Irish and Celtic myths and legends, Irish folklore and Irish fairy tales tales of Ireland
The rider of the crossroads, The Pooka
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.
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Further Folk and Faerie Tales of Ireland
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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]
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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]
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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]
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]
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]
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]
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 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]
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]
Irish legends from time immemorial have a great deal to say about the land of the fairies, the home of the Tuatha De Danann, or the world of the Sidhe. There are those who claim it lies beneath fairy mounds or on the other side of deep caves where Druids once held tryst and shared magical secrets, while other tales tell of heroes and adventurers, e ... [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]
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]
After the Tuatha De Dannan were defeated in battle by the great race of Milesians, who held sway in Ireland long after, some of the Tuatha decided to leave and go elsewhere while some chose to stay in Ireland. Those that stayed agreed that they must live beneath the earth, and they were led by a great King in the west, Finnbhear son of Dagda, who i ... [more]
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 h ... [more]
Old Jack Doherty was a kindly and good natured sort of fellow, as well he might be for he had chosen to live in a strange and desolate part of the country, by a coast of jagged rocks and sucking tides. And why might that be cause for merriment, you may ask? Well, it was many's the night and many's the storm that blew an unfortunate ship too ... [more]
Some might wonder, who or what are the fairy folk? There are stories upon stories of them and their doings in many places, but most of all in Ireland, where it was said they lived longest and if they still walk the earth, where they can yet be found! The country folk claim they are fallen angels lacking the merit to stay in heaven while being kindl ... [more]