Jottings of my Life in Tyrone, Ireland – Corkscrew Hill Legend

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Legends: Corkscrew Hill, Athenry Caslte, Kilmacduagh Round Tower 

On the way home from the Lakes of Killarney we would take the train as far as Ennis and then drive on to Ballyvaughan, a little seaside town just opposite Galway on the other side of the bay. Now, I daresay, you may have noticed the queer formation of the hills in that part of the country. One in particular, Corkscrew Hill, like any other place in Ireland that is the least bit out of the ordinary, has a legend:

The story of the Pooka has to do with the taming of a beautiful black horse that used, to no good purpose, his supernatural powers on any person under the influence of spirits who happened to be passing that way. Well, back in the days of King Brian Boru this evil animal was the death of many a wrong-doer. As long as he confined his attentions to that class of society, the King did not trouble very much about it. But one night his little baby was taken sick, and the King wished to send for the doctor, who happened to live quite near the spot where the Pooka was in the habit of exhibiting his murderous traits. The King insisted on his servant going to fetch the doctor, Pooka or no Pooka. So, the unfortunate man saddled the King’s white mare and off he went in fear and trembling and shocking to relate, that was the last that was heard of him. The King had the whole country searched, but nothing was ever seen of him again. Of course, everyone was sure the servant had been killed by the beautiful jet-black horse; so the King determined to teach the Pooka a lesson he would never forget.

So, the King mixed up a concoction of herbs as described in his book of magic, with which he was to enchant the evil one. With this stuff and three hairs out of a mare’s tail, he started off to have it out with the Pooka. Well, just as he came to Corkscrew Hill the lovely black steed came trotting along beside him. Of course, as all evil spirits are supposed to be able to speak, the Pooka and the King entered into a lively conversation. The King very cleverly brought up the subject of age and the Pooka, in order to convince the King that he was not quite as young as he looked, opened his mouth and invited the King to look in. Now, this was just what the King wanted, as it gave him a chance to get the three hairs into the Pooka’s mouth and around his lower jaw and while saying the enchantment he dropped in the charm that was concealed in his pocket.

The three hairs immediately turned into iron bands, and do what he would, the Pooka could not shake them out of his mouth and he knew that he was under the spell of a charm. Well, King Boru got on his back and proceeded to drive him for all he was worth, using his spurs and whip to such good intent, the Pooka screamed with pain. But the King would not listen and, knowing the charm only would act for seven miles around, he rode the Pooka up and down Corkscrew Hill so many times that the Pooka was quite worn out and asked the King for mercy. So, the King let him off on the condition that the Pooka would not kill anybody again and that if he took any bad character for a ride on his back, he was always to bring him back to the spot where he found him and leave him there.

Of course, the Pooka was delighted because he had been up and down the hill so many times that the path was worn into wide terraces that make this hill so much like a corkscrew. i

Athenry Castle

Built as it is on plain, flat country, Athenry, itself, is not much of a town to look at. There are, however, the ruins of a fine old castle with which a quaint old story: It seems that long ago the countryside was ruled by a king Whose name was Dennis. Living nearby were six other kings who thought so much of old King Dennis that they all used to visit him four times a year because Dennis was the oldest of them all. After a time, as is only natural, these kings died, and their six sons kept up the custom of coming to see old King Dennis. Of course, as all stories go, the King had a beautiful daughter, Princess Bridget, a lovely girl to behold but with a disposition that was anything but sweet. Well, as was to be expected, all six of the young kings fell in love with the beautiful princess. Since she could not marry them all, and could not make up her mind which one she liked best, her father decided to hold a great athletic contest at which the six suitors were to partake in deeds of prowess and the princess was to say which one she thought was the best man. So a day was arranged for and everyone of note all around the country came to the sports.

Now, before the contest took place, the wily princess called each of the young kings one by one and told them each the same thing. “I’m sure you will win,” she said, “but don’t tell anyone what I said.” So each king thought that he was the chosen one. Well, the show was a great success and everyone went home happy. The next morning the six young kings came back to the castle to find out which of them had been chosen, but the princess was nowhere to be found. Even her bed had not been slept in that night. The kings were very indignant and said that old King Dennis had played them a dirty trick.

The kings went home, gathered their armies together, and came back in the night to sack the town and castle. When the old king saw the armies outside the castle, he went out to see if he could make a treaty with them. As they were talking it over, a servant came running up with a letter from Princess Bridget to the young kings, saying that she had made her choice as promised and had gone to get married to the King of Galway. Indeed, the servant said that he saw the two of them riding away before daybreak.

Round Towers

In early Christian times churches were always located near a round tower. Although these towers of which there are many in Ireland – were built in prehistoric eras, many legends of Christian saints are connected with them. The tower at Cashel, for instance, is have been built by King Cormac McCarthy, who was also the archbishop of the diocese. However, the architecture of the tower antedates that of the church and chapel by many hundreds of years. The tower at Tulleherin is said to have been erected in one night by a missionary, so anxious was he to convert the natives.

These interesting relics are not only found in Ireland, but also in the Mediterranean countries and even as far off as India. There is one on the island of Malta that is the exact replica of the tower at Cashel. The natives seem to have been sun worshipers – a theory based on the amount of ashes found in the basements of these towers. Indeed, the names of many parts of Ireland suggest that the pagan Irish, like other people the world over, looked on fire as the emblem of the Sun God. You have heard of Mount Galtymore; the word “Galtymore” means the flame of the great circle. By the way, we had a race horse – The Maid of Oran – who was the half-sister of Galtymore, the famous race horse that won the Grand Prix in France. That makes me think of races and horse shows again.

Round Tower at Kilmacduagh

Compliments – Peter Craine :: Geograph Britain and Ireland

Kilmacduagh, an ancient fort with the usual round tower, has a cemetery and the ruins of a 7th Century abbey and church. It is here that my father’s people have their vault and here also is the tomb of my grand uncle De Blaquiere, who won renown at the Battle of Waterloo where he fought under the Duke of Wellington.

This interesting old place, only three miles from Gort, has, like many other ancient spots in Ireland, a weird legend attached to it. It seems that the old round tower would have been built up to the sky, had it not been for a red-headed girl who passed by without saying, “God bless this work.” The result of this mistake, was that every Monday a woman was found dead nearby. This so terrified the natives that they asked God to stop the curse, which I suppose He did, for after that a little sparrow was found dead there every Monday, instead.

The tower was completed, but it certainly does not reach up to Heaven by any means. As I said before, the La Hiff vault is here at Kilmacduagh, and here most of them rest in peace — I hope.

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About this record

Written by Elizabeth La Hiff Lambert

Published here 10 Sep 2022 and originally published 1979

Page 0106 of the Athenry History archive.

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