In some parts of Ireland, when a cow becomes dull, refuses to take food, moans, and gives other indications of suffering peculiar pain, the farmers will almost immediately conclude that “she’s shot,” or, as is expressed in Irish Gaelic, “id sidithte.” The phrase suggests the involvement of the ‘sidheoga’ or fairies, and the belief is that they have shot the cow, and there are certain symptoms that appear to be peculiar to this condition. These symptoms point unmistakably to the observer that the cow has been shot, the chief symptom is a swelling of the body and painful moaning.
When such a condition arose, however, only the village’s ‘cow-doctor’ could tell for definite if the beast had been shot by the fairy folk. My great grandfather spoke one time of these ‘cow doctors’, whom he had often seen diagnosing such things. He told how he had even helped these men to perform the curing ceremony which is one of the strangest I have ever heard described.
The ‘doctor’ stood to one side of the cow, while his assistant stood at the other. The assistant takes hold of a pair of tongs to grab a glowing ember of turf and slightly burns the “the Sign of the Cross” on the hair of the cow’s side. When this is complete, he hands the tongs across, under the cow’s body, to the ‘doctor,’ who burns the “Sign of the Cross” on the other side and afterwards passes the tongs over the cow’s back to his assistant again. This ritual is repeated three times, and the first and principal part of the ceremony is concluded by making the “Sign of the Cross” with the ember on the cow’s nostrils.
The second part of the ceremony appears to be more a ‘test’ than a ‘cure.’ The doctor ‘measures’ the cow with his arm from ‘elbow’ to the ‘point’ of his fingers, beginning at the cow’s tail and going towards the horns. The ‘measurement’ is also repeated three times, and if the cow is to get better, the second measurement should be shorter than the first, and the third measurement shorter than the second, &c. Should the attempted ‘cure’ fail, which will not happen if the cow suffers from ‘shot’ and the doctor is called in time, the owner is asked that, in order to prevent the beast’s death, to ‘Tabhair do Mairtain,’ meaning ” Give her to Martin,” namely St. Martin. The owner usually agrees to this measure, and then a “nick” is cut in the animal’s ear. Blood flows from the wound and the death of the cow is averted. In most areas of Ireland, the animal can never be sold after this, but must be killed and eaten as a feast on St. Martin’s Eve, though not necessarily for many years afterwards.
In the north of Ireland, where I live, the practice was somewhat different. The owner is not barred from selling the animal, and instead of giving it to “Martin,” some member of the family, who is thought to be “lucky”, was presented with it. It was no uncommon thing to see several animals, particularly cows and sheep, at fairs with nicks cut in their ears, or a piece cut out. If there were many nicks it is regarded as a sign that the animal was of a delicate constitution, which naturally resulted in there being a reduction in the price. The number of incisions showed to all the number of times that an animal was in danger of death.
I have just had a message from a gentleman called Michael Hegarty with reference to this bit of folklore. He informs me that he once” saw a cow cured of ‘Red Water’ in similar circumstances without the need of getting a vet.” When asked to expand, Mr. Hegarty told me, “I was a kid at the time and the cure was to stick a pin in effected manure and say a prayer to St. Martin … It worked right away.”
Thanks to Michael for this piece of folklore. If anyone has similar experiences or stories please let me know by commenting on the Blog.
Many years ago, there lived a hard-working farmer named Liam Mooney, who lived on the borderlands between County Armagh and County Louth. Times had been harsh for many seasons and there was little money to be made from poor harvests. Then, one day, the landlord came to Liam and told him, “You owe me three years’ rent now, and unless you can pay it all to me within the week, I’ll throw you, and all of your family out on the road.”
“Ah, sir,” replied Liam, “I will be going to Newry tomorrow with a load of wheat to sell, and when I get it all sold, I will be able pay you all that I owe.”
Next morning, Liam put a load of wheat on the cart, and headed off to market with it. But, after he had travelled only a couple of miles from his house, he met a prosperous looking gentleman, who asked him, “Is that a load of wheat that you’ve got on your cart?”
“It is, indeed,” replied Liam, “and I’m going to sell it at the market so that I can pay my rent.”
”How much is there in that load?” the gentleman asked politely.
“There’s a ton in it,” said Liam with a certain pride.
“I’ll buy it from you,” said the gentleman, “and I’ll give you the best price that’s going in the market. Now, when you reach the cart track that’s on your left, turn down it and continue along the track until you come to a big house in the valley. I’ll be there before you arrive, and I can give you your money.”
Pleased with the deal he had struck, Liam came to the cart track he turned in, continuing on his way, as instructed, until he came as far as the big house described by the gentleman. Liam then began to wonder, when he came as far as the big house, for having been born and raised in this part of the country he had never seen this building before, and he thought he was familiar with every house within five miles of where he lived. When Liam came near to the barn that was close to the big house, a small boy came running out and said, “Good man Liam Mooney, you’re very welcome.” The boy then lifted a sack onto his back and went into the barn with it. Almost immediately another little lad came out and welcomed Liam, put a sack on his back, and went into the barn with it. Very soon various lads were coming out, welcoming Liam, and putting the sacks on their backs to carry them into the barn, until the entire ton of wheat was all gone.
