Posted on January 25th, 2016 | by Leslie

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Old As the Stone

Notes on Track 12

Irish mythology does not include an origin tale in the traditional sense.  The history of the people coming to Ireland is presented in The Book of Invasions which documents the waves of “invaders” who originally populated Ireland, from Noah’s granddaughter (she had her own boat) to the Sons of Míl, the ancestors of modern Irish humans.  (Yes, clarifying that point is necessary.  Not all who came to Ireland were completely human.)

Irish mythology also includes a collection of stories called the Dindsenchas that explain the origins of place names.  If you find a bend in a river called “red shoulder” there’s a reason for it, and a longstanding tradition, and historical context, and it’s been passed on for centuries.  All over Ireland you can find the name Cailleach attached to hills, mountains, dolmens, passage tombs and other monuments, and the stories to match.

The Cailleach is also called the witch or hag or veiled-one, depending who you ask or which etymology you read, and she is strongly associated with stone.  The Burren and its local mountain ranges, the Beare peninsula and Dursey Island off its coast, the Aran Islands off the coast of Galway, all in the southwest of Ireland, share ties to this ancient, pre-Celtic creator goddess.

This story grabbed me the first time I read it not only because it was collected from schoolchildren in a part of Ireland dear to my heart, but because of the lobster.  The guard lobster.  I have laughed myself silly at the line, You’ve done well, lobster, more times than I can count.

Source

  • Gearóid Ó Crualaoich, “Cailleach Bhéara (Dún Chaoin)” in The Book of the Cailleach: Stories of the Wise-Woman Healer (Cork U Press: Cork, 2003, 2004) p 111-113.
  • Original story supplied by schoolchildren from Dún Chaoin, Dingle Peninsula, Ireland (1933).  Coimisiún Béaloideasa Éireann/Irish Folklore Commission, vol. 11, pp. 103-5.

Lyrics

Have you heard the story
Of the Cailleach on the hill of Cnoc an tSídhe?
Living on the summit
In a cabin that overlooks the sea

Oh, the wind it is a buffet
And it beats back the waves
Where she wanders and wonders and plays
As old as the stone of her limestone caves
No, it’s nary a wonder she stays
It’s nary a wonder she stays

Once upon her travels
Did the Cailleach find a lobster in a pot
She stole it home alive
So it could guard her wealth from those who had it not

As she gathered dulse and fish and garlic
Came a thief in search of her gold
Who found the box beneath her bed
And reached inside but when he did he felt a thing take hold

Oh, the wind it is a buffet
And it beats back the waves
Where she wanders and wonders and plays
As old as the stone
Of her limestone caves
No, it’s nary a wonder she stays
It’s nary a wonder she stays

When the sun was setting low, the Cailleach came home
To find the stranger with his hand trapped
“You did well, my lobster,” she said and smiled
Raising o’er the thief her shiny axe

Oh, the wind it is a buffet
And it beats back the waves
Where she wanders and wonders and plays
As old as the stone of her limestone caves
No, it’s nary a wonder she stays
It’s nary a wonder she stays
It’s nary a wonder she stays
No, it’s nary a wonder she stays

Surviving the waves
She’s as old as the stone, she says

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