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.
Dhún an Óir
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.
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.
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.
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.