St. Patrick and the Serpent: A Folktale of Killarney, Ireland

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

This folktale from Killarney tells of Saint Patrick, and how he got rid of the last remaining serpent in ireland. 

Everybody has heard how Saint Patrick drove the serpents and all manner of venomous things out of Ireland. But it is less well known that there was one old serpent left, who was too cunning to be talked out of the country, and made to drown himself.

Saint Patrick didn’t know how to deal with this serpent, who was causing great havoc; until, at long last, he had an idea. He had a strong iron chest made, with nine bolts. Then, one fine morning, he walked to where the serpent used to live; and the serpent, who didn’t like the saint, began to hiss and show his teeth.

“Oh, be calm,” Saint Patrick said, “I have made a nice house for you, against the winter; for I’m going to civilize the whole country, man and beast. You can come and look at it whenever you please.”

The serpent, hearing such smooth words, thought that though Saint Patrick had driven all the rest of the serpents into the sea, he meant no harm to himself. So he went to see the house Saint Patrick was speaking about. But when the serpent saw the nine great bolts upon the chest, he thought he was betrayed, and wanted to leave as fast as he could.

“It is a nice warm house,” Saint Patrick said.

“Thank you kindly, Saint Patrick, for your civility,” the serpent replied, already moving away, “but it seems too small for me.”

“Too small!” Saint Patrick said, “I am sure it will fit you completely; and I’ll bet you a gallon of porter that if you’ll only try and get in, there’ll be plenty of room for you.”

The serpent was as thirsty as could be and the thoughts of tricking Saint Patrick out of the gallon of porter brought him great joy. So, swelling himself up as big as he could, he got into the chest. All but a little bit of his tail.

“There,”he said, “the house is too small for me, for my tail does not fit.”

But Saint Patrick came up behind the great heavy lid of the chest, and, putting his two hands on it, slapped it down, with a bang like thunder. When the serpent saw the lid coming down, in shot his tail, for fear of being chopped off.

Saint Patrick began at once to secure the nine iron bolts.

“Please let me out, Saint Patrick?’ the serpent begged.

“Let you out?” Saint Patrick said, “sure I will, but, you see, I haven’t time now, so you must wait till tomorrow.”

And so the saint took the iron chest, with the serpent in it, and pitched it into the lake.

It is believed that the serpent is still there today and that it is his struggling down at the bottom of the lake that makes the waves upon it. Sometimes you can still hear him crying out, from within the chest under the water, “Is it tomorrow yet? Is it tomorrow yet?” But tomorrow it can never be, and that’s the way Saint Patrick dealt with the last of the serpents.

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