The Legend of Bohis Head of Ireland

One of the most south-western points of Ireland is the promontory of Bohis, which forms the northern shore of the bay of Balinskeligs. A singular conformation of rock is observable upon the extremity of the wild cape, it being worn by the incessant beating of the billows into a grotesque resemblance of the human profile. The waves, however, are not suffered to claim undisputed this rude sculpture as their own; a far different origin being attributed to it by the legends of the country around. The following is the legend, as told to us.

In times long, very long ago,—prior even to that early age when Milesius came over from Spain, to plant in Ireland the prolific tribes of the O's and the Mac's,—Bohis Head, instead of the abrupt, broken cliffs that now terminate it, presented a lofty and uniform wall of rock to the assaults of the Atlantic. Upon the topmost summit (much about where now stand the unfinished walls of one of those desirable winter-residences, the coast watch-towers, built at the end of the last war,) there stood, at the period of our tale, the castle of a very celebrated personage, generally known in those parts as the Baon Ri Dhuv,—in plain English, "The Black Lady,"—a title partly bestowed on her, on account of her dark hair and face, and partly on account of the cruelty and tyranny which she exercised upon all those who were subject to her dominion. She must have been redoubtable in no small degree, as, besides the possession of a large army, which she could at any time collect from her numerous array of vassals, she was a deep proficient in the art of magic, and was even said to have once, by the potency of her spells, prevented a drop of rain from falling upon her territories (which included the whole of Munster) for a week together. But as the south of Ireland at least has never since been known to be so long without showers, this feat is not so implicitly believed as other of the traditions about her. However that may be, this at least is certain, that she wanted for nothing that force or fraud, fair means or means the most unholy, could give her; and she was deemed the happiest as well as the most powerful being in the world.

Those who said this, did not judge truly. In the midst of all her splendour and state, caressed, feared, flattered, obeyed as she was by all, she was not happy; and it is strange that her tenants and servants did not find this out, as her usual method of easing her feelings was by ill-treating and abusing them. But they were, in all probability, too much afraid of her to call even their thoughts their own, for fear of being metamorphosed into goats, or cows, or some other species of beasts; a change of life which, from the scanty grazing of the neighbouring mountain pastures, they did not deem very inviting. She was not happy; and simply because, among her myriad of vassals, flatterers, and slaves, she had not one friend. There was the whole secret. In her inmost soul she—that proud, tyrannical, haughty, hard-hearted woman—felt that, all feared and all potent as she was, she still was no more than mortal; and that within her own breast there was that which tyrannised over herself,—the innate longings of our nature for sympathy, for companionship, for affection. The humblest hind that served her, had a comrade,—a friend; while she, the queen and mistress of all, was the object of detestation as universal as the slavish obedience that met her at every step. At first she  scoffed and spurned at the dull internal aching; it was a weakness, she thought, that needed but to be fought against, to be for ever quelled. She sought wars and conflicts; she dived deeper than ever before into the unholy mysteries of the "Black Art;" she revelled, she feasted, and she succeeded in quelling the rebel feeling for a time,—but only for a time. There came a reaction to her excitement; and, while her spirits and all else seemed exhausted and worn out, this dull yearning was stronger and more aching than ever. At length, one day, after a long and painful reverie, she started up, striking her forehead violently, and vowed that she would have a friend,—a companion,—nay, even (as her sentimentality increased with indulgence) a husband,—or perish in the attempt! As the oath passed her lips, a tremendous peal of thunder rolled over the castle towers and passed off to seaward, dying away in the distance with a sound not unlike a wild and prolonged shout of laughter.

She had not much time to lose, if she intended to marry. The little servant-boy, who had been allowed to get drunk on the night of rejoicings for her birth, was now a grave and sedate major-domo of most venerable age. She herself, but some fifteen or sixteen years his junior, was long past the time when the grossest flattery could make her believe that she was young; and her years had not passed over her head without leaving their traces behind. She had been in her best days what is called by friends "rather plain," which generally means "very ugly." Her forehead bowed out and overhung her nose, which endeavoured to stretch out to some decent length, but was unfortunately foiled by the want of a bridge. The mouth, as if it perceived this failure on the part of the feature immediately above it, modestly declined the contest, and retreated far inward. The chin, however, amply made up for all intermediate deficiencies, and even surpassed the forehead in the hugeness of its proportions, or disproportions. Her hair was black, as has been said, and hung in long, lanky clusters about her face. Time seldom improves the human countenance, and certainly made no exception in favour of the Baon Ri Dhuv. At the time of her vow many wrinkles had made their appearance, and unequivocal grey hairs chequered the once uniform sable that covered her head. Magic had not then arrived at the pitch of perfection to which it afterwards attained in the times of Virgilius and Apollonius Rhodius; and, among the inventions yet in the womb of time, were the charms for restoring youth and imparting beauty.

