Though Visions of the Past is usually focused on the environment as sculpted by man in the form of monuments in stone and earth, I have at times strayed into areas which have both a strong mythological and folklore element, such as caves and boulders/erratics and it is with this in mind that I ventured to see the Madman’s Chair/Cathaoir Ana. The Mad chair of Dunany takes its name from a promontory fort that used to stand at Dunany Point, Dún Áine (the fort of Áine). A legend tells of Áine whos lover left to go to England after which she sat on the rock chair and went slowly mad with grief. The plentiful other rocks that dot the beach are said to have been an attempt at a causeway built by Áine. Áine has been described as both a goddess and as a fairy.
Whatever the fanciful past a legend did built up around the curative nature of the chair and that if a mentally ill person sat on it during a period of lucidity they would remain lucid, conversely if a sane person sat on the chair they risked losing their mind. There also was tales of animals being attracted to the chair and then proceeding to walk out into the sea drowning themselves in the process. Interestingly enough I found several different tales that relate to houses under the sea at Dunany Point and mermaids on the beach. I also found one entry in relation to the Mad Chair of Dunany in the Dúchas Folklore Collection, its a tale relating to a woman called ‘Calya Vera’ but from the elements of the story it appears they were referring to the Calliagh Beara or the Cailleach as her grave is mentioned as being in the Cooley Mountains, there is a tomb of the Cailleach on Slieve Gullion. The Cailleach can either be seen as a hag, a wise woman, a witch or a goddess/deity of some sort in Irish culture. The following tale was collected by a Paddy Connell from Ferny Park County Louth in 1938,
“On the land of Monasterboice there is an old ruins called the Calya Vera’s House. It is composed of twelve flag stones of enormous size nobody ever interfered with it. The Calya Vera was a tall fair haired woman she was an old friend of the old Fenian’s, One evening Cromwell’s soldiers were informed she was in Monasterboice. So she was making a cake of bread when she got word the enemy was approaching, she cleared away with her cake of bread and lost it on the Hall of Mullacurry as it is to be seen drew out on a stone. She moved on then to a place called the mad Chair Dunany. Then she got on a yacht and got on to Carlingford. She was caught on the Cooley Mountains. She was hanged on a tree and buried afterward’s and it is since called the Big woman grave. That was the last of the poor Calya Vera.”
Its incredibly tricky to initially spot the Mad Chair of Dunany as one walks the length of the beach, firstly the tide must be out and secondly the amount of rocks dotting the shoreline leads to endless confusion. I actually walked past the chair and only noticed it upon my return after scouring the long beach for two or so hours, it was buried deeper into the sand than the previous images I have seen of it, however the thick black lines that cross the stone at certain points made me certain this was the chair. My GPS Co-ordinates may not be ideal for this one but I’m certain it is within twenty metres of the position.
GPS: 53.85822, -6.24201