This folktale of Lough Mask tells the tragic story of Cormac O’Flaherty, who was lost to treachery on the way to his wedding.
The evening was closing fast as young Cormac O’Flaherty reached the highest slope of one of the rugged passes of the steep mountains. He paused briefly to look back upon a scene at once sublime and gorgeous.
On one side the Atlantic lay beneath him, brightly reflecting the glories of an autumnal setting sun, and expanding into a horizon of dazzling light; on the other lay the untrodden wilds, stretching amidst the depths of mountain valleys, whence the sunbeam had long since departed, and mists were already wreathing round the overhanging heights, veiling the distance in vapoury indistinctness. On the one side all was glory, light, and life — on the other all was awful, still, and almost dark.
Before he descended, Cormac looked back once more. There was a mixture of scrutiny in his look, and turning to Diarmid, a faithful supporter of his family, and his only present companion, he said: “That sunset forebodes a coming storm, does it not, Diarmid?”
“It does,” Diarmid responded, “and it will soon be upon us.”
“Then let us hurry,” said Cormac, as he sprang down the steep pass before him, followed by the faithful Diarmid. “It’s sweet to know there is as eye to mark our coming and grow brighter when we come.”
There was indeed a bright eye watching for Cormac. Many a love-taught look did Eva cast over the waters of Lough Mask, impatient for the arrival of the O’Flaherty.
“Surely he will be here this evening,” thought Eva, “but the sun is already low, and no distant oars disturb the quiet of the lake. Maybe he has tarried with friends beyond the mountains. He is a welcome guest in any hall.”
But soon the maiden’s jealous fancy whispered: “He has friends here too.” And she reproached him for his delay, if only for a moment.
Another glance across the lake. The faint outline of the dark grey mountains, whose large masses lay unbroken by the detail which daylight discovers; the hazy distance of the lake, whose extremity was indistinguishable from the overhanging cliffs which embraced it — all told Eva that the night was fast approaching. Yet Cormac had not come.
She took her harp. It yielded to her gentlest touch one of the most soothing and plaintive of her native melodies; and to her it seemed to breathe an unusual flow of tenderness and pathos, which her heated imagination conjured almost into prophetic wailing.
Eva paused. Her chamber was dark and silent. She burst into tears, and when her spirits became somewhat calmed by this gush of feeling, she arose, and dashing the lingering tear-drops from the long lashes of the most beautiful blue eyes in the world, she hastened to the hall, and sought comfort in the company of others.
The night closed over the path of Cormac, and the storm he anticipated had swept across the waves of the Atlantic, and now burst in all its fury over the mountains. The wind rushed along in wild gusts, bearing heavy dashes of rain, which soon increased to a continuous deluge of enormous drops, rendering the mountain gullies the channel of temporary rivers, and the path that wound along the verge of each precipice slippery.
But Cormac and his attendant strode on towards the shores of Lough Mask; the dizzy path was firmly trod, its dangers rendered more perceptible by the blue lightnings, half revealing the depths of the abyss beneath. As they passed round the base of a projecting crag, a coarse voice suddenly halted their progress:
Cormac stopped, and instantly his weapon was in his hand. With searching eye he sought to discover what bold intruder dared cross his path, but he saw no-one. His tongue now demanded what his eye failed to make known, and the same rude voice answered:
“Your mortal foe! You seek your bride, boy, but you shall never behold her — you shall never share the bed of Eva.”
“Foul traitor!” cried Cormac fiercely. “Avoid my path, for death is in it!”
“True,” answered the unknown.
A flash of lightning illumined the glen with momentary splendour, and Cormac saw, a few paces before him, two armed men of gigantic stature, in one of whom he recognised Emman O’Flaherty, one of the many branches of that ancient and extensive family, equally distinguished for his personal prowess and savage temper.
“Ha!” exclaimed Cormac, “is it Emman Dubh?” for the black hair of Emman had obtained for him this denomination of Black Edward, a name fearfully suitable to him who bore it.
“Yes,” he answered, “it is Emman Dubh who awaits the coming of his fair cousin. You have said death is in your path. Come on and meet it.”
“Emman Dubh, I have never wronged you. But since you thirst for my blood, and cross my path, on your head be the penalty. Stand by me, Diarmid!,” said the brave youth, and rushing toward his enemy, he closed in mortal combat.
The colossal strength of Emman might have found its superior in the speed of Cormac, and his skill in the use of his weapon. But the foul, treacherous Emman dared his high-spirited rival to advance, only to lure him into an ambush; as Cormac rushed past the rock that hung over his path, a third assassin lay in wait, and when the noble youth was engaged in the fierce encounter, a mortal blow was dealt him in the back.
Restlessly had Eva passed that turbulent night — each gust of the tempest, each flash, of living flame and burst of thunder awakened her terrors, that Cormac, her beloved, was exposed to its fury; but she hoped that he still lingered in the castle of some friend beyond the mountains.
The morning dawned, and silently bore witness to the commotion of the elements of the past night. The riven branch of the naked tree, that in one night had been shorn of its leafy beauty; the earth strewn with foliage half green, half yellow, before autumn had converted its summer verdure quite to gold, gave evidence to the unusually early storm.
Days came and went without a sign of Cormac. At length it was past doubt; and the father of Eva knew his child was widowed before she was wed. He struggled with the question of who should tell his daughter; who should be the one to cast the shadow over her soul, and make the future darkness?
But Eva already knew. From tongue to tongue — by word on word from many a quivering lip, and meanings darkly given, the dreadful certainty at last arrived. Her mind was filled with the one fatal knowledge — Cormac was gone for ever; and that was the only thought that ever after employed the lovely Eva.
Though quite bereft of reason, Eva was harmless as a child, and was allowed to wander round the borders of Lough Mask. A favourite haunt of the still beautiful maniac was the Cave of Cong, where a subterranean river rushes from beneath a low natural arch in the rook, and passing for some yards over a strand of pebbles, in pellucid swiftness, loses itself in the dark recesses of the cavern with the sound of a rapid and turbulent fall.
Here the poor girl would sit for hours; believing that her beloved Cormac had been drowned In Lough Mask, she hoped, in one of those half-intelligent dreams which haunt a distempered brain, to discover his body, as she fancied it must pass through the Cave of Cong, borne on the subterranean river.
Month after month passed by; but the nipping winter and the gentle spring found the lovely Eva still watching by the stream, like a water-nymph beside her sacred fountain. At length she disappeared — and though the strictest search was made, the broken-hearted Eva was never heard again.
The tradition of the country is that the fairies took pity on a love so devoted, and carried away the faithful girl to join her betrothed in fairyland.
If you enjoyed reading this folktale from Lough Mask, please consider keeping it alive by sharing it with your friends.