It was then that all the boys came around Liam, who told them plainly, “You boys all know me, and I don’t know one of you!”
One of the boys stepped forward and replied to Liam, saying, ”Go in and eat your dinner, for the master’s waiting for you.”
Liam went into the main house and sat down at the table to eat. But he had not taken a second mouthful when he began to feel a heavy sleep overcame him, and he fell down under the table. Then this mysterious gentleman used his magic powers to fabricate a man in Liam’s image, and then sent him home to William’s wife with the horse and cart. When the false Liam eventually arrived at Liam’s house, he went into the bedroom, where he laid himself down on the bed and died.
Within a few hours the news had spread far and wide that Liam Mooney had died. The wife put some water on the fire to heat and, when it was hot, she washed the body of her ‘husband’ and laid it out to be waked. His friends and neighbours from all over the district came to the house, and they grieved for him deeply. There was also great comfort for Liam’s poor wife, who did not show much grief herself on the passing of her husband, for Liam was an older man and she was quite young.
The next morning saw the poor man’s body buried, and afterwards there was very little thought given to the man. The wife had a young house-boy, and she called him to her and said, “You should marry me, you know, and take Liam’s place.”
“Surely, it’s too early, after himself just dying and his body hardly cold in the ground?” the boy replied. “Wait, at least until Liam has been buried a week.”
Meanwhile, after the real Liam had slept for seven days and seven nights, a little boy came to him and awoke him, saying, “You’ve been asleep for a week, Liam! But we sent your horse and cart home. Now, here’s your money, and you should go.”
Liam, still confused by all that had happened to him, made his way home, and because it was late at night no person saw him. However, on the morning of that same day, Liam’s wife and the young servant lad went to the local priest and asked if he would marry them. “Have you the marriage money?” asked the priest.
“No,” said the wife, “but I have a great beast of a pig at home, and you can have her in place of money.”
The priest accepted, married the couple, and said, “I’ll send for the pig tomorrow.”
When the wife and the servant boy were going to bed that evening, Liam came to the door of his house and struck it a hefty blow. Surprised by the intrusion the newly wedded couple asked, “Who’s there?”
“It’s I,” replied Liam, “Now, open the door for me.”
When they heard the voice, they immediately recognised that it was Liam’s voice. Terrified by this knowledge the wife called out, “I can’t let you in! Sure, it’s a shameful thing for you to be coming back here again, after you have been lying seven days in your grave.”
“Have you gone mad? ” asked Liam.
“No! I’m not a mad woman!” declared the wife. “Sure, doesn’t every person in the entire parish know that you are dead, and that I buried you decently. Now, old man, go back to your grave, and I’ll have a mass read for your poor soul in the morning.”
“Wait until morning comes,” said Liam, “and I’ll give you the weight of a dead man’s boot as the price for all this foolishness!” Angrily he turned from the door and went into the stable, where his horse and the pig were, to stretch himself out on the straw and get some sleep.
Early the next morning, the priest called one of the local lads to him and told him, “Go you to Liam Mooney’s house, and the woman that I married yesterday will give you a pig to bring back to me.”
When the boy came to the door of the house, he began knocking at it with a heavy-stick but the woman of the house was afraid to open it. Instead she called out, “Who’s there ? ”
“It’s me,” said the boy, “the priest has sent me to get a pig-from you.”
“She’s out in the stable,” said the wife, “you can go gather her for yourself, and drive her back with you.”
The lad went into the stable, and he began to drive out the pig, when Liam suddenly rose up and said, “Where are you going with my pig ? ”
When the boy saw Liam he never stopped to look again, but he ran out of there just as hard as he could, and he never stopped running until he came back to the priest. His heart was pounding so hard in his chest with terror that he thought it would burst out of his chest. “What’s the matter with you? ” asked the priest. The lad told him that Liam Rooney was in the stable and wouldn’t let him drive out the pig.
“Hold your tongue, you liar!” scolded the priest. “Liam Rooney’s dead and cold in his grave this week.”
“I don’t care if you say he was in his grave this past seven years, Father, I saw him in the stable two moments ago, and if you don’t believe me, then come yourself, and you’ll see him.”
The priest and the boy then went together to the door of the stable, and the priest told the lad, “Go in and turn me out that pig.”
“What? I wouldn’t go in there for all the money you could get!” said the boy.
The priest went in instead of the boy, and began driving out the pig, when Liam rose up out of the straw and asked, “Where are you going with my pig, Father?”
When the priest saw Liam standing before him, he turned on his heels and ran as if all the devils in hell were after him, crying out, “In the name of God, I order you back to your grave, Liam Rooney.”
Liam began running after the priest, and saying, ”Father, Father, have are you gone mad? Wait and speak to me.”
But the priest would not wait for him and continued to make for home just as fast as his feet could carry him, and when he got into the house, he shut the door behind him. Liam was knocking at the door until he was tired, but the priest would not let him in. Finally, the priest put his head out of an upstairs window of the house, and called to him, “Liam Rooney, go back to your grave.”
” You’re mad. Father! Sure, I’m not dead, and I never was in a grave since I was born,” said Liam.
“I saw you dead,” said the priest; “you died suddenly, and I was present when you were put into the grave. Sure, didn’t I make a fine sermon over you?”
