Emerald Isle

The Three Sons

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

A hard bargain in The Three Sons

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 future.

So thinking, he did something nobody should ever do – he called upon the ould bent one himself and made a deal! He said the ould fella could take him if only his three sons would live happy lives and have every blessing men could have. And the deal was signed in blood in a dark and lonely place, with the wind sobbing mournfully about them, and the moon hiding her face.

But Michael's three sons grew up tall and straight, with never a bother on them, and went on to do great things with their lives. One became a reckoner of books, an accountant, the next a policeman, and the third, sure what should he become but a priest.

And never a word of his deadly deal did Michael breathe to them, until one day he was with his son Thomas, the accountant, sitting in his little house, when the midnight chimes rang out and there was a thunderous knocking at the door. Who was it but the devil himself come to collect!

Michael wept and hung his head as the whole business became known to his son, who asked the devil solemnly to give his father one more year. So pitiful was the sight with the two men hanging off one another that the devil agreed, for although pity was never in his heart, he knew the torment of the wait and savoured it in others like fine brandy.

The next year Michael was sitting with his son John the policeman, when the very same thing happened, and John begged and pleaded in terror for his father's eternity that he be given but one more year, and again the devil agreed, stalking off into the cloying night with his many-sealed parchment under his arm.

On the third year, Michael sat in mortification with his son the priest, who knew now the whole affair, and tried to make his peace, for what little good it would do him. Again ould scratch battered in the door and stalked into the one room with them, waving the scroll with the signed name before him.

“You come with me tonight, Michael,” he said, “and no mistake!”

Francis the priest stood up then and looked the enemy in the eye, and asked him for one more year.

“Not one more year nor one more month!” said the devil, gleeful he could vex a priest at the last.

“One more week then?” asked Francis.

“Not so much as a day,” said the devil as the clock chimed midnight with leaden tones.

“Well then will you at least give my father until this candle burns out,” asked the priest, indicating with a wave the guttering candle stub on the table without finger's breadth in it.

“Fair enough,” said the devil, steeped in mischief, for he was enjoying this game, “and I'll do you one better to show there are no hard feelings – I'll not touch it or change it in any way.”

With that, Francis puffed out the candle and picked it up, and putting it in his pocket he bid the ould fella to be off, for the candle was his now, and with it his father's imperishable spirit. Giving throat to a mighty raging howl the fiend was driven away, and the door slammed shut behind him, and so Michael McGovern escaped his debt.

Marked on the map is the likely location near where these events took place.

Further Folk and Faerie Tales of Ireland

If you'd like to leave a tip, just click here!

Archaeological information is licensed for re-use under the Creative Commons Attribution 4.0 International licence from the National Monuments Service - Archaeological Survey of Ireland.

Note that this license DOES NOT EXTEND to folkloric, mythological and related information on the site. That data remains under full private copyright protection