Ireland’s ancient legends are full of stories about the Cailleach (pronounced “kyle-yeukh”) or the celtic witch. In the area of the Cliffs of Moher, she is called Bronach, which means “Sorrow.” At Hag’s Head, she is called Mal, and you can read about poor Mal’s sad love life in our blog.
She would descend from the mountains at Samhain (October/Halloween) to rule the land until Beltaine (Spring). The most ancient of all Celtic legends. Cailleach means “Old Wife” and she has been described by various different names – Bronach, Mal, Mish, Cailleach Bheara.
Where Brigit Meets St Brigid
The legends also tell of Brigit who was the mother of the gods themselves, the Tuatha de Danann. Brigit and the Cailleach were opposing forces – Brigit was the celtic goddess of spring and she reigned over the light part of the year, while the Cailleach reigned the 3 months of winter. As frequently happened ancient Irish tradition and Irish catholic tradition merged and “Brighid the pagan fire goddess” became “St Brigid”.The feast day of Ireland’s female patron saint, St Brigid is February 1st, and the pagan festival of spring was celebrated on February 1st and marks the transition from winter to spring. Read more about St Brigid here in our Doolin2Aran Ferries blog.
Brigit was the goddess of new beginnings and birth, being represented by the lamb and the sheering of sheep in the spring. There was a game called Sibyl that placed Cailleach against Brigit, the Dragon against the Lamb. At Samhain, Cailleach Bheara would triumph over Brigit, but at Oimlec the reverse would be true.
The Beara Peninsula
One story tells about Cailleach Bheara who was originally a Spanish princess named Bheara. It was foretold that she would go to the River Eibhear on a certain night and discover a salmon dressed in colorful garments. On that night, she would meet her future husband. Eventually, that night came to pass, and she eloped with Eoghan Mo’r of Magh Nuadat. They set sail for Ireland. When they arrived, they landed on the North side of Bantry Bay. Eoghan named the peninsula after his wife, Bheara.
The Dingle Peninsula is considered to be Cailleach Country. Almost every aspect of this area is named after the Cailleach Bheara. There are more than 2,000 archaeological sites in this area, many of which pose religious significance. Mish – one of the numerous variations of the Cailleach -rules the mountain range of this area.