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Tale of the POOKA on the Curragh of Kildare

Leinster Leader, 28/12/1940, p.2.
 
A CHRISTMAS STORY
 
HOW BRANNIGAN OUTWITTED THE POOKA
                                                
 
Little by little that Christmas Eve party gathered around Tim Brannigan’s fire, recked of the elemented warfare outside. Truly it did blow a fierce gale, and at times the winds heaved and moaned like the despairing cries of souls of centuries ago.
     “That’s a terrible night to be caught on the Curragh,” remarked one of the party. “It seems as if all the evil spirits in the world are abroad to-night.”
     “I wonder,” queried another of the party, “if there is such a thing as ghosts at all?”
     At this remark Brannigan shifted uneasily in his chair, as if pained by the doubt existing in the mind of the enquirer. “Look here” he ejaculated with emphasis, “there’s not a furze bush or thistle growin’ on the Curragh outside but has its sperrit av some kind behind it, be the same good or bad. I ought to know” he went on meditatively, “after trampin’ the big plains for seventy long years, summer an’ winter, night an’ day, at all times and places. Ah, lads, ‘tis I that know it well-the quare people that do be abroad when other folk sleep soundly in bed. Pshat, man alive, half o’ yeh are only fools to what goes on when night falls an’ the Curragh is supposed to be deserted.”
     “You must have met the good people, Tim, at some time or other on your rambles then,” suggested the man in the corner seat.
     “Good people!” retorted Brannigan. “Why my dear fellah, I met more fairies an’ leprechauns in my time than you have fingers an’ toes. Meeting them, however was only clod peggin’ to an adventure I had once wud a devil called the Pookha. That was the only time the win’ was put up me; an’ altho’ it’s a good many years ago now, the memory av it gives me the shakes still.”
     Some of the “knowing ones” present winked at this admission of Brannigan’s and one amongst them remarked:-
     “Badad, Tim,” if it’s not too distressing upon you, tell us about the whole thing.”
Brannigan gazed into the fire for some time before replying to this invitation.
     “Well lads” he said at length, “I’ll try to master me feelings’ an’ relate the story agin, but first let us have another little drop, an’ afore I start me story,” he continued holding his tumbler of punch in his hand, “ let me say no matter how it is condemned, I owe me life to this same stuff, an’ you’ll all agree wid me when my story is finished.”
     Brannigan emptied his glass, and assuming an air of gravity, began his story.
     “It happened one Christmas Eve, lads, when I was comin’ from Finnegan’s christenin’ just below the far end av the Long Hollow, midway between Walsh’s Hill an’ the Beggarman’s Pole, I felt a bit av tired like, an’ down I sat to aise me limbs a bit. I must have dozed off for some time, for I wakened up wid a start to see standin’ afore me the quarest lookin’ boyo that ever a mortal man set his eyes on. Yeh couldn’t call him a man an’ yeh couldn’t call him a baste. He stood well over six foot high wid ears as long as Jack Pender’s ass an’ had the devil’s own excuse for a face.
     After gazin at him for some time in silence, I couldn’t help breakin’ into a fit av laughter, he was such a funny looking boyo. But me merriment soon ended I can tell yez, for the divil stepped over me, an, gev me a welt on the ribs from a stump av a tail he had about two foot long. The clout, lads, doubled me in two for the time bein’ and when I recovered the lad gav a shout at the top of his voice— “Down on yer knees before his majesty the Pookha.”
     “I can tell you,” went on Brannigan, “ I was in no humour av disobeyin’ orders after the clout I got on the ribs, so down I went on me knees. The divil walked around me for some time, eyin’ me from all angles, an’ then satin’ himself some distance away, sez to me, Get up an’ sate yourself as I want to come to business an’ the time I have at me disposal is not too long. My power down here ends when day brakes, an’ it’s within an’ hour or so av that now.’
     “That last remark av the divil, lads, stuck in me mind at once, an’ av I could manage to keep him engaged until the day broke I knew that I was safe. I was turning, over in me mind how best to do this, when the boyo sez – Brannigan I’m goin’ to take you back wid me, altho’ the devil a much use you’ll be in our country. I’m out for youngsters, but as I couldn’t ketch any to-night, sooner than go back empty handed, I’ll bring you along wid me.
     “Musha, sez I, tryin’ to soften him a bit. ‘what use on earth would a poor auld man like me be to yeh, an’ besides think av the state me poor wife wid be in at me loss.’
     The lad gev a cackle av a laugh at this remark av mine. ‘Brannigan,’ he sez, risin’to his feet, ‘yer not so feeble as yeh let on. Yer not too ould to go gallavantin’ to races an’ dances an’ weddins – bow wow! An, as for your poor wife, the divil a much loss she’ll be at for losin’ yeh. How did she do without yeh the week yeh spent drinkin’ an goin’ from one public house to another after yeh backed the winner av the Derby?   Will yeh answer me that ? Who looked after the few little cattle while yeh were stravagin’ after cock fights an’ the like? Wasn’t the white heifer ye had nearly dead wid the murrain, until some av the neighbours mentioned it to yeh?
     “Divil a hands turn I done for years past but he could tell about’ an’ deny any av them I couldn’t.
