Myths and Stories of Lough Derg
Myths, legends and otherworldly weirdness abound amongst the shores of Lough Derg. From ghostly goings-on to timeworn tales, here some of the lake’s most fascinating stories.
Lough Derg and the Bloody Eye
The origins of how Lough Derg got its name are grim in nature.
Eochaidh Mac Luachta, King of Mid-Erinn, whose fort was situated on Lough Derg, had the misfortune to be visited by a wicked bard, Aithirné the Importunate.
Aithirné was a skilled satirist who rarely asked for reimbursement that was easy or honourable to grant. When Aithirné had finished his show he demanded the king’s only eye for payment. Rather than be considered ungenerous to a bard and have his people drawn into battle, he tore out his eye there and then and gave it over.
While washing the blood from his face, the lake turned red. The king then said, ‘Let the lake be called Loch Dergdheirc,’ meaning ‘the lake of the bloody eye’, and so it is known to this day.
Holy Island and the Beautiful Witch
Holy Island is an island off the western shore of Lough Derg by the pretty town of Mountshannon. Now uninhabited, it was once a monastic settlement. Despite its lack of population, the cemetery on this island is still in use with mourners and coffins making the journey by small boat to the island. It is perhaps for this reason that the island’s name, Inis Cealtra, means ‘the island of the burials’.
Amid the surrounds of this UNESCO Heritage Site, there sits the ruins of several small churches, as well as part of four high crosses and a holy well.
The island’s crowning glory, however, is its round tower. Mysteriously the tower’s cone-cap was never found, implying that the tower was never finished. This fits with a local legend that the stonemason who was working on the tower was distracted from his job by a beautiful witch.
Brian Ború and the Graves of the Leinstermen
The story of Lough Derg is entwined with that of Ireland’s most famous leader, Brian Ború, who fell at the Battle of Clontarf in 1014. History buffs can enjoy several prominent sites associated with the warrior king around Lough Derg such as his ring fort homestead Béal Ború, his headquarters Ceann Cora as well as the Brian Ború Heritage Centre.
However, one of the most famous local tales associated with the High King of Ireland concerns the ‘Graves of the Leinster Men’ and Lachtrelyon on the flank of Tipperary’s Thountinna mountain. The story goes that King Brian Ború engaged his daughter to the King of Leinster who came to fetch her. However, Brian Ború’s wife did not like the match and sent soldiers to hide on the hill. They attacked the Leinster King and, after a fight broke out, several of his men were slain and the king was mortally wounded. He entreated his men to carry him to the head of the pass so that he might die in sight of Leinster. The king was buried there, facing Leinster among his slain comrades under the stones that are now known as ‘The Graves of the Leinstermen’.
The Beasts of Tuamgraney Woods
For those looking for a spooking this Halloween, Tuamgraney Woods in County Clare is the place to go. Supposedly haunted on just one night of the year, the woods come alive with demon beasts, complete with glowing red eyes. Some time ago, a story tells that a young man decided to take a stroll there, unaware of what he was letting himself in for. He stumbled around the woods, meeting a ghostly black dog, a black hare and a deer. Brandishing his stick, he braced himself to hit a ram that was coming at him. Despite his stick only meeting thin air, the man still received brutal wounds by the ram’s sharp horns.
Annagh Castle and the Guarded Treasure
On the banks of Lough Derg in County Tipperary, stand the ruins of Annagh Castle. The structure was built in the sixteenth century and was once home to the English politician, Sir Phillip Perceval. However, it is not the spirit of Philip that wanders the castle.
Former owner, Edmund Roe O’Kennedy was brutally murdered by enemy forces before he could tell a soul where he had hidden his treasure. He can be seen roaming the ruins, his face a grotesque death mask, his neck gaping open — the wound bloodied and congealed. In 1975, an archaeology student was disturbed from digging by the sound of a gasping moan and came face to face with the hideous spectre of Edmund Roe O’Kennedy. Even after all these years, Edmund seems to be determined that death will not stop him and no one will find his treasure.