Hag of Beara Stone

The Hag of Beara Stone or An Chailleach Bhéara
by Thomas Baurley, Folklorist and Archaeologist, Techno Tink, LLC

Ring of Beara, County Kerry/County Cork, Ireland

Driving the Ring of Beara in West Cork/County Kerry, Ireland I came across the infamous “Hag of Beara” stone – also known as An Chailleach Bhéara or the White nun of Beara, The Cailleach, “Hag”, “Old Crone”, or Old Woman of Dingle. In Irish lore, she is known as the Cally Berry or Cailleach Bheara.  

This boulder is a fabled petrified stone of the Divine Hag or Cailleach, the Irish Goddess of Winter. The Queen of Winter.  Of course my visit to her was a rainy cold winter day and very tributing to that connutation.

Beara is also connected with the other Goddess/ poetesses: Brigit, Liadan, and Uallach.  She is seen as one of Ireland’s oldest aspects of the Great Goddess trinity, alongside younger incarnations as a maiden and mother. She is sometimes called the second side or winter half of the Goddess Brigid. She is said to rule the months between Samhain (around Nov 1st) until Beltane (around May 1st), while Brigid rules the summer months.  She is described to be an old crone who brings winter with her when she appears and wields powers over life and death. She could control the weather and many of her worshippers had a mixture of reverence with fear in tribute and respect for outcomes of their winter crops. She is the bringer of winter, goddess of Destruction, Goddess of Creation, and the weather witch.

Said to have been born on Samhain in the “Teach Mor” or Great House in what is now known as “Tivore” on the  Dingle peninsula in county Kerry. Her house was known as “the house farthest west in Ireland.” Cailleach Bheara was originally named “Boi” a variant of the word for a cow “‘bó’”.  The ‘Oileán Baoi’ (Boi Island), or Dursey Island, was named after her maiden image of “Bo”.  She is known as a Goddess of Creation, nick-named the hag or hooded one, and is a special Deity to the Beara Peninsula of County Cork, Ireland which her Beara name is associated. She is described as having worn a hood or a veil given to her by Saint Cummine for a hundred years. She welcomed the winter weather every winter in this area overlooking the sea. Imprisoned as petrified to stone for centuries past and to come. She holds special attribution to the countryside of County Cork (elder age) and County Kerry (childhood). Rumored to be a mother or foster mother to ancestors of many clans in these counties, including Corca Loighdhe and Corca Dhuibhne.  She has been referenced as either being the wife or daughter of Manannan Mac Lir, the Irish God of the Sea. It is said she had seven periods of youth one after another, that every man that lived with her died of old age and is why her descendants are many, making up entire tribes and races extending from Ireland to Scotland. She was also said to have had many lovers, including the Fenian warrior “Fothad Donainne”.

Originally a Pagan Deity, she was intermingled into Christian mythology with the arrival of Saint Caithighearn, who came to Kilcatherine and the surrounding area preaching Christianity. Caithighearn was seen as a threat to the Hag of Beara.  Cailleach never related to Christian wisdom but was curious about it for its threat to her. It is said that after a day of food gathering on the peninsula, the hag returned to Kilcatherine to find the saint asleep, approached her, and stole her prayer book. A cripple nearby saw this theft and awoke the Saint who saw the Hag running away. As the saint ran after her, caught up with her in Ard na Cailli, she took the prayer book back and turned the hag to stone with her back to the hill and face the sea. This is the “Hag of Beara” stone, which I visited on this rainy day of December 19th, 2023. I could feel the sorrow, the loneliness, the solitude, and the magic surrounding the stone. I could also feel the rumored “warmth” and inner dampness of the stone, which is said to remain moist despite the warmth of summer months because of the life force it contains. In her youth, she was called the “Daughter of the Sun,” and she was powerful during the summer months and weakened towards the winter months.  By spring, she loses her strength, overcome by the powers of the Spring Equinox.   She is said to visit a hidden Well of Youth that she drinks from as the sun rises, and this is how she transforms into the young, beautiful Bride or Brigid Goddess, her other half.

The Scottish also honor and tribute the Cailleach as a mother of all Gods and Goddesses in Scotland, as powerful as most Gaelic myths profess her to be. There, she is often called the Cailleach Bheur, Beira, or Carlin. She is said to predate Celtic Mythology. She has existed “from the long eternity of the world.”   Some have placed her in the realms of the Fomorians and Titans, but that is another tale.  Some have quoted her as a Spanish princess named Beara, and others have attributed her to being a bastardized version of Kali, the great Hindu Goddess brought to Britain by Indian immigrants. She is internationally seen as a crone Goddess, dressed in grey with dun-colored plaid wrapped around her shoulders, with faces wan and blue like a corpse with long white or grey hair speckled with frost. A single eye in the center of her forehead, a being who can see beyond this world and into the next – and likened to the Fomorians because of this depiction. She sometimes appears in myth wearing an apron or a creel strapped to her back and carrying a wooden staff. Other sources describe the staff as a wand or hammer, potentially a shillelagh or walking stick/club made from the wood of the blackthorn tree associated with the crone and witches. Some say we get the modern depiction of the hagly witch in our Halloween imagery as that from the Cailleach. She is well known through the mythology and legends of the British Isles.

