This folktale from Moghia tells of a clever old horse, and of the ruffians that were naive enough to assail him.
Once upon a time, there were two celebrated monasteries. One was at Aghaboe, in the Queen’s County, and the other some eight or ten miles distant, at Monahincha, in the County of Tipperary.
The monks of one of these monasteries had a grey horse, past its days of labour in the field. But the hardy and knowledgeable old animal was still turned to good use. It had travelled so frequently between Aghaboe and Monahincha, that it knew every inch of the Ballaghmore road.
In those times there were no postal facilities, but the monasteries needed to keep up a daily communication. And so the Garran Bawn — as the old horse was called — was trained to travel back and forth each day, with saddle-bags slung on either side of his back to balance each other. Soon the animal learned to jog along leisurely, with the necessaries and messages for the monks of both establishments contained in the saddle-bags.
None of the people along the road bothered the Garran Bawn, because they knew he bore only what was useful for the monks. However, there were three rascals living in the neighborhood, called Deegan, Dooly, and Dullany, who had no respect for the old horse, nor for the requisites he carried.
These men conspired to seize the poor animal, and to plunder the panniers. They waited on the highway, at a place called Moghia, near Lismore, where the Garran Bawn was stopped, and the robbers, emptying out the contents of the saddle-bags, escaped with their plunder.
However, after this shabby transaction, they all came to misfortune and sorrow, as the story goes. They even brought a deep disgrace on all those who belonged to their families. A law was passed in both the religious houses, that no person named Deegan, Dooly, or Dullany, should be ordained a priest; nor was any monk of the name ever afterwards admitted into the Monasteries of Aghaboe or Monahincha.
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This folktale from Woodstock Castle (Athy) tells of a heroic baboon who ended up on the Arms of the Duke of Leinster.
It is said that Dorothea O’More, daughter to O’More of Leix, brought in dowry to Fitz-Gerald, Baron of Offaly, the town of Athy, with the manor and adjoining Castle of Woodstock.
A local legend prevails, that the Castle of Woodstock accidentally took fire. The nurse of Fitz-Gerald’s heir, the son of Dorothea, perished in the flames; but, when the family and servants looked up, they beheld a large baboon, with the child in her arms and on the highest parapet of the Castle.
As the baboon clanked her chain for aid, a ladder was speedily procured, and the infant was happily restored to his despairing parents.
In remembrance of this wondrous event, the chief of Offaly had the baboon and her chain added to his banners. Today this continues to be the coat of arms of the illustrious House of Leinster;
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This folktale from Ardmore tells how the great builder Gobban Saor learned that it is impossible to please everyone.
The celebrated artist, the Gobban Saor, was known as the greatest builder of churches in Ireland. Among his great works was the Round Tower of Ardmore. After he finished it, Gobban build a house for himself and settled down in the neighborhood.
Now, the Gobban Saor was not just a builder. He was also skilled in all branches of the fine arts. But, although he was the most clever artist of his time, he found that no matter what piece of art he created, some people had objections to it.
One day, he decided to examine popular opinion more closely and to adjust his work accordingly. He reasoned that the more opinions he heard, the more hints he should receive to perfect his work. Devising a plan, he put this theory to the test.
Sparing no labor or skill, the Gobban Saor made a grand box, ornamented with fine carving and painted in the most attractive colors. When he was finished, he waited until Sunday and placed the box in the middle of a crossroad. He crawled inside the box, locked it, and waited to hear what comments it would receive.
A crowd soon gathered round the box. The general opinion prevailed that it was the finest box they ever saw; but some thought that the legs were too long. Gobban waited until they were all gone, got out, and cut a small portion off the feet. “Now it must certainly please them,” he thought to himself, getting back in the box.
Another crowd gathered around the box and the general opinion was once more that it was the grandest box ever made, but some now complained that the legs were too short, while others thought that the legs should be removed altogether. Gobban removed the legs to gratify his critics.
When the next crowd had gathered around the box, Gobban found the criticisms took another turn. Everyone seemed to be of opinion that the box was too long for its width. Gobban shortened the box considerably, and got inside once more.
The people now agreed that the box looked too short and that the sides should be narrowed to make it more shapely. The artist again remodeled his box, and once more he subjected it to inspection. He heard the first person that arrived state that the box then looked worse than before, for its height was out of all proportion to its length and breadth, and that the lid ought to be lowered.
The Gobban Saor spent the next week taking off several inches from the top. The next Sunday he barely had room to squeeze himself into it.
