The Full Moon & the Fairies in Irish Folklore

The fairies were thought to be particularly active under the light of the full moon. On those brightly illuminated nights fairies, who lived in beautiful palaces under the sea, were said to come up on to the land to revel and converse with the fairies of Ireland, at fairy mounds and around hawthorn trees, as Lady Wilde explains, ‘on moonlight nights they often come up on the land, riding their white horses, and they hold revels with their fairy kindred of the earth, who live in the clefts of the hills, and they dance together on the green sward under the ancient trees, and drink, nectar from the cups of the flowers, which is the fairy wine.’

As fairies and mortals lived separate but connected lives, the full moon presented greater possibilities of association between these two races. On Inishbofin, for example, dread of the fairies was so strong that when the moon was fullest, young girls were encouraged to stay indoors to avoid being abducted as brides to the fairies, while the good people’s* beautiful music and dancing was said to have tempted many a young girl to leave her home on these most ominous evenings. The full moon also presented an opportunity for the fairies to seek revenge on anyone who had slighted them, and anyone who built over a mound or cut down a fairy tree would do well to stay in on these nights for there are many stories that attest that the fairies took their opportunity to seek revenge on those mortals on  moonlit evenings.

* When speaking of the fairies the names like the ‘good people’ or the ‘fair folk’ were often used as a precaution to causing offence.

Sources

Lady Jane Wilde,  Ancient Legends, Mystic Charms and Superstitions of Ireland, 1887.

Lady Jane Wilde, Ancient Cures, Charms and usages in Ireland, 1890.

Illustration by Arthur Rackham, 1867 – 1939.

Welcoming the New Moon in Irish Folklore

In Ireland there are a host of traditional beliefs and rituals that were once commonly observed to acknowledge the arrival of the New Moon.  It which was generally believed that at first sight of a new moon a person’s behaviour could influence their fate until the start of the next moon cycle.

One such widespread belief, which has survived advised that in order for a person to increase their fortune a piece of silver should be borrowed when the New Moon first appeared, in the belief that your wealth would increase as the new moon waxed, while, at least in County Clare, it was considered lucky to turn the coins in your pocket on the first occasion that the luminary is sighted. In a similar manner, but with less favourable results, it was believed to be unlucky to catch sight of the New Moon through glass; a correspondent from a 1903 issue of Ireland’s Own warned that sorrow would follow a person who saw a new moon through glass until the following new moon appeared. Even the position that the New Moon was viewed from was deemed to be of consequence to the viewer’s fate: ideally, for luck, the New Moon should be seen over the right shoulder, while to see the New Moon over the left shoulder was believed to be unlucky, and seeing the New Moon directly before you was said to foretell that the onlooker would have a fall.

Direct appeals were also made to the New Moon, with some believing that a person who  demonstrated their veneration for the New Moon upon its first appearance would receive protection for as long as the moon lasted. In his 1870 book Irish Folk Lore Fr. John O’Hanlon provided two accounts of the manner in which salutations were made to the New Moon during the middle of the nineteenth in County Galway.

In the first account, a person kneels down before the moon says a Pater or Ave, and then recites the following address:

‘Oh Moon! May thou leave us safe, as thou hast found us!’

While in the second account a person should ‘make a sign of the Cross, while at the same time chanting in an undertone the following short prayer:

“God and the holy Virgin be about me!”

And finally the following verse:

“I see the moon, and the moon sees me;

God bless the moon, and God bless me!”’

Appeals to the New Moon were also made by young women who sought insight to the identity of their future husband. In the early years of the twentieth-century an elderly woman from County Tipperary gave A. H. Singleton a detailed account of the following salutation which she had tried in her young day for insight into her future love life:

‘When you get a sight of it [the New Moon] kneel down, and with a black-handled knife lift a sod from under your right knee and from under the toe of your right foot repeating:

“New moon, new moon,

Happy may I be;

Whoever is my true love

This night may I see.”

Once this verse is recited a number of times the Lords pray should be repeated, after which the sod of earth is lifted from under your knee and foot and hidden outside your house ‘till you are ready to go to bed, then bring it inside. You must not speak to a living soul once the earth brought into the house. Then put the earth into the right-foot stocking, and put that under your head. But be sure you talk to no one till morning.’

