Drake’s Bed: A Local Legend of Killarney, Ireland

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

This Local Legend from Killarney was collected by Thomas Crofton Croker some time before 1852. It tells the tale of the hermit Drake, who didn’t practice what he preached. 

Drake was a mighty holy man, as everyone believed. A hermit with a long white, 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, which is the Devil’s holy water, that thousands of souls are lost entirely; and folk that might be decent and respected to the end of their days, come to sorrow and disgrace,’ Drake said, and surely it was true for him.

Drake used to sleep in the Abbey and he was counted a blessed man, always praying, and at his devotions morning, noon, and night, as everybody believed, until one summer’s morning, when the old Colonel Herbert took a walk out early down to the Abbey, and he thought he heard someone singing the Cruskeen lawn among the tombstones.

Gramachree ma Cruskeen — Slan tu gal ma vourneen — olia mesha Cruskeen — lawn lawn lawn.

‘Hubbubbo,’ said the old colonel, what’s the matter now? I never heard such diversion going on in the old Abbey before.’ So he tiptoed forward, and what would he see before him but the hermit, Drake, blind drunk and singing, like a jolly boy, the Cruskeen lawn, with a great big black bottle in his hand.

‘Oh you old vagabond,’ said the colonel, ‘you’ll stay here no longer blindfolding the people; a decent holy man I thought I had given leave to take up his quarters in the Abbey, but the greater the saint the greater the sinner. Out with you, you thief of the world, and let me never 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. But he hadn’t gotten far, when, what should he see but Jer Sullivan and another man coming up the lawn to their work in the garden.

‘Come here, boys,’ he said, ‘I’ve got a job for you; take old Drake, the hermit, neck and heels, and lay him out.’

‘Oh, murder, colonel,’ says Jer, ‘he isn’t dead, is he? Well, then, a blessed man is gone from among us.’

‘You must lay him out,’ the colonel continued, ‘on the public road, that he may have a great wake of it; but first, you see, as he looks mighty rosy about the gills, just step up to the house and get a little chalk, so we can make a purty looking corpse of him.’

Well, 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, and Jer Sullivan clapped his hands; for it was only the evening before, that Drake had overpersuaded him to forswear whiskey for a year and a day.

They 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 cheeny 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 till the people were going by to their work; and, sure enough, everyone stopped to look at the corpse, as they thought, by the road-side, and to give a small trifle towards the burying, if they had it. But soon they saw it was only a make-believe, and a sham corpse after all.

Mighty angry they were, one and all, and they would have murdered the vagabond Drake, had he not run as well as he could for his life. Whatever became of him, or where he went to, is not rightly known. But he never showed his nose again about this part of the country.

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