Tales of mythological creatures like fairies and púca remained popular in Ireland well into the 20th century. Many 19th century Irish emigrants carried a strong tradition of these stories with them to the United States. Traditional storytellers, the seanchaidhthekept these legends alive in the community, and many Irish-Americans remained eager to hear them even after their arrival in their new home. Evidence for this can be readily found in contemporary writings, such as the stories published in diaspora newspapers like the New York Irish-American Weekly. To give a flavour of both this tradition of storytelling and one of the ways they could be transmitted, this post reproduces one of these stories, first printed in 1864. It would have been widely read and retold throughout the Irish-American community in the United States, including among Irish soldiers in Union camps as they prepared for the dreadful summer campaigns of that year. 

The story was first published in Dublin’s Irish People on 2nd January 1864, and was authored by “Merulan”, a pen-name for Robert Dwyer Joyce, a Limerick-born poet and collector of Irish music and stories. The New York Irish-American picked up on it and published it for its readers on 13th February 1864. After the Civil War Joyce would emigrate to the United States, where he would formally publish the story in 1871 as part of his collection Irish Fireside Tales. The narrative revolves around Mun Carberry and his wife Nancy, a happy-go-lucky pair with a love of Irish music and dance, and their encounter with both the púca and the fairies, which reached a climax on New Year’s Eve. In the context of the story that follows, the púca were creatures trained by the fairies to do their bidding, taking the form of a goat or horse. New Year’s Eve was a time in Irish folklore when fairies could be found roaming through the landscape. The story demonstrates the extremely strong associations that many in the Irish countryside saw between the visible remains of Ireland’s Early Medieval landscape and the fairy folk. Ireland boasts one of the best preserved Early Medieval landscapes in Europe, principally demonstrated through the remains of earthen farmsteads known as ringforts or raths. Over time these became associated with the fairies, and were often called fairy forts. Until late in the 20th century, it was a widespread belief that it was extremely bad luck to interfere with these sites.  It is fascinating to consider how this story may have been disseminated through Irish emigrants in the ranks of forces such as the Army of the Potomac, perhaps being recounted for illiterate comrades around the campfire, and conjuring up images of home. It is below reproduced in full.





There was not a man through all the wild fields of Munster, from the grey slopes of Sliav Bloom to Brandon Hill, that had such a light heart as Mun Carberry. Neither would you see from Youghal Harbor to Garryowen a fairer face than that of his young wife Nancy, nor hear a merrier voice than hers as she ordered out her two strapping servant maids to the milking bawn on a fine May morning. It is often said by wise people, that a bird in the hand is worth two in the bush, and that a blackbird in the pot is better than a wild goose on the wing, and also that a clean conscience, a clean shirt, and guinea are no despicable possessions; and all these saws were illustrated by Mun Carberry and his wide, for they took what Providence sent them without murmuring, and joyfully made use of the little they possessed without wishing and repining for things beyond their reach; and as they each had an honest heart, and enough to live upon through either hard or prosperous times, you would not, on the whole, find a happier couple in a nice day’s ramble.

But all people have their failings. Mun had two. The first, which certainly was no failing, except in the eyes of the old and spiteful, was a love of music and dancing, which was shared in equally by his wife– said music being particularly the lilt of the Irish pipes, and the dancing, and the powdering away at an eight-hand reel, a slip jig or a moneen. There was a not a night of their lives, from Christmas Day to St. John’s and over again to Christmas Eve, that some wandering musician did not sit in their chimney corner; and ’tis there, upon the dry earthen floor you would hear the footing about, the shuffling and the jolly pattering of heel and toe, as Mun and Nancy, the servants and the neighbors rattled away to the tune of “The Cricket’s Rambles through the Hob,” “Allisdrum’s March,” “The Hare in the Corn,” or “The Pretty Girls of Coolroe,” or some other tune, that it would delight your heart to listen to. At fair, patron and meeting they were also to be seen footing it way on the “light fantastic toe;” and it was said all over the country, from Corrin Mor to Corrin Thierna, that there was not a piper in the barony that would not rather play for them for nothing that skirl a tune for any other pair of dancers for the brightest h’penny bit in Munster.

