Tales of Irish Pookas and Wee Folk on St. Patrick’s Day
March 17 has always been a day of celebration in my family since my own childhood. Children, capricious at times and quick to delight in the new, the creative, and the off-beat, if my children’s growing-up years are any indicator, also take great comfort in the traditional, the predictable, and the routine. The slogan “That’s how we always do it” looms large on the Feast of St. Patrick!
Half Irish from the genetic pool of Selena Monaghan wed to Charles Hart, my paternal grandparents, the day of the seventeenth of March is filled with “musts.” Starting with the traditional corned beef cabbage and Irish soda bread served on Irish Belleek porcelain passed down from my in-laws, the day ends with the comfort of that most beautiful John Ford paean to the Irish countryside, its colorful characters played with actors straight from the Abbey Theatre, and binding it are the indelible performances of John Wayne and Maureen O’Hara in that luminous emerald gem The Quiet Man.
“A good stretch of the legs” as the Irish say, on a “soft day,” that is, a gentle misting rain, might be put to good advantage, if you’ve a mind to, with a trek to a bookstore for some children’s Irish selections to mark the day and add to the enjoyment. Everyone loves a good story, and few may rival the Irish in that department. The weaving of the fanciful, the hilarious, the frightening, and the satisfying into one seamless Irish garment is a treat not to be missed.
What follows is a collection of tales to bedevil a pooka himself (an Irish fairy full of mischief and misdeeds). Each one is a window into a culture thriving on the vitality of the spoken word and the delight felt in the telling and retelling of its ancient sense of the unseen world of the “little people” and their relatives!
Kate O’Sullivan is the perfect weaver of Irish knits and tales in Hudson Talbot’s four-leaf clover of a book, O’Sullivan’s Stew.
The dilemma, precipitated by the retrieval of a witch’s horse, confiscated for taxes due the king for Kate’s hamlet of Crookhaven, stirs the pot and starts the stew a boilin’, and what a stew it is! Never provoke a witch into a hissy fit, for if you do, a series of events of empty fishing nets, cows ceasing to give milk, dying gardens, and heavier than usual rains will befall your town! Is there a slight possibility one of you had a run-in with a witch and thus we’ve had a multiplicity of huge snowfalls? Saints preserve us if you’ve gotten us on her bad side!
Kate, her Da, Seamus, and brothers Kelly and Fergus aim to retrieve the beast, but are caught in the act. The king’s query to the group, “Have you ever been in a worse spot in your life?” brings forth a reciprocal challenge from Kate. Her storytelling prowess rivals the famed Scheherazade, who likewise saved her own life with spun tales. Hey, that’s another book to put on the list for another day! I digress from Kate. If within each of the tales she weaves, the person in the story is in a worse situation than Kate’s family, they may go free. Quite a task she has set for herself.
But in Kate, Mr. Talbot has created no ordinary tale teller. Here is a sampling of Kate’s verbal virtuosity : A series of sneezes saves Kate from an unplanned wedding to the King of the Leprechauns, seals magically morph into girls who save Kate’s brother from sea monsters, predatory cat and wolf fur is gathered from the base of a tree after “the fur flies,” so to speak, and the detritus is spun into a sparkling, stunning kelly green shawl, and finally, a father’s answer to a cry for help from a young woman whose baby is potential dinner for a giant, brings the stories full round. Whew!
Plot twists abound at the close as the banner hanging over Crookhaven’s celebratory feast announces: “Everyone is one of us”—townspeople as well as witches are forgiving here in Eire.
The visual and the verbal blend so well; just when you think you’re sure of its direction, Kate’s tales veer off into the Irish mist and uncover as fresh a piece of original storytelling as a shiny Irish half penny.
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