Township: Barrapol,Barrapol

Map Reference: Barrapol 8

Name Type: house

Meaning: Ruin of the Old Woman of Beur

This is ScG Tobhta na Cailliche Bhèir 'the ruined house of the old woman of Beare'. A' Chailleach Bhèur was a supernatural being known in Scotland, the Isle of Man and Ireland, where she is particularly associated wih Béarra on the border of Kerry and Cork. Foundation myths about her were particularly strong in Argyll. She was said to have lived, amongst other places, at Loch Bà, near Knock on Mull. On the Ross of Mull, there is a natural circle of rocks called Tobhtaichean na Cailliche Bheur, where she was said to have herded her goats. At the Falls of Connel, north of Oban, there are some rocks called Clacharan na Cailliche Bheir, which she placed there to allow her goats to cross Loch Etive (Campbell 1915, 413).
She was associated with creation myths involving flooding: for example, at Loughs Foyle and Neagh in Ireland. The flooded land could sometimes magically re-appear: 'For Bran it is a wondrous delight / To go across the sea in his little boat. / For me, in my chariot from afar / It is a flowery plain which he traverses.' (Carey 1999, 33) In Argyll, she was said to have been the guardian of a well on the top of Ben Cruachan. Her duty was to cover it over at night, but one afternoon she fell asleep and the well overflowed, cascading down the mountain to form Loch Awe. She herself was turned to stone and sits there still at the pass of Brander.
The tradition of A' Chailleach Bhèur was also known on Tiree, placing her as a central character in the creation myth of Loch Phuill. The Cailleach once lived at Tobhta na Cailliche Bhèir and her nightly duty was to cover a nearby well. As at Loch Awe, one evening she forgot and the waters overflowed, creating the loch we see today:
In Tiree it is said that, when her age was asked by the Prior's daughter, she said her memory extended back to the time when the Skerryvore rocks ... were covered with arable fields, and that she had seen the waters of Loch Phuill ... before they had attained any size: 'Little sharp old wife, tell me your age' / 'I saw the seal-haunted Skerryvore / When it was a mighty power / When they ploughed it, if I'm right / And sharp and juicy was its barley. / I saw the Loch at Balefuil / When it was a little round well / Where my child was drowned / Sitting in its circular chair.' In Loch Phuill, which is the largest sheet of fresh water in Tiree, there is said to be a small spot that never freezes, however hard bound the rest of the loch may be, and from this eye the loch took its rise. (Campbell 1915, 413; see also Hector Kennedy on SA1982.098)
Chunnaic mi Loch Phuill mar thobar beag cruinn, agus Sgeir Mhòr nan Ròn fo eòrna breac gorm / I saw Loch Phuill as a small round well, and Skerryvore of the seals covered with dappled, green barley. (David McClounnan, pers. comm.; see also Hector Kennedy on SA1982.098)
Loch Phuill is generally a shallow one. But there is one deeper spot called ScG An Rabhagach 'weeds growing at the bottom of water' (Dwelly). On the Hynish coast to the north of Happy Valley, there is a gully called ScG Leum an Eich 'the leap of the horse', where her son with his bride is said to have tried to escape on horseback from his jealous mother. Its hoof marks on the rock can still be seen today.
The first documentary appearance of A' Chailleach is in the early Irish poem 'Lament of the Old Woman of Beare', probably dated to around AD 900. Embedded within this are several Christian motifs (Carey 1999), but the mythology is likely to be older and is possibly prehistoric.

Other Forms: Tobhta nan Cailleach -Hugh MacLean, Barrapol, collected by Ailean Boyd

Related Places:

Information:"[The Cailleach] was often called the cailleach bheur, which was understood in Scotland to mean the 'shrill voiced hag,' although in reality her name goes a thousand years back in Irish literature and folklore to the cailleach Beara, or old wife of Beare, which is a place in west Cork." Ronald Black, The Quern Dust Calendar, WHFP, 19.1.96.

The cailleach is said to have made these remarks:
"Chunnaic mi Loch a' Phuill mar thobar beag cruinn agus Sgeir Mhòr nan Ròn o eòrna breac gorm [I saw Loch a' Phuill as a small round well and Skerryvore covered with dappled green barley]." David McClounnan, Balephuil, 2/1996.

The Cailleach Beur lived there. She had a well near at hand which she had to cover every night. One night she forgot to do this and the water overflowed to form Loch a' Phuill - unknown informant.

Local Form:

Languages : Norse, Gaelic

Informants: Donald MacNeill (Dòmhnall an Tàilleir), The Land, 1/1994

Informant 2: Hugh MacLean, Barrapol, collected by Ailean Boyd