Witches of the Bog

In every corner of Ireland you will hear wondrous stories of various Witches and Pookas, and the great influence that they have had on the lives of the people in any particular area. My Father, may God rest his soul, was a Tyrone man, born and reared and, when I was a young boy, we would visit many of his friends in the countryside around Carrickmore. It was during this period of my life that I was told the following story by one of my father’s oldest and most trusted friends. He told me that, not so many years previously, there was a small party of young and boisterous men who arrived in the area to enjoy several days of hunting and fishing.

Within the County of Tyrone hunting and fishing are still popular and very much loved past-times among the local country folk. But, in those days, the visit of several very well-dressed young men from the city was a rarely seen event so deep in the county’s heartland. My father’s friend told me that, at that time, there were very few visitors from outside of the county, because there were very few inns, hotels, or other facilities to accommodate them comfortably. To the locals the visit of these young men came as quite a shock, especially when it was known that they had brought their own tents and camping equipment with them. Along the bank of a small river, flowing with clear mountain water, the men established their camp just below a hill, known locally as “Sluggan Hill”. The hill itself was covered by thick woodland of mixed deciduous and conifer trees, which the local people called “O’Neill’s Planting.

The hunting party that had come out of the city was comprised of four tall, well-built young gentlemen, who wasted very little time in erecting their tents, and establishing their campsite on the river bank. One of their number placed a kettle of water upon the camp fire and, when the water was boiled, they each had a cup of hot, sweet tea with some sandwiches before they set out on their first hunt. As soon as the hunters had eaten their fill they gathered their guns and ammunition belts before they moved across the stream into the woods, where they immediately began to seek out their prey. Stealthily, with all the trickery of a hunter, the four men moved through the trees and bushes. All the while they attuned their senses to the cry of a pheasant or woodcock, or the rush of a big, buck hare breaking cover. Onward they went until one of the men was alerted by movement in some nearby bushes, causing him to raise his gun in anticipation. Before he had raised the shotgun fully, a huge hare jumped from its cover in the undergrowth, and he fired a shot in the direction of the scampering animal.

The first shot missed, but was rapidly followed by shots from the guns of the other hunters as their sights lined up with the escaping hare coming their way. The rapid fire of the shotguns had broken the quiet of the woodland like shots from a machine-pistol, but none of the bullets hit their target, and the lucky hare continued on its merry way. These keen young men were, however, not prepared to accept anything that even resembled failure, and they immediately began to pursue the fugitive creature. They followed the escape route of that lucky hare, through trees, bushes, and the undergrowth, occasionally firing their guns as they moved along. Yard after yard they continued to chase the hare until it, finally, rushed through the open door of a small, thatched and white-washed cottage, which had been virtually hidden by all the greenery of the woodland. The cottage appeared from its condition to be unoccupied and they carried out their pursuit up to the door of the building. Just as they made ready to step through the door, they were brought to an abrupt halt when they were confronted by a huge, snarling, black dog that barred their way into the cottage.

Devil dogThis huge dog was a vicious black creature that resembled something which had been thrown up from the deepest bowels of hell. It glared at the men, baring its great ivory teeth, as if ready to tear them from limb to limb, and growling like the remnants of some great thunderstorm. Those glaring eyes of the great hound glowed red, like wooden embers taken from a blazing fire, but the creature itself was being restrained by a large, ringed-chain, collar around its thick neck, which was attached to a robust metal leash. There were great amounts of foam and spittle gathered around the hound’s snarling mouth as it continued to growl and snap at the unwanted visitors, increasing the very real sense of danger that they were now beginning to feel.

The man closest to the cottage door and, therefore the hound now turned towards his friends and called out to them, “Shoot that black devil!” This young man was of average stature, although he did have broad, muscular shoulders, and he differed from his friends in that he had bright, copper coloured hair. Even as he called out his orders to the others he was lifting up his own shotgun and began aim it directly at the monster dog. But, before he could raise his gun level with the target, the huge dog lunged at him and grabbed the barrel of the gun in its massive mouth’s vice-like grip. The hound’s great teeth bit into the gun barrel, chewing on it for a few moments before spitting it out on the ground outside the door. Such was the shock that all four companions suffered by this incident that they were frozen to the spot where they stood by fear. One of the taller four men came quickly recovered his senses, and immediately began to raise his gun slowly. The gigantic dog, however, was not about to allow itself to be taken unawares and it began to lunge at each one of the men, in turn, seizing their weapons in its jaws and destroying them before they could be fired.

As the last of the young men’s weapons fell, uselessly, to the ground the huge monster of a dog began to growl threateningly at the men. This was a deep eerie growl that sounded like nothing on this earth and it added greatly to their growing sense of terror. Each of the men took a step back from the door as their sense of vulnerability grew and, with the proximity of the monster to them, death seemed to them to be imminent. But, much to the amazement f the four friends, an old and bent over woman suddenly came to the door. She was almost bent double and she was dressed all in black, with long silver-coloured hair that hung limply over her face, almost covering her bright white eyes that appeared to be missing an iris. Those haunting eyes sat either side of her long, slender, crooked nose, below which her long, white, sharply pointed teeth protruded from her thin, bloodless lips.

