and « Gerard Goose » occur. On the Lower Rhine Gerhard becomes Gerret (Simrock, Mythol. 89). There is a certain significance in the connexion of the Swan-Knight with Swabia, since genealogists have amused themselves by tracingthe descent of the Fitzgeralds, to whom the Gé-an-Oileáin belonged, the Carews, etc. to the ancient lords of that country. One would look for some traces of the story of Áine and Geróid in heraldry ; as in the arms of the houses of Guelderland , Cleves and Rheineck the swan appears, and the mermaid is found in numerous other cases. Nothing of the sort seems to be extant in the case of the Irish family ; but the editor has found traces of a story of one of its members, a noted duellist, who is tricked into taking off his shoes and stockings in a coffee-house to prove that the Fitzgeralds are not web-footed. Such a story would be evidence, and the present writer would be grateful for a reference to it. There is a term glégeal constantly associated with the name at present, (« Gearaltach glégeal ») which as it stands means « white », « bright », « fair », but which one is tempted to regard as a corruption of some older compound. Can it have contained the element (a goose) [14]?

The legend of a spellbound chief and his enchanted band awaiting the hour of their deliverance to sally forth to battle is as well-known in Ireland as elsewhere. Now told of one of the Mac Mathgamhnas, now of an ODonchadha ; in Cork, of Barry of Carn Tíghernaigh, in Galway, of Cailpín Galchobhair; its most common form makes the chief Geróid Íarla, generally an Earl of Desmond, occasionally an Earl of Kildare [15]. The locality is, as we have, seen, Loch Guirr, or Mulahether fort, or Kilkea Castle, or the rath of Mullaghmast. In Innishowen Geróid Íarla has even taken the place of ONéill or Marcach. MM. Kuhn and Schwartz are without doubt right in understanding the battle mentioned in such stories as the war between the Aesir at the end of the world. « Die grosse Schlacht, welche einst stattfinden wiird, ist der beim Weltunt ergang eintretende Kampf , zu welchem Heimdallr die Gœtter mit seinen Giallarhorn zusammenrufen wird » (Norddeutscke Sagen, Leipzig, 1848, p. 496). An important form of the Irish legend places the enchantment in Mullaghmast (Kennedy, Legendary Fictions, 172-174), which was famous in popular tradition in Camden’s time as the future scene of the final war : « As for the Giants dance ….. as also of that most bloody battell which shall be one day betweene the English and the « Irish at Molleaghmast, I willingly leave unto the credulous lovers of fabulous antiquity, and the vaine beleevers of prophesies. For my purpose is not to give fond taies the telling. » (Holland’s Camden. 2 edit. 1636, p. 88). Mythologists have again been apparently right in referring the German legends to Odin ; and Simrock sees in Gerhard, Gerret etc. one of the many names of that divinity. Nor is evidence wholly wanting of the existence of traditions making Gerhard or Geroid of Swabia — Gerhard Goose or Gerhard Swan — the hero who, when the spell is broken, shall return to the upper world. We cannot be far wrong in the conjecture that among the enchanted warriors at the old castle of Gerolds-eck was originally that Duke Gerold who fought on his knee before Charlemagne at Roncesvalles, and whose valour was believed to have won for the Swabians the right to take their place in the van of battle. « Geroldseck, ein altes Schloss im Wasgau, von dem man vor Jahren her viel Abenteuer erzashlen hœren : dass ncemlich die uralten deutschen Helden, die Kœnige Ariovist, Herman, Wittechind, der hürnen Siegfried und viele andere in demselben Schlosse zu gewisser Zeit des Jahres gesehen würden; welche, wann die Deutschen in den hœchsten Nœthen und am Untergang sein würden, wieder da heraus und mit etlichen alten deutschen Vœlkern denselben zu Hilf erscheinen sollten. » (Grimm, Deutsche Sagen, 21).

