Nightmare Fuel

The Hag of the Beara

“If you’re there,” I prayed, “grant my wish. Make it possible for me to live one life, not two. Make me whole.”

Jenny Boylan
Human Parts
Published in
12 min readOct 24, 2018
Illustration: Max Loeffler

WeWe ascended the path on the cliff together, my wife and I. “She’s supposed to be right here,” Nora said crossly, as if I were somehow to blame for this situation, which I wasn’t. I didn’t know the first thing about it.

“You’re going to have to explain about this hag again,” I said. “It’s — a rock, or something?”

Nora seemed, just for a moment, disappointed in my cluelessness. “She’s a key figure. The Cailleach Beara!”

“And she’s like — the Professor McGonagall of West Cork?”

She smiled patiently. “You’re an eejit, Owen.”

I nodded. “Yeah,” I agreed.

Nora scanned the cliffside in vain. “The Cailleach,” she explained, “is a pre-Christian goddess of female power. The bringer of winter and old age. The oldest known Irish poem is said to be narrated by her. In the legend, Saint Caithighearn pursued her — it was a mad chase! Finally, in order to resist him, she transformed herself into a rock. Now she waits here.”

“What’s she waiting for?”

My wife looked at me, her red hair still blowing around madly. “For the world to change,” she said.

We’d been in Ireland for three months so far. After the election, it seemed like a good idea to get the hell out of Dodge. Fortunately, Nora still had lots of connections at University College Cork, and they were glad to have her back. The UCC gig had Nora teaching for the year at the An Léann Éireannach, the Center for Irish Studies. I, meanwhile, spent the year as a househusband, baking soda bread and shopping for Atlantic salmon at the English market in town.

Her face brightened. “Ah. Up there.” She pointed farther along the cliff and headed toward what I now saw was a tremendous rock, maybe five feet tall and a dozen feet wide. Gray lichen discolored its upper half. There was a bump at the top that suggested the head. A point emerging from this might have been a long, hooked nose. There was a hollowed-out space for eyes.



Jenny Boylan
Human Parts

Anna Quindlen Writer in Residence at Barnard College of Columbia University; New York Times Contributing Opinion Writer; National Co-chair, GLAAD.