Just what are you doing with my wee puppy dog?” she asked the men in a shrill voice that sounded like a steel rod being dragged over a pile of broken glass.

Although he was filled with a great fear, the young man with the copper-coloured hair, hesitatingly stepped forward to speak with the old woman. “We were hunting in those trees over there, and a prize hare we were chasing escaped us by running into your house.  We are sorry, but we didn’t think that anyone was living here, and we were about to follow the hare into the house until your large dog barred our way.” But, even as the young man was speaking to the old woman, the dog that towered above them both continued to snarl threateningly at all the hunters.

Now, lie down my little puppy dog, that’s a good boy!” the old woman spoke sweetly to the monster dog. Her sweet tones appeared to calm the dog, and then she turned to the four young men and gave them an invitation. “You are welcome to enter our home, gentlemen, if it is your wish.

Not surprisingly, none of the four young hunters were too willing to enter the old woman’s cottage and, nervously, the leader of the hunting party asked the old lady, “Are there any other persons in the house with you?

Without hesitation the old woman answered, “There are six of us here, and we are all sisters to one another.

I really don’t mean to be rude, but would it be possible to see all of you?” he asked. To his surprise, no sooner had these words crossed his lips than all of the six old women stepped out of the shadows of the white-washed cottage. As the men, finally, got to see all the women together they quickly realised that all the women were, indeed, related. Each of the old women resembled the first old lady in some way, but all possessed the long, sharp teeth that protruded from bloodless lips. It was something that none of these young men had never experienced before this moment, and they were very reluctant to go into the building any further. Slowly and quietly the men backed away from the cottage into the trees and, when they reached the cover of the woodland, they turned away as quickly and as quietly as they could. Several minutes later, as the four hunters made their way between the trees and the bushes, they came upon another mysterious sight. Ahead of them lay a large, fallen tree upon which were sat seven large, black-feathered birds that screeched threateningly at the approaching men.

Now that they were a good distance from the cottage, and feeling more secure, none of those four men were about to stop and investigate. One of their number, who had a pistol beneath his jacket, pulled out the gun and began shooting at the large birds. He fired bullet after bullet at these creatures but, again, not one of the bullets found a target, and the gun’s magazine soon ran out of ammunition. Then, as he began to reload the pistol’s magazine, he was surprised to see that a very old man, with a long grey beard, suddenly appear by his side.

Fool! Put away that gun!” the old man angrily told the young man with the pistol, and the attention of the other young men was suddenly directed towards him.

Those creatures are not of human flesh. They are the “Witches of the Bog” and they live in that white-washed cottage that you have just left. They are held there by a spell. It is an enchantment that has held them as prisoners in this cottage for over a hundred years. As a further protection, these servants of the underworld have a massive black hound that never permits any person to enter their little cottage. They also have a great fortress that has been built under the nearby lake, and there are many people who tell stories of these witches turning into seven swans before entering that place.

This was enough for one day and, thoroughly exhausted by their experiences, the young men returned to their campsite and prepared a meal for themselves. As they sat around their campfire, eating, they discussed all that they had been told by the strange old man in the woods. Although the men had been witnesses to several strange, and frightening apparitions they remained very dubious about the accuracy of the old man’s tale. Instead, they resolved that after breakfast the next morning they would make their way to the nearest chapel and call upon the priest, who may have a more realistic explanation for their experiences.

When they arrived at the priest’s house the next morning they found themselves being made very welcome by the elderly cleric. They began to their experiences from the previous day, and, he listened attentively to every word that they told him. The old priest, however, was as sceptical of their story as they had been of the old man’s tale. But, impressed by the fervour in which the young men spoke of their encounter, the old priest decided that he would accompany the hunters if they would return to the woodland cottage later that same day. Nervously, the four men agreed and the small party set off toward the woodland.

The old priest followed at the rear of the small group of men as they left to seek out the strange cottage once again. When they came to the cottage, at last, the first thing that the encountered was a huge, snarling, black mastiff dog, which was glaring at them with its fiery red eyes. At the rear of the group the priest gathered up his rosary beads, his gilt cross, and his small bottle of holy water, and put them out of sight in his cassock. At the same time, from one of his pockets he took out a thick book with gilt-edged pages, all of which were bound in a thick, black leather cover. Nervously, the priest opened the book and began to read some of the prayers it contained. But, just as the priest began to get into his stride, reading the prayers aloud, the gigantic hound began barking even more savagely causing the small group of men to be gripped in terror.

