Emerald Isle

The Pooka and the Piper

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

The road to wisdom can be the longest

In the olden days there was a man who played the pipes, but he was not famous for it, or if he was it was for the wrong reasons, since he had but the one tune, a jaunty jig called The Black Rogue. Now it happened one dark night that he was on his way home after entertaining the gentlemen, and with a few pence in his pocket and a few drinks under his belt he felt in grand form.

But it was not to last, for he'd only stepped onto a little bridge near to his mother's home when a Pooka leapt from the bushes and flipped him up head over heels to land on its back!

“May the road swallow you whole,” the Piper swore, clinging to his hat, “let me off your back, you nasty beast, for I must get snuff for my oul' mother!”

“Never mind your mother,” said the Pooka, “you'd best keep your mind on holding fast, for if you fall both your pipes and your neck will be broken!”

Then the Pooka asked him to play “The Poor Old Woman”, but the Piper admitted he didn't know it or any song besides the one.

“Never mind what you know or don't,” said the Pooka, “you play and I'll be sure you play it right.”

And with that the Piper put wind in his bag and played such a fine tune as astounded him! But he was getting worried now and asked the Pooka where he was being brought.

“There's a great feast in the house of the Banshee,” said the Pooka, “and I'm bringing you there to be the entertainment for the night!”

Not at all sure he liked the sound of this, the Piper asked about his pay, and was reassured that he'd get what he asked for. Not much less worried by the answer, he clung on tight as they raced across hills and bogs and rough places until they came to Croagh Patrick.

“If nothing else you've saved me a journey,” said the Piper, “for Father William put a trip to this very mountain on me as penance for stealing his white goose last Martinmas!”

When they reached the top the Pooka stamped three great blows with its foot, and an earthen door opened, letting them pass into a fine room beyond. Ancient it seemed, and low of roof, yet spacious for all that, since there was in the middle a great golden table, where sat a hundred old women. Cailleacha they were, of a different kind than the Pooka, but still they rose to greet him, saying “A hundred thousand welcomes to you, Pooka na Samhna, and who is our guest?”

And they gnashed their teeth and cackled, much to the fear of the Piper, but the Pooka said, I have brought you the finest piper in all of Ireland!”

Then one of the ancient crones struck a blow on the ground, and who should come out of a door but that very same white goose he had stolen from Father William!

At this the Piper began to wonder what was in that stoup he'd drunk that night, for by his consicence he'd have sworn himself and his mother had eaten every part of that goose, except the wing which he'd given to red Mary, who in turn told the priest of his wrongdoing.

Naturally of course the goose busied itself clearing away the table, and the Pooka told the Piper to play, and so he did, getting all the old ladies up dancing until they fell down exhausted. Then the Pooka mentioned his pay, and they put their hands in their pockets and each pulled out a shiny golden coin, which they gave to him.

“Be Patricks' tooth,” he said to himself, “I'm as rich a the son of king!” and the goose came up to him and gave him a fine set of shiny new pipes to play as well.

“Come on now and less of your talk,” said the Pooka, “I'll bring you back to you mother,” and quick as two winks and a sneeze they were back at Dunmore. Bucking the Piper off, the Pooka said to him, now you have two things you didn't have before, ciall agus ceol, that is sense and music.”

Going back to his mother's house, the Piper rapped on the door, declaring himself both rich and the best piper in Ireland, but other declared him drunk instead.

“Wait now”, says he,”till you hear the music I will play!”

He strapped on his fine new pipes but instead of music out came the most awful commotion of geese blaring and honking, and all the neighbours came out and laughed at him. But then he put on his old pipes, and they played as melodious a tune as you ever heard.

The next morning all of his gold pieces were turned to leaves, but still he played the most beautiful music in all of Galway from that day until he died.

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