“God preserve us, but, as sure as I’m alive, you’re raging mad !” said Liam.
“Get out of my sight now,” said the priest, “and I’ll read a mass for you, tomorrow.”
Liam went home then, and knocked at his own door, only to fine that his wife would not let him in. Then he said to himself: “I may as well go and pay my rent now.”
On his way to the landlord’s house everyone who saw Liam was running before him, for they thought he was dead. When the landlord heard that Liam Rooney was coming his way, he immediately locked the doors and would not let him in. Liam began knocking frantically at the front-door until the landlord thought he’d break it in, and he went to a window at the top of the house, put out his head, and asked, “What is it that you want? ”
“I’ve come to pay my rent like any honest man,” replied Liam.
“Go back to your grave, and I’ll forgive you your rent,” said the landlord.
“I won’t leave this,” said Liam, “until I get it in writing from you that I’m paid up until next May.”
The lord gave him the written statement he wanted, and he came home again and knocked at his own door. But, once again the wife refused to let him in. She said that Liam Rooney was dead and buried, and that the man at the door was only a deceiver. “I’m no deceiver,” said Liam, “I’m after paying my master three years’ rent, and I’ll have possession of my own house, or else I’ll know the reason why.”
He went to the barn and got a big bar of iron, and it wasn’t long until he broke the door down. The wife and her newly married husband were terrified, for they began to believe that the ‘Last Days’ had come and that the end of the world had arrived. “Why did you think I was dead?” asked Liam.
“Doesn’t everybody in the parish know you’re dead?” said the wife.
“To the devil with you woman,” said Liam, “you’ve been humbugging me long enough now, go and get me something to eat.”
The poor woman was greatly afraid, and she sliced him some meat. Then, when she saw him eating and drinking, she said, “It’s a miracle!”
Then Liam told her his story from first to last, and she told him each thing that happened. Then, and then he said, “I’ll go to the grave to-morrow, to see the body that is buried in my place.”
The next morning Liam brought a lot of men with him to the churchyard, and they dug open the grave. They were raising the coffin, when a huge black dog jumped out of it, and ran off, with Liam and the men chasing after it. They were following it until they saw it going into the house in which Liam had been asleep. Then, suddenly, the ground opened and swallowed the house, and from that moment on nobody ever saw it again, although the big hole that it left is still to be seen unto this day. When Liam and the men went home, they told everything that had happened to the priest of the parish, and he dissolved the marriage between Liam’s wife and the servant boy. Liam lived for years after this, leaving great wealth behind him, and his story is still remembered in that border area.
There was a large turf fire blazing upon the broad, pleasant hearth of Matty Carr’s cottage, filling the entire house with its sweet, fragrant scents. In those days the turf was plentiful on the “Selkie Moss” and it was likely that the supply would last for a few hundred years yet. Bella, as Matt’s wife was called, was very much a house-proud woman, who was convinced that nothing makes a home more cheerful than a bright, warm, and welcoming fire in the hearth. Although she was usually a thrifty and frugal type of woman, Bella would build up the bricks of peat into a glowing pile with unsparing hands until the kitchen felt as hot as a kiln. The floor was so clean that you could have almost eaten your meal off it, and every pot and pan was washed and cleaned to such an extent that they looked like mirrors hanging from their hooks. The wooden dresser that stood against the wall was looking fresh in its white gloss finish, and everything in the house had the definite appearance of absolute cleanliness.
In the corner of the kitchen, near to the fireplace, there was a clumsy-looking, home-made cradle, in which slept the newest and most precious addition to the Carr family. Every now and again, Bella would stop in the middle of her household chores to take a look in at the sleeping child, and she would whisper sweet blessings over her new-born infant.
“Hey, Bella!” Matt shouted. “Was there anybody touching my razor?” He was calling to his wife from the next door room, where he was getting himself dressed for the very important ceremony that was soon to begin.
“For Jaysus sake, man dear,” she called back to him in a loud whisper, “could you not speak just a bit softer, ye eejit, or you’ll waken the child!” At the same time, on her tip-toes, she hurried to the door of the adjoining room.
Matt was in a bit of a temper with himself about something, or other, which was not uncommon and Bella could see his mood quite clearly. He was standing in the room and facing Bella when she came to the door of the room, and he held the cut-throat razor in one of his hands. His face was plentifully lathered with shaving soap, but from one side of his chin she saw that there was a cut from which blood flowed quite freely. Matt held the razor out toward her, ensuring that she had a clear view of the condition in which he had found the edge of the blade.
“Aah, wee man! Have you cut your wee self?” she asked him with a false tone of pity, although she was concerned that he would be alright.
“Cut myself?” he replied impatiently, being none to pleased with his wife’s tone. “Well, I think I have, or maybe I’m sweating blood! With all your blatherin’ maybe I will even bleed to death just for you. Now, just get me a plaster will you?”
Returning to the kitchen, Bella fumbled in the dresser drawers and found a box of plasters, from which she took one and gave it to her angry husband. She knew that Matt was a good man, but he was also the type of man that occasionally lacked patience, and he did not suffer fools lightly. He had absolutely no doubts that some of the children had been using his razor to sharpen their pencils or other items. Matt’s mistake was simply that he had failed to check the edge of the razor before he began to shave with it. “Would you get the leather strap for me, Bella?” he asked her.