The wizened, bent over, old women who lived in the cottage came out from its shadows and stood defiantly at their front door. As they stood there they glared at the group of men before them and muttered curses toward them. The priest made his way through the group from his place at their rear, speaking prayers to God in a clear and a loud voice. When they heard the priest’s prayers the witches uttered a high pitched, piercing scream of pain, as though they had been struck through the heart by a spear. The scream was so loud and piercing that the men were forced to cover their ears to protect them from any damage. Despite the screams, the old priest continued to pray aloud and the old women began to transform themselves. Instead of wizened old women they became huge, terrifying, black birds like those the hunters had seen on the previous day, perched upon a fallen tree. They immediately opened their great black, shiny wings and flew up into an enormous tree nearby, the branches of which spread like a great parasol over the small cottage. Without showing even the slightest sign of fear the elderly cleric continued to approach the huge, snarling hound until he finally came within two or three feet of it. In a surprisingly swift movement this snarling monster leapt up from the ground, striking the priest with each of its four paws, and knocking him head over heels, in a backward motion. Immediately, the four hunters ran quickly to assist the priest but, as they lifted him up from the ground, they quickly began to realise that the old man was now both deaf and dumb. The dog, meanwhile, had not moved even one inch from its station at the cottage door. The hunting companions, however, were much more concerned for the health of the old priest and they gathered him up to bring him home to his own house, which stood just a few miles away. Seeing that the old priest’s strength was spent and that he was not going to defeat ‘The Witches of the Bog’, they sent a messenger post-haste to the to the local Bishop, pleading for his help in the matter.

In his large home the Bishop received the messenger but was reluctant to believe what he was being told. He was, however, very concerned that one of his own priests had been injured in the confrontation with the alleged witches. In the meantime, the news of what had happened to their Parish Priest had spread quickly through the district and the people gathered together to meet the Bishop when he arrived. Several of the leading men of the community came forward and began to plead with the Bishop to use every power that his faith could muster to rid them of these old witches. The Bishop listened to them, but lost for words to reply with, he began to doubt if he could do anything in this time, and decided to say nothing at this stage. As a Bishop, of course, he had knowledge concerning the sacramental actions that could be taken to oust the servants of the devil. In his case, however, the Bishop also had serious doubts about his possession of the necessary faith needed to succeed in such work. At the end of the meeting the Bishop stood in front of the people gathered there, and told them, “I have not the means of removing these terrible things from among you, but I ask you all if you will allow me to leave now and go gather all the knowledge that I shall need to succeed in my mission. Let me assure you all that I will return to this place at the end of the month, and I will banish this evil presence from among you.” The crowd now made way for the Bishop, who hurried off to learn what he could.

The old priest, stricken both deaf and dumb, lay in his bed nursing the injuries he had received in his encounter with evil. Unfortunately, the priest could not explain to the men around him that he now knew exactly who the old witches and their big black dog were. During his confrontation with these creatures he had been given a sudden revelation that unmasked their entire story. But, to help him explain what had been revealed to him, the old priest was handed a pen and a notepad, on which he began to write. The priest told the men that the ferocious, large, black hound was, in reality, a man who had once lived in the Parish among them, and he was known to all by the name, Dermot O’Malley. They, of course, had heard that name before, when men and women told of the man who had died in disgrace many years ago. The story of Dermot O’Malley told of how he was brutally murdered by his son because he had been found sleeping with the young man’s wife the day after their wedding. Dermot’s son was totally overcome by a great rage that gripped his entire body and made him blind to the consequences of his actions. He was determined that there would be no witnesses left to report his bloody actions and, in the bloodbath that ensued, he killed his sisters in fear that they would inform on him to the authorities.

In the meantime, the Bishop had begun to feel that he would be much safer in his own home, rather than facing down any creature that might have been sent by the Devil. Then, one night, after going to the elderly priest, the Bishop had a very disturbed night as he lay in his bed. His mind was troubled greatly by both thoughts and visions that caused him to toss and turn in his efforts to get some sleep before the daylight returned. In the dark of the bedroom the Bishop was certain that he saw one of the old witches open the bedroom door and enter the room. To suddenly see such a creature as this standing at the side of his bed startled the Bishop to such an extent that his body was overcome by a great chill as a cold sweat of fear soaked him. He couldn’t even speak to the creature, because his body felt as though it had lost control of hid faculties. The creature, however, spoke to the Bishop in a clear, though low hissing voice, “Do not have any fear of me, because I did not come into your presence in order to do you any harm. I have come so that I could pass on some very good advice to you. We have heard that you have promised the people that you shall return and remove us from our long-time home in “O’Neill’s Planting”. Our advice to you, Bishop, is that you should stay away because if you do come to do battle with us you will never leave alive.”

As the witch spoke to him, the Bishop continued to lie on his bed, very still and quietly listening to every word of the warning she gave him. He had been suddenly startled by her sudden appearance and yet he summoned every ounce of courage he could muster to answer her nervously, “I am a man of my word and I am not going to break my solemn word because of your threats.”

It was a brave response but the creature was not yet finished with him. “Listen to me, priest. We have only one year and one day left to enjoy the peacefulness of that lonely woodland bog,” she told him. “Surely a man of your stature has enough influence to ensure that they leave us in peace until that time comes.

I might just consider it,” said the Bishop, “but, tell me first, just how and why did you all come to be living in those woods, in the form that you have taken?

