As could be expected of an area steeped in antiquity, countless legends abound of mythological heroes, warriors, lovers and even biblical characters and their presence in the Ballinskelligs region.
One of the more interesting legends involves Bith the son, and Cessair the grand-daughter of Noah. Having being denied access to the Ark and reluctant to succumb to the fury of the flood, they in turn built ships and under council of their wizards set sail for Ireland which was thought to be uninhabited and therefore absent of the sins of mankind. After a seven year voyage three of the ships arrived in Ballinskelligs bay, however two sank in the rough seas, but the one containing Bith and Cessair landed safely.
Legend also holds that the eight sons of Milesious, the Milesian invaders landed in the bay. However due to conflict, tragedy befell them and Erannan, one of the sons, is said to be buried at the stone alignment in Kildreelig (Cill Rialaig).
Coom Wedge tomb is often mentioned in relation to one of the great romantic legends. It is said that while on the run from Fionn, the leader of the Fianna, a mythical band of Irish warriors, they evaded capture by hiding in caves and where none were available, Diarmuid constructed shelters. Coom in folklore is thought to be one and to this day, as is the case with many other wedge tombs throughout Ireland, it is referred to as Diarmuid and Grainne’s Bed.
As is often the case, certain localities and indeed monuments of archaeological significance have become synonymous with various myth and legend. The Ballinskelligs region provides numerous examples of the latter. Association with archaeological sites, while for the most part factually inaccurate, add to the romance and general mystery of a site, but more importantly have aided in their preservation over the centuries, primarily due to a certain degree of superstition and a healthy respect for forces unknown.
It was thought by many that the countless Ringforts that dotted the landscape were the abodes of the piseog or fairies and that the souterrains (underground passages) often associated with this monument type, were the entrances to otherworld domains. Countless tales are told of farmers having interfered with such forts, or drunken individuals unintentionally falling asleep within their confines, incurring the wrath of the fairies, thereafter dying in mysterious and untimely circumstances.
The older generation speaks of those who tried to build atop some of these places only to find the following day, that their handiwork had been knocked down in the night and so there was a custom of driving the cattle into the field before starting to build. They would watch and see which areas of the field would be avoided by the cows and build only where the cows were happy to graze.
Natural wells or ’lisses’ too were in some cases thought to be gateways to other world domains and some of the older generation in Ballinskelligs still speak of them with some trepidation because their parents before them knew of many stories and, in some cases, had some frightening and unexplainable experience. Some small rivers and streams too, were held to be an attractant to spirits and were to be avoided at dusk and into the night as you never knew who you might meet, again some of the older generation can recount hair-raising stories!
Just go into Rosie’s on a dark stormy night and ask for a tale or two. It may cost you a round of drinks, but it will be worth it!