A long time ago, the pool near the bridge of Thuar was infested by a terrible beast in the shape of a dragon. He laid waste all the Duffrey from Kilmeashil out to Moghurry, and the king of this part of the country didn't know what to do. His very breath was so strong that he could suck a horse into his throat, if he smelled him within three miles of his pool.
At last messengers were sent to the court of the head king of Ireland, who lived somewhere in Munster, to see if he would sent some great warrior to circumvent this devil of a serpent, that would soon not leave a single family alive on this side the Slaney.
Off went the messengers, and nothing need be told of their travels till they came to the court. They up and told their story, but the king was unwilling to fix on any one, it was so entirely dangerous. However, the hot blood was never wanting among the Irish, and so three brave fellows-an O'Brien, an O'Farrel, and an O'Ken-nedy-volunteered.
Well, one of these, I won't say which, was so impatient to set out, nothing could be like it; and " if the first lot didn't fall on him, he'd roar his arm off." But what will you have of it ? The day before they were to leave, the buck got an impression on his chest, or the palate of his mouth was down-some meeah was over him, at any rate : he said he wasn't fit to go, and sure enough it's the truth he was telling. There was a brother of his in the house-a big slob of a boy, that never got anything better to do than turn out the cows or thrash fodder for the cattle. Well becomes my brave lad, he goes to the king, and says he, " My family will be disgraced for ever if your majesty doesn't let me go instead of my brother." The king looked at him as if he had horns on him, but he was a fine strong young fellow, and had a good innocent look, and something very resolute in his eyes. " Well, go in God's name," says the king; " David killed Goliath with a small stone."
1 Pool of the Worm (Serpent).
Off they set, by valleys and mountains, till they came to Bullawn-a-Rinka, there on the top of Coolgarrow-hill. They put up their spy-glasses, and saw the beast stretched out down below, very stupid after a fog-meal he got on a small party of strange soldiers.
" Now, if you'll consent," says the big boy, " I'll try the battle first, and if I fall it will be no great loss." But they would not agree to his offer; so they cast lots, and sure enough he got the chance. " Now," says he again, " bear a hand while the thief is asleep ; " and so they cut down trees, and made the full of a big sack of charcoal.
He got into it with a sharp skian, and made them fill all about him with the black logs. Before they closed it he says to his comrades, " Get to the top of the nearest part of Mount Leinster there beyond, and if you see a smoke near the pool after three hours, kindle a fire, and that will be a sign to all the country that the piastha is slain. You, messengers, get across to Ferns as fast as you can lay leg to ground, and tell your king what's going on."
Just as he said, just so they did, and the two knights were hardly up on the mountain when they saw the monster waking up and stretching himself. He began to snuff about, and when he turned his nose towards Coolgarrow, he began to suck like vengeance. The sack came through the air like a bow-arra, and struck the inside of his jaw with such force that it almost knocked him down. He didn't like the taste of the coals, so he swallowed the sack, body and bones; and when the boy found himself in his belly, he got out his skian and gashed away under him, and the piastha finding something going wrong in his inside, rolled away to the pool. The pain was growing worse and worse, and just as he was tumbling heels over head into the water, his belly was cut through, and out tumbled the Munster man safe and sound on the sod.
He lost no time till he made a fire; and, by my word, there was another fire soon on Mount Leinster, and another on Black Stairs and every hill round, and such joy and delight as there was we'll never see any way.
But the brave boy was devout, too. He determined he'd build a church out of gratitude, and he prayed that he might be shown a proper place to make the foundation. So he had a dream, and the next morning he saw a duck and mallard flying along. He followed them across Thuar Bridge, and over the hill to Templeshambo. There they lighted, the drake on the near side of the stream, and the duck on the far one. So he built a monastery on one side and a nunnery on the other, and even when there wasn't a stick nor a stone of either of them left, there was not a woman buried on one side, nor a man on the other, till the devil bewitched the people of Ballinlugg to bury Blue Cap on the men's side, within a foot of the body of brave ould Daniel Jourdan, that fought with Sarsfield at Aughrim, and you all know how it fared with her.
There is scarcely a lake in Ireland without its legend of a worm or piastha, destroyed by Fion Mac Cumhail, or one of the old saints. As the early missionaries were unable to induce their converts to give up the recitation of these pagan fables, they turned them to account by investing them with a new character. The worm or serpent was the devil, and his conqueror was St.
Michael. Kilmeashil churchyard lies a little better than a mile away from Lough-na-Piastha : the name is a corruption of Cil-Mihil, "Church of St. Michael." The later story-tellers, however, found it more to their purpose to leave out the spiritual element, and so the legend by degrees resumed its ancient character, substituting Christian knights for three of the Ossianic heroes.
About the year 1808 a report ran through the Duffrey that some spawn of the old serpent had made its appearance in the pool, and was seen tearing across the fields that divide it from Kennystown bog, and plunging into one of the deepest bog-holes. Some hundreds of people collected after Mass one Sunday, and, armed with pitchforks, fishing spears, and spades, perambulated the bog the whole afternoon, with intent to slay the young worm. They were obliged to separate towards nightfall without a glimpse of him-head, body, or tail.
Our authority for the following legend was Owen Jourdan, already mentioned. Poor Jourdan was a genuine story-telling genius. He was not the mere talented Scealuidhe ; he not only had a sense of what pleased and interested, but he could invent, if needful -i.e. he could form a good narrative out of two or three independent ones. With all his native powers of deceiving his auditors while relating extraordinary things, as if they had happened to himself, he was suspected of believing in the existence of fairies, and their dwelling in peculiar localities, such as the Rath of Cromogue. As for raths in general, he would as soon think of planting a ridge of potatoes in the ancient cemeteries of Kilmeashill or Templeshambo as of ploughing up the green area of one of these circular remains. We have endeavoured to retain his style of narrative; but alas! it is more than thirty years since we sat near his throne, viz., the big kitchen griddle in Tombrick.