The lady of the castle set off, one fine morning, on the back of a cloud which she had hailed as it was drifting over her chimney-tops, driven inland by the fresh breeze from the ocean. As she was borne along, she looked anxiously right and left down upon the earth, to spy out, if possible, the desired companion. But she found she had grown very fastidious, now that the means of ridding herself of her troublesome desires appeared open to her. She looked at no women; she felt instinctively that none of her own sex could be the friend that would satisfy her heart: but all the young men that she passed over, she scrutinized, as if her life depended upon it. They in their turn stared a good deal at her, as well they might; for it was no common thing, even in those days, to see a woman perched up on a cloud, sailing over your head before a rattling breeze of wind. Perhaps it was their staring at her, so different from the downcast eyes  and humble mien of her slaves at home,—perhaps it was their rude remarks that displeased her; whatever it was, on she went without making her choice, until towards the close of the day she found she had nearly crossed Ireland in a diagonal line from south-west to north-east, the wind blowing in that direction. As it still blew merrily, and it was full-moon night, she determined to go on to Scotland, and try whether Sawnie could please her, better then Paddy. With this resolve she had not proceeded more than half a league from the shore of Ireland, when she perceived she was going over a mountain-islet some five or six miles in girth, and apparently very fertile in its soil, for large herds of cattle were grazing upon its sides. It is a trite and true saying, that those who possess much, are often covetous of more; and in her case it was especially true. With a word she stayed the cloud over the island; the wind falling all at once, in obedience to her will. If there were any of the old Vikingir, those daring privateersmen of ancient times, that night upon the waters, how they and their fierce crews must have heaped maledictions on the unseen power that quelled the merry breeze before which they were late careering gaily with bended mast and bellying sail, and summoned them to ply the labouring oar throughout the hours they had vainly hoped to give to slumber! But the Black Lady was not a person to care much for such trifles as curses. If she had been so, she would have led an extremely uncomfortable life, for she had merited a good many of them in her time. Over the island she hung, gazing down upon it, and gloating on its richness and fertility, while she inwardly resolved to strain her magical powers to the utmost, to transfer it from its present position to the neighbourhood of her own coast. Her attention, however, was soon withdrawn from all other objects, and concentrated on one that had just caught her eye: it was a young man, the only one she had as yet seen who did not stare up at her, rudely and impertinently. Indeed he did not look up at all. He seemed to have no eyes, no soul, for any one but a young girl who was by his side. The lady on the cloud could see by the moonlight that the girl's face was exceedingly beautiful; that is to say, as much as could be perceived of it when she occasionally, and but for a moment, raised her eyes from the ground, on which they were riveted.

"Speak! will you not speak to me?" were the words of the young man: "but one word, Eva,—dearest Eva,—to tell me have I offended by my boldness?"

The girl blushed ten times deeper than before, and her lips quivered as at length she slowly murmured out, "No, Conla!"

"Thanks! thanks!" was his rapturous exclamation; "a thousand times thanks, my own, my ... Hallo! what is this? Whence come you?" These latter words were addressed to the Black Lady, as, to his utter astonishment, she alighted from the cloud right in his path. Eva shrieked, and hid her face in his bosom.

"I am the Baon Ri Dhuv," said the enchantress, trying to look dignified, and to smooth away the scowl that had darkened her visage since she perceived his companion,—"the Queen of the South!"

"And what can the Baon Ri Dhuv, the Queen of the South, want with Conla, a shepherd of the north?"

