Croagh Patrick and the Formorians

I spent some time over the weekend asking questions about the relationship between Balor of the Evil Eye and Croagh Patrick.

Anyone who’s been to Westport will realise that this is a mountain with powerful magical connotations. The fact that the Church had to claim it for their No. 1 Irish related saint will give some idea of how powerful they must have been.

I always thought that the mountain had been the location for Balor of the Evil Eye (said eye being either a third eye in the middle of his forehead or a large war machine eye operated by a series of pulleys and winches which was opened to cast a baleful gaze upon his enemies, depending on which source you prefer). He had lived atop said Croagh, and was somewhat akin to Tolkien’s Souron in his generalship of malevolent forces throughout the land.

I was meeting with a number of archeologists on Sunday, and thought I’d quiz them further about the mountain and its place in old stories. I was disturbed to find that their training had left them utterly ignorant on this important issue. Instead they seemed to have spent their time learning about mud and arrowheads.

They finished their comprehensive pooh-poohing of all the epics of ancient Ireland, and all the local tales of fairy forts and standing stones as being utter fiction dating back merely to the Early Christian period. Nothing could be learned from them as to what had gone before then, and so they could be, and should be in the interests of science, utterly discounted as fiction and superstition.

In return, I asked them how they could sleep at night for all the brambles left in their beds.

UPDATE: For further evidence of Croagh Patrick being up to something, see this Nationwide report (realplayer) on the Rolling Sun, which happens twice a year.

17 Comments

  • copernicus says:

    Lugh who killed Balor, presumably at Croagh Patrick, is associated with the mountain as the site of the celebration of Lughnasa, harvest festival. Killing Balor must have something symbolic to do with what the whole Lughnasa – balance of day and night – vibe.

    Never thought of the connexion twixt Balor and his evil eye and the Eye of Sauron! And I call myself a nerd. Tut tut.

  • Simon McGarr says:

    Tolkien was based for years in UCD, in the Old and Middle English Department.

    It is not beyond the bounds of imagination that the baleful eye on the high peak of the Dark Tower was directly inspired by Balor and his own dark peak.

  • Simon McGarr says:

    And now I have to find out about Lugh and Balor. Any suggestions for useful books?

  • EWI says:

    They finished their comprehensive pooh-poohing of all the epics of ancient Ireland, and all the local tales of fairy forts and standing stones as being utter fiction dating back merely to the Early Christian period. Nothing could be learned from them as to what had gone before then, and so they could be, and should be in the interests of science, utterly discounted as fiction and superstition.

    Unless it’s in Latin, of course /snark

  • copernicus says:

    Hmnn, of course it’s fiction and superstition, but it wasn’t created in a vacuum. With a little bit of critical analysis of the symbols involved, the Lugh v Balor story tells you exactly what the Croagh Patrick site was used for.

    My favourite archaeology humour was on some short lived Beeb comedy and taking the piss out of Time Team. They unearthed a shard of pottery, scanned it into their laptop and suddenly started a CAD extrapolation that threw up villas, aquaducts, roads, legions etc etc.

    Most amusing.

  • Simon McGarr says:

    Well exactly. I pointed out that the waves of settlers to arrive into the country and the stories of the succession of Formorians, Fir Bolog, Tuatha De Dannan, and then Fionn and his Fianna might, without too much of a streach of the imagination be related.

    Once again, the ‘wasn’t written down until the Early Christian period, therefore could just have been made up the day before’ response was unsatisfactory.

    Also I was told that the stories featured endless wars between these peoples, while archeologists have found no fortifications of the relevant coastal dweller early settlers.

    To which I say, what about Dun Aongus? Weren’t the Fir Bolog driven to the very Western Edge?

  • copernicus says:

    Given the extent of chin-stroking speculation that goes on in archaeological circles, I thought they’d have been a little more open-minded.

    I read an interesting article about historians generally in Ireland (in History Ireland) recently which made much out of the inhibition among Irish historians (uniquely among their international counterparts it seems) about using folk sources and the incredible resource that is the Irish Folklore Collection in UCD (would that it was digitised and podcast etc unto the nations of the earth). Perhaps their brother archaeologists have been rubbed off on a bit.

    I thought it was very interesting recently to hear a lot of revisionist sillyness about the legitimacy and popular currency of the separatist ethos in Ireland. The failure to consider folk and popular sources rather than official documents and texts really skews what one sees when one looks backwards. I hold no brief for nationalism, (being Irish is lovely and everything…) but neither do I hold a candle for the monarchist dystopia so charmingly depicted in Somerville and Ross. And I say that as someone who spent the morning furiously transcribing his opinions about stare decisis, audi alterem partem and all the rest of it in the Dining Hall of the Kings Inns under the magisterial and haughty of gaze of generations of their oil-painted Lordships.

  • EWI says:

    I read an interesting article about historians generally in Ireland (in History Ireland) recently which made much out of the inhibition among Irish historians (uniquely among their international counterparts it seems) about using folk sources

    Which Kiberd (the non-clown academic one) would ascribe to a post-colonial inferiority complex…

  • copernicus says:

    Indeedy do. It’s time to get over it, I think.

  • Murray McAneeley says:

    I have been serching for my surname in Ireland and am having no luck.Does anyone know any other mcAneeley’s or where the name came from

  • Simon McGarr says:

    I was always taught that the McAneeley’s and the Fir Bolg fought each other to extinction.

  • Rose Mary Mulcahy says:

    Mr. McGarr: I’m surprised at you! I thought your snide response to Murray McAneeley was out of order. You might have directed the gentleman to any of the many Genealogical websites, where his query would have received a kinder response.

    Or, do posters who inadvertantly intrude on the current topic all risk your rapier sharp wit?

    You owe the gentleman a mea culpa.

  • Simon McGarr says:

    Rose Mary:

    As a form of penance I direct Mr. McAneeley to MacLysaght’s The Surnames of Ireland (ISBN: 0716523663). This is an epic piece of scholarship by the former chief herald of Ireland.

    Even if the Fir Bolg have erased the McAneelys from Ireland, MacLysaght will tell you where the name originated, and its relationship to various parts of Ireland and other names.

    It even has a listing for McGarr. It says: “see McGirr”. Comprehensive stuff.

  • Rose Mary Mulcahy says:

    Thank you Simon…Now, that wasn’t hard, was it?

  • murray says:

    Thanks again …Simon

  • Murray McAneeley says:

    Could you tell me again what happen to the ” McAneeley’s “?

  • Nice idea, but I think your geography is a bit off.

    Balor wasn’t based at Croagh Patrick, but on the island of Tory, off the Donegal coast.

    The final battle between Lugh and Balor took place at Magh Tuireadh, which could be Croagh Patrick I suppose, but is usually thought to be either Cong or Lough Arrow. If you want another LOTR link, Magh Tuireach could possibly be translated as plain of the two towers.

    Croagh Patrick is usually associated with Crom, not Balor. As you’d expect for a festival at Lughnasad, Crom is a harvest deity.

    Academic disciplines are a lot more specialised these days, so archaeologists are rarely interested in mythology, at least professionally. If you want to get more on the legends, talk to the guys in Celtic Studies, if you can find any. They’re a bit rare on the ground these days, and Bord Snip wants to shut down DIAS.

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