Emerald Isle

The Black Robber

Irish and Celtic myths and legends, Irish folklore and Irish fairy tales tales of Ireland

Justice catches up to even the wiliest criminal

There was never much call for police back in the old days in Ireland – everyone knew everyone else in the area and everyone knew what everyone else had done! While there were ups and downs to it, if someone was caught doing something particularly bad, they would be ashamed to meet anyone’s eye, and would eventually leave the area, head hung low, name in tatters.

All except the Gadaí Dubh, that is! The Black Thief, which is what the name means, was unashamed and unafraid of anyone. He roamed the villages and towns of County Cork, lifting whatever wasn’t nailed down and spending his ill-gotten gains in houses with an even worse reputation than himself.

He would steal the washing from clothes lines, nails from doors, the shoes from a horse while it was riding through a field, the fillings from your mouth and the show at a wedding, just before he stole a kiss from the bride! Never such a scofflaw and ne’er do well has the fair nation of Ireland produced before or since.

He was concerned with retribution from neither man nor spirit, as one story tells that during a robbing spree, he heard a voice saying, “Íocfaidh, Íocfaidh” from a nearby fairy mound, which means will pay, will pay.

“Who will pay?” he asked.

“Your family or their family,” came the response.

“I’ll get away with it then!” said the rogue with a chuckle.

Let me tell you though, one dark night he was wandering through the backways and lanes of Ballyvourney, and what should he hear in the distance but the ringing of hammers and the racket of heavy work going on. He took himself closer to investigate and what should he see but a large gang of workmen finishing up their building on a church for the evening.

Not a fear upon them, they laid their tools aside and wandered off to get their rest, leaving behind only a grey mare to watch over their belongings.

Well this was good news for the gadaí dubh, for he saw the opportunity for a fine bag of silver just lying on the ground in front of him! Gathering up all the tools and mounting the mare, he marvelled that more people weren’t thieves in this green land, such easy pickings were to be had, and he spurred his new horse off into the night, laughing wickedly.

Little did he know whose horse he had stolen however – none other’s than Saint Gobnait, the lady smith and patron saint of all ironworkers in Ireland! He rode and rode, down lanes and dark tracks, across little rivers and through wet fields, on he rode up boreens, which means small roads, and down them again, through copse and glen, brushing aside the whipping twig and the snaring bramble.

All night he rode but when the dawn’s light started to peach the east and birds began to sing their morning song, he found that he had been riding all night in circles around the church! The saint had spied him at his mischief and placed upon him an ancient form of curse, the meascán mearaí, or state of befuddlement.

At last the black thief was shamed, and he got down off the horse and wandered off to seek honest employment for the first time in his life. His image was engraved on the slabs of Ballyvourney church as a reminder to all thieves that their shame would last far longer than their profits!

“Níor bhféidir bob do bhualadh ar an naomh” said the local people, meaning it wasn’t possible to defraud the saint.

The church of Saint Gobnait can be found on the map below!

Further Folk and Faerie Tales of Ireland

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