Sources

Anonymous correspondent. Ireland’s Own, Vol 1, No. 8, 14 January 1903.

Donaldson, John. A Historical and Statistical Account of the Barony of Upper Fews in the County of Armagh. Dundalk, 1923.

O’Hanlon, John (Lageniensis). Irish Folk Lore: Traditions and Superstitions of the Country; with Humouress Tales. London, 1870.

Singleton, A. H. ‘Dairy Folklore and other Notes from Meath and Tipperary.’ London, 1904.

A Vigil for the Feast of Saint Francis in Athlone

J.G. Conmee. Glanduff, 1902; ‘The Feast of St. Francis [4th October] was a day of great devotion in the Barony, and fifty years ago it was the custom for a crowd of its good people to gather into the St. Francian Church at Luainford [Athlone] to keep not only the day itself, but even its Vigil.

The whole night before a throng of country people sat up in the little church, and passed the time in the familiar and homely practices of piety then so dear to them. Foremost among these was the Rosary – the decades being “let round” by men or women of recognised social or spiritual superiority – not within a mild contention now and then as to whether it was Pat Ryan’s or Mrs. Murphy’s turn to officiate, or whether the fifth “dicket” had or had not been said.

But when this and other devotions were fulfilled, Johnny McKay would be requested to play a “pious chune in honour of the night that was in it.” This the Barony minstrel, himself a man of much faith and exemplary life, never failed to do, discoursing a “linked sweetness long drawn out,” with a wealth of expression and tremulous pathos that made many of his hearers, as they testified, “turrible devout.” But even in these days there were not wanting cynics who declared that Johnny could not play a hymn “if you were to kill him,” and that the sacred melody he palmed off on the congregation was nothing else than an adagio rendering of “The Hare in the Corn.”’

Old Times in the Barony

Father John Conmee, 1847-1910, was Rector of Clongowes Wood College when a six year old James Joyce was enrolled in 1888. Joyce would later depict Conmee, by name, in both Portrait of an Artist as a Young Man and Ulysses.

Michaelmas in Irish Folklore

Michaelmas, the feast-day of the Archangel Michael, is traditionally observed throughout Ireland on the 29th September. A host of traditions and beliefs are associated with the day, for example, male children born on, or near, Michaelmas were often named and baptised as Michael or Micheál in honour of the saint, while in Swinford, County Mayo,  Michaelmas had a special significance and was a time of celebration and reunion; as many locals returned to Swinford from working the harvest in England on, or before, the day of the feast, according to John Millington Synge the returned harvesters would be, ‘sitting around in each other’s houses playing cards through the night, and a barrel of ale set up among them.’

As with many Irish calendar customs food took a central role in the activities of the day. An animal – usually a goose, which was generally referred to as a Michaelmas Goose, was slaughtered and eaten in honour of the saint. John O’Hanlon in his 1870 book Irish Folklore maintained that a sheep used to be slaughtered by those who could afford it, while he also states that, on Michaelmas, it was ‘ordained by law that a part of the animal must be given to the poor. This is said to have been done, in order to perpetuate the memory of a miracle wrought by St Patrick, through the assistance of that Archangel.’

history_bullbaiting
uncredited

Michaelmas also acted as a marker for certain civic and domestic activities. In many Irish towns, including Drogheda, Dublin and Kilkenny, the Mayor took office on Michaelmas Day. As part of the celebrations in Kilkenny a bull was baited* at a bull-ring situated  near Saint Francis Abbey. In some areas Michaelmas was one of the two annual rent days, previously known in Ireland as Gale Days, (the other being the 25 March), in place of the more usual Gale Days of the first days of May and November. Domestically the woman of the house started slaughtering the fowl at Michaelmas, with the first goose slaughtered becoming the “Michaelmas Goose”, while for the men, the day marked the beginning of the fox and hare hunting seasons, and, in many parts of Ireland, the end of the fishing season.

Otherworldly creatures were active at Michaelmas, and children were warned not to eat blackberries after Michaelmas eve, as it was believed that the púca  flies through the county defiling the blackberries on that night.** Michaelmas was also a time for divination; a Michaelmas cake was baked on the night of Michaelmas with a ring mixed through the dough, exactly as is still done on Hallowe’en. Portions of the cake were then distributed amongst any unmarried persons who were present, with the belief that whomever discovered the ring was destined to be wed before next Michaelmas.

