Posts Tagged ‘Irish folklore’

Here’s another Irish dragon legend for you.

Lig-Na-Paiste was a dragon who dwelt in a forest pool near the headwaters of the Owenreagh River. He managed to keep his head down when Saint Patrick banished all the serpents from Ireland, and so he lingered and waited. Eventually the saint died, and Lig-Na-Paiste figured this was his chance. He took up his evil ways and marauded across the countryside once again.

Of course, people cried out their woes when he ravaged their herds. Word of their troubles reached another holy man, Saint Murrough. After fasting and praying for nine days, Murrough received a divine message. He gathered three rods made out of green reeds and sought out the lair of Lig-Na-Paiste. The dragon thought he must be a sacrifice sent by the local people, and readily came out of his den.

Legends differ as to the details, but Murrough tricked Lig-Na-Paiste  into wearing the reed bands. He then prayed, and the reeds transformed into iron. The dragon struggled mightily, but he could not get free. He then tried his own trickery, begging Saint Murrough to put him in the water, where his power would be greater. He claimed, also, that humans had no power over him. The saint held steadfast and asserted that God had power over all living things, even a dragon.

By Saint Murrough’s prayer, Lig-Na-Paiste was banished downstream to farthest depth of Lough Foyle. He is still bound with iron bands. The people who live nearby often tell of strange forebodings when they are near the water. If there are waves without a source or flooding on the lake shore, it is thought that Lig-Na-Paiste is struggling to get free.

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The dragons of Irish legend were more associated with water than those of other lands. Ireland was dotted with peat bogs, right into modern times. Though no snakes were native to the island, the peat bogs were home to other wiggly creatures like eels. In addition, Ireland was surrounded by ocean, which is a mysterious realm ripe for magical beings. Thus the dragons of Irish imagination resembled gigantic, malevolent eels more than the winged, flying dragons we picture today.

In pre-historic spirituality, dragons were a force of decay and the underworld. The bubbling stink of a peat bog would have fit right into this legend. The Irish word for dragon was piast or peist (anglicized as pest or beast). If you listened to every story, you might believe that piasts were very widespread in Ireland. Nearly every major hero fought one. Some legends, such as that of Fionn mac Cumhaill (anglicized as Finn MacCool) include lengthy boasts of the piasts and other hauntings he had put an end to.

More recent legends tell that Saint Patrick came to Ireland and banished all serpents in the name of God. It is thought by modern scholars that this reflects the change from the traditional folk religion to that of Christianity. This was probably a gradual process, and that is reflected in a few tales of piasts who lingered after the expulsion.

I’ll share one such folktale next Wednesday.



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