I will tell you that we six sisters and our father were all murdered at the hands of our brother,” she began to explain. “When we arrived at the gates of heaven, and stood before the guardian, we were told the judgement that had been passed upon us. The guardian told us that we could not pass through until we lived in this form for two hundred years. We were also told that the judgement upon us was so severe because of the great crime that our father committed when took our new sister-in-law to bed the day after her marriage to our brother. When our brother discovered the outrage that had been done against him he completely lost his mind, killing our father and all of us in his madness. The only refuge from the hardships of this world that was left to us now lies beneath the lake and we must be inside it every night.

I will admit that this was indeed a harsh punishment to be given to you and your sisters,” the Bishop sympathised. “But, we must all obey the will and the judgement of the guardian to the gates of Heaven. Be assured, however, I will not give you or your family any further trouble.

I thank you, Bishop, and we shall talk again, when we are gone from the wood,” said the witch, and she immediately vanished from his presence.

When the morning light appeared the Bishop arose quickly from his bed and dressed hurriedly, before he drove to the village. As soon as he arrived there he sent out a notice to all the inhabitants, informing them that they should gather in the parochial hall. Once the people had assembled, the Bishop began to speak to them, “It is the judgement of heaven that the magical spell that lies upon the cottage in the woodland bog will not be removed for another year and a day. I call upon all of you to keep away from that woodland bog until this period of time has ended. It surprises me that these witches had not been discovered prior to these hunters from the city arriving here. I shall only say that it is indeed a great pity that they did not stay at home in the city.

About a week after this meeting the elderly priest was in his room, alone and resting. It was a very warm, sun-filled day and he had the window in the room open wide to allow some cool, fresh air to circulate. Unexpectedly, a small red-breasted Robin flew in through the open window, carrying a small sprig of an herb in its beak. In response, the old priest stretched out his wrinkled hand and the small bird laid the sprig of herb upon his palm. He smiled at the little Robin softly and, thinking that he had been sent a gift from Heaven, the priest ate the herb. But, almost as soon as he placed the herb into his mouth he began to feel a lot better than he had been previously, and his eyes looked upward to Heaven. “A thousand thanks to Him who is Lord of all and against whom evil cannot stand,” he prayed.

At this moment, much to his surprise, the bird began to speak. “Do you recall the Robin with the broken foot that you kindly helped two winters’ ago?” it asked.

Yes, I remember that poor little bird well,” replied the priest. “I was so very sad when he went away as the summer came.

Well, be sad no more, for I am that same Robin,” declared the bird. “It is because of the love and attention that you gave to me that I am alive and well today. In return I have been able to ensure that you will not remain deaf and dumb for the rest of your life. Now, take my advice, and make sure steer clear of witches of the bog, and never tell a living soul that it was I who gave you the herb.” The old priest nodded his agreement and the little bird spread its wings and flew away from him.

An hour or two later the elderly priest’s house-keeper entered his room to discover, much to her astonishment, that he had regained both his speech and his hearing. The old priest wasted no time in ringing the Bishop to announce to him that he had been cured. When the Bishop questioned the elderly cleric about how he had been cured so quickly, the priest simply explained, “I have been sworn to secrecy, my Lord Bishop. But, I will tell you that a certain close friend of mine gave me a little herbal medicine, and I was cured almost immediately.

Everything in the village remained quiet as the weeks passed into months, and eventually the ear expired. It was at this time, when the Bishop was alone in his study, that the door creaked opened, and in walked the witch that he had met previously. In her strange voice she told the Bishop, “I have come here to let you know that we will all be leaving the wood bog a week from this very day. But, I would like to ask you to do one more thing for us, if you are able.

If it is possible to do something for you that does not go against my faith, then rest assured that I will do it,” replied the Bishop.

In a week from today there will be seven large vultures lying dead at the door of our cottage. My simple request is that you give instructions that they should be buried in the quarry that is sited on the other side of the bog.

Well, rest assured then, I will do that for you,” he told her and she left the room, never to return. The Bishop was not sorry to see the back of the witch but, exactly one week after this encounter, he went to the village and summoned the men together. On the morning of the next day, the Bishop led a group of these men to the witches’ cottage in the bog, where they found the huge black hound sitting by the door.  The moment that the hound saw the Bishop approach with a group of men it jumped to its feet and ran off screaming as if it had been scalded. The hound drove itself into the wood and did not stop until it finally jumped into the lake. The Bishop continued to the cottage, noticing the seven dead vultures at the door, and he turned to the men behind him, telling them, “Lift those dead creatures and follow me.” It didn’t take the men very long to clear the vulture bodies and carry them to the brink of the quarry. These men were now told by the Bishop to throw the bodies into the quarry just as he had been asked to, by the old witch. But, almost as soon as the bodies of the vultures reached the bottom of the quarry, there arose from the same place seven swans that were as white as snow.

Their penance has now been served, “sighed the Bishop, “and they have been called to their place in heaven.” From that mystical moment no person ever again saw the ‘Witches of the Bog’, or their huge, black hound.

O’Hara The Fairy Man Part III

Fairy ManSo,” he said, without any introduction, “you’ve lost your butter.”

“Yes,” I replied, “it is certainly gone.”