*Bull-baiting typically involved a bull being attacked by dogs, while trapped in an area, often a pit of some kind.

**The púca, sometimes spelled pooka, is a shape-shifting spirit that most commonly takes the form of a horse, but can also take the form of other animals, it was also said that the púca defiled blackberries on Hallowe’en.

Sources

Hannon, John (Lageniensis), Irish Folk Lore: Traditions and Superstitions of the Country; with Humouress Tales. London1870.

Mason, William Shaw. A Statistical Account or Parochial Survey of Ireland. Dublin, London and Edinburgh, 1814-19.

Synge, J. M. In Connemara. Dublin, 1910/1979.

Various articles from the Folklore Journal, up until 1920, as well as Transactions of the Kilkenny Archaeological Society, 1852 and the Journal of the Cork Historical and Archaeological Society, 1897.

Irish Folklore for Ireland’s winter visitor the Barnacle Goose

George Marples, 1869-1939, Barnacle Geese

From as early as the middle of September each year flocks of barnacle geese, known in Irish as Gé ghiúrainn, make their winter homes on remote sea-cliffs and islands that surround Ireland’s northern and western coasts, where they stay until their eventual departure which commences as the weather starts to warm up, which usually occurs by the following April. We now know that barnacle geese migrate to Ireland, flying thousands of miles in their distinctive V-shaped formation from the sea-cliffs of Greenland where they spend the summer months, mate, nest, and rear their young goslings. Prior to the development of scientific explanations on the migratory habits of birds the mysterious appearance and disappearance of barnacle geese in Ireland, coupled with the absence of evidence of their reproduction, led many to take special notice of the arrival of these winter visitors in Ireland, and to ascribe legendary explanations for the origin and reproduction of barnacle geese.

As winter visitors the date of arrival of barnacle geese on Irish shores is traditionally believed to provide insight into the weather of the coming season. As noted in a number of accounts provided by the Irish Folklore Commission’s Schools’ Collection, which collected folklore from Irish Schoolchildren in the late 1930s, the early arrival of these geese, between late September and early October was believed to be a harbinger of a ‘hard’ or ‘severe winter.’ The early arrival of barnacle geese, however, was not always believed to impact the weather of the whole season; Mary Agnes Bonner of Ardmalin, County Donegal, provided a local belief that gave the premature arrival of the barnacle goose a shorter period of influence over Ireland’s winter weather noting that the geese’s arrival ‘is a sure sign of a month’s bad weather.’

Barnacle Tree, 1597

The mysterious appearance and disappearance of barnacle geese, who neither nest nor rear their young goslings on Irish shores, led to a number of variants of legends that attempted to explain the obscure origin and reproduction of these distinctive winter visitors.  The earliest documented account describing the origin of barnacle geese is recorded in the twelfth century text The History and Topography of Ireland by Giraldus Cambrensis [Gerald of Wales], who claimed to have witnessed the conception of these geese himself, noting that ‘first they appear as excrescences on fir-logs carried down upon the waters. Then they hang by their beaks from what seems like sea-weed clinging to the log, while their bodies, to allow for their more unimpeded development, are enclosed in shells. And so in the course of time, having put on a stout covering of feathers, they either slip into the water, or take themselves in flight to the freedom of the air.’ Similar variants to Cambrensis’ account of the reproduction of barnacle geese were still well remembered in more recent centuries. The Belfast born ornithologist, Edward A. Armstrong noted in his 1940 book Birds of the Grey Wind  the widespread familiarity of the belief ‘that barnacle geese are generated from the shell-fish of the same name.’* Armstrong also noted that in his 1882 hunting manual The Fowler in Ireland Sir Ralph Payne-Gallwey asserted that around the coast of Ireland ‘men were to be found who professed to have seen the transmogrification taking place. Writing for the Schools’ Collection, in the late nineteen thirties, Mick Campbell of Speenoge in County Donegal recalled hearing the old people ‘say that the gosling of the barnacle goose falls from a barnacle that grows on a certain tree, on a certain shore on one particular island of the Orkney- and nowhere else.’

