By Madeline McCully
Audio version recorded by Madeline McCully

In the country around Glenuilin, the Glen of the Eagle, in the remote townland of Slaghtaverty in County Derry, there is a monument described as Abhartach’s Sepulchre. The local people call it the Giant’s Grave.

(Abhartach comes from the Gaelic, Abhac meaning a dwarf.)

            A lone thorn tree would guide you to it but on arrival you would see that no grass or vegetation grows beneath. The tree stands guard over the enormous stone under which lies the body of a brutal warlord, Abhartach, whose magical powers allowed him to rise from the dead twice. The fairy thorn, planted by Cathán, protects and prevents this unspeakable creature, one of the neamh-marbh, the living dead, from rising once again.

            Once risen, Abhartach plagued the countryside, luring the unwary, sometimes with the sweet music of the harp and at others times by fear, to feed his diabolical lust for blood.

Cathán was chosen to capture and kill this malevolent creature and twice he was successful but when Abhartach broke free from his mountainside grave, his depraved plundering knew no bounds. No men, women nor beasts were safe. He demanded a bowl of blood from the veins of his victims to feed his evil corpse, then left their bodies to be ravaged by the wild animals.

            But Cathán was wise and strong with a gift that Abhartach lacked- he could converse with animals. His brave hound, Bran led him to Abhartach’s hiding place, a cave on Benbraddagh Mountain. Bran begged his master not to try to kill the dwarf a third time until he would speak to the Druid.

            The wise Druid imparted the secret of vanquishing the neamh-marbh to Cathán.

“Leave aside your sword of iron and fashion one of yew wood. Drive it into the heart of this monster and he will not rise again. I have read the signs and many followers wait for him but he must not rise again. Bury Abhartach upside down facing towards Hell. This rite will deprive him of a restful afterlife. Fill his grave with rocks and clay, place a boulder atop and encircle this with a ring of thorns. In this way, he will be imprisoned by the fairy folk, for should the stone be lifted Abhartach will arise.”

            Cathán fashioned his sword of yew-wood and just before sunset set off with his hound to Benbraddagh, knowing that Abhartach would go on his prowl when darkness fell. He whispered his plan to Bran and they waited quietly.

            As the sun disappeared Abhartach left the cave. Bran leapt onto his shoulder and sank his teeth into his neck. Enraged, he swung around and Cathán lunged. As he thrust the sword into the monster’s heart Abhartach’s bloodcurdling scream echoed across the valley then gurgled into silence.

            Cathán followed the Druid’s instructions, covering the upside-down body with clay and rocks. He encircled the grave with thorn branches and heaved a huge stone on top.

Today, the grave lies undisturbed but an unquiet atmosphere hovers.

Madeline McCully