Spansel Wood: A Folktale of Oak Island, Ireland

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

This folktale from Oak Island tells the tale of Tom Sullivan and Peggy Curtin, who received the aid of O’Donoghue.

Tim Curtin was a comfortable farmer who lived in Esknamucky Glen, a little to the east of oak island. Besides a large tract of mountain, where he had plenty of yearlings and ponies and large flocks of goats, he owned a great deal of low land on the banks of the little river Galway, and a fine stock of cows.

Valuable as these holdings were, he thought little of them all, in comparison with his daughter Peggy, who was the prettiest girl to be seen from Estnamucky to Limerick. Whenever she went to fair, pattern, or burial, she caught the eye of all the bachelors; while the other 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.

But Peggy Curtin was deeply unhappy, for she had given her heart to a neighbour’s son, who, however worthy, was too poor for Tim Curtin’s taste. So he told her to put Tom Sullivan out of her mind, 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.

Things went on in this way for a long time, until at last the old man made 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. Very upset, she sent word to Tom Sullivan to meet her on the island.

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.

“Oh, Tom,” Peggy said, as she came up to her sweetheart, “it’s all over, for my father has made a match for me. It will break my heart to part with you, but it can’t be helped.”

“O’Donoghue,” said he, looking at the lake in the wildness of his grief, “with all your riches down in the lake, wouldn’t you take pity on a poor boy?”

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

Tim ran into the woods, as mad as blazes. But when he got to the middle of the wood, he was stopped by the sight of a large tub full of gold. O’Donoghue put it there on purpose, for he knew what kind of a man Tim was, and had a mind to befriend the young people.

Tim, rich as he was, had never seen so much gold. Mad with joy, he was quite ready to forgot Peggy and Tom, and everything else. But he could not figure out how to move the treasure, for two of the strongest men in the country would hardly be able to stir the tub. At last, Tim remembered the spansel which he held in his hand; so he tied it to a tree, just to mark the place, and ran for help as fast as he could.

But when he returned he couldn’t find the gold again, for suddenly every tree on the island had a spansel tied round it. Tim Curtin was overcome 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 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 Tim Curtin recovered the use of his senses, he made no objection to the match; for Tom was now richer than himself. So Peggy was married to Tom at last, and a great wedding they had.

The island on which O’Donoghue came to the aid of the fated lovers was known ever since by the name of Russ Buarach, or Spansel Wood.

If you enjoyed reading this local legend from Oak Island, then please consider keeping it alive by sharing it with your friends. You can find many more Irish folktales by visiting our dedicated collection.

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