Hello hello, mythsters,
Opening the episode this week with a pre-emptive apology for listeners with sensitive ears. And we mean that quite literally. We had some technical issues, so this week’s audio quality is not what we would like it to be, for which we’d like to apologise.
But let’s move on to the episode. This is the third part of our trip across the British Isles. We hope you enjoy the ride as much as we did.
As always, we welcome anyone who wants to come and have a look at our Discord community either to hang out, or to take part in the ongoing poetry game that will end up being a part of our end-of-season episode! Click here to join.
Jaz: Hello, hello mythsters. This is your friendly neighborhood Jaz, hopping behind the mic for a quick pre-episode apology. We do realize the audio quality is not what we would like it to be, but we did one try re-recording it. We had a bit of technical issues this week, and if we were going to record it again, our souls would have died a slow, agonizing death, and it was already sounding very, very rehearsed, so we decided to go with this version instead. I do hope you’ll enjoy the episode after all.
Jaz: Hello, hello mythsters, and welcome to episode 23 of Mythsterhood of the Travelling Tales, and the third part of our sojourn into the British Isles. With me again today is our dearly beloved, Anike. Hello sweetie.
Anike: Hello, Jaz, and hello Mythsters. How are you, Jaz?
Jaz: I’m doing surprisingly well. I’ve been banished to a silent part of the house that the wiring is somewhat weird, but we’re making do. How about you?
Anike: I can’t complain. We’ve got a lovely cold front that hit us and it broke the summer so finally we’re getting winter.
Jaz: Oh, that has got to feel nice.
Anike: Oh, yes!
Jaz: Anyway, I don’t think we’re going to have names quite as difficult as the Welsh royal brothers we discussed in our last episode. But just to make sure, our regular disclaimer, we don’t pretend to know how to pronounce every little thing. We do our best. But assume that there will be butchering going on. For which we do apologize.
Anike: As usual.
Jaz: Yeah. So, we’re still in the British Isles, of course. And we started off a month ago in the northern part of England and sort of one dragon out of the Orkney Islands. And then two weeks ago, in episode 22, we discussed dragons from West Sussex, I think there was one dragon from the midlands, and then we did Wales.
Anike: That’s quite the journey. But how about we move onto another country closely associated with serpents through a certain saint that is still celebrated today. And with lots of Guinness…
Jaz: Saint Patrick! So that means we’re headed to Ireland, since that’s the place he cured of a supposed snake infestation. But apparently, he missed a spot. In the late 6th century, not long after the good saint’s demise, the people in the northwest, where he was active, were terrorised by a great serpent. A fire-breathing dragon.
Anike: The serpent pretty much ruled the County of Derry, from the Sperrin Mountains to Lough Foyle. People called it Lig-Na-Baste. The name–fittingly–meant last of the serpents. The only one that escaped the scourge of St. Patrick. But with St. Patrick gone, people had to find another holy man to help them.
Jaz: And they found Murrough O’Heaney, in Banagher Old Church. You can actually still see the ruins of the church. At any rate, this man, also a saint, of course, fasted for ten days and ten nights, while praying for the power to defeat Lig-Na-Baste. God, being in a good mood that week, provided our hero–ahem–with the knowledge needed to capture the dragon.
Anike: St. Murrough went to a deep pool in the river, which was believed to be the dragon’s lair. He armed himself with three rods, made out of river reeds. When the dragon saw this man approaching, he was intrigued. I mean, who would willingly get that close to a ferocious dragon?
Jaz: Baste thought it was all a great joke and that the saint was actually sent to him as a sacrifice. Kind of like a care package from the locals, I guess. A “We’ll send you some food but please don’t eat us” kind of thing. So when the saint asked the serpent for permission to place the reeds upon his hide, the serpent allowed it, thinking it was part of the sacrificial ritual.
Anike: And a fair mistake at that. I’ve seen catholics do some weird stuff, so…
Jaz: Truth. Very, very true. So St. Murrough made the sign of the cross the second the reeds touched Baste, and called on God to change the rods to steel. God did his bit, and the serpent found himself trapped in an iron cage. The serpent would be bound in this cage for eternity, and thrown into Lough Foyle as a further punishment.
