Flory Cantillon’s Funeral: A Folktale of Ardfert, Ireland

Pinpoint Location: Ardfert, County Kerry / Map data ©2017 Google

This folktale from Ardfert tells the tale of Connor Crowe, who witnessed a most unusual burial. 

The ancient burial-place of the Cantillon family lay an island in Ballyheigh Bay. Fishermen often declared that they saw the ruined walls of an old chapel in the water beneath the island, as they sailed over the clear green sea, on a sunny afternoon.

The Cantillons were strongly attached to their burial-place, which led to the custom of carrying deceased family members to the seaside, where their coffin was left within reach of the tide. In the morning it had disappeared, believed to have been taken away by the ancestors of the deceased to their family tomb.

Connor Crowe, a county Clare man, was related to the Cantillons by marriage. Connor would drink a quart of salt water, for its medicinal virtues, before breakfast; and for the same reason, double that quantity of whiskey between breakfast and night.

On the death of Florence Cantillon, Connor Crowe was determined to discover the truth of this story about the old church under the sea. When he heard the news of the old fellow’s death, he hastened to Ardfert, where Flory was laid out in high style.

Flory had been a jolly and rollocking a boy, and his wake was in every respect worthy of his life. There was all kind of entertainment and all sort of diversion, and no less than three girls found husbands there. Everything was as it should be. All that side of the country, from Dingle to Tarbert, was at the funeral. The Keen was sung long and bitterly, and the coffin was carried to Ballyheigh strand, where it was laid upon the shore.

The mourners departed, one group after another, until at last Connor Crowe was left alone. He pulled out his whiskey bottle, his drop of comfort as he called it, and sat down upon a big stone that was sheltered by a projecting rock, and partly concealed from view, to await with patience the appearance of the ghostly undertakers.

Connor, notwithstanding his frequent draughts, felt rather queerish, and almost began to regret his curiosity. It was certainly a solemn sight to behold the black coffin resting upon the white strand. His imagination gradually converted the deep moaning of the old ocean into a mournful wail for the dead, and from the shadowy recesses of the rocks he imaged forth strange and visionary forms.

As the night advanced, Connor became weary; he caught himself more than once nodding, and still the coffin remained unmoved.

It was long past midnight, and the moon was sinking into the sea, when he heard the sound of many voices, gradually becoming stronger, above the heavy and monotonous roll of the sea. He could distinguish a Keen, of exquisite sweetness, the notes of which rose and fell with the heaving of the waves, whose deep murmur mingled with and supported the strain. The Keen grew louder and louder, and seemed to approach the beach, and then fell into a low plaintive wail.

Connor beheld a number of strange, and in the dim light, mysterious looking figures, emerge from the sea, and surround the coffin, which they prepared to launch into the water.

“This comes of marrying the creatures of earth,” said one of the figures, speaking in a clear, yet hollow tone.

“True,” replied another, with a voice still more fearful, “our king would never have commanded his gnawing white-toothed waves to devour the rocky roots of the island cemetery, had not his daughter, Durfulla, been buried there by her mortal husband!”

“But the time will come,” said a third, bending over the coffin, “When mortal eye our work shall spy, and mortal ear our dirge shall hear.”

“Then,” said a fourth, “our burial of the Cantillons will finally end!”

The coffin was borne from the beach by a retiring wave, and the company of sea people prepared to follow it. But at that moment, one chanced to discover Connor Crowe, as fixed with wonder and as motionless with fear as the stone on which he sat.

“The time has come,” cried the unearthly being, “a human eye has seen the forms of ocean, and a human ear has heard their voices; the sons of the sea are no longer doomed to bury the dust of the earth!”

One after the other turned slowly around and regarded Connor Crowe, who still remained as if bound by a spell. Again arose their funeral song, and on the next wave they followed the coffin. The sound of the lamentation died away, and at length nothing was heard but the rush of waters.

Never, since the funeral of old Flory Cantillon, have any of the family been carried to the strand of Ballyheigh, to be taken to their rightful burial-place beneath the waves of the Atlantic.

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