Conaire the Great – The Destruction of Dá Derga’s Hostel

(see Irish King and Hero Tales on this blog)

In my retelling of this tale set 2000 years ago, I locate the Hostel in which Conaire met his end on a road south of Dublin where it crosses a small river, though some expert guesses have placed it elsewhere. The story says that “the road goes right through the house. There are seven doorways, but only one door, which is used to block whichever doorway is facing the wind.” A reader contacted me to query the arrangement of the doorways. He accepted that a road could run through the house, or more likely compound, but he wondered why there were 7 doorways and only one door: “Was it some strange custom or a turn of phrase from that time? Or am I missing something very plain?”

I mention in the book’s Introduction that this story “has only a tenuous hold on reality” and that King Conaire himself is considered by many scholars to be completely mythical. Magic and fantastic feats abound, and suspension of disbelief is required. Here are my sources for the passage.

Atát .uii. ndorais isa tech 7 uii. n-imda iter each dá dórus 7 ni fil acht óenchomlaid
6775 n-airi 7 imsoíth^ in chomla sin fri each ndorus dia mbi in gáeth. Lebor na hUidre. 6775 is the line number in this 12th-century manuscript.

There are seven doorways into the house, and seven bedrooms between every two doorways; but there is only one doorvalve on it (ni fil acht óenchomlaid n-airi), and that valve is turned to every doorway to which the wind blows. The Destruction of Dá Derga’s Hostel, Whitely Stokes, 1910

comla (redirected from comlaid) — Valve of door, window, etc.; lid; covering; comhla = a gate, portcullis, grate; ar comlaid na slige the door giving on to the road; a c[h]omhla re gáoith shelter against the wind — eDIL (Dictionary of the Irish Language online)

So “dorus” can be understood as “doorway” and “c(h)omlaid” is the door itself. The working of the doorvalve is an early or prescient version of the Internet of Things.

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Storytelling at Phibsborough market in Dublin

Since 8 July, I have been telling Irish and world family friendly stories at the newly established market in the linear park in Phibsborough, along with selling my books and T-shirts. It’s at the North Circular Road (Blacqueire Bridge) end of the park opposite the library. Whenever a likely looking adult-kid combination appears, I waylay them with the local tale of Lord Norbury and the black dog and other tales that I think will suit.

Coincidentally, Frank McNally gave me a mention as a Bardic Storyteller in his Irish Times “An Irishman’s Diary” column on 2 July in connection with my blog about the Setanta/Táin Wall off Nassau Street.

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O Ciprianillo: The Book of San Cipriano

From A World of Tricksters with added information.

Written by an anonymous Galician trickster, this book purports to identify 174 sites in Galicia where gold can be found. It contains cryptic clues to the locations and magic spells to break the enchantments that conceal and protect the treasures. The 1974 80-page edition, of which I have a copy, seems to be the one currently in use.

The great-uncle of a friend in the village of A Pobra de Trives, in the middle of gold country near Ourense, told me that a group of men arrived at his farm one day, asking for his permission to search on his land for a hoard they believed might be there. They had a copy of the Ciprianillo with them. He gave them permission but never heard what the results were.

He had been a member of popular local semi-professional band Os Trinta, which is honoured with a bas-relief in a prominent spot on the main street of Trives. A fellow band member was known to be searching for treasure with the aid of the Ciprianillo. One day he abruptly quit his day job and left town, never to be seen again. It was rumoured that he had struck gold.

Os Trinta were a quartet: bagpipe, E-flat clarinet, snare drum and bass drum. The members were Félix Álvarez, Fermín Álvarez, Roxelio Álvarez, and Luís Álvarez. The group was active from 1890 to the 1950s, and they performed at the coronation of King Alfonso XIII in 1902. As a result of the massive publicity following that gig, the band was invited to play at venues around the world, including in Argentina, where Galician emigres are so numerous that even non-Galician Spaniards are called “Gallegos”.

Here are my photo of the bas-relief in Trives and an old newspaper photo. I don’t know which one is my friend’s great-uncle.

“Third Gathering of Bagpipers of the Land: in Memory of Os Trinta”

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A World of Tricksters and Hellhounds and Hero Horses: Beasts of Myth and Legend are available in ebook and paperback formats.

A World of Tricksters


Hellhounds and Hero Horses: Beasts of Myth and Legend


Details for Tricksters at —

Details for Hellhounds at —


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Irish Storytelling in the North of Spain, March-April 2019

27 March at the Official Schools of Languages in Laredo and Castro Urdiales in Cantabria is the only date so far.

Itinerary at Information at

To book a session contact me at richard at richardmarsh dot ie

If you see ads here, they are not my doing. I don’t get paid for them, and I’d have to pay WordPress to keep them off.

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Galician Urco and Irish Púca

Cervexa Suevia in Vilagarcía de Arousa, Galicia, Spain, no longer produces Urco, a dark strong ale. Perhaps the graphic label on the bottle scared off the drinkers.

The urco, from the Latin orcus meaning the Underworld, is a presage of death. The Irish púca, which is also an unusually large black dog with fiery red eyes, is casually accepted as a neighbourhood pet, except when it’s a warning of danger – a sort of presage of an avoidable death.

When I was in Viveiro in Galicia to tell Irish stories in schools in 2017, I posted this picture here so I could conveniently show the students a definitive image of their native hellhound to accompany my tales of the púca, for which I don’t have any suitable illustrations.

Urcos and púcas have their own chapters in Hellhounds and Hero Horses: Beasts of Myth and Legend, along with Black Dogs (who are not urcos or púcas) and Ordinary and Extraordinary Real Dogs.

