Castle Kirk – Castle of the Hen ( Caislean na Circe)

Jan 4th, 2014 | By | Category: Of Ancient Times

From A Tour in Connaught , by C.O.  the author of Sketches in Ireland, Dublin, William Curry, Jun. and Company, 9 Upper Sackville Street, 1839

The drive along the northern shore of Lough Corrib is really very fine – for looking across the water, studded as it is with many islands, you have before you the Connemara mountains, in all the variety of their forms – by and by you come to where the lake narrows and assumes the form of a broad inlet, like the estuary of a large river; and just at the entrance is an island covered almost entirely, so small is it, with the ruins of a noble castle, having four round towers as flankers.  It put me in mind of Lochleven Castle in Scotland, but it is a much finer ruin.

It was now getting dusky, and though the lake and the mountains, and the fine island and castle looked grand, perhaps grander in their indistinctness, yet I would have been glad to have seen this scene in a clearer light.  I was anxious to inquire about the castle, and therefore stopped at a range of cabins that stood in all their low dirty wretchedness on the roadside, and saluting inmates, as I always do, with the usual Irish accost – “God save all here,” out came a young woman with child in her arms, and a better specimen of a fine Irish woman of the lower class I have not often seen.  There was a freshness in her complexion, and a laughing lustre in her eye, that made her otherwise irregular features very comely; and her figure was so light, her step so elastic and yet firm, that she seemed admirably adapted to be the mother of a fine race of men.

In answer to many questions, she, with a sort of suppressed smile, said she did not know.  The Irish never like to answer questions until they see what is the drift of the interrogator; but when I expressed admiration at the beauty of the country, and the fine position of the old fortress, and how sorry I was that I could not know anything about it, she then said, “Och for that matter she’d tell me and welcome all she ever heard about it, but how could the likes of her know anything for sartain?  The place was called Castle Hen, and all the nighbours said that is was built by a witch, who came there one night when the Joyce’s were driving the olde residenters, the O’Flahertys, out of the country – and she appeared on the little island with a black hen following her, which all allowed must not me nathural (sic); but at any rate, before morning, up sprung that great building – and then she gave it to king O’Flaherty and the hen along with it; and she told him to take good care of the hen, for that when the Sassenach besieged him, and with their boats would be keeping off all provisions from him, the black hen would lay white eggs enough to keep him from starving; and so it was the Joyces often besieged it, and tried, when they could not take it by force, to starve out the O’Flaherty, but the eggs kept him alive.  But sure enough, one Easter Sunday, after a long lent, the master, poor man, was mighty craving for a bit of meat; and indeed, I suppose, the poteen had got into his head; and any how, he coud’nt (sic)  be in his right mind, for he takes the hen, do you see, cuts her throat, boils her for his dinner – and a heavy dinner it was for him –  for, from that day forth he had neither luck nor grace; the Joyces soon surrounded the place with their boats – not a morsel of meal or meat would they let near it; and you see that as the black hen was no more, he could have no eggs, and then he had to give up the last hold of the O’Flahertys in this place – he had to quit before the Joyces, and go to the wild country beyond Mamture, and the twelve pins.”

“I suppose,” said I, “as you know so much about the O’Flahertys that you are come of that people.”

“No, in troth, sir, I am more akin to the Joyce’s – my father and mother were both of that name.”

“So I thought,” says I.

“And what reason has your honour to know any thing about the like of me?”

I did not choose to say that her complexion, her figure, and her light blue eye, bespoke the Saxon Cross, that had produced a finer sort of animal.

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