Anike: Hmm. It’s said that he still writhes in his watery prison in ever failing attempts to free himself, but it can never break a cage forged by God himself. Apparently, the unusual currents and high tides of the lough are attributed to these escape attempts.
Jaz: That’s kinda cool. I mean, for everyone except Baste of course. Poor serpent. I bet he kind of regretted hiding from Saint Patrick as well as he did. I mean I’d rather be banished than trapped beneath the water of a lake for eternity.
Anike: Another water serpent of note was Muirdris, who lived in Lough Rudraige. And she too was slaughtered, of course. Fergus mac Léti, one of the famous kings of Ulster, defeated her.
Jaz: But the story begins a bit earlier than the encounter with Muirdris. When some lúchorpáin, which is a type of water sprite, tries to drag him into the sea while he’s having a little nap, he wakes up as he touches the cold water, and he seizes them instead. In exchange for their freedom, the lúchorpáin agree to give Fergus three wishes. For one of these wishes Fergus asked for the ability to breathe underwater.
Anike: And he got his wish. But there was some fine print in the contract. He was never to swim in Loch Rudraige. And did he listen?
Jaz: Of course not. His clandestine swimming put him face to face with Muirdris, of course. And the sight of her was truly horrendous. She’s not described in much detail because looking too closely, as our friend Fergus was about to find out, was a perilous thing to do. She expanded and contracted like a bellows, had features like a thorn bush, with branches and stings, and yeah. It was bad.
Anike: Yeah. Very, very bad. The mere sight of Muirdris left Fergus disfigured. Apparently, his mouth moved to the back of his head.
Jaz: So, this was a problem, because a king of Ulster simply couldn’t be disfigured in any way. Ableism definitely was a thing. Still is, so, this is kind of not surprising, is it? But the Ulstermen liked Fergus and didn’t want him deposed, so they basically kept it secret, even from the man himself. They surrounded him with people who could be trusted, and banned mirrors from the palace so he wouldn’t be able to see what happened. I don’t know how he never noticed while eating, that his mouth was not in the customary place, but I guess they made it work.
Anike: I was thinking that same thing. But a plot as elaborate as that is bound to fail. Seven years after the facts, Fergus whipped a serving girl, which pissed her off, rightly. She got even by telling him the truth.
Jaz: So Fergus returned to the Lough to avenge himself on Muirdris. To do it, he may or may not have worn magic shoes which allowed him to walk on water. But at any rate, the battle lasted for two days and turned the sea red with spilled blood. And again, karma was a righteous bitch, because after slaying Muirdris, Fergus himself died of exhaustion.
Anike: I’m not too sad about it. He should have listened to the lúchorpáin.
Jaz: Totally agree. By the way, if you look at that word, which Irish myth does this sound like? Especially when you think of the spirits’ small stature and mischievous nature?
Jaz: Yes. According to some, these lúchorpáins are a first iteration of what would later become the leprechaun. This makes it rather tempting to propose little folk myths as a future season theme, to be honest.
Anike: That could be fun. We’ll have to raise it with our Mythsters in the Discord server.
Jaz: Yeah, definitely. The decision is still out. So if you want to weigh in on that do hit us up on discord. We’ll, of course, include the link in the show notes.
Anike: Yip, But anyway, let’s get back to Saint Patrick for one more Irish dragon. This one was called Uilepheist. And he was actually kind of harmless. At first anyway.
Jaz: But when he caught wind of St. Patrick’s plan to boot all the serpents off the misty green isle, he lost his shit, as they say. And a drunken piper called O’Rourke happened to swagger past and the dragon swallowed him.
Anike: Gee, thanks a lot, St. Patrick! Talk about wrong, place wrong time.