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New Kinney mosaic mural – Tír na nÓg / Oisín and Niamh

Among the late Desmond Kinney’s mosaic murals are the 1974 Setanta or Táin Wall (it’s the banner above; see that page on this blog) and the 1987 Sweeney Astray / Mad Sweeney (see the “Buile Shuibhne mural destroyed” entry on this post below). His son and daughters, Nicholas, Clare and Maeve, continue his work as Kinney Design in Belfast. Their most recent piece depicts Niamh enticing Oisín to go with her to Tír na nÓg, the Land of Youth. It was installed recently in MISA (Mercer Institute for Successful Ageing) House at St James’s Hospital in Dublin. It’s in an airy, well-lit open space that is not strictly speaking open to the public, so if you don’t have grey hair or wrinkles you might have to lie about your age or pretend you’re just looking for the toilet. Photographs are not encouraged. I got special permission from the hospital to take these, and they are posted here with the encouragement of the artists.

Click to enlarge.

Detail of Tír na nÓg

MISA House is not signposted in the hospital grounds. You have to go in the main entrance, and there you will find signs pointing the way.

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The Mayo Curse – Update Update

Latest update: Mayo lost again to Dublin in 2017 by one point — DUBLIN 1-17 MAYO 1-16.

Mayo lost the (2016) rematch.

It was a draw, and Paddy Power felt that since neither team played brilliantly bettors deserved a refund in the form of a free bet. Odds on Mayo to win have been reduced to 5-2 for the rematch on 1 October. Price for another draw: 9-1.

Croke Park in Dublin will be full to capacity — 82,000 — tomorrow, 18 September, for the Dublin-Mayo Gaelic football final.  Many of us who are not regular fans will be interested in the result. Will Mayo finally lay a 65-year-old curse and win? Bookmaker Paddy Power doesn’t think so. He has Mayo at 10-3 and Dublin at 4-11. Draw 10-1.

Everyone knows about the curse. Mayo won the final in 1951. On their way back home from Dublin they were passing through Foxford in County Mayo (alternatively, Tarmonbarry in County Roscommon) when they encountered a funeral. It is said that they didn’t show sufficient respect to the deceased, and a local priest cursed the team: they would never again win a final until all the men on that 1951 team were dead. Two are still living.

It is believed that the most powerful curses are those of a widow and a priest.

Mysteriously, the current parish priest in Foxford says he can not only find no record of a curse, the parish records contain no record of any funeral in 1951. “From around 1949 until 1952 there are no records at all of the deaths in the parish.”

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The Dream of Eithlinn

A Myth and Legend Spectacular

Smock Alley Theatre, Dublin
17-20 August 2016

When Aron and Sorcha Hegarty began their Irish myth and legend Candlelit Tales sessions at the Stag’s Head pub in Dublin nearly two years ago, the dozen or so people who turned up seemed to be mainly storytellers, confirmed story listeners and a few independent researchers in the field, curious to see how the stories might come to life off the page. With each more or less monthly session during the following year, the audience grew to full house, then standing room only, and now you need to join the queue early to be assured of a square foot of floor space. Why are the sessions so popular? The quality of the centuries-old stories is a given, but Aron and Sorcha started good and then got better and better.

The makeup of the audience seems to have changed since the beginning. At first, the interest was focused on those complex and inter-woven myths and legends that are often left out of contemporary Irish storytelling in favour of the simpler, family friendly fare of folk tales. The folk tales are good, but they tend to be localised international migratory stories that are common to many world cultures. It’s the native myths and legends that help to define a particular society. The folk tales show how all humans are the same. The legends show how every society is different. Sorcha and Aron were giving largely forgotten Irish legends back to the Irish people, and they resonated with the listeners.

Then came a change over the past year. Some people were coming to the sessions at least as much for the entertainment as for the content, and this was quite clear at the multi-arts production of The Dream of Eithlinn, fittingly at the 17th-century Smock Alley Theatre, which was founded at a time when there were still people living who had known Shakespeare. The Globe audiences were not students of English literature; they attended the plays for entertainment: for the tragic dramas, the raucous comedies, the politically daring histories, the rejuvenated myths and legends, the absurd clowning and the bawdy jokes and double-entendre puns.

The Dream of Eithlinn, about the mythological hero Lugh of the Long Hand – Lugh the Multi-talented – is a dazzling display of story, song, instrumental music and dance. Candlelit regulars were surprised to discover that Catríona Loughlin (filling in this summer for the absent Sorcha), who has proved to be a captivating storyteller, also has a bewitching singing voice. Maybe in future she’ll add a bit more harp accompaniment.

Aron’s intensity assures the audience’s attention, and his light asides keep the tension from getting too heavy. The dancing, headed by Aisling McCormick, was inventive and integrated smoothly with the narrative and enhanced it.

In my (apparently minority) opinion, instrumental music behind storytelling is nearly always counterproductive: it distracts from the story and too often obscures words. But the music in this show – mandolin, acoustic guitar, electric guitar, fiddle, accordion, drums – was very much a necessary element.

Experienced teachers know that the classroom is a theatre, and the teacher is an actor whose job is first to entertain the students, and then to introduce curriculum subjects while the students still think they’re being entertained, before they realise they’re being educated. Something like this seems to be happening with Candlelit Tales

Bring your own seat cushion. The wooden benches get harder with each minute.

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Story from Devon, England

Two sisters from Dartmoor in Devon reminisce about granny’s Christmas cake disaster.

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