I am the woman of Beara
Foul am I that was fair;
Gold-embroidered smocks I had,
Now in rags am scarcely clad.
From the Lament of the Hag of Beara, translated
By Stephen Gwynn.
The rest of my day’s travels was a strange personal odyssey into mist and myth beginning with a short spin from Kilcatherine church down to the little swing gate on the opposite side of the road where I parked my bike beside an information plaque to the Hag of Beara. The petrified stone Goddess stands transfixed on a shelf of grass a hundred metres down from the gate overlooking the waves of Coulagh Bay as if she was cruelly turned to stone a moment before she could make good her escape into the sea. The plaque at the gate in embossed letters tells the story of how the local Christian saint Cathighern while sleeping had his prayer book filched by the hag and being awoken by a local tramp of the theft the saint gave chase and with his divine power turned the Hag of Beara into the stone where she now still stands, so the story goes. This strange surviving piece of sedimentary rock has indeed become loaded with myth and significance. Yet that myth the Christian version of the myth is full of the mercilessness of the certainties of Christianity of the 5th century, condemning the Goddess for ever to be petrified in stone, like a Celtic Lot’s wife.
I prefer the older fertility myth of the once beautiful earth – goddess who had lovers over and over amongst the generations of heroes and gods, casting off the rags of old age seven times to re-emerge each generation as a bright fertile young thing , a girl so fecund that the earth broke into blossom and young men desired her. Here today , bejewelled with surviving sea shells from the deep she still waits forlorn, frozen in time on this rocky edge above the incoming surf hoping for her husband, the sea god Mananan Mac Lir to come and restore her once more to beauty and youth when a new age of love, life and fertility would return .The stone goddess has its modern devotees too , each little horizontal shelf of sediment on the stone is loaded with offerings of euro coins, trinkets of lost lovers like one engraved medallion that clings there “To Christy , my friend, my love” and little plastic bracelets that a lovelorn teenager might wear.