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Meet the Hag of Beara: Irish Folklore, Myths & Legends – Part 2

Posted on Jul 26, 2017 by Dawn Rainbolt

The Hag of Beara features prominently in Irish myth and legend. But who was she? Was she good or bad, real or legendary… or something else altogether?

As with most Irish myths, she was a bit of everything.

This is part two in a series telling the stories of some of Ireland’s most interesting and intriguing folklore, myths and legends. Read part one about Finn McCool and the Giant’s Causeway here.

Ancient Irish legends tell the tale of the Hag of Beara, often associated with the regions of Cork and Kerry in the Irish southwest, though stories of her also exist in counties Sligo, Clare and Meath. As with most oral traditions, there’s more than one version to the tale! But all versions agree on one detail: the Hag of Beara was at one point a women who was later turned to stone. In fact, legend has it that she became the stone that rises over Coulagh Bay on the Beara Peninsula, in the southwest of Ireland.

Hag of Beara, Dingle Peninsula, Wilderness Ireland

The legend of the Cailleach are strong in small communities like this one in Dingle

Born on the ancient festival of Samhain (Nov. 1 just after Halloween – today known as All Saint’s Day), the Hag, or the Cailleach in Irish, is said to grow younger and more powerful throughout the winter until the spring feast at Bealtine (May 1st), when she is a beautiful maiden. However during summer, her powers begin to decrease and she grows old again. 

The locals both feared and respected the Hag of Beara – as the goddess of winter, she held the fate of the people in her hands – including the power of life and death – during Ireland’s harshest season. In many ways, people in Ireland are still haunted by her presence. To stay in her good graces, people leave offerings like coins, trinkets, and other items for her.

As the story goes – not too far off the American myth about Punxsutawney Phil, the shadow-seeing (or not!) groundhog – if the weather on Feb. 1st (called Lá Féile Bríde) is poor, it means that the Callieach is asleep and winter will soon end. If the day is bright, however, she’s awake and collecting firewood to make winter last longer. So fir one day a year, people hope the weather will stay poor!

More About Irish Myths, Legends & Stories

The stone version of the Hag of Beara is said to be forever awaiting the return of her husband Manannan, the God of the Sea. Today, because she is a strong and powerful female personage, she is said to represent the women of Ireland.

Wilderness Ireland - Hag of Beara

Megalithic tombs at Carrowmore in Co. Sligo. Legend credits the Cailleach with accidentally dropping these stones while flying.

Though often associated with the southwest, there are tales of the Cailleach (‘hag’ or ‘witch’ in Irish, pronounced /kal-lay-ah/) in counties Sligo, Meath, Clare, and more. In Sligo, the passage tombs on the Coolera Peninsula are associated with her – one of them deep in the Dartry Mountains is even called the Cailleach’s house. Legend has it that the Megalithic tombs at Carrowmore and in the Dartry Mountains got there because as she flew over the region with her apron full of stones, she accidentally dropped them and they scattered across the region.

Other places are associated with the Cailleach, like the southernmost tip of the Cliffs of Moher, called Hag’s Head. The stones that she accidentally dropped over Co. Sligo supposedly came from the Megalithic tombs at Loughcrew in northeastern Ireland, (Co. Meath), found atop the ‘Hag’s Mountain’ (Slieve na Callieach). A nearby rock is dubbed the Hag’s Chair.

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Our Coast to Coast Cycling trip cycles through the southwest regions where the folklore of the Hag of Beara still percolates through Cork and Kerry. From the lush green valleys of the Beara Peninsula to the wild uplands of the Caha Mountains, her presence is everywhere.

Alternatively, search for the Cailleach, and her lost stones on the Coolera Peninsula at the Carrowmore tombs and beyond on either our Hiking & Sea Kayaking Adventure or our Cycling & Yoga Escape in Sligo.

Hag of Beara, Sligo, Wilderness Ireland

The form of the Ox Mountains in Sligo makes the silhouette of the Hag lying on her back! Also, the Hag’s House is located in in these mountains.

Even without paying homage to her stone, her existence is ingrained in local culture, in the power and perseverance of local people, as well as their approach towards life and death. 

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Meet the Hag of Beara yourself by visiting Ireland’s southwest or northwestern regions.

Hiking and Island Hopping Cork and Kerry

Skellig Islands tours, Kerry, hiking and island hopping in Cork and Kerry
Location: South West – Cork & Kerry
  • Guided gentle hikes & island hopping along the spectacular coastline and islands of southwest Ireland
  • Climb Skellig Michael, UNESCO World Heritage, and now a Star Wars filming location
  • Explore remote islands where the Gaeltacht (Irish speaking) culture & tradition is still strong

Price: from €1,795

View Trip Details

Bike Tour - The Kerry Peninsulas

Location: South West – Cork & Kerry
  • Traverse the 3 wild and diverse peninsulas of Kerry: Beara, Iveragh & Dingle
  • Explore classic cycling routes: Molls Gap, the Gap of Dunloe & the Healy Pass
  • Pedal through Ireland's highest mountain range & Killarney National Park
  • Cycle to Ireland's westernmost point at Slea Head

Price: from €1,995

View Trip Details

 See more exciting Wilderness Ireland hiking trips and biking trips here! Or, browse our other active trips in Ireland. If nothing suits your needs, submit a tailor-made query to have a trip custom-built for you.

About the author

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Dawn Rainbolt

American by birth but European in spirit, Dawn has called the US, Costa Rica, Spain, England, Poland, France and now Ireland home over the years. While she has travelled to more than 30 countries, she has fallen in love with the rich Irish culture and sweeping landscapes of Ireland. Armed with a Masters Degree in Tourism Marketing and a love of writing and photography, she is Wilderness Ireland's Marketing Executive since 2017.

Read more articles by Dawn | View Dawn's Profile


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