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Fierce Tenderness: Stories of the Cailleach told by Kate Chadbourne | S2 Ep14
Episode 1426th October 2022 • KnotWork Storytelling • Marisa Goudy
00:00:00 00:55:28

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Our Story

The Cailleach is the longest living supernatural woman in the Celtic tradition. This goddess is a world builder who consorted with kings and is still associated with the landscape today. Our guest, Kate Chadbourne, brings us a story from County Mayo about a man who chose to test himself by setting out on a walk with the Cailleach. She weaves the threads of many other Cailleach stories throughout our conversation.

Our Guest

Kate Chadbourne is a singer, harper, and storyteller. She's an award-winning songwriter and poet, a scholar and teacher of Irish language and folklore with a PhD from Harvard who performs at venues throughout New England. 

Her latest book is “A November Visit,” a gathering of “Novemberish” stories, poems, and seasonal delights, including Irish folklore, a taste of etymology, recipes, and riddles.

Kate is the founder of The Bardic Academy, a school for writers, musicians, singers, and young scholars. This year she opened The Celtic Wisdom School which offers online courses that weave together Irish folklore, creativity, and enchantment. If you’d like to learn about Fáilte the Irish Art of Welcome, Kate has a gift for you. Please visit her at to join the Fáilte Revolution!

Our Conversation

  • Samhain is the time for stories of the Cailleach, which “touch the essentials,” and speak to our relationship to the earth, to food, to the elements, to health, longevity, and what you really need in life.
  • We have knowledge of the Cailleach from folk tradition, and also from the 9th century poem, “The Lament of the Hag of Beare.” Recorded by Christian monks, in the poem, the old woman laments  “you people only care about money, in my day, it was people we cared about.” 
  • An essential resource: Gearóid Ó Crualaoich’s The Book of the Cailleach: Stories of the Wise-Woman Healer 
  • The story of Donnchadh Mór Mac Mánais and the Cailleach in which they engage in a contest to flail the fields (thresh for grain).  
  • “You can never trust a woman who relies on a man for all her butter” - a line featured Marisa’s retelling of Mongfind’s story (Ireland's Forgotten Goddess Queen Witch S1 Ep 2)
  • The paradoxes of the Cailleach: she is the old woman, and yet she’s the essence of joyful busyness and creation. And, the Cailleach as a solitary figure who is also so dedicated to community.
  • Comhar is the Irish word for shared work or mutual assistance. It’s reminiscent of the Quechuan term for reciprocity, ayni. A proverb: Arsa Cailleach Ghaoth Dobhair le Cailleach Mhaigh Eo, “An té a bheas go maith duit, bí go maith dó.” (Said the Cailleach of Gweedore to the Cailleach of Mayo: The person who is good to you, you be good to him.)
  • Kate’s vision of the The Cailleach’s Conspiracy and how it echoes the story told in S2 Ep 9, Life and Death At the Farm Atop the Hill
  • The shapeshifting nature of the Cailleach.
  • Kate’s story of meeting a real life cailleach in Bantry when she was 20
  • The story of the serving girl, the hard hearted woman, and the woman of the roads
  • “To be a great singer is to be a servant of the song.”

Our Music

Music at the start of the show is by Beth Sweeney and Billy Hardy, a Celtic Fiddle and multi-instrumental duo based on Cape Cod, Massachusetts. The traditional Irish reel we play at the start of the show is called "The College Groves."

Work with Marisa

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She also offers Story Weaver Book Coaching for memoirists, thought leaders, and creative entrepreneurs at the beginning of their writing journey.

Find more of Marisa's writing and get a copy of her book, The Sovereignty Knot

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