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The Magic of Irish Stones

            Since man’s earliest time, he has relied on rocks for his very existence.  Humans fashioned their first tools from stone.  They learned how to build fires for cooking, warmth, and protection by striking sparks from stone.  Stone walls were the early artists’ first canvases.  Later, great buildings and cities were constructed of stone.

            Given man’s continued dependence on rock, it is little wonder that stones would evolve into man’s earliest symbol of divinity.  At first, stones were worshipped as a manifestation of God himself.  Later, stones were considered God’s dwelling place.  Megalithic monuments were erected for sacred ceremonies all over the world.

            These ancient stone shrines remain standing as a testament to man’s belief that there is power in rock.  In Chile, massive stone statues keep watch over Easter Island.  The pyramids in Egypt tower above the sands.  At Carnac in France, rows of monoliths stand at attention over grassy fields.  And most famously, Stonehenge in Wiltshire, England reminds us that early man was industrious and clever as well as spiritual.

            But stones from Ireland have long held a mystique of their own.  Myths abound of the supernatural power of Irish rocks.  One reason for Ireland’s strong belief in stone magic could be attributed to the Celts and their religious devotion to rocks.  Ireland boasts of the greatest collection of wishing and cursing stones anywhere in the world.  The famous Blarney Stone near Cork, Ireland is a perfect example.  The legend says that those who kiss the rock will be granted the gift of gab.  Many visitors to Blarney Castle risk bending over backwards to reach the stone with their lips in the hopes that a little luck will rub off.

            Tory Island is no exception to the Irish rule.  As small as this island is, it boasts two magical stones–the Leac na Leannán or Wishing Stone and the Cloch na Mallacht or Cursing Stone.  The Wishing Stone sits at the top of Balor’s Fort.  It juts out on a cliff 100m above the Atlantic Ocean.  A wish is granted to anyone who is brave enough to climb on top of it.  Anyone lacking such courage may also be granted a wish by successively throwing three stones onto its crest.  The Cursing Stone was located at the west end of the island, but it is now mysteriously missing.  It was part of a holy pilgrimage called the An Turas Mór.  The last time the stone was seen was in 1884 when it was allegedly used to curse the English tax ship the HMS WASP and cause it to wreck on the rocks of Tory.  Now all that remains is the Cloch Arclai, the cursing stone’s pedestal.

            In my novel, Island of Tory, I use the legends of these magical rocks to weave a tale of the possible consequences of the curse on the island and its inhabitants.  I imagine that the islanders are stuck in time because of their malevolent behavior.  Because they cursed, they shall be cursed, an Irish version of karma.

            Island of Tory is due to be released by Loconeal Publishing in March 2012.

Tory Island's Wishing Stone

Tory Island Folklore: Du’n Bhaloir, Balor’s Fort

     From its craggy cliffs to its wind-beaten shores, Ireland has long exuded an aura of mystery and magic. Its culture and traditions have been forged from a unique mixture of warrior ballads, clan sagas, fairy tales, and bardic narratives. A magnificent combination of myth, legend, and historic fact embroiders the very fabric of Irish culture.

     The mystique begins with Ireland’s ancient inhabitants. The Tuatha de Danann, one of the earliest tribes of Ireland, were rumored to be a magical people. They were believed to be sorcerers of astonishing power, but their bronze weapons were no match for the iron swords of the invading Milasians. After a great battle, the Danann were driven into hiding. They fled underground and into the depths of the forests to escape all sense of time and place. Defeated but not destroyed, the Danann became known as the Daoine Sidhe Fairies and are said to secretly inhabit the Emerald Isle still to this day.

     Tory Island is one of the few places left in Ireland where the myths and legends of the Irish people are still held close. In fact, the island has quite a few of its own tales. Nemedian settlers from Scythia in modern-day Turkey are believed to have been the first people to occupy Tory. The Formorians, a tribe of sea pirates from Cartage, invaded Tory and removed the Nemedians. Conan, the conquering Formorian king, built a tower, Tu’r Ri (tower of the king) giving Tory its name.

     In the apocryphal history of Ireland, Lebor Gaba’la E’renn, the Fomorian king Balor of the Evil Eye, was a formidable ruler of Tory. A fearsome Cyclops who could kill a man dead with a single glance of his evil eye, Balor was a warlord to be reckoned with. It is said that as long as his eye remained open, no army could defeat him. And to ensure Balor’s success in battle, his men fixed ropes and pulleys to his eyelid to keep it from closing when he tired. No one could defeat Balor, no one except his own flesh and blood.

     An ancient druidic prophecy foretold that Balor would be defeated by his own grandson. In an attempt to defy destiny, Balor imprisoned his only daughter Eithne in a crystal tower high atop To’r Mo’r, the island’s highest point. He forbade all men to approach her prison.

     Three brothers of the Tuatha de Danann lived on the mainland opposite the island: Cian the chieftain, Mac Samhthann the sailor, and Gaibhadin Gabha the swordsmith. Gaibhadin owned a special cow that Balor desired for his own. Tempting fate, Balor raided the Danann settlement and stole the cow back to Tory. Pride sent Cian after Balor for revenge.

     As fortune would have it, Cian caught a glimpse of the beautiful Eithne during the raid. He fell in love instantly. With the help of Birog the Druidess, Cian disguised himself as a woman to fool Balor so that he could be with Eithne. Nine months later, Eithne gave birth to triplets. Balor was enraged. When he discovered that Cian was the father, Balor hunted him down and cut off his head. He then wrapped his three grandsons in a cloth, secured it with a thorn, and tossed the bundle into the sea. Loch Deilg, Lake Thorn, on the east end of Tory is named after the event.

     Balor’s eldest grandchild, Lu’gh was saved by Birog the Druidess, however, and grew to be a man with a vengeful heart. As chance would have it, Lu’gh happened upon Balor while he was visiting Gaibhadin’s forge. Balor was bragging about killing Cian and his sons. Not knowing that Balor was his grandfather, Lu’gh drew a burning rod of iron from his brother’s furnace and drove it through the back of Balor’s head and out through his evil eye. Balor’s blood spilled over the land, turning the hills red.

     Du’n Bhaloir, Balor’s Fort, is located on Tory Island’s eastern side, and is the highest part of the island. The fort is only accessible by crossing a long, narrow isthmus, surrounded by 90-meter high cliffs.

     The story of Balor of the Evil Eye is only one example of Tory Island’s rich collection of folklore. There are many more stories surrounding the various points of interest on the island. When writing my young adult fantasy novel, Island of Tory, I used Tory’s existing legends to create a modern day story of magic and intrigue. Balor’s Fort plays an integral part in the novel. Arella Cline, the main character, must carry a cursing stone across the isthmus to the fort as part of her quest to undo a hundred-year-old curse placed on the island and its inhabitants. In using this well known folktale as part of my story, I have given validity to the island myths while weaving a bit of magic into my own narrative.

Island of Tory is due to be released by Loconeal Publishing in March 2012.

Balor's Fort

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