The Golden Mouth: A Folktale of Inishmaan, Ireland

Pinpoint Location: Inishmaan, County of Galway / Map data ©2016 Google

This folktale from Inishmaan tells the story of St. Gregory, who spend a lifetime atoning for his sins. 

The opening between Aranmore and Inishmaan, or the Middle Island, is called Gregory’s Sound. Its name was derived from a venerable man named Naomh Greoihir, or St. Gregory.

Gregory came from the mainland, where he had committed grievous sins. He despaired for forgiveness. In his anguish of mind, he gnashed his teeth together and happened to bite off his under lip, which gave him a rather frightful appearance.

At this time, the holy abbot Enda lived on the Islands of Aran. Gregory took boat and sailed over to Inishmaan, hoping to become one of St. Enda’s monks and to spend the remainder of his days in exercises of penance.

The great Abbot refused to admit Gregory as a monk, fearing it might prove a cause of scandal among his brethren. However, he promised to give Gregory spiritual consolation, if he agreed to live his remaining years in a remote cave on the north shore of Inishmaan. Gregory took up his abode and underwent his penance, spending the remainder of his life there in solitude and prayer.

St. Enda and his monks often passed over from Aranmore to visit Gregory, to solace the hours of his voluntarily imposed exile. To make amends for the disfigurement caused by the loss of his lip, St. Enda caused one of gold to appear in its stead. And so he became known as “Gregory of the Golden Mouth.”

Gregory lived for a long time, but, when old age came on, his declining health warned him that death was near. He sent for the monks, to prepare him for a final departure, and he received the last rites of the Church.

So great had become his humility, that Gregory considered it a profanity to have his remains interred among the saints of Aran. He asked, as a dying favor, that his body should be consigned to the deep.

When he died, his remains were placed in a coffin. Stones were added to increase its weight, and so it sank to the depths of the sound.

The monks rowed over towards Killeany after their work had been completed. Great must have been their surprise on landing, to find the coffin, supposed to have been at the bottom of the ocean, high and dry on the beach, at a place now called Port.

Again, they took the coffin containing Gregory’s remains, and sunk it in the middle of the sound. On landing, they found a repetition of what had previously occurred.

Taking back the remains a third time, they were again sunk in the sound. Yet, on landing that third time, the coffin lay before them on a bank of sand.

Astonished at this spectacle, they cried out:

“A miracle, a miracle, let us bury Gregory among the saints!”

The place where his remains lay was not far from the burial ground and church of Killeany, where many holy monks had been interred. Just as in life, the bones of the penitent Gregory were isolated, on the verge of the burial ground.

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  1. A rock and a little cove near his hermitage were called Portaich, and in later times the place of his habitation was known as Gregory’s Cave.


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