Seán Ó Farrell and 'Bed Ó Nails'

Once upon a time in the Deep Pond Doom there was a pookah. The name of the pookah was 'Bed Ó Nails'. It is said that a fisherman, Seán Ó Farrell, saw the pookah one night when he was returning from a dance or party or a social gathering of some sort. Seán was clambering the camber of the road as a climber climbs Proboscis Mountain in Canada. The harvest moon on his back and his unsteady gait on the road led him to believe that his anticipating shadow was making a mock of him against the hedge. But Seán was smart enough to know that it was a figure of his own imagination's devising. Imagine his surprise then, when it addressed him, enquired after his health and invited him to help search for a store of treasure that had been hidden in a field nearby some days previously. Being a blunt, pleasant kind of a fisherman, Seán seized a hold of the pookah by his leg. There issued a terrible cat-like wailing out of puck, as if in anticipation of the end of his life. Seán was unperturbed by niceties of fellow-feeling for man nor woman, let alone for those of the Shée, so he kept a hold of the leg. Despite caterwauling and crying, pleading and trickery, praises and curses, example and detail, the Bed Ó Nails was obliged, by the unwritten rules of Chivachie, to lead Seán to the source.
Now Seán was dressed in a suit that he couldn't afford, searching vainly through his pockets for a marker for the crock of gold. The frantic search revealed three unredeemed betting slips, hardly appropriate markers for a site of such historical significance. When Seán realised the vast wealth of the store he saw himself as a person looking at it. Immediately he started thinking about suitable means of retrieving the trove and resolved to return to his shanty and fetch up a few sacks, all the time keeping a hold of the pookah's leg. There was no option but to tie the fellah's leg to the bush growing up out of the rock which was over the hole guarding the treasure. Seán tore a fistful of bolians from the ground around the rock and secured the Shée-man to the bush by the leg and all this time keeping his eye on him as he retreated homeward.
Seán's wife Aoife was mighty perplexed at being woken in the early hours of the next morning for to fetch sacks. If the truth were to be known, she felt quite spiteful towards him and ran the tip of the carving knife through the bottoms of the sacks. Bleary-eyed Seán headed for the meadow where he had left the Shée. He recognised the old road and the gap into the field. The shock was the number of rocks with bushes growing out of them to which were attached young faery folk, all the spit of Bed Ó Nails. No matter to which of them he turned, he could not cajole the secret of the faeries' gold from any of them. Seán was forced to retire, his sacks empty, to a scold of a wife who left him at the first opportunity to take up with an itinerant tailor. She eventually travelled to London and became 'Irish Nellie', the Rose of Witton's Music Hall, and the toast of the Prince of Wales.
I have come across variations of this story in Irish folklore where the hero marks the site of the treasure with rocks and returns in the morning to find the field full of rocks; Hollyhocks to find the field full of Hollyhocks; I believe that there are equivalents in German folklore. This tale is based on the classic story, The Field of Bolians : 'bollán' is given the usage "a large round stone, boulder" and 'ballán' as "Ballan Wrasse, a (rock with) cup-shaped hole, bare patch (in field, crop)" by Ó Dónaill; "a natural cup-like hole in a rock, a bullock, a kind of fish called 'byan' in English" by Dinneen.
Cassells Concise English Dictionary gives the usage of 'wrasse' [W. gwrachen] as "An acanthopterygian sea-fish of numerous species of the genus Labrus or Trenilabrus, haunting coasts and rocks". Perhaps a field full of silvery fish wriggling in the moonlight is a stronger image. There is rumoured to be a version gathered in West Kerry, where the various sites of the treasure are marked by German tourists giving their wives piggybacks. Needless to say, my version bears little resemblance to the classic tale.

©: Rory O'Byrne.

Rory O’Byrne, born in the London area of Irish parents, has lived in Cardiff long enough to have learned to speak Irish with nonchalant ease. A part time lecturer and practioner of art he is now working on an MA at Cardiff University. His witty cartoons illustrating some of the Reverend Patrick Dinneen's colourful definitions of obscure Irish words were a feature of the four editions of An Briathar Saor published in Cardiff from 1994 t0 1997.

Published in The Green Dragon 11, Summer 2002