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

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

This Local Legend from Killarney was collected by Thomas Crofton Croker some time before 1852. It 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 venemous 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 well know how to manage this fellow, who was doing great havoc; till, at long last, he had an idea. He had a strong iron chest made, with nine bolts upon it.

So, one fine morning, he took a walk to where the serpent used to live; and the serpent, who didn’t like the saint in the least, began to hiss and show his teeth at him.

“Oh, be calm,” Saint Patrick said, “A nice house I have made 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, and I’ll be glad to see you.”

The serpent, hearing such smooth words, thought that though Saint Patrick had driven all the rest of the sarpints into the sea, he meant no harm to himself. So the serpent went fair and easy up to see him, and the house he 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, you see,” Saint Patrick said.

“I thank you kindly, Saint Patrick, for your civility,” the serpent replied, already moving away, “but I think it’s too small for me.”

“Too small!” Saint Patrick said, “Stop if you please. 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 doing Saint Patrick out of the gallon of porter brought him great joy. So, swelling himself up as big as he could, in he got to the chest, all but a little bit of his tail.

“There, now”, he said, “I’ve won the gallon, 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 rogue of a serpent saw the lid coming down, in went his tail, like a shot, for fear of being whipped off him, and Saint Patrick began at once to secure the nine iron bolts.

“Oh, murder! won’t you let me out, Saint Patrick?’ the serpent said, “I’ve lost the bet fairly, and I’ll pay you the gallon like a man.”

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