The Shefro: A Folktale of Knockfierna, Ireland

Pinpoint Location: Ballingarryk, County Limerick / Map data ©2016 Google

This folktale of Knockfierna tells the tale of Carroll O’Daly, who never feared the good people until he angered them. 

Carroll O’Daly was a strapping young fellow from Connaught, where they called him “Devil Daly.” He used to go roving about without fear; passing an old churchyard or a fairy ground, at any hour of the night, as casually as going from one room to another.

Carroll was once journeying through county Limerick, towards the town of Kilmallock when — at the foot of Knockfierna — he overtook a respectable-looking man upon a white pony. Night was coming on, and they rode side by side for some time, without much conversation passing between them. At last,  O’Daly asked his companion how far he was going.

“I’m only going to the top of this hill.” said the farmer.

“What might take you there,” said O’Daly, “at this time of the night?”

“If you want to know,” replied the farmer, “it’s the good people.”

“The fairies, you mean,” said O’Daly.

“Hush! Hush!” said his fellow-traveller, “or you may regret it.”

He turned his pony off the road towards a little path which led up the side of the mountain, wishing Carroll O’Daly good night and a safe journey.

“That fellow,” thought Carroll, “is up to no good. I’m certain that something else than the fairies is taking him up the mountain at this hour.”

Carroll O’Daly, whilst these thoughts were passing in his mind, had fixed his eyes on the mountain, behind which the full moon was rising majestically. Upon an elevated point that appeared darkly against the moon’s disk, he beheld the figure of a man leading a pony.

A sudden resolve to follow flashed across the mind of O’Daly. His courage and curiosity had been worked up to a pitch of chivalry; and he dismounted from his horse, bound him to an old thorn tree, and began vigorously ascending the mountain.

Following as well as he could the direction taken by the figures of the man and pony, he pursued his way, occasionally guided by their partial appearance.  After toiling nearly three hours over a rugged and sometimes swampy path, he came to a green spot on the top of the mountain, where he saw the white pony grazing quietly.

O’Daly looked around for the rider, but he was nowhere to be seen; he, however, soon discovered an opening in the mountain like the mouth of a pit, and he remembered having heard, as a child, many a tale about the “Poul-duve.”

The Black Hole of Knockfierna was said to be the entrance to a fairy castle within the mountain. A man named Ahern, a land-surveyor in that part of the country, had once attempted to fathom it with a line, and had been drawn down into it. He was never heard of again. Many tales were told of a similar nature.

“These are old woman’s stories,” thought O’Daly, “I’ve come so far, I’ll just knock at the castle door and see if the fairies are at home.”

Seizing a large stone, he flung it with all his strength down into the Poul-duve of Knockfierna. He heard it bounding and tumbling about from one rock to another with a terrible noise, and he leaned his head over to try and hear when it would reach the bottom, —  but the stone come up again with as much force as it had gone down.

It gave O’Daly such a blow in the face, that it sent him rolling down the side of Knockfierna, head over heels, tumbling from one crag to another, much faster than he came up. In the morning he was found lying beside his horse; the bridge of his nose broken, which disfigured him for life; his head all cut and bruised, and both his eyes closed up, and as black as if Sir Daniel Donnelly had painted them for him.

Carroll O’Daly was never bold again in riding alone near the haunts of the fairies after dusk, and if ever he happened along a lonesome place, he would hurry to his journey’s end, without asking questions, or turning to the right or to the left, to seek after the good people, or any who kept company with them.

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  1. Since the question is bound to come up, Dan Donnelly (March 1788 – 18 February 1820) was a professional boxing pioneer and the first Irish-born heavyweight champion.


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