Sunday 5 August 2012

Saint Patrick and Crom Dubh

Alongside the work of religious writers like Canon O'Hanlon and his work on the saints, there were also secular writers working on the preservation of native Irish folklore. The nineteenth-century saw the move away from the countryside to cities, from the farm to the factory and from the use of the Irish language to English. The mainly middle-class people who were involved in the national revival movement set themselves the task of trying to record and preserve aspects of the vanishing Gaelic, rural culture before it was too late. One of the staunchest labourers in this field was the man who went on to become the first President of Ireland, Douglas Hyde (1860-1949). Hyde was the son of an Anglican rector in County Sligo and became fascinated by hearing local people speak the Irish language. He mastered the language himself and under the pen name 'An Craoibhín Aoibhinn' ("the dear little branch") became a prolific contributor of poetry and articles to the journals of various Irish language preservation societies before becoming one of the founders in 1893 of Conradh na Gaeilge, the Gaelic League. Hyde published a number of collections of poems, prayers and stories collected from the Connemara Gaeltacht, and below is his account of the legend of Saint Patrick and Crom Dubh, complete with his own introduction to the tale:



This legend, told by Michael Mac Ruaidhri of Ballycastle, Co. Mayo, is evidently a confused reminiscence of Crom Cruach, the great pagan idol which was overthrown by St. Patrick. [1] Though Crom appears as a man in this story, yet the remark that the people thought he was the lord of light and darkness and of the seasons is evidently due to his once supposed Godhead. The fire, too, which he is said to have kept burning may be the reminiscence of a sacrificial fire.

From a letter written to Sir Samuel Ferguson [2] by the late Brian O'Looney, concerning Mount Callan in the Co. Clare, we see that this legend of Crom was widely circulated.

" Domnach Lunasa or Lammas Sunday," says O'Looney,"the first Sunday of the month of August was the first fruits' day, and a great day on Buaile-na-greine. On Lammas Sunday, called Domnach Crom Dubh, and anglicised Garland Sunday, every householder was supposed to feast his family and household on the first fruits, and the farmer who failed to provide his people with new potatoes, new bacon and white cabbage on that day was called a felemuir gaoithe, or wind farmer; and if a man dug new potatoes before Crom Dubh's day he was considered a needy man..... The assemblage of this day was called comthineol Chruim Dhuibh, or the congregation or gathering of Crom Dubh, and the day is called from him Domnach Chrom Dubh, or Crom Dubh's Sunday, now called Garland Sunday by the English-speaking portion of the people of the surrounding districts. This name is supposed to have been derived from the practise of strewing garlands of flowers on the festive mound [on Mount Callan] on this day, as homage to Crom Dubh hence the name Garland Sunday. Assuredly I saw blossoms and flowers deposited upon it on the first Sunday of August, 1844, and put some upon it myself, as I saw done by those who were with me…

If you ask me who Crom Dubh was, I can only tell you I asked the question myself on the spot. I was told that Crom was a god and that Dubh or Dua meant a sacrifice, which in combination made Crom Dubh, or Crom Dua, that is, Crom's Sacrifice; and this Sunday was set apart for the feast and commemoration of this Crom Dubh, whoever he may have been."

It is interesting to find O'Looney's old-time experiences in Co. Clare so far borne out by this legend from North Mayo.

The name Teideach given to Crom's son, is, as Mr. Lloyd acutely points out, founded upon a misunderstanding of the name of the hole which must have been "poll an t séidte," the puffing or blowing hole. Downpatrick, where these events are supposed to have taken place, is at the extreme northern extremity of Tyrawley, Co. Mayo, and all the other places are in its neighbourhood.

For the leannún sidhe, or fairy sweetheart (often supposed to be the muse of the poets), see O' Kearney's "Feis tighe Chonáin." Oss. Soc. Publ. vol. II., pp. 80-103. For the Irish of this story, see "Lúb na Caillighe," p. 33.

1. See my "Literary History of Ireland," pp. 84-88. Also Stokes’ edition of the "Tripartite Life," p. 92.
2. See the paper read by Sir Samuel before the Royal Irish Academy, April 28, 1873.


