Pooka, Phouka, Phooka, Phooca, Pka

by Leaf McGowan, Technogypsie Research © 2013 Technogypsie.com

While in urban racial slurrage the term ‘pooka’ can mean a fat or slothful person lacking basic hygiene or modesty, traditionally it is Irish shape shifting dark faerie spirit that would appear in a variety of forms, like horses, old hags, dogs, goats, bulls, goblins, hares, or eagles. In County Down, the Pooka is described often as a short disfigured goblin who is demanding of his/her share of the harvest. In County Laois, it is depicted as a gigantic boogeyman. In Waterford and Wexford it is a large eagle with a giant wingspan, and in Roscommon often as a goat. Regional differences and descriptions vary. Regardless of the form they were most often very black with blazing red eyes. “They appear here and there, now and then, to this one and that one.” According to the Urban Lore dictionary. A mountain or hill creature that preys on the weak, the lost, the confused, a weary traveler, or appears to foretell prophecy on November 1ast to those consulting it. They always appear around dusk, luring an individual to a treacherous fate, often involving a cliff or a ditch. They often would offer rides to weary travelers sending them off at a high speed just before dumping them in a ditch and running away laughing. They were in many terms a trickster and prankster.When chickens see a Pooka they won’t lay eggs, cows won’t make milk. It will appear in front of certain homes call out of the names it wants to take on a wild ride, and if those people don’t come out of their houses, will vandalize their yards. Pooka’s have a grasp of the human languages and are able to talk to any human in the tongue they speak, luring them into their entrapment, confusing them, then terrifying them. Another creature that entices humans onto their backs for a ride are the kelpies. Kelpies will take them on a wild ride and then dive into the nearest body of water to drown them and eat them. The Pooka takes them on a wild ride and dumps them in a ditch, off a cliff, in a bog, or plays a trick on them. Brian Boru, the High King of Ireland, was rumored to have ridden the Pooka … and did so by using a special bridle by incorporating three hairs of a Pooka’s tail. He rode the Pooka in its horse form staying on its back until it was exhausted and surrendered to his will. From this the Boru extracted two promises from it that it would no longer torment Christian people and ruin their property and that it would never attack an Irish unless they are drunk or abroad with intent to do harm. The Pooka agreed. Since the death of Boru, it has forgotten its promises and continues with its original activity.

Some believe the term “Pooka” came from the Vikings as they came to Ireland, referring to the Old Norse term “pook” or “puki” meaning “nature spirit”. These inter-related to the Germanic languages and terms for “pucel”, “pook”, or “puck” meaning benevolent or malevolent nature. Around Europe there are similarly correspondent creatures such as the Welsh “pwca” or “pwwka” or the Cornish “Bucca”, the Channel Islands “pouque” or the poulpique in Brittany. The Welch word “Gwyll” which is their correspondence to the Irish “Pooka” is used to describe gloom, darkness, a shade, a goblin, and the nightmare which is quite similar of the Irish creature. Some believe Pooka or Puca comes from the Irish word “poc” meaning “male goat” or “Blow from a cudgel”. W.B. Yeats wrote about the Pooka as the Poc meaning “he-goat” as a wicked devilish creature. Croker said that a boy near Killarney had told him that “old people used to say that the Pookas were very numerous long ago … were wicked-minded, black-looking, bad things … that would come in the form of wild colts, with chains hanging about them.” Halloween by some Irish is called “Pooka night” and in France the Pooka are blamed for blighting crops that remain in fields or blackberries left unfit to eat. It was always suggested that children do not eat over-ripe blackberries in the fields as it was a sign that a pooka had cursed them. Sometimes they would puke, spit, or defecate on the fruits making them foul to eat. Sometimes farmers would leave a small share of a crop as the “puca’s share” to appease them. Pooka’s however must be civil on November 1st, their day of reign. In some regions, the entire month of November is known as the “month of the Pooka” and during Halloween in some parts of Ireland, children go out “with the Pooka” while others stay indoors for fear of what the Pooka will do to them. During Easter, the Easter Bunny is seen by some as the bunny form of a Pooka bringing chocolate eggs and sweet to kids at Easter which inspired the 1950 film “Harvey” directed by Henry Koster.

One of the classic Irish tales of the Pooka is that of Morty Sullivan and the Black Steed who at 14 ran off from home to America leaving his parents behind alone and sad for their loss of him until their death. When he returned he learned of their fate, felt responsible and sought release from his sins. While hunting for absolution one dark night he came upon a Pooka who lured him onto her black steed that dumped him off a cliff. Pookas can also be a friendly spirit if well treated helping farmers and millers with their harvest. Another tale about Phadrig who fell asleep in a mill and awoke to the clatter of 6 little faeries buzzing around milling corn while a Pooka in the form of an old man wearing tattered clothes directing them with their duties. Phadrig felt sorry for the Pooka, so bought him a fine silk suit and laid it out on the floor for him. The Pooka was delighted then said he was a fine gentleman and would no longer grind the corn no more. Lady Wilde wrote about Pooka that were helpful to farmers and told the tale of Phadraig differently … where the pooka appeared as a bull and told young Phadraig to come to the old mill that night … and after their meeting the pookas would come secretly at night and do all his work for him milling the sacks of corn into flour, running the farm, and doing his chores. This made the farmer’s boy very happy and in reward gave the Pooka a fine suit – but then all the pookas went off to see the world ending their work. This apparently didn’t bother Phadraig as the farm was wealthy and allowed the farmer to retire and sent Phadraig to school. At Phadraig’s wedding, the Pooka left him a gift of a golden cup filled with drink that ensured happiness. Others have described the Pooka as being goblin-like vampiric and blood thirsty. Tales of them chasing down humans, killing them barbarically and eating of their flesh.

