Glen Wood, the Hungry Rock, the Hawk’s Rock and the Holy well on the hill of Tullaghan are on the Ox Mountains at the south-west end of the Yeats Trail.
Yeats combines the name of the Hawk’s Rock with the mythology associated with Tullaghan Hill to create his play “At the Hawk’s Well”.
The play was the first of Four Plays for Dancers written in the Japanese Noh style, which Yeats explored in his middle and later years. He sought a ‘strange intimacy’ as opposed to a ‘familiar distance’ when writing these plays, describing his methodology as follows:
‘I need a theatre. I believe myself to be a dramatist. I desire to show events and not merely tell of them … two of my best friends were won for me by my plays, and I seem to myself most alive at the moment when a room full of people share the one lofty emotion.’ – W.B. Yeats (1917).
When he came to write this play, he returns to familiar theme of the Irish Heroic Age. It is loosely based on the mythological hero Cuchulain as the young man. The combination of dance, song, masks and ritual with the austere stylisation of staging and design of the Noh style was completely new to the English-speaking theatre and opened exciting experimentation for Yeats. Both the ‘Old Man’ and the ‘Young Man’ seek immortality in the powers attributed to the well’s magical waters. Throughout his life, Yeats drew on the traditions handed down by generations of Sligo storytellers.
In medieval times the Well of Tullaghan was regarded as one of the Mirabilia Hiberniae, the Wonders of Ireland because of the magical qualities of the water reputed to change in the course of each day from salty to fresh and to ebb and flow with the tide. It was a festival of Lughnasa site.
After the Famine the tradition grew that if you threw a pebble at the Hungry Rock whenever you pass, you will never go hungry on your journey.
from At the Hawk’s Well (1917)
Three hazels drop their nuts and withered leaves,
And where a solitary girl keeps watch
Among grey boulders. He who drinks, they say,
Of that miraculous water lives for ever.