Before St. Patrick came to Ireland there lived a chieftain in the Lower Country [1] in Co. Mayo, and his name was Crom Dubh. Crom Dubh lived beside the sea in a place which they now call Dun Patrick, or Downpatrick, and the name which the site of his house is called by is Dún Briste, or Broken fort. My story will tell why it was called Dun Briste. It was well and it was not ill, brother of my heart! Crom Dubh was one of the worst men that could be found, but as he was a chieftain over the people of that country he had everything his own way; and that was the bad way, for he was an evil intentioned, virulent, cynical [2], obstinate man, with desire to be avenged on every one who did not please him. He had two sons, Téideach and Clonnach, and there is a big hollow going in under the road at Gleann Lasaire, and the name of this hollow is Poll a' Teidigh or Téideach's hole, for it got its name from Crom Dubh's son, and the name of this hole is on the mouth of [i.e., used by] English-speaking people, though they do not know the meaning of it. Nobody knows how far this hole is going back under the glen, but it is said by the old Irish speakers that Teideach used to go every day in his little floating curragh into this hole under the glen, and that this is the reason it was called Teideach's Hole. It was well, my dear. To continue the story, Crom Dubh's two sons were worse than himself, and that the leaves them bad enough! Crom Dubh had two hounds of dogs and their names were Coinn Iothair [3] and Saidhthe Suaraighe [4], and if ever there were [wicked] mastiffs these two dogs were they. He had them tied to the two jaws of the door, in order to loose them and set them to attack people according as they might come that way; and, to go further, he had a big fire kindled on the brink of the cliff so that any one who might escape from the hounds he might throw into the fire; and to make a long story short, the fame of Crom Dubh and his two sons, and his two mastiffs, went far and wide, for their evil-doing; and the people were so terrified at his name, not to speak of himself, that they used to hide their faces in their bosoms when they used to hear it mentioned in their ears, and the people were so much afraid of him that if they heard the bark of a dog they would go hiding in the dwellings that they had underground, to take refuge in, to defend themselves from Crom Dubh and his mastiffs. It is said that there was a linnaun shee or a fairy sweetheart [5] walking with Crom Dubh, and giving him knowledge according as he used to require it. In place of his inclining to what was good as he was growing in age, the way he went on was to be growing in badness every day, and the wind was not quicker then he, for he was a nimble as a March hare. When he used to go out about the country he used to send his two sons and his two mastiffs before him, and they announcing to the people according as they proceeded, that Crom Dubh was coming to collect his standing rent, and bidding them to have it ready for him. Crom Dubh used to come after them, and his trickster (?) along with him, and he drawing after him a sort of yoke like a wheelless sliding car, and according as he used to get his standing-rent it used to be thrown into the car, and every one had to pay according to his ability. Anyone who would refuse, he used to be brought next day before Crom Dubh, as he sat beside the fire, and Crom used to pass judgement upon him, and after the judgement the man used to be thrown into the fire. Many a plan and scheme were hatched against Crom Dubh to put him out of the world, but he overcame them all, for he had too much wizardry from the [fairy] sweetheart. Crom Dubh was continuing his evil deeds for many years, and according as the story about him remains living and told from person to person, they say that he was a native of hell in the skin of a biped, and through the horror that the people of the country had for him they would have given all that ever they saw if only Crom Dubh and his company could have been put-an-end-to; but there was no help for them in that, since he and his company had the power, and they had to endure bitter persecution for years, and for many years, and every year it was getting worse; and they without any hope of relief because they had no knowledge of God or Mary or of anything else which concerned heaven. For that reason they could not put trust in any person beyond Crom Dubh, because they thought, bad as he was, that it was he who was giving them the light of the day, the darkness of the night, and the change of seasons. It was well, brother of my heart. During this time St. Patrick was going throughout Ireland, working diligently and baptizing many people. On he went until he came to Fo-choill or Foghill; and at that time and for long afterwards there