Hidden Gems Competition - Highly Commended

Gus McCurdy tells the eerie tale of Rathlin Island's Ceannan Dubh

The north side cliffs of Rathlin present a spectacular scene. It is a wild and lonely upland area, giving unrivalled views across the seas to the Scottish Hebridean islands.It is the site of an Iron Age fort, Dun Mor, which has a legend concerning King Donn of Rathlin and his daughter Taisie. It is also the place where Neolithic people manufactured Porcellanite axes six thousand years ago, and exported them all over Ireland and Britain.

It was the haunt of a ferocious horse called the Ceannan Dubh. He was a beautiful black horse, with a white stripe on his nose; he had a long flowing mane, and eyes that shone with an unearthly brightness.

He terrorised the people, chasing and killing them by means of a long sharp spear, which protruded from his chest. None could escape his great swiftness, he could appear anywhere, and indeed he seemed to be able to be in two places at the same time.

One evening a woman was visiting relatives in the townland of Kinraver, she overstayed, and dusk was setting in when she set off for her own home.She had a wide reach of mountain to pass over; a stone boundary wall divided it. As she hurried on, starting at every shadowy rock or whin bush, the one thought in her mind was to get home before the horse should discover her; She was no more than half way, when the dreaded sound of horse’s hooves smote her ear, she almost fainted there and then! Looking behind her, she spied the Ceannan Dubh, on the far side of the valley, he had seen her!

Fear lent her wings, she fairly flew over the heather, but she knew that the swift steed was gaining on her. Soon she must fall before him, and add one more to his long list of victims. She was almost fainting with terror, when, out of the gathering darkness, loomed the high stonewall, with one mighty effort, she is over it! The last sounds she heard before she fainted, was an almighty crash, and an unearthly piercing scream.

Her family were out searching for her, and finding her still in a faint, they carried her home.  Upon her recovery, she related what had happened, and so next morning at first light, they went to the spot. The sight which met their eyes gave them great joy. There before them the Ceannan Dubh lay extended on the heather, he had hit the wall at such speed, that the spear was driven back through his heart, killing him outright.

When the news got around, everybody gathered, there was great rejoicing and exultation. They dragged the body down off the mountain and buried him in the valley. To make sure that he could not rise again and take revenge on them, they piled his grave high with great rocks.

That night, strains of unearthly music echoed among the hills, and a female voice was heard singing his praises, and lamenting the passing of the mysterious creature.

Yet it is said that if a McCurdy woman, being the daughter of a McCurdy man, and being married to a McCurdy man, should tread upon the grave, the Ceannan Dubh will rise again to haunt the people.

The strange thing is, that a mysterious horse is sighted from time to time in places, including the townland of Kebble. A few years ago, a man delivering a load of gravel one evening, to a house which was being rebuilt there, became aware of two horses standing in a mist watching him. He knew that there were no horses there - indeed there was only one horse in Rathlin at the time. Needless to say, he wasted no time in getting out of there.

What is even more curious, is that not everyone can see the horse, even when they are standing close to it. Late evening seems to be its favourite time to appear.

But be not afraid, this horse appears to be benign. But then, you can never be sure of its mood. For those with a perceptive mind, it is possible to penetrate the veil between past and present , where it is at its thinnest!

By Augustine McCurdy

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