The Crookened Back: A Folktale of Ballyhooley, Ireland

Ballyhooley - Ireland
Pinpoint Location: Ballyhooley, County Cork / Map data ©2016 Google

This folktale from Ballyhooley tells the story of Peggy Barrett, who encountered a terrifying creature on May Eve.

It was the day before May Day, and Peggy Barrett went out to the garden to weed the potatoes. She would never have gone out that day, but she felt sorrowful and wanted to be alone.

All the boys and girls were laughing and joking in the house, making goaling-balls and dressing out ribbons for the mummers next day. Peggy couldn’t bear it. She had buried her husband previous Easter, and memories emerged of the May Eve before their wedding, when she sat cutting and sewing the ribands for the goaling-ball she was to give to the boys on the next day, proud to be preferred above all the other girls of the banks of the Blackwater by the handsomest boy in the village.

Peggy stayed in the garden all day and didn’t come home for dinner. She continued weeding, and singing the old songs that she sang so long ago, for those that never will come back to hear them. The truth is, she hated to sit mournful among the people in the house, who were merry and young and had the best of their days before them.

When she left the garden, the moon was up; but though there wasn’t a cloud to be seen, and though a star was winking here and there in the sky, the day wasn’t long enough gone to have clear moonlight. Still it shone enough to make everything on one side of the heavens look pale and silvery-like, and the other, where the sun was set, angry and red.

It was silent, except for the distant barking of a dog. There wasn’t a creature to be seen on the road or in the fields. Peggy wondered at this first, but then she remembered that it was May Eve, and that many things would be wandering about that night.

Peggy walked on as quick as she could, and soon she came to the end of the demesne wall, where the trees rose high and thick on each side of the road, almost meeting at the top. Her heart misgave her when she got under the shade; she could hardly see anything in front of her.

All of a sudden she heard a rustling among the branches, on the right side of the road, and saw something like a small black goat, only with long wide horns turned out instead of being bent backwards, standing on its hind legs upon the top of the wall, and looking down on me. Her breath stopped and she couldn’t move. She couldn’t help keeping her eyes fixed on that creature. It never stirred. It just kept looking.

At last, she gathered her courage and rushed past. But she didn’t go ten steps when she saw the very same sight on the wall to her left. The creature stood in exactly the same manner, but three or four times as high as before. It gazed upon her as before; her legs shook, her teeth chattered, as Peggy thought she could drop dead any moment.

She moved on without feeling, letting her feet carry her. As she passed the spot where this frightful thing was standing, she heard a noise as if something sprung from the wall, and felt as if a heavy animal plumped down upon her, with the fore feet clinging to her shoulder, and the hind ones fixed in her gown.

Peggy neither fell, nor even staggered with the weight, but walked on as if she had the strength of ten men. She felt as if she couldn’t stand still. She tried to cry out, but couldn’t. She tried to run, but wasn’t able. She tried to look back, but her head and neck felt as if they were screwed in a vice. She could barely roll her eyes, but she saw a black and cloven foot planted upon each of her shoulders and she heard a low breathing in her ear.

At last, Peggy came within sight of the house. A welcome sight it was, but the door was shut. The little window was shut too. She saw the light inside. She heard talking and laughing within. She found herself three yards away from people that would die to save her, but she was unable to call out, or to put out her hand to knock, or even to lift her leg to strike the door.

She thought of blessing herself; and her right hand, that would do nothing else, did just that. The weight remained on her back. She blessed herself again, but still the weight remained. She almost gave up, but she blessed herself a third time.

The burden sprang from her back. The door flew open, and she was pitched forward on her forehead. When she got up, her back was crookened. She never stood straight again.

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