“You know, maybe the strap will not be good enough to put an edge on the blade. I might have to take the bloody thing to the anvil and use a sledge hammer to put a proper edge on it. Then, if that works, I could polish it up by rubbing it along the big sharpening stone that I use for the scythe,” he told Bella in a half-joking tone of voice.
While Matt was talking to her, Bella returned to the dresser and fetched a huge glass jar, filled with a golden coloured liquid. Matt had a bright twinkle in his eyes when he caught sight of that jar in his wife’s hands. The corners of his mouth began twitching with anticipation as he came to understand her intentions. Nevertheless, he kept complaining and moaning until, finally, gave him a large tumbler filled with whisky that had been drawn from the jar.
“And what’s that?” asked Matt, who was still not in the best of humour.
“Aah, sure take a wee drink, darlin’. It’ll calm you down and steady your hand. It might even help stop your bleeding,” said Bella with a comforting smile.
Matt, being the sort of man that he was, did not need a second invitation to have a drink of whisky. He put the razor down by the washing bowl on the dressing table and gently took the tumbler of whisky from his wife’s hand. “Here’s to you, Bella,” he laughed as he emptied the glass in one drink.
“Jaysus, Matt, you’ll have to take your time with the rest,” Bella insisted.
“By God, Bella, sure you never spoke a truer word,” Matt replied. “There was a time that I could’ve drunk a river of that stuff, dry.”
“Indeed, you could have, wee man,” smiled Bella. “These days I would rather see you bringing in a bag of “Inglis'” flour than a jar of whisky. We can have more fun making things with the flour.”
Don’t be daft, woman!” sneered Matt. “There’s more fun in that jar of whisky than there could ever be in “Inglis'” flour, even a cart load of it!”
“That may well be the case, my dear,” Bella replied to him. “But, like everything else, darlin’, whisky is very good as long as you keep it in its right place, and you do not abuse it.”
“Aye, and aren’t I just the man who knows where that right place is, and able to put it into it?” Matt laughed heartily, but Bella was not amused. He held the tumbler toward Bella again, saying, “Bella, just give me another wee measure and then I’ll quit.”
But, the jar was closed and Bella had placed it back on the dresser, totally unwilling to replenish her husbands glass. “You have had enough for the time being,” she told him and began to walk away.
“Och, Bella, just one more wee glass,” he pleaded with his wife. “Just to keep the first one company. You know, a bird cannot fly with only one wing.”
Bella, of course, gave way to Matts pleas, as every dutiful wife would do. Matt now quickly forgot the bleeding cut on his face and, with a few strokes on the leather honing strap, the razor soon became as sharp as it had been previously. His face was soon shaven cleanly and he dressed in his best ‘Sunday Suit’. In less than half-an-hour he was standing at the front door of his cottage, waiting to welcome his invited guests. Matt had a quick eye and was able to distinguish objects at a distance from him. With that keen eyesight he scanned the various roads that led away from the house, and as soon as he saw certain people coming into his view he would call out to his wife, “They’re coming Bella! Here they are! Are those glasses ready? And the boiling water and the whisky? Is there something a little softer for the lasses, such as lemonade or cider? By Jaysus, woman, but this will be a well-remembered day and night! Sure this well may be the last christening we’ll ever have, so to hell with the expense!”
It was absolutely amazing the number of people that Matt Carr was able to squeeze into that small house of his. There was both young and old, but it was mostly adults who were in attendance. They were put into the kitchen and the bedroom, and in every vacant space that was available inside the house. The first of the guests had begun arriving in the afternoon, but they were mainly the older women who came to give Bella a hand in making the needful preparations, and attend to the wants and needs of the children.
Matt was now in his glory. If you could have heard him talking to the guests you would have heard him talking to the guests, you would have thought him to be the ‘Lord of the Manor’, instead of the hardworking, hard-fisted mechanic of Ballyfoss. But, Matts heart was bursting with happiness and he would not have changed places with the proudest man in Ireland.
In a comfortable chair close to the blazing fire sat Biddy Brown, who acted both as a nurse and a midwife for almost the entire district. On her head she wore a white hat and she was dressed in a spotlessly clean, blue and white checked uniform. As she sat there near the turf fire there was a look of quiet contentment and grave responsibility on her face, which is so common among the nursing profession. On her knee slept the Carr baby, dressed in a snow-white gown, which was neatly embroidered and adorned for its imminent baptismal ceremony.
Matt, of course, attended to the duty that he saw as being his main responsibility. He was distributing the whisky around his guests. Each had a glass tumbler in heir hand or near at hand, which Matt filled from a small jug that he replenished from the large glass jar mentioned earlier. As he moved around, serving each guest, he talked to them in a warm and friendly fashion. “Now, Mrs. McCall,” he said to one guest, “Not one drop have you taken from your glass since I put that first drop in your glass.”
“Ah, sure, dear God, Matt,” she answered him, “this is two or three times you have filled my glass. And, honest to God, my boy, I couldn’t take any more.”
