Drake’s Bed: A Folktale of Killarney, Ireland

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

This folktale from Killarney tells the story of the hermit Drake, who didn’t practice what he preached. 

Drake was a mighty holy man. A hermit with a long, white beard, always warning people to take care of their souls, and not to be going jigging to patterns and goalings, and drinking in tents and shebeen houses.

“It is through the means of whiskey, the Devil’s holy water, that thousands of souls are lost; and decent and respected folk come to sorrow and disgrace,” Drake said.

Drake used to sleep in the Abbey, always praying, and at his devotions morning, noon, and night. At least, this is what everybody believed. Until one summer’s morning, when old Colonel Herbert took an early walk out to the Abbey, and heard someone singing among the tombstones.

“What’s this?” the colonel said, and tiptoeing forward he saw the hermit, Drake, blind drunk and singing, like a jolly boy, the Cruskeen lawn1)Song about a man who loves his drink. “Let the farmer praise his grounds, as the hunter does his hounds”, but the narrator prefers his full jug of the ‘fine stuff’. It makes him happy day and night, and when death comes to take him in a few years, he will have death wait while he has another drink from his little jug., with a great big black bottle in his hand.

“Vagabond!” the colonel said, “you’ll stay here no longer blindfolding the people; out with you, and never let me see your face again.”

Drake had no understanding left in him, so he didn’t heed a word the old colonel said, but kept on singing the Cruskeen over and over again. So, seeing there was no use in talking to Drake, the colonel walked away. He hadn’t gotten far, when he came across Jer Sullivan and another man coming to their work in the garden.

“Take old Drake, the hermit, neck and heels, and lay him out,” he said.

“He’s dead? Then a blessed man was taken from us,” Jer replied

“He’s not dead, and certainly not blessed,” the colonel continued, “Lay him on the public road for a great wake; but first, as he looks mighty rosy, get a little chalk so we can make him look like a proper corpse.”

Jer Sullivan ran all the way to the house, and was soon back with the chalk, and, by this time, the old drunken thief of a hermit was fast asleep. So the colonel took the chalk and whitened Drake’s face completely.

They then took Drake, neck and heels, and brought him down to the lodge; and outside the gate they got a big lump of a stone, (still there today, known as Drake’s Bolster,) and they put it under his head. The old colonel got a shiny plate out of the lodge, and he broke it in two halves, and he put the biggest half, with three-pence-halfpenny upon it, down on Drake’s breast, and there he lay with his white face like a corpse in earnest.

It wasn’t long before the people came by on their way to work; and, sure enough, everyone stopped to look at the corpse, as they thought, by the roadside. Those who could gave a small trifle towards the burying.

But soon they saw it was only make-believe; a sham corpse. Mighty angry, they would have murdered the vagabond Drake, had he not run for his life. He never showed his nose again about that part of the country.

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Notes   [ + ]

1. Song about a man who loves his drink. “Let the farmer praise his grounds, as the hunter does his hounds”, but the narrator prefers his full jug of the ‘fine stuff’. It makes him happy day and night, and when death comes to take him in a few years, he will have death wait while he has another drink from his little jug.

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