• Lughnasa at St Marcan’s Lough, Clew Bay, Co. Mayo – Part 2

    The Lughnasa connections at St Marcan’s Lough are important in that they would appear to be linked with St Brigid who is associated with the nearby church and graveyard at Kilbride. According to local folk tradition Brigid cursed Marcan following an argument. One version of the story, recorded by Patrick Lyons, was published by Hubert T. Knox in 1919;

    “One day when Marcan came to celebrate the Mass for Brigid and nuns, she said: Do not say mass until I milk the cows and divide the milk.

    Marcan-All right.

    When Brigid had the cows milked and the milk divided (for her household), she found that the Mass was over.

    Brigid-Why did you not wait until the cows would be milked?

    Marcan-I’ll say Mass when I like.

    Brigid-That your house may be dhrownded.

    Marcan-There is a cure at my house for man and beast.

    Brigid-That any one who looks at my hill may not have the benefit of it.

    Marcan-That there may be a corpse at your hill every day.

    Brigid-It is starlings they will be”.

    A subsequent version of this story is preserved in the Schools Manuscripts;

    “St Brigid prayed that his church should be covered with a lake and he [Marcán] prayed in turn that if it was it should have a cure for people. She prayed that the cure should not be for people but for animals and so it came about that it has a cure for cows” (NFC Schools Manuscripts Vol. 86, 96. See also Vol. 88, 22-4 and Vol 467, 176).

    At first glance it is tempting to see this story as representing a denunciation of pagan rituals at St Marcan’s Lough, suggesting that the Brigid may be superimposed on an earlier Lughnasa tradition. However, given the association between Brigid and cattle, especially the fertility of cattle and the production of milk, the presence of Brigid (associated with the festival of Imbolc at the beginning of Spring) at a site associated with cattle swimming during Lughnasa may be far more complex. It is certainly curious that two major pre-Christian and also Christian festivals appear to be represented at St Marcan’s Lough.

    Máire MacNeill has noted that St Brigid is connected with at least two Lughnasa sites, though, as she notes, Brigid does not appear frequently in the festival legends. However, it is worth noting that Brigid also features in connection with Croagh Patrick where she is associated with a bell used by St Patrick to scatter the demons that tormented him while he was on the mountain summit. According to the Tripartite Life of Patrick;

    “He strikes his bell at them, so that its gap broke out of it, and that [bell] is ‘Brigit’s Gapling’.”.

    This would appear to be referring to the bell (or at least its predecessor) known as the Black Bell of St Patrick. While the story may be partly invented to explain the damage suffered by the bell, its association with St Brigid may be significant, representing an example of what Máire MacNeill has termed her passive role within the Lughnasa complex, though her role in the stories surrounding Rosclave is certainly not passive. Indeed, it is possible that Brigid originally played a stronger role within the Lughnasa tradition elsewhere, and that her role (as in the case of Lugh) was diminished or even deleted entirely during the adoption of these stories by Christian writers with a Patrician agenda. Máire MacNeill pointed out the implicit duality of the names and presumably symbolism of Crom Dubh and Lugh representing darkness and light respectively. Perhaps it should not be surprising that the concept of opposition may also be evident in the association between Brigid, representing the beginning of the growing season, and Lughnasa, representing the harvest and the culmination of the growing season. Indeed, Seamas Ó Catháin in his book The Festival of Brigit has already alluded to this, and has suggested that the name Lugh may be connected with the Irish word luachair, meaning ‘rushes’, which form an integral part of the festival of Brigid.

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