Stories of Heaven and Hell on the Glengarriff Road to Castletownbere

Driving  back home late one afternoon from Glengarriff (Gleann Garbh in Irish, meaning “Rough glen”) we happened upon another Marian Shrine tucked into the hillside.When I stepped out of the car I could hear the familiar sound of running water. Most Marian Shrines are built beside streams or wells that are believed to contain water rich with magical and healing properties.

I paused to think about how heavenly it would have been for road worn travelers to come upon an ancient sacred well, or a grotto, knowing they could rest, quench their thirst  and heal their weary bodies. Did this spring heal eyesight? Did it give comfort to arthritic limbs? Was it used for blessing children? What is its story?

A part of me also marveled at  how this seemingly innocent place could hide a dark and horrible tale remembered by only a few people. Stories take on a life of their own, evolving, exaggerating, encompassing and then, in time, fading away. I find that happens a great deal here in Ireland. The landscape is a story;every rock and tree and tomb has a tale to tell, a myth that imbues it with spirit, a legacy that is a touchstone for those who know and remember. I wish I could find a way to learn all the stories of the land, but bit by bit the voices are falling silent and a stone becomes just a stone, a lonely tree is just a tree….unless somebody remembers.

The road beside the Marian shrine curves around the corner and opens into a straightaway with a view of Sugarloaf Mountain. (Gabhal Mhór in Irish, which translates into Big Fork).On theside of the roadsits an innocent looking tree, long dead, its bark wind worn and exposing its white skeleton. This tree is not just a tree, it is a tale, slowly losing its ability to hang onto its story.

When I first moved to Castletownbere an elderly gentleman told me the story of how a priest was trapped on the lonely stretch of road between Castletownbere and Glengarriff by a group of Cromwell‘s men.The young priest fought valiantly for his life but was tortured and dismembered, his body hung from the branches for all to see on the long and winding road. Nobody dared touch the corpse, and so it hung until Nature reclaimed it as her own and the lonely tree was cursed.

The gentleman told me that the tree’s taboo was so powerful that, centuries later, the workers who fixed the road refused to touch it for fear of the curse.

It seemed innocent enough to me until I started photographing it and felt the distinct sensation of the hairs standing up on my arms and a chill move through me. I couldn’t help but shiver, despite the sunshine. I knew that the old man’s story mightn’t be true, and that it was a tale told for the benefit of the eager audience. (aka: me) But still,  there was something about the tale that continued to gnaw at my bones and I was too afraid to discount it.

When is a tree no longer just a tree? When it is a story trying to hang on to its memory…..


About Susanne Iles

Contemporary symbolist artist, writer,curator,and geek/nerd girl . Interested in photography, mythology, alchemy,ancient history,science,gaming and magic.
This entry was posted in Beara Peninsula, Castletownbere, County Cork, Glengarriff, Graveyard, Historical Site, Holy Well, Ireland, Marian Shrine, Myth, Ring of Beara and tagged , , , , , , , , , , , , , . Bookmark the permalink.

9 Responses to Stories of Heaven and Hell on the Glengarriff Road to Castletownbere

  1. Victor A. Bueno M. says:

    When someone writes an unforgettable story about it

  2. Kate says:

    What's also interesting about the tree is that its trunk is so slim. It almost looks like it is supporting itself by its arm and not its leg. Like it flew through the air and landed that way.

  3. Thomas Sheridan says:

    Well Susanne, I have to tell you this is a quality post and so well written. The photos are superb too.About the Marian Shrines… you often get them also at crossroads in the middle of nowhere. There is one remote one here on the slopes of the Ox Mountains. There is apparently something about crossroads (on old boreens) that is magical too. I have heard that in the old day these would be placed on ley lines and were considered places were the curtain between worlds was lifted. The one I know has a very powerful energy to it.

  4. Mountaindreamers says:

    What a gorgeous story , having grown up Catholic , the Blessed Mother has always been a source of inspiration and strength as she must have been to travelers. A beautiful experience reading your blog today. Laura

  5. Niall MacSuirtain says:

    Wow what a potent tale, and might I add thank you for telling it so masterfully. x Truly the heard of the seanachai lives on anew…

  6. Thomas Sheridan says:

    Happy New Year Susanne. Hope it's not as artic down in Kerry as it is here in Sligo.

  7. Cat says:

    What an amazing tree and story!Best wishes for the new year!

  8. well that tree was not there when i was young, going down 4/5 times ayear to CTB , it’s bog oak that was found when they were widening the road,,,, and so they put it up there………..

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