Emerald Isle

Amadan Dubh

In many cultures those that used to be called insane held a special place of reverence, and were treated almost as envoys from another place, or as though they could see something nobody else could, or were dancing to music only they could hear and the rest of us were deaf to. From far-off India and China to more familiar shores people would doff their caps and bow their heads to see one such passing by.

And so it was in Ireland, where they were called the touched, and it was not meant that they were touched by the moon, unless it be that same moon that shines on our world and the Otherworld, but touched by one of the most powerful fairies of all, the high jester and adviser to the midnight court, the Amadan Dubh, or the Black Fool!

He was also called Amadan Briona, which means the greatest fool, or perhaps the grievous fool, and both titles are equally fitting, for the Amadan wasn't one you'd like to meet on a dark night, especially on Midsummer's eve, when he'd sit on the hillsides of fairy mounds and play his reed pipes in a mad jiggling tune, calling the unlucky to him.

His face was terrible to see, and his touch even more so, for it was the Gaoth Sidhe, the fairy wind, and caused all sorts of problems for the person who felt it, but most often a “stroke” which left a person paralysed in one part or all parts of their body.

These are the words of people recorded a century past by Lady Gregory and Yeats, telling of the Amadan Dubh.

A Woman Bringing Oysters from the Strand:
There was a boy, one Rivers, got the touch last June, from the Amadan-na-Briona, the Fool of the Forth, and for that touch there is no cure. It came to the house in the night-time and knocked at the door, and he was in bed and he did not rise to let it in. And it knocked the second time, and even then, if he had answered it, he might have escaped. But when it knocked the third time he fell back on the bed, and one side of him as if dead, and his jaw fell on the pillow.

He knew it was the Amadan-na-Briona did it, but he did not see him-he only felt him. And he used to be running in every place after that and trying to drown himself, and he was in great dread his father would say he was mad, and bring him away to Ballinasloe. He used to be asking me could his father do that to him. He was brought to Ballinasloe after and he died there, and his body was brought back and buried at Drumacoo.

Mrs. Murphy:
Cnoc-na-Briona is full of them, near Cappard. The Amadan-na-Briona is the master of them all, I heard the priest say that.

There was a man of the MacNeills passing by it one night corning back from the bog, and they brought him in, and when he came out next day-God save the mark-his face was turned to his poll. They sent then to Father Jordan, and he turned it right again. The man said they beat him while he was with them, and he saw there a great many of his friends that were dead.

The Spinning Woman:
There are fools among them, and the fools we see like that Amadan at Ballymore go away with them at night. And so do the women fools, that we call lenshees, that means, an ape.

It's true enough there is no cure for the stroke of the Amadan-na-Briona. There was an old man I knew long ago, he had a tape, and he could tell what disease you had with measuring you, and he knew many things. And he said to me one time "What month of the year is the worst?" And I said, "The month of May, of course," "It is not," he said, "but the month of June, for that's the month that the Amadan gives his stroke." They say he looks like any other man, but he's leathan-wide-and not smart. I know a boy one time got a great fright, for a lamb looked over the wall at him, and it with a big beard on it, and he knew it was the Amadan, for it was the month of June. And they brought him to that man I was telling you about, that had the tape. And when he saw him he said "Send for the priest and get a Mass said over him." And so they did, and what would you say but he's living yet, and has a family.

A Seaside Man:
The stroke of the Fool is what there is no cure for; any one that gets that is gone. The Amadan-na-Briona we call him. It's said they are mostly good neighbours. I suppose the reason of the Amadan being wicked is he not having his wits, he strikes out at all he meets.

A Clare Man:
They, the other sort of people, might be passing you close and they might touch you; but any one that gets the touch of the Amadan-na-briona is done for. And it's true enough that it's in the month of June he's most likely to give the touch. I knew one that got it, and told me about it himself.

He was a boy I knew well, and he told me that one night a gentleman came to him, that had been his landlord, and that was dead. And he told him to come along with him, for he wanted to fight another man. And when he went he found two great troops of them, and the other troop had a living man with them too, and he was put to fight him. And they had a great fight and at last he got the better of the other man, and then the troop on his side gave a great shout, and he was left home again.

But about three years after that he was cutting bushes in a wood, and he saw the Amadan coming at him. He had a big vessel in his arms, and it shining, so that the boy could see nothing else, but he put it behind his back then, and came running; and he said he looked wide and wild, like the side of a hill.

