Julie Christine's Reviews > Cailleach: The Hag of Beara

Cailleach by Leanne O'Sullivan
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it was amazing
bookshelves: best-of-2014, poetry, read-2014

Perched on hill overlooking Ballycrovane Harbor, in the wild, remote Beara Peninsula of West Cork, sits a humped, ragged block of stone. One edge resembles the profile of a woman, her furrowed brow arched over a proud nose, staring out to sea. She is An Cailleach Bheara, the Hag of Beara, the mother of Ireland. Her story is Ireland's story, her survival the enduring drama of a tortured land of legendary beauty.

Into the stormy legends wends the sublime poetry of Leanne O'Sullivan, like a cool silk ribbon whispering over fevered flesh. This slim volume of sensuous language takes the supernatural myths behind the Hag's many lives and distills them to human form, presenting a woman in love, not with gods from the sea, but with a humble fisherman. Her images are full of longing of the body and mind, emotional resonance woven with sensual pleasures. We experience the Old Woman as a young girl, vulnerable, vital, yearning, but already wise and sad.

I did not want a glance or a sound,
only the sight of you -- the mouthing space
the absence of language; only to watch you
turn through the shimmering coils of light,
the river siding around me, describing to me
the dark that would be cast over the body,
violent, liquid, salt and calm --
the darkness that would be cast
between the moment when I could destroy
and the moment when I would devour


O'Sullivan, a native of the Beara, has blood brimming with the brine of the North Atlantic and its feral winds howl in her mind. Her words pulse with the southwest's moody weather that ripples from cruel and cold to docile in the time it takes to read one of her enchanting verses:

Morning, the touching of the moon
on the oval-line of light, the sun low,
its fire like liquid over the ocean
where the wading gulls hunt. I toed
the foam and smooth sand as a rattle of salt
rushed against my skin, the pebbles,
the water's joyful touchings.


Best read aloud, with a glass of Jameson 18-year-old close at hand.
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Reading Progress

January 29, 2014 – Shelved
January 29, 2014 – Shelved as: to-read
March 18, 2014 – Started Reading
March 18, 2014 – Shelved as: best-of-2014
March 18, 2014 – Shelved as: poetry
March 18, 2014 – Shelved as: read-2014
March 18, 2014 – Finished Reading

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