Gods & Goddesses

Cailleach Beara

Name:  Cailleach Beara/Bhéirre/Béarra/Béirre/Bheare/Bhéara/Beare/Bhérri/Calliagh Birra/ 'Hag of Beare' 'Old Woman' 'Crone'

Title: ''Duineach'' 'The Popular' 'Many Followers'

Properties: Crone Aspect of the Great Goddess, Creator of Storms :: Goddess of Sovereignty 

Associated Sites: Tralee :: The Beare Peninsula between Bantry Bay and the Kenmare Estuary ::  Plain of Femen, Co. Tipperary :: Slieve Daeane, Co. Sligo

Associated Province: Munster

Associated Deities: Dígde an early Goddess of Kerry :: Buí (wife of Lugh Lamhfada

Animals:  The Connra Bull

Associated Season: Winter from Samhain to Imbolc

Associated Herbs, Trees & Fungi: Alder :: Yew

The Cailleach Beara is one of the oldest living mythological beings associated with Ireland.  She has a conversation with Fintan the Wise and the Hawk of Achill and both agree that she has outlived them, saying 'Are you the one, the grandmother who ate the apples in the beginning?' (*apples are associated with immortality and are considered the food of the gods)

The Cailleach Beara is usually associated with Munster in particular Kerry and Cork.  She is considered a goddess of sovereignty giving the kings the right to rule their lands.  She usually appears as an old woman who asks a hero to sleep with her, if the hero agrees to sleep with the old hag she then transforms into a beautiful woman. This is similar to the Mórrigan who appeared to the hero Diarmuid O Duibne as a hag who asked him to carry her over the river, he complies and is rewarded by her.

The Cailleach Beara is ever-renewing and passes through many lifetimes going from old age to youth in a cyclic fashion.  She is reputed to have had at least fifty foster children during her 'lives'.  Her grandchildren and great-grandchildren formed the tribes of Kerry and it's surroundings.  

The Book of Lecan (c.1400 a.d.) claims that the Cailleach Beara was the goddess of the Corcu Duibne people from the Kerry region.  In Scotland the Cailleach Bheur serves a similar purpose as the personification of Winter she has a blue face, and is born old at Samhain (Nov 1st) but grows ever younger over time until she is a beautiful maiden at Bealtaine (May 1st).

Further Reading: Donncha ÓhAodha - 'The Lament of the Old Woman of Beare' in - Sages, Saints and Storytellers: Celtic Studies in Honour of Professor James Carney, edited by Donnchadh Ó Corrain, Maynooth 1989.

James MacKillop - Dictionary of Celtic Mythology, Oxford, 1998.

Image: Detail from 'Old Woman' by Arthur Rackham, c.19th century.  

 

Stories, Myths and Legends associated with the Cailleach Beara

The Lament of the Old Woman of Beare

The Enchanted Fawn/Naming of Carn Mail 

The Hospitality of Cuanna's House

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