And the boy ran, and the Amadan threw the vessel after him, and it broke with a great noise, and whatever came out of it, his head was gone then and there. He lived for a while after and used to be telling us many things, but his wits were gone. He thought they mightn't have liked him to beat the other man, and he used to be afraid something would come on him.

Mrs. Staunton:
A friend of mine saw the Amadan one time in Poul-na-shionac, low-sized and very wide, and with a big hat on him, very high, and he'd make shoes for you if you could get a hold of him. But there are some say "No, that is not the Amadan-na-Briona, that is the leprechaun."

An Old Woman:
The Amadan-na-Briona is a bad one to meet. If you don't say, "The Lord be between us and harm," when you meet him, you are gone for ever and always. What does he look like? I suppose like any fool in a house-a sort of a clown.

A Man near Athenry:
Biddy Early could cure nearly all things, but she said that the only thing that she could do no cure for was the touch of the Amadan.

Another:
Biddy Early couldn't do nothing for the touch of the Amadan, because its power was greater than hers.

In the Workhouse:
The Amadan-na-Briona, he changes his shape every two days. Sometimes he comes like a youngster, and then he'll come like the worst of beasts. Trying to give the touch he used to be. I heard it said of late that he was shot, but I think myself it would be hard to shoot him.

Ned Meehan of Killinane:
The Amadan is the worst; I saw him myself one time, and I'd be swept if I didn't make away on the moment. It was on a racecourse at Ballybrit, and no one there but myself, and I sitting with my back to the wall and smoking my pipe. And all at once the Amadan was all around me, in every place, and I ran and got out of the field or I'd be swept. And I saw others of them in the field; it was full of them, red scarfs they had on them.

I came home as quick as I could, and I didn't get over the fright for a long time, but there he was all about me.

Meehan's wife says: I remember you well coming in that night, and you trembling with the fright you got. And you told me the appearance he had, like a jockey he was, on a grey horse.

"That is true indeed," says Ned, and he goes on:

And one night I was up in that field beyond, watching sheep that were near their time to drop, and I saw a light moving through the fields beside me, and down the road and no one with it. It stopped for a while where the water is and went on again.

And there was a woman in Ballygra the same night heard the coach-a-baur passing, and she not hearing at all about the lights I saw.

A Man at Kilcolgan:
Father Callaghan that used to be in Esker was able to do great cures; he could cure even a man that had met the Amadan-na-Briona. But to meet the Amadan is to be in prison for ever.

Below on the map is marked the racecourse at Ballybrit, which is a fine place to visit in the broad light of day, but ware and watch should you walk near it at night! While you're enjoying this site you might also enjoy a little Celtic and Irish music to set the mood, or just the one or two songs if you're not interested in the whole albums. Don't forget you can get some very nice Irish jewelry for yourself or someone else as well, or for the craftier maybe make your own!


Further Folk and Faerie Tales of Ireland

The Three Sons

Times were hard in Ireland back years ago, and while some might say they've had it tough today, it was not a patch on the hardships people endured in times gone by. And so it was with Michael McGovern, a poor farmer with hardly an acre of stony soil to rent, who looked upon his three young sons with love for the life of them and fear for their ... [more]

A Promise

There was a prince in Ireland a long, long time ago, back when Ireland still had princes, and O'Donall was his name. A brave fellow he was, and powerful, but given to risk and heedless thrills in his hunting and leaping and running and swimming, all the better to impress his friends. He was lord of a wide land, and he wasn't hard on the poo ... [more]

The Dark Valley

A woman was out one day looking after her sheep in the valley, and coming by a little stream she sat down to rest, when suddenly she seemed to hear the sound of low music, and turning round, beheld at some distance a crowd of people dancing and making merry. And she grew afraid and turned her head away not to see them. Then close by her stood a you ... [more]

The Field of Ragweed

They say that in Ireland you will enjoy all four seasons in a day, but on this day the four seasons were high and glorious summer, or so it seemed to Tom Fitzpatrick as he walked along a narrow road between two tall hedges in harvest time. As he walked, he chanced to hear a strange ringing like a tiny bell, and he paused, puzzled as to what it migh ... [more]

The Taking of Connla

Connla of the Fiery Hair was one of the sons of Conn of the Hundred Battles, and his favourite son, a swift and agile warrior with a voice that could make the mountains tremble. Himself and his father climbed the heights of Usna on Samhain, when he saw coming towards them a slender maiden of great beauty, clad in strange clothes. “Where do ... [more]

