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.
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.
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.
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!