Well, if you want me to, I will get it back for you,” he said in a matter of fact way. “My name is O’Hara, and I live at the ‘White Glen’, where I am known to the people as ‘The Fairy Man.’ I am able to find things that have been stolen, for I carry the ‘garvally’.” (This was an implement like a Shepherd’s Crook which was carried by magicians and holy men, and was said to have mystical powers)

“Is that right?” I remarked with a disbelieving tone of voice, “Sure, you must be a very clever man, but can you get my butter?”

“Have no doubt of it,” said O’Hara, “if it is in the country at all, then I will get it back for you.”

Naturally, being a native of the area I had heard about the ‘garvally’ on previous occasions, when it was described to me as “a crooked thing like the handle of an umbrella, covered with green baize.” It was used in bygone years for swearing upon and, it was said to be, “ a terrible thing, for if you swore falsely and it was around your neck, your mouth would turn to the back of your head, or you’d get choked in such a way as you’d never fully recover.” In recent times it had, however, lost much of its virtue and fame, through so many wastrels putting it around their necks and swearing to a deliberate lie, without suffering any visible harm.

As for O’Hara, he made no strange demands. He simply requested that he be given a deep plate, some water and salt, with a little of the cow’s milk. When these were provided, he began by asking my wife and I to come forward a little. He then asked our names, if I was the owner of the cow, how long I had had her, if that woman was my wife, when we had lost our butter, and if we suspected any person who might have taken it. To all these questions I gave the necessary answers, but to the last of these I told him that I did not believe in witchcraft.

“Don’t you believe in fairies?” he asked.

“Not Much,” said I.

“No matter,” said O’Hara, “maybe before I’m done you will begin to believe in them.”

Turning back to the plate he proceeded, in a very solemn manner, to pour some water into the plate on three individual occasions, following this procedure: He would say “In the name of the Father,” and add a drop; then, “in the name of the Son,” and another drop; finally, “in the name of the Holy Ghost,” and the third drop would be poured. He then proceeded to add the milk in the same manner, and finally sprinkled in the salt, using the same formula. O’Hara now stirred the mixture three times with his finger, repeating the words as before, and asked us both to do the same. I hesitated to do this, because I did not want him to think that I had any faith in the process, by taking an active part in it. But, O’Hara convinced me to act against my scruples by asking me if what he was doing is not being done for a very honourable reason. I could do nothing else but agree that, so far, I saw nothing very objectionable in what he was doing. My wife, of course, had no such scruples and eagerly joined with O’Hara to persuade me to do what I had been asked.

His next step was to make the sign of the cross over the plate with his hands, and then, waving them over his head, he made several curious figures in the air while muttering some kind of language that I could not fully understand. From the odd sound and syllable that I could catch, it sounded as if he was talking some kind of vulgar Latin. Gradually, the man became very excited, raving like a demon, stamping with his feet, and shadow-punched with his fists. As he spoke, it was if he was pleading rather than opposing or issuing commands. All the while his eyes appeared to be fixed upon and following the motions of some being he was talking to, but we could not see. Suddenly he gave out an unearthly scream, as if in an agony of terror and pain. At the same time, he held up his hands as if he was warding off some kind of threat, retreating backwards around the room as if being by some kind of implacable enemy. Gradually, he returned to the place that he had left and, turning himself to the four cardinal points, he made the sign of the cross at each turn after dipping his fingers in the mixture. He blessed himself devoutly by anointing his forehead, shoulders, and breast. As he regained his self-possession, O’Hara raised his hands and eyes toward heaven in an attitude of fervent thankfulness, and wiped the perspiration which streamed profusely from his brow with the cuff of his coat. As he gradually recovered his breath, he moved from a state of the greatest possible excitement, and became calm and collected once again.

In my mind, all of this was an act, albeit was done extremely well. I must confess, however, even though I was convinced that it was all false, the entire show made a very powerful impression upon me. In truth I did not feel at all comfortable with this play acting. I did not like the idea of being in the same room with the evil one, who to all appearances was chasing my friend, the magician, around it. I began to feel a sudden and indescribable sensation of dread creeping over me, and there were more than a few drops of perspiration that formed on my brow. My hair, of which I do not have very much, mysteriously began to stiffen and to become wiry. My wife clung closely to my side seeking protection, and the great agitation in her mind could be felt through the heavy pumping of her heart, which in that moment matched the beating of my own.

Having taken a short pause, the magician asked for a ribbon, which he immediately passed over his forehead and around his head. Bringing the ends to the front, he knotted it over his nose before twining it round his fingers in the manner that children call a cat’s cradle. O’Hara knelt down and peered through the ‘cradle’ attentively into the mixture, which I imagined at the moment fermented and sent up a blue vapour.

After gazing a few seconds in this manner he cried out “Aha! She that has your butter is not far off! Bring me a lighted candle.

We hurried to do as he asked and, when it was brought to him, he placed the candle in the plate. “Now,” he said, “both of you kneel down here. Do as I do, and say as I say, and we’ll have her brought here directly.”

