30 Days – An Chailleach Bhéarra: Art, Music, Filidecht…

The next four questions fit very well together, so I’m tackling them all at once.

20) Art that reminds you of this deity


An Cailleach Bheara by the Irish Film Board. They take from both Irish and Scottish myths about the Cailleachean, but there’s a lot of ‘my’ Bhéarra in this film. Her associations with the wild, and with wild animals; the story of the bones in the attic (which is Ireland-wide but feels very relevant, especially the way they bring out the theme of the clash of Christian and pre-Christian aspects of Ireland); the renewal of the Cailleach every 100 years… Really, really beautiful.

21) Music that makes you think of this deity

For me, the sadness that this song expresses for the people of a little town comes straight from the heart of their tutelary deity. Poor men from across Ireland went to fight in whatever wars England was engaged in at the time, and had no choice in the matter. Bantry is a little harbour town in Beara – the girls would have stood on the docks and watched their men leaving them. (My great-grandmother taught lace-making in Bantry.) It’s entirely possble that this song comes from a different Bantry, but the song works very well for me as a picture of life in that little town.

22) A quote, a poem, or piece of writing that you think this deity resonates strongly with

If we’re specifically talking about Baoi, rather than other Cailleachean, then my favourite writing about her is the collection of poetry called ‘Cailleach: the Hag of Beara’ by Leanne O’Sullivan. It draws strongly on local myths about Bhéarra, which are quite hard to come by outside of the peninsula. In this collection, Bhéarra is simultaneously a mortal woman and a goddess, as the stories and history of ordinary people from Beara merge with the legends of their Hag. In the poems, her husband, the sea god, is also a fisherman – and they are destined to join and then part, like land and sea.

This is the sea at the end of it;
the sky and the sea’s tangled cries flooding
inwards, then out to the grey reflection of itself.

I am lost in this encircling.

But my favourite poem from the collection is a somewhat indecipherable one. The woman’s fisherman-husband is dead, and she is at the end of her 100-year life, preparing to turn to stone and be reborn:

The Wanderer

Would you walk with me, woman?
The cold is in for the night now,
and the mountains quiet. It’s scarce
the sun rolls around her face
or walks out in the fields. The cold is in.
Would you walk with me, woman?

The night makes a blaze of my grief,
my only soft and finest love.
Her long hair is flung out before me
like moonlight on the sea.
All the memory of her is me.
Would you walk with me, woman?

I have no talk of war or song,
I have no ready ear to the earth
or words in passion for their work.
Sooner comes the dark engrained
on summits, and the ocean louder.
Would you walk with me, woman?

One more road in a whirl of roads
opens before me like a ritual of place.
I remember the foreign lightness of her touch.
I loved her soft and undecipherable notes.
The mountains are dark now. The cold is in.
Would you walk with me, woman?

– Leanne O’Sullivan

23) Your own composition – a piece of writing about or for this deity

I don’t write poetry very often – I have to be really caught by imbas – but here’s one I wrote for her people, a little while ago. I’ve posted it before, so I’ve stuck it behind a tag.

You are forgotten people of forgotten gods.
You live between the dawn and the first ray of the sunrise,
Between the breath of wind and the briefest movement of a leaf,
Deep between the planting and the first glimpse of the shoot.

You are forgotten people of forgotten gods.
You are the ruined temple in which we wish to dwell,
We have a use for every scarred and fractured part of you.
What need have we of perfect shrines and shining golden statues
When the mountains and the meadows and the rivers are our playground?
But there is not a sanctuary like you in all the world.

You are forgotten people of forgotten gods.
You are our hands and feet in the hidden, buried places.
You are our priests to people abandoned to the darkness,
To the displaced and the destitute, the lost and the forgotten,
In the shopfronts under blankets, in the crumbling council towers,
And at midnight in the dark, deserted station, going nowhere.

You are forgotten people of forgotten gods.
In the provinces forgotten, in the lands neglected, missing,
In the shifting sands, the inconsistent coastlines of the sea shore,
In the flooded fields where farmers wait to start again from nothing,
In the hedgerows of the city and along the buried rivers.
You are forgotten people of forgotten gods.

7 thoughts on “30 Days – An Chailleach Bhéarra: Art, Music, Filidecht…

  1. I was only able to get a couple of minutes of the link to the film before my computer seized up, couldn’t keep up. But the bit I was was intriguing and I will try again. All three poems have power and I can certainly feel presence in them — ‘I am lost in this encircling’ I feel that sometimes in relation to other deities and presences. ‘The Wanderer’ is as enigmatic as that mystery to which it refers. And your poem haunts and challenges. Much sharing and thank you.

  2. Love that video- surreal, uncanny, beautiful. It put me more in mind of a Japanese than British piece of film, maybe because it’s not often the British spirit world and its stories get depicted?

  3. The Fisherman’s poem strikes me as a lamentation. It brings to mind the coming of winter and that the summer was his love that is now gone. At least, that’s my interpretation.

  4. Couldn’t get the video link to work on my phone, but found it on YouTube. Wonderful! Very European Art house similar to the films back in the 1960s and 1970s. Loved how the priest showed an organisational way of counting the bones (I lost count at 47) only to end up throwing them and getting swallowed by them as they grew in number.
    And a good reminder that all things end… and become reborn.

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