The Hermit and the Thief: A Folktale of Grenagh, Ireland

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

This folktale from Grenagh tells the tale of a hermit who sought redemption, and of the thief that joined him.

The hermit of Sgarrive a Kuilleen was a blessed man, who lived in a little hut on the banks of the river, not far from the ford, where the bridge is now. People came from far and near to visit him, seeking to be cured of all sorts of sickness and curses from the good people.

The hermit was a holy man so favoured by God that blessed angels brought him bread from heaven. Until one stormy night. He happened, as bad luck would have it, to be looking out of his hut. “It is a desperate night,” he said, and never a word more; for he was very sleepy. And so the hermit forgot to say “Glory be to God”.

The angels, in turn, forgot to bring him any bread in the morning. The hermit was very sorrowful, for he knew that he must have done something wrong; though, for the life of him, he couldn’t recollect what it was.

At last, the hermit remembered his sin. In despair, he began to think what penance he should do. At last, he grabbed a holly stick, which he used to carry whenever he went out to walk, and ran, like mad, into the middle of the river. There he planted his stick, and vowed to remain until it would begin to grow.

Shortly after, a notorious thief came driving some cattle over the ford, and he wondered to see the hermit standing in the river. When the thief heard the whole story he was struck with a great sorrow for his own sins; he resolved to make restitution of all he ever stole, and, determining to follow the hermit’s example, he cut a holly stick, and ran into the river alongside of him, and made a vow never to stir until the stick would begin to grow.

The thief’s stick soon began to grow, and send out the most beautiful green sprouts. Knowing he was forgiven, he came out of the water with a heart as light as a feather.

But the hermit’s stick would not grow; for he was thinking more of the bread from heaven, and the loss of his reputation, than he was of his sin.

At last, a big flood washed the Hermit away, and then he repented in earnest. And so he was drowned, but also forgiven; for his stick began to grow. The thief, who was standing on the bank, heard the most beautiful music, and saw something white going up into the sky; without a doubt the holy angels carrying the hermit’s soul to heaven.

And so the place became known as Sgarrive a Kuilleen, and it is local custom not to pass it without saying “Glory be to God”.

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