Irish Superstitions

The Dark Spirits

In Irish folklore, there are many mysterious and frightening creatures from a dark world that roam this world unseen. They can be said to be the spirits of the dead, who are not yet ready to accept their final destiny, ‘eternal rest’. These spirits are the heralds of death, destruction, and evil. They are also the embodiment of Satan him/herself. The following are descriptions of some of these dark spirits. 

Devil

The Devil is the personification of evil as it is conceived in many and various cultures and religious traditions, the ultimate hostile and destructive demon. Any attempt to give a general definition that will cover all traditions and cultures is virtually and describing it as “the manifestation of evil” is somewhat inadequate. We can only look at the devil through the images that the various cultures have developed as part of their mythology. As a result of independent development within each tradition, the devil is given many names and powers. Generally, however, it portrayed in colours of black, blue, or red, and portrayed as having horns on his head. But, not in every case. In Celtic tradition, there are two candidates for this post, i.e Cernunnos and Balor (Celtic Irish).

Cernunnos –

Cerunnos

is the conventional name given in to depictions of the ‘Horned God’ of Celtic mythology. He was the Celtic god of fertility, life, animals, wealth, and ruler of the underworld, whose name appears in many forms throughout the Celtic World. Cernunnos is usually depicted with the antlers of a stag, sometimes carrying a purse filled with coin, often seated cross-legged and often associated with animals and holding or wearing torcs. Unfortunately, not much is known about the god from literary sources, and details about his name, his followers or his significance in Celtic religion are unknown.

Balor –

is a more likely candidate for being the Devil of Irish mythology. The name itself may come from the Common Celtic ‘Baleros’, which means “the deadly one”. In the ancient tales of Ireland, Balor was the tyrant king of the Fomorians, who were a group of supernatural beings.

Balor

Balor was said to be the son of ‘Buarainech’ and husband of ‘Cethlenn’, and deadly tyrant who oppresses the island of Ireland from his fortress on Tory Island, off the coast of Donegal, where there are features called Dún Bhalair (“Balor’s fortress”) and Túr Bhalair (“Balor’s tower”).

He is often described as a giant with a large eye that wreaks terrible destruction when it is opened. The story of ‘The Cath Maighe Tuireadh’ (“The Battle of Magh Tuireadh”) calls it a “destructive” and “poisonous” eye that no army can withstand and says that it takes four men to lift the eyelid. This great battle was said to be fought between the ‘Tuatha Dé Danann’ against the ‘Fomorians’ by Lough Arrow in County Sligo.

In later folklore, he gained a reputation for being the bringer of drought, blight, and the scorching sun. This may have derived from the later traditions saying that – “He had a single eye in his forehead, a venomous fiery eye. There were always seven coverings over this eye. One by one Balar removed the coverings. With the first covering the bracken began to wither, with the second the grass became copper-coloured, with the third the woods and timber began to heat, with the fourth smoke came from the trees, with the fifth everything grew red, with the sixth it sparked. With the seventh, they were all set on fire, and the whole countryside was ablaze!

Balor’s story tells us that he heard a prophecy that he would be killed by his grandson and, to avoid such a fate, he locked his only daughter, Ethniu, in a tower on Tory Island to prevent her from becoming pregnant. Then, one day, Balor stole a magical cow of abundance, from Goibniu the smith, and took it to his fortress on Tory Island. Cian, who was guarding the cow for Goibniu, set out to retrieve the cow and, with the help of the druidess Biróg, he entered the tower, finding Ethniu and had intercourse with her.  Angered by Cian, Balor seized him and put him to death. Then, when Ethniu gives birth to a son, Balor attempts to drown the child in the sea or has the child set adrift on the sea to die. The child, however, was saved by the sea god Manannán, who raises the child as his foster-son, whom he named Lugh. This child, Lugh, eventually becomes king of the  ‘Tuatha Dé Danann’ and leads them in the Battle of Mag Tuireadh (Moytura) against the Fomorians, who are led into battle by Balor. Legend tells us that Lugh killed Balor by casting a spear made by crafted by Goibniu, or a sling stone, through his eye and that Balor’s eye destroyed the Fomorian army before Lugh finally beheaded Balor.

Another legend says that, when Balor was slain by Lugh, he fell face first into the ground and his deadly eye beam burned a hole into the earth. This great hole filled with water and became a lake which is now known as Loch na Súl (“Lake of the eye”) in County Sligo. There is yet another tradition, which claims that Balor was the grandson of Nét and that he met his death at Carn Uí Néit (“Cairn of Nét’s grandson”), which is known in English as Mizen Head.

