The Hermit and the Thief: A Local Legend of Grenagh, Ireland

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

This Local Legend from Grenagh was collected by Thomas Crofton Croker some time before 1852. It tells the tale of a hermit who sought redemption. 

The hermit of Sgarrive a Kuilleen was a blessed man, and he lived in a little hut on the banks of the river, not far from the ford, where the bridge is now.

There was a great resort of people from far and near to him, to get gospels and orations, and be cured of all sorts of sickness and blasts from the good “people” for he was a very holy man, and in such favour with God, that he was fed by the blessed angels, who brought him bread from heaven.

That was all well and good, 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 he forgot to say “Glory be to God” which was a greater sin for him, than the killing of a man would be in the likes of us.

Since he forgot to say Glory be to God, the angels forgot to bring him any bread in the morning. He 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, he remembered how he had looked out at the storm, and that he said it was a desperate night, without saying Glory be to God.

When he thought of this, and what a mortal sin it was for him, he got quite in despair and began to think what penance he should do for his sin. At last, he caught hold of a holly stick, which he used to carry in his hand whenever he went out to walk, and away he ran, like mad, down into the middle of the river, and planted his stick in it, and made a vow never to leave that spot, until his stick should begin to grow.

He wasn’t there long when a noted thief came driving some cattle over the ford, and he wondered to see the hermit standing in the river before him. So, he just made bold to ask him, what in the world he was doing there? The hermit told him, how he was looking out at the storm, and how he said it was a desperate night, and how he forgot to say, Glory be to God, and how he made a vow never to leave that spot, until his holly stick would begin to grow.

When the thief heard the whole story he was struck with a great sorrow for his sins; for he thought, if it was so bad with such a holy man, it must be a great deal worse with himself. So 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.

He wasn’t there long; for sure enough, his stick began to grow in a minute, and send out the most beautiful green sprouts, and so he knew that his sins were forgiven, and went up out of the water with a heart as light as a feather. But, if it was easy with him, it wasn’t so with the hermit; for he was thinking more of the bread from heaven, and the loss of his character with the people, than he was of his sin. till at last, a big flood came in

At last, a big flood came in the river, and then the Hermit was sorry for his sin in good earnest. And so he was forgiven, for his stick began to grow, but that didn’t prevent the flood from whipping him away. And so he was drowned. But it was a happy death for him; the thief, that was standing on the bank, heard the most beautiful music, and saw something white going up into the sky; which, without a doubt, was the holy angels carrying the hermit’s soul to heaven.

And so the place is known ever since, by the name of Sgarrive a Kuilleen, and it is local custom not to pass it without saying God bless it, or, Glory be to God.

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