Two myths about how the Rockabill islands were formed

Anthony Murphy takes a look at two myths about how the Rockabill islands were formed.

In myth, there are two stories as to how the islands were formed. In one, Rockabill is the petrified dog of Bóinn, Dabilla. They were washed out to sea after Bóinn had caused the Well of Segais (Nechtain's Well) to erupt by walking around it thrice anti-sunwise, which was taboo. Here follows a verbatim account of the myth from Drogheda folklorist, the late Caitlín Bean Uí Chairbre, who ran the well-known Carberry's Pub in Drogheda for years. It was a cultural hotspot, with regular traditional music sessions and poetry readings. This conversation with Mrs. Carberry was carried out in December 1999. She died in June 2001.

The legend of Bóann and her hound Dabilla

The legend of the hound was that Bóann was very curious and there was nobody allowed to go near the sacred well except her husband and his cup-bearers.

She got curious and went to the well with her dog, Dabilla. She lifted the cover off the top of the well – it was a lid or cover of some kind – no-one was allowed to touch it except the king and his cup-bearers.

The water rose up and covered them up and swept them from there, 70 miles all the way to the sea at Baltray. The well is located at Carbury, a small village in County Kildare, where it can still be seen today.

The water swept Boann and her dog out to sea at Baltray.

Inver (or Inbher in proper Gaeilge) Colpa is the old name for Baltray. Colpa was one of the sons of Milesius. He was drowned at the Boyne where it enters the sea at Inbher Colpa.

There’s a small mound there near the Protestant Church in Colpe, which has retained its name from this legend.

Inver Colpa means the Inlet of Colpa.

Boann, the Queen, was married to Nechtain, who at that time was the king of Leinster.

It was only him and his cup-bearers, or his closest confidants, probably druids, who were allowed near the well.

It is said that if you look out at Rockabill, it has the shape of a big hound.

Dabilla was the name of the dog.

In the name Rockabill, the BILL part commemorates this hound. If you look at the shape of it from a certain angle it’s like a massive big hound. ROCK – it is a rock!

That (Rockabill) is presumably the modern remains of the dog.

That is a very old legend, one of the original legends of this area, and it makes sense, because all the original names are still there. The whole thing fits well together.

The well in Carbury is still there to this day and I have seen it.

Magic cow

In the other story, the Fomorian giant Balor of the Evil Eye stole the magic cow, Glas Gaibhneann, and her calf, from Ulster and brought them down along the coast. The Glas Gaibhneann, it was said, could fill an unlimited amount of buckets with her milk because she had an endless supply. Balor led the calf first, with its mother following.

All was going well until they crossed the Boyne. At that point, the calf lagged behind, and the Glas Gaibhneann turned around to look for the calf and could suddenly see that they were far away from home. The cow let out a great scream and Balor opened his huge, single eyelid. At that point, the cow and calf were turned into two islands - the larger (cow) island to the south and the smaller (calf) island to the north.

Winter sunrise at Rockabill viewed from Baltray standing stones.

Astronomical alignment

The larger of the two standing stones at Baltray, Co. Louth, overlooking the Boyne estuary and the Irish Sea, is aligned so that it points towards Rockabill, where, on the shortest days of the year (winter solstice), the sun rises behind Rockabill.

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Baltray standing stones

Celebrating the 20th anniversary of Baltray alignment discovery

Reimagine Rockabill: myths

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This page was last updated on 27th July 2020 @ 8:50 AM