was nothing but woods that grew in that place, but there is neither branch nor tree there now. However, to pursue the story, St. Patrick began explaining to the Pagans about the light and glory of the heavens. Some of them gave ear to him, but the most of them paid him no attention. After he had taken all those who listened to him to the place which was called the Well of the Branch to baptize them, and when he had them baptized, the people called the well Tobar Phadraig, or Patrick's Well, and that is there ever since. When these Pagans got the seal of Christ on their forehead, and knowledge of the Holy Trinity, they began telling St. Patrick about the doings of Crom Dubh and his evil ways, and they besought him if he had any power from the All-mighty Father to chastise Crom Dubh, rightly or wrongly, or to give him the Christian faith if it were possible. It was well, brother, St. Patrick passed on over through Tráigh Leacan, up Béal Trághadh, down Craobhach, and down under the Logán, the name that was on Crom Dubh's place before St. Patrick came. When St. Patrick reached the Logán, which is near the present Ballycastle, he was within a quarter of a mile of Crom Dubh's house, and at the same time Crom Dubh and Téideach his son were trying a bout of wrestling with one another, while Saidhthe Suaraighe was stretched out on the ground from ear to tail. With the squeezing they were giving one another they never observed St. Patrick making for them until Saidhthe Suaraighe put a howling bark out of her, and with that the pair looked behind them and they saw St. Patrick and his defensive company with him, making for them, and in the twinkling of an eye the two rushed forward, clapping their hands and setting Saidhthe Suaraighe at them and encouraging her. With that Téideach put his fore finger into his mouth and let a whistle calling for Coinn Iotair, for she was at that same time hunting with Clonnach on the top of Glen Lasaire, and Glen Lasaire is nearly two miles from Dun Phadraig, but she was not as long as while you'd be saying De'raisias [Deo Gratias] coming from Glen Lasaire when she heard the sound of the whistle. They urged the two bitches against St. Patrick, and at the same time they did not know what sort of man St. Patrick was or where he came from. The two bitches made for him and coals of fire out of their mouths, and a blue venomous light burning in their eyes, with the dint of venom and wickedness, but just as they were going to seize St. Patrick he cut [marked] a ring round about him with the crozier which he had in his hand, and before the dogs reached the verge of the ring St. Patrick spoke as follows :- A lock on thy claws, a lock on thy tooth, A lock on Coinn Iotair of the fury. A lock on the son and on the daughter of Saidhthe Suaraighe. A lock quickly, quickly on you. Before St. Patrick began to utter these words there was a froth of foam round their mouths, and their hair was standing up as strong as harrow-pins with their fury, but after this as they came nearer to St. Patrick they began to lay down their ears and wag their tails. And when Crom Dubh saw that, he had like to faint, because he knew when they laid down their ears that they would not do any hurt to him they were attacking. The moment they reached St. Patrick they began jumping up upon him and making friendly with him. They licked both his feet from the top of his great toe [6] to the butt of his ankle, and that affection [thus manifesting itself] is amongst dogs from that day to this. St. Patrick began to stroke them with his hand and he went on making towards Crom Dubh, with the dogs walking at his heels. Crom Dubh ran until he came to the fire and he stood up beside the fire, so that he might throw St. Patrick into it when he should come as far as it. But as St. Patrick knew the strength of the fire beforehand he lifted a stone in his hand, signed the sign of the cross on the stone, and flung the stone so as to throw it into the middle of the flames, and on the moment the fire went down to the lowest depths of the ground, in such a way that the hole is there yet to be seen, from that day to this, and it is called Poll na Sean-tuine, the hole of the old fire (?), and when the tide fills, the water comes into the bottom of the hole, and it would draw "deaf cows out of the woods" –the noise that comes out of the hole when the tide is coming in. It was well, company [7] "of the world ; when Crom Dubh saw that the fire had departed out of sight, and that dogs had failed him and given him no help (a thing they had never done before), he himself and Téideach struck out like a blast of March wind until they reached the house, and St. Patrick came after them. They had not far to go, for the fire was near the house. When St. Patrick approached it he began to talk aloud with Crom