The accepted and widespread conclusion that barnacle geese were not born of flesh had a significant impact on the consumption of food on Ireland’s many and various fast days throughout the year, which included Fridays, Holy Days and Lent. In the twelfth century Giraldus Cambrensis noted that ‘in some parts of Ireland bishops and religious men eat them [barnacle goose] without sin during a fasting time, regarding them not to be flesh, since they were not born of flesh.’ In 1215, just thirty years after Cambrensis’ visit to Ireland, Pope Innocent III saw that it was fit and necessary to specifically forbid the eating of barnacle goose on fast days. Despite Pope Innocent III’s edict, the consumption of barnacle goose by fasting Irish Catholics continued well into the twentieth century. Kevin Danaher in his 1972 seminal work The Year in Ireland confirmed that the tradition of Irish people, including members of the Catholic clergy, eating barnacle goose on fast days, in the belief that the geese were of the sea rather than of flesh, continued until relatively recent times in areas along the west coast of Ireland, including parts of Donegal and Kerry, and that a well-known hotel in Tralee served ‘brent goose# during Lent, mainly for the benefit of the clergy.’

*Edward A. Armstrong thought it probable that the word barnacle was attached to these geese through the similarities between the Latin word for shell-fish – bernaculae, and the Latin word for referring to birds – Hibernicae or Hiberniculae.

      # Brent geese were, and to some extent still are, often confused with barnacle geese. At one time they were they were thought to be of the same species.

Sources

Armstrong, Edward Allworthy. Birds of the Grey Wind. Oxford, 1950.

Cambrensis, Giraldus. The History and Topology of Ireland. Translated by John O’Meara. Harmondsworth, 1982.

Danaher, Kevin. The Year in Ireland. Dublin, 1972.

http://www.birdwatchireland.ie

www.duchas.ie

The Last Sheaf – A Harvest Rite for the Old Hag

Traditionally the cutting of the last sheaf of corn is a special rite which, at one time, was observed on many farms throughout Ireland to mark the end of the harvest, generally occurring between late September and early October each year. When the harvest was saved a lone sheaf of corn, wheat, or oats would be left standing in the last field to reaped. This sheaf would then be plaited into the shape of a woman to represent an old woman, a witch, or a hag,* generally known as the Cailleach in Ireland, who was generally blamed for any misfortune suffered by the people throughout the previous year.

A contest of skill between the labourers was then held with the aim of dislodging this lone-standing sheaf from the soil. In the north of Ireland during the early years of the twentieth century proceedings for the contest generally followed the following pattern; labourers, standing at a distance of ten yards, or metres, took turns throwing hooks intending to fell the cailleach. Once the sheaf was felled it was brought triumphantly to the farmer’s wife and hung about her neck, the successful labourer would often take credit for removing misfortune from the mistress and her household, the labourer was generally rewarded for their skill with the first drink, a shilling, or some other small but significant prize. A feast was often provided by the farmer to celebrate the end of harvest, with all involved in the work drinking and dancing through the night.

After the day’s festivities the sheaf was hung in a prominent position in the kitchen, or another room of the farmhouse, and at the end of harvest the following year it was generally relegated to the byre, to make way for the the current year’s sheaf, although in certain cases the sheaf was kept in the kitchen, and would be displayed along with the sheaves from the years that followed.

The tradition seems to have remained strongest in the north of Ireland and was traditionally popular on both Catholics and Protestant farms, where it continued to be practiced as a harvest custom up to the middle the last century.

* also known in some parts as the ‘hare’ or the ‘churn’ with the latter  term sometimes used to describe the feast that followed.

Sources

Danaher, Kevin. The Year in Ireland. Dublin 1972.

Evans, E. Estyn. Irish Folk Ways. London, 1957.

Frazer, W and M’Cormick Mr H. M’Neili. ‘Harvest Rites in Ireland’. Folklore, 1914.

Lett, H.W. ‘Winning the Chrun’. Folklore, 1905.

Photograph of Irish harvest workers in 1920, photographer unknown.

