O’Donoghue’s Blessing: A Folktale of Lough Leane, Ireland

Lough Leane - Ireland
Pinpoint Location: Lough Leane, County Kerry / Map data ©2017 Google

This folktale from Lough Leane explains how the mythic chief O’Donoghue continues to bless his lands to this day.

In an age so distant that the precise period is unknown, a chieftain named O’Donoghue ruled over the country which surrounds Lough Leane. Wisdom, beneficence, and justice distinguished O’Donoghue’s reign, and the prosperity and happiness of his subjects were their natural results.

His end — for it cannot correctly be called his death — was singular and mysterious. At one of the splendid feasts for which his court was celebrated, surrounded by the most distinguished of his subjects, he was engaged in a prophetic relation of the events which were to happen in ages yet to come. His auditors listened, now wrapped in wonder, now fired with indignation, burning with shame, or melted into sorrow, as he faithfully detailed the heroism, the injuries, the crimes, and the miseries of their descendants.

In the midst of his predictions, O’Donoghue rose slowly from his seat, advanced with a solemn, measured, and majestic tread to the shore of the lake, and walked forward composedly upon its unyielding surface. When he had nearly reached the center, he paused for a moment, then turning slowly round, looked towards his friends, and waving his arms to them with the cheerful air of one taking a short farewell, disappeared from their view.

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The memory of the good O’Donoghue has been preserved by successive generations with affectionate reverence. It is believed that at sunrise, on every May-day morning, the anniversary of his departure, he revisits his ancient domains. A favored few are permitted to see him, and doing so is an omen of good fortune. When the privilege is granted to many, it is a token of an abundant harvest.

Some years have elapsed since the last appearance of O’Donoghue. The April of that year had been remarkably wild and stormy, but on May Morning the fury of the elements had altogether subsided. The air was hushed and still, and the sky was reflected in the serene waters of the lake.

The first beams of the rising sun were just gilding the lofty summit of Glenaa, when the waters near the eastern shores of the lake became suddenly and violently agitated, though the rest of its surface remained smooth and still as a tomb of polished marble. A foaming wave darted forward, and, like a proud high-crested war-horse, rushed across the lake towards Toomies mountain.

Behind this wave appeared a fully armed warrior. Mounted upon a milk-white steed, his snowy plume waved gracefully from a helmet of polished steel, and at his back fluttered a light blue scarf. The horse sprang after the wave along the water, which bore him up like firm earth, while showers of spray that glittered brightly in the morning sun dashed up at every bound.

The warrior was O’Donoghue. He was followed by numberless youths and maidens, who moved lightly and unconstrained over the watery plain, linked together by garlands of delicious spring flowers, timing their movements to strains of enchanting melody.

When O’Donoghue had nearly reached the western side of the lake, he turned his steed, and directed his course along the wood-fringed shore of Glenaa, preceded by the huge wave that curled and foamed up as high as the horse’s neck, whose fiery nostrils snorted above it.

The train of attendants followed with playful deviations the track of their leader, and moved on with unabated fleetness to their celestial music, until gradually, as they entered the narrow strait between Glenaa and Dinis, they entered the mists which floated over the lake, and faded from view.

The sound of their music lingered, and echo, catching up the harmonious strains, fondly repeated and prolonged them in soft and softer tones, until the last faint repetition died away, and the hearers awoke as from a dream.

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