There is a place name in the Wicklow Mountains called the “Poula Phouk” meaning “Pooka’s Hole” that is a waterfall that is believed to form the River Liffey. The “Binlaughlin Mountain” in Fermanagh County is also known as the “Peak of the Speaking Horse”. This is one area where some gather in high places to meet with a speaking horse for its prophecy on Bilberry Sunday. The Poula phouk was named after an animal spirit that encountered a pooka there. Currently there is a hydro-electric power station at this point where the river drops through a 150 fee plummet into a narrow gorge in three phases – the second drop is the pool known as the “Hole of the Pooka” and is the scene from where Padraig O’Farrell tells of a Kildare man named Grennan on a hunt chasing a fox, chased it into Tipperkevin north of Ballymore Eustace in County Kildare. The fox appeared here and led the hunter to the river Liffey. During the same point of the chase, a black steed appeared and thought to be a Pooka began to chase it too. As they raced along the Liffey, the Pooka and Grennan made it to the gorge. Grennan tried to recall the hounds though the Pooka tempted them to their fates. The fox headed for the narrow part of the gorge, spied the Pooka’s red eyes, and jumped missing the ledge and falling into the turbulent falls below. The Pooka lept across the gorge and vanished into the woodlands. Grennan followed the hounds and the fox, all which were swimming desperately to get out of the pool, leading to their death. As they died he could hear the Pooka laughing. This Pooka’s hole was also blamed on various floods caused by the power station built at its pool. Again the Pooka’s laugh was heard.

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Morty Sullivan and the Spirit Horse


Tale of Morty Sullivan and the Spirit Horse

The tale took place between Gougane Barra
and Tobar Ghobnatan. This was the story of a 14 year old named Morty who ran away from home leaving his parents to die heartbroken when he left Ireland on a ship to America. 30 years after they died, Morty returned to find of their deaths. So he went on a pilgrimage to atone for his sins, and was recommended to do so at Ballyvourney at St. Gobnait’s well. He ran off on that advice traveling many miles on into the dark, a new moon nonetheless, with stars obscured by a thick fog. He ascended into the valleys and got lost, but pushed on to reach his destination. The fog grew thicker and thicker lost he became and in doubt he was going to find the chapel. He saw a light not far off in the distance and as it went towards it the light became distant and distant twinkling dimly through the fog. He continued onwards with his journey nonetheless for he thought it was Saint Gobnait guiding his feet through the mountains to her chapel. He realized the light came from a fire of an old woman which came to a surprise to him that a alone woman would travel as far as he on such uneven roads in the dark. He said to her “In the holy names of the pious Gobnait, and of her preceptor Saint Abban .. how that burning fire move on so fast before me, who can that old woman be sitting beside the moving fire?” and upon those words found himself close to the warm fire beside the old woman who was eating her supper. She appeared to him angry at having her meal disturbed, and her eyes would roll at him at every bite. Her eyes were not normal like human eyes, but a wild red color similar to that of an eye of a ferret. He sat in silence watching her. She asked him “What’s your name?” with a sulfurous puff of a breath coming out when she spoke, nostrils distending, eyes growing a bright red. He replied “Morty Sullivan at your service.” She replied “Ubbubbo! we’ll soon see that! and her eyes turned pale green. She said “Take hold of my hand Morty and I’ll give you a horse ride to your journey’s end” and as they did, the fire going before them, shooting out bright tongues of flame flickering fiercely. They approached a cave in the side of the mountain where the hag called for her horse – out of which came a jet-black steed with clanging hoofs. “Mount Morty Mount!” she cried seizing him with supernatural strength and forcing him on the back of the horse. He cried “O that I had spurs!” grasping frantically to the horse’s mane, catching a shadow that bore him up and bounded forward with him, springing him down a cliff onto the rugged bed of a torrent. Pilgrims coming back from Gougane Barra found him flat on his back under a steep cliff down which he had been flung by the phooka. He wads bruised by the fall and said to have sworn on the spot by the hand of O’Sullivan – “Nulla manus, Tam liberalis, Atque generalis, Atque universalis, Quam Suilivanis” never again to take a full quart bottle of whiskey with him on his pilgrimage. The lesson from this fable is to young men to stay at home, live decently, and stay sober if they can, and not to travel around the world. A tale of delusion and whiskey and a long night’s quest through the woods with hallucinations of a phooka-like hag and steed.