Jaz: Haha, yeah. But this guy was so out of it he didn’t even realise he’d been eaten. Go figure. O’Rourke kept on playing his pipes inside the dragon’s belly and upsetting his stomach. Finally, Uilepheist, duly pissed off and annoyed with his “passenger”, vomited him back up and got off the island well ahead of St. Patrick’s plan.
Anike: But he left a lasting legacy, because while leaving, his tail carved out the Shannon valley.
Jaz: And this could be interpreted as another metaphor for historical events, with Uilepheist living peacefully and not really harming anyone until the Christianisation of the island, when serpents suddenly became a symbol of the devil and he, rightly pissed with the plan to uproot him and others like him, ate a guy.
Anike: Gotta be careful about what you put in your mouth though. You never know where that thing has been.
Jaz: Ew. True. Let’s move onto the next spot. The Isle of Man. One of the smaller British Islands, with the most awesome creation myth, which we legit do not have time for, (I am sorry). But also the only spot where you can see an actual physical corporeal dragon!
Anike: Wait, what!
Jaz: Yeah! Well, kind of. The drinking dragon, though he looks more like a bathing dragon, is a rock formation off the Calf of Man, at its southeast corner. But sadly, I failed to locate any stories connected to it, or any mention of other Manx dragons. But as per the theory we ventured forth at the end of our previous episode, the drinking dragon DOES in fact appear to be tailless!
Anike: Hahaha that’s awesome though. OK, so then we’re off to Scotland?
Jaz: Without further delay. We can at least skip one dragon there, since we already covered the Mester Stoor Worm in our last episode. Actually, I bet the first one will be a name everyone recognises, though very few will guess it correctly.
Jaz: It is… drum roll… Nessie!
Anike: Yay! Though, again, opinions vary, with some classifying her as a dragon, and others claiming she’s in fact an each uisge or water horse. However, I personally lean towards dragon. Because, dragons. Images of her, when they exist, have definitely got saurian characteristics, and cryptozoologists have been swearing come hell or high water that she is in fact a leftover plesiosaurus.
Jaz: In which case she absolutely qualifies as an aquatic dragon.
Anike: Yeah, I agree. So let’s have a closer look. The Loch Ness Monster, or Nessie as she’s lovingly nicknamed, is sometimes referred to as Uilebheist Loch Nis.
Jaz: Which, thinking back to the Irish Uilepheist, definitely makes me classify her as a dragon. She’s often described as large, with a long neck, and one or more humps sticking out above the waterline. She became famous in 1993, with the occasional bit of evidence, popping up now and then in the form of photographs or sonar readings.
Anike: However, this evidence has not proven reliable enough to use as data points, with photos being edited, or vague enough that counting them as a sighting would be more wishful thinking than actual observation.
Jaz: And so Nessie remains firmly lodged in the realm of myth and legend, but we love her no less because of it. Reports of her date back to ancient times, with local stone carvings of Pictish origin depicting a mysterious creature with flippers. The first documented sighting appeared in a biography of St. Columba, in the 6th century. It tells of the monster biting a swimmer and looking ready to attack another man when Columba stepped in and ordered the beast to “go back.”
Anike: The monster was apparently well trained, and did as it was told. Over the next two centuries, occasional sightings were reported, probably often inspired by Scottish folklore. With that much coastline and lochs, it stands to reason that their myths are filled with waterbound creatures and spirits.
Jaz: Next on our list is Cierein Cròin, Ceirean, or Cionarain-crò, a sea monster of considerable size. Apparently, it fed on seven whales, but had the ability to disguise himself as a small silver fish when it was at risk of being discovered by fishermen, but some believed the disguise was more useful in attracting the dragon’s next meal. I mean, that does make more sense. Something big enough to eat seven whales wouldn’t have much to fear from a fisherman, after all.
Anike: Yeah. It would then disguise itself as a catchable fish, slip into a fishing net and then let the fishers get close, and then it returned back to its original size to eat the fishers.
Jaz: At any rate, I will think twice before going fishing along Scottish shores.
