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Hawthorn horror of old bog road

OVER the years I have passed a haunted spot on the old bog road between Cashel and Clifden, not either giving much thought to Teresa Brayton's famous Bog Road ballad with its refrain, "I'm standing here on Broadway, this blessed harvest morn," nor having any knowledge of hauntings or the significance of lone hawthorns or furze-covered islets, where robbery and murder were carried out on black winter nights long ago.

But now I have turned the pages of a book to read about sinister happenings in this desolate landscape of stone, bog and lake. The book, in fact, is all about trees of importance -- more than 100 of them -- and all have stories to unfold.

On this particular Connemara road, a lonely place where to pass by another human being, at least for a couple of miles, would be a significant event, yet about two centuries back there was a well -established hostelry here called, appropriately, The Half-way House.

These days but a few stones remain and there is nothing to remind that it was once a place of convivial gatherings. For some of those within, in those times, there was no fore knowledge that outside lurked the threat of highway robbery and sudden death and disposal of victims in boggy blackness.

Opposite the old stones of the ruined inn there is a lone and bleak hawthorn bush, weathered and bent, standing in lonely isolation.

A remarkable tree tales teller, named Aubrey Fennell, of Carlow, (who has been heard this week past on Lyric FM radio) in a splendid book called Heritage Trees of Ireland, suggests standing at the thorn and looking south to Lough Agaddy and its furze-covered island, which was, the story goes, the dwelling place of the one who preyed on the lone travellers.

To this day, it is said, one may hear tales of a spectral figure seen sitting beside the bush at unexpected times, the killer's ghost, perhaps, doomed for eternity. There is also folklore that the seasonal red berries of the holly and rowan of the mountainside are reminders of those poor murdered souls on the old bog road.

Still in Connacht, but further north in Mayo, on the vaulted stone roof of a holy well chapel, another hawthorn grows with no sign of roots connecting it to the ground.

This particular countryside has clear memories for me because a long time ago my children had the freedom of the Lacken's long strand to catch sand eels for fishing bait and pull mussels from rocks for the pot.

The Mayo bush-tree is at St Mary's Well at Rosserk Abbey at Killala. The two-metre high hawthorn growing out of the stone roof has no appearance of roots and it is there 100 years at least.

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St Mary's was a Penal chapel and a cross has a Latin inscription which reads: "This chapel was built in honour of the Blessed Virgin in the year of Our Lord 1798 by John Lynott of Rosserk ... "

The original Franciscan foundation at Rosserk was established for a community of married persons, not accepted as monks and nuns who wished to embrace the monastic life. This was an unusual new story for me as indeed are many of the tales accompanying the outstanding photographs by Carsten Kreiger and Kevin Hutchinson in this coffee-table-sized book published by The Collins Press of Cork.

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