There seems to be a connexion between the Gerhard of legend and a god or giant of the underworld, or the world of the dead (Simrock, Der Gute Gerhard). The Eddic giant Geirœdhr is the lord of subterranean treasure ; and it is worthy of note that his daughter Giâlp in a certain passage has the power of causing a river to overflow when she intends to drown Thor [16].

The editor hopes to be able to hereafter obtain a less imperfect version of this story than that here published. In another fragment the Earl says of himself « Mise mac rígh Sídhe Gallaibh agus m’ ainm Geróid Íarla, I am the Sídhe prince of the Gaill, and my name is Geróid Íarla. » This can oniy have been his answer to the question of his too curious wife, just as in the Lohengrin tale. Others, while making Gearóid mac Gearailt (Gerald mac Gerald) the Príom Sídhe na Múmhan (chief Sidhe of Munster) give him, with Donn mac Míledh and Riobáird de Barra, a fourth companion, Domhnall-na-ngeil-eich a Loch-Léin, Domhnall Donchadha of the white steeds, in Killarney Lake.

David Fitzgerald.

Hammersmith. London. 1879.

The editor was absent from home when the first proofs of the foregoing sheets were sent to him for revision. His corrections arrived too late to be carried out; and he must ask the indulgence of his readers for such typographical errors as they may find.


A relic of the Swan-Knight story is possibly preserved in the following English child’s game-rhyme, which the editor has not met with in print. It was obtained from a young woman from Northamptonshire.

A number of little girls join hands and form a ring. « They ail jump round » , and sing to a certain air :

I saw a ship a sailin’,
A sailin’ on the sea,
And oh it was laden
With pretty things for me.

There were comfits in the cabin,
And apples in the hold,
The sails were made of silk,
And the masts were made of gold.

Four and twenty sailors,
That sat upon the deck,
Were four and twenty white mice
With chains about their necks.

The captain was a Duck,
With a packet on his back,
And when the ship began to move,
The captain cried Quack ! Quack !

The game ends by the girls following one of their number, in a string, all quacking like ducks.

Cailleach Bhiärach. — Lucian, in the first book of his Vera Historia, describes a wonderful well at the moon : …

D. F.



1. Loch Gair, IV. Magg.

2. The first Word means a hooded woman. Biärach (al. Bérach, Biorach) probably means “horned”. The Cailleach Bhérach seems, like Ánu, to be the Moon. Like the Bean Fhinn, she has given her name to mountains; and the fine well at Oranmore, which runs wine every seventh year, is called from her, Tobar-na-Caillíghe Béaraighe. Atá tiobrad ag an Easga, “There is a well at the Moon,” says Find in the Feis-Tíghe Chonáin (p. 174). she appears in Cantire tradition, wherein she repairs every seventh year to a certain medicinal well to renew her youth (The White Wife etc., by Cuthbert Bede. London, 1865. P. 124). She is a wonderful reaper-carries, that is, the moonsickle. She places stepping-stones etc. in the waters; and the floods, it is said, can never rise above them, — a character which recalls certain attributes of Diana:

Hanc tibi, marmoreo caesam de monte, Diana,
Regina undarum, nympha decus nemorum, etc.

(Given as from Gruter by Tollius in his curious Fortuiata, Amstelaedami, 1687, p. 77.)

Montium domina ….,
Silvarumque virentium,
Saltuumque reconditorum,
Amniumque sonantum.

(Catulli v. 505.)

She is said in the Lough Cooter neighbourhood, Clare, to have been, like lo and Bóinn, a cow.

The identification of Ánu, at least, with the moon is not new. See the papers of Nicholas Kearney (Transs. Kilk. Arch. Soc. 1852. Transs. Oss. Soc. 1854) where the original lore is as curious as the reasoning is loose.

3. So Bryan Merriman calls Aoibhill of Craiglíath, Croídhe gan aon lochd.

4. Spiraea ulmaria. — One of its Irish names is Airgiod-lúachra. The English name, notwithstanding the opinion of Dr. Prior (Popular Names of British Plants, s. v.), seems to be nothing but meadow-sweat”. Cf. the Welsh name of the same plant, Chwys Arthur = sudor Arturi (Welsh Botanology, by Hugh Davies, London, 1813, p. 180) and the Irish name of the St. John’s Wort, Alías Mhuire (sudor Mariae); W. Chwys Mair (Buttercups). Meadow-sweet is called in Limerick maid-sweet.