Anike: That sounds like a good plan. Meanwhile, let’s go fishing for another dragon. A landbound one this time. The Beithir, while lacking stereotypical features such as wings or fiery breath, still seems rather notorious, with some describing it as the largest and most deadly kind of serpent, probably thanks to its venomous sting.
Jaz: It prefers to make its home in the mountains, so when you go hiking, be sure to make note of any body of water you come across. Because here’s the trick to surviving a beithir’s sting: head for the nearest loch, river, or pool as fast as you can. If you get there first, you’ll be cured. However, if the dragon beats you to it, you’re doomed. Unless…
Anike: You happen to carry the head of another snake around. Because that’s what people do, apparently.
Anike: Ya. Place that in water, and you’ve got an alternative cure.
Anike: Yeah, I know. But what’s interesting here is that, because of this association, the beithir is still considered one of the fuath, which is a name for monsters and spirits associated with water, even though it doesn’t actually live in the water. But, uhm, about that snake head…
Jaz: Oh no. This isn’t going to be gross, is it?
Anike: Not really. But if beithirs are real, the decapitating of snakes kind of makes more sense already. Because if a normal snake gets killed, you have to separate it from the body and take it quite a distance from the body to then be destroyed. Failure to do this means the parts will find their way back together and the snake will not only regenerate, but turn into a beithir.
Jaz: So no fishing, and steer well clear of snakes and mountains just to be on the safe side. That doesn’t leave us that much choice in Scotland, does it?
Anike: Noooo, sadly not. So, how about we venture into the city of Dundee to visit a harmless dragon? And maybe give our nerves some reprieve?
Jaz: Oh, that sounds like fun. And I mean, Dundee is definitely going on the list of places to visit. The town is clearly fond of its dragons. The city has adopted the dragon as a major symbol, featuring two gorgeous green specimens on its coat of arms, which is proudly displayed on the City Chambers building in Dundee’s City Square. But dragons also grace other buildings of note, including the local high school, and St. Andrew’s Church, which has a dragon perched at the top of the spire.
Anike: And then there’s the green dragon statue in the middle of the Murraygate, a favourite with many children, who love climbing all over the green scaly beastie. But this dragon was not always so harmless.
Jaz: Dundee’s fascination with dragons goes back to the story of a farmer in the nearby village of Pitempton, who had nine daughters. One day, he sent the eldest to the well to fetch water, but she didn’t come back.
Anike: So he sent one of her sisters after her. But each daughter in turn failed to come home, with or without her sisters. It got late, and the farmer began to worry about his nine daughters. He traced their steps and reached the well, and what a sight awaited him. A huge dragon lay snoozing amid the bloody remains of the nine girls.
Jaz: Oh, a messy eater. Gah. That’s never pleasant. But all jokes aside, this farmer, unlike his daughters, gets zero sympathy from me. Maybe he thought the first girl got distracted by a friend, and had gotten to talking, or wandered off to do something more fun than hauling water. The second, still plausible. But all nine? No way. He could have gone himself a lot sooner, instead of just sending off one girl after the other.
Anike: Ha, yeah, I’ve gotta agree with you on that one. Bad parenting on display here. And despite having no one to blame but himself, he was devastated as he returned home. Once there, he told the youngest girl’s lover what had happened. And this boy, Martin, rallied a mob of villagers to go and kill the dragon. They chased the dragon across the land and Martin finally killed it at the foot of what’s now known as Craigowl Hill.
Jaz: They say a stone was placed at the spot where the dragon blew out its last breath, commemorating Martin’s bravery. And if you head north out of Bridgefoot, you’ll find a stone sporting a 6th century Pictish carving. It’s worn and not too clear, but if you use your imagination, you could see a man on horseback fighting a snake-like figure.
Anike: Hmm. And this, finally, brings us to the end of our travels across the British Isles.
Jaz: And what an adventure it was. Join us again in a fortnight for another bouquet of dragons, this time on the other side of the Atlantic.
Anike: Yip. We’ll be diving into dragon myths from North America. I can’t wait!
Jaz: Until then, we wish you days like dragons greeting clouds.
Anike: Later Mythsters!