Mun’s other failing was a firm belief in the supernatural– in the existence and appearance of ghosts, fetches, cluricaunes, sheevras and phookas. To the latter– a phantom that generally appears to people in the shape of a mighty horse, a huge bearded he-goat, a kid, a great black bull, or a calf– he was particularly partial ,and often on going home at night from a fair, from the market in the neighboring town, or maybe from a wake, he would peer fearfully around him, expecting to catch a glimpse of the phooka in some dark hollow or glen, but for a long-time his half shuddering curiosity remained unsatisfied. Notwithstanding this, at the mowing time, the greenest and tenderest grass upon the upland remained behind by Mun’s especial orders for the regalement of the phooka, and for the same purpose, when the spalpeens dug out the potatoes, towards All Hallowtide, some of the best and brownest cups and the soundest and whitest jumpers were left behind upon the ridge. For a like intention, also, you would see every evening scattered over the farm-yard and the paddock wisps of sweet-smelling hay and handfuls of the cleanest and whitest straw, so that nothing was neglected on the part of Mun to render a meeting between himself and the phooka an amicable one in case of such an event occurring at any time of his life.

It is a nice thing to be contented, and a good thing as the song says, to be merry and wise; and, as I have said before, you would not find within the five corners of old Ireland a happier more jovial heart than Mun Carberry’s; but the old people will tell you that have proved it and known it well, that let a man’s path be ever so smooth and flowery in the beginning, it may before the end become rough and thorny, that the longest lane has a turning, that there never was a summer that a winter did not follow, and that the stream which glides and winds through the green flowery meadows like a thread of glittering silver or a bead of pearls may be dashed into smithereens over the rocks before it falls into the ocean. And what happened to Mun carried out the old peoples’ sayings to a T.

One fine summer morning while Mun and the neighbors who had come to help him were out saving hay in the meadow, his wife, with the milk set, the house swept clean and all her work done, was sitting upon her siesteen at the door crooning the “Colleen Bawn” to herself with a happy heart, and looking out over the long, straight boreen that, with its two rows of oershadowing beech and green, feathery ash trees, led up to the farm-yard from the broad, sunny plan beneath. After coming to the end of her song, she turned to Noreen Gal, the servant maid, and told her to prepare the potatoes for dinner. A moment before not a living thin could be observed upon the boreen; but now, as Nancy turned and was about to resume her song once more, she beheld a great funeral moving slowly along its whole extent upwards from the plain, with cars and horsemen and footmen, and a great gilded hearse in the front, from the top of which waved four snowy plumes of feathers in the light wind that blew across the sloping uplands.

Unable to speak a word, and with a heart throbbing fearfully, Nancy continued to gaze upon the mournful and unwonted spectacle till at last the hearse rumbled into the yard and stopped in its midst opposite the door. Four tall, dark-looking horsemen then dismounted behind, took a coffin from the hearse and were bearing it towards where Nancy sat in fixed and unutterable terror, when a little red cock that was perched upon the barn top flew down between her and them, clapped its wings and began crowing loud enough to break its gallant little heart. At its voice the men turned round slowly, and without a word laid the coffin in the hearse; and, as the brave little bird advanced, clapping its wings and crowing louder than ever ,the four great black horses that drew the spectral funeral car were turned round by the drivers, and at length the might concourse that accompanied it turned also, moved back again down the boreen, and finally faded from poor Nancy’s sight out upon the plain below.

That night, although the dancing went on as usual the piper played in vain for Nancy Carberry in the chimney corner. In vain Mun and the neighbors asked her the cause of her melancholy. Terror kept her silent, and not a word would she say concerning the spectral funeral. Next morning the same thing occurred:– the little cock flew down from the barn top, clapped its wings and crowed, and the fearful spectacle faded away from Nancy’s eyes as before. Still she did not tell her husband. On the third morning the funeral cam up again, the four men dismounted and brought forth the coffin, but now no saving bird of mercy flew down from the barn top. As the men came forward Nancy’s terror at length found voice.

“Noreen! Noreen Gal!” she screamed, “where is the little red cock that ought to be on the top of the barn? Noreen! Noreen! where is he? Quick! quick! or your misthress is dun for ever if be isn’t to the fore!”

“Wisha, faith a vanithee,” answered Noreen, who stood unsuspectingly filling a pot with potatoes by the fire, “the little imp o’ the divvle was making such a noise about the yard these days past that I thought it unlucky an’ kilt him for the masther’s supper!”