Saint Ciarán & the Patron at Clonmacnoise

Located beside the River Shannon in the centre of Ireland stands the ruined sixth-century monastery of Clonmacnoise. Founded by Saint Ciarán, the monastery survived for over a thousand years during which time Clonmacnoise was famed as one of Ireland’s great seats of learning, until it was eventually brought to ruin and looted under the Dissolution of the Monasteries in 1552. The name Clonmacnoise, along with some ruins at the site, appear to predate the monastery’s religious associations; with Cluin Mac Nós translating from Irish to English as ‘Meadow of the Sons of Nós.’ Legend has it that the lands were given to Saint Ciarán by Diarmait Mac Cerbaill – who is traditionally held to be the last pagan High King of Ireland. Whether the legend is true or false it is well documented that the Kings of Connaught continued to patronise the monastery of Clonmacnoise until the thirteenth century. In spite the destruction of Clonmacnoise the picturesque ruins of the monastery with its round tower, seven churches, and stone crosses, have continued to attract large crowds of pilgrims on many days throughout the year but, most particularly on the Feast Day of Saint Ciarán which falls on the ninth of September each year. In 1816 the Reverend Patrick Fitzgerald, who was then Vicar of the Parish Clonmacnoise, stated that on Saint Ciarán’s Day from ‘3000 to 4000 people assemble there to do penance from different parts of Ireland,’ remarking that some had travelled from as far away as Donegal.

1860s engraving by H. Griffiths

In his book The Holy Wells of Ireland Patrick Logan remarked that by 1980 the traditional longer station at Clonmacnoise had declined in recent decades and had been replaced by a significantly shorter station. The longer station was made up of three circuits, with each circuit. it was usual for a person to do the station barefoot less than a century ago. The station began at Saint Ciarán’s Well, continuing through to the cloister, on to the stone crosses, and further on to the Nun’s church. At each place prayers were offered and decades of the rosary were recited. Logan estimated that to complete the ‘long station’ would take a person over four hours.

Although devotion was the primary objective of those who visited Clonmacnoise many devotees hoped to find cures for a wide variety of long lingering ailments. In 1813, while visiting Clonmacnoise, the Reverend James Hall noticed that pilgrims in their ‘thousands believe that the waters of the well, at the ruins, gives the blind their sight, and makes the lame walk.’ While a cure for toothache could be got by visiting a tree at the religious site according to a relative of Nora Killeen, who provided the traditional belief in the Schools’ Collection in the late nineteen-thirties.* If a pilgrim suffered from epilepsy they could find a cure by sitting on a stone on which, legend had it, Saint Ciarán had sat. Finally, according to Lady Jane Wilde, a woman can clasp her arms around Saint Ciarán’s Cross she ‘would never die in childbirth.’

As the burial site of its founder Saint Ciarán, one of the most revered of the Irish saints, it is to be expected that the graveyard of Clonmacnoise remained a popular burial site in the centuries that followed the saint’s death. However, the thirteenth century ancient Registry of Clonmacnoise, which contains transcriptions from the Life of Saint Ciarán, noted another reason for the preference of being buried at Clonmacnoise. The entry explains that Saint Ciarán was granted a favour from God that no soul buried at Clonmacnoise should be deprived of salvation. While visiting Clonmacnoise in 1813 Reverend James Hall noted that this the above guarantee of salvation was still widely to be true, and that ‘those buried near the ruins have half their sins forgiven, and that the soul only remains half the time in purgatory it otherwise would.’ Those buried at Clonmacnoise did not even need to fear purgatory according to an account collected for the Schools’ Collection by a young school girl named Bridget Feehily, who noted that it is ‘believed that all persons who were interred in the Holy Grounds belonging to it insured to themselves a sure and immediate ascent to Heaven.’

* The Schools’ Collection was a project set up by the Irish Folklore Commission which asked young schoolchildren in the late 1930s to gather folklore from their older relations and neighbours.

Sources

Tales of the Elders of Ireland. Translated by Ann Dooley and Harry Roe. Oxford 1999.

Fitzgerald, Patrick, “Parish of Clonmacnoise”, Mason, William Shaw. A Statistical Account or Parochial Survey of Ireland. Dublin, London and Edinburgh, 1816.

Hall, James (Rev).  Tour Through Ireland; Particularly the Interior and Least Known Parts. London, 1813.

Logan, Patrick. The Holy Wells of Ireland. Buckinghamshire, 1980.

