What is Cailleach?

I ran across Cailleach in “A Celtic Book of Days” by Sarah Costly and Charles Kightly.  I love the idea and image of a powerful hag/goddess!

From the book:

January 27th

‘The Cailleach Beara is the third celebrated hag of Celtic folklore, found in Scotland, throughout Ireland, especially the Bear peninsula, and in the Isle of Man; she is of huge stature, the maker of mountains, islands and cairns, keeper of bitter weather.

It is narrated that on one occasion she turned Fionn MacCool into a decrepit old man, but his soldiers threatened to dig through Slieve Gullian in Armagh and drive her out of a cave in which she had her residence unless she restored Fionn to his form and symmetry.’

W.G. Wood-Martin, Traces of the Elder Faiths of Ireland, 1902

In the eighth century she became the subject of a monk’s poem about the death of the old ways:

‘I am the old Woman of Beare
An ever-new smock I used to wear:
Today – such is my mean estate –
I wear not even a cast-off smock.
 
It is riches
Ye love, it is not men
In the time we lived
It was men we loved.’

Translated by Kuno Meyer, 1913

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