Emerald Isle

Petticoat Loose

Irish and Celtic myths and legends, Irish folklore and Irish fairy tales and Irish Ghost Stories

Petticoat Loose, a shade that haunted the south

In the south of the country, from Cork to Waterford, parents often scold wilful children with the warning – behave or Petticoat Loose will get you! And a wise child will do as they are told, for there are few more chilling tales than those of Petticoat Loose.

Patrick Flynn's wife was in her labour pains near Ballingeary on a cold night when it seemed that the wind had its own fingers for rattling the latch of the door, so he had no choice but to set out on the black road to look for a nurse.

Rounding a bend he was shocked to a halt, even in his haste, by the ghastly sight of a woman with hair floating as though it was underwater, dark hollows beneath her eyes and a deadly gleam in her empty eyes. Although no light shone on her, a wan glimmer seemed to come from her clothes, which were of an older style.

“Whisht!” hissed the apparition, and made to reach for his throat.

“Wait!” he cried, “I beg of you don't kill me for you'll have three murders on you then – only give me till tomorrow and I'll return by myself.”

The figure advanced no further and so he ran from that place in some haste. The next day Paddy took his cap from his head and went to meet the parish priest, who was much concerned for the man's wife, but his manner changed quickly when he heard what had happened.

“Patrick you fool, I should take a whip to your hide for agreeing to such a bargain,” he shouted, and as he seemed to be casting about himself for a whip or some other implement of punishment, Paddy exited the building.

An old man came upon him in his misery and asked what was the matter. After hearing the whole tale top to bottom, the old man nodded and told him to talk to the curate, who listened to his story and said to him then:

“Don't worry about a thing, I'll make it right as rain.”

With that said he gave Paddy a jar full of holy water and said he'd accompany him to meet this spirit later on. Night fell, as foul and dark as the night before, and the two proceeded up the road. The priest gave Paddy his instructions.

“Make a ring of holy water,” he said, “and if she comes through that, make another. Should the second ring fail, try a third, and I'll be nearby.”

And so Paddy did just that, but the evil shade walked straight through the first ring. Making another, she walked through that as well. As she came through the third, out from the bushes leapt the priest and slapped his stole over the top of her!

Petticoat Loose shrieked like a hundred cats and told the priest to take it off, for it was a terrible weight on her. The priest said he would, if she told him how she'd been damned.

The spirit agreed and said she was damned for abusing her father.

“Lies,” said the priest, “now you speak to me the truth or you'll endure that weight forever.”

“I was damned for killing my three children,” she hissed, and the priest nodded, knowing her nature now.

“You devil,” he said, “that's what damned you. I'll send you to the ocean's deeps for seven years for your penance.”

“I'll burn the ships,” she retorted, not a bit repentant, “I'll drown everyone that passes over!”

“You'll do no such thing,” said the priest, “for I'll weigh you down to the bottom!”

And so it was – the priest sent her to the deepest part of the ocean for seven years, weighted where she could do no harm, but when her time was up she came back, and was at it again, terrifying travellers and sometimes even killing them! So the priest sent her off for good, and to this day that's where she remains, doing her penance at the bottom of the ocean. Some also say she was sent to her final doom in Bay Lough in the Knockmealdown Mountains, where she still stirs as the witch of Bay Lough.

The site of her banishment is shown here on the map.

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