“Lord bethune us an’ harm!” exclaimed Nancy in her terror, “you have killed your misthress, too, Noreen.Oh! wirra wirra! what’ll become of me? Save me! save me, Noreen! Look! look!”

Noreen looked, and at the sight she beheld, darted into an inner room screaming with fright, and hid herself beneath a bed.

“Is there no one to save me? Oh! Mun! Mun! where are you?” shrieked Nancy, as she sat chained to the spot in the agony of terror.

No Mun appeared; but at the call a huge gray goat, with its long snowy beard sweeping the ground, danced with many a caper round the corner of the ouse, and in between her and the four men, where, raising himself upon his hind feet, he began to butt and present his sharp horns at the intruders, and with such effect that the latter turned as before, and laid the coffin back in the hearse. And now, with wilder antics than ever, the goat danced round the yard, charging and butting at horse and man, till at length the great funeral turned, moved slowly and mournfully down the boreen, and faded as before out upon the sunny plain. The moment they had disappeared, the goat turned round, trotted up to the door, and fixed its great black eyes upon Nancy Carberry. Fascinated by the look, Nancy arose, and followed the weird-looking animal round the corner of the house and into the garden. Dinner time came on and Mun came in with his hay-makers, but no vanithee [Bean an tí – lady of the house] sat at the table head to make their hearts merry with her bright smile. That night there was loud lamentation in poor Mun Carberry’s house, for the young vanithee did not return, and for many days after they searched through wood and glen, village and town, and over the wide and dreary moorlands that stretched up the slopes of the hills, but never a sight of Nancy did they see high or low. The wise ones, the old people– those who ought to know, shook their heads, and said that she was surely alive and well, in Corrin Thierus, maybe, or in the old Fort of Lisdorney with the fairies.

Still, Mun Carberry kept up his heart, and although he mourned in secret, the neighbors and those whom he met on the Fair Green, had always the light word and the pleasant smile, for he said to himself that a pound of sorrow never paid an ounce of debt, that a man in a pond must swim or else he’ll drown, and that if he ever was to win back his young vanithee, it was not by moping at home in grief and melancholy.

Now a’nights when returning home he looked around more eagerly than ever in order to catch a glimpse of the phooka, for he said–

“One who I have thrated so well ought to be my friend, an’ p’raps may give me news o’ the vanithee. Howsomever, if he’s not, there’s an ind to it. Sorrow kilt a Dane, an’ good humor is the sowl of long life. God help me this blessed night!”

His good humor and trust in the phooka’s friendship were soon, however, to be put to the test. One night as hr was coming home from the wake of Saer-gorm, or the Blue-mason– ’tis a quare name, but I can’t stop to tell stories– he crossed the river at Aha-na-slae, and took the short cut homeward through the fields. After ascending the side of the glen from the green inches beneath, he came to a formidable barrier in the shape of a huge double fence with its two well filled ditches. Mun Carberry’s light legs, however, were not to be stopped by any such impediment. He leaped over the first ditch, climbed up the side through the hazels and thick brier, stepped across to the other side, gave a flying leap to rach the green meadow beyond, and landed upon the back of the phooka, this time in the shape of a great black horse with streaming mane, and long sable tail that switched the heads off the flowers which bloomed upon the meadow behind him.

“Be the sowl o’ my body, but I’m in for it at last!” exclaimed Mun, as he stepped forward, clutched the phooka’s long black mane and squeezed his knees like the bold rider that he was, and thus holding on prepared himself for the worst. “Howsomever, the darkest an’ grumach face may have the kindest ondher it, an’ tisn’t the smiling friend that’ll always help one in his need so here goes for the sake of the vanithee and the blue skies over Grenx!”

With that the phooka darted off with a hilarious neigh, now doubling and rearing, now floundering and splashing with headlong speed through the quagmires and morasses of the low grounds, now rushing quick as lightning across the craggy ridges on the uplands, and then plunging through the winding river below. At length, after sweltering through the river about the sixth time, he suddenly stopped upon the inch reared upon his fore legs, and with a neigh like the blast of a trumpet, pitched Mun Carberry into the air, and landed him unhurt and safe upon the smooth top of Corrig-a-Phipera, or the Piper’s Rock, a solitary crag that rises over the north-eastern bank of the stream.

