WordSmith: A solemn parade over hill and glade

Gerard Smyth in his latest WordSmith column recalls someone of an urban myth or legend 'The Hill of Tears'...

There’s a hill I’m drawn to. It has an emotional pull that changes with the weather: Fantastic when fine, doleful when dank. One fine day, I took a picture of the hill and posted it online. Immediately, people likened it to the iconic Windows Screensaver of Sonomo County California; an image purchased by the software giant from the photographer for an undisclosed sum. That photograph, called ‘Bliss’ is the world’s most viewed image.

My photograph, which I’ll call ‘Hill’ was taken in Drumbo, County Cavan. And while it may not have the value nor viewership of ‘Bliss’ it has something else – a tale to tell.

As a child I stood atop the hill and forlornly watched my big-sister swirl and swoon singing, 'The hills are alive with the sound of music…' She basked in bliss for the boy who was her first love. Back then, neither of us knew of the woman who once loved and lost on the hill.

Decades later, dad and my sister collaborated; they decided to build a house at the foot of the hill. And it was during its building I first heard of the woman.

I was told she was a great beauty, “You’d stand to look at her,” said a local man, besotted with her. Equally, women were beguiled by her, “We’d walk out from town and up the hill to see her style.”

Way back then, the dance was the dating-site; she was what would now be top of Tinder. Men swiped left, right, and centre to sweep her off her feet. But, she refused them all. It wasn’t arrogance that had her dismiss her array of suitors. No, her refusal of every hand was given with grace and humility.

The truth was, she was madly in love with one man. And I’m told he was ‘somewhat’ in love with her. He was a town man, well known to all. A wealthy man, his business didn’t bloom – it boomed!

One Spring afternoon when dad and sister’s house was half built, they accompanied me up scaffolding to see the view from the back bedroom – it looked out over the hill. I paused and felt a pang of sadness – I had an affinity for the woman; for at the time I was nursing a broken heart.

Sadly, the woman’s heart was broken by the booming business man. One fateful day, the man met the woman on the hill and confessed he was betrothed to another; a marriage of convenience. She collapsed at his feet, engulfed in a tsunami of tears. As the man walked away, jealousy erupted within her, and she raced to him. He rejected her every plea; and in a pique of passionate rage she picked up a rock and hurled it at him. It struck his head and killed him stone dead.

The shock of this deadly-deed shook Cavan to its core, sending waves reverberating around the island of Ireland.

This happened long before the law recognised ‘Crimes of passion’ and as such the woman was shown no leniency; neither in the courts of law nor the court of public opinion.

Her case went from district to circuit, until it reached the ears of a man of supreme standing. The man listened to every voice with an open mind in which he allowed empathy to enter. Throughout Ireland this man was held in such esteem that many considered him a Saint – his name was Patrick.

It was decided Patrick would travel to Cavan to act as judge and jury.

As an Autumn day dawned, Patrick led the woman over hill and vale, through tangled woodland, and into a glade with a rush-hidden lake. Once there, he turned the lovelorn woman into a mermaid. She swam deep into the depths of her remorse, where she remains to this very day.

This is my re-telling of a piece of folklore from a newspaper cutting found in my father’s bedside cabinet. In that piece the ‘Hill’ in Drumbo is referred to as ‘The Hill of Tears'.

Which seems fitting, for when I’m woken by the weather in the dead of night – I’m sure I hear her cry out his name in the wind and the rain.


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