The Horned Witches

Strange are the ways of the Fairies of Ireland, and strange the look about them, but for all their wild and untamed manner they follow rules written in the ripples of willow-branches on still ponds, and laws murmured by the echo of birdsong in deep wells. Once there was a woman sitting in her cottage, a humble enough abode, and she was making wo ... [more]

Gan Ceanach

There are many types of fairy in Ireland, some more risky than others, and some to be avoided due to their habits rather than out of any particular malevolence. Such a one is the Gan Ceanach, whose name means “Without Love”. Although you might think such a title would indicate a friendless creature of a lonely nature lacking in socia ... [more]

Fairy Forts

There are a great many raths or fairy forts of old scattered throughout Ireland today, numbering in the tens of thousands, and it is here, the wise say, that the good people or fairy folk gather to hold their revels. Nobody would dare to cross, let alone build on a fairy dwelling in the past, marking as they did the boundary between our civilise ... [more]

The Tragedy of Cairn Thierna

Near to the town of Fermoy in Ireland lies the great stack of Cairn Thierna, not as wide about nor as tall as some mountains perhaps but feared and respected by the local people nonetheless. For all around it and along its flanks are tall heaps of stones they say are the work of the fairy folk, or the old people who lived here long ago. And you ... [more]

Stairs of the Giant

On the road going down to Cork there's an old set of four walls that used to once be called Ronayne's Court. Although there's little enough to see of it nowadays still the stack of the chimneys stands proud, and on it can be seen the coat of arms of the family that built it and used to live there. They were a fine couple and had one ... [more]

John Fagan

It was known in times past in Ireland that there were men and women who could talk to the fairies, ask favours from them, and even live among them, and some used this acquaintance to work their will on the world, for good or for ill. Most famous, perhaps, among these people were the fairy healers of old. Biddy Early is the best known of their ki ... [more]

A Bride for the Fairy

James Mac Neill was as strapping a young fellow as you could hope to meet, and likely with it. Never did he walk away from a tussle or a drink, and never far from his hand was his shillelagh. He had no fears save the lacking of a pint, no cares except for who would pay for it, and not a thought in his head but how to have fun after it. One cold ... [more]

The Rocks of Knockfierna

Maurice Mulreaney was well known for travelling about the countryside without fear of anything living or otherwise, as quick to cross a graveyard or fairy mound as you or I would be to cross the street, for he didn't believe in that which he couldn't see with his own two eyes or touch with his own two hands, and he didn't bother with ol ... [more]

An Unexpected Guest

It wasn't a bad life for Fergus O'Hara in Owenmore, for all that himself and his wife Rose had little, the little they had was enough for them. Some goats, pigs and poultry ranged far and wide about their few acres, and a field of oats and potatoes kept them busy for the harvest and brought in a few pennies. It so happened that there lay ... [more]

Amadan Dubh

In many cultures those that used to be called insane held a special place of reverence, and were treated almost as envoys from another place, or as though they could see something nobody else could, or were dancing to music only they could hear and the rest of us were deaf to. From far-off India and China to more familiar shores people would doff t ... [more]

The Hunchback of Knockgrafton

The children of De Danann once ruled the island of Ireland, before they departed back to their own lands in the farthest west or went below the earth in their fairy mounds to dance and sing forevermore, but if you're lucky – or unlucky! – you might still come across them in the wild places and those deep forests yet untouched. An ... [more]

Aoibhell Fairy Queen of Love

Some of the Sidhe in times of old would take a fondness for one particular family, protecting it and helping it rise in the world, and so it was with the O'Briens, who were known as the Dál gCais, or the Dalcassians. Their fairy guardian was called Aoibhell, whose name means burning ardour or beauty, depending on who you ask. She had ... [more]

Changelings

While most people nowadays believe fairies to be gentle creatures, prone to mischief perhaps and capricious by their natures yet well intended for all that, in Ireland they have a more sinister reputation. Some say, and some still believe, that the fairies will take small children and young people, leaving in their place creatures known as changeli ... [more]

The Calf of Knockshegowna

It's well known among those who know of such things that fairies love to dance more than anything else, and they take it ill should anything interfere with their merriment. And if someone wanted to spoil a dance, they could come up with few better ways of doing so than to send a herd of cattle wandering through! The hill atop Knockshegowna w ... [more]

The Leprechaun

The cheerful Leprechaun is about as well known an emblem of Ireland as you could want, but what truth lies behind the stories? Well the truth is nobody really knows the truth, for leprechauns are are a cagey bunch at the best of times, not prone to gossip or holding forth on the important events of the day or the local hurling results, even after a ... [more]