Spansel Wood: A Local Legend of Oak Island, Ireland

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

This Local Legend from Oak Island was collected by Thomas Crofton Croker some time before 1852. It tells the tale of Tom Sullivan and Peggy Curtin, who received the aid of O’Donoghue.

A long time ago, Tim Curtin, a comfortable farmer, resided in Esknamucky Glen, a little to the east of oak island. He was reckoned the snuggest man among the hills; for besides a large tract of mountain, where he had plenty of yearlings and ponies and large flocks of goats, he had a great deal of low land on the banks of the little river Galway, which runs through the glen, where there was good tillage, and a fine stock of milch cows.

Valuable as these holdings were, he thought little of them all, in comparison with his daughter Peggy, who was the cleanest, tightest, and prettiest girl to be seen from Estnamucky to Limerick. Whenever she went to fair, pattern, or burial, she was sure to draw all the bachelors after her; while the girls could only vent their anger by finding fault with the colour of her new riband, the fit of her gown, or the cock of her cap.

Nevertheless, Peggy Curtin was far from being happy, for she had given her heart to a neighbour’s son, who, however worthy, wanted the one thing needful; and Tim Curtin, with all his riches, was a miserly old fellow. So he told her that it wasn’t for the likes of her to be thinking of such a beggarly boy as Tom Sullivan, and was always trying to make a match for her with some rich miserly scrub like himself; but, as luck would have it, he was always breaking off about a cow, or a pig, or a horse, more or less, so that Peggy came off clear, with only the fright.

Now Peggy, for all her father’s commands, couldn’t for the life of her help thinking of Tom Sullivan; and Tom, somehow or other, was always accidentally in the way, whenever Peggy went down the glen to milk the cows, or whenever the old man happened to be from home. Well, sir, things went on in this way for a long time, until at last the old man made up a match for Peggy with the richest man in the country; and, as there was no dispute about pig, horse, or cow, poor Peggy saw no chance of getting off this time.

Peggy was upset when she heard the news; so she sent word to Tom Sullivan to meet her on the island, to consult about what was best to be done. Now, you must know that in the summertime, when the water is low, the island is joined to the glen by a narrow neck of marshy ground; and it was a beautiful summer evening when Peggy Curtin tripped lightly across it, and entered the wood in search of her lover, who had arrived before her in his little skiff, and, with a thumping heart, was waiting for her coming.

“Och, Tom,” said Peggy, as she came up to her sweetheart, “Och, Tom, it’s all over with us now, for my father has made a match for me, for sure and certain, and I have no way of preventing it; so I don’t know what to do in life, for it will break the heart in me to part with you, but it can’t be helped.”

“Oh, then,” said he, looking at the lake in the wildness of his grief, “O’Donoghue, if you’re alive, with all your riches down in the lake there, wouldn’t you take pity on a poor boy? But where’s the use in talking, for you can’t hear me!”

While Peggy and Tom were thus bemoaning their hard fate, Tim Curtin, with a spansel in his hand, was standing in the barn looking at his cows milking, and wondering where his daughter had gone. As bad luck would have it, who should come into the barn but the little gossoon that Peggy sent with the message to Tom. So when he heard the father asking after her, what should he do, but tell him all about it.

Away ran Tim, as mad as blazes. But no sooner was he got to the middle of the wood, than he was stopped short by the sight of a large tub full of gold. To be sure, it was O’Donoghue that put it there on purpose, for he knew well enough what kind of a man Tim was, and had a mind to befriend the young people.

Tim, who, as rich as he was, had never seen so much gold before in all his life, was ready to go mad with joy, and quite forgot Peggy and Tom, and everything else, in his desire after so much treasure. But how to remove it he couldn’t think, for two of the strongest men in the country would hardly be able to stir the tub, though often he tried with all his strength. And he was afraid, if he went to look for help, that he wouldn’t be able to find the place again. At last, he remembered the spansel which he held in his hand; so he tied it to a tree, just to mark the place, and away he run for help as fast as he could.

You may be sure the grass didn’t grow much under his feet until he came back; but if he was looking from that day to this, he couldn’t find the gold again, for suddenly every tree on the island had a spansel tied round it. Tim Curtin was quite distracted with the disappointment, and spent all his time looking for the gold. It was many a long day before he came to himself.

In the meantime Tom Sullivan grew suddenly to be the richest man in the parish; and many people suppose that O’Donoghue gave him some of the gold, though Tom would never admit it.

When the old fellow recovered the use of his senses, he made no objection to the match, for he saw that Tom was richer than himself. So he was married to Peggy at last, and a great wedding they had of it.  And the island is known ever since by the name of Russ Buarach, or Spansel Wood.

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