Lassara and the minstrel

Most of our more prominent ancient monuments have a folk story or two attached to them, and none more poignant than that associated with Narrow Water Castle.

You the reader will know from the history and description already told here (Narrow Water Castle) that this fortified site had many manifestations since the first arrival of the Normans on our shores in the twelfth century, though the present Keep (on the pattern of the fortified town-house) is said to date from the latter half of the sixteenth century (and is thus contemporaneous with Newry’s ‘Bagenal’s Castle’). When not in the possession of the English, this was the fortified dwelling of the local leader of the Magennis clan whose lands of Iveagh stretched in a long, wide strip of east Down up to Lough Neagh. At the time of our story the English were in possession though the rightful owner was Conn Magennis of Rinn.

Conn had a beautiful daughter named Lassara who fell head over heels in love with a wandering minstrel, a harpist from Lough Ochter in Scotland. Indeed she was eloping with him to that place when the skiff they were sailing to meet their ship in the bay was spotted drifting through the narrows there at the mouth of the Glan Ri river beside the castle by an English sentry on duty. He fired at the couple and his arrow struck the harpist who fell overboard still clasping the precious harp to his breast.

Lassara was captured and kept imprisoned in the dungeon of the castle. At night alone there, she believed she could hear the harp strains from her musician lover through the wild crash of the waves outside.

The warden of the tower-house was making unwelcome advances towards her and threatening to put her to death unless she yielded to him. He gave her a limited period to concede willingly to him.

On the last night as the warden opened the dungeon door, Lassara dashed past him and made her way up to the top of the castle.  She leapt from the battlements and as she dropped to the icy waters below, it is said that the music of the harper could be heard, drawing Lassara towards him. She perished in the place where the minstrel had died.

The news reached the Magennis camp and Conn rallied his forces. They attacked the castle and managed to drive the surviving members of the garrison to the top of the tower. The warden, seeing that all was lost, took his own life by jumping from the tower into the water and drowning where Lassara and the harper too had drowned. 


‘And still – of a winter’s night, they say

When the wind is in the trees…….’

This story moved me greatly when first I heard it as a youth. There was a popular ballad of the time, whose words I came to associate with Lassara..

 ‘the morning before he set sail on the tide...

But he never returned to his promised young bride

.and still on the shore you can hear it so plain..

His voice in the wind, singing soft this refrain…’

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