The British called her the Black Annis and the Cailleach ny Groamch or Cailleach Groarnagh on the Isle of Man. Other names for her are said to be the Blue Hag of Winter, Bone Mother, Woman of Stones, Cailleach Nollaig (The Christmas old wife), and Cailleach Mhor Nam Fiadh (the great old woman of the deer), and Cailleach Beinne Breac (old woman of the speckled mountain).

One Scottish legend is Cailleach as the winter Goddess ushering in the cold and dark winter months beginning at Samhain, keeping the lands cold until Imbolc (St Brigid Day). It is said on Samhain that she goes to the Corryvreckan whirlpool just north of the Isle of Jura to wash her great plaid. When the plaid emerges from the clean and shining white waters, she uses it to cover Scotland in a blanket of snow. Through winter, she walks the land, striking the ground and trees with her staff, crushing any sign of growth appearing.

In one myth, she imprisons the young virginal Brid, the personification of Spring, inside Ben Nevis on Samhain. Her son Angus, King of Summer, learns about Brid’s imprisonment in a dream and consults the king of the Green Isle for her whereabouts – the king replies, “The fair princess whom you saw is Brid, and in the days when you will be king of summer, she will be your queen. Your mother has full knowledge of this, and she wishes to keep you away from Brid so that her reign may be prolonged.”   He then sets out seeking his beloved and frees her from the confines of the mountain on the eve of Imbolc. Once the Cailleach learns of this, She immediately chases after the couple, and a great fight ensues. The battle continues through the night until Cailleach escapes her son’s potentially fatal blow by turning her into a standing stone – the Hag of Beara. She is to remain in that form until the following Samhain where she will appear again to usher in the winter and imprison Brid within Ben Nevis as an eternal cycle of light and dark, changing of the seasons, and fertility of the land.

In the Carmina Gadelica, Alexander Carmichael refers to Cailleach as “the first week of April, represented as a wild hag with a venomous temper, hurrying about with a magic wand on her withered hand, switching the grass and keeping down the vegetation to the detriment of man and beast. When, however, the grass upborne by the warm sun, the gentle dew, and the fragrant rain overcomes the “Cailleach,” she flies into a terrible temper, throwing her wand into the roots of a whin bush, and disappears in a whirling cloud of angry passion til the beginning of April comes again.”


Another Pagan tale is that she encountered two huntsmen while transformed into a deer. She appears to them as the crone and points them toward the best hunting grounds, and the two young men kill an immense stag they drag home to their father. Upon reaching the cottage, the stag disappears, and the father scolds them for not having the meat as the Cailleach had instructed and let the fairies take it from them. She is associated with various creatures, including birds found in Ireland. She, in particular, is associated with the deer she safeguards, wolves, black cats, wild cattle, and goats.

She is also written as the narrator for “The Lament of the Hag of Beara,” an Irish medieval poem in which she bitterly laments the passing of her youth and her decrepit old age. She is also written about in the collection of stories within the Great Book of Lecan which is dated approximately 1400 C.E. In the 12th century, she is named the White Nun of Beare in the Vision of Mac Conglinne. In the Lament of the Hag of Beara, she narrates a world ruled by the flow and ebb of the sea tide, with the turn of which life will dwindle, as with the coming tide, it waxes to its full powers and energy, according to folklorist Eleanor Hull in the interpretation of the medieval poem. The Hag of Beara somberly reminisces about their youth when she drank mead and wine with kings and now lives a lonely abandoned life amongst the “gloom of a prayer” and “shriveled old hags.”  This is befitting for my journey here this week as I myself embrace the onsets of “old age” still working through my divinity from youth to father to old man. I embrace a solitary Winter Solstice holiday and solitude averse to my younger wild parties and adventurous days. I sat, peering over the Bay from her stone, contemplating my state of being and aging as I feel its effects on my body.

I am the Hag of Beare,
An ever-new smock I used to wear;
Today—such is my mean estate—-
I wear not even a cast-off smock.

The maidens rejoice
When May-day comes to them,
For me, sorrow is meeter,
I am wretched; I am an old hag.

Amen! Woe is me!
Every acorn has to drop.
After feasting by shining candles
To be in the gloom of a prayer.

I had my day with Kings,
Drinking mead and wine;
Today, I drink whey water
Among shriveled old hags.

~ excerpts from a 1919 translation by Lady Augusta Gregory, Trinity College, Dublin.




