The prosperous farmer Conall Ua Corra in the province of Connaught had everything to make him happy except that he and his wife had no children to cheer their old age and inherit their estate. Conall had prayed for children, and one day said in his impatience that he would rather have them sent by Satan than not have them at all. A year or two later his wife had three sons at a birth, and when these sons came to maturity, they were so ridiculed by other young men, as being the sons of Satan, that they said, "If such is really our parentage, we will do Satan's work." So they collected around them a few villains and began plundering and destroying the churches in the neighborhood and thus injuring half the church buildings in the country. At last they resolved to visit also the church of Clothar, to
destroy it, and to kill if necessary their mother's father, who was the leading layman of the parish. When they came to the church, they found the old man on the green in front of it, distributing meat and drink to his tenants and the people of the parish. Seeing this, they postponed their plans until after dark and in the meantime went home with their grandfather, to spend the night at his house. They went to rest, and the eldest, Lochan, had a terrible dream in which he saw first the joys of heaven and then the terrors of future punishment, and then he awoke in dismay. Waking his brothers, he told them his dream, and that he now saw that they had been serving evil masters and making war upon a good one. Such was his bitterness of remorse that he converted them to his views, and they agreed to go to their grandfather in the morning, renounce their sinful ways and ask his pardon.
This they did, and he advised them to go to a celebrated saint, Finnen of Clonard, and take him as their spiritual guide. Laying aside their armor and weapons, they went to Clonard, where all the people, dreading them and knowing
their wickedness, fled for their lives, except the saint himself, who came forward to meet them. With him the three brothers undertook the most austere religious exercises, and after a year they came to St. Finnen and asked his punishment for their former crimes. "You cannot," he said, "restore to life those you have slain, but you can at least restore the buildings you have devastated and ruined." So they went and repaired many churches, after which they resolved to go on a pilgrimage upon the great Atlantic Ocean. They built for themselves therefore a curragh or coracle, covered with hides three deep. It was capable of carrying nine persons, and they selected five out of the many who wished to join the party. There were a bishop, a priest, a deacon, a musician, and the man who had modelled the boat; and with these they pushed out to sea.
It had happened some years before that in a quarrel about a deer hunt, the men of Ross had killed the king. It had been decided that, by way of punishment, sixty couples of the people of Ross should be sent out to sea, two
and two, in small boats, to meet what fate they might upon the deeps. They were watched that they might not land again, and for many years nothing more had been heard from them. The most pious task which these repenting pilgrims could undertake, it was thought, would be to seek these banished people. They resolved to spread their sail and let Providence direct their course. They went, therefore, northwest on the Atlantic, where they visited several wonderful islands, on one of which there was a great bird which related to them, the legend says, the whole history of the world, and gave them a great leaf from a tree--the leaf being as large as an ox-hide, and being preserved for many years in one of the churches after their return. At the next island they heard sweet human voices, and found that the sixty banished couples had established their homes there.
The pilgrims then went onward in their hidebound boat until they reached the coast of Spain, and there they landed and dwelt for a time. The bishop built a church, and the priest officiated in it, and the organist took
charge of the music. All prospered; yet the boat-builder and the three brothers were never quite contented, for they had roamed the seas too long; and they longed for a new enterprise for their idle valor. They thought they had found this when one day they found on the sea-coast a group of women tearing their hair, and when they asked the explanation, "Señor," said an old woman, "our sons and our husbands have again fallen into the hand of Satan." At this the three brothers were startled, for they remembered well how they used, in youth, to rank themselves as Satan's children. Asking farther, they learned that a shattered boat they saw on the beach was one of a pair of boats which had been carried too far out to sea, and had come near an islet which the sailors called Isla de la Man Satanaxio, or The Island of Satan's Hand. It appeared that in that region there was an islet so called, always surrounded by chilly mists and water of a deadly cold; that no one had ever reached it, as it constantly changed place; but that a demon hand sometimes uprose from it,
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''A demon hand sometimes uprose from the islet and plucked away men and even whole boats, which when once grasped, usually by night, where never seen again, but perished helplessly.''--p. 139
and plucked away men and even whole boats, which, when once grasped, usually by night, were never seen again, but perished helplessly, victims of Satan's Hand.
When the voyagers laughed at this legend, the priest of the village showed them, on the early chart of Bianco, the name of "De la Man Satanagio," and on that of Beccaria the name "Satanagio" alone, both these being the titles of islands. Not alarmed at the name of Satan, as being that of one whom they had supposed, in their days of darkness, to be their patron, they pushed boldly out to sea and steered westward, a boat-load of Spanish fishermen following in their wake. Passing island after island of green and fertile look, they found themselves at last in what seemed a less favored zone--as windy as the "roaring forties," and growing chillier every hour. Fogs gathered quickly, so that they could scarcely see the companion boat, and the Spanish fishermen called out to them, "Garda da la Man do Satanaxio!" ("Look out for Satan's hand!")
As they cried, the fog became denser yet,
and when it once parted for a moment, something that lifted itself high above them, like a gigantic hand, showed itself an instant, and then descended with a crushing grasp upon the boat of the Spanish fishermen, breaking it to pieces, and dragging some of the men below the water, while others, escaping, swam through the ice-cold waves, and were with difficulty taken on board the coracle; this being all the harder because the whole surface of the water was boiling and seething furiously. Rowing away as they could from this perilous neighborhood, they lay on their oars when the night came on, not knowing which way to go. Gradually the fog cleared away, the sun rose clearly at last, and wherever they looked on the deep they saw no traces of any island, still less of the demon hand. But for the presence among them of the fishermen they had picked up, there was nothing to show that any casualty had happened.
That day they steered still farther to the west with some repining from the crew, and at night the same fog gathered, the same deadly
chill came on. Finding themselves in shoal water, and apparently near some island, they decided to anchor the boat; and as the man in the bow bent over to clear away the anchor, something came down upon him with the same awful force, and knocked him overboard. His body could not be recovered, and as the wind came up, they drove before it until noon of the next day, seeing nothing of any land and the ocean deepening again. By noon the fog cleared, and they saw nothing, but cried with one voice that the boat should be put about, and they should return to Spain. For two days they rowed in peace over a summer sea; then came the fog again and they laid on their oars that night. All around them dim islands seemed to float, scarcely discernible in the fog; sometimes from the top of each a point would show itself, as of a mighty hand, and they could hear an occasional plash and roar, as if this hand came downwards. Once they heard a cry, as if of sailors from another vessel. Then they strained their eyes to gaze into the fog, and a whole island seemed to be turning
itself upside down, its peak coming down, while its base went uppermost, and the whole water boiled for leagues around, as if both earth and sea were upheaved.
The sun rose upon this chaos of waters. No demon hand was anywhere visible, nor any island, but a few icebergs were in sight, and the frightened sailors rowed away and made sail for home. It was rare to see icebergs so far south, and this naturally added to the general dismay. Amid the superstition of the sailors, the tales grew and grew, and all the terrors became mingled. But tradition says that there were some veteran Spanish sailors along that coast, men who had sailed on longer voyages, and that these persons actually laughed at the whole story of Satan's Hand, saying that any one who had happened to see an iceberg topple over would know all about it. It was more generally believed, however, that all this was mere envy and jealousy; the daring fishermen remained heroes for the rest of their days; and it was only within a century or two that the island of Satanaxio disappeared from the charts.