Dubh, and he did his best to change him to a good state of grace, but it failed him to put the seal of Christ on his forehead, for he would not give any ear to St. Patrick's words. No there was no trick of deviltry, druidism, witchcraft, or black art in his heart, which he did not work for all he was able, trying to gain the victory over St. Patrick, but it was all no use for him, for the words of God were more powerful than the deviltry of the fairy]sweetheart. With the dint of the fury that was on Crom Dubh and on Téideach his son, they began snapping and grinding their teeth, and so outrageous was their fury that St. Patrick gave a blow of his crozier to the cliff under the base of the gable of the house, and he separated that much of the cliff from the cliffs on the mainland, and that is to be seen there to-day just as well as the first day, and that is the cliff that is called Dún Briste or Broken Fort. To pursue the story. All that much of the cliff is a god many yards out in the sea from the cliff on the mainland, so Crom Dubh and his son had to remain there until the midges and the scaldcrows had eaten the flesh off their bones. And that is the death that Crom Dubh got, and that is the second man that midges ate, and our ancient shanachies say that the first man that midges ate was Judas after he had hanged himself; and that is the cause why the bite of the midges is so sharp as it is. To pursue the story still further. When Clonnach saw what had happened to his father he took fright, and he was terrified of St. Patrick, and he began burning the mountain until he had all that side of the land set on fire. So violently did the mountains take fire on each side of him that himself could not escape, and they say that he himself was burned to a lump amongst them. St. Patrick returned back to Fochoill and round through Baile na Pairce, the Town of the Field, and Bein Buidhe, the Yellow Ben, and back to Clochar. The people gather in multitudes from every side doing honourable homage to St. Patrick, and the pride of the world on them that an end had been made of Crom Dubh. There was a well near and handy, and he brought the grate multitude round about the well, and he never left mother's son or man's daughter without setting on their faces the wave of baptism and the seal of Christ on their foreheads. They washed and scoured the walls of the well, and all round about it, and they got forked branches and limbs of trees and bound white and blue ribbons on them, and set them round about the well, and every one of them bowed down on his knees saying their prayers of thankfulness to God, and as an entertainment for St. Patrick on account of his having put an end to the sway of Crom Dubh. After making an end of offering up their prayers every man of them drank three sups of water out of the well, and there is not a year from that out that the people used not to make turus or pilgrimage to the well, on the anniversary of that day; and that day is the last Sunday of the seventh month, and the name the Irish speakers called the month by in that place is the month of Lughnas [August] and the name of the Sunday is Crom Dubh's Sunday, but, the name that the English speakers call the Sunday by, is Garland Sunday. There is never a year from that to this that there does not be a meeting in Cill Chuimin, for that is the place where the well is. They come far and near to make a pilgrimage to the well; and a number of other people go there too, to amuse themselves a drink and spend. And I believe that the most of that rakish lot go there making a mock of the Christian Irish-speakers who are offering up their prayers to their holy patron Patrick, high head of their religion. Cuimin's well is the name of this well, for its name was changed during the time of Saint Cuimin on account of all the miraculous things he did there, and he is buried within a perch of the well in Cill Chuimin. There does be a gathering on the same Sunday at Dún Padraig or Downpatrick at the well which is called Tobar Brighde or Briget's Well beside Cill Brighde, and close to Dún Briste; but, love of my heart, since the English jargon began a short time ago in that place the old Christian custom of the Christians is almost utterly gone off. There now ye have it as I got it, and if ye don't like it add to it your complaints [8].

1. Lower means "northern". It means round the Lagan, Creevagh and Ballycastle.
2. Literally "doggish". The meaning is rather "snarling" or "fierce" than cynical.
3. Pronounced like "Cunn eetir" and means —hound of rage?
4. Pronounced like "sy-ha soory" and means —bitch of wickedness?
5. Linnaun shee, a fairy sweetheart; in Irish spelt "leannán sidhe."
6. Rather "the space between the toes."
7. A variant of "it was well, my dear."
8. Apparently tell it with your complaint added to it.