“Jaysus sake, Matty,” said another lady. “Please don’t offer me any more, for that must be one of the jugs that never empties and my head’s spinning circles already!”
Thus it continued. Some protested and yet, as they did so, they still held out their glasses for a fresh supply. Others, however, really meant what they had said and refused to take any more of Matt’s whisky.
“Aah, Biddy, we almost forgot you,” said Matt as he approached the nurse and replenished her glass. “What do you think of the new baby, Biddy?”
“No nicer baby has ever come into this world!” Biddy told him as she softly kissed the baby’s head. “And may it be a blessing to its mother and father, as well as a credit to the old country.”
“Amen to that,” came the response from most of those around them.
“Well, Biddy, there could be no better judge than yourself,” exclaimed Bella and Matt. “Because you have put a good number of them through your hands this last fifty years, and now I’ll tell you one and all what I’m going to make of that child you see there –” Matt ended his speech abruptly at this point as the latch on the door lifted and into the house walked the priest, who was to christen the child.
As the priest entered the house everyone rose in respectful silence as the priest came into the cottage. Father Toner was a man with a fine physique and a commanding presence. He had gained a wide reputation for his blood and thunder homilies, in which the assembled congregation could almost smell the sulphur of hell. But, outside of the pulpit, he was much admired for his genial manner and his great kindness toward others. “A good evening to you all,” he said as he stepped forward to shake Bella’s hand, and then he had a warm handshake with a kindly word for everyone else in the house.
At least a half-an-hour was filled with conversation among all those who had gathered in the house and, by the end of those preliminaries, it was time to make preparations for the christening. But, by this time also, Matt was in a condition that was far from suitable for the occasion. His frequent journeys to the big glass jar were now beginning to tell on both his speech and his equilibrium. There was a definite glitter in his eye and an unsteadiness in his gait that he tried to hide from others, because it was not appropriate to the occasion and those duties that he would be called upon to discharge.
Father Toner began the ritual with a heartfelt prayer and then he asked that the child be brought forward to him. There were a lot of nudges among those in the crowd, and quite a few of them had great difficulty in restraining their laughter as they watched the tremendous efforts made by Matt to appear both sober and solemn. Matt’s condition, however, did not escape the keen, observant eyes of Father Toner, and there was the faintest sign of twitching at the corners of his mouth as he lifted the child up, placing it into Matt’s arms and asked, “Are you able to hold up the child, Matthew?”
“Am I what?” asked Matt in inebriated surprise, “Able to hand it up! Indeed, I am Father, aye, even if it was the weight of a two year old bullock!”
This remark was more than the assembled crowd could stand. At first there was a titter of laughter, but this quickly burst out into unrestrained hilarity. Even Father Toner could not hold back a smile as he demonstrated the difficulty he had in maintaining the solemnity befitting the occasion. But, nevertheless, things were going very well until the priest poured some drops of cold water upon the sleeping baby’s head. The effect was quick and immediate. The child awoke instantly and gave an ear piercing wail. In response, Matt turned angrily toward old Biddy, the nurse, and upset the gravity of the occasion once again by hissing at her, “For Christ’s sake Biddy, why didn’t you take the dead cold off the water?”
Finally, it was all over and Father Toner handed the child back to its parents with a final solemn prayer. He apologised to them both that he could not stay for the celebrations that had been arranged and made ready to leave. As he bid them all farewell, the priest began walking toward Betty Gray’s house, nearby.
“God go with you, father!” cried Matt as soon as the priest was beyond earshot. “Aye, God go with you, for I never feel right in myself when there is a clergyman around the house. Come on, Bella, get those tray things together and let us all have something to eat!”
Bella, of course, did as she was asked, drawing a large table into the centre of the kitchen and quickly loaded it up with home-baked bread of various kinds. There were oat-cakes, potato-cakes, pancakes, soda-farls, wheaten bread, and may other products. Cheese, butter, eggs and jams were in plentiful supply, and those who could grab themselves a chair were soon at work on this feast. As it was impossible to accomodate all their company at the table, so many of them were obliged to hold their teacups and sideplates in their hands, or on their laps.
There was much discussion among the gathered crowd and many subjects were touched upon by them, from the condition in which the country found itself, to the possibility of a neighbour girl being married soon. “Did you hear about Jenny Early being three months gone?” asked Bella.
“Get away with ye!” exclaimed several of the female guests. “Tell us what you know.”
“Well, you know Jenny’s not just the full shilling,” said Bella and several of the ladies nodded their heads in agreement. “Someone has made friends with her, but she wouldn’t tell anyone who he was. But, this man asked her to come and see his lambs and then took advantage of her in the hay shed. He told her that it was the sort of things that friends do and she, knowing nothing better, allowed him to have his way.”
“The dirty old ba….”
“Wheesht!” said Bella. “Hold your tongues for here comes Betty Gray and she has a mouth as big as Belfast Lough!”