O’Hanlon, John (Rev), Lives of the Irish Saints. New York, 1905.

Otway, Caesar. A Tour of Connaught. Dublin, 1839.

Wilde, Lady Jane, Ancient Legends, Mystic Charms and Superstitions of Ireland. London, 1888.

https://www.duchas.ie/

Top illustration graphite and watercolour ‘The Last Circuit at Clonmacnoise’, George Petrie, 1838, housed in the National Gallery of Ireland.

Second illustration 1860s engraving by H. Griffiths.

The Fair of Donnybrook

Richard  Warburton, 1818; ‘It is however at the fair of Donnybrook, that the natural humour and peculiar character of the lower classes of the metropolis are best seen. Donnybrook is a pleasant village contiguous to the south suburbs of the city.

It has a green or common, on which the fair is held, in the month of August. It is regularly proclaimed, and is attended by police officers, whose interposition is indispensable to preserve the peace. The fair, which is held for the sale of horses and black cattle, lasts a week, during which time every mode of amusement and gymnastic exercise peculiar to the Irish is practised, each day concluding with a pitched battle, in which much blood is spilled, and many heads broken, but rarely and life lost.

The Green is covered with tents, and filled with pipers, fiddlers, and dancers; and of late years has been introduced mimes, mountebanks, shows of wild beasts, and all these spectacles, but on a much more limited scale, which are to be found at Bartholomew fair.

During the continuance of this fair, Harcourt-street, and the other avenues leading to it, present extraordinary spectacles, particularly in the evenings. Almost all the carriages, which plied at other ends of the town now assemble here, and while they go to and from the fair they are crowded at all hours with company. The din and tumult of the roads on these occasions is inconceivable, particularly during the stillness of night; form the vociferation, laughter and fighting of these turbulent cargoes, a noise ascends which is heard for several miles in all directions.

The attachment of the populace to this amusement is so great, that the Lord Mayor finds it necessary to proceed there in person at the expiration of the limited time, and, striking the tents, compel the people to go home.’

History of Dublin

Donnybrook Fair traditionally ran for a week, from the 26 August each year, however the fair could, and often did, run for a fortnight.  The  fair was held annually on that date for seven hundred years, from the middle of the thirteenth century and continuing until the 1850’s. Various attempts, which eventually found success, were made by the Dublin authorities to put an end to the drunken debauched riots that invariably accompanied, and often overshadowed the intended trade of black cattle and horses at Donnybrook Fair.

Although the Fair at Donnybrook has not been held in over a century and half the fair’s reputation has been kept alive up till today through songs, poems and stories; the Dublin poet Austin Clarke recorded the following verse poem in his second autobiography, A Penny in the Clouds, over a century after the last fair in 1962;

‘Tis there are dogs dancing and wild beasts a-prancing.

With neat bits of painting in red, yellow and gold,

Toss-players and scramblers, and showmen and gamblers,

Pickpockets in plenty, both young and old.

There are brewers, and bakers, and jolly shoemakers,

with butchers and porters, and men that cut hair;

There are mountebanks grining,

while others are singing

To keep the honours of Donnybrook Fair.’

Sources

Clarke, Austin. A Penny in the Clouds: More Memories of Ireland and England. 1968.

Evans, E. Estyn. Irish Folk Ways. London, 1957.

Hall, S.C. (Mr & Mrs). Hall’s Ireland, London,1840.

Warburton, Richard. History of Dublin. Dublin, 1818.

The Feast of the Assumption & the Lady well at Modeligo in County Waterford

Holy Well near Modeligo, Waterford

Gordon W. Foksayeth, 1911; ‘In the parish of Modeligo, on the right bank of the Finisk, there may be found a remarkable specimen of the many holy wells of Ireland.

The name “well” is really deceptive : for the water is merely rainwater, and does not derive its existence from any spring, but is simply contained in a bath-shaped receptacle in a piece of limestone jutting up from the surface of the land. The dimensions of the well are about 4 feet long, by 3 feet broad, and 2 feet deep. I have called it bath-shaped, as it is an oval in appearance, and seems to be an unusually large bullaun, or a natural cavity in the rock. There is generally about six inches of water in it, and a legend asserts the existence of an inscribed cross and an inscription on the bottom. I have seen the cross myself, but it seems to be merely an accidental mark on the stone.

