Paddy Kelleher’s Burial: A Folktale of Lissavoura, Ireland

Lissavoura
Pinpoint Location: Lissavoura, County Cork / Map data ©2018 Google

This folktale from Lissavoura tells the tale of Paddy Kelleher, who was buried well before his time. 

One morning, Paddy Kelleher was standing by the side of a bog-hole, when, a man came towards him, with his shoes hanging over his shoulder, and a stick in his hand, as if he was in great haste.

The man came to Kelleher, and asked him, as well as he could for want of breath, if he knew where one Mister Kelleher lived.

“I have come from Buttevant,” he explained, “where a sister of Kelleher’s is dying. She has great deal of money, and no one to leave it to but Kelleher.”

“I’m the man,” Kelleher replied, “and you came from poor Biddy. I’ll just step up to the house and get the mare, and be off at once, back with you.”

“Never mind the mare,” said the messenger. “Make haste, or you’ll never reach her in time. Step at once across to the halfway-house, you’ll just catch Purcell’s coach going into Mallow; and when you get there, Mr. Ahern will lend you the best horse in his stable, and have it saddled and bridled for you with all speed.”

So, Paddy Kelleher followed after the man, without telling anyone where he was going, or saying as much as goodbye to his wife; so afraid was he of losing his sister and her money, if she heard that he delayed coming at once, hot-foot, at her bidding.

Kelleher got to Buttevant without delay, and sure enough he found his sister there, very ill indeed; but she did not die that night, and she was a little better the next day, and then she became worse again, and then better and so she kept him on for almost a fortnight, thinking the life would go out of her every minute.

Kelleher didn’t mind sending word to let his wife know where he was, because he thought his sister would draw the last breath every hour, and then he could carry the news himself; and to be sure she did die, at long last, and left all her money to Kelleher.

“Och, ullagone, surely something has happened to Paddy. For certain he was drowned, killed, and murdered, and I am left a poor lonesome widow,” cried poor Moll Kelleher, as she sat in the chimney corner.

“Molly dear, can’t you be calm,” said Murty Mulcahy, a red-headed tailor that was at work in the house, winking his left eye, “maybe it’s not so bad, and whichever way it goes, you won’t be alone.”

Now, whether it was Murty’s coaxing words, or the wink, or whatever it was, Moll Kelleher became quite calm, even when news was brought that a man was found drowned in a bog-hole on the farm. And though she didn’t half believe it was her Paddy, she let Murty persuade her; for he swore by all the saints in the calendar, that the drowned man was Paddy Kelleher. So they had a fine wake, and buried him.

When the burial was over, it did not take long before Murty began persuading the widow Kelleher to marry him.

“You’ll never be able to live or manage all alone here, without having man to lend you a hand. I would do that for you, but you know it wouldn’t be decent without us being married You’d better make up your mind at once.”

Father O’Callaghan was just mixing the fourth tumbler of whiskey punch, when, Moll and Murty stormed in. So he asked them, as gruff as you please, what they wanted with him at that time of day.

Moll told his reverence how she was left a lone woman, without a man in the world to see after her little farm; and how she thought she’d take Murty for a husband, if his reverence had no objection, and that they wanted to be married that very night.

The priest scolded her for thinking of marrying so soon after Paddy’s death. But Moll, who had a pretty way with her, whispered something in his reverence’s ear.

“The fat pig?” he asked.

“Yes, your reverence can send for her this very night,” she replied.

“Why, now I consider the matter,” the priest said, ” you are a lone woman, and live in a lonesome place; so, as there’s no knowing what might happen to you, I believe I’d better marry you and Murty tonight.’

After everyone was gone from the wedding, and all the family in bed, who should come to the door, but Paddy Kelleher himself, after walking all the way from Buttevant. So he gave a thundering knock at the door, for he was mighty tired after his journey, and was in a hurry to get into bed.

“Who’s there? said Murty.

“This is Paddy Kelleher, get up, and let me in.”

When Moll heard that, she gave a great screech.

“What is it you want now, Paddy? I know you are only a ghost; and you haven’t any business coming here now, for I gave you a fine wake and a decent burial, and the fat pig to the priest to say masses for the good of your soul.”

“The devil you did,” said Paddy, running to the barn to look for his pig, for he saw they wouldn’t let him in, and he didn’t like to break his own door. So, finding the pig safe in the barn, he lay down to sleep in the straw until morning.

He wasn’t long there, when the priest’s boy came for the pig. Kelleher, thinking the beast was being stolen, for he didn’t clearly understand what his wife had said, jumped the boy, and gave him a beating.

The boy ran off to his master as fast as his legs could carry him.

“Where’s the pig?” asked the priest.

“I was going to take her, when Paddy Kelleher’s ghost jumped out of a corner of the barn, and gave me a beating; so I ran away as fast as I could.”

“A likely story, indeed,” said the priest, “you know well enough there is no such thing s ghosts. You must be drunk, you vagabond, and so you fell down and cut yourself, and couldn’t bring the pig.”

“Every word I told your reverence is true,” said the boy, “but come with me and see for yourself if you don’t believe me.”

“I will,” said the priest, and they went to the barn; but the moment he put a hand on the pig, Kelleher jumped up from amongst the straw, and gave the priest such a beating as he never got before nor since. Away he ran without the pig, roaring ten thousand murders.

Poor Kelleher, was mighty tired after this, so he slept soundly until late next morning, which happened to be a Sunday; so that when he got up, and went into his own house, he found everyone was gone to mass, except an old woman who was left minding the place; and she, instead of getting him his breakfast as he desired, ran away screeching at the sight of the drowned man walking.

So Kelleher had to make out breakfast for himself as well as he could; and when he was done, he proceeded to mass, thinking to find all the people there before him, and learn how things had been going on at home.

He was walking along when he almost overtook his old neighbours, Jack Harty and Miles Mahony. He greeted them kindly, but when they looked back at the sound of his voice, they too ran as fast as their legs would carry them, thinking a ghost was at their heels.

Kelleher thought they meant to race him to mass; so he ran too, for fear he’d be late, which in turn made them run the faster. They never stopped until hey got into the chapel, and up to the priest standing at the altar.

“Why, boys,” says the priest, “what’s the matter with you?”

“Oh, your reverence,” they said in unison, “Kelleher ‘s ghost was running after us.”

“It’s me he wants, and not you,” roared the priest, and, flinging off his vestments, he fled through the side door of the chapel, and the people after him. He never stopped to draw breath until he reached the top of a hill, a good mile from the chapel, and there he began to say mass as fast as he could, for fear of the ghost.

Murty Mulcahy, the red-haired tailor, when he saw Kelleher, roared like a bull, and fled the country entirely, never to come back again.

Kelleher thought they were all out of their senses, until his old crony, Tom Barret, seeing at last he wasn’t a ghost, explained that they buried him a fortnight before.

So Kelleher went home, and his wife was kind and quiet of tongue; and the priest was very civil to him, for fear that he’d bring up the fat pig.

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