Diarmid Bawn, The Piper: A Folktale of Killarney, Ireland

Pinpoint Location: Killarny, County Kerry / Map data ©2017 Google

This folktale from Killarney tells the tale of Diarmid Bawn, who was turned into a horse and turned out to be a mighty good one. 

Diarmid Bawn, the piper, rented a small mountain farm outside Killarney, where he was walking about the fields one moonlight night, quite irritated. The river was flooded and Diarmid could not get across to buy any tobacco, but he would rather go to bed without his supper than a whiff of the dudeen.

As he came to the old fort in the far field, Diarmid was surprised to see a large army of the good people. They seemed to be preparing to march.

“Are you ready?” cried a little fellow dressed out like a general.

“No,” said a little curmudgeon of a chap all dressed in red, from the crown of his cocked hat to the sole of his boot, “if you don’t get the Fir darrig a horse he must stay behind, and you’ll lose the battle.”

“There’s Diarmid Bawn,” said the general, “make a horse of him.”

Diarmid was mighty frightened, but determined to put up a bold face. He began to cross himself, and to say some blessed words. But it availed him not.

“I’m not the man to care a straw for your words or your crossings,” said the little red imp, with a horrible grin. He gave poor Diarmid a rap with the flat side of his sword, changing him instantly into a horse, and climbed on his back.

The fairy army flew across the ocean, like wild geese, screaming and chattering, until they came to Jamaica. There they had a murdering fight with the local good people.

The fight was nearing a stalemate, when one of the Jamaican fairies made a cut under Diarmid’s left eye, and poor Diarmid lost his temper entirely. He dashed into the middle of the battlefield, with Fir darrig mounted upon his back, and he threw out his heels, and he whisked his tail about, and wheeled and turned round and round at such a rate, that he soon made a fair clearance.

Diarmid’s faction soon won the fight, and they feasted and rejoiced.

“Let every man take a hand of tobacco for Diarmid Bawn,” said the general.

When it was getting near morning, the good people flew back to the old fort. There they vanished like the mist from the mountain.

Diarmid looked about; the sun was rising and he thought it was all a dream. But then he felt the blood running from his left eye; for sure enough he was wounded in the battle. And beside him lay a big pile of tobacco.

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  1. D131. Transformation: man to horse. [Irish, Icelandic, Finnish, Estonian, Persian, Hindu, India, Japanese, Mpongwe]. I’ve removed the framing narrative.


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