A Gaelic Ghost Story

Puca 2

Last week my two youngest bundles of joy came home from school, full of excitement. They had been learning some of the gaelic words in class for the likes of Ghost/Púca or Taibhse, Witch/Cailleach, Vampire/Drochfhola. It was so great to see them taking such an interest in the language and little Dylan hasnt stopped running around the house shouting POOKA, POOKA, with his hands up in the air in an attempt to frighted everyone. So with the big day fast approaching Im going to share another little Samhain/Halloween tale. This time its the turn of the Púca. Once it was considered to be the most menacing or beneficial creatures to be found in Irish Mythology. The Pooka or in Gaelic An Púca translates to Spirit or Ghost. The Púca is also described a type of faerie that can appear in any form, but they are closer are considered to be closer to a Goblin than goblin than the typical winged-type fairy. Some say that they are the remnants of the Tuatha Dé Danann whom once inhabited the island before the arrival of Man. They are said to mainly roam rural communities and are known for their shape shifting abilities.  Most commonly they would appear in the form of a black horse, a goat or a rabbit. One common description tells of them appearing in the form of a wild black colt with heavy chains around their neck, they were said to do harm to unwary travellers. Another description shines a different light were they said to be helpful creatures to those whom did them a kindness. However this tends to be the exception to the rule as most known encounters with the Púca are unpleasant at best. This is not surprising as many tales of a nasty experience with the Púca come from Christian times when all respect for the old ways and nature have been lost. Whether the Púca be a spirit, ghost or some elemental nature spirit or a remnant of the Tuatha Dé Danann whom are also referred to as the Faerie Folk I don’t know. As of yet I have not encountered a Púca. No matter what shape the Púca takes, the one giveaway will be that its fur is almost always dark and it will have unusually otherworldly golden eyes. If a human is enticed onto a Púca’s back, it has been known to take them on a wild and scary ride.  However, unlike a kelpie, which will take its rider and dive into the nearest stream or lake to drown and devour them, the Púca will do its rider no real harm. According to some legends the only man ever to successfully ride the Púca was Brian Boru, High King of Ireland. He achieved this by using a special bridle incorporating three hairs of the Púca’s tail. Brian managed to control the magic horse and stay on its back until, exhausted, it surrendered to his will. The king extracted two promises from it; firstly, that it would no longer torment Christian people and ruin their property and secondly, that it would never again attack an Irishman (all other nationalities would seem to be  exempt) except those who are drunk or abroad with an evil intent. The latter it could attack with greater ferocity than before. The Púca agreed to these conditions. However, over the intervening years, it would seem to have forgotten its bargain and attacks on property and sober travellers on their way home continue to this day. The Púca is said to have the ability to speak like a human and has been known to give people good advice and lead them away from harm on occasion.

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A certain Lady Wilde recounts a tale of a one farmer’s son and his most fortunate encounter with the Púca. A farmer’s son named Padraig one day noticed the invisible presence of the Púca brushing by, and called out to him, offering a coat. The Púca appeared in the guise of a young bull, and told him to come to the old mill at night. From that time onward, the Púca came secretly at night and performed all the work of milling the sacks of corn into flour. Padraig fell asleep the first time, but later concealed himself in a chest to catch sight of them, and later made a present of a fine silk suit. This unexpectedly caused the Púca to cease their work and disappear. But by then the farmer’s wealth allowed him to retire and give his son an education. Sometime later, at Padraig’s wedding, the Púca left a gift of a golden cup filled with a magical potion said to ensure a long and happy marriage. The Púca are mainly associated with Samhain (31st Oct) and November 1st is considered Púca‘s Day. This coincides with the harvest and the traditional customs that when the harvest is collected the farmer must leave a few stalks behind, this is called the Púca‘s share and it is left behind to appease the Púca so as not like to incur it’s wrath. It is said that when we see the rain falling on a sunny day, which it does a lot in Ireland, the Púca is guaranteed to  be out and about that night. Another belief is that berries that have been killed by the frost overnight should never be eaten as it is the Púca‘s  spit that is on them which is  poisonous. There is the infamous scene in the 1959 movie Darby O’Gill and the Little People when the Pooka scares Darby into falling down the well , where he first meets King Brian of the Faerie. For every positive tale of an encounter there are several that tell of its mischievous nature where it roams large areas of countryside at night, tearing down fences and gates, scattering livestock in terror, trampling crops and making mayhem. To end I would suggest a word of warning, be prepared and like meeting any stranger for the first time, show a little respect, it might just save you from falling foul of them.

the-puca-3

And dont forget, this is the final day to get entries in for the Spooktacular Challenge, From midnight I wont be able to accept any more entries, so  if you are still interested in particiating, then get your images in asap. You can find out all about the challenge HERE and email all entries to edmooneyphotography@gmail.com.

