The Last Snake in Ireland written by Shelia MacGill-Callahan and illustrated by Will Hillenbrand is an entertaining tall tale combining the legends of St. Patrick and the Loch Ness Monster. For older readers (6-9 year olds), it may be worthwhile to talk about historical figures and the stories that surround them, explaining the difference between historical accounts and legends about St. Patrick and new, made up stories such as this one.
In this story, Patrick decides to banish the snakes from Ireland and rings a snake call on his magic bell. “Snakes slithered in from Kerry, they oozed up from Cork; from every corner of the Green Isle they answered his summons.” The snakes all crawl into the sea and Patrick thinks he has succeeded until he hears a hissing behind him and discovers he’s missed the “biggest, oldest, sneakiest snake in all of Ireland.” The sneaky snake sets out to bedevil Patrick, showing up everywhere in an entertaining series of illustrations, even, “under the quilt on his bed.” Frustrated, Patrick plots to capture the snake but also feels he has to give the snake a fighting chance. He chases the snake over the Blue Stack Mountains and in his anger, Patrick pushes the mountains open to form the Long Glen of Hunting (Glen-fada-na-Scalga). The snake plunges into Lough Erne, through the Glens of Antrim and across the Giants’ Causeway to the sea where the snake is captured by an eagle and carried to Scotland. Patrick follows and eventually captures the snake and drops him into Loch Ness. The snake promises to be good if Patrick will let him out and Patrick says he’ll have to wait until tomorrow. Years later, when Patrick returns, he discovers the snake has broken out of the box he was trapped in and boy has he grown…
The Blue Stack Mountains (without snakes) are located in Donegal, the northernmost county in Ireland. Donegal is perfect for people wanting to get away, with nature preserves, rugged coast lines, a 4000 year old ring fort, and folk village museum. The mountains are worth exploring and there is a hill walking club, a walking festival every October, and regular guided tours through Walking Ireland. We didn’t make it to Donegal this last trip, but it is definitely on our list!
(My two-year-old brought this in to us at 4:30 this morning, wanting to read the snake book again. Jet lag is rough!)