Fear Gorta

The ‘Fear Gorta’ is only one part of a huge collection of Irish folklore, but it speaks directly to the suffering experienced during the ‘Great Potato Famine 91848-49)’. The striking image of wasted legs that is usually described in stories containing the ‘Fear Gorta’ may have been derived from the starvation conditions of the Irish peasantry during the ‘Potato Famine’. Even in these modern days the images and memories of the famine play a major part in psyche of the Irish people. Folk-stories help the people to come to an understanding of these terrible circumstances that affected the famine-stricken.

There are many stories within the archives of the ‘Irish Folklore Dep.’ In UCD which refer to the ‘Fear Gorta/ach’ as “The Hungry Grass” as well as the thin-legged spirit (Hungry Men). These stories were collected all over Ireland, but many came from the ‘Gaeltacht’ area (Irish Speaking) through the offices of the Irish Folklore Commission, after it began operations in 1935. It was a massive undertaking to salvage and preserve the nation’s folklore in written transcripts of sound recordings, and from questionnaires, etc. It was, however, among the more generalized collection of folklore that the stories of ‘Fear Gorta’ emerged.

Fear Gorta

In the various manuscripts, references to the ‘Fear Gorta’ come in the form of belief statements, extensive memories, or third-party accounts e.g.

This account was given in 1941. The narrator feels that, however, horrible the current war is (WWII), Ireland’s most dreadful story is the ‘Great Famine’. But, the people themselves believe that the ‘Fear Gorta’ constituted their great suffering, and it was not just bad food, or the shortage of food. Treading on a certain spot, or area would result in sudden weakness; no strength in the hands or legs; and the knees bent and trembled, the victim fell, crippled and senseless, and would remain so until the food could be given – a bit of bread or a few grains. Many narratives are told about people who have had the experience.” (Iml. 81:90 (Clare))

All the stories agree on both components that make up the experience (sudden weakness and extreme hunger when crossing a particular spot) and its remedy (consumption of some form of food, no matter how small.) Some folklorists have referenced the ‘Fear Gorta’ as a talisman, which is mistaken. A Talisman is something that wards off ill-fortune. In this case food is not warding off ill-fortune but rather a remedy for the ill-fortune brought by the ‘Fear Gorta’.

Fear Gorta

There are two reasons frequently given in the archives as to how certain places might acquire the ‘Fear Gorta.’ The first reason usually involves not leaving crumbs of food on the ground after an outdoor meal or offering thanks to God after such a meal. The second reason is usually a certain patch of ground that has come into contact with a corpse. This may happen if someone rests a dead body on the ground on the way to a wake-house. This latter reason brings an association with death at specific places. The resting of a corpse on the way to a wake-house does not involve the act of dying and, therefore, has little to do with the tragedy and its consequences. At he same time, this particular belief does involve unnatural death, which introduces crises within the victim’s community.

Thanks is to be given to – Davis Deborah R. 1994. “Images and Meanings of Purgatory in Folk Expression: A Cultural Thanatology.” and Logan, Patrick. 1972. “Making the Cure: A Look at Irish Folk Medicine.” Talbot Press. Dublin.

Fairy Hound (Cu-sidhe)

According to Irish and Scottish folklore, the ‘Cù-sìdhe’ is described as being the size of a young bull, but with the appearance of a dog. It has a shaggy coat of fur, which is usually a dark-green colour, though it is occasionally white. The hound’s tail has been described as being long and either coiled up or braided. With paws as wide as a man’s hand, its form is very graceful, and always instantly distinguished from mortal, non-magical dogs by its bright red eyes and the red inner lining of its ears.

Cu-Sidhe

The ‘Fairy Hound’ is one of the most formidable enchanted beasts that can be occasionally met in lonely rural locations, where it makes its home among clefts of rocks and roams moors and woodlands where Ireland’s Fairy folk dwell.  The ‘Cù-sìdhe’ was feared as a bringer of death and would appear to bear away the soul of a person to the afterlife. In this role, it holds a function similar to that of the ‘Bean Sidhe’ (Banshee) in Irish folklore. It was said that even the mere sight of one of these creatures would bring the observer bad luck while speaking or touching one usually meant certain death. If it is treated with sufficient courtesy and compassion, however,  a fairy hound can occasionally bring the observer good fortune.

