Irish legends are big on sleep. Many of our heroes seemed to be fond of taking the kind of naps that you just wouldn’t get away with nowadays. Gearoid Iarla Fitzgerald really takes the biscuit: He was a lord with purported magical powers who is believed to have been slumbering in a hill cave near Loch Gur, County Limerick, since 1398. By contrast, Killarney monk Cudda’s two-century snooze barely qualifies as a power nap.
I had forgotten all about the legend of Cudda until the onset of tourist season in Killarney sent me searching for the hidden spots and corners of this place that the camera-toting hordes don’t know about. That’s when I remembered the legend of Cloch Mochuda and went scurrying for my copy of Fossa & Aghadoe: Our History and Heritage (disclaimer/apology to all rowing enthusiasts: I wrote the chapter on Fossa Rowing Club).
Apparently, Cudda was a monk on Inisfallen, the monastic island in the middle of Lough Leane, who had a hankering to visit the mainland one summer’s day in the sixth century. So overcome was he by the beauty of his surroundings, Cudda fell to his knees in the middle of a wood and, lulled by the heat and the sound of birdsong, he fell asleep. When he awoke, the weather had changed, and he trudged through bitter rain to the lake shore. Cudda does not appear to have been terribly observant, however, and it was not until he got back to the island and failed to recognise any of his fellow monks that he realised that something was not quite right. It was only then that he twigged that he had been unconscious for two hundred years.
Don’t believe me? There is proof: Turn left at the entrance to Knockreer, the section of Killarney National Park opposite St. Mary’s Cathedral, and follow the path uphill, past Knockreer House, until you are out in open country, a field (of possibly grazing red deer) sloping down to the shore of Lough Leane on your left and Cnoc na Ri rising to your right. At the cattle crossing, pass through the stile and follow the path that skirts the fence to your left. Right at the edge of a small wood you will find a gnarled oak tree with a splodge of white paint on it. At its base is a stone with two rounded indents. This is Cloch Mochuda, proof positive to anyone who might doubt the legend that Brother Cudda did, in fact, kneel on a rock for a couple of centuries.
My daughter and I paid a visit last week. It is a peaceful spot and I can see why you would feel inclined to doze off. What I can’t figure out is why subsequent visitors have felt compelled to insert coins into the bark of the tree. As you can see from the pictures, it is a veritable piggy bank at this stage. Maybe it’s to ensure that, should a modern-day Cudda emerge from a similarly long slumber, at least he’ll be able to afford to hire a boat back to Inisfallen.
Or physio for his knees.