Fairies and the Names of Places in Ireland

Extract from Origin and History of Irish Names of Places, by Patrick Weston Joyce

From The Cabinet of Irish Literature, Volume 4, edited by T. P. O'Connor

Most of the different kinds of fairies, so well known at the present day to those acquainted with the Irish peasantry, have also been commemorated in local names. A few of those I will here briefly mention, but the subject deserves more space than I can afford.

The Pooka—Irish púca—is an odd mixture of merriment and malignity; his exploits form the subject of innumerable legendary narratives; and every literary tourist who visits our island seems to consider it a duty to record some new story of this capricious goblin. Under the name of Puck he will be recognized as the "merry wanderer of the night," who boasts that he can "put a girdle round about the earth in forty minutes;" and the genius of Shakspere has conferred on him a kind of immortality he never expected.

There are many places all over Ireland where the Pooka is still well remembered, and where, though he has himself forsaken his haunts, he has left his name to attest his former reign of terror. One of the best known is Pollaphuca in Wicklow, a wild chasm where the Liffey falls over a ledge of rocks into a deep pool, to which the name properly belongs, signifying the pool or hole of the Pooka. There are three townlands in Clare, and several other places in different parts of the country, with the same name; they are generally wild lonely dells, caves, chasms in rocks on the sea-shore, or pools in deep glens like that in Wicklow—all places of a lonely character, suitable haunts for this mysterious sprite. The original name of Puckstown in the parish of Mosstown in Louth, and probably of Puckstown near Artaine in Dublin, was Pollaphuca, of which the present name is an incorrect translation. Boheraphuca (boher, a road), four miles north of Roscrea in Tipperary, must have been a dangerous place to pass at night in days of old. Carrigaphooca (the Pooka's rock), two miles west of Macroom, where, on the top of a rock overhanging the Sullane, stand the ruins of the McCarthy's castle, is well known as the place whence Daniel O'Rourke began his adventurous voyage to the moon on the back of an eagle; and here for many a generation the Pooka held his "ancient solitary reign," and played pranks which the peasantry will relate with minute detail.

About half-way between Kilfinane in Limerick, and Mitchelstown in Cork, the bridge of Ahaphuca crosses the Ounageeragh river at the junction of its two chief branches, and on the boundary of the two counties. Before the erection of the bridge this was a place of evil repute, and not without good reason, for on stormy winter nights many a traveller was swept off by the flood in attempting to cross the dangerous ford; these fatalities were all attributed to the malice of the goblin that haunted the place; and the name—the Pooka's ford—still reminds us of his deeds of darkness.

He is often found lurking in raths and lisses; and accordingly there are many old forts through the country called Lissaphuca and Rathpooka, which have, in some cases, given names to townlands. In the parish of Kilcolman, in Kerry, are two townlands called Rathpoge on the ordnance map, and Rathpooke in other authorities—evidently Rathpuca, the Pooka's rath. Sometimes his name is shortened to pook, or puck; as, for instance, in Castlepook, the goblin's castle, a black, square, stern-looking old tower near Doneraile in Cork, in a dreary spot at the foot of the Ballyhoura hills, as fit a place for a pooka as could be conceived. This form is also found in the name of the great moat of Cloghpook in Queen's county (written Cloyth-an-puka in a rental book of the Earl of Kildare, A.D. 1518), the stone or stone fortress of the Pooka; and according to O'Donovan, the name of Ploopluck near Naas in Kildare is a corruption—a very vile one indeed—of the same name.....

Fairies are not the only supernatural beings let loose on the world by night; there are ghosts, phantoms, and demons of various kinds; and the name of many a place still tells the dreaded scenes nightly enacted there. The word dealbh [dalliv], a shape or image (delb, effigies, Zeuss, 10) is often applied to a ghost. The townland of Killeennagallive in the parish of Templebredon, Tipperary, took its name from an old churchyard, where the dead must have rested unquietly in their graves; for the name is a corruption of Cillin-na-ndealbh, the little church of the phantoms. So also Drumnanaliv in Monaghan, and Clondallow in King's county, the ridge and the meadow of the spectres. And in some of the central counties, certain clusters of thorn bushes, which have the reputation of being haunted, are called by the name of Dullowbush (dullow, i.e. dealbh), i.e. the phantom bush.

There is a hideous kind of hobgoblin generally met with in churchyards, called a dullaghan, who can take off and put on his head at will—in fact you generally meet him with that member in his pocket, under his arm, or absent altogether; or if you have the fortune to light on a number of them you may see them amusing themselves by flinging their heads at one another, or kicking them for footballs. Ballindollaghan in the parish of Baslick, Roscommon, must be a horrible place to live in, if the dullaghan that gave it the name ever shows himself now to the inhabitants.

Every one knows that a ghost without a head is very usual, not only in Ireland, but all over the world; and a little lake in the parish of Donaghmore in Donegal, four miles south of Stranorlar, is still called Lough Gillagancan, the headless man's lake, from having been haunted by one of these visitants. But I suppose it is only in Ireland you could meet with a ghost without a shirt. Several of these tasteless fellows must have at some former period roamed nightly at large in some of the northern counties, where there are certain small lakes, which are now called Lough Gillaganleny, the lake of the shirtless fellow: one, for instance, two miles east of the northern extremity of Lough Eask, near the town of Donegal; and another in the parish of Rossinver in Leitrim, five miles from Manorhamilton (gilla, a fellow; gan, without; lein?, a shirt).

Other articles on Fairies