According to the tales of legend, the ‘Fairy Hound’ was capable of hunting silently, but would occasionally let out three terrifying barks, and only three. These barks could be heard for miles by those listening for it, even far out at sea, and those who heard the barking had to reach safety by the third bark, or they would be overcome with terror to the point of death. Some said that the baying was also a dire warning that nursing women should be locked up safely for fear the hound would abduct them and take them to a fairy fort to supply milk for the ‘Daoine-sidhe’.

Irish Werewolf

At one time the wolf was an integral part of Ireland’s countryside and culture, but they are now extinct. Indeed, the last wild wolf in Ireland was said to have been killed in 1786, three hundred years after they were believed to have been wiped out in England, and a century after their disappearance in nearby Scotland. It is not surprising, therefore, that Wolves feature prominently in the mythology of Ireland. A mysterious creature called Airitech had three daughters, who appeared as werewolf-like creatures and were eventually killed by Cas Corach.

‘Mac Tire’ is the Irish word for wolf, literally meaning ‘The Son of the Country(side)’, keeping an association with its ability to transformation from a human being.  Some consider this tradition not to be of native Irish and yet there are many references in Irish mythology to ‘lycanthropes’ and the changing from human form to other animal forms.

‘Faoladh’ and ‘Conroicht’ are both Irish words for “Werewolf” and, as you will learn, the Irish werewolf is a complex creature that is just as often helpful as it is deadly. Unlike other folk traditions, Irish werewolves were considered guardian spirits, who protected children, wounded men, and the lost.

Medieval Illustration of Irish Werewolf

The famous Norman historian of the 12th century, Gerald Cambrensis, wrote a topography of Ireland and described the Irish people as being barely civilised. He had, undoubtedly, a vivid imagination, believing Ireland was an exotic place where natural marvels were widespread. As a result, he told the most fantastic stories and presented them as fact. One such tale was “The Werewolves of Ossory”, which begins with a priest who travelled from Ulster to Meath. On this journey the priest and his companion were taking a rest by a fire, which they had lit in a clearing, when a wolf-like creature came upon them and began to talk. The wolf told them, “There are two of us, a man and a woman, natives of Ossory, who, through the curse of ‘Natalis’, saint and abbot, are compelled every seven years to put off the human form and depart from the dwellings of men. Quitting entirely the human form, we assume that of wolves. At the end of the seven years, if they chance to survive, two others being substituted in their place, they return to their country and their former shape.

The manner in which the wolf spoke to them gave them bot a sense of reassurance and they listened as the wolf explained that his female companion was dying, and that he wished to have the last rites from the priest. Unhesitatingly, the priest followed the wolf to the lair, where he saw the female wolf near to death. But he had serious doubts about administering the sacrament to an animal until the male wolf reached out, pulling off her wolfskin and revealing an old woman. He was content, now, to give her the last rites and she died peacefully. Happy with this outcome the wolf stayed with the priest and his companion all that night, talking. The priest, it is said, subsequently passed on this story to his bishop, who sent it all the way to Pope Urban III.

There is a variant of this story, which describes the pagan Irish mocking St. Patrick’s preaching by howling like wolves. Totally enraged by such behaviour the Irish Saint curses them all by changing them into wolves, or that he changed King Vereticus into a wolf.

Cambrensis also states, “The descendants of the wolf are in Ossory. They have a wonderful property. They transform themselves into wolves, and go forth in the form of wolves, and if they happen to be killed with flesh in their mouths, it is in the same condition that the bodies out of which they have come will be found; and they command their families not to remove their bodies, because if they were moved, they could never come into them again.”

In another text, ‘The Coir Anmann’, we hear of Shamans and other magicians who are able to send out their spirits, while they continue to lie as if they are dead, or asleep. “It says “ Laignech Fáelad, that is, he was the man that used to shift into fáelad, i.e. wolf-shapes. He and his offspring after him used to go, whenever they pleased, into the shapes of the wolves, and, after the custom of wolves, kill the herds. Wherefore he was called Laignech Fáelad, for he was the first of them to go into a wolf-shape.”

They were said to be fearsome warriors who, howling like wolves, fought for the ancient kings of Ireland, and were every bit as fierce and ferocious as the beasts whose shape they took. They, it is told, lived in remote areas, and unlike the werewolves of Ossory, they could turn into wolves whenever they wanted. There are tales that point out that these warriors would fight for any king who could pay their price, which was not measured in gold, but in the flesh of new-born babies.

