“The Paps of Anu” Sliabh Luachra
of the Wren
Many years ago there came to the Island a beautiful woman of the fairy people. She went all through the land, and wherever she appeared she put such enchantment on the men, by her beauty and her wonderful attractive powers, that they one and all left their work and their homes to follow her. When she had them all collected in this way, she led them across an apparently shallow ford in a wide river. She herself went across almost dryshod, but when her followers attempted the fording, the river rose in fury and drowned nearly all of them. Upon this the survivors, brought to their senses by the disaster, gave chase to the woman, seeking vengeance upon her; but she, laughing in mockery, changed herself into the shape of a wren and flew away. Some say that this particular wren was the first to be hunted, killed, and carried round for exhibition, others that the actual witch-woman escaped; but it is generally believed to be in memory of this event that the wren is hunted and carried annually.
On a bitterly cold weekend in March 2018, I was at the Kanturk Arts Festival where I listened to the impressive prizewinners in the poetry competition. The major winner was the poem by Ashley O’Neal which is now the first item in this remarkable collection, The Wren is Near.
The book is an extensive series of poems which locate surviving local myths in Sliabh Luachra and beyond it in a long legendary history, starting with an imaginative extension of the familiar lore of the fate of the wren.
So it belongs in a distinguished heritage from the Middle Ages to the present day, including for example Seamus Heaney’s Sweeney Astray which draws on the medieval Irish Buile Suibhne which also inspired Flann O’Brien’s At Swim-Two-Birds. What O’Neal does so impressively though is to weave the characters and subjects of the mythological tradition – Cuchulainn, the lore of trees and birds, the first-person litany of Amergin – into the world around us in modern Sliabh Luachra.
There is long tradition of poetry in Ireland and in that tradition, there is a very unique landscape where the tradition remained unbroken for centuries. That place is Sliabh Luachra. In travelling the length and breath of Ireland,
I have spent many years researching and wandering the landscape to finally come to the place where the language of poetry remained as alive as it was aeons ago. I have learned that, to enter into this tradition, a devout humility is required, as is a very strong understanding that there will be many veils to walk through before a true perception is possible.