The Pooka or Puca is one of the most ancient fairy creatures of Ireland, and is known further abroad as well, called Puck or Pook. In some places he is feared and in others respected. He can take many shapes, most commonly that of a wild horse wrapped in chains with sulfurous or blazing crimson eyes - the night mare - a huge dog, a raging bull, a handsome young man or lovely woman often with an animal's tail or hooves, but always he could speak with the voice of a person, and it is said the old peoples used to take counsel from the wisdom of the Puca at the tops of hills and high places.
In those times they were far more numerous than today, and farmers would always leave a portion of their crops out after Halloween for the one day when the Puca would feast, on November the first. After that day the Puca would spit on any wild blackberries or fruit still in the fields, making them dangerous to eat. Other legends speak of the Puca as a vampire or eater of human flesh!
In County Down, the Puca was a wizened little hobgoblin who'd show up at peoples' houses demanding its share of the crops. In Laois it was a terrifying shadowy phantom, chasing after lone travellers after the sun had set. To the south, he takes the form of a great eagle or bird of prey, and in the midlands the Puca is a black goat.
Late at night they would terrorise the countryside, sneaking up behind travellers drunk or sober and pushing between their legs, taking them for a wild and terrifying midnight ride across the land, bringing them to any place on earth that took its fancy. Other mischiefs they would wreak, breaking down fences and destroying property, spoiling crops and causing harm to livestock. Even the sight of a Puca would stop the cows from giving milk and the hens from laying eggs.
Other legends speak of the Puca joining groups of travellers, befriending them, and speaking knowingly of their past as well as predicting future catastrophes that would befall them. Then he would take himself off to a hole under the hills, chuckling as he watched these events unfold.
One account from the 19th century tells of an encounter with the Puca:
"In November 1813, Kildare Hunt known as Killing Kildares set out. Having indulged in traditional stirrup cup at Tipper crossroads, near Naas, hunt failed to raise a fox until it was approaching Tipperkevin, north of Ballymore Eustace, county Kildare. Here a large fox appeared and led a course towards Liffey. Simultaneously, an un-mounted black horse appeared, that did not belong to any of riders. It was Pooka!
The terrain was difficult and fox ran fast, so that near the Liffey, only one of members of hunt, a man named Grennan, and horse, who was really Pooka, remained with pack. The gorge was in full spate but hounds were gaining on their quarry and started to pick their way across rocks. Seeing danger, Grennan attempted to recall hounds, but Pooka ahead of them was tempting them onwards.
The fox headed for ledge on narrow part of gorge then, seeing Pooka’s red eyes spitting fire, fox jumped. It missed ledge, falling into turbulent waters below. The Pooka easily leaped across gorge, disappearing into woodlands, but pack of hounds hard on scent of fox went headlong into pool.
“Looking down, Grennan saw fox and hounds trying desperately to swim to safety through swirling swell; other hounds dashed against rocks were yelping in pain and dying. He wept as most of pack went under. Suddenly his sorrow give way to terror, he heard a diabolical neighing, like an animal laughing – from woods opposite. Grennan knew then it was Pooka."
Only one man in Ireland has ever successfully ridden a Puca, and that was the mighty King Brian Ború, he who defeated the evil Viking raiders and slavers and drove them from the shores of Ireland. By taking three hairs from the tail of a Puca, he wove an eldritch bridle and so controlled the spirit, riding it to collapse. Refusing to dismount, he made it promise never to torment Christians again, and to do no harm to an Irishman unless he was drunk or up to no good.
Of course true to its capricious fairy nature, the Puca has long since forgotten its promises!
Silver seems to cause anguish to the Puca, as a man in county Wicklow found out when his silver spurs made the spirit buck and throw him off. It's not wise to anger them silver spurs or no, for they hold grudges for generations, standing outside that person's house and demanding they join it on one of its dark gallops. Should they refuse, it would work to destroy their home and farm forever after.
They weren't entirely malicious mind you - sometimes they would warn of a coming fairy host and help to hide people from the hunters.
There are many sites in Ireland associated with the Puca, in Cork there are two places called Carraig phooka - the pooka's rock. One is near Doneraile and the other is near Macroom. More famous is Poul-a-phooka - the pooka's cavern in Co. Wicklow, where the silver spurs saw off the spirit. There is a mound and a natural cave at Clopoke in Laois. There is also a cairn on Inis Mor, the Aran island off Galway coast which is called Clochán a Phúca. Binlaughlin Mountain in County Fermanagh is known as the "mountain of the speaking horse".
There is also a fair held every year in honour of the goat called "Puck Fair" at Killorglin, Co. Kerry, which can be found on the map below. 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!
The book of the Fairies is one that can never be finished, but at least it can be started here, so go and buy it.
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]
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]
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]
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]
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]
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]
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 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]