Cermand Cestach

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Cermand Cestach was the name of a gold-covered pagan idol which stood in Clogher Cathedral, County Tyrone, Ireland until medieval times. Alternative spellings are "Cermand Celstach", "Cermaed Celsetacht", "Kermand Kelstach", "Kerman Kelstach" and the Giant Ermand Kelstach.

Historical references[edit]

The earliest reference to Cermand Cestach is in the Life of Saint Macartan of Clogher (C.430-505 A.D.):

The 6th-century saint Tigernach was patron saint of Clones. His mother was Dervail or Derfraich, daughter of a King of Airgialla (Oriel) and his father was Cairpre Mac Fergusa from Leinster. The implication is that the idol originally came from Leinster.[citation needed]

In a gloss on the word "clochar" in the August 15th entry of the 8th-century manuscript Félire Óengusso (Martyrology of Oengus) for the Feastday of the Assumption of Mary, the gloss states

The annalist Cathal Maguire, who died in 1498, stated that this stone-idol was still preserved as a curiosity in the porch of the Cathedral of Clogher in his time.

The 16th century Register of Clogher records 'A golden stone existing in the city of Clogher from which St.Patrick ejected the demon which gave prophetic responses'.

Seán Ó Tuathhalláin (aka John Toland, 1669–1722) also wrote:

Later references[edit]

Lewis's Dictionary (1837), entry for Clogher:

An old folk-tale from the Isle of Man entitled ""The Story of the Isle of Falga", based on the Ulster Cycle states:- "Conchobar, who had not yet become King of Ulster, but was an ambitious young man seeking to gain a kingdom, consulted the famous oracle at Clogher as to how he might best attain his end. The oracle advised him to proceed to the Isle of Man and get Culann to make these weapons for him. Conchobar did so, and prevailed on Culann to begin his task; but, while awaiting its completion, he sauntered one morning along the shore, and in the course of his walk met with a mermaid fast asleep on the beach. He promptly bound the syren, but she, on waking and perceiving what had happened, besought him to liberate her; and to induce him to yield to her petition, she informed him that she was Teeval, the Princess of the Ocean; and promised that if he caused Culann to form her representation on the shield surrounded with this inscription, 'Teeval, Princess·of the Ocean,' it would possess such extraordinary powers that when ever he was about engaging his enemy in battle, and looked upon her figure on the shield, read the legend, and invoked her name, his enemies would diminish in strength, while he and his people would acquire a proportionate increase in theirs. Conchobar had the shield made according to the advice of Teeval, and, on his return to Ireland, such extraordinary success attended his arms, that he won the kingdom of Ulster. Culann accepted Conchobar's offer, referred to above, and settled on the plain of Murthemne, which was fabled to have been formerly situated beneath the sea. It was here that he was visited by Conchobar, accompanied by his Court and Cuchulainn."

In a book entitled "Omagh: Paintings and Stories from the Seat of the Chiefs" by Dr Haldane Mitchell, there is a local Tyrone folk-tale about a giant called "Ermand Kelstach" and Muckabaw who fought for the hand of Fionn mac Cumhaill's daughter Granua. They held a shoulder-stone throwing contest with stones the size and weight of a young mountain. One struck the top of Bessie Bell, where the mark is still seen to the present day.

An old 18th century or earlier ballad entitled "The Death of Leury" tells of the worshipping of the stone by King Laoghaire.[1]

William Hamilton Drummond wrote a poem in 1826 entitled "Bruce's Invasion of Ireland" in which are found the following lines:- "Clogher stone, like the statue of Memnon renowned, Was heard to give forth an oracular sound."

Local tradition cherishes the conviction that the Cloch-Oir itself can be identified with a large stone that once stood against the north wall of St.Macartan's Cathedral and is now housed in the porch. The stone is decorated on both sides with raised plain borders. It is unworked on the reverse as though it originally formed part of an architectural feature like a doorway lintel. It is 1.67 metres in height. 0.44 metres across its front face and 0.57 metres on the broad side.

Oracle interpretation[edit]

It seems Cermand Cestach was the name of the Oracle of Clogher, a stone which spoke through the Druids, somewhat like the Oracle of Delphi. The website http://www.irishmegaliths.org.uk states:

The reason the Lía Fáil was called "The Stone of Destiny" was because it told your destiny. All three stones were modelled on the Navel Stone or Omphalos of Delphi at the Delphi Oracle in Greece and closely resemble it.[citation needed]

There is another oracle mentioned in The Metrical Dindshenchas, poem 102 on Druim Tairleime:

Further references[edit]

Hogan's Onomasticon gives the following entry:- "Druim Tairléme:- Sa. 87 a; ¶ v. D. Tuirléime; ¶ "Drumtorlingy, Drumhurling, Drumhurlin, in Taghmon parish, Barony of Corkaree, County of Westmeath. Mis. 244(?). "

The Dictionary of Celtic Mythology by James MacKillop gives 'Kerman Kelstach' as a variation of the god Crom Crúaich.

References[edit]

  1. ^ Hayes, E.; Kenealy, W. (1857). The Ballads of Ireland. 2. A. Fullarton & Company [etc., etc., 186-]. p. 170. Retrieved 2015-08-06.

2. "The So-Called Cloch Oir at Clogher Cathedral", by H. C. Lawlor in the Irish Naturalists' Journal Vol. 3, No. 9, May, 1931, p. 193.

External links[edit]