Once, long ago, there was a tribe who lived in this region called the Setantii. They lived in the marshes and alongside the lakes and rivers. They had a village at Martin Mere and another at Penwortham. They left many votive offerings to their gods in the Fylde and had a port at Fleetwood. They were a proud and fierce people.
They fought skirmishes with the Romans to defend their land, but at a ferocious battle at Kilgrimol near St Annes, the Setantii were overwhelmed by the might of the Roman army; whole villages were destroyed and women and children massacred. The survivors buried their dead at Kilgrimol and for many generation gathered there to honour their ancestors and recount the stories of the battle. Kilgrimol cemetery has been lost now; some say it is under the waves and some say it is under the sand dunes at St Annes golf course.
Many centuries later Kilgrimol was a small settlement with an abbey, much like the one at Cockersands. It had long been a sacred place for pagans and was adopted as a holy place by Christian monks and nuns; a healing place.
Our story comes from long ago; not in my time, not in your time, not in anybody’s time. There was a bard known as Killian the Blind. Killian was acknowledged as a master of the lyre and a wonderful singer. He had the ability to evoke intense emotion in the listener and was capable of softening the hardest of hearts; it was suggested that he could even make a goblin shed a tear.
The blind bard, Killian, wanted to live near the sea, so he visited the abbey at Kilgrimol. The abbot was so delighted with Killian’s music and song that he offered him a cell of his own, free from duties, as long as he played for the abbot on the evenings when the abbot was at the abbey. So, Killian spent his days learning the songs of the local people, singing them and playing his lyre. And his songs were the most beautiful and moving that the people had ever heard.
One balmy summer’s evening when the abbot and his retinue were away Killian decided to relax at the narthex, the covered porch at the west entrance to the abbey, so he could enjoy the cooling sea breeze. Before long he was alerted by the sound of footsteps on the stones leading to the entrance and those footsteps reached to where he was sitting. A commanding voice said, “Killian, I have come on an errand from my lord who is visiting the region with his court. He has heard of your prowess as a bard and requests the pleasure of your company, for which you will be richly rewarded, and it will confer a great honour on the abbey. I shall accompany you to my lord’s court and bring you safely back to the abbey.” Killian thought it was an unusual hour for such a request but felt strangely compelled by the visitor, so he agreed.
Killian took a firm hold of his guide’s arm and they set off at a fast pace, but even though the bard was blind he was able to keep up and not stumble. After a while Killian felt a wooden walkway beneath his feet and heard the sound of rushes swaying in the gentle wind. At last he heard some voices which he recognised as being those of servants. A woman took him by the hand and led him inside a building, which felt like a large space. He could smell meat roasting and taste the smoke from the fire. On both sides he could hear voices from the lord’s court and Killian sensed that he was at a feast.
He was invited to sit and make himself comfortable. And then a deep voice spoke, “ Killian, I have heard of your talents as a bard and wish you to sing of the great battle between the Setantii and the Romans, as I have heard of the song’s beauty.”
Killian settled himself and tuned his lyre and his voice to the surroundings, then he began. And as he played he could hear approving voices from either side and that encouraged him to reach greater levels of intensity. His lyre made the sound of waves breaking on the shore, the sound of arrows flying through the air, of spears clashing with swords, the cries of the slain. And when he sang of the slaughter of the women and children there was a huge outpouring of grief from the audience.
When he had finished the lord told him that his performance was far more moving than he could have imagined and that he and the abbey would be rewarded accordingly. He then asked Killian to return the following night. He added that he was travelling incognito and that Killian must under no circumstances mention his visit. Killian agreed and bowed to the Lord. The guide came and led him back to the abbey. They arrived before the abbot and his retinue had returned, so his absence wasn’t noticed.
The next evening Killian waited at the narthex and the guide appeared as before and led him to the lord’s court. All was the same as the first night, with the lord heaping praise and reward on the blind bard. Again the lord invited Killian to return for a third night and stressed the importance of secrecy. Killian agreed to return and the same guide led him back to the abbey.
However, on this occasion Killian’s absence was noted by the abbot who wondered where the blind man could have gone alone. In the morning the abbot asked Killian where he had been. Killian said that he’d had to attend to a personal matter. The abbot was a little concerned by Killian’s response so he asked two of the monks to keep an eye on him that night and follow him if he left the abbey.
That evening Killian again waited outside the abbey and the guide promptly appeared. Killian took his arm and they set off apace to the lord’s court. The two monks had noticed Killian making his way outside the abbey so they were ready to follow him. However, the blind man walked so quickly in the dark that the two monks soon lost sight of him. They decided to visit Killian’s regular haunts in the village, but nobody had seen him that evening. Eventually, they decided to return to the abbey via the coast path and from there they heard the sound of music and singing. They followed the sound and it led them to Kilgrimol cemetery.
And there they saw Killian, sitting alone in front of the great stone monument to the Setantii chief who was slain in the battle. They laughed and wondered what the old fool was doing. One of the monks shouted to Killian but he played on as if he had not heard them. They walked into the cemetery and over to where Killian sang. Again the monks asked Killian what he was doing but he ignored them. One monk took Killian by the shoulders and shook him. Killian turned and berated them with, “How dare you disrespect the lord’s court. Begone!”
The monks suspected that Killian was under some sort of spell and they hurried back to tell the abbot. The abbot frowned and said that if the ghosts of the Setantii took him for three nights they would have him forever. Let us go and bring him to the safety of the abbey. A group of monks was sent out to bring Killian back, but when they reached the cemetery there was no sign of him and no sound of his song, just the sound of waves breaking on the shore, of rushes swaying in the breeze and the calls of geese passing overhead.