“No!” I exclaimed loudly, “we will not.” By this time, I thought we had gone far enough. I was convinced that if what we were engaged in was not an unholy act, it was at least a piece of gross deception, and I did not want to continue with the charade, or give it any authority through my further participation.

“Why?” O’Hara exclaimed in surprise, “do you not want to get your butter back?”

Yes,” I told him, “I would like to have my butter returned, but I don’t want it done through a charm or other black art.”

“What is being done here is undoubtedly a charm,” he said, “but it is done with the best of intentions, and I have done the same for others who are as every bit as good as you ever were.”

“So much the worse for them,” I replied, “that they would allow such profane things to be done, and I am sorry that any person would be so wicked, or so foolish, as to encourage you in your tricks. Allow me to tell you that I neither like you, nor your trickery, and the sooner you get about your own business the better.”

The conjuror jumped to his feet angrily, blew out the candle, grabbed hold of the plate, and attempted to throw the contents into the fireplace. My wife, however, was in no mood to have her hearth wet, and she took the plate from him, putting it in a place of safety. He was very angry and began to shout, accusing me of allowing him to take a great deal of trouble on my account, and he insisted on getting on with his task. But, I was determined not to give in to him, and, being considerably upset and annoyed by what had transpired between us, I insisted that he get off my property, and I left him to what was asked of him.

A few moments after I left O‘Hara I heard the noise of a violent altercation and scuffle, and I was loudly called on for help. Rushing to the scene of altercation, I found my wife holding O’Hara tightly by the neck, and preventing him from leaving.

“What is going on now, for God’s sake?” I shouted.

“Your man, here” said she, “when he leaving us, decided to take a glowing coal out of the grate, and then he told me to take care of my children.”

Of course, O’Hara strongly denied all this, until he was confronted by the young girl, whom my wife employed as a servant. I immediately threatened to call the police and to have him charged as an impostor. But, he began to stammer, and finally acknowledged that he had said those things to my wife. He quickly added that he had meant no harm by it. “And sure,” said O’Hara, “there’s absolutely no harm in advising you to mind them well. For, just as easily as one of your cows could get injured, so maybe your children can be just as easily injured.”

“You’re not treating me well,” he continued; “I came here at the request of a friend to try to do you a good turn, and I asked for nothing in return, yet now you’re putting me out of your house. But, I’ll tell you that you will be happy to see me yet. Just take my advice and never throw out your Sunday’s ashes until Tuesday morning, and always sweep your floor in from the door to the hearth.” And, with those final words, away he went.

My heart now began beating a lot easier, because I thought that we had finally got rid of the ‘Fairy Man’. This, however, was not to be the end, for I was to be mystified even further. When I looked at the plate over which he had performed his incantations, I discovered that the contents were thick, yellow, and slimy, with a sediment that looked like globules of blood at the bottom. This was something extraordinary, because I had watched the man very closely, and I did not see him put anything into the plate but the milk, water, and salt.

The end of the month now drew near, and our bread still had no butter to spread upon it. This was the reason why almost every morsel of bread seemed to stick in my poor dear wife’s throat. She, of course, did not possess the same scruples of conscience as I had, and she was of the opinion that the cow had been bewitched. She would remind me of my faults by complaining, “Here we are day after day, losing our income when all our problems could have been solved but for your squeamishness, in not allowing the ‘Fairy Man’ to finish his task.”

She would harangue me almost every day in this way, and did not hesitate to call me a fool, an eejit, and a complete ass. I must admit that nearly every one of my neighbours were much of the same opinion as she was. One of my neighbours, a respectable farmer’s wife, was particularly tenacious about her opinion. One evening, while visiting, she said, “My Robin was down in Sligo, and he heard that if you got the coulter of a plough (a vertically mounted component of many plows that cuts an edge about 7 inches (18 cm) deep ahead of a plowshare), and made it red-hot in the fire while you were churning, the butter would come back. Or, if you chose to churn on Sunday morning before the lark begins to sing, you will surely get the butter back.”

“Don’t you tempt me anymore, more with your spells, for I will not stand for it,” said I, impatiently. “I will never swop my peace of mind for a pound of butter, if I should never eat another morsel.” But, in all honesty, my peace of mind was already gone. The continual urging and yammering, that I was being subjected to, had made me heartily sick. Inwardly, I had made mind up to sell the cow at the first opportunity I had, and thereby end the matter completely.

In the afternoon of May eve, I had reason to leave home for a very short time, and, when I returned, I was rather surprised to find all the windows in the house closed, as well as the door locked against me. I knocked on the door and called out for someone to let me in, but I received no answer. I could, however, hear the noise of churning going on inside, and the truth of what was happening flashed across my mind. Annoyed by my wife’s belief in such superstitious nonsense, I went to the garden to await the result of her ritual. In a very short period of time she came running out of the house like a demented person, clapping her hands and screaming, “Oh! we’ve got the butter, we’ve got the butter!”