5. So Virgilius, another magician, disappeared at last in a storm.

6. Balbh is a poetical epithet sometimes found applied to the Boyne (Bóinn); and in its earliest form this tale was perhaps associated with that legendary well overshadowed by nine hazels, whence the Boyne issued, and into which fell the red nuts of knowledge — apparently another analogue of the world fire- and soma-tree and the waters at its root. (Cf. Curry, M. and C. II, 143-144; Hardy, Legends and Theories of the Buddhists, London, 1866, pp. 92, 93, 96; and vid. infra.)

7. Text printed, Beitræge zur Vergkkhenden Sprachforschung, 1871, pp. 52-53.

8. Scott calls the Highland May-fires the Beltane-Tree (Border Minstrelsy).

9. And sometimes « bell-tree », a name which seems to have given birth to later legends. Cf. the tree in the arms of Glasgow, with a bell hanging from its bough, a bird on its top, and a salmon at its base. This salmon (notwithstanding the Fish and Ring story) seems to answer to the Irish salmon of knowledge (Eó Fesa) at the foot of the hazels in the well mentioned above. (P. 192 n.)

10. Editor’s Note (2017): According to (The Book of the Great Queen, Morpheus Ravenna. Richmond. 2014. P. 102, note 3), “Anu has sometimes been confused with Áine, due to the similarity of names and the fact that both are local Goddesses associated with the land of Munster, but the names are etymologically unrelated”, citing (Goddesses in Celtic Religion – Cult and Mythology: A Comparative Study of Ancient Ireland, Britain, and Gaul. Noémie Beck. Lyon. 2009. P. 248).

11. A goose is offered in sacrifice to the Russian water spirit (Ralston R. Popular Songs, 129).

12. There is also a joke about conjurers in England pretending to jump into a quart pot.

13. Bruodar, who wrote in the seventeenth century, alludes to Geróid Íarla « tríaith na ccaoil-each, Lord of the slender steeds ».

14. It should be added that two versions of the Knight of the Swan story have been recently (October, 1879) found by the editor in Westmeath. One is closely allied to the Flemish popular tale Der Ritter mit dem Schwan (D. Sagg. 540). The other seems to be more Celtic; and its scene is partly laid in Tir-na-h’Oige, the Land of Youth. All three stories appear to be related to the ancient tale Oídeadh Chloinne Lir, the Tragic End of the Children of Ler.

15. A modern ballad connects the tradition with Lord Edward Fitzgerald.

16. cf. also the passage sup. p.188 where Geróid Íarla says, « I was ail but drowned » etc., with legends of Odin or Thor wading. Since the above was written a Norwegian scholar has come to the conclusion that the Geirœdhr of the Edda is no other than Geryon ; and that parts of the Edda exhibit traces of the influence of the Apocalypse. Aftenbladet, 3 November.

17. Ellis, Peter Berresford. Celtic Myths and Legends. New York: Carrol and Graf Publishers, 1999. 40.

About the Author

A Unitarian-Universalist since 2009, Dan McBride is a practicing Devotional Polytheist, a member of Ár nDraíocht Féin: A Druid Fellowship, and the former Coordinating Officer of Binghamton CUUPS. His spiritual interests are in Neo-Pagan religions and Irish folklore and mythology, as well as in inter- and intra-religious dialog. Outside of the grove, he enjoys technology, hiking, camping, skiing, history, photography, and adventuring with his wife. A fifth-generation downstate New Yorker, Dan traces his roots back to the Italian region of Calabria and County Waterford in Ireland. After a decade spent living near the confluence of the Susquehanna and Chenango rivers in Binghamton, NY, he has made his way to the rivers and forests of Western New England. He makes his living as a technology professional.

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