Below is an extract from Galway Bay Folk Tales, the new book written by Rab Swannock Fulton and illustrated by Marina Wild. The book retells the dark & strange myths, folklore and urban legends of Galway and the west of Ireland. The following is an account of Saint Patrick’s fight against pagans on Cruachán Aigli, the hill that would be later known as Croagh Patrick
When finally Patrick stepped a foot on the ground before Cruachán Aigli, pagan resistance erupted all around him, before, after, below and above him, with a savage and desperate ferocity. Druids and Immortals cast abominable spells, giants hurled rocks and witches used the subtlest of deceits. Satan and the Sea throw in their lot shrouding the landscape in terrible poisonous vapours. Patrick walked through it all, his love and grief blazing like a fire.
In the higher ramparts of Cruachán Aigli pagan scholars and students trembled behind the walls, whilst young guards gripped their weaponry and vowed to fall in the sacred hills defence. Through fire and mist the figure of Patrick was glimpsed drawing hourly closer. The terror that assailed him was reflected back a thousand fold on his enemies and spread out north, south, east and west.
The pagans in the upper reaches now trembled and wept with fear as terrible reports and rumour fell amongst them cold and sharp as winter hail: every assault on the enemy only made him stronger; beyond Galway Bay the beautiful magical horse children of the original defeated Tuatha Dé Danann hurled themselves screaming off the cliffs above the spitting roaring Atlantic; the worlds beyond this were in chaos as Divinities struggled to agree stratagems, some vowing eternal war, others vanishing into dreams, a handful advocated switching sides to Christ, if only to avoid warfare without end.
Patrick reached the final ramparts, but met no resistance there. His triumphs had subdued the few pagans that remained behind the stone walls. Soon Patrick was on the peak of the hill, the connecting point between this world and the realms beyond. Determined to cleanse the site of all traces of foul paganism, he vowed to fast there for forty days. The enemies of Christ attempted a final assault, but the great black birds that attacked the praying Patrick were pushed back by a glittering host consisting of angels and souls of the Saved.
Over the days and weeks of his fasting, peace came to Cruachán Aigli and the witnesses who witnessed the old man fasting on the hill top gladly converted to Christ. The site of the evangelist’s triumph was soon referred to by the new devote name of Croagh Patrick. On the fortieth day Patrick, weak from hunger and thirst, stood up. Leaning on his crook he raised his right arm and began to slowly turn in a circle. His gaze and blessing reached across the entire island and soon nearly all the Irish willing embraced God’s light.
But Patrick’s triumph was not quite complete. As he turned around on the top of Cruachán Aigli he stumbled and so it was that his holy favour did not quite reach all the island’s inhabitants. The unblessed remained resolutely pagan - a malign cancerous presence in the pure Christian body of the Irish. Was it simply age and battle weariness that caused Patrick to stumble, or had some pagan demon tripped him as a final jest?
Another possibility is that Patrick himself was to blame. That when he fasted he was not humble enough before God’s power and grace. When the glittery host had saved him from the shrieking birds it was observed that one of the lights had momentarily alighted beside Patrick, placed a hand on his shoulder and whispered. ‘Enough.’ But the triumphant Patrick was determined to finish his fast and in this endeavour become the equal of Moses, Elijah and Christ.
The places remaining in the snare of Satan and paganism were said to include Erris in Mayo and Dunquin in Kerry. Of graver consequence was the failure to convert to Christ the three islands separating Galway Bay from the Atlantic.
Galway Bay Folk Tales is published by The History Press.
For details see Galway Bay Folk Tales on Amazon
For more about Rab visit his blog.