Hermitage lends its name to folklore in the tale of the Five Knights and the beautiful maiden. The theme is a runaway match on horseback involving a Knight and a maiden.
Tradition has it that four gallant Knights also on horseback went in pursuit of the betrothed pair and overtook them at the Hermit’s Cell which overlooks the river to the right beyond the summer 10th green. The ensuing duel was to the death, which was the custom at the time. The maiden’s choice excelled as a swordsman, the others were equally brave. Four duels were fought in succession by the runaway Knight. But at the end of the fourth encounter five gallant Knights lay dead on the emerald green sward close to the 11th and 12th fairways. All five were buried nearby and from their honoured graves sprang five graceful lime trees that still cast their quiet shadows over the silently moving waters of the River Liffey beside the 11th tee. The maiden lies buried very near there too, and within memory, a slender white thorn tree stood alone beside the 12th green, but it has since fallen to the ravages of the weather.
Even yet wayfarers on the opposite river bank who, at the first light of dawn, have passed by the scene of that old-time tale, whisper stories of a lone white figure moving through the five lime trees by the river’s edge.
The only published version of this tale, set out in a rhyming ballad, published by Gill & McMillan in 1899, differs in details and narrates that our hero Knight, having been rejected by the maiden’s father, became a recluse in the cell at Hermitage, whence he emerged just in time to rescue the maiden from an unhappy alliance
“On raven steed and maple grey – the fugitives are fled.”
In the chase the suitor, rejected by the father, was pursued by five Knights.
Then,cried our hero: “Come one by one – our laws require such courtesy in fight”. To be answered with “In single combat prove thy speech and claim thy bride, Sir Knight”.
Four vaunting Knights were slain by the sword-craft of the Hermit. The fifth however, failed in courage and in that way the last assailant forfeited his life. According to the ballad version, our gallant hermit survived and in the cell was nursed back to health by the maiden’s devotion. Unceasingly she crossed to the Hermitage in a shepherd’s humble boat that “darts into a little creek.”
This creek may be identified alongside the 11th tee.
“And ever in perpetual youth, they haunt the lovely dell,
All safe from foe or mortal ill, protected from a spell.
Nor doomed alone to human state, they various forms assume:
Perchance the cushat’s note is theirs, perchance with owlet’s plume
They flutter ’midst the noble limes, by Liffey’s gentle waves
Which daily shed a solemn gloom, upon the foemen’s graves”
Close by is the “Lover’s Wishing Stone”, in connection with which is a variety of such stories as are usually associated with “Wishing Stones” elsewhere in Ireland. It is further related that until comparatively recent years a cave opened out into the face of the limestone cliffs, and that the same had been explored for a considerable depth, revealing petrified animals. Such, no doubt, was the case, but a substantial subsidence has taken place, because the former entrance that is pointed out is now only inches in width.
Note - The Hermitage Golf Club crest aptly depicts the five lime trees by the Liffey’s edge referred to in the foregoing legend.