They supposedly flourished during the reign of ‘Tigernmas’, who also followed Crom Cruach, according to the ‘Book of Leinster’ version of The Roll of Kings. ‘Tigernmas’ was a real king, who is famed for mining the first gold and introducing the art of working gold. The tales say, “… he died in Mag Slecht, in the great Assembly thereof, with three-fourths of the men of Ireland in his company, in worship of Crom Cruaich, the king-idol of Ireland; so that there escaped thence, in that fashion, not more than one-fourth of the men of Ireland; under Mag Slecht.”

In Irish folklore the ‘Fiann’ are well known as a group of landless young men and women, often sons of lords who had not yet inherited property. There are many stories about these brave bands, mainly in the ‘Fenian Cycle’ or Fianna ‘Fiannaíocht’, which relate the tales of Fionn mac Cumhaill and his warriors, and mentions bands of werewolves, and their relationship to witches, fighting off sorcerers who steal the grain and animals from the local farmers.

Thanks is given to https://earthandstarryheaven.com for the research they have done on this subject and to www.thedemoniacal.blogspot.com

Morrigan

‘The Morrigan’ is the name given to the Goddess Morrigan, who is one of the triple Goddesses in Celtic mythology, and her name means ‘Great Queen’ or ‘Phantom Queen’. Representing ‘the circle of life’, she is associated with both birth and death, and being a shape-shifter she watches over the rivers, fresh water and lakes. In Irish mythology she is also described as being the Goddess of revenge, magic, priestesses, night, prophecy and witches.

‘The Morrigan’ is often depicted as a triple goddess, but this varies according to the source of research. But, in Celtic mythology, the number three has incredible significance and, occasionally, she is featured as one of three sisters, while on other occasions she is singular. In almost every artistic representation of the Goddess she is represented as being young, with long, flowing dark hair. Her clothing is black and sometimes very revealing, while she is sometimes cloaked so as not to show her face. Because ‘The Morrigan’ is a shape-shifter, she is often shown with one of the more common animal forms that she would assume, i.e. a crow or a raven. There are occasions when she is associated with horse symbolism and has been linked to ‘Epona’, the equine Goddess. There is one thing that is not disputed and that is, in every representation she is shown to be strikingly beautiful, and yet very intimidating.

Morrigan

It is difficult to find the exact origin of Morrigan in existing texts since much of Celtic mythology has either been destroyed or lost over the generations. But many say that she was part of the Tuatha de Danaan, a mythical race living in Ireland, who were descendants of the Goddess Danu, whose son, Dagda, was a powerful leader. While the story of ‘The Morrigan’s’ family is difficult to unravel, legend says that she was the daughter of Ernmas. She is supposed to have had several siblings, including Badb, Macha, Banba, Fohla and Eriu, while she and Dagda married and had a child. Other sources state that the pair only encountered each other on one occasion, and that, at a river. But the fruit of this encounter, or relationship, is said to have been a child, who was given the name Adair.

‘The Morrigan’ is known for her strengths, which include her ability to instil fear in those who opposed her, and she often helped to protect the people from invading armies by blowing a layer of fog over the land, thereby decreasing visibility. Although she did have some weaknesses, she is better known for her vindictiveness and her willingness to kill if she felt she was disrespected. She is forever linked to the festival of Samhain and is usually symbolically represented by a crow or raven.

Selkie

Selkies or “Seal Folk” are mythological beings capable of changing from seal to human form by shedding their skin. These selkie folk are recounted in both Irish and Scottish mythology with  folk-tales frequently revolving around female selkies being coerced into relationships with humans by someone stealing and hiding their sealskin. While “selkies” is the proper term for such shapeshifters many refer to them merely as mermen or mermaids (Merrow), which in Ireland regarded as a half-seal, half-human being.

Selkie

The Mermaids (Merrow)  in Irish folklore have been regarded as seal-women in some instances. In a certain collection of lore in County Kerry, there is a tale from Tralee, which claimed that the ‘Lee’ family was descended from a man who took a mermaid for a wife, but she later escaped and joined her seal-husband, suggesting she was of the seal-folk kind.

There is also the tradition that the ‘Conneely Clan’ of Connemara was descended from seals, and it was taboo for them to kill the animals because it would bring ill luck to them. And since the name “conneely” became a by-word for the animal, many changed their surname to Connelly. There is also a mention in this folklore connection mentioning that there is a Roaninish (Rón-inis, “seal island”) off Donegal, outside Gweebarra Bay.

