TRAVELLERS go to Leinster to see Dublin
and the Dargle; to Ulster, to see the Giant's Causeway, and, perhaps, to do
penance at Lough Dearg; to Munster, to see Killarney, the beautiful city of
Cork, and half a dozen other fine things; but whoever thinks of the fourth
province ? - whoever thinks of going -
- "westward, where Dick Martin ruled
The houseless wilds of Connemara ?"
The Ulster-man's ancient denunciation
"to Hell or to Connaught," has possibly led to the supposition that
this is a sort of infernal place above ground - a kind of terrestrial
Pandemonium - in short, that Connaught is little better than hell, or hell
little worse than Connaught; but let any one only go there for a month, and,
as the natives say, " I'll warrant he'll soon see the differ, and learn
to understand that it is mighty like the rest o'green Erin, only something
poorer;" and yet it might be thought that in this particular worse would
be needless;" but so it is.
"My gracious me," said the
landlady of the Inn at Sligo, " I wonder a gentleman of your teest
and curosity would think of leaving Ireland without making a tower (tour)
of Connaught, if it was nothing more than spending a day at Hazlewood, and up
the lake, and on to the ould abbey at Friarstown, and the castle at
Polly M'Bride, my kind hostess, might not
in this remonstrance have been altogether disinterested; but her advice
prevailed, and the dawn of the following morning found me in a boat on the
unruffled surface of Lough Gill.
Arrived at the head of that splendid sheet
of water, covered with rich and wooded islands with their ruined buildings,
and bounded by towering mountains, noble plantations, grassy slopes, and
precipitous rocks, which give beauty, and, in some places, sublimity to its
shores, I proceeded at once up the wide river which forms its principal
The "ould abbey" is chiefly
remarkable for having been built at a period nearer to the Reformation than
any other ecclesiastical edifice of the same class. Full within view of it,
and at the distance of half a mile, stands the shattered remnant of Breffni's
I strode forward with the enthusiasm of an
antiquary, and the high-beating heart of a patriotic Irishman. I felt myself
on classic ground, immortalised by the lays of Swift and of Moore. I pushed my
way into the hallowed precincts of the grand and venerable edifice. I entered
its chambers, and, oh my countrymen, I found them converted into the domicile
of pigs, cows, and poultry!
But the exterior of "O'Rourke's old
hall," grey, frowning, and ivy-covered, is well enough, it stands on a
beetling precipice, round which a noble river wheels its course. The opposite
bank is a very steep ascent, thickly wooded, and rising to a height of at
least seventy feet; and, for a quarter of a mile, this beautiful copse follows
the course of the river.
The first individual I encountered was an
old cowherd; nor was I unfortunately in my cicerone, for he assured me there
were plenty of old stories about strange things that used to be in the place;
"but," continued he, "for my own share, I never met any thing
worse nor myself.
If it bees ould stories that your honour's
after, the story about Linn-na-Payshtha and Poul-maw-Gullyawn is the only
thing about this place that's worth one jack-straw.
Does your honour see that great big black
hole in the river yonder below?"
He pointed my attention to a part of
the river about fifty yards from the old hall, where a long island occupied
the centre of the wide current, the water at one side running shallow, and at
the other assuming every appearance of unfathomable depth. The spacious pool,
dark and still, wore a deathlike quietude of surface. It looked as if the
speckled trout would shun its murky precincts - as if even the daring pike
would shrink from so gloomy a dwelling-place.
" That's Linn-na-Payshtha,
sir," resumed my guide, "and Poul-maw-Gullyawn is just the very moral
of it, only that it's round, and not in a river, but standing out in the
middle of a green field, about a short quarter of a mile from this. Well, 'tis
as good as fourscore years - I often hard my father, God be merciful to
him tell the story - since Manus O'Rourke, a great buckeen, a cock-fighting,
drinking blackguard that was long ago, went to sleep one night and had a dream
This Manus, the dirty spalpeen, there was
no ho with him; he thought to ride rough-shod over his betters through the
whole country, though he was not one of the real stock of the O'Rourkes. Well,
this fellow had a dream that if he dived in Linn-na-Payshtha at twelve o'clock
of a Hallow-eve night, he'd find more gold than would make a man of him and
his wife, while grass grew or water ran.
The next night he had the same dream, and
sure enough if he had it the second night, it came to him the third in the
same form. Manus, well becomes him, never told mankind or womankind, but swore
to himself, by all the books that ever were shut or open, that, any how, he
would go to the bottom of the big hole.
What did he care for the Payshtha-more
that was lying there to keep guard on the gold and silver of the old ancient
family that was buried there in the wars, packed up in the brewing-pan? Sure
he was as good an O'Rourke as the best of them, taking care to forget that his
grandmother's father was a cow-boy to the earl O'Donnel.
