The Haunted Cellar: A Folktale of Ballinascarty, Ireland

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Pinpoint Location: Ballinascarty, County Cork / Map data ©2016 Google

This folktale from Ballinascarty tells the tale of Jack Leary, who braved the depths of Justin Mac Carthy’s wine-cellar.

There are few people who have not heard of the Mac Carthies. Many were the clans of this family in the south; the Mac Carthy-more, and the Mac Carthy-reagh, and the Mac Carthy of Muskerry. All of them noted for their hospitality to strangers.

But none exceeded Justin Mac Carthy, of Ballinacarthy, at putting plenty to eat and drink upon his table; and there was a hearty welcome for everyone who would share it with him.

The wine-cellar at Ballinacarthy was large, crowded with bins of wine, and long rows of pipes, and hogsheads, and casks, that would take more time to count than any sober man could spare in such a place.

One would think that the butler would have little to complain of in such a house, but not a single one would stay employed there for long. Yet, everyone who had been in the service of Justin Mac Carthy gave him nothing but praise. “I have no fault,” they would all say, “to find with the master. I might have grown old in that house, if he had only found someone else to fetch his wine from the cellar.”

haunted-cellar-irelandYoung Jack Leary was a lad who had been brought up in the stables of Ballinacarthy, to assist in the care of the horses. Occasionally he lent a hand in the butler’s pantry, and if there was one thing Jack desired, it was to become the new butler. And so he waited for a favourable opportunity to present himself to his master.

His chance came when, one day, Mr. Mac Carthy went into his stable-yard earlier than usual, and called loudly for the groom to saddle his horse. But there was no groom to answer, and young Jack Leary led Rainbow out of the stable.

“Where is William?” Mr. Mac Carthy asked.

“William?” Jack answered, “He had just one drop too much last night.”

“A drop of what?” Mr. Mac Carthy asked, “Since Thomas left, the key to the wine-cellar has been in my pocket, and I have been forced to fetch my own drink.”

“The cook might have given him a taste of whiskey,” said Jack, “But,” he continued, performing a low bow by seizing with his right hand a lock of hair, and pulling down his head by it, whilst his left leg, which had been put forward, was scraped back against the ground, “may I be so bold as to ask a question?”

“Speak out, Jack,” said Mr. Mac Carthy.

“Do you still need a new butler?”

“Can you recommend me one,” returned his master, with the smile of good-humour upon his countenance, “who is not afraid of going to my wine-cellar?”

“I can do that myself,” said Jack.

“You want to be my butler?” said Mr. Mac Carthy, with some surprise.

“Yes,” answered Jack, for the first time looking up from the ground.

“You’re a good lad, and I have no objection to give you a trial.”

“Thank you so much!” Jack said, with another bow, as his master rode off, and he continued for some time to gaze after him with a vacant stare, which slowly and gradually assumed a look of importance.

“Jack Leary,” he said at length, “Jack? No, It’s not Jack anymore, but Mr. John, the butler.”

When Mr. Mac Carthy returned from hunting, he sent for his new butler. “Jack,” he said, “here are the keys of my cellar. I have asked my hunting companions to dine with me. Let there be no lack of wine after dinner.”

It was near midnight, when Mr. Mac Carthy rang the bell three times; the signal for more wine. Jack walked to the cellar to fetch a fresh supply, but not without a little hesitation.

The wine-cellar was located in a deep vault, excavated out of the solid rock in former times as a place of retreat and security. The descent was by a flight of steep stone stairs, and along the way there were narrow crevices in the wall, and certain projections, which cast deep shadows, and looked very frightening if you went down the cellar stairs with a light.

Summoning up all his courage, down went the new butler, bearing in his right hand a lantern and the key of the cellar, and in his left a basket. He arrived at the door without interruption, but when he put the key, which was of an ancient and clumsy kind, he thought he heard a strange kind of laughing within the cellar, to which some empty bottles that stood upon the floor outside vibrated so violently, that they struck against each other.

Jack paused for a moment, and looked around with caution. He then boldly seized the handle of the key, and turned it with all his strength; the door flew open with such a tremendous crash, that, if the house had not been built upon solid rock, would have shook it from the foundation.

To recount what poor Jack saw would be impossible. What he told the cook the next morning was, that he heard a roaring and bellowing like a mad bull, and that all the pipes and hogsheads and casks in the cellar went rocking backwards and forwards with so much force, that he thought that he should have been drowned or smothered in wine.

When Jack recovered, he made his way back to the dining-room, where he found the company very impatient for his return.

“What kept you so long?” Mr. Mac Carthy said in an angry voice, “Where is the wine?”

“The wine is in the cellar, sir,” Jack said, trembling violently, “I hope it’s not all lost.”

“Why did you not fetch it?” Mr. Mac Carthy said.

Jack looked wildly about him, and only uttered a deep groan.

“Gentlemen,” Mr. Mac Carthy said to his guests, “when I next see you to dinner, it will be in another house. I have long thought of moving from Ballinacarthy, and now I am determined to leave first thing tomorrow. But wine you shall have, even if I have to go fetch it myself.”

So saying, Justin Mac Carthy rose, took the key and lantern from his half stupefied servant, who regarded him with a look of vacancy, and descended the narrow stairs to his cellar.

When he arrived at the door, which he found open, he thought he heard a noise, as if of rats or mice scrambling over the casks, and on advancing perceived a little figure, about six inches in height, seated astride upon the pipe of the oldest port in the place, and bearing a spigot upon his shoulder.

Raising the lantern, Mr. Mac Carthy contemplated the little fellow with wonder: he wore a red nightcap, a short leather apron, long stockings of a light blue colour, and shoes with huge silver buckles and high heels (perhaps to make him appear taller). His face was like a withered winter apple; his nose, which was of a bright crimson colour, about the tip wore a delicate purple bloom, like that of a plum. His eyes twinkled, and his mouth twitched up at one side with an arch grin.

“Have I found you at last? Disturber of my cellar!” Mr. Mac Carthy shouted.

“Master,” returned the little fellow, looking up at him with one eye, and with the other throwing a sly glance towards the spigot on his shoulder, “are we really going to move tomorrow? You wouldn’t leave your little Cluricaune Naggeneen?”

“Oh!” said Mr. Mac Carthy, “if you would just follow me anyway, master Naggeneen, I don’t see much reason to leave Ballinacarthy.”

For some years, Mr. Mac Carthy always had to fetch his own wine, as the little Cluricaune Naggeneen seemed to respect him.

The worthy lord of Ballinacarthy lived in his paternal mansion to a good round age, and was famous to the last for the excellence of his wine, and the conviviality of his company; at the time of his death, that conviviality had nearly emptied his wine-cellar. As it was never so well filled again, nor so often visited, the revels of master Naggeneen became less celebrated, and are now only spoken of among the legendary lore of the country.

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