     “Still tryin’ to delay the time sez I to him—‘An what joy will yeh have me at?’ He scratched his ugly head for some time afore replyin’ to me question. ‘Oh, I suppose,’ sez he, ‘we’ll give yeh a bit as a soft job. You’ll be in the fowl house sortin’ the feathers.’ An’ sez I, “what’ll the pay be for that?’ Pay!’ he shouts; ‘there’s no such thing as money in the country yer comin’ to.’ ‘Well then I suppose,’ sez I, ‘the grub at least is tip top.’ ‘You’ll be lucky av yeh get a slice or two av Indha buck every day,’ was the answer I got.’ An’ lads, to see the leer on the face av the devil when he said this. ‘It won’t be rashers an’ eggs every morning wid yeh, Brannigan,’ he went on. ‘That’s what has discontent an’ fightin’ in your world to-day-too much money an’ too good grub- bow wow!’
     “There was the position I was in,’ went on Brannigan, knocking the ashes from his pipe on the toe of his brogue, ‘alone an helpness in the hands av the divil, waitin’ to be taken away be him, an’ the outlook av where I was bein’ taken to anything but a rosy one.’
Whiskey to the Rescue
     “Still hopin’ to dally the time until daylight, sez I to him- ‘Musha but yeh must meet some quare fellas in yer rambles around in lonely places in the nightime. Did yeh ever comer across a lad named Fan McCool in yer travels. I’m hearin’ about him since I was a foot high.’ ‘Well I should say I did,’ he replied wid an air av great importance, an’ why shouldn’t I? His second wife was a foster sister av me third cousin’s aunt.’ ‘An’ what relation,’ sez I, doin me best to keep on the conversation, ‘would that lave him to you?’ ‘Well,’ replies the boyo, ‘I can’t say for certain, as I’m not worth a rush at tracin’ families,’ but it brings us purty close together at any rate. ‘I tell yeh wan thing,’ he went on, satin’ himself, ‘he has a litter av pups put av his grate bitch Bran that’ll make things hot for the best av them later on the track.’ ‘An’ what names did he give them,’ sez I, thinkin’ I had the divil off his guard, an’ watchin the sky at the same time for a strake av the daun.
     “ ‘Griddle Bread, Hot Pancake an’ Roast Spud,’ sez the laddo getting’ to his legs. ‘Now look here, Brannigan, he went on, I’m beginning’ to find out that yer a prime boy. Yeh think I don’t know what in yer mind tryin’ to kill time until the brakes. Yeh didn’t care a rap this minit av Fan called his pups cawshapooka, but I’m up to yer tricks.’
     ‘Get ready now,’ sez he, producin’ a big sack that would hould 50 stone av whate at the laist. Placin’ the bottom av it on the ground, it stood straight up like a barrel, wid the mouth av it gapin’ open.
     ‘In wid yeh,’ he commanded, ‘afore I toss you into it –ay head foremost.’ Twas then, lads, the bottle av whiskey I had in my pocket kem into play.
     “Well, sez I producin’ it, ‘no matter how we may fight or disagree at other times we should all be friendly at Christmas. Won’t yeh have swig out av this,’ sez I, offerin’ him the bottle. ‘Have a go yerself first,’ sez he, ‘for I’m not takin’ any chances an’ it may contain poison for all I know.’
     ‘I had a good pull at the bottle I can tell yez, and after waitin’ a considerable time, an’ findin’ nothing had happened to me, he raiced over an’ took the bottle.
     ‘Begob, Brannigan,’ sez he after the first swig, ‘that’s toppin’ stuff,’ an’ he had another go at it.
     ‘At this moment I got on me feet, an’ whatever put it into me head I can’t tell to this moment, I took a runnin’ race at the sack an’ jumped right over it.
     ‘Bravo,’ shouts the boyo layin’ down the bottle an’ doin’ the very same thing. Yer a bully man to be able to do what yer after doin, but I’d bate yeh at it every time.’
     ‘I don’t know about that,’ sez I. ‘You took off nearer the sack than I did. Let us try the best out av three.’ I could notice the whiskey was getting’ to his head be this time, but still the divil kep’ his sinses.
     ‘Wait till I see,’ sez he, ‘have we time to decide the matter.’ An’ he looked along what appeared a long goold bar. ‘Only a few minits left,’ sez he, ‘about ten at the most. So let us hurry up.’
     ‘Well let it be a fair do, then,’ sez I placin’ the hazel stick I had in me hand for a trig mark. I went first lads, an’ done the three jumps in fine style.
     ‘Then the boyo kim on an’ over the first time he went all right, but at the second attempt I could see it put him to the pin av his collar to clear the sack clane. He was pullin’ himself together for the last jump, when sez I to him – ‘You better finish the drop that’s in the bottle afore yeh try, as there’s no use in lavin’ it there behind us.
     ‘Bedad,’ sez he, ‘I was near forgettin’ that,’ puttin’ the bottle to his head, an’ while I got his back turned, I slipped back the trig strick about a foot.
     ‘Back he went for a good long run, an’ kem for the sack like a mad bull. As I thought, he jumped right into the sack, an’ afore yeh could scut a duck I was on him, an’ had me belt tied around the mouth av the sack.
     ‘There I had the divil, an’ it wasn’t long until mornin’ broke, an’ to hear the pitiful appeals for mercy comin’ from the inside av the sack.
     ‘So home I lugged him, an’ next mornin’ knowin’ he was powerless in the daylight, I opened the sack to have a good look at him, when what bowls out but a big black cat. Sooner than give in he was baten, he turned himself into a cat.
     ‘So now lads’, concluded our host, ‘yeh can see how the drop av whiskey stood me in good stead on that terrible night, an’ as it lost none of its power, I suppose since then, we’ll have another little drain av it now.
                                                               “D.D.,” Kildare.
 
 
 
 
 
 

A tale of how Brannigan outwitted the POOKA on the Curragh of Kildare.

[compiled and edited by Mario Corrigan; typed by Breid and Maria; all spellings and grammar retained from original article]


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