Old Deruane lived in the middle island of
Aran, Inish-maan, where I have stayed more than once. He was one of the
evening visitors to the cottage I stayed in, when the fishers had come home
and had eaten, and the fire was stirred and flashed on the dried mackerel and
conger eels hanging over the wide hearth, and the little vessel of cod oil had
a fresh wick put in it and lighted.
The men would sit in a half-circle on the floor, passing
the lighted pipe from one to another; the women would find some work with yarn
or wheel. The talk often turned on the fallen angels or the dead, for the
dwellers in those islands have not been moulded in that dogma which while
making belief in the after-life an essential, makes belief in the shadow-visit
of a spirit yearning after those it loved a vanity, a failing of the great
essential, common sense, and sets down one who believes in such things as what
Burton calls in his Anatomy "a melancholy dizzard."
I was told by Old Deruane:
I was born and bred in the North Island, and ten old fathers
mine are buried there.
I can speak English, because I went to earn in England in
the hard times, and I was for five quarters in a country town called
Manchester; and I have threescore and fifteen years.
I knew two fine young women were brought away after
childbirth, and they were seen after in the North Island going about with them.
One of them I saw myself there, one time I was out late at night going to
the east village. I saw her pattern walking on the north side of the wall, on
the road near me, but she said nothing.
And my body began to shake, and I was going to get
to the south side of the wall, to put it between us; but then I said,
"Where is God?" and I walked on and passed her, and she looked aside
at me but she didn't speak. And I heard her after me for a good while,
but I never looked back, for it's best not to look back at them.
And there was another woman had died, and one evening
late I was coming from the schoolmaster, for he and I are up to one another,
and he often gives me charity. And then I saw her or her pattern walking along
that field of rock you passed by just now. But I stopped and I didn't speak to
her, and she went on down the road, and when she was about forty fathoms below
me I could hear her abusing some one, but no one there.
I thought maybe it was that she was vexed at me
that I didn't question her. She was a young woman too. I'll go bail they never
take an old man or woman - what would they do with them? If by chance they'd
come among them they'd throw them out again.
Another night I was out and the moon shining, I knew by
the look of it the night was near wore away. And when I came to the corner of
the road beyond, my flesh began to shake and my hair rose up, and every hair
was as stiff as that stick. So I knew that some evil thing was near, and I got
This island is as thick as grass with them, or as
sand; but good neighbours make good neighbours, and no woman minding a house
but should put a couple of the first of the potatoes aside on the dresser, for
there's no house but they'll visit it some time or other. Myself, I always
brush out my little tent clean of a night before I lie down, and the night I'd
do it most would be a rough night. How do we know what poor soul might want to
I saw them playing ball one day when the slip you landed
at was being made, and I went down to watch the work. There were hundreds of
them in the field at the top of it, about three feet tall, and little caps on
them; but the men that were working there, they couldn't see them. And
one morning I went down to the well to leave my pampooties in it to soak - it
was a Sabbath morning and I was going to Mass - and the pampooties were hard
and wore away my feet, and I left them there. And when I came back in a few
minutes they were gone, and I looked in every cleft, but I couldn't find them.
And when I was going away, I felt them about me,
and coming between my two sticks that I was walking with. And I stopped and
looked down and said, "I know you're there," and then I said, "Gentlemen,
I know you're here about me," and when I said that word they went
away. Was it they took my pampooties? Not at all - what would they want with
such a thing as pampooties? It was some children must have taken them, and I
never saw them since.
One time I wanted to settle myself clean, and I brought
down my waistcoat and a few little things I have, to give them a rinse in the
sea-water, and I laid them out on a stone to dry, and I left one of my sticks
on them. And when I came back after leaving them for a little time, the
stick was gone.
And I was vexed at first to be without it, but I knew
that they had taken it to be humbugging me, or maybe for their own use in
fighting. For there is nothing there is more fighting among than
them. So I said, "Welcome to it, Gentlemen, may it bring you
luck; maybe you'll make more use of it than ever I did myself."
One night when I was sleeping in my little tent, I heard
a great noise of fighting, and I thought it was down at Mrs. Jordan's house,
and that maybe the children were troublesome in the bed, she having a great
many of them.
