The Priest’s Supper: A Folktale of Inchigeelagh, Ireland

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

This folktale from Inchigeelagh tells the tale of a Dermod Leary, Father Horrigan, and a group of fairies. 

It is said that the good people, or the fairies, are angels who were banished from heaven, and who landed on their feet in this world, while their companions, heavier with sin, sank down further to a worse place. Be this as it may, there was a merry troop of the fairies, dancing and playing all manner of wild pranks on a bright moonlight evening towards the end of September.

The scene of their merriment was not far distant from Inchigeelagh, a poor village in the west of the county Cork, surrounded by mountains and barren rocks. However, as the fairies can have everything they wish for, poverty does not trouble them much. They just seek out unfrequented nooks and places where it is not likely anyone will spoil their sport.

On a nice green spot by the river’s side, the little fellows were dancing in a ring as happy as may be, with their red caps wagging about at every bound in the moonshine; so light were these bounds, that the lobes of dew, although they trembled under their feet, were not disturbed by their capering. They carried on their gambols, spinning round and round, and twirling and bobbing, and diving and going through all manner of figures, until one of them chirped out: “A priest is coming!”

The fairies scampered off as fast as they could, concealing themselves under the green leaves of the lusmore, where, if their little red caps should happen to peep out, they would only look like its crimson bells; others hid themselves in the hollow of stones, or at the shady side of brambles, and more still under the bank of the river, and in holes and crannies of one kind or another.

The fairy speaker was not mistaken; along the road came Father Horrigan on his pony, thinking to himself that — as it was so late — he would rest at the first cabin he came to. So he stopped at the dwelling of Dermod Leary.

Father Horrigan was a welcome guest wherever he went, but it troubled Dermod greatly that he had nothing to offer his reverence for supper other than potatoes. He thought of the net which he had set in the river. It had been there only a short time; chances of finding a fish were slim. But there was no harm in taking a look. Dermod went down to the riverside, and he found in the net the finest salmon he’d ever seen. But as he was going to fetch it, the net was pulled from him. He could not tell how or by whom, but the salmon got away, swimming along as if nothing had happened.

Dermod looked sorrowfully at the wake which the fish had left upon the water, shining like a line of silver in the moonlight, and then, with an angry motion of his right hand, and a stamp of his foot, gave vent to his feelings:

“May bitter bad luck attend you night and day, blackguard schemer of a salmon! You’ll come to no good, for some kind of evil thing helped you — did I not feel it pull the net as strong as the devil himself? ”

“That’s not true,” said a little fairy, who had scampered off at the approach of the priest, coming up to Dermod Leary, with a whole throng of companions at his heels, “there was only a dozen of us pulling against you.”

Dermod gazed with wonder on the tiny speaker, who continued, “Don’t worry about the priest’s supper. Just ask him one question from us, and we’ll have the finest supper there ever was spread out before him.”

Dermod considered for some time, and thought that no harm could come from asking a civil question. “Alright,” said Dermod, “but keep your supper.”

“Ask Father Horrigan whether our souls will be saved at the last day, like the souls of good Christians” said the little speaking fairy, whilst the rest came crowding after him.

Dermod returned to his cabin, where he found the potatoes on the table, and his wife handing the biggest of them all, a beautiful laughing red apple, smoking like a hard-ridden horse on a frosty night, over to Father Horrigan.

After some hesitation, Dermod gathered the courage to put the question to Father Horrigan, who looked at him very sternly and insisted that the fairies, should they desire an answer, should come to him in person.

Dermod returned to the fairies, who came swarming around him to hear what the priest had said in reply; but when they learned that they should visit the priest, away they fled, some here and more there, some this way and more that, whisking by poor Dermod so fast and in such numbers, that he was left quite bewildered.

When he came to himself, he went back to his cabin and ate his dry potatoes along with Father Horrigan. The Priest made quite light of the thing, but Dermod could not help thinking that it was a shame that his reverence should have so poor a supper.

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