In many versions of the Selkie myth, the children produced by the coupling of a Selkie and a human, are born with certain physical characteristics that set them apart from normal children. The children of male selkies and human women have webbed toes and fingers, and when the webbing is cut, a rough and rigid growth takes its place. Such tales as these, stem from before the advent of modern medicine, when many physiological conditions were untreatable. When children were born with abnormalities, it was common to blame the fairy folk. One family became known locally as the ‘Seal Family’, claiming to be descended from a union between a fisherman and a selkie. This was an explanation for a hereditary growth of skin between their fingers that made their hands resemble flippers. At the same time children born with “scaly” skin were also thought to be the descendants of Selkies, though this could have been caused by ‘ichthyosis’, a genetic skin disorder that causes patches of skin to harden and appear “scaly.” This condition can be severe, appearing all over the body, but it is more likely to only cause slight disfigurement.

Pooka

An Irish Spirit

I have spelt the name for this particular spirit as ‘Pooka’, but there are other spellings – púca, phouka, phooka, phooca, puca or púka. However, it is spelt, the ‘Pooka’ is primarily a creature of Celtic folklore.  Some sources suggest that the origin of the name may have come from the Old Norse term ‘pook’ or ‘puki’, which refers to a “nature spirit”. The usage of the term in Ireland, however, predates the arrival of Viking settlers and may be derived from the Irish word ‘poc’, meaning a male goat, which is a form the creature is often said to take.

Pooka

‘Pookas’ are thought to bring either good and bad fortune, either helping or hindering the rural and marine communities in which they are found. They are said to be shape changers, which have either dark or white fur or hair. Because they are adept at changing their form the Pookas could take on the appearance of horses, goats, cats, dogs, and hares. Moreover, it is not unknown for them to take human form, which includes various animal features, such as ears or a tail. There exists a brief description taken by Thomas Crofton Corker from a boy living in Killarney in which he tells us, “old people used to say that the Pookas were very numerous…long ago…, were wicked-minded, black-looking, bad things…that would come in the form of wild colts, with chains hanging about them, and that did much to harm unwary travellers.”

One theme that runs through all folklore concerning the Pooka is their constant appetite for mischief. They are said to entice humans to take a ride on their back, giving the foolish rider a wild and terrifying journey before finally dropping the unlucky person back at the place they were taken from. It is said that the rider may be able to take control of the pooka by wearing sharp spurs and using those to prevent being taken, or to steer the creature if already on its back. While such pooka stories can be found across northern Europe, the Irish tales alone specify a protective measure for encountering them. The protective power of the “sharp things,” as they are always referred to by the pooka in the tales, may stem from the Irish belief that “cold iron” has the ability to ward off the supernatural. These stories bear similarities to other Irish folk creatures, such as the ‘good people’ or the ‘fairy host’, who are said to target humans on the road or along their regular fairy routes. Pooka encounters with humans, however, tend to occur in rural, isolated places, far from settlements or homes.

On occasion the pooka is represented as being helpful to farmers, particularly in tales where the creature intervenes before a terrible accident, or before the person is about to happen upon a malevolent fairy or spirit. In several of the regional variants of the stories where the pooka is acting as a guardian, the pooka identifies itself to the bewildered human. What makes this action particularly noteworthy is that it is in stark contrast to the lore of many other folkloric beings, who guard their identities or names from humans.

There were certain agricultural traditions surrounding the pooka, and it is especially associated with Samhain, a harvest festival, when the last of the crops are brought in. Anything that remained in the fields was considered “pooka”, or fairy-blasted, and was, therefore, inedible. In some regions reapers left a small share of the crop, the “pooka’s share”, to placate the hungry creature. Nonetheless, 1 November was always considered to be the ‘Pooka’s Day’ and, therefore, the one day of the year when it could be expected to behave in a civil manner. In some areas, however, the beginning of November saw the pooka either defecate, or spit, on the wild fruits rendering them inedible and unsafe.

I have spelt the name for this particular spirit as ‘Pooka’, but there are other spellings – púca, phouka, phooka, phooca, puca or púka. However, it is spelt, the ‘Pooka’ is primarily a creature of Celtic folklore.  Some sources suggest that the origin of the name may have come from the Old Norse term ‘pook’ or ‘puki’, which refers to a “nature spirit”. The usage of the term in Ireland, however, predates the arrival of Viking settlers and may be derived from the Irish word ‘poc’, meaning a male goat, which is a form the creature is often said to take.