This is a story of Ireland at the turn of the twentieth century and tells about Terry Toner, an honest young man from a very well-to-do farming family, who rented the biggest farm on this side of the Black Mountains. Because Terry was enthusiastic about farming, worked hard on his father’s farm, and was open-minded toward the new farming methods that were being advanced. His industriousness, unsurprisingly, was quickly rewarded and brought great profits with every harvest he reaped. Terry was, however, greatly blessed by having a large family of healthy daughters, and this was a time when it was expected that a father would have a dowry for each of his daughters. Striving to be an honest and hardworking man, Terry was exhausted by the constant efforts he made to gather up the dowries that all his daughters needed to possess if they were to marry well. There was not a trick or a crafty method for making money out of a farm that Terry did not know and would not employ to its full capacity.
Among all the different methods that Terry had used to raise himself up in the world, he always enjoyed breeding and raising turkeys and many other types of poultry. From all the poultry breeds available, Terry was particularly partial to raising geese. From his own experiences Terry had many reasons for his preference. Twice every year the poultry farmer can pluck the geese to the bare skin and get a fine price for their feathers. At the same time his geese can provide the farmer with plenty of very sizeable eggs for eating and selling. Then, when the geese become too old to lay any more eggs, they can be killed, and can be sold on to the public for eating. The goose, Terry had recognised, was among the most valuable of all poultry and could provide him with a steady income, even when the land itself is not very fertile.
Thanks to the tender care and feeding that Terry gave his geese the flock expanded quickly. But, there was one old crafty gander that took a great liking to Terry, and he took to the farmer so well that there was nowhere that Terry could go about the farm without the gander following him. Whether it was to work himself or to direct the work of the farm labourers the gander would be at Terry’s heels, rubbing itself against his legs, and looking up into his face just like any other pet would do. There was no one in the district who had ever seen the likes of this activity before, and they continued to wonder as Terry Toner and the gander became closer companions. In fact, Terry was so taken by this particular bird that he would not allow his workers to pluck its feathers at all. Henceforward, the gander became Terry’s very special pet and he showered it with so much love and affection that one would have thought it was just another one of his children. Unfortunately, love and affection are not always perfect gifts and they seldom last very long. Terry’s neighbours very quickly began to suspect and question what the true nature and intentions of the gander could be. Some of the more superstitious among his neighbours even began to suggest that the gander was the devil himself, while many others were convinced that the gander was a fairy.
Being a conscientious and community minded man, Terry could not ignore all the things his neighbours were saying. But, because he was a man who had little belief in fairy creatures, or demons, you can imagine just how uncomfortable he was about those things being said by his neighbours and how difficult it was for him not to react. But, as the days passed into weeks, Terry began to become more and more uncomfortable with what was being said and, finally, he told everyone who wanted to know that he would send for Jerry Girvan, the fairy doctor in Ballydun. Jerry Girvan was, of course, a man who was well-known in the entire district for his dealings with spirits and the ‘Good People’. It was said that there wasn’t a spirit that would say a cross word to him, nor would any priest in the diocese question him. Moreover, Jerry Girvan had been a very good friend to old Terence Toner, who was Terry’s late father. It was this fact alone that caused Terry to send for the fairy doctor to come as quickly as he possibly could. Sure enough, when Girvan got the message from Terry he made immediate preparations and returned that very same evening along with the boy that had been Terry’s messenger. As soon as he arrived at the farm, Terry greeted his friend and ensured that Girvan was given a good supper after his tiresome journey. They chatted for a while but, as soon as they were finished talking, Jerry immediately began to investigate the question of the crafty old gander. He took a hold of the gander, turning it this way and that way, to the right and to the left, horizontal and upside down, until he was tired of handling the bird. Then he turned to Terry Toner and said, “Terry, you must take the gander into the next room and put a scarf, or any other convenient item around his head.”
“And why would you want me to do that?” asked Terry curiously.
“Because,” replied Girvan.
“Because what?” asked Terry.
“Because,” began Girvan, “if you don’t do as I ask, then you will never feel easy again. You will still be fearful in your mind. So, I say that you should ask me no more questions, but simply do what I bid you to do.”
“Well,” replied Terry, “have it your own way.”
With that he took the gander and gave it to one of his children standing close by.
“And you take care,” said Girvan to the child. Then, as soon as the bird was gone from the room, he turned to Terry and asked, “Do you know what that old gander is, Terence Toner?”
“I haven’t a clue,” replied Terry.
“Well, then,” laughed Girvan, “let me tell you that the gander is your own father!”
“Get away out of that, surely you must be joking with me,” gasped Terry, completely shocked by what he had been told and as the digested the revelation his face turned very pale. “How can that old gander be my father?” he asked Girvan, nervously.
“I am not joking with you about this, Terry,” Girvan told him. “What I tell you is the truth. It is your father’s wandering soul that has taken possession of this old gander’s body. Now, I knew your da in many ways, and I have to wonder why you didn’t notice that well-known way he would cock his eye.”
“Oh! In the name of God,” sighed Terry, “what will happen to me now! I must be cursed for eternity because I plucked that old gander bald at least twelve times. Bald, I tell you! What will I do now?”
“Well, in all honesty, Terry, there’s absolutely nothing that you can do about that now,” replied Girvan. “It was a terrible thing to do to your da, but sure it’s too late to lament about it now,” says he, “the only way to prevent what’s done, is to put a stop to it before it begins.”
“Isn’t that the truth?” said Terry, “but, tell me, how did you realise that it was my father’s soul that was in the old gander?”