According to mythology, she dropped or threw stones from her apron as she passed around Ireland through Scotland. Each of these stones grew into rock formations or mountains associated with her, which are recognizable places of worship for her tribute and prayers. Her name, “Boi,” gave rise to the Oilean Baoi or Dursey Island located at the tip of the Beara peninsula, said to be her home.

She has several landmarks attributed to her throughout Ireland, Scotland, and the British Isles, such as the (1) Hag’s Head in County Clair, the Ceann Cailli rock formation on the southernmost point of the Cliffs of Moher, Co. Claire. (2) the “Hag of Beara” Rock chair, a natural boulder in Kilcatherine, Beara, Co. Cork claimed to be her fossilized remains on a chair which she sits overlooking the sea awaiting Manannan mac Lir, the God of the Sea, sometimes defined as her husband or father. (3) Sliabh na Cailli or “The Hag’s Mountain” in County Meath. (4)  This stone here, the “Hag of Beara” – a large rock overlooking Coulagh Bay, close to Eyeries in County Cork, represents her face turned to stone as she stared out to sea, awaiting for Manannan mac Lir to return to her. It’s the (5) Beinn na Caillich on the Isle of Skye in Scotland.  (6) The scarred path down the side of Schiehallion bears her name, Sgriob na Calliach, or “furrows of the Cailleach,” where she lost footing and slid down the mountain. (7) the Ailsa Craig supposed was created from a dropped boulder when a fisherman sailed his boat underneath the Cailleach, and the sail of his boat brushed the inside of her thigh, frightening her and causing her to drop the boulder. (8) the Cailleach stone on Gigha and (9) the Callanais stones on the Isle of Lewis. (10) Loch Awe on the banks of Ben Cruachan was a great well on the summit from which the Cailleach drew her water daily; it was covered by a heavy stone slab; this slab was to be replaced by sunset or the water inside the well would spill out and flood the world – one tiring evening she removed the stone slab to draw her water. She sat down to rest before walking home. Exhausted, she fell into a deep sleep on the hillside, and the water tumbled from the well in vast torrents and streamed down the mountainside – the roar of water awoke her. She quickly replaced the slab in

enough time to prevent the world from being flooded, but the once fertile Vale of Tempe got covered and became Loch Awe.

(11) The House of the Cailleach, Taigh na Cailleach at the head of Glen Lyon, is situated by Glen Cailleach and is seen as a shrine to her for hundreds if not thousands of years involving a Beltane rite where the stones stacked at its entrance were removed, roof freshly thatched, and a family of water-worn stones resembling figures of the Cailleach, the Bodach (old man), and the Nighean (daughter) were brought outside for the summer months. Samhain placed the stones back inside the house before the entrance was sealed until the next summer when the rite repeated. Some say that the (12) Megalithic tombs at Carrowmore were created from stones falling from her apron. (13) The same is true of the passage tombs on the Coolera Peninsula outside of Sligo. (The stones that created these were supposedly collected by the Cailleach from the megalithic tombs at Lough crew) (14), and in the Dartry Mountains, there is even the Cailleach’s house. I’ve been to this house, and it resonates so well with her legend.

At each location, pilgrims, visitors, spiritualists, and tourists often leave coins, clooties, and other offerings for her tribute and request prayers. It is said that she is the stone “Hag of Beara” when she presides over the winter months, but come summer, when Brigid rules, she transforms back into her human shape on Samhain.

She is celebrated on various feast days, including February 1st, the Feast Day of St. Bridgit, the day the Cailleach is supposed to transfer her power to Bridgit, who brings forth the spring and summer months. Suppose this day (also known as Groundhog’s Day in the Americas) has favorable weather. In that case, this is taken as a bad omen that the Cailleach can collect extra firewood and draw the winter out, but if the weather is bad, the Cailleach will remain asleep, and winter will be shortened. Some associate this with the American celebration of Groundhog’s Day and determination if we’ll have a longer winter or an earlier spring. The American spinoff is about a bad weather day, limiting the collection of firewood to whether or not the groundhog sees his shadow based on the weather of the day.

March 25th in Scotland is the Latha na Cailliche (Day of the Old Woman), which celebrates the transition of winter into summer. This was also the atypical “New Year’s Day” in Scotland until it changed to the present attribution of January 1st during the 17th century. Competitions and festivities were often held on this day to see who could drive the winter hag away. During Beltane celebrations, around May 1st, on the Isle of Man, many competitions occur where staged battles between summer and winter take place, with summer always triumphing.

Location: Traveling from Ardgroom to Eyeries along the Beara Way Cycle route or Ring of Beara, follow south past the Kilcatherine Church. It is on the right side overlooking Coulagh Bay and is marked by a signpost. There is limited parking available. It’s a small walk down the hill. During winter, it is wet and boggy, so I recommend wellies.


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