"Young man, mock me not," replied she, frowning most awfully: "you know not, but you may be made to feel, my power. Listen to me," continued she in a milder tone, and putting on what she  intended to be a most amiable and engaging look; but which gave her coarse lineaments a still more grotesque hideousness, that almost made the young shepherd laugh in her face, despite the secret dread he felt creeping on his heart. "I am the ruler of a vast tract of country; I have a vast army to do my will; nay, more, I have dominion over the elements in their fiercest rage, and spirits obey my bidding. I am rich beyond counting. You smile, and believe not. Look here!"

As she spoke, she struck the ground three times with her foot, muttering rapidly to herself, when up sprang close to her, a tall tree of the purest gold, the glittering branches laden with jewels beyond all price. Seizing one of these, a magnificent emerald, and pulling it off the branch, again she stamped her foot, and the tree disappeared, leaving the jewel in her hands.

"Here," continued she, putting it into Conla's passive hand, "here is earnest of my wealth; leave that weak girl, and come with me to wealth and happiness!"

Conla had hitherto been kept dumb by the strange scene before him; but now, rousing himself, he looked at his Eva, and meeting her gaze of deep, whole-hearted, confiding affection, he dashed the glittering jewel on the ground, and cried,

"Away, sorceress! I spurn your gifts, your accursed power, yourself! With Eva will I live or die!"

The face of the Black Lady showed horrible in the pale moonlight, as, with a withering scowl of hatred and vengeance, she again spoke:

"You shall not die, insolent wretch! You shall live in agonies to which death were mercy; ay, and she, too,—that worthless thing you prefer to me,—she, too, shall suffer!"

As she spoke, she described a circle in the air with her hand round the island. At once the moon became obscured, and a terrible darkness fell upon all, while a sudden storm swept over the island. Conla and his Eva tried to fly to some cave for refuge, but were arrested by the sight that met their eyes when the transitory darkness cleared away. The moon again shone out brilliantly, and by its light the lovers perceived, to their great horror, that the island itself was in motion! A little ahead of its southernmost point their persecutor was scudding over the waters in a bark, the traditional accounts of which, represent it as a good deal resembling the steam-boats of modern days, for there was smoke issuing out of it; and two or three respectable individuals, with black faces, fiery eyes, horns on their heads, and tails twirled in graceful folds, might be seen through an open hatchway, employed in much the same manner as the hard-working, hard-drinking steam-packet engineers of our own times, while a clacking and clanging of iron was continually heard, similar to the sounds that annoy sea-sick passengers at present. From the taffrail of this inviting-looking vessel, three or four strong cables stretched to the island, and were rove through an immense hole in a huge projecting rock, that seemed as if it had been bored for this especial purpose. The steamer tugged gallantly, and the island plashed and splashed heavily along, at the rate of twenty or thirty knots an hour: the cows and sheep upon the latter, not having their sea-legs aboard, tumbled and rolled about in fine style. Eva got exceedingly sea-sick, and Conla exceedingly indignant: but there was no use in his anger. On the island went.

On and on,—past Belfast, Drogheda, Dublin,—rattling and splashing along, greatly to the astonishment of the fishes, who, besides being then quite unaccustomed to public steaming, had never before seen an island on the move. Between Dublin and Holyhead there was a little difficulty; for the island, which was exceedingly unmanageable, fetched away to starboard, and took the ground a little outside of Howth. This was a cause of great delight to the lovers, who thought their voyage was now at an end; but they were much mistaken; two of the amiable gentry who manned the tug-boat jumped lightly on the island, and cut away with a couple of strokes of an axe the part that was aground, it breaking into two pieces, which remain to this day, proof of the truth of this tale, under the names of Lambay and Ireland's Eye. On went the steamer again, and on went the island merrily and clumsily as ever, and the Black Lady looked back and laughed at the disappointed lovers.

Wicklow went by,—Wexford,—and now the shores of the county Waterford hove in sight; and the vessel and island, rounding Point Carnsore in gallant style, issued out from the Irish Channel into the waters of the Atlantic.