“Sure, If I was to tell you that, you wouldn’t understand what I was talking about, at least not without a bit of book-learning and cookery knowledge,” said Girvan “So it’s better that you ask me no questions, and I will tell you no lies. You will just have to believe me when I tell you that it’s your father that’s in that gander, and if I don’t make him speak tomorrow morning, then I’ll allow you to call me a fool.”
“Say no more,” Terry told him, “that settles the business. But, isn’t it a quare thing for a decent, respectable man like my da to be walking about the country in the body of an old gander? And, oh, God forgive me! Didn’t I pluck him clean all those times and not know he was there. Sure, it’s a wonder that I didn’t stuff the damn bird, roast him and eat him for Christmas or Easter.” Then, after saying all of this, Terry fell into a cold sweat as he began to realise what could have happened, and he was on the point of fainting when images of what could have happened flashed through his mind.
When Terry finally came to his senses again, Jerry Girvan leaned over and spoke quietly and calmly to him. “Take it easy now, Terry,” says he, “don’t you be aggravating yourself, for I have a plan in mind that will make him speak out and tell us just what it is that he’s wanting.” Taking a deep breath, Jerry continued, “Now just you remember not to allow your mouth to run off and repeat anything that I tell you. Just pretend, as soon as the bird is brought back, how we’ve decided to send him to the market early tomorrow morning. Then, if he doesn’t speak tonight, or make his escape out of the place, put him into the hamper early, and send him in the cart straight to town, to be sold for eating. Put two of your labourers in the cart with him, and my name is not Jerry Girvan if the goose doesn’t speak out before he’s half way there.” Then with a sense of urgency in his voice Jerry told him, “But, just you remember that as soon as he ever says the first word, you must immediately grab a tight hold of him and quickly bring him off to Father Carty. If his Reverence doesn’t make him retire into the flames of Purgatory then there is no power in my charms.” Then, when all this was said, the old gander was let back into the room again and they all began to talk about sending him off, early the next morning, to be sold for roasting in the county town. It was all discussed in a matter-of-fact way, just as if all the details had already been discussed and settled. The gander, however, appeared to be taking absolutely no notice of the two men, at least no more notice than if they had been discussing someone who was a stranger to them. Terry wanted one of his men to prepare the cage for transporting the gander, by ensuring it was both there was plenty of hay to the journey soft and snug. He told the man, “This will be the last trip that poor old gander would be getting in this life.”
As the night fell and the hours dragged by, Terry became restless and unable to sleep. He began to grow very despondent and sorrowful as the night passed and his mind became entirely filled with images of what was going to happen the next day. So, as soon as his wife and the farm animals were bedded down for the night, he brought out some of his best poteen, and sat down with Jerry Girvan to have a few drinks. But, the more uneasy that Terry began to feel, the more he drank, and both he and Jerry Girvan finished almost two pints of the smooth clear spirit between them. It was to prove to be more than enough for the two men and, indeed, would have been enough for a few more if they had been invited. Nevertheless, they enjoyed every drop of the poteen and were very happy that they had not been foolish enough to follow Father Matt, who took the pledge against alcohol, which is a terrible and blasphemous thing for any Irishman to do.
Sure, there was a time when my own lady wife persuaded me, as only a woman can do, to take up the ‘pioneer medal’ and when that fine woman is with me I will stand proudly and loudly boasting that abstention from the demon drink is a fine thing for any man. But, quietly, I will admit to you that giving up the gargle leaves a man very dry. There are times, therefore, when I have reason to travel far from home and wife that I can get quite befuddled and lose my pioneer medal in my pocket. But, there is no harm done and anyone can be a little forgetful. Sure, there would be no need for forgiveness if a man didn’t give in to temptation now and again.
Terry Toner, however, was no pioneer and when he had finished his pint, he thought he might as well stop. “Enough is as good as a feast,” he told Jerry, “and I pity the unhappy man that is not able to control his liquor, and to keep constantly inside of a pint measure.” Then Terry got up from his seat and wished Jerry a good night, as he walked out of the room. But, he went out by the wrong door, being a trifle worse for wear, and not able to know whether he was standing on his head or his heels, or even both at the same time. As a result, instead of him getting into bed that night, he threw himself into the poultry hamper that the boys had prepared for transporting the gander in the morning. In that well-prepared hamper, sure enough, Terry sunk down to the bottom of the snug, warm and comfortable hay that had been piled there. With his turning and rolling about in the night, there was not a bit of him that was left uncovered as he lay up as snug as a lumper spud in a potato furrow before morning.
