Clough na Cuddy: A Folktale of Innisfallen, Ireland

Pinpoint Location: Innisfallen (Lough Leane), County Kerry / Map data ©2017 Google

This folktale from Innisfallen tells the tale of Father Cuddy, who went to fetch wine but received a miracle instead. 

Centuries ago the monks of Innisfallen were popular, pious, and learned, and if you saw them coming along the road you didn’t hop inside the fence to avoid them; for they were the best of company at all times. In short, they weren’t the kind of men to preach hellfire and damnation every time they saw you.

Out of all the monks you could not pick a merrier soul than Father Cuddy who could sing a good song, tell a droll story, and play flute and fiddle as though he had been reared in a bandmaster’s house.

On one occasion the monastery ran out of wine, and Father Cuddy was ordered to travel to Muckross Abbey for a supply. With the morning’s light he was seen rowing his little boat across the crimson waters of the lake towards the peninsula of Muckross. That was the last sight the Innisfallen community got of Father Cuddy, for he never returned to them.

Father Cuddy was gladly welcomed at Muckross Abbey, for his fame had travelled before him. After giving the monks all the news from Innisfallen, and singing a few songs for the students, he set out for home with a promise that the wine would shortly follow.

What with the beauty of the scenery, the heat of the sun, the humming of the bees, and the warm handshakes of friends, he felt as happy as a Mayboy. He opened his mouth wide and began to sing: “Tirra-lirra, tirra-lirra, tirra-lirra lee.”

Suddenly he stopped singing and listened; a beautiful bird-voice warbled among the trees to his left hand. Father Cuddy knew his songbirds, blackbird, thrush, lark, siskin, linnet, goldfinch, but this was far superior. Louder and sweeter grew the song until it possessed the wood, and the whole world glowed and throbbed with its music.

Knowing that the music was not of this world, Father Cuddy fell on his knees and began to pray. When the music stopped, he looked about him, and the more he looked the more he wondered at the alteration which appeared in the face of the country. The hills bore the same majestic outline, and the lake spread itself beneath his view in the same tranquil manner and studded with the same number of islands; but every smaller feature in the landscape was strangely altered.

What had been naked rocks were now clothed with holly and arbutus. Whole woods had disappeared, and waste places had become cultivated fields; and to complete the enchantment the very season itself seemed changed. In the rosy dawn of a summer’s day he had left the monastery of Innisfallen, and now he felt in every sight and sound the dreariness of winter. The hard ground was covered with withered leaves; icicles hung from leafless branches; and he felt his fingers numbed from the nipping frost.

Father Cuddy wondered greatly at the sudden transformation, and when he got up he saw that his knees had worn deep grooves in the stone he had knelt on. He decided to return in haste to Innisfallen and report these mysterious events to his superiors.

When he reached the gate of the monastery a stranger dressed in strange unmonkish garments occupied the porter’s place.

“Has the wine arrived safely?” Father Cuddy asked.

“Wine? What wine are you talking about?” the fellow replied.

“The wine for the monks of Innisfallen, of course. I left yesterday morning for Muckross to fetch it. Why is the place so quiet anyway. Is there a retreat in progress?”

“The day of monks and retreats in Innisfallen is over,” the stranger said. “The Abbey lands were granted to Robert Collan by Lady Elizabeth, Queen of England. Stay here any longer and you might lose your head. Monks are not popular with our new masters.”

“I was here yesterday,” the astonished monk persisted. “I am Father Cuddy.”

“There is a story told of a Father Cuddy who disappeared from Innisfallen one morning, and was likely drowned in the lake, two hundred years ago.”

Suddenly Father Cuddy recalled the wonderful unearthly music of the singing bird in the forest, and he realised he had taken part in a miracle. His heart was heavy as he walked away from the strange quietness of the monastery.

The world he knew had been swept away, and all his friends and brethren were dead. Avoiding the towns he managed to arrive safely in the port of Dingle where he was put on board a ship sailing for the friendly land of Spain. And in a monastery in Malaga the good man quietly wore out the remainder of his days.

The stone impressed with the mark of Father Cuddy’s knees may be seen to this day. Should any persons doubt my story let them go to Killarney where Clough na Cuddy — Cuddy’s Stone — remains in Lord Kenmare’s park, an indisputable evidence of the fact.

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