‘Pookas’ are thought to bring either good and bad fortune, either helping or hindering the rural and marine communities in which they are found. They are said to be shape changers, which have either dark or white fur or hair. Because they are adept at changing their form the Pookas could take on the appearance of horses, goats, cats, dogs, and hares. Moreover, it is not unknown for them to take human form, which includes various animal features, such as ears or a tail. There exists a brief description taken by Thomas Crofton Corker from a boy living in Killarney in which he tells us, “old people used to say that the Pookas were very numerous…long ago…, were wicked-minded, black-looking, bad things…that would come in the form of wild colts, with chains hanging about them, and that did much to harm unwary travellers.”

One theme that runs through all folklore concerning the Pooka is their constant appetite for mischief. They are said to entice humans to take a ride on their back, giving the foolish rider a wild and terrifying journey before finally dropping the unlucky person back at the place they were taken from. It is said that the rider may be able to take control of the pooka by wearing sharp spurs and using those to prevent being taken, or to steer the creature if already on its back. While such pooka stories can be found across northern Europe, the Irish tales alone specify a protective measure for encountering them. The protective power of the “sharp things,” as they are always referred to by the pooka in the tales, may stem from the Irish belief that “cold iron” has the ability to ward off the supernatural. These stories bear similarities to other Irish folk creatures, such as the ‘good people’ or the ‘fairy host’, who are said to target humans on the road or along their regular fairy routes. Pooka encounters with humans, however, tend to occur in rural, isolated places, far from settlements or homes.

On occasion the pooka is represented as being helpful to farmers, particularly in tales where the creature intervenes before a terrible accident, or before the person is about to happen upon a malevolent fairy or spirit. In several of the regional variants of the stories where the pooka is acting as a guardian, the pooka identifies itself to the bewildered human. What makes this action particularly noteworthy is that it is in stark contrast to the lore of many other folkloric beings, who guard their identities or names from humans.

There were certain agricultural traditions surrounding the pooka, and it is especially associated with Samhain, a harvest festival, when the last of the crops are brought in. Anything that remained in the fields was considered “pooka”, or fairy-blasted, and was, therefore, inedible. In some regions reapers left a small share of the crop, the “pooka’s share”, to placate the hungry creature. Nonetheless, 1 November was always considered to be the ‘Pooka’s Day’ and, therefore, the one day of the year when it could be expected to behave in a civil manner. In some areas, however, the beginning of November saw the Pooka either defecate, or spit, on the wild fruits rendering them inedible and unsafe.

Pat Donnelly’s Encounter

Pat Donnelly was returning home one night, at about twelve o’clock, in his jaunting car with one side up, for he was carrying no passengers. It was a clear moonlit night, the horse was tired, and Pat smoked his pipe as he relaxed, and he allowed the tired horse to walk slowly along the road.

When they were about half-way home, Pat noticed that two men had suddenly appeared and were walking by the side of the car on which he was lying lazily. “Good God!” Pat Donnelly thought to himself, “where did they come from?” He had heard no footsteps and could not hear any now as they walked by the side of the car, although they were walking quite close to him and were going in the same direction. From his position in the driving seat of the car he had a clear view of the road to the front and to the rear all the way from town, but he had not seen anything until these two men appeared.

He wondered to himself if they had dropped down from the sky or had they risen from the ground? But he laughed at the silly ideas that were coming into his head, for he was sure that knew from where they had come. “Sure, they’re simply two beings from the mystic world who have decided to show themselves,” Pat told himself. “Will you take a lift?” he asked the two men in a friendly manner. When they did not reply, Pat thought, “By Jesus, these two are quare customers.” The two men still walked by the side of the car and their silence continued. Pat sat erect, tightening his grip on the whip, before slackening it again as he began to feel an odd sensation on the top of his head, all over his body and even to the tips of his fingers. There was a shiver that ran through him. But the strange men still said nothing as they walked on and on, at the same steady pace and in the same position with regard to the car.

The longer this went on the more courage filled Pat, and he asked politely, “Do any of you know what time it is?

Do you know what time it is yourself?” asked one of the strangers.

By God!” Pat thought to himself, “These are quare customers, for sure.

Not another word was spoke. The men evidently did not want to say anything, and Pat was much too afraid utter another word. He began to consider that these strangers may not be men at all. They were undoubtedly from another world, but what exactly they were called was a mystery to Pat. So, when they came to a crossroads, Pat parted company with the two strangers and they went off as mysteriously as they had come. One second, they were there and the next second, they were gone.

