An Chailleach Bhéarra – The Hag of Beara

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An Chailleach Bhéarra – The Hag of Beara

According to legend, the Beara peninsula is the home of the mythical sovereignty Goddess ‘An Chailleach Bhéarra’ (the ‘Hag’ or ‘Old Woman’ of Beara).

The word ‘Cailleach’ (literally meaning ‘veiled one’) has a range of possible translations from ‘old woman’ to ‘witch’ or ‘hag’ and is the name for one of the oldest and most powerful pagan deities associated with Ireland. She forms the oldest aspect of the Great Goddess trinity, alongside younger incarnations as a maiden and a mother. According to legend, she had seven periods of youth one after another, so that every man who lived with her died of old age. Her descendants are so many, that they made up entire tribes and races and as a result she was worshipped across of Ireland and in many parts of Scotland.

In particular she is associated with the parish of Kilcatherine, on the Beara Peninsula, where it is said she met her mortal end. Here, on a small hill called ‘Ard na Caillí’ (Hill of the Hag), overlooking Coulagh Bay, stands a large weathered stone, itself known as ‘The Hag of Beara’. Coins and other trinkets are still left at this beautiful yet unassuming site, thought to be a representation of the Cailleach herself.

Kilcatherine is named after Naomh (Saint) Caitiarin, one of the earliest Irish saints who preached Christianity in the surrounding area. Local legend tells that the Cailleach considered the arrival of Nthe saint as a threat to her powers. One day, after gathering food along the shores of the peninsula, the Cailleach passed through Kilcatherine and found Caitiarin asleep on a hill. She quietly approached the sleeping saint and stole his prayer book. A cripple who lived nearby saw what happened and shouted at Naomh Caitiarin, waking him just in time to see the Cailleach running away. The saint ran after the Cailleach and caught up with her at the place now called Ard na Caillí. After recovering his prayer book, it is said that Naomh Caitiarin then turned the Cailleach into the grey pillar-stone which remains there to the this day.

Another, much older legend concerning the site, says that the Cailleach slowly turned into the stone, with her back to the hill and her face to the sea, as she waited for her lover, the ancient sea-god Manannán, to return to her.

Monumental Ireland - An Chailleach Bhéarra - The Hag of Beara