On New Year’s Day, my lovely friend Jenni and I braved the howling wind and downpour for what has become our traditional annual exploration of what Co Cavan has to offer… and there’s a whole lot more than you might think. I can’t understand why this beautiful historic county is so undervalued in terms of tourism. But that is a post for another day.
Loughanleagh lies a touch beyond Bailieborough on it’s Kingscourt side. Its name comes from the Irish Lough an Leighis, which means ‘Lake of Cures’. This lake was renowned for the curative effect of its mud on skin complaints, and in days gone by, during the last two Sundays of July, people used to come in their thousands, seeking healing in the water.
It was said that the lake had magical properties, for its water level never rose or fell; that the water was deep but that there was no evident source; that there was no stream which drained from it; that the sun never danced on its surface; that it’s temperature never fluctuated, even in the most extreme weather conditions, and that it had never frozen.
Unfortunately, the lake no longer exists; years of sustained turf cutting has drained the water from its bed, but the memory of its power, and the associated legends linger on.
We walked the path known as Adrian’s Way. This route is 7km long, ascends and descends quite steeply in places, takes in exposed tops and woodland, passes the sites of three ancient cairns, and affords fine views over thirteen counties… during finer weather.
According to folklore, the cairns were formed when an old woman known as the Cailleagh was carrying stones in her apron. She dropped some at Loughanleagh and also at Loughcrew, thus the ancient burial mounds were formed.
This character is thought to be a representation of the Morrigan. Like many female Irish deities, she was said to have had three aspects which corresponded with the cycle of her life; the maiden, the mother and the crone, or Cailleagh.
She was said to have once had a battle with St Patrick at Loughanleagh whilst he was preaching mass there. She approached in the form of a beautiful woman riding in a carriage. As she neared the congregation, she snatched a handful of berries from a roadside shrub (they were possibly bilberries, as they grow in abundance at Loughanleagh).
On eating them, she was transformed into a horrible monster, whereupon she immediately set about devouring people. St Patrick dropped to one knee and whacked her with his staff. She immediately exploded in a shower of tiny pieces.
There is a very well defined cup mark in a rock in the centre of a stone circle (more of a horse-shoe, really) near the spot where St Patrick vanquished this monstrosity. This is said to be the imprint of his saintly knee, as he knelt to deal the deadly deed.
It is well known in Irish mythology that through water lies the way to the Otherworld, also known as Manannán’s Land. This was also true of Loughanleagh, for according to legend, it was used as a gateway between worlds by a large fairy hare with one red eye in the middle of its forehead.
You can find out more about Loughanleagh on this website, and if you are ever heading in this direction, I highly recommend a visit… you’ll be glad that you did.