On the 14th day of August, the water is removed from the basin, and a fresh supply put in, by a man who lives close by; and the following day a pattern used to take place in the olden times. People may still be seen to congregate on the aforesaid date, and they invariably hang mementoes, in the shape of rags or other objects, on the ancient hawthorn bush that grows beside the well.

Tradition asserts that this well formerly existed some distance from its present position, and that a trooper of Cromwell’s led his blind horse, in mockery, around it, in order to find out and test the miraculous powers of the place. The horse was cured, but the soldier became blind, and the following day the well had taken up its present position. The place is known to the natives as the tobar beannuighte, and is marked on the 0. S. as ” Lady Well.”‘.

Text and photograph taken from the Journal of the Royal Society of Antiquities Ireland, 1911

Puck Fair of Killorglin in County Kerry

Puck Fair
Puck Fair Killorglin, circa 1900 – From the National Library of Ireland’s Photographic Collection

John M. Synge, circa 1900;

‘The greatest event in West Kerry is the horse-fair known as Puck Fair, which is held in August.

If one asks anyone, many miles east or  west of Killorglin, when he reaped his oats or sold his pigs or heifers, he will tell you it was four or five weeks, or whatever it may be, before or after Puck.

On the main roads, for many days past, I have been falling in with tramps and trick characters of all kinds, sometimes single and sometimes in parties of four or five, and as I am on the roads a great deal I have met the same persons several days in succession – one day perhaps at Ballinskelligs, the next day at Feakle Callaigh and the third in the outskirts of Killorglin.

Yesterday cavalcades of every sort were passing from the west with droves of horses, mares, jennets, foals and asses, with their owners going after them in flat or railed carts or riding on ponies.

The men of this house – they are going to buy a horse – went to the fair last night, and I followed at an early hour in the morning. As I came near Killorglin the road was much blocked by the latest sellers pushing eagerly forward, and early purchasers who were anxiously leading off their young horses before the roads became dangerous from the crush of drunken drivers and riders.

Just outside the town, near the public house, blind beggars were kneeling on the pathway, praying with almost Oriental volubility for the souls of anyone who would throw them a coin.

“Mary the Holy Immaculate Mother of Jesus Christ,” said one of them, “intercede for you in the hour of need. Relieve a poor blind creature, and may Jesus Christ relieve yourselves in the hour of death. May He have mercy, I’m saying, on your brothers and fathers and sisters for evermore.”

Further on stalls were set out with cheap cakes and refreshments, and one could see that many houses had been arranged to supply the crowds who had come in. Then I came to the principal road that goes around the fair-green, where there was a great concourse of horses, trotting, walking and galloping; most of them were of the cheaper class of animals, and were selling, apparently to the people’s satisfaction, at prices that reminded one of the time when fresh meat was sold for three pence a pound.

At the further end of the green there were one or two rough shooting galleries and a number of women – not very rigid, one could see – selling, or appearing to sell, all kinds of trifles: a set that came in, I am told, from towns not far away. At the end of the green I turned past the chapel, where a little crowd  had just carried in a man who had been killed or badly wounded by a fall from a horse, and went down to the bridge of the river and then back again into the main slope of the town. Here there were a number of people who had come in for amusement only, and were walking up and down, looking at each other – a crowd is as exciting as champagne to these lonely people, who live in long glens among the mountains – and meeting  with cousins and friends.

Then, in a three-cornered space in the middle of the town, I came on Puck himself, a magnificent he-goat (Irish puc), raised on a platform twenty feet high, and held by a chain from each horn, with his face down the road.  He is kept in position, with a few cabbages to feed on, for three days, so that he may preside over the pig-fair, the horse-fair and the day of winding up.’

In Wicklow, West Kerry and Connemara. 1911.

Puck Fair is held annually for three days from the 10th of August in the West Kerry town of Killorglin. Each of the three days received its own name, therefore; the 10th August is ‘Gathering Day’, the 11th is ‘Fair Day’, and the 12th ‘Scattering Day’.  Puck Fair is reputedly the most ancient fair still held in Ireland. The fair was granted an official licence by James I in 1603, but the fair was held for centuries prior this licence being granted.