Loch dá Ghedh

I recently came across a fascinating Irish folklore site called dúchas.ie, which includes digitized images of thousands of pages of folklore written down by schoolchildren in the 1930s:

Approximately 740,000 pages (288,000 pages in the pupils’ original exercise books; 451,000 pages in bound volumes) of folklore and local tradition were compiled by pupils from 5,000 primary schools in the Irish Free State between 1937 and 1939.

Volunteers are welcome to help transcribe the folklore they find interesting. It’s quite easy to do, so I transcribed a story about Loch dá Ghedh:

Loch dá Ghedh

On the top of Slieve da En facing towards the town of Sligo and situated between two of the mountain peaks, is a lake called Loch Ghedh. This lake has the reputation of being the deepest lake in the world. It was supposed by the old people to be enchanted and the devil’s mother was said to be drowned in it. There is a legend told of it and it was of a man who went out this mountain one fine day cutting rods or sticks with a bell hook. When evening came the man did not return to his home. Of course a big search was made to find the missing man.

The search proved in vain and the people formed the opinion that in returning to his home in the evening with the bundle of sticks on his back, the man in passing by Loch Ghedh slipped off the slopes on the side of it and fell in and was drowned. This man had a daughter in America and in some years after this sad happening she decided to come home to her native Sligo and help to console her people on their great loss. When coming in on the boat to Sligo bay she observed in the sea a bundle of rods and at once recognised her father’s bell-hook stuck in them. The old people say that the lake is connected with the sea by an underground passage and that this accounted for the bundle of rods being found in the Ocean.

Loch dá Ghedh is identified with the ‘Lough Ia’ mentioned by the poet W B Yeats as the grave of Clooth-na-Bare, who  “went all over the world, seeking a lake deep enough to drown her faery life, of which she had grown weary, leaping from hill to hill, and setting up a cairn of stones wherever her feet lighted, until, at last, she found the deepest water in the world in little Lough Ia, on the top of the bird mountain, in Sligo.”

As discussed in my previous postClooth-na-Bare was a corrupted form of Cailleach Bhéara – the old woman of Beare, an important figure in Irish and Scottish folklore. Presumably it is she who is being described as the devil’s mother in this story.

In looking for a photo of the lake, I came across another interesting story about it in a comment by swoop on the Mountain Views website. In this story, the lake is called Lough Dhá Géanna (the name seem to mutate quite a bit – I’ve also seen Lough Dagee and Lough Dha Ghe):

Under Sliabh Dá Éan (‘mountain of two birds) lies a small but beautiful hidden lake. Legend has it that got its name Lough Dhá Géanna from the story of king Sweeney. Sweeny was a king condemned by an angry cleric to wander, naked and nervous as a bird throughout Ireland. Any sharp sound, like the ringing of a bell, would send Sweeney into madness. Because of the curse he began to levitate and move about like a bird. Being bird-like he could never trust humans but fled from place to place, naked and hungry. Near Lough Gill, in the eastern Ox mountains, Sweeney fought with a Cailleach, a wise woman, and both of them in their struggle transformed into geese and dived into the lake. Never to be seen again.


Lake of the two geese, image via swoop


About singinghead

druid, mathematician, blogger, gardener...
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