Well might it be called the Piper’s Rock, for as Mun landed upon it from the back of the phooka, there sat upon a boulder at one side of its flat summit a diminutive little atomy of a man, clad in red body-coat, waistcoat and breeches, with a pair of small top-boots that seemed one the have belonged to a horse-ride, a somewhat weather-beaten caubeen set jauntily over his right eye, and a chanter resting upon his knee– said chanter belonging to an elegant set of bran new pips, which was that moment in the act of tuning. After an infinite variety of flourishes, stops and wild skirls of music, he at length finished the tuning of his instrument, and then looked at Mun.

“Be the hole o’ my voat, Mun,” said he, “but you’re just come in the nick o’ time, an’ you’re as welcome as the flowers o’ May! What’ll you have?– a thribble, a slip, or a moneen? ‘The Thursh’s Nest,’ ‘the Bay an’ the Grey,’ ‘Jackson’s Bottle o’Punch,’ or ‘Nora Ciestha?’ Allow me to insinivate that the latther is by far the most hilarious an’ lively in comparisment with the others, an’ that your fut will keep time to it as merrifluously as the jinglin’ of a sixpence on a tombstone!”

“Whatever is most plasin’ to yourself, sir,” answered Mun, politely. “Let it be ‘Norak Cleatha’ for sake o’ the ould times whin I an’ the vanithee often danced it forenint aich other.”

“Be this chanter in my hand, but yet may often dance it again together, if it lies in the power of Drinaun Brac to do ye a good turn!” said the little piper. “But here goes for good luck, as the gamecock said to the sparrow whin he picked out his eye,” and with that he rattled up “Norah Ciestha” in a wild and joyous tone that would make the dead shake their toes under their green sods in Religa Ronan.

“Hurroo!” shouted Mun, as he powdered away at the moneen with a gusto and a nice and careful attention to time that made the eyes of Drinaun Brac twinkle with satisfaction. “Be all the stones in Corrin Thierna, but that’s nate intirely!” and he footed it about, sprang up into the air, came down lightly upon his toes, drummed with his heels, and then executed step after step too numerous and various to describe.

“That’s it! straighten the chest, back with the elbows, and cover the buckle!” cries the little atomy encouragingly, and in high delight, as Mun now shuffled away like mad–”that’s it! Honom an dhial! but in all the forths in Munsther there isn’t the likes of him for a janius at the gut!”

At length Mun gave an athletic spring upward, came down with a resounding clash of his brogues upon the bare smooth rock, executed another stampede round and round, and then bringing the right foot behind the left, and taking off his caubeen, bowed to the little piper, thus ending the moneen with the height of politeness and urbanity.

“Well,” said the Drinaun Brac, as he stood up and bowed gracefully in return, “I have often wished to see you at a moneen, Mun Carberry. Allow me to express by onquinchable an’uprorious delight an’ shupernathral plisure at your performance of it. Go home for this night in pace an’ quietness, an’ tomorrow set out upon your thravels to look for the vanithee. The time p’rhaps, isn’t yet ome; but when next we meet, I may be able to do somethin’ for you, for I’m your friend, an’ have intherest with one who has power to do you good– manin’ bethune ourselves, my masther, Farreen Shrad, who thrains the phookas for the King o’ the Fairies. Good night; and may the most amberosial and unspeakable good forthin attind on your peregrinashins!”

With that he bowed once more, and, in the twinkling of an eye, vanished from the astonished gaze of Mun Carberry. Mun then descended the rock, crossed the stream, and went home with a lighter heart than he had known for many a long and weary day previously. Next morning he arose, told the servants that he was going from home for some time, warned them to take care of the cattle and the farm, and to be sure to have a piper in the chimney corner for a hearth warming at his returning, and then set off upon his wanderings n search of his lost wife.

