The Nutcracker: A Folktale of Aghadoe, Ireland

Pinpoint Location: Aghadoe, County Kerry / Map data ©2017 Google

This folktale from Aghadoe tells the story of Paddy Byrne, and how his ghost came to appear at his grave. 

Not far from Killarney, there once lived a poor man called Paddy Byrne. A hedge-schoolmaster by trade, he kept his academy by the side of Lochaune bower, under the hill of Aghadoe.

Paddy possessed many little oddities: he was a grave, thickset, little man, with immense bushy eyebrows and a lame step, so that when he attempted to walk, it was with a one-two-three hoppish kind of motion. Above all he was so very fond of nuts, which he was continually cracking, that he was universally nicknamed the Nutcracker.

One fine day, Paddy met with his fate. He had gone to Philequilla Point, on Ross Island,  to collect nuts, when unfortunately, just as his bag was full, he was tempted to the edge of a rock, by a fine brown glossy bunch. Holding by a branch, and stretching at the nuts, the faithless branch gave way, and down went Paddy.

He was discovered by some woodmen, sorely bruised and battered by the fall but still clutching the bag of nuts which caused his misfortune. To make a long story short, poor Paddy died, leaving particular directions that the bag of nuts should be placed on his coffin in the tomb. A fine funeral he had; and afterward, the people, as usual, returned home.

Among the neighbours who went to the funeral was Tim Murphy, a farmer who lived near the ruined church of Aghadoe, and in whose house a group of people were amusing themselves as they sat round the hearth, by talking over the news of the day.

The conversation soon turned to the curious Paddy Byrne, and the bag of nuts placed on his coffin; and this brought on many stories of ghosts and apparitions which had been seen at the old church.

“I don’t believe in such things as ghosts,” Jack Sheehy boasted, “and I’ll bet a half-pint that I’ll steal Paddy Byrne’s nuts from his tomb this very night.”

“Done,” Tim Murphy replied.

So, Jack left the house and made his way to Aghadoe churchyard. Though the moon was up, it was a foggy night, so that he could scarcely see a dozen yards ahead. As he neared the old graveyard he heard footsteps trotting before him.

“Who goes there?” Jack demanded.

“Is that you, Jack?” answered a voice which he knew to be Bill Eaton’s.

“The very same. On a bit of a spree, Billy?”

“Lots of fat sheep over there. Where’s the harm in taking one? Why not join me? Nobody will be the wiser.”

“I would, but first I need to visit the graveyard,” Jack said, and proceeded telling Billy all about Paddy Byrne, the bag of nuts, and the wager.

“How about you retrieve the bag of nuts, while I go for the mutton. We can meet back here when we are both done.”

Jack made for Paddy Byrne’s tomb, and, removing the stone from its mouth easily enough, removed the bag of nuts. And, as he had promised to wait for Billy and the sheep, he passed the time by cracking a few.

Now it happened that there was a little boy herding cows in the next field to the graveyard, who. When he heard the cracking of the nuts, he didn’t know what to make of it. Softly he crept along the ditch, until, half seen through the fog, he perceived the figure of a man sitting on Paddy Byrne’s tomb, with a bag in his hand.

The little boy concluded it to be Paddy Byrne himself; so away he ran, in a great fright, to tell his master. Mick Finegane, when he heard the little boy’s story, did not feel inclined to venture out to meet Paddy Byrne’s ghost; but his old bedridden mother-in-law, who lay in a little room on one side of the chimney, also heard what the boy said.

A whimsical old hag she was, but Mick bore her fancies patiently enough, for she had a good purse in the toe of an old stocking. Calling him to the bedside, she vowed never to leave him as much as a penny, unless he carried her on his back to the old graveyard, to see Paddy Byrne’s ghost with her own eyes.

Mick thought it a pity to lose the purse after waiting for it so long. So, taking her on his back, with many an inward curse, away he went. Arriving at the graveyard he heard the cracking of the nuts, and horror overpowered all other feelings.

“Is she fat?” Jack Sheehy asked, still seated on the tomb, and, in the dim light, mistaking Mick and his mother for Bill Eaton and the stolen sheep.

Mick’s nerves reached their limit; so, throwing the old woman down, he roared out, “fat or lean, she’s yours, Mister Byrne!” before scampering as fast as his legs could carry him.

The next morning it was reported all over Killarney, that Paddy Byrne was seen cracking his nuts in the graveyard. To this day, many people believe that the ghost of the Nutcracker still appears in the old churchyard, on the hill of Aghadoe.

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