At long last Hallow-eve comes, and sly and
silent master Manus creeps to bed early, and just at midnight steals down to
the river side. When he came to the bank his mind misgave him, and he wheeled
up to Frank M'Clure's - the old Frank that was then at that time - and got a
bottle of whisky, and took, it with him, and 'tis unknown how much of it he
drank. He walked across to the island, and down he went gallantly to the
bottom like a stone.
Sure enough the Payshtha was there afore
him, lying like a great big conger eel, seven yards long, and as thick as a
bull in the' body, with a mane upon his neck like a horse. The Payshtha more
reared himself up; and, looking at the poor man as if he'd eat him, says he,
in good English,
" 'Arrah, then, Manus,' says he, '
what brought you here? It would have been better for you to have blown your
brains out at once with a pistol, and have made a quiet end of yourself, than
to have come down here for me to deal with you.'
" 'Oh, plase your honour,' says
Manus, 'I beg my life:' and there he stood shaking like a dog in a wet sack.
" 'Well, as you have some blood of
the O'Rourkes in you, I forgive you this once; but, by this and by that, if
ever I see you, or any one belonging to you, coming about this place again,
I'll hang a quarter of you on every tree in the wood.'
" 'Go home,' says the Payshtha - ' go
home, Manus,' says he; ' and if you can't make better use of your time, get
drunk; but don't come here, bothering me. Yet, stop ! since you are here, and
have ventured to come, I'll show you something that you'll remember till you
go to your grave, and ever after, while you live.'
"With that, my dear, he opens an iron
door in the bed of the river, and never the drop of water ran into it; and
there Manus sees a long, dry cave, or under-ground cellar like, and the
Payshtha drags him in, and shuts the door. It wasn't long before the baste
began to get smaller, and smaller, and smaller; and at last he grew as little
as a taughn of twelve years old; and there he was, a brownish little man,
about four feet high."
" ' Plase your honour,' says Manus, '
if I might make so bold, maybe you are one of the good
" ' Maybe I am, and maybe I am not;
but, anyhow, all you have to understand is this, that I'm bound to look after
the Thiernas [Tighearna - a lord. Vide O'Brien] of Breffni, and take care of
them through every generation; and that my present business is to watch this
cave, and what's in it till the old stock is reigning over this country
" 'Maybe you are a sort of a banshee
" ' I am not, you fool,' said the
little man. 'The banshee is a woman. My business is to live in the form you
first saw me in, guarding this spot. And now hold your tongue, and look about
Manus rubbed his eyes, and looked right
and left, before and behind; and there was the vessels of gold and the vessels
of silver, the dishes, and the plates, and the cups, and the punch-bowls, and
the tankards: there was the golden mether, too, that every Thierna at his
wedding used to drink out of to the kerne in real usquebaugh.
There was all the money that ever was
saved in the family since they got a grant of this manor, in the days of the Firbolgs,
down to the time of their outer ruination. He then brought Manus on
with him to where there was arms for three hundred men; and the sword set with
diamonds, and the golden helmet of the O'Rourke; and he showed him the staff
made out of an elephant's tooth, and set with rubies and gold, that the
Thierna used to hold while he sat in his great hall, giving justice' and the
laws of the Brehons to all his clan. The first room in the cave, ye see, had
,the money and the plate, the second room had the arms, and the third had the
books, papers, parchments, title-deeds, wills, and every thing else of the
sort belonging to the family.
" 'And now, Manus,' says the little
man, 'ye seen the whole o' this, and go your ways; but never come to this
place any more, or allow any one else. I must keep watch and ward till the
Sassanach is druv out of Ireland, and the Thiernas o' Breffini in their glory
again.' The little man then stopped for a while and looked up in Manus's face,
and says to him in a great passion, 'Arrah! bad luck to ye, Manus, why don't
ye go about your business ?'
" 'How can I ? - sure you must show
me the way out,' says Manus, making answer. The little man then pointed
forward with his finger.
" 'Can't we go out the way we came ?'
" 'No, you must go out at the other
end - that's the rule o' this place. Ye came in at Linn-na-Payshtha, and ye
must go out at Poulmaw-Gullyawn: ye came down like a stone to the bottom of
one hole, and ye must spring up like a cork to the top of the other.' With
that the little man gave him one hoise, and all that Manus remembers
was the roar of the water in his ears; and sure enough he was found the next
morning, high and dry, fast asleep, with the empty bottle beside him, but far
enough from the place he thought he landed, for it was just below yonder on
the island that his wife found him.
My father, God be merciful to him !
heard Manus swear to every word of the story."
Thomas Crofton Croker - Fairy Legends and Traditions, first published 1825.
republished by: Collins Press, Cork, 1998.