As I went into the house I found a coulter of a plough fizzing and sparkling at a white heat in the fire, an ass’s shoe under the churn, my worthy neighbour standing over it, panting and blowing from the exertions she had made on my behalf, and wiping the dew-drops from her really lovely face. Meanwhile, in the churn, floating like lumps of gold in a sea of silver, as fine a churning of butter as ever we had been blessed with. Well, I will admit that I was gobsmacked by the entire episode, and when I was asked, “Now, is there no witchcraft or magic in a red-hot coulter?” I could scarcely muster up courage to utter “No.

I tried, in vain, to protest that the butter came back to us because “Brownie” had got back to her pasture. It was all, I argued, because of the change in her feeding, from dry fodder to the mellow and genial production of spring grass. The loss, I said, was the result of changing her feed from grass to hay. In the face of what had happened in the house, however, it was futile to argue such a case. Everyone was convinced that it was all due to O’Hare’s incantations, or the magic of the red-hot coulter, the influence of the ass’s shoe, or the tremendous pommelling the milk had been subjected to.

A few days after the event, I had the opportunity to talk to a knowledgeable man who was a herdsman in charge of a large stock farm. He patiently listened to my story and when I had finished he burst into hearty laughter. “Dear God,” said he, “I took you for a sensible man, and never thought for one minute that you would believe in such nonsense.”

“Some time ago I would sooner have believed that black was white,” I told him. “But how can I ignore the chain of circumstantial evidence that I have witnessed? Firstly, ‘The Hawk’ coming to me with her high priced geese, then the gypsies and the piper, and finally losing my butter just at that moment.”

“It is very easy to account for it,” he said. “In the first place, you took your cow from grass and fed her on hay.”

“Yes, we did. But, we made sure that she had plenty of winter cabbages, and we gave her boiled potatoes.”

“Just the thing. Cabbage is good for helping to provide plenty of milk, but not for butter. I bet you that you gave her the potatoes warm.”

“Yes.”

“And she got a scour?”

“Indeed she did, and her hair fell off.”

“So I thought. And afterwards she got in good condition?”

“Yes.”

“Oh! aye, she put her butter on her ribs. Did you kill a pig at Christmas?”

“I did.”

“Where did you put your bacon?”

“Why, under the shelf in the dairy.”

“Now the truth is out! Never as long as you live put meat, either fresh or salted, near your milk-vessels. If you do, you will surely spoil your milk and lose your butter.”

“This may account for my loss, but what have you to say to its coming back?”

“Why, what’s to stop it, when your bacon is in the chimney and your cow at grass?”

“But the red blobs in the plate, and O’Hare fighting the devil for me, what do you say to that?”

It was at this point that the man burst into such a violent fit of laughter that I really thought he would actually snap the waistband of his trousers. “O’Hare! ha! ha!— O’Hare! ha! ha! ha!— sure he’s the greatest villain that ever breathed fresh air. He came to me one time when I had a cow sick, and said she was enchanted by the fairies, and that he would cure her for me. He began with his tricks with the milk and water, just the same as he did with you. But, I watched him very closely, and when I saw the smoke rising out of the plate, I got him by the neck, shook a little bottle of vitriol out of the cuff of his coat, and took a paper of red earthy powder out of his waistcoat pocket.”

I was both shocked and confounded by what he told me. Could I have been made a complete fool of by the ‘Fairy Man’? Even the thought of this made me feel humiliated, and I began to wish that I had remained in complete ignorance. On reflection, however, I had every reason to congratulate myself that it had been only a temporary lapse in my beliefs. I had been right in my original opinion, that, except the witchery of a pair of blue languishers, or the fairy spell of a silver-tongued siren, there is now no evil of the kind to be believed in.

O’Hara – The Fairy Man Part II

Corpse HandThere are, however, exceptions. In several districts in Ireland, especially in the west of the country there are those who still believe that evil-disposed persons can deprive their neighbours of their milk or butter. This is said to be done in various ways, the most usual of these being the use of a corpse hand, which is kept shrivelled and dried to stir the milk and to gather the butter. Another method that is adopted is to follow the cows on a May morning, and gather the soil which drops from between their cloots (the two halves of a cloven hoof). Yet another strategy is said to be by collecting the froth, which forms on a stream running through their pasture, and milking your own cow on it. While some insist that these means are so simple that their absurdity is enough to refute any belief in them.

Yet, such things are still firmly believed in. Allow me to demonstrate that this is indeed the case, and also, at the same time, expose the trickery and sleight of hand by which some criminal types succeed in throwing dust into the eyes of the native population. I will relate to you an event in which I was personally concerned, and to disclose the matter fully in all of its ramifications, twists and turns. I must confess that I was, for a short time, almost inclined to believe myself to be the dupe of a fairy man.

It has been quite a number of years since I lived in the area known as the “Vale of the Blackwater”. It is still well known to be good pasture land, and I owned a good cow who provided me with a plentiful supply of milk and butter, which were of excellent quality, and helped greatly in contributing to the material comforts of my family. That cow was a beautiful and a gentle creature, which, I was certain, would be the beginning of a large herd of similar cattle that would help me build a profitable and extensive dairy.