One morning, about a month afterwards, as he was sitting on the top of the old castle of Kilcoleman, and gazing out sad and sorrowful upon the lake, he saw a small but intensely bright rainbow resting before him upon the water. Underneath this a figure, at first vague and shadowy, rose into view, but becoming at each successive movement more substantial and distinct, it at length assumed a form, the sight of which made his heart beat with a wild feeling of gladness. It was the very face and figure of his lovely wife Nancy, but now seeming far more fair and beautiful than ever. She seemed to be wrapped in a light robe of blue all glistening over like the coat of one of those gray-birds that flit like living sunbeams through the primeval woods of the torrid eastern climes. She stood lightly on the glassy surface gazing around, at first upon the green shores, but at last turning to poor Mun, who stretched out his loving arms towards her, she advanced a few steps, stood, and then pointed three times up to the pass of Aha-na-Suilish, or the Ford of Light, a gorge in the mountains behind the castle. After resting near him for a short time the apparition began to recede; and, when it reached the middle of the lake, the rainbow rising slowly into the air mingled with the light morning vapours, and the lovely figure of his wife disappeared again beneath the crystal, waveless water.

“be the blessed stone of Ard-na-naov, but ’tis herself at last!” exclaimed Mun. “An’ now I know by the way she pointed that she is in the ould Rath o’ Lisdorney; for, sure enough, there it lies above in the middle of the Pass of Aha-na-Suilish. If watchin’ an’ waitin’ there will do, night, morning, an’ noon, it’ll go hard with me if I don’t bring her back some time or another, anyhow!”

Irish Púca (Celtic Mythpod)

Irish Púca (Celtic Mythpod)

He then came down from his perch upon the old castle, and morning, noon and night, for a long time after, watched for the appearance of his wife beside the fairy rath of Lisdorney in the pass. One fine December evening as the sun was setting in a blaze of red beyond the summit of Corrin-Mor, Mun sat in a thicket at the skirt of the wood, from which, although concealed himself, he could observe every object beside the Rath. As he was ruminating gloomily upon the sad fate that separated himself and his wife, he was suddenly startled from his reverie by a wild-skirl of a chanter outside, and sure enough, on looking out, he beheld his acquaintance of the rock sitting upon a stone beside the pathway. This time, however, Drinaun Brac was not alone. A figure sat beside him whom Mun at once recognised from his habiliments as the trainer of the phookas to the Fairy King– namely Farreen Shrad, the master of Drinaun, the piper. A blazing red hunting coat fell down upon his slender, bowed legs, which latter were encased in a pair of top boots, the fac simile of those worn by the little piper, differing only in the spurs that ornamented them. A scarlet riding cap decorated his head, and beneath its peak, his eyes, like two sparkling carbuncles, lit up a jovial round face, from the midst of which projected a splendid bacchanalian nose, with an extremity red as a ripe cherry in autumn. After a few attempts, Drinaun Brac seemed to give up the tuning of his instrument in despair, and then the two fairy men began conversing on various topics.

“Well,” said Farreen Shrad, which means the Little Man of the Bridle, “purshuin’ to me if I can stand the work at all at all, as I used to do in ould times. Five hundhert years ago, when the blood was hot in my veins, I could do a’most anything, but now I’m a feard I must give the trainin’ business up into younger hands!”

“Thrue for you, masther,” returned the piper, “whin ould age comes on everything looks quare and gloomy. To my mind there is mo plisure whin a person comes to that, but in making cquaintance with the sowl-soothering potheen bottle! ‘Tis the only cornucopy of plisure that warms my heart anyhow.”

“Sthrike us up a thune!” resumed Farreen Shard, abruptly, “sure enough, the pipes an’potheen are my only comfort now, whin I’m gettin’ ould an’ stiff!”

“Wish, where’s the use in playin’ afther all,” said Drinaun, “whin I haven’t a dancer to keep time? If I had only Mun Carberry here now!”

“Never say it twice!” exclaimed Mun, starting up from his hiding place. “Here I am so rattle up Norah Ciestha again, an’ be the lase o’ my hat I’ll do it justice, in compliment of the civil way you spake of me.”

Drinaun Brac tuned his pipes and struck up Norah Ciestha, and Mun rattled away as before to the great delight of Farreen Shrad, who gave vent to his pleasure in a series of yells and hunting shouts that made the Pass ring.

“An’ now,” said Farreen, as Mun bowed to him at the end of the jig, “as civility and perliteness is the ordher of the day, an’ as merriment an’ the most obsthreperous joviality must reign shruprame bethune us, I’ll sing you a song which I learned from ould Garodh Dorney, the poet, whom we had in the Rath with us for nearly a month o’ Sundays. Sate yourself foreninth me there on the bank. Here foes. He made it in praise of some place in the West which he called:



When first I saw my darlin’ in the Garden o’ Daisies,

Fal urlium, ri durlium, muilearthach fa ral i !