As the first light of day broke through the early morning cloud cover, the two boys that were to take the gander got up from their beds and made themselves ready for the journey to the county town. They set about catching the old gander and putting him in the hamper, before throwing a good lump of hay on the top of him, and finally tying him down strongly with a bit of baling twine. Once they had done this, they made the sign of the cross over him, to protect themselves from any harm, and then lifted the poultry hamper up on to the car. But, as they did this they were wondering all the while what in the world was making this old gander so very heavy. With the hamper finally aboard, they went along on the road towards the county town, wishing every minute as they travelled that some of the neighbours might be going the same way and would join them. Though they were fully grown men they didn’t quite like the idea of having no other company on their journey but the bewitched gander, and who could blame them for being worried. They were already trembling with an overwhelming fear that the old gander would begin, at any minute, speaking to them. Although each could see the concern of the other, they continued singing and whistling as loud as they could to try and keep the fear out of their hearts. Well, after they had continued along the road for more than half an hour, the two labourers came to the bad bit that was close by Father Crotty’s house, where there was one rut which was at least three feet deep. As the cart went over this rut it got such a terrible jolt that it wakened Terry, who was still lying snugly within the basket. “Oh!” says he, “my backside is broken with all this jumping and jolting! What the devil are ye doing with me?”
“Did ye hear anything a bit queer, Paddy?” asked the boy that was next to the car, as his face began to turn as white as the top of a mushroom. “I mean, did ye hear anything queer that might be coming out of that poultry hamper?” the boy asked.
“No, I heard nothing” replied Paddy, but he was turning just as pale as his companion, “it’s just the old gander that’s grunting with all the shaking about he’s getting.”
“What have ye put me into?” Terry cried out, from inside the hamper. “Let me out,” he shouted aloud, “or I’ll be dying of suffocation this minute.”
“There’s no use in you pretending,” says the boy to Paddy, “the gander’s speaking, glory be to God!”
“Let me out of here, you murderers,” screamed Terry.
“In the name of all the holy saints,” replied Paddy, “hold yer tongue, you black-hearted creature.”
“Who is it, that dares to call me such names?” asked Terry from inside the hamper. Then roaring at them both angrily he demanded, “let me out of here, you blasphemous heathens, or by this cross, I’ll give you a mighty beating.”
“Who are ye?” asked Paddy.
“Sure, who would I be but Terry Toner, ye eejits,” says he. “It’s myself that’s in here, you unmerciful blackguards,” says he, “now let me out, or I’ll get out of here despite ye both, and I’ll give the two of you a kicking you’ll never forget.”
“Sure, it is old Terry, sure enough,” said Paddy, “isn’t it great that the fairy doctor found him out?”
“I’m on the point of suffocation,” said Terry, “now let me out, I tell ye, and wait until I get at ye, for there will not be a bone in your body that I will not break and pound into powder!” With that said Terry began kicking and flinging himself about the hamper, and driving his legs against the sides of it, so that it was a miracle that the hamper was not knocked to pieces.
Well, as soon as the two labourers saw this, they began to beat the old horse into a gallop as hard as he could towards the priest’s house, through the ruts in the road, and over the stones. All the while the hamper could be seen flying three feet in the air with the jolting. It was small wonder, therefore, that by the time they got to the priest’s door, the breath was fairly knocked out of poor Terry, and he was lying totally unable to speak in the bottom of the hamper. Well, when his Reverence came down, they immediately began to tell him about all that happened, and how they had put the gander into the hamper. They told about how the gander began to speak, and how he confessed that he was old Terence Toner. Excitedly, they asked his reverence to advise them how they might get rid of the spirit for good and all.
The priest now turned to the boys and told them quietly, “I’ll take my book and I’ll read some really strong holy bits out of it. In the meantime, go you and get a rope and put it round the hamper. Then let it swing over the running water at the bridge and it will not matter if I don’t make the spirit come out of it.” Well, with all now said, the priest got his horse, and tucked his book in under his arm, and the boys followed his Reverence, leading the horse, and Terry holding keeping quiet, for he had seen that it was no use in him speaking. Besides, he was afraid that if he did make any noise they might treat him to another gallop and finish him off entirely. Well, as soon as they all came to the bridge the boys took the rope they had with them and made it fast to the top of the hamper, and swung it over the bridge, letting it hang in the air about twelve feet above the water. The priest rode down to the bank of the river, close by, and began to read from the book in a very loud and bold voice. When he had been speaking for about five minutes, all at once the bottom of the hamper dropped out, and down went Terry, falling with a splash into the cold river-water, and the old gander on top of him. Down they both went to the bottom with a splash you could have heard from half-a-mile away. Then, before they had time to rise again, his Reverence, in complete astonishment, gave his horse one dig of his spurs and, before he knew where he was, in he went, horse and all, on top of them, and down to the bottom they went. Within a moment or two, up they all came again together, gasping and puffing, and off with the current they went like shot. On they went, under the arch of the bridge until they came to the shallow water, where the old gander was the first to get out. The priest and Terry came out next, panting and blowing and more than half-drowned. The priest was so shocked by the experience he had underwent, especially seeing an unnatural spirit, as he believed, that he wasn’t the better of it for a month. As for Terry, as soon as he could speak he made it clear that he would have the life of those two eejit boys. But Father Matt would not allow him to harm the two boys and, as soon as Terry got had calmed down, they all tried their best to explain what had happened. Terry, however, believed that he had went to his own bed the night before. Father Matt concluded that it was all a mystery and he swore that if he caught anyone laughing at the accident he would lay a horsewhip across their shoulders. The years passed by quickly and Terry grew more and more fond of the old gander every day until, at last, he died at a wonderful old age. He left the gander after him and a large family of children, and to this very day the farm is being rented by one of Terry Toner’s legitimate successors.