And in the morning as I passed the house I said to her,
"What was on you in the night?" And she said there was nothing
happened there, and that she heard no noise. So I said nothing but went
on; and when I came to the flag-stones beyond her house, they were covered
with great splashes and drops of blood. So I said nothing of that either, but
went on. What time of the year? Wait till I think, it was this very same time
of the year, the month of May.
One time I was out putting seed in the ground, and the
ridges all ready and the seaweed spread in them; and it was a fine day, but I
heard a storm in the air, and then I knew by signs that it was they were
coming. And they came into the field and tossed the seaweed and the seed
about, and I spoke to them civil and then they went into a neighbour's field
and from that down to the sea, and there they turned into a ship, the grandest
that ever I saw.
There was a man was passing by that Sheogney place below,
fishing in his curragh, and when they were about a mile out they saw a ship
coming towards them, and when they looked again, instead of having three masts
she had none, and just when they were going to take up the curragh to bring it
ashore, a great wave came and turned it upside down. And the man that owned
her got such a fright that he couldn't walk, and the other two had to hold him
under the arms to bring him home. And he went to his bed, and within a week
after, he was dead.
One night I heard a crying down the road, and the next
day, there was a child of Tom Regan's dead. And it was a few months
after that, that I heard a crying again. And the next day another of his
children was gone.
There was a fine young man was buried in the graveyard
below, and a good time after that, there was work being done in it, and they
came on his coffin, and the mother made them open it, and there was nothing in
it at all but a broom, and it tied up with a bit of a rope.
There was a man was passing by that Sheogney place below,
"Breagh" we call it. And he saw a man come riding out of it on a
white horse. And when he got home that night there was nothing for him or for
any of them to eat, for the potatoes were not in yet. And in the morning he
asked the wife was there anything to eat, and she said a neighbour had sent in
a pan of meal.
So she made that into stirabout, and he took but a
small bit of it out of her hand to leave more for the rest. And then he
took a sheet, and bid her make a bag of it, and he got a horse and rode to the
place where he saw the man ride out, for he knew he was the master of them.
And he asked for the full of the bag of meal, and said
he'd bring it back again, when he had it. And the man brought the bag in, and
filled it for him and brought it out again. And when the oats were ripe, the
first he cut, he got ground at the mill and brought it to the place and gave
it in. And the man came out and took it, and said whatever he'd want at
any time, to come to him and he'd get it.
In a bad year they say they bring away the potatoes and
that may be so. They want provision, and they must get them at one place or
Mr. McArdle joins in and says:
This I can tell you and be certain of, and I remember well
that the man in the third house to this died after being sick a long time. And
the wife died after, and she was to be buried in the same place, and when they
came to the husband's coffin they opened it, and there was nothing in it at
all, neither brooms nor anything else.
There's a boy, I know him well, that was up at that forth
above the house one day, and a blast of wind came and blew the hat off him.
And when he saw it going off in the air he cried out, "Do whatever is
pleasing to you, but give me back my cap!" And in the moment it was
settled back again on to his head.
Old Deruane goes on:
There are many can do cures, because they have something
walking with them, what one may call a ghost from among the Sheogue. A
few cures I can do myself, and this is how I got them. I told you that I was
for five quarters in Manchester, and where I lodged were two old women in the
house, from the farthest end of Mayo, for they were running from Mayo at the
time because of the hunger.
And I knew that they were likely to have a cure,
for St. Patrick blessed the places he was not in more than the places he was
in, and with the cure he left and the fallen angels, there are many in Mayo
can do them.
Now it's the custom in England never to clean the table
but once in the week and that on a Saturday night. And on that night all is
set out clean, and all the crutches of bread and bits of meat and the like are
gathered together in a tin can, and thrown out in the street, and women that
have no other way of living come round then with a bag that would hold two
stone, and they pick up all that's thrown out in the street, and live on it
for a week. And often I didn't eat the half of what was before me, and I
wouldn't throw it out, but I'd bring it to the two old women that were in the
house, so they grew very fond of me.
