The Devil’s Bit is an iconic mountain in mid Tipperary and probably the best place to get an overall view of the county. Known in Irish as Bearnán Eile, meaning the gap of Ely, the mountain’s English name derives from its distinctive appearance.
According to legend, the devil took a bite out of the summit and left his teeth marks in the rock. He spat the rock from his mouth and it landed many miles to the south, where it is now known as the Rock of Cashel. Historical sources indicate that the name ‘Devil’s Bit’ originated in the mid-17th century, indicating that the legend more than likely originated from English settlers.
Many more legends and stories are attached to the mountain. Mass is still said here annually on Rock Sunday in late July, a tradition which may derive from the ancient pre-Christian feast of Lughnasa. Locals climb to the summit on the day.
In 1832 the Devil’s Bit was the site of a mass gathering of over 50,000 people in protest against the tithes, a much resented tax on the peasantry to support the Church of Ireland. This was part of a wider national campaign led by Daniel O’Connell. Some accounts say that there was a mock burial of the tithes on the mountain.
The Carden family built a splendid mansion, Barnane House, on the southern slopes of the mountain in the 19th century. The most infamous member of that family was John Rutter Carden (1811-1866), known as The Woodcock because of many failed attempts to shoot him. He was jailed after a failed attempt to kidnap a young lady, Eleanor Arbuthnot, in 1854.
The cross on the outcrop know as the Rock was erected in 1954 to mark Marian Year. It stands 45 feet high. All the material used in its construction was carried to the summit by hand. The cross is now illuminated at night and is always a welcome sight for locals and visitors.
The Devil’s Bit looped walking trail brings walkers to the Rock and around the western slopes of the mountain.