Saint Patrick and the Reptiles

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

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But Patrick was armed with something far more powerful against evil spirits than mere commands. He had his melodious sounding bell, which had been given him by angels, and which since his time has been known by the name of Finn-Foya, "Sweet-voice." Now of all sounds in the world, it seems the tinkling of a consecrated bell is the most intolerable to a demon; and the silvery tones of this particular bell—the Finn-Foya—had more terror for our Irish reptiles than all the other bells of the country set ringing together. So when the Saint saw that the reptile brood were plainly disregarding all his commands and threats, he uncovered the bell, which brought them at once to their senses; and at the first tinkle they rushed forward in a body up the side of the hill, merely to get beyond range of the hated sound.

They soon reached the summit, and had not long to wait before the Saint came up. He made a sign that they should come close to him; and the bewildered reptiles crowded round him to hear their doom. No escape. Pointing to the sea far beneath the brow where they stood, he ordered them forward; and to prevent any further dallying he began to uncover the Finn-Foya. This was enough: down the steep incline they rushed and tumbled helter-skelter; and before the bell was freed from its case, they had got half way to the waves.

About midway down this face of the mountain there is a deep hollow opening oat towards the sea but walled in on the mountain side by tremendous precipices. Here they made their last stand: they hid themselves in the innermost recesses of the chasm, and thought they were quite safe under the shadow of the fearful cliff overhead. The Saint followed as far as he dared advance, and looking down over the brow of the rocky wall, commanded them to go forward, and rang his bell as loudly as he was able. But whether it was that the sounds were softened and lost by floating down the immense descent, or that the roaring surf beneath frightened the unfortunate reptiles more than the denunciations from above—at any rate neither voice nor bell could dislodge them; and they obstinately refused to move an inch from their shelter.

Seeing that things had come to a serious pass, the Saint at last took a decided step: he swung the bell round his head and flung it forward with all his might over the brow of the cliff. Down it came, clinking clattering and ringing, bound after bound, down it came on their very backs. This was more than the most hardened and desperate demon could stand; there was an instant rush towards the sea, and in a few moments the whole crew disappeared among the waves. From this event the chasm has ever since borne the name of Lugnademon,[4] or the Demons' Hollow; and the peasantry say that the bell still remains hidden under the earth where it fell.[5]

The Saint was in great joy, having as he thought rid the country of the demons, seed breed and generation; but some of them were too cute for him. The great body to be sure were never heard of more, unless indeed some of them be the sea-serpents that are now often seen by American mariners; but a few of the biggest and most knowing made their way across the bay and took up their abode in the remote wilds of Glencolumkille in Donegal, where two hundred years afterwards, they gave much trouble to St. Columkille before he was able to dislodge them.

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[4] This is the form of the name given on the Ordnance Maps, but the people call it Lugnanoun, as nearly as their pronunciation can be given in English letters, which represents the correct Gaelic name Lug-na-ndeamhan, the chasm of the demons.

[5] Here however the peasantry are mistaken. The very bell that St. Patrick used in his ministrations—the sweet-toned Finn-Foya—is now preserved in the Science and Art Museum, Kildare Street, Dublin, where it may be seen by any visitor, with the beautiful shrine or case made for it long after St. Patrick's time. See my "Smaller Social History of Ancient Ireland," pp. 165-6-7, for an account of this bell and its shrine, with drawings of both.