Around the ‘Blackwater’ there was a very strong belief that an evilly-disposed person possessed the power to deprive a dairy farmer of his milk and butter, and I heard many complaints about such things happening. The majority of these complaints named the main culprit to be a woman who lived in the vicinity, and who was known locally as “The Hawk,” She was a handsome, middle-aged woman who lived in reasonably comfortable circumstances, but there was a fire in her eye and a terrible sharpness in her tongue that justified the name locals had given her. Her husband was a small farmer, but there were many who suspected him of being concerned in a murder some years before this. She, however, was a reputed to be a witch, and the entire family were disliked and avoided by the people who lived in the area.

One cold January morning, while working outside, I was informed that a woman had come into the kitchen of the house. She had simply sat herself down at the kitchen table and began to watch the motions of the family, without stating the purpose for which she had come. When I went down to the house, I found her sitting at the table, neatly dressed, but with a very sinister expression on her face that made me feel uncomfortable from the beginning. On asking her the purpose of her business with me, she told me that she had heard I was in the market for some geese, and that she had a few birds to dispose of.

How many?” I asked.

A goose and a gander,” she replied tersely.

“How much do you want for them?”

When she told me the price she was asking I was taken aback and exclaimed, “How Much?“ Her price was almost three times the usual market price and that was why I was so shocked. Then, I thought that I had, perhaps, made a mistake in the number, and I asked her again, “Why, how many have you?”

“A goose and a gander,” said she.

“And what kind of an eejit do you suppose me to be, that I would agree to give you such a price as that?” I said abruptly.

“Oh!” said she, “they are good geese, and only I wish to help you out I would not offer them to you at all.”

“Indeed! I am much obliged by your good wishes,” said I, “but as I think you want to make a fool of me, you should take your geese to another market. Rest assured I will not take them at any price, and the sooner you take yourself off with them the better.”

The woman appeared to be highly offended by what I said and, as she got up from the table to leave, I heard her mutter something about my being sorry for refusing her offer. The woman left the house angrily and it was only after she had left, that I discovered it had been “The Hawk” who had favoured me with the visit.

On that same morning, a gang of ‘travellers’, consisting of tinkers, chimney-sweeps, a couple of beggars, and a piper, had pitched their tent on the road side, a short distance from my home. The members of this group had spread themselves out, over the surrounding district in pursuit of some work they could do. All of this coincided with it also being churning-day, and my wife had set up everything in their proper order, and she was proceeding well with her work. The milk had cracked, the butter was expected, and suddenly the sound of music could be heard throughout the farm. The piper, who was a member of the party of ‘travellers’ had come to the farm to give us a sample of his musical skill. He played for us all a few planxties and hornpipes, was duly rewarded for his efforts, and he left. Shortly after he was gone, two buxom beggars, both brown and bare-legged, with cans in their hands, kerchiefs on their heads, and huge massive rings on their fingers, came and demanded alms. They were told that there was nothing then ready, and one of them immediately asked a drink.

I have absolutely nothing to offer you but water,” said my wife, “until the churning’s done.”

It’s Well water,” said my wife proudly and went to get some. On getting the water the beggar-woman took a sup or two, put the remainder in her can, and then went off. Strange as it may seem, my butter went off too. From that day in January until the following May eve, not a morsel did we get from our beautiful ‘Brownie’.

Because I did not put any faith in tales of witchcraft, I was willing to attribute this difficulty to some natural cause affecting the cow. But, in all this time the milk did not show any perceptible change in either its quantity or quality. At the same time, the cow did not exhibit any symptoms of being sick or out of sorts, except that she began to cast her hair. We made sure that she was well supplied with good fodder, comfortably lodged, well attended to, and every possible care was taken of the milk. But all these precautions served no purpose, because the butter was not forthcoming and, because I did not believe in witchcraft, I was laughed at by my neighbours.

Your cow is bewitched,” they cried, “and you may as well throw spit against the wind, if you think you will get your butter back without first getting the charm.”

Some said “The Hawk” had it, while others said that the gipsy took it away in her can, and some others suggested that it had followed the piper. None of these things seemed to matter, because I still had to eat my bread without butter, and brood over my loss, and not one word of sympathy did I get. There were, however, various counter-charms recommended for me to employ. “Send for Andy, the Scotsman from the other side of the Lough,” said one, “he fears neither man nor beast, and he will surely get it for you.”

“Send for ‘The Hawk,’ and clip a bit off her ear,” said another neighbour.

“Let them keep their mouths full of water, and never speak while they are churning,” said a third.

The one thing that I did learn at this time was that there were as many ways of getting it back, as there were of losing it, and all of them equally simple, and probably just as efficient. In this way matters continued until the early part of April when, one morning, a man called to the house wanting to see me. He was a bright, active, and handsome fellow, who was small in stature and not richly dressed. He was a sinewy man, well built and strong looking, with that tanned wrinkled skin of a man who is used to being outdoors. He was well clothed in tweed jacket, well worn cord trousers, and a pair of black working boots. His cloth cap sat at an angle on his head and he had a good pair of boots on his feet. There was certainly no shyness in demeanour and he possessed a certain look about himself, which seemed to say, “I’d have you know that I am actually a clever man.”