Morning had broken by this time, and a bright and beautiful morning it was. Eva, overpowered by fatigue, had sunk to sleep; Conla sate beside her, deep anxiety lowering on his brow, and his soul rent with the most agonizing emotions. Meantime his body was just as much disturbed, for the island was now heaving and pitching worse than before, upon the longer billows of the ocean; and he occasionally had to hold on with both his hands to the stones and shrubs near him, to prevent himself from being what sailors would call "hove overboard" by the violent motion of the strange craft in, or rather on, which he was embarked. Disliking his situation exceedingly, and greatly fearing that he would have still more reason to do so, he saw that there was no chance of his delivery from it, if he could not succeed in mollifying the enraged enchantress. Espying her again seated upon the steamer's taffrail, he therefore hailed her, and sought by humble prayers and entreaties to induce her to release him and his Eva; or, if one should suffer, to set her free, and vent the heaviest vengeance upon his head. But the Black Lady let him talk on. He had a very sweet voice, and she liked to hear that; and, when he had done, she contented herself with simply shaking her head in token of refusal: then, as he again stooped his proud spirit to still more vehement entreaties and supplications, and raved in the intensity of his anguish, she mocked at him, and laughed loud and long in scorn, till at length, wearied out and despairing, he sunk his head upon his bosom, and was silent. Slowly the day wore on, but quickly the headlands and bays of the southern shore of Ireland glided by; and great was the wonder and amaze of those who looked to seaward from that shore. Many were the noble fishes left that day in the depths of the ocean with the barbed hook fast in their jaws, as the wild natives of the coast, in terror at the sight of the demon vessel and her charge, hove overboard their rude fishing-gear to lighten their frail coracles, and plied sail and oar to seek refuge on the land. It has been even surmised that it was some such sight as this, that scared that first great geographer, Ptolemy, and made him fly the Irish coast ere he had completed his survey. However, this is a point that has never been fully ascertained.

The sun was sinking gloriously into the bosom of the slow-heaving main as the steamer, with the island in tow, rounded Dursey Head, and hove in sight of their destination, the promontory of Bohis. With exultation in her eyes, the Baon Ri Dhuv pointed out her lofty castle, shining in the distance with the last rays of the departing orb of day. Eva was now awake, and her and Conla's supplications were poured out for mercy and for pity; but they might as well have been uttered to Bohis Head itself. The leagues between the latter place and Dursey Head were rapidly traversed, and now the island had been towed within a mile of its final destination, which was the promontory on which the castle stood. At this moment another sudden storm, such as that of the preceding night, passed athwart the scene; and, when it cleared away, the steamer had disappeared, and the Black Lady was to be seen, upon the headland tugging at the island to bring it closer.

"Is there no help in Heaven!" cried Conla, as, after another appeal in vain to their persecutor, he threw his eyes up with a reproachful glance.

"Hush, Conla! reproach not the powers above; they are most merciful, and will protect us. Hark! they answer!"

At this moment a heavy peal of thunder crashed over head, and, rolling towards the castle, seemed to expend itself over its summit.

"Dread lady," cried Eva, animated to unusual courage by the omen, "hearken to that, and yield to the powers of Heaven!—they declare against thy tyranny!"

"Never!" roared the tyrant, her eyes flashing baleful fire. "Sooner will I become part of this mountain on which I stand mistress, than ye shall escape me!"

As she spoke, she gave a pull with her utmost strength to the chains. At the moment a vivid flash of lightning darted from the clouds, and the chains snapped right asunder. With the force of the shock the Black Lady was precipitated into the sea, the island at the same time rebounding back and becoming fixed for ever about halfway between Dursey and Bohis Head.

The Baon Ri Dhuv's tenants and servants spent the night in vainly searching for her. The morning revealed to them a terrible sight. Upon the extremity of the cape her well-known visage appeared, but transformed to stone, and doomed for ages to remain there, lashed by the raging billows of the ocean. Thus was her fatal wish accomplished!

The island so strangely brought round, remains where it recoiled to, and is now known by the name of Scariff. It is still rich land, and feeds many herds; a strong proof of the authenticity of this tale, and which is farther borne out by the fact, that the hole through which the towing-chains were rove remains to this hour. Conla and Eva lived happily for the rest of their days where they were, and left a numerous progeny. It is said that the little old man who, with his strapping offspring, fourteen in number, now tenants the island, is their lineal descendant. The emerald that Conla threw away was afterwards found, and preserved as a memorial of the events narrated until the times of Cromwell; when some of his soldiers, having visited the island for the laudable purpose of killing a friar who lived there as a hermit, indulged another of their virtuous propensities by carrying the jewel away with them.