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About edmooneyphotography

Photographer, Blogger, Ruinhunter, with an unhealthy obsession for history, mythology and the arcane.
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22 Responses to A Gaelic Ghost Story

  1. Another great story Ed.
    I have never heard anyone else use the word Kelpie since seeing it in a children’s film my son made me watch about Nessie! The little girl called the monster her Kelpie and it has stuck in my mind ever since!

  2. Ali Isaac says:

    I didnt know that Brian Boru tamed a puca! Interesting that you get stories showing complete opposite behaviour, good and evil. Perhaps pre-Christian v. Christian stories? Interesting fun post, Ed, and your kids sound hilarious… I’d say they are quite hyped up about the big day by now. Make the most of it, my boys are well past it already at 11 and 13.

    • Thaanks Ali, as with most of our lore there are usually two sides to the story. In Kildare the Puca is still remembered but I like to think of it as a helpful spirit. Not that I have come accross one yet, but that just my gut feeling. The Sidhe were well known for their trickery when encountering christians. So no doubt this is where it gets its bad press.
      The kids have literally turned nuts this week. Its like their is something in the air. You are never to old to enjoy it, I got twins living next to us, they are about 16 and still go out door to door every year. Hell if I thought I could get a big bag of sweets for nothing, I would be out too. But knowing my look, I would end up having to play tricks on every house in the neighbourhood 🙂

  3. I think I rode a Puca when I was in Iceland in 2002. I went horseback riding through the lava fields and my horse was almost supernaturally sure footed amoungst the razor sharp rocks…

    • Now that sounds cool, Ive never been to Iceland or hporse riding for that matter 🙂

      • I think a person needs to ride a horse at least once in their lifetime, to understand what the relationship between rider and animal can be. If you go to the right place and find the right horse that mixes well with your personality, you will be transformed by the experience. I REALLY recommend it. They are emotional creatures and having a great relationship with a horse is not something ordinary. They have their own language of stances and movements and if you can “speak” their language, you will have a profound time with them. Even a simple trot around a trail can be magic.

  4. beetleypete says:

    Great tales of folklore, and very nice that your children are embracing their heritage so enthusiastically too. You are certainly building up to the Halloween celebrations, Ed!
    Best wishes, Pete.

  5. jfwknifton says:

    Thank you, I really enjoyed that. I recognised quite a few elements from Cornish folklore.
    It would be great if all these creatures were really true. A lot of people who are not so nice when they meet a stranger might get their come uppance, That would be a great laugh!

  6. Sue says:

    Most interesting post, Ed

  7. aidymcglynn says:

    Brilliant Ed. Reminds me of passing a spot called Pollaphuca – the Puca’s hole, on Slieve Bearnagh in the Mournes. Seems there is a place of the same name in Wicklow too. Didn’t manage to see one though.

  8. noelleg44 says:

    Pukas and kelpies – something my parents told me about. I wonder how they knew about them? And I agree – there is something about the fusion of person and animal when you ride a horse, especially if the horse likes you!

  9. wonderful old tales as usual!! So glad you are telling them. If I was a puca I”d be upset with the Christians as well. lol. I love the horse with red eyes!! and I also love the stories of the Kelpies- you will find a lot of them in Scotland (- though I didn’t personally- just their representations!). I must see if I can find that movie again, Darby O’ Gill – I am a big fan of Sean Connery!!

  10. johnwhye415 says:

    I liked the story on the Puca, I am of Irish descent and never heard that particular legend, very interesting….

  11. jazzfeathers says:

    Great post. And want you know something weird? Here in Verona, there is a legend that said there was a black stallion with fiery eyes that could be seen racing the wood at night. Only King Teodorico succeded in riding it once, and that tamed the stallion.

    We also have a saying for when it rains with the sun: we say the witches are getting merried 🙂

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