“Although there were faults in the box before,” said one of the farmers, “the Gobban Saor might have let well enough alone; with sawing it here, and hacking it there, scraping of the paint, and patching it together, every change has been for the worse.”
“I quite agree with you, neighbor,” said another, “it is labor lost, nor does it increase the Gobban Saor’s credit as an artisan.”
Several voices expressed various conflicting opinions, but all found fault in the box and its maker. On hearing these remarks, Gobban lost his patience and got out of the box. Breaking it up, he determined he would never again try to please everybody, and would instead rely on his own judgement.
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This folktale from Howth tells of the wonderful reputation of the local college, and how its honor was defended by means of a clever trick.
It is said that the College of Howth turned out fine scholars, long before the rise of Maynooth or Trinity College. In fact, the monks in charge of the college ensured such a high quality of education that students from all over Ireland, England, and Scotland came to study there.
It did not take long for the school’s reputation to spread to other countries in Europe, and schools all over the continent soon strived to compare with Howth College.
There was a fine university in Paris at the same time, and the professors there began to fear that their students would leave to finish their courses in Howth. They grew jealous of the Father Abbot and the monks of Howth, and the Paris Superior and his clergy considered how to save their university from complete desertion.
The French Superior suggested to send their best professor to visit that ‘out-of-the-way place called Howth’. After all, he thought, the reputation of Howth College could just be based on unjust bragging and boasting.
The other French professors agreed, believing they were every bit as learned in languages and sciences. Voices were raised to challenge the scholars of Howth to a contest, and half-a-dozen professors at once volunteered to take up the challenge. And so a letter was sent to Howth informing the College of the challenge, which would take place in a month’s time.
When the Father Abbot in Howth received the letter, he called the community together to discuss what they should do about the situation. If they didn’t accept the challenge, they’d lose all their credibility. But if they did accept, and were beaten by the Frenchmen, they feared their students would go off to Paris for their education, and that would mean the end of the fine college of Howth.
The youngest of the monks, called Father Teague, was the first to offer his opinion. He thought that they should not show the white feather, as they were more than a match for the French professors. Then Father Pathrick, the vice-president of the college, spoke. He explained to Father Teague that it was easy to be bold when the enemy was far away, but that the certainty of victory might not last when the moment of truth was upon them. He offered another approach.
Since they knew exactly when their French rivals would arrive in Howth, they would send out all the masters of the college. They would scatter themselves along the roadsides between Howth and Dublin, dressed as simple labourers. When the word was given that the French ship arrived into Dublin Harbour, they would start cleaning the roads, and bid the passing French the time in fluent Latin.
Father Pathrick’s advice was taken, and this is what happened:
At the end of the month, the six French professors had learned a little Irish and sailed to Dublin. When they landed they saw a poor man at the quay wall, and politely asked if he could show them the road to Howth. Naturally, the man they approached was one of the lay-brothers of the monastery looking out for them, and, in disguise, he volunteered another college man to be their guide.
The guide moved a little in advance of the rest, and when they came up to the first of the labourers, he winked, and the disguised Father Teague greeted the French in fluent Latin. The head-professor returned his salute in the same language and curiously asked where the labourer had studied. Teague replied that his parents had sent him to Howth for a few semesters.
And so they went on to the next labourer, and there too the guide gave a wink as he approached. The second labourer raised his hat as politely and called out in Latin. No less surprised than before, the Frenchmen stopped to speak to him, and they were told that this laborer too has studied in Howth for a short while.
They traveled on, wondering at the great education given to the poor in Ireland. To make a long story short, the French professors walked along, and at every quarter of a mile, they were greeted by friendly labourers in fluent Latin.
At last they approached the Hill of Howth, and met Father Pathrick in disguise. He saluted them in the grandest way, and in the best Latin they had yet heard. The French professors questioned, examined, and tested him, in every way, and for a long time on the road. He in turn began to put questions to them. Soon they found themselves at a loss for answers.
Seeing the turret of the monastery church nearby, and believing that the abbot and monks were all there, ready to meet them on the public platform, the head-professor fell back among his colleagues, and he suggested that they’d turn around and return to France. After all, if the simple labourers of Ireland were so fluent in Latin after a few short courses at Howth, the professors teaching there could surely humiliate anyone who would challenge them to a contest.
The other professors approved this advice, and they all turned their backs on Howth. The labourers they passed on their way back bid them farewell in Latin, all the while laughing in their sleeves.
The French were so ashamed when they reached Paris that they denied ever reaching Ireland at all, but the monks of college spread far and wide the tale of the French retreat at the gate of Howth.
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