The Irish Folklore Centre

Providing a focus for the whole Irish folk tradition

This tale is from Douglas Hyde’s (1890) collection.  As described in Chapter 17, the hag is a very ancient character, but in this Roscommon story there are curious features which Alfred Nutt (1890) says are unparalleled in the rest of Ireland.  The inclusion of vultures and an arch-judge, a court role from ancient Egypt (web), does suggest a potential origin of the story.  It has many threads: family wickedness, long term penalties for sin, magic, shapeshifting, a frightening big black dog, an enchanted house, a castle beneath a lake and holy folk at the mercy of sorcery

Long ago, ‘in the old time’, a party of gentlemen came from Dublin to do some shooting.  They stayed in the priest’s house, as there was no inn in the village of Loch Glynn (Loughlinn, near Castlerea).  The first day they went into a local wood of Drimnagh and, after a while, they flushed out a hare, which none of them managed to hit.  They followed it to a little house in the wood.  At the door was a great black dog which would not allow them to enter.  They fired at it, but it caught the balls in its mouth, chewed them up and spat them out.  Barking loudly, the dog stood its ground until a hag with teeth as long as tongs came out.  She asked them what they were doing to her ‘pup’.  ‘A hare went into your house, and your dog won’t let us in after him’, said one of the hunters.  The hag told the dog to lie down and invited them in.  The hunters were nervous and asked if there was anyone else in the house. ‘There are six sisters’, said she.  ‘We should like to see them’, said a hunter, at which six old women came out with teeth as long as the other.

The gentlemen went back to the wood where they saw seven vultures on one tree.  They tried to shoot them, but would never have succeeded if they had loosed off all day.  An old grey man appeared who told them that the birds were the hags of the long teeth, who had been under enchantment for hundreds of years.  They had a dog who never let anyone in and a castle under the lake, which they entered by turning themselves into swans.  When they returned home to the priest’s house, they told him about the hags, but he did not believe them.

He returned with them to the house next day and there was the big black dog at the door.  The priest began to read prayers, at which the dog began to bark loudly.  The hags emerged from the house and let out a screech which was ‘heard in every part of Ireland’.  As the priest continued reading, the hags turned themselves into vultures and flew up into a large tree.  The priest drew closer to the dog until he was a couple of feet away, at which the beast leapt on him and sent him head over heels.  When the hunters picked him up he was deaf and dumb.  They took him home and sent for the bishop.

When he arrived, he was very distressed.  The local people asked him to banish the hags from the wood.  He was afraid, and did not know what to do, so he said he would have to go home and get the means to banish them and would come back at the end of the month.  The priest was still too badly hurt to say anything.

The bishop was asleep one night when one of the hags walked into his room.  He awoke and was very frightened, unable to speak.   The hag told him not to be afraid as she was not there to do any harm, but to give him some advice.   She said ‘You promised the people of Loch Glynn that you would come to banish the hags of the long tooth from the wood.  If you come you will never go back alive.’  The bishop said that he had given his word.  ‘We have only a year and a day in the wood’, replied the hag, ‘you can put them off until then.’  The bishop asked why they were in the woods as they were.

She told him that the big black dog was the father of the hags; his name was Dermot O’Muloony.  His own son killed him, because the son found him with his wife a day after their marriage.  He killed his sisters for fear that they would tell on him.  She said ‘When we went before the arch-judge, there was judgement passed on us to be as we are for two hundred years.  We have a castle under the lake and are in it every night.  We are suffering for the crime our father did.’  The bishop agreed that he would not trouble them.

The bishop told the people of Loch Glynn of his decision to wait a year and a day, and the reasons for it, the next day.  ‘You must keep out of the wood till then.  It is a great wonder to me that you never saw the hags of enchantment till the hunters came from Dublin – it’s a pity they did not remain at home.’

A week or so later the priest was sitting by an open window in his room.  A robin hopped with a little piece of herb in its mouth.  The priest stretched out his hand and the small bird laid the herb on it.  ‘Perhaps God sent me this herb’, said the priest as he popped it in his mouth.  Almost at once he felt a great sense of wellbeing and he said ‘A thousand thanks to Him who has power stronger than the power of enchantment.’

The robin spoke ‘Do you remember the robin of the broken foot you had, two years this last winter?’  ‘I remember her indeed’, said the priest, ‘but she went from me when the summer came.’  ‘I am the same robin and, but for the good you did me I would not be alive now, and you would be deaf and dumb for the rest of your life.’  The little bird told the priest that he would be advised not to go near the hags again, and to tell no one about the robin and the herb.  The priest’s housekeeper wondered how the priest had recovered his speech and hearing, and the bishop also but the priest said it was a secret.

The year was gone and the bishop was sitting in his room when the hag walked in.  ‘I come to give you notice that we will be leaving the wood a week from today.   I have one thing to ask of you if you will do it for me.’  The bishop agreed, if it was within his power and not against his faith.  She said that in a week there would be seven dead vultures outside the house, and asked him to give the order to have them buried at a nearby quarry.

A week later the bishop came to Loch Glynn, and took men with him to the house in the wood.  The black dog was at the door, seeing them it ran straight into the lake.   There were the seven vultures dead on the ground.  They took them to the quarry and threw them down to the bottom.  Immediately, seven beautiful white swans flew up and away out of sight.  The opinion was that they had flown up to heaven.

No one ever saw the hags of the long tooth or the big black dog again.

 

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