The story of Boann
The Boyne River in Drogheda was named after the great Goddess Boann. The story of Boann and Neachtain is one of the central stories in Irish Mythology. There are a couple of variations on the myth of the goddess Boann, but one element tends to remain the same - she was the wife of Nechtan, a god of the water. Likewise, Boann was herself a water-goddess, and many of the myths connected with her concern the water.
According to legend, there was a sacred well (Sidhe Nechtan) the well of Segais that contained the source of knowledge. All were forbidden to approach this well, with the exception of the god Neachtan leader of the Tuathe De Dannann and husband of Boann, and his cupbearers. Boann ignored the warnings, she was walking with her hound Dabilla and strode up to the sacred well. She walked widdershins (anticlockwise) around the well thus violating the sanctity of the area. For this act, she was punished, and the waters of the well swelled and were transformed into a raging river, a river that pursued her. In some versions, she was drowned; while in others, she managed to outrun the currents. In other she lost some of her limbs. The water became the river that was known henceforth as the Boyne, and Boann thereafter became the presiding deity. When Boann was flung out to the sea she is said to have had her precious dog Dabhilla with her. Dabilla was also flung out to sea and turned to rock. Dabilla or Dabhilla is the gaelic word for Rockabill, and the story is that the Rockabill Islands are the permanent rocks of Boanns hound Dabhilla.
In 1919 an article published by the Irish Jesuit Province interpret the Myth and tell us that Dabilla was torn in two by the current of the river and became the two rocks off the Eastern Irish coast known in 11th century as Cnoc Dabilla. They said that an identification with Rockabill has been suggested and seemed plausible (E.K Nov 1919 Vol 47:557 pp 505-598)
Patricia Monaghan (2003) tells us that in Celtic iconography dogs act as guardians of water goddesses in their healing aspect. Dogs are also psychcopomps who lead the dead to the otherworld. Psychopomps are spiritual guides of a living persons soul. These two stones the permanent rocks watching over us and reminding us of our connection with the great goddess Boann her courage, and her healing powers. Rockabill guiding our souls.
(Images used with
permission of Artists
Helen O'Sullivan and
The Story of Balor
Another myth that is associated with Rockabill is the story of Balor of the Formorians. The Formorians were a group of gods associated with the sea and were said to have come from the Scandinavian countries originally. There are numerous stories of how the Tuathe de Dannann and the Formorians fought each other and one of the main stories is that of the great Balor of the evil eye.
There was a very famous cow called Glasgaivlen belonging to the province of Ulster. No matter how large the vessel used to milk her, she could fill it immediately with rich creamy milk. She lived about the time that the De Dananns were in Ireland.
Balor of the Evil Eye, one of the Formorian Chiefs, was anxious to get this wonderful cow for himself. Now Balor had only one eye and that was in the middle of his forehead. When the giant was talking to anyone he had to keep his eye covered. The eye was evil and had the power of turning to stone whatever was seen by it - animals, people and so on.
He and his servant went to the Mourne Mountains where Glasgaivlen was grazing with her calf. He had the servant drive the cow and her calf to the province of Leinster, where he had his stronghold. He told the servant to keep the calf in front all the times so that the cow would not look back and know that she was leaving the province of Ulster. The servant did as he was told and everything went well until they crossed the River Boyne. The servant got careless and allowed the calf to walk behind the cow. Soon after, the cow missed the calf and she looked behind her to see where she had gone. Looking back she saw the Mourne Mountains far away to the north, and knew that she was very far from her native Ulster so she gave a terrible scream the like of which was never heard before.
Balor heard the roar and he understood there was something wrong. When Balor turned to see what was wrong he forgot to cover the eye and immediately the cow and calf were turned into stones. The two rocks stand today as Balor left them - the cow on the south side and the calf on the north side. The Rockabill Islands.
There are remnants of the Formorians in Farney and these connect Balor and his famous Glasgaivlen not with Tory Island but with places from South Monaghan to Rockabill islands off the coast of Dublin. (Henry Morris:1927)