Emerald Isle

Abhartach the Dwarf King

Irish and Celtic myths and legends, Irish folklore and Irish fairy tales from Irish Gods and Monsters

Abhartach the Dwarf King, who sought vengeance on those who mocked him

They do say that good things come in small parcels, but often forget to add that not all small parcels are filled with good things! And so it was in the little village of Slaughtaverty in the distant past, ruled as it was by a fearsome dwarf-tyrant known as Abhartach.

Stature and size were much prized in ancient Ireland, as well they might be for a tall warrior or strong farmer will have an easier time of it than a short one, and more likely to win glory for his people, so a dwarf was straight away at a disadvantage. Growing up, Abhartach was often slighted for his size and given the short end of the stick whenever it came time to do work that was deemed unfit for others.

But he managed put himself at the service of a Druid who knew much of ancient lore, twisting and strange incantations, sorcery old when the hills were mountains and purple dragons ruled from their cities of bronze high above. Scut work and pot cleaning he did with great vigour, cooking and washing and ingratiating himself to the Druid who indulged his interests as one might teach a pet a few tricks.

But Abhartach had a trick up his sleeve that the Druid didn't see coming! And so one rainswept day the Druid went missing and the dwarf along with him, as well as his many scrolls and texts. After some time a new terror began to walk the earth, the dwarf had returned and was strangely changed in appearance, with eyes of green that could be seen from afar and a stench that could be smelled from even farther.

On that year Abhartach began his revenge on those he felt had given him short shrift, whether justly or otherwise, and he demanded and took whatever he wanted from the people of the area. Those who defied him were struck with blight and illness, crushed by great stones or found in the morning with ghastly looks upon their faces, stone cold dead.

Well the people cried out under the lash of this diminutive demon whose powers made him safe in his stack, from where smokes and broils often emanated, until a Chieftain by the name of Cathrain heard their pleas and rode out with his hosts to tackle the tyrant.

After a quick battle the dwarf was slain, and local folk held an fheis or céilí to celebrate their new liberation, pouring out mead upon the mound where Abhartach was buried in a standing position, as was their custom. Sated they slept, little knowing the wrath they had unwittingly unleashed upon themselves!

For Abhartach's masters in the otherworld were not content to let him lie, nor was he done with his vengeance-taking, as the very next night the tribes heard a fearsome battering at their doors, which they opened to reveal none other than the dwarf himself, made more horrible yet by his sojourn through the veil!

A new terror began, the red nights, when the dwarf would rend his way back from where he lay with iron claws and take not cattle or young women but instead demand blood, and blood he got! Again the people called out and again Cathrain returned and slew him, burying him in the same spot, to no avail.

Frustrated at his failures the Chieftain paid a visit on a Druid with whom he was acquainted and asked how he might dispose of the troublesome revenant. The Druid shook his head slowly and said that the creature Abhartach was one of the neamh-mairbh, or walking dead making his abode between the worlds and could not be slain, only that he could be subdued. He told Cathrain the means by which this could be achieved.

So Cathrain returned and taking a sword made of yew he pierced the dwarf through, burying him again in the same place but this time upside-down, covering the tomb with a large stone and surrounding it then with thorns. And so was Abhartach caught beneath the earth where he lies to this day.

But the story doesn't end there, oh no indeed, for to the locals in the area Abhartach’s grave is now known as Slaghtaverty Dolmen. In shape it is a large rock and two smaller rocks under a hawthorn tree. Back in 1997, attempts were made to clear the land but workmen who tried to cut down the thorn tree arching across Abhartach’s grave allegedly had their chainsaw malfunction three times. While attempting to lift the great stone, a steel chain snapped, cutting the hand of one of the labourers, and ominously, allowing blood to soak into the ground.

The place where he is buried is marked on the map below.

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