Well, when the time came that I thought to draw towards
home, I brought them one day to a public-house and made a drop of punch for
them, and then I picked the cure out of them, for I was wise in those days.
Those that get a touch I could save from being brought
away, but I couldn't bring back a man that's away, for it's only those that
have been living among them for a while that can do that. There was a
neighbour's child was sick, and I got word of it, and I went to the house, for
the woman there had showed me kindness.
And I went in to the cradle and I lifted the quilt off
the child's face and you could see by it, and I knew the sign, that there was
some of their work there. And I said, "You are not likely to have the
child long with you, Ma'am." And she said, "Indeed I know I won't
have him long."
So I said nothing but I went out, and whatever I
did, and whatever I got there, I brought it again and gave it to the child,
and he began to get better. And the next day I brought the same thing again,
and gave it the child, and I looked at it and I said to the mother,
"He'll live to comb his hair grey." And from that time he got
better, and now there's no stronger child in the island, and he the youngest
in the house.
After that the husband got sick, and the woman said to me
one day, "If there's anything you can do to cure him, have pity on me and
on my children, and I'll give you what you'll wish." But I said,
"I'll do what I can for you, but I'll take nothing from you except maybe
a grain of tea or a glass of porter, for I wouldn't take money for this, and I
refused £2 one time for a cure I did."
So I went and I brought back the cure, and I mixed it
with flour and made it into three little pills that it couldn't be lost, and
gave them to him, and from that time he got well.
There's a woman lived down the road there, and one day I
went in to the house, when she was after coming from Galway town, and I asked
charity of her. And it was in the month of August when the bream fishing was
going on, and she said, "There's no one need be in want now, with fresh
fish in the sea and potatoes in the gardens"; and gave me nothing. But
when I was out the door she said, "Well, come back here." And I
said, "If you were to offer me all you brought from Galway, I wouldn't
take it from you now."
And from that time she began to pine and to wear away and
to lose her health, and at the end of three years, she walked outside her
house one day, and when she was two yards from her own threshold she fell on
the ground, and the neighbour's came and lifted her up on a door and brought
her into the house, and she died.
I think I could have saved her then - I think I could,
when I saw her lying there. But I remembered that day, and I didn't stretch
out a hand and I spoke no word.
I'm going to rise out of the cures and not to do much
more of them, for they have given me a touch here in the right leg, so
that it's the same as dead. And a woman of my village that does cures, she
is after being struck with a pain in the hand.
Down by the path at the top of the slip from there to the
hill, that's the way they go most nights, hundreds and thousands of them.
There are two old men in the island got a beating from them; one of them told
me himself and brought me out on the ground, that I'd see where it was. He was
out in a small field, and was after binding up the grass, and the sky got very
black over him and very dark. And he was thrown down on the ground, and got a
great beating, but he could see nothing at all. He had done nothing to vex
them, just minding his business in the field.
And the other was an old man too, and he was out on the
roads, and they threw him there and beat him that he was out of his mind for a
One night sleeping in that little cabin of mine, I heard
them ride past, and I could hear by the feet of the horses that there was a
long line of them.
This is a story was going about twenty years ago. There
was a curate in the island, and one day he got a call to the other island for
the next day. And in the evening he told the servant maid that attended him to
clean his boots good and very good, for he'd be meeting good people where he
And she said, "I will, Holy Father, and if you'll
give me your hand and word to marry me for nothing, I'll clean them
grand." And he said "I will; whenever you get a comrade I'll marry
you for nothing, I give you my hand and word."
So she had the boots grand for him in the morning. Well,
she got a sickness after, and after seven months going by, she was
buried. And six months after that, the curate was in his parlour one night and
the moon shining, and he saw a boy and a girl outside the house, and they came
to the window, and he knew it was the servant girl that was buried.
And she said, "I have a comrade now, and I came for
you to marry us as you gave your word." And he said, "I'll hold to
my word since I gave it," and he married them then and there, and they
went away again.
Source: Lady Augusta Gregory
- Visions and Beliefs in the West of Ireland. first published
republished by Colin Smythe Ltd. 1992.