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Heritage group revives legend of Newhall Lake Mermaid

THE Ennistymon Púca may have been hitting the headlines all over the world, but Clarecastle & Ballyea Heritage & Wildlife Group believes it has fished out a magical tale to rival that.
The local group has been compiling information about the once famous Mermaid of Newhall Lake, with the aim of bringing the mystical figure back into the public consciousness.
As part of this members have gathered stories from various sources over centuries about the mermaid and made them available on the group’s website.
There has also been a watercolour painting of the mermaid completed, and local composer Seán Lyons has recorded a song inspired by the legend.
Eric Shaw of Clarecastle & Ballyea Heritage & Wildlife Group said, “Reading through the Clare section of the 1937 Schools’ Project now held in Dúchas, there are 92 stories of mermaids and 26 of these relate to our Mermaid of Newhall.
“In the 1930s, most school children in Clare knew of the tale of the Mermaid of Newhall Lake and wrote many stories about her. Her fame has declined and we feel that should be reversed.”
He continued, “In 1943, the Irish Tourist Board of the time sent people around visiting places to see what facilities visitors could expect.
“In his visit to Clarecastle, the delegate listed the main facilities and transcribed the words of a poem, The Legend of the Baron of Killone, without saying where he found it or who shared the words with him.
“I found the poem in a volume held by Clare County Library about six years ago. We have a young composer in Clarecastle, Seán Lyons. I gave the poem to him and Seán used that poem to compose and record a song entitled The Ballad of Killone, telling the tale of the mermaid.
“Marge Smith who loves Killone Abbey and the lake did a watercolour of the mermaid for us, and decorated it with the famous bluebells of Killone Woods.
“We compiled all the lore of the Newhall Mermaid over the centuries, and on our website, we have published that collection of stories, together with Seán singing his song and using the watercolour to illustrate the tale.”
Among the sources utilised to gather information about the mermaid are the writings of Thomas Johnson Westropp who wrote and published extensively on Irish antiquities and, in particular, on the antiquities of county Clare.
In ‘A Folklore Survey of County Clare – Water Spirits and Mer-folk’ he told of a water spirit, or mermaid, remembered at Killone Lake and Newhall.
“The legend is preserved in several variants. In 1839 it was told how O’Brien of Killone saw a lovely girl in the lake, and caught her. Bringing her home, he found to his great disgust and disappointment that she had a fish’s tail.
He ordered her to be kept in a ‘crib,’ and fed and well-treated. As she never spoke, a local fool threw scalding water on her to make her say something.
“He was only too successful, for, after a wild, blood-curdling shriek, she cried: ‘As the return of the salmon from the stream, A return without blood or flesh, May such be the departure of the O’Briens. Like ears of wild corn from Killone’.
The legend recorded, almost at the same time (1840), by Crofton Croker was told by the old peasantry, about 1876, as follows.
‘A mermaid used to swim up a stream that flowed under the cellars of Newhall, in order to steal wine.
The ‘master’ (an O’Brien), or the butler, hid and stabbed her, (or threw her into a tub of scalding water where she became a big lump of jelly), and her blood ran down the stream and reddened all the lake.
‘As the wounded [were] being floated away she wailed:— ‘As the water maid floats weak and bloodless down the stream So the O’Briens shall go from Killone.’
The compilation of the lore of the Newhall Mermaid, Seán’s song and the artwork are available at clarecastleballyea.clareheritage.org/topics/the-mermaid-of-newhall-lake

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