“There were fairies in Ireland then, & I grew up there, thinking that fairy life was something that was inseparable from Irish life. Fairy stories would be told that were to me & to those around me as much realities of Irish life as are the stories that I now read in books called Realities of Irish Life”

O Donovan Rossa, Recollections 1838-1898

Hallucinations, visitations, visions & paranormal manifestations have always been a feature of life in West Cork, & my day was no different. In particular, The Virgin Mary makes regular appearances in & around Clonakilty, as she does throughout West Cork. She is surely the leading lady in the local cast of immaterial entities. I have heard very few claims of people hearing the banshee, or of them having encounters with witches, but you run into plenty in West Cork who have had some contact with the VM or one of her miracles. My Uncle, a solid man not given to religious fears or phantasms, once told me he didn’t believe in God or the Bible or any of that stuff, but that he was a firm acolyte of the Virgin Mary.

According to records, The Mother of God first appeared near Clonakilty upon the headland now named for her half a millennium ago. Upon the Atlantic facing coast of Inchadoney Island, this craggy, dangerous Virgin Mary’s headland divides a quiet, meditative, eastern strand from the busy western beach these days beloved of surfers. Some time in the 1500s a crew of Portuguese sailors, driven dangerously coastwards by an unexpected storm, saw her there praying on the headland. Perhaps not realising her divinely chaste status, & stunned after many weeks at sea by such female beauty, they jeered & cheered her loudly & vulgarly, like a bunch of private school boys on a rugby bus. Urgently towards the headland they steered the marauders on the ould galleon, looking to dock & land, with gang-rape no doubt intended. But the VM appealed to The Man Above & he sent a swift & vengeful tempest down upon them, dashing the old rig to bits against the viciously jutting rocks & smashing to death any among them who were not drowned first.

No ship has even attempted anchor near that headland since. The tale-song about the incident was still being sung by the older inhabitants of Inchadony island in the late 1930s:

“And the vessel from a mountain wave came down with thundering shock;
And her timbers flew like scattered spray on Inchadoney’s rock.
Then loud from all that guilty crew one shriek rose wild and high;
But the angry surge swept over them, and hushed their gurgling cry;
And with a hoarse exhulting tone the tempest passed away,
And down, still chafing from their strife th’ indignant waters lay.”

Another way of looking at the story is that the crew were lured & murdered by a sadistic deity employing what is called a honey-trap – the same kind of sex-lure that has been in the arsenal of vicious gods since at least as far back as The Odyssey. In any case, surely conning & mass-murdering a ship’s crew is more satanic than divine an action. But putting the gloss of divine sanction on evil acts is nothing out of the ordinary in rural Ireland, to speak only of the little part of the world I know from the inside.

It turns out, as a matter of fact, that a ship called The Virgin Mary is the earliest recorded wreck in Clonakilty Bay, going down around the year 1500 – making you wonder what actually lies at the root of this legend. Could it be that the ship was lured to its ruin by some devious method? Probably not, but it’s certain that the wreck would have been scavenged if, as the legend indicates, it sank close to shore in shallow waters. ‘Wrecking’ as this practice was known the world over, was an important source of economic sustenance to marginal coastal communities right up until the 19th century. This is a kind of grave or corpse robbery, a grievous sin in Christian theology, a factor which wouldn’t have been lost onthe wreckers & those they provided for.
Perhaps, in order to throw us all off such a rotten scent, they made up a story to make themselves look like the good guys, sanctified their unholy actions – or, to paraphrase Bob Dylan, philosophised their disgrace. More & more it seems that hallucinations & visions & the legends they spawn cover-up as much, or far more, than they reveal.

Dave Lordan

Excerpt from The Dead Friends, read on here