The Gobban Saer’s Ingenuity: A Folktale of St. Mullins, Ireland

General Location: St. Mullins, County of Carlow/ Map data ©2016 Google
Pinpoint Location: St. Mullins, County of Carlow / Map data ©2016 Google

This folktale from St. Mullins recounts how the Gobban Saer aided in the construction of the local church. 

Many traditions of the Gobban Saer are told in St. Mullins. One of these relates how the cleverest builder in Ireland arrived footsore and weary at the Church of St. Mullins, which was still under construction.

Gobban always took great interest in the erection of churches. When not engaged as the architect himself, he liked visiting places where others were working so that he might aid or give useful hints to the builders. He travelled in his working dress, which was ragged and torn so that no one would suspect he was an architect.

When he reached St. Mullins, a number of labourers were busy putting on the church-roof. Gobban sat down and observed their labours. The workmen soon noticed the poorly dressed stranger and uttered some rather uncomplimentary observations, which the accomplished Gobban had to bear patiently.

They mockingly asked the great builder if he was looking for work, and inquired what trade he had learned. Gobban replied that he knew a great many trades, and they called him a Jack-of-All Trades, master at none.

Gobban endured the taunts patiently, and even offered to give the builders whatever advise they should need, as long as he was resting.

At that moment, a man on the unfinished roof was laying the rafters, trying to shape a plug or wedge to secure one of these to a beam; but he found it would not fit the hole for which it had been intended, and at last, he told the foreman of his failure.

“Since you’re such a clever fellow, maybe you can chop it out in a shape to fill the space?” the foreman asked of Gobban.

Asking to see what place the plug was required for, Gobban was pointed out a hole high up in one of the timbers of the roof.

“Give me a hatchet,” said Gobban, “and I’ll fashion the plug.”

Spreading his handkerchief on a stone at hand, to save the edge of the hatchet, Gobban soon chopped out the plug. Tossing it up into the hole, he secured it there by throwing up the hatchet after it. The instrument fell on the plug, which fit the spot exactly.

“Begorra,” they shouted, “that bangs Banagher!”1)I didn’t have the heart to ruin this wonderful sentence, but it may need some clarification. Begorra is outdated Irish meaning ‘By God’, while ‘that bangs Banagher’ is part of an old catch phrase roughly translated as ‘that beats all’.

“I don’t think you’ll sneer at me any longer,” said Gobban.

He put on his hat, took his black-thorn stick in his hand, and proceeded on his journey. He had not told them his name, nor was it necessary; for the workmen knew that no man in Ireland could attempt the feat he accomplished other than the Gobban Saer.

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Notes   [ + ]

1. I didn’t have the heart to ruin this wonderful sentence, but it may need some clarification. Begorra is outdated Irish meaning ‘By God’, while ‘that bangs Banagher’ is part of an old catch phrase roughly translated as ‘that beats all’.

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