The Destruction of Tiernmas and His People

From The Wonders of Ireland by P. W. Joyce, 1911

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And now the high priest advanced to the front of the altar, and placing himself on an elevated position, prepared to proclaim to the people the universal adoption of Cromm Cru as the god of the Milesian nation. After this proclamation, all—both priests and people—were to prostrate themselves in adoration before the idol, and the ceremony was to conclude with the immolation of the victim, and the divination of the soothsayers.

With a loud voice the priest repeated the proclamation, and then in the name of the king commanded all to adore the great god Cromm Cru. The king, followed by the priests, knelt in adoration, and the vast multitude swayed to and fro in the act of prostrating themselves, when all was suddenly and fearfully interrupted. A bright flash burst from the bosom of a dark cloud that overhung the plain, and leaped among the prostrate group that surrounded the idol. A long intense cry of agony now rose wild and fearful on the ear, but was instantly lost in a crash that seemed to rend the firmament. Heaven was up and in arms, and a fearful retribution followed the dark deed of idolatry. Flash after flash darted down, and sprang fiercely, as eager for prey, among the multitude, but their wild shrieks of terror, and the groans of the dying, were only heard in the intervals of the thunder's roar. Hundreds, urged by the impulse of self-preservation, and maddened with the energy of despair, rushed blindly in all directions, overturning those that lay in their path and trampling on the bodies of their dead and dying friends, Still the lightning continued to rage with unabated fury, and numbers fell withered and blasted to the earth at each merciless explosion. The mad struggles of the crowd became at last more faint, and the despairing cries more scattered and broken; the roar of the thunder gradually subsided; and at length all was hushed in silence. The work of vengeance was accomplished, and the plain of shrieking, on which an hour before so many thousands had exulted in the pride of their strength, now lay one wide extent of unbroken stillness.

Within the circle not one escaped the arm of vengeance; the body of the king lay at the foot of the image, his hands still clasped as if in supplication; around him were strewn promiscuously the priests, many of them retaining the wild despairing gestures in which they died; and the hideous idol reared its gigantic form over the plain, and looked like a malignant demon glaring with horrid satisfaction at the carnage by which he was surrounded. Those among the people who had escaped the rage of the lightning fled in terror, and now no symptom of life disturbed the reign of silence.

A grove of trees stood at a short distance from the idol. From amongst these a woman suddenly emerged, and rushed with eager haste towards the circle. Her hair streamed wildly behind her as she fled; her countenance was haggard with anxious breathless expectation; and her straining gaze was riveted on the altar. Regardless of the scene of horror that surrounded her, she flew with frantic speed towards the idol; she entered the circle with trembling anxiety; and the next moment uttered a wild cry of delight as she clasped her living babe in her arms.

The Plain of Shrieking [4] is still shown, where for many ages the idol Cromm Cru was worshipped; and the fate of Tiernmas, the first idolater king of Inisfail, is still remembered in the shadowy traditions of the people.

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[4] The "Plain of Prostrations."


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