Sunday, 30 October 2016

Tales from the Cailleach: The Lament of the Old Woman at Samhain.

I am known to my neighbours as the mad one who talks to the fairies and it is said I walk the roads 
whilst others sleep.
These same neighbours come to me for help with the troubles of country living; a sick mare, a lame cow or the strange event that preys upon the mind.
At these times I make the tea, stand the pot on the hearth and let the silence brew. 
I suggest a simple explanation for the opening door, the chill at the fireside or a room the dog won’t enter. 
Most times they are satisfied.
With others a pinch of truth is all that’s needed to recall piseogs and buried knowledge that goes on long into the night.

So I live amongst these people, not quite accepted by them, for I do not go to mass as they do 
nor hail the priest as father.
I keep to my own ways, spirit unbounded by men with rules and robes.
Now and then I catch a sharp glance from some busy farmer as I visit mound and thorn but they do not guess my secret.

Three times a year I leave my home in darkness, needing neither broom nor steed, I rise from bed 
to fly above the sleeping townland.
Whitethorn scent may rise to meet me or, as tonight, turf smoke greets my flight across grey fields.

Image by Peter Gordon at

Skimming winding river I am observed but not by human eyes. 
Deer, owl and hare all know my ways, the night is ours.

Over hidden valley and bald mountain top I rise to settle on the tumbled cairn. 
Below land stretches away in shades of darkness undisturbed.
A sigh, long and deep, escapes me. 
Eyes close to invoke Samhain long past when the people knew and held us close.
Heart heavy with old memories, sorrow gnaws at my breasts and I nurse it. 

Alone, unloved, forgotten in this modern world.

Bitter wind shakes me from the past. 

Keen-eyed again, I stretch my sight to spy the distant horizon. 
Far off, a shift, a smudge, disturbs my vision.
A wisp of smoke.   A soar of sparks.   Now a flare of yellow red. 
Tlachta’s fire is kindled !

One by one other heights reply; 

Teamhair, Cruacháin, Uisneach, Sliabh na Caillí, Cruachán Aigle and Binn Ghulbain. 
Sliabh gCuillinn, Sliabh Dónairt, twin fires upon Dá Chích Anann. 

Hill top beacons burst with fire. 
In valleys tiny flames wake as dormant village cross-roads ignite. 

A million flames, a rosary of fire across the land.

The old ways are remembered!

Three calls from sharp-mouthed Raven cleaves the silence, The Great Queen rises from her cave. 
Beneath Brí Éile Brigid’s forge is lit anew as one by one, across the night, mounds open 
and those who have never left return.

Here, upon the Height of Ireland, I stand tall again and at my side Manannán shares his secret smile with me. 

The tide has turned.

Samhain greetings to you all!

This story was inspired by reading ‘The Lament of the Old Woman of Beare’, an Irish poem written in the 10th century,
which led me to wonder if The Cailleach lived amongst us and if so, what sort of neighbour would she be?

This virtual film relates a version of the poem translated by the Celtic language scholar Kuno Meyer. 

In the ancient past the Samhain fire was ceremonially lit by the Druids on Tlachtga, the Hill of Ward in Co. Meath. 
It is believed that answering fires were also lit on other prominent places across the landscape.
In more recent times the Tlachtga ceremony has been rekindled and this short film shows part 
the ceremony in 2015. 


  1. Happy Samhain, dear Jane.
    What a beautiful post.

  2. Thanks Carol - have a great Samhain! xx

  3. Brid Ni Fhoighil18 October 2018 at 23:12

    Beautifully done x

  4. That is beautiful & brilliant. Wonderful post. Thanks

  5. Thank you for this writing - so evocative and heartfelt


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