The last Sunday in July was known in Ireland as Domhnach Crom Dubh (meaning the ‘dark, stooped one’), Crom Dubh (originally called Crom Cruiach) was the chief Celtic idol of Ireland. His chief shrine was located on Magh Slécht (The Plain of Prostrations) in Co Cavan, surrounded by twelve other gods. The Domhnach (meaning Sunday) element is illustrative of the practice of syncretism where the new religion simply blended old beliefs and practices into the new Christian religion.
The pagan god Crom Dubh, lived in the underworld throughout winter, emerging on 1st August to claim the ‘first fruits’, in the form of Eithne the corn maiden. He lifted her on his back (hence his stoop) and brought her down to the underworld.
Crom Dubh is also associated with Dun Briste (literally Broken Fort), Co Mayo. It is a spectacular sea-stack which is approximately 50 metres in height. It stands just off Downpatrick Head, in the townland of Knockaun, east of the quiet village of Ballycastle. The stack is crowned by an old ruined fort. On Downpatrick headland itself, several archaeological monuments can be seen. These include Bronze-Age ring-barrows, early ecclesiastical sites and the remains of a promontory fort.
According to a local legend Crom Dubh was an extortionate chief who lived at the present Downpatrick Head; and he had two sons, Téideach and Clonnach, who were even worse than himself. The pagans, too of those days looked upon him as a kind of deity, though a cruel one. St Patrick being in the Province and hearing of his misdeeds, set out to visit him. Crom Dubh, on the Saint’s approach, set two fierce hounds at him but the Saint deprived them of their fierceness and likewise extinguished a fire into which Crom Dubh intended to throw him. The Saint’s endeavours to convert Crom Dubh being ineffectual, he struck with his crosier the ground before the chief’s house and caused that portion of the cliff to separate from the mainland, with the result that Crom Dubh and his son Téideach were imprisoned on it and perished. Clonnach, the other son, who was pillaging the country and was burnt in a conflagration of his own making. Ever since the people hold a pattern every year in honour of St Patrick at Kilcummin and at Downpatrick on the last Sunday of July, called in Irish ‘Crom Dubh’s Sunday’ (Domhnach Chrom Dubh).
Photo: Dun Briste, Co Mayo, photo credit: Ray Fogarty