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The Champion of


Castle of Gold


The following story from Cape Clear is found in the schools' folklore collection which is held in the Department of Folklore in University College Dublin. The story was taken down in 1939 by Ciarán Ó Síocháin. The storyteller was Tomás Ó Síocháin, a fisherman who was 71 years old in 1939.

According to the notes in the book Céad Fáilte go Cléire, (Marion Gunn ed., Dublin 1990) Tomás heard the story from Dónall Ó Drisceoil 50 years before that. This would take the knowledge of this story back to the 1880s. There is no reason to believe that this story doesn't go back much further. The idea of a character like the champion appears already in tales of pre-Christian Ireland which were written down in the Book of Leinster as early as the middle of the 12th century. In these stories, the mighty and mysterious warrior /magician Cú Roí who resides on a mountaintop in County Kerry stands in a stark contrast to the warriors of Ulster and Connacht who dominate the early stories.

The Gruagach of Dún an Óir is without doubt an heir, if not, a relation of Cú Roí in folklore terms. Maybe he is even Cú Roí himself, who knows.

Through the folklore collection of the 1930s and Ciarán Ó Síocháin's diligent cooperation, but also through Marion Gunn's wonderful edition of materials in the book Céad Fáilte go Cléire the story is kept alive and continues, along with other accounts, to fascinate listeners and readers wherever they hear it.

The following translation of the story is based on the Irish edition by Marion Gunn, Céad Fáilte go Cléire, p. 63, notes p. 179.


Gruagach Dhún an Óir

The Champion of the Castle of Gold


I often heard that fishermen would hear lovely music and beautiful songs being recited in the dead of night in the Castle of Gold when they were passing by in the boats. I also often heard that there is a golden crock hidden somewhere around the Castle, but that it wasn't possible to find it since it was enchanted. It is said that the Champion of Dún an Óir put the enchanted crock there.

Long before a castle was made there was a fortress there. The man who was in charge of the Castle was a Champion with magical powers. He was a tough, forceful, strong warrior. The Champion's wife was the most beautiful woman the eyes of a sinner could behold. Her hair reached to the ground and its colour was golden, and her skin was as white as snow.

Other champions and princes would often come across the sea in order to see this beautiful woman. Thus a spark of jealousy hit the Champion warrior of Dún an Óir, so that some strife arose between himself and his wife. The Champion felt so jealous that he lured in a giant who was to watch and to protect his wife anytime when he wasn't at home. The wages the giant was to receive from the Champion for protecting his wife was a purse full of gold. The giant was a fool. His name was 'An t-Amadán Mór' - 'The Big Fool' . The Big Fool was a strong, well trained hero with the sword.

It was in the enchanted old times long ago when the Champion was in charge of Dún an Óir. He was under a magic spell and so was the fortress.

The remains of Dún an Óir in the townland of Baile Iarthach Thuaidh, on the NW coast of Cape. A 13th century O'Driscoll fortress it commands spectacular views of the Cape coastline and Roaringwater Bay as well as the mainland behind the Bay. Access is very dangerous and dependent on tide and should not be attempted without guide. Prior arrangement with the owner of the land on which the ruin is situated is necessary.

But one certain day the Champion said to the Big Fool that he was going out on a trip to visit another champion, and as he was leaving the Castle he told the Big Fool to keep watch over his wife until he himself would come back.

The Champion left the Castle but he hadn't gone far when he decided to go back into the Castle to check whether the Big Fool was doing his business dilligently. Because he was enchanted he immediately changed his appearance and turned back and made for the Castle.

In he went and up to the place where his wife was sitting, but of course, she didn't recognize him nor did the Big Fool, because his appearance was changed. The stranger sat down next to the woman and gave her a kiss. When he had done this he got up again and walked to the door but the Big Fool stepped between him and the door. Then the Big Fool said to the stranger that nobody was allowed to come into the Castle when the Champion wasn't at home and that he couldn't let anybody out of the Castle without fighting him.

'Very well' answered the stranger. Both of them took up swords and they engaged in fighting. They were carrying on for a long time like this but none of them did any harm to the other. However, in the end the Champion cut off one of the Fool's feet. Even so, the Fool was still fighting on one foot.

They continued fighting until the Big Fool turned on his remaining foot to protect himself from the heavy wounding blows he was receiving from the Champion, and after another little while the Champion cut off the Fool's other foot with a blow of the sword.

Then the Fool threw himself like a corpse across the doorway in front of the Champion so that the Champion couldn't go out.

'I'll give you back one of your feet' , said the Champion, 'if you let me out.

'Very well, I'll let you out', answered the Fool. The Champion threw one of his feet over to him and as soon as he had the foot back he started fighting again.

'You'll get the other foot back if you let me out' said the Champion.

'It doesn't matter whether I'll get another foot, dishonour or your head, for you shall not leave that place until the Champion of Dún an Óir comes home, so that you will pay dearly for kissing his wife', answered the Big Fool.

'That's it', said the Champion to himself. 'There is no need for me to worry when I go on a trip because I leave a diligent servant behind, and a friend on a bad day, should he be needed.