From the crossroads one of the roads wound its way northward to the hills and then into a more level stretch of road running along the sea. Pat went on and as he did so a strange drowsiness overcame him, forcing him to close his eyes no matter how hard he tried to keep them open. When his eye closed, his head gradually fell towards his chest and then he felt a slap. It was a quick, sharp blow of a cold, open hand on his cheek, and he awoke with a start. But Pat could not tell who it was that slapped him. There was no person about and still felt very sleepy. Why this should be so, he could not tell. Nervously he whipped the horse into a fast trot and suddenly came to a stop again. At the place where the two roads meet, he again caught sight of the two beings who had so recently surprised him, now running. When he pulled up his horse, the two strangers stopped running. Pat blessed himself with the sign of the cross and the mysterious beings vanished for good.

Pat once again fell asleep, totally unconscious of his surroundings and the horse continued on until it finally stopped. Pat awoke with a start and grabbed the rail of jaunting car. Looking around himself, Pat realised that he had come home, and from that moment he would relate his strange tale to all who would listen. Some believed, while other laughed and said that he was dreaming. Pat, however, would indignantly deny any such suggestion. Talking to a priest about the incident he told him, “Maybe you would believe me better after I have shown you this!” He would then point to a peculiar mark upon his cheek, where he had received the blow.

JW

Dark Oath

The slow flowing waters of the River Blackwater form the border between the counties of Armagh and Tyrone in Northern Ireland. Along the banks of this river there lived a young man by the name of ‘Dinny’ Hughes, who was known for having a temper that was so terrible that they say the likes of it had never been seen before. He was a man who simply could not control his mouth or the venomous words that he spat out at all he met. People avoided crossing his path, fearing that he would bring his foul language and dark curses down upon them. But ‘Dinny’s’ greatest joy was to take his victims by surprise and devise new curses and oaths that could be added to his already large armoury of insults.

Such was the reputation that had grown up around ‘Dinny’ Hughes that there were virtually none of his neighbours who would talk to him, or converse with him at any time. In fact, most people dreaded the possibility of meeting him on a local road, for they were convinced that some dark demon had taken possession of him and that was why he enjoyed tormenting others with his cruel words. Yet, despite his villainous reputation and bad temper, ‘Dinny’ had forged a good friendship with another man of similar age, who was known to everyone as Jimmy Kelly. He had heard the stories and listened to the warnings of others that he would be better off if he was free of company such as ‘Dinny’ Hughes, but he chose to ignore them.

These two young men appeared to enjoy each other’s company and on many a day they could be seen wandering the local roads or roaming over the green fields of the parish but never straying too far from home. Then, one day, despite their remarkably close friendship, there were bitter words exchanged between the two men, which developed into bad tempered name calling and, finally, vicious blows. Beneath the warm summer sun punch followed punch, all made with great effort and in a way that could damage their opponent in the most painful way. As they fought, they perspired copiously, their breaths becoming increasingly heavier as their chests heaved wearily and they became unsteady on their feet. The fight continued with no man gaining mastery over the other and, after an hour of constant struggle, the battle ended with both men simply collapsing to the ground in exhaustion. Both men were wracked with pain and exhaustion and left enfeebled like two infant children, and although the pummelling with fists had ceased the tirade of vicious curses and words continued to pour from those breathless voices. ‘Dinny’ screamed aloud and uttered a terrible curse that was quickly followed by a dark oath, which saw him swear to have his vengeance and bring about the death of Jimmy Kelly. Even if he was himself dead, he made an oath to reach out from his grave and keep his promise like an avenging angel.

Quite unexpectedly, three days after the violent encounter that had taken place between the two men, ‘Dinny’ suddenly became extremely ill and despite the best efforts of other he died within hours. Jimmy Kelly, for one, was relieved at the news of his former friend’s passing. He had been deeply upset by ‘Dinny’s’ villainous oath against him and now that he was dead there was no longer any need to fear him. The oath, like ‘Dinny’ himself, was now buried six feet below the ground and there was no chance of him rising again from there. Death, Jimmy believed was the great equaliser, being the fate of all whether rich or poor, strong, or weak. From the grave the rich man no longer held power over the poor, and the strong man no longer had mastery over those who were weak.

