The Love Charm
An Old Tale of Ireland
The tale I am about to relate to you is a very old story that has been passed down through generations of my family until it was told to me. It is a story of an event that was said to have happened to my father’s grandfather’s father, may the good Lord be good to him and I hope he’s in Heaven. The poor man’s a long time dead now and I hope he is happy having joined those of the family that went before him, and that he was welcoming to those that followed him. As for myself, sure, I was just a cub of boy when I sat down with my father beside a blazing turf-fire that he had set in the kitchen. It was a treat to sit there, on a cold winter’s night, in front of a blazing fire that threw out great heat and filled the cottage with the sweet aroma of turf smoke. We would get ourselves into a comfortable position on the ‘settle’ and waited until my father lit his pipe and blew out those first lung-filling pulls of tobacco, which was something he always did before telling us a story. Occasionally, however, he would find it difficult to use the safety matched to light the pipe and he would lose patience, and snarl “To hell with it!” before he took a glowing remnant of turf to do the job for him. Now, relaxed with pipe in hand he would give a cough and begin his story.
“Our family has lived in this wee house for generations now,” he began, “and my grandfather’s father, Granda Matty, was travelling home late one night. He had ridden his new grey mare to the grain store late that afternoon and it was dark when he began his journey home. The grey was a good sound animal that he had bought at a horse-fair three months earlier, and he took pleasure in riding it wherever he went. But that night was a little bit different than usual because of the icy chill in the wind, and he was very much looking forward to getting home to a warm cottage and an even warmer supper. When the horse came to the old graveyard, that still lies down the road there, he was puzzled until he saw for himself a dull, yellow coloured light coming from inside the wall. Granda Matty was an inquisitive sort of man and dismounted the mare, leaving a bag of flour tied to the saddle, and went to explore the mysterious light.”
“The old dry-stone wall was quite tall and completely intact everywhere else but at the point where Granda Matty stopped. There, about five feet above the ground, there was a stone missing that allowed him to peer, unseen, into the graveyard at the other side. As he peered through the hole what should he see but two men whom he instantly recognised, and between the lay the corpse of Tommy Sweeney, which had just been buried that morning. Not knowing what the two men were doing, Matty decided to call out to them through the hole in the wall. As they stood over Tommy’s corpse the two men heard a voice call out them from an unknown direction, “By Jaysus boys, that’s a bad job you’re at the night! The two of you should be greatly ashamed to be disturbing the bodies of the dead, may God have mercy on Sweeney!”
To say that the two men were at being disturbed by the voice would be an understatement. They almost died of fright, thinking that it was the voice of a ghost calling to them and rebuking them for their deed. But they gathered their senses quickly and each drew a long, sharp dagger, the blades of which glinted in the moonlight. In an instant they reached the wall and began to clamber over it to catch the man who had observed them in the graveyard. Granda Matty, however, had wasted no time in taking to his heels as fast as he could, and like a man twenty years younger he jumped on the saddle and made ready to go. His pursuers were just as quick on their feet and Matty had just got his feet into the stirrups before they came on him. Taking off his hat, Matty used it to help urge the horse onward and off they galloped as fast as they could go. The two men continued to chase him for a short distance but, when they realised they wouldn’t catch him, they threw their daggers at him. Fortunately, for Granda Matty, the daggers missed their target and he was able to ride home safely.”
““Who were they, Daddy, and what were they doing in the graveyard at night?” I asked him excitedly.”
“Granda Matty never said who they were, but they were in the graveyard that night taking the ‘Buarach Bhais’ off the newly buried corpse of Tommy Sweeney.”
“In the name of God, Daddy, what kind of a thing is the ‘Buarach Bhais’?
“Aye, you would be too young to know what that is, so I shall tell you. It is a strip of skin taken off a newly buried corpse, from the back of its head to the heel of its foot.”
““By all that’s holy, did people do such things? How often and why?” I asked impatiently.”
“Granda Matty said it was something done by certain people, and it was something that, at one time, was common enough,” my father replied mysteriously. “Now, if there was a young girl for whom you took a fancy, but she was not willing; or if a young girl had her eye on a young man and he was not willing, and if you were to get the Buarach Bhais off without breaking it, and lay it on the one you love without them feeling it, the they would be yours forever. It was the old magic.”
““Well, sure, that’s one strange thing for a man or a woman to be doing, at all,” I told him incredulously.
“Aye, strange, but very true,” he insisted. “This was told by my Granda Matty to my grandfather, both saintly men whose mouths never knew a lie. Those people who used to trade in those things were known as ‘Luch na m-buarach bais’, but their trade has now died out in Ireland, thanks be to God.”
“Aye, thanks be to God!” said I.