Long, long ago, there lived an old woman known to all living near her and even far beyond her ken, as Cailleach Bheurr. She did not belong to this world, having oft been heard to tell any who dared to ask her, ‘’When the ocean was a forest with its firewood, I was then a young lass.’’ Well be that as it may, and sure there is none of us who have need of doubting what she said, the Cailleach Beurr somehow managed to escape the clutches of death in a way that no one else ever could.Well then, on the western side of the island where she lived in her cottage alone with just herself and her animals with whom she was often heard to converse for long periods of time, and who, or so it seemed to any who happened to be passing by, that they answered her in their own language, a language that she appeared to understand. Not far from her home there was a beautiful lake with crystal clear blue water that reflected the glory and majesty of the luminous sky that always seemed to spread itself out above it, and this lake, it is said, never was ruffled by any a nere wind or breeze passing by, so that the surface of the lake shone and glimmered like a glittering mirror that seemed always to show the face of eternity in its depths. But it is also told how every one hundred years a strange thing used to happen in these whereabouts., and the strange thing was this, that about 2 years before another century ended or began, depending on how you saw it, or perhaps better said depending on your age at the turning, the appearance of the cailleach would alter beyond recognition, so that she would grow old and grey , haggard and stooped. But while at these times she may have looked just like any other old person, yet she was different from all others, as unlike them, she had the ability to change her appearance, and turn herself back into a young girl. She did this very easily by rising early just before sunrise and before any other living creature, human or animal, had risen to greet the day, and then she walked far out into the lake of Loch Bá. And so it was that in this way she became young again, constantly renewing herself and her life every hundred years.

But on one fateful morning, around the time of the changing of the centuries, the cailleach was walking down to the shore of the lake just as the golden rays of the sun were beginning to shimmer in the east when what did she hear but the barking of a dog from far off in the distance. It was then that the cailleach knew that she was doomed, and as she felt the life force drain from her body, she called out in a loud voice

‘’It’s early the dog spoke, in advance of me,

The dog, in advance of me; the dog in advance of me.

It’s early the dog spoke, in advance of me,

In the quiet of the morning, across Loch Bá.’’

Commentary on this folk tale: [ from The Book of the Cailleach: Stories of the Wise-Woman Healer, by Gearoid O Crualaoich]

‘’Evidence of the identification of the cailleach of this story with the archaic female sovereignty personification of landscape in the Celtic, and possible pre-Celtic, ancestral, cosmological tradition can be glimpsed in the assertion…that she was alive in a predeluvian era ‘when the ocean was a forest with its firewood’. The concept of the ancestral otherworld, the sacred, cosmological domain that surrounds and underlies human experience of physical reality, as a domain located beneath water, constitutes a recurrent theme in the allusion to the otherworld at the learned and literary level of early Irish tradtion.’’

Note also that the cailleach is a hag-goddess, usually translated in contemporary times as a witch, who found cyclical renewal in sacred waters. But note also how the hag-goddess was overwhelmed by the loud noise of a barking dog, a herdsman’s dog, who barked before she could reach the life-renewing sacred waters of the lake. ‘’The landscape is now speaking with the voice of human society, and the goddesses reign which marked the pre-human and natural world, has come to an end. A momentous cosmological shift has occurred.’’

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