The Sleeping Monk of Innisfallen

Written by T. Crofton Croker.

Above all the islands in the lakes of Killarney give me Innisfallen, “sweet Innisfallen” as Tom Moore, the poet, described it. It is indeed a fairy island, although I have no fairy story to tell you about it; and if I had, these are such unbelieving times that people only smile at my fairy stories, and doubt them.

However, none will doubt that a monastery once stood upon Innisfallen Island, for its ruins may still be seen. Centuries ago the monks of Innisfallen were popular, pious, and learned, and if you saw them coming along the road you didn’t hop inside the fence to avoid them for they were the best of company at all times. In short they weren’t the kind of men to preach hellfire and damnation in your terrified car every time they saw you. And out of all the monks you could not pick a merrier soul than Father Cuddy who could sing a good song, tell a droll story, and play flute and fiddle as though he had been reared in a bandmaster’s house.

On one occasion the monastery ran out of wine, and Father Cuddy was ordered to go at once to Muckross Abbey for a supply, because a monastery without wine is like an ark without Noah or a pair of golden gates without Saint Peter, or the Mona Lisa without her smile. With the morning’s light he was seen rowing his little boat across the crimson waters of the lake towards the peninsula of Muckross, and that was the last sight the Innisfallen community got of Father Cuddy, for he never returned to them.

At Muckross Abbey Father Cuddy was welcomed like an archangel, which he probably is today, for his fame had travelled before him, and after giving the monks all the news from Innisfallen and singing a few songs for the students he set out for home with a promise that the wine would be sent the following morning. What with the beauty of the scenery, the heat of the sun, the humming ol the bees, and the warm handshakes of friends, he felt a, happy as a Mayboy and he opened his mouth wide and began to sing:
“Tirra-lirra, tirra-lirra, tirra-lirra lee.” Suddenly he stopped singing and listened as a beautiful bird-voice warbled among the trees to his left hand. Father Cuddy knew his songbirds, blackbird, thrush, lark, siskin, linnet, goldfinch, but this was far superior. Louder and sweeter grew the song until it possessed the wood, and the whole world glowed and throbbed with its music. Know-ing that the music was not of this world, Father Cuddy fell on his knees and began to pray. When the music stopped – he looked about him, and the more he looked the more he wondered dLt the alteration which appeared in the face of the country. The hills bore the same majestic outline, and the lake spread itself beneath his view in the same tranquil manner and studded with the same number of islands; but every smaller feature in the landscape was strangely altered. What had been naked rocks were now clothed with holly and arbutus. Whole woods had disappeared, and waste places had become cultivated fields; and to complete the enchantment the very season itself seemed changed. In the rosy dawn of a summer’s day he had left the monastery of Innisfallen, and now he felt in every sight and sound the dreariness of winter. The hard ground was covered with withered leaves; icicles hung from leafiess branches; and he felt his fingers numbed from the nipping frost. Father Cuddy wondered greatly at the sudden transformation, and when he got up he saw that his knees had worn deep grooves in the stone he had knelt on. He decided to return in haste to Innisfallen and report these mysterious events to his superiors who might be able to explain them to his satisfaction. When he reached the gate of the monastery a stranger dressed in queer unmonkish garments occupied the porter’s place.

“Has the wine arrived safely, my good man?” Father Cuddy asked him. “Wine!” the fellow said. “What wine are you talking about?”
“Why, wine for the monks of Innisfallen, of course. 1 left this island yesterday morning for Muckross to order it. why is the place so quiet anyway. Is there a retreat in progress?”
“The day of monks and retreats in Innisfallen is over,” the stranger said. “The fathershave been suppressed, and the Abbey lands were granted in August last to Robert Collan by Lady Elizabeth, Queen of England. And if you were here yesterday I’d have seen you for you are by no means a small man. And if you stay here any longer you are likely to loose your head for monks are not popular with our new masters.”
“I tell you Iwas here yesterday, man,” the astonished monk persisted. “I am Father Cuddy of Innisfallen. Now, sir, do you know me?”
“I do not know you, but there is a story told of Father Cuddy who disappeared from Innisfallen one morning, and was drowned in the lake very likely. But all that happened two hundred years ago.”
Suddenly Father Cuddy recalled the wonderful unearthly music of the singing bird in the forest, and he realised he had taken part in a miracle. His heart was heavy within him as he walked away from the strange quietness of the monastery. The world he know had been swept away, and all his friends and brethren were dead. Avoiding the towns he managed to arrive safely in the port of Dingle where he was put on board a ship sailing for the friendly land of Spain. And in a monastery in Malaga the good man quietly wore out the remainder of his days.

The stone impressed with the mark of Father Cuddy’s knees may be seen to this day. Should any persons doubt my story let them go to Killarney where Clough na Cuddy – Cuddy’s Stone -as it is called remains in Lord Kenmare’s park, an indisputable evidence of the fact. Spillane, the bugle-man, will be able to point it out to them, as he did so to me.