A PAGE FROM THE LEABHAR DRAÍOCHT –
PILGRIMAGE TO CLOCH NA CAILLÍ BHÉARA –
THE HAG-STONE OF BEARA
Morning 7 March 2019
There’s a great soft sweep of pink cloud in the Western sky ; the sky is someway clear otherwise, after the storms and the wild wind of the night – the Dark of the Moon. Yesterday I went to meet the Cailleach. In the morning after breakfast, I went walking up to the village and beyond, turned left along little roads that led to cottages on the headland, but couldn’t find Her; then I realised that I had gone nowhere need [sic] far enough. This was only a little hill – the headland was far beyond. So I went home and sat by the Cascade and finished another poem, this one for the Lady of the House. Words kept tumbling and arranging themselves in my head as I walked ; all day I often had to stop to set them down, to scribble in my notebook. Lunch with the Lady and the Kitchen Witch, and we talked about the way the veil is thin here with the Otherworld. How on Dursey you can find your way through, how its inhabitants were “cliffed” by English soldiers in a time of rebellion (1600s), how they still say that for cliff-edge suicides: “she cliffed herself.” How you can feel the haunt and ache out there. How Allihies is weird and wild, how its name, Na hAilichí, means “The Echoes”, and they are the voices of the Unborn, the unbaptised, the illegitimate babies, twittering echoes from Limbo (Otherwordly).
And then I told them that I was going to find the Cailleach, making a pilgrimage to Her. They advised me, told me not to forget a gift. I set out.
On the way, poems came to me. I wrote one for the Brother Who Died at Birth, started one about Little Fox, my daughter. I walked past the village, past Eyeries, which has nothing to do with eagles, but comes from Na hAoraí, the Adorations, the birthplace of the Cult of the Cailleach; up the hill and down into a low valley I went, where on either side grew ancient, secret groves of trees, among rocks furred with moss and ferns, trickling rivulets. Old old places, sheltered road. Occasionally it spat rain. There are pages of the notebook spattered and blurred.
Came out cutting around Coulagh Bay and Bally Crovane Harbour, then up among little hills, with sheep. As I walked, I thought: I need a pilgrim’s staff. I thought: Bata. And there one was, a straightish white stick standing against some bushes just off the road, all detached, almost my height. I took it with a blessing. A few minutes later, I stopped to piss and leaned it against my shoulder, and the top broke clean off with a crack: cut me down to size and lopped my manhood! I had felt like a Druid; now it was just more the size for a baton de pelerin, to comfortably walk, and not so ostentatious. So much the better. Up I went, looking the bay [sic], back to the valley, secret and hideaway. I followed the signs, and came to Her gate, new painted deep green. I opened the bolt and came into Her enclosure, and I said “I’m home my love”. Along the approach, worn by many feet, fence on one side and the fall, hill on the other, one side boggy, one side the hard path, a vein of rock.
I walked there, by the edge. I fell into the myth. I was the seventh husband, Manannán, finally come home from the Sea. I went around Her, to approach from the West, and as I turned, a bright and fading rainbow suddenly hung in the air above the valley. I gasped in delight. Then I greeted her, and went and laid a gentle kiss on Her, long and soft. On Her little ridges and clefts are left rusty coins and amulets, in profusion. I went and sat among the furze on a rock to the North side to be with Her. And there her profile clicked into place: no hag, but a beautiful woman, her face lifted to look out to sea, her hair blown back in the wind, frozen in time, figée in stone. She looks like the Doe-Eyed Girl. My wife who I have left behind on the shore while I sail out to sea, storm-tossed, chasing an impossible island, letting her turn to stone waiting for me so long. I was sweetly sad, but also just relieved and glad to be home. It was calm and beautiful. I sat and spoke to her. Irish words bubbled up, as they have been, dredged up. A Chailleach, a chroí, táim ar ais anois, ar ais arís. Ar ais abhaile. I spoke to her quietly, told her I was sorry for leaving her. Smoked a cigarette. Left her my gift, a fine heavy blue pen from Lycée Éliphas Lévi, that I didn’t know why I had brought. Kissed her goodbye.
As I left, the rainbow fell upon the mist again, to herald my leaving. A poem surfaced about my voyage, about leaving. About my cargo of booze. About coming home. Light rain had drifted down while I was with her; out on the open sea, brightness ached. I detoured to Corraigh Bhán, but couldn’t find the Ogham Stone. Mussel shells in the road. Nina’s Fury, Sarah’s Despair – tiny boats. Laoise Áilinn. A secret path to a quiet house that the rainbow had landed on. I walked back, and stopped off at Causkey’s in the village for a couple of well-earned pints. The locals engaged me in conversation as I sat at the bar, let me in sideways into theirs. They said they had taken me for a Russian spy. It must be the beard. They laughed at the story of the umbrella I had borrowed the day before being torn inside out and whipped from my hand by the wind. At the end of a long and involved story about a raw egg substituted for a hard-boiled one, which, cracked against a bulkhead, ran down the sleeve of the sailor hoping to have it for his lunch, one humorously twinkling man with a ruddy face and a thick woolly jumper turned to face me and said conspiratorially, delightedly: “Our ploys are not very complex around here.”
To find out more about the Cailleach Bhéara, see the following website for a good introduction, and many many more to go deeper : https://www.theirishplace.com/heritage/the-cailleach-beara-or-the-hag-of-beara/
To read more from Malachas Ivernus and his band of malcontents, see https://thehollowbehindthehearthstone.com/
Ivernus has been studying the occult and the weird all his life, and inscribing spells and stories in leatherbound books since he was very young. A devotee of wild, ancient, and lonely places, a speaker to spirits and practitioner of magic, he has recently felt the call to minister and mediate between this world and the Otherworld, and has found himself on the Path of Druidry … only to discover that he had been walking it all along, and only now looked back and seen where he was coming from.