Jimmy Kelly’s sense of contentment would only last a short time, however, and would be shattered like a broken mirror by a dream that brought with it a dire warning for his future. The dream shook Jimmy so much that all his new-found courage quickly left him, and his life became filled with a constant sense of menace. In this vision Jimmy had seen himself standing alone in a lush green field, where he was suddenly confronted with the terrifying image of a huge black bull charging down on him. As the beast’s great head stormed toward him, Jimmy could see the bull’s eyes glowing red like burning coals, which made the huge creature appear to be some unearthly horned demon. Jimmy was immediately frozen to the spot as fear and terror gripped his body and he now stood before the charging beast as if rooted to the ground. On three occasions that great black demon bull charged toward Jimmy, wounding him on each occasion with its long, sharp, and magnificently curved horns. Finally, panting breathlessly and sweating profusely, Jimmy awoke from his dream and called out, “What is happening?” as he arose in the bed. “Has the Devil allowed the dead to take the form of a huge black bull to attack and kill the likes of me? This is ‘Dinny’ at work, trying to bring me to that dark destruction he promised, and I have stared into those fierce, evil burning eyes of a demon summoned from Hell!

The reality of his dream came to him only one short month later, when Jimmy did find himself alone in a lush green field and saw a great black bull come charging toward him. Just as in the dream, the great bull struck him three times and he felt the excruciating pain inflicted on his body by those sharp and massive horns. Almost as quickly as it had appeared this vision vanished without trace except for Jimmy, lying on the ground, writhing in pain but incredibly happy to be still alive. He was also grateful for the period of peace and quiet that followed this strange incident, allowing Jimmy to reflect on what had happened to him and how he had been lucky to escape the full wrath of ‘Dinny’s’ dark oath.

It wasn’t too long before Jimmy Kelly received a new warning that came to him, once again, as he slept and that cold deep fear that he had felt before now returned and filled his heart. On this occasion the warning came in the form of a great black goat that stood on its hind legs and, with satanic eyes glowing like the embers in a turf fire, it leaped forward to attack Jimmy. Once again, he awoke breathlessly panting and with his body soaked in sweat. “Maybe the Devil has given him less strength this time,” Jimmy told himself, “But I still have a dark encounter to face. This beast is big and strong, and, on this occasion, it will be attacking me with all its four feet off the ground,

As before the vision that was presented to Jimmy quickly became a reality. In the green field the image a great black goat suddenly appeared before him and immediately threw its full weight and strength into a head-on charge. On this occasion Jimmy was to endure three separate attacks from the goat until he was finally left lying prostrate on the ground, wracked in agony with every bone in his body filled with pain. He could not move. He did not want to move because the terror that now filled his mind. But, after two or three weeks of rest and care his wounds began to heal and peace returned to him once more, just prior to a third visit of a dark dream.

This dream was different in that Jimmy saw himself standing in the lane that ran between his house and the green field when, suddenly, a large black Turkey cock flew down from above to attack him. Still sleeping, Jimmy let out a loud and hearty laugh that awoke him. Still laughing, Jimmy told himself, “Sure, that old devil mustn’t have much left to him when he thinks that I’ll be afraid of being overpowered and destroyed by a Turkey cock, especially after what I’ve been through. Does the fool imagine that a fine, stout-hearted man such as myself would ever be afraid of a bird?

Several days later Jimmy began laughing aloud as he stood in the lane and saw the big black Turkey cock begin to sweep down toward him. His laughter ceased immediately when the big bird attacked him and, with one blow, split Jimmy’s skull with its large beak that looked more like a big, sharp knife. The second and third strikes that the Turkey made dashed Jimmy’s brains and scattered the grey matter onto the brown, dusty lane. This is how Jimmy Kelly suffered a terrible death, just as was promised by ‘Dinny’ Hughes when he uttered his dark oath. ‘Dinny’ had accomplished his evil curse and the grave had proven itself to be unable to protect Jimmy as he believed it would.

As we all travel through this world, we are very much aware of where we are and what we might expect. But about that place to which we travel after death we know absolutely nothing. The passing of our spirit from our dead body is probably the most mysterious and frightening event that we can contemplate. In an older time in Ireland the people held a belief that the spirit of a person passes from the body of the deceased through the join in their skull. Our mouths speak our evil to the world, while our eyes have seen the evil that has occurred, and our ears have heard the evil that is spoken of, and quite rightly the ancients asked what right and fitting passage would allow our spirit to leave our body without being exposed to evil. In a society ruled by men there were, of course, claims made that there were certain differences between the male and the female skull. The truth of this differences is alleged to be demonstrated by the fact that it is the female who endures the most painful departure from the flesh.