I thought she was Diana or the beautiful Vainus,

Fal urlium, ri durlium, muilearthach fa ral i !

I thravelled France an’ Spain, an’ likewise in Assiah !

An’ spint many a long day at my aise in Araabia;

But ever knew a place like the Lakes o’ Killarney.

Fal urlium, ri durlium, muilearthach fa ral i !


‘Tish there the mountains rise up with great imulation,

Fal urlium, ri durlium, muilearthach fa ral i !

With the finest of ould timber an’ foxes in the nation,

Fal urlium, ri durlium, muilearthach fa ral i !

There the deers and bullocks broowse, and the pikes in the wather

They mutilate the salmon an’ throuts with great slaughter.

An’ the cockatoo an’ pheasant they crow in the mornin’,

Fal urlium, ri durlium, muilearthach fa ral i !


Were I numerate an’ confess all the praises,

Fal urlium, ri durlium, muilearthach fa ral i !

Of my darlin’ that dwells in this Garden o’ Daisies,

Fal urlium, ri durlium, muilearthach fa ral i !

I’d want the pen o’ Vargil, an’ powers o’ great Homer,

A,’ the tongue that kissed ould Blarney, an’ riches o’ Damer.

An’ the eyes o’ Rhadymantus, an’ Bluebeard’s pine-thrashion

Fal urlium, ri durlium, muilearthach fa ral i !


An Early Medieval Ringfort (“Fairy Fort”) in West Co. Limerick, across the road from the house in which I grew up (Damian Shiels)

Tallyho! there ’tis for you in the toss of a tinpinny bit! Lisdorney for ever and the blue skies above it– Tallyho-o-o!

“An’ now, Mun Carberry,” said Farreen Shrad, as he came ot the end of his hunting shout, ‘bethune ourselves, you have some inimies where you know. ‘Tis they that wanted to take your wife away the day they came up the boreen, an’ ’tis I out of an’ ould regard for you sent my favorite phooka, Gonreen Glas, to the house to save her; an’ he brought her here away from them, where she’s safe and sound. But as our queen has taken a fancy to her it won’t be so aisy to get her back. Never mind, howsomdever, I’ll manage it. Next New Year’s Eve, just at nightfall, be here at the Foord, where I’ll lave the best thrained phooka horse from here to the Rocks o’ Skellig behind for you in the wood. Mount him without fear or consthernation, and whin you see your wife crossing the Foord in the thrain of the queen, rattle into the midst of them, pull up your wife afore you, and then gallop away for your life. I’m now an ould ‘an a particklar friend to the king, an’ will stand the blame; and turn it all into ludicracy!”

Mun stood up to make his bow and thank Farreen Shrad, but when he looked again both the fairyment were gone.

At length came New Year’s Eve with its white mantle of sparkling feathery snow on hill and moorland, valley and lonely wildwood. Mun Carberry with a stout heart went up to the pass of Aha-na-Suilish, and into the wood where he found the identical phooka horse that had before pitched him to the top of the Piper’s Rock, awaiting him. The moment he had mounted the great steed, he looked out and there beheld the Rath of Lisdorney in one blaze of splendor glittering before him, with a long glimmering and shining train of knights and ladies issuing from a blazing portal in its front, in the midst of which he saw his wife riding on a little palfrey behind the Fairy Queen. He waited till they were in the act of crossing the ford, then rattled forward, and amid the shrieks of the Queen and her maids of honor, seized his wife, drew her before him on his steed, and dashed away like lightning down the pass out on the open moorland, and off towards his house, before the door of which they were safely deposited by the phooka, which now with a thunderous and joyful neigh darted back again to the moors the rejoin his companions.

That night the merriest dance that ever was seen was danced upon the kitchen floor in the light of their blazing turf fire by the light-hearted Mun Carberry and his wife, who were never afterwards troubled by either the Good People, the Phooka, or the Fairies.


The Irish People 2nd January 1864. Mun Carberry and the Phooka; Or, The Return On New Year’s Eve.

New York Irish-American Weekly 13th February 1864. Mun Carberry and the Phooka; Or, The Return On New Year’s Eve.

Joyce, Robert Dwyer 1871. Irish Fireside Tales.