Emerald Isle

The Buachalan Buidhe

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

All over the hills and the valleys so green, the buachalán buíde in its glory is seen

The fairy tales and legends of Ireland are bound into her very soil and seed, and few more so than the humble ragwort, the Buachalán Buíde! This plant was known as the fairy horse, and little children were warned not to touch it for fear they would be spirited away by the fairies on their yellow horses.

Stories were told up and down the country about travellers who were caught by the fairies and forced to ride down dark nameless lanes and through whipping midnight forests, only to awaken, exhausted and lashed, clutching a fistful of ragwort in their hand. Cows were never to be lashed with a buachalán whip, for the fairies would steal their milk.

A young man recounts this tale from the 1930s:

“In the townland of Geevagh there lived a man named Thomas Layden. One night when he was coming home from gamboling he took a short cut through the fields. By doing this he had to go through a field of "Buachalans".

No sooner had he entered the field than he saw hundreds of fairies. They all spoke to him and said "Céad míle fáilte Romhat." (A hundred thousand welcomes) Then each pulled a "Buachalan" in turn and instantly the plants were changed into white horses. They told Tomas to do the same and so he did.

They ordered him to follow them and not to speak a word. He did as they told him until he came to "Carraig ltí Ghealaigh," a huge rock near Kilronan. Here he swore on oath that he would be killed, and as he broke the fairies command, the horse disappeared and he fell to the ground. There he was found the next morning by a passer-by.”

Sadly it is quite poisonous to livestock, and stays poisonous in dried hay, so much so that a farmer caught with ragwort growing on their land can be brought to court over it. Nonetheless they support an amazing variety of little creatures and are very popular with bees, cinnabar moths whose caterpillars absorb the toxins in the plant and so make themselves inedible, butterflies, hoverflies and other pollinators in the countryside.

Here is another tale of the fairy horses!

“Where have all the fairies, ghosts an’ wandering souls of some of the dear departed gone? Did they disappear with the paraffin oil lamp, the carbide lamp and candle light? Well Tim Quinn, God rest him, if he were alive today wouldn't believe a word of that. Many a time he related his personal story about them.

“I had two half ones in Donnelly's pub, and just about to go home, when me cousin, Joe Moran, came in with two fiddle players and a flute player from Sligo.

“These fellows are good,” he whispered to me, and he ups and stands me a half one, and so as not to offend him, I stayed on, drank slowly, and listened to the music. The Sligo boys were good, I'd have loved to stay and listen to them all night but I had to tear myself away.

“It was black dark when I climbed in to the cart; the mare set off out the Ballinamore road for home as soon as I lifted the reins. Fortunately for me, she knows the way well, as you all know and just as well as I couldn't see a thing.

“We were reaching the cross below when I heard music ahead of me; the moon appeared from behind a cloud and suddenly it was as bright as day. As I neared the cross I saw a large crowd dancing to the music of a fiddler and a melodeon player seated on the bridge, it was right lively stuff; all merry with the odd cheer and whoop as the dancers circled round.

“They stopped as I approached and some of them came towards me saying “Hello Tim! what kept ya - come on, join us for a while, leave the mare and cart by the tree there."

Some of them looked a bit familiar but I couldn't place them, I thought they might be cousins of the Heaneys I let camp on the waste ground whenever they're passing. “I didn't know ye were having a bit of a dance here to night.” I said as I jumped down of the cart, saying “I can't stay long.”

Since they knew my name, I decided I should know them. Yes! - many of them looked familiar, like some folk in the parish.

“We pass here often,” one of them said. “We know you well,” said another. “And you're a decent man and a good dancer!”

With that, the music started up again and before I knew what I was doing I was dancing the Walls of Limerick with the lot of them. The merriment was great, mingling, laughing and cheering, dancing and swinging. By the hokey! But could they dance! Not a wrong step out of any of them, the music was intoxicating and wherever the hell they got the musicians, I tell you, they could play.

They had a style I last heard by two well dressed tinkers, a black sleekly haired man and a golden haired woman, sitting on the high street wall outside Donnelly's when I was a young lad. They went from one reel into another non-stop, up and down we danced, in and out, and roundabout!

I tell you this - I never seen nor heard the like of it before - we must have been at it for a good two hours when it stopped. “Tim,” they said to me, “We have to go now, we're due at another crossroads dance near Drumahair, it's not far from here; come with us and enjoy the night!”

“Ah now” I replied, “How would I get there?”

“We have fast horses and we have a spare one for you; one of our lads will leave your mare and cart in your yard, sure it's only up the road.”

“Grand,” I said, and before I knew it, I was on the back of a fine racehorse. They all saddled up and off we set for Drumahair cross. Soon we were travelling very fast, like the wind we were going. I looked down at the ground and what did I see but my own farm away down below me and by God - I realised we were riding a mile up in the air!

“Lord between us and all harm!” I said, “Saints help me!” and with that I found myself falling, falling through the air, and thankfully me and the horse landed on boggy ground. When I got over the shock of it all and looked at the horse to see if the poor animal was all right, I got at a terrible fright, for its long black ears had turned into horns and its black coat was red and woolly!

“At that very moment, I realised I was sitting on the back of my own prize bull in me own bog land, and a sprig of ragwort in me hand!

“Well! When I walked in home, my wife, Lissie asked, “Where in god's name were you? I heard the mare and cart come in to the yard two hours ago, heard you open and close the gate and the clop of the horse and rattle of the cart! I was worried when you didn't come in - what happened, where were you?”
“Away with the fairies,” I replied, “And that's the gospel truth.”

The Buachalán Buíde

All over the hills and the valleys so green
The buachalán buíde in its glory is seen
Some call it a weed, and a weed it may be,
But not to the fairies, the buachalan buidhe
For when you and I are asleep in our bed
The buachalán tosses its yellow tressed head
And then 'tis a charger with mane flowing free
For fairies to ride on, the buachalan buidhe
In the dark of the moon when the breezes are still
There's a rustle and stir in the heart of each hill,
Where wee folks slip out from the halls of the sidhe
To go for a ride on the buachalán buíde
With bridles and saddles and stirrups of gold
They travel through Erin with few to behold
Till the first spears of dawning steal in from the sea
Then homeward they jog on the buachalán buíde
So when on the hillsides and valleys so green
The buachalán buíde in its glory is seen,
Don't call it a weed - though a weed it may be -
But the horse of the fairies, the buachalán buíde

Poem attributed to Teresa Brayton

Further Folk and Faerie Tales of Ireland

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