Visions and Beliefs in the West of Ireland

Astray and Treasure

   Mr. Yeats in his dedication of "The Shadowy Waters" says of some of our woods:

"Dim Pairc-na-tarav where enchanted eyes
Have seen immortal mild proud shadows walk;
Dim Inchy wood that hides badger and fox
And martin-cat, and borders that old wood
Wise Biddy Early called the wicked wood."
   I have heard many stories of people led astray in these by invisible power, though I myself, although born at midnight, have lived many hours of many years in their shades and shelters, and as the saying is have "never seen anything worse than myself."
   Last May a friend staying with us had gone out early in the afternoon, and had not come back by eight o'clock dinner-time. As half-hours passed we grew anxious and sent out messengers riding and on foot, searching with lanterns here and there in the woods and on Inchy marsh, towards which he had been seen going. It was not till long after the fall of darkness that he returned, tired out with so many hours of wandering, and with no better explanation than "Yeats talks of the seven woods of Coole, but I say there are seventy times seven." It was in dim Inchy and the wicked wood it borders he had gone astray; and many said that was natural, for they have a bad name, and May is a month of danger. Yet some unbelievers may carry their credulity so far as to believe that the creator of Father Keegan's dreams may himself have dreamed the whole adventure.

I was told by An Army Man who had been through the Indian Mutiny:

   It's only yesterday I was talking to a man about the others, and he told me that the castle of Ballinamantane is a great place for them, for it's there a great stand was made long ago in one of their last fights. And one night he was making his way home, and only a field between him and his house, when he found himself turned around and brought to another field, and then to another-seven in all. And he remembered the saying that you should turn your coat and that they'd have no power over you, and he did so, but it did him no good. For after that he was taken again, and found himself in the field over beyond. And he had never a one drop taken, but was quite sober that night. what did they do it for? It might be that he had trespassed on one of their ways; but it's most likely that there was some sort of a rogue among them that turned and did it for sport.

Mrs. Cloonan:

   The other evening I was milking the cow over in Inchy, and a beggar-woman came by, with a sack of potatoes and such things on her back. She makes her living selling ballads in Gort, and then begging afterwards. So she sat down beside me, and she said "I don't like to go on through the wood." So I asked did she ever see anything there. "I did," says she, "three years ago, one night just where the old house is the Dooleys used to live in. There came out of the end of it a woman all in white, and she led me astray all the night, and drove me that I had no time to turn my clothes-and my feet were black with the blows she gave me, and though it was three years ago, I feel the pain in them yet."

Mrs. Coniffe says:

   I was in Inchy the other day late, and I met an old beggar-man, and I asked him was he ever led astray there. And he said, "Not in this wood, but in the wood beyond, Garryland. It was one night I was passing through it, and met a great lot of them--laughing they were and running about and drinking wine and wanting me to drink with them. And they had cars with them, and an old woman sitting on a sort of an ass-car. And I had a scapular round my neck, and I thought that would make me independent, but it did not, for it was on the highroad outside I found myself put at last.

A Mason:

   My father was led astray one time, when he was coming home from a neighbour's house, and he was led here and there till he didn't know what way he was going. And then the moon began to shine out and he saw his shadow, and another shadow along with it ten feet in length. So with that he ran, and when he got to the wood of Cloon he fell down in a faint
   And I was led astray one night, going across to a neighbour's house (just the length of a field away) and where I could find my way blindfolded. Into the ditch I was led, and to some other field, and I put my hand to the ground, and it was potato ground, and the drills made, but the seed not put in. And if it wasn't at last that I saw a light from Scalp, it's away I'd have been brought altogether.

John Rivers:

   Once I was led astray in that field and went round and round and could find no way out--till at last I thought of the old Irish fashion of turning my waistcoat, and did so. And then I got out the gate in one minute.
   And one night I was down at the widow Hayley's--I didn't go much there-she used to have the place full of loafers, and they playing cards. But this night I stopped a bit, and then I went out. And the way I was put I could not say, but I found myself in the field with an eight-foot wall behind me--and there I had to stop till some of the men came and found me and brought me out.

A Girl of the Feeneys:

   One time my brother when he was coming home late one evening was put asleep in spite of himself, on the grass, at this corner we're passing. None of the boys like to be coming home late, from card-playing or the like, unless there's two or three of them together. And if they go to a wake, they wouldn't for all the world come home before the cock crows. There were many led astray in that hollow beyond, where you see the haycocks. Old Tom Stafford was led astray there by something like a flock of wool that went rolling before him, and he had no power to turn but should follow it. Michael Barrett saw the coach one time driving across Kiltartan bog, and it was seen to many others besides.
   As to Michael Barrett, I believe it's mostly in his own head they are. But I knew this that when he pulled down the chimney where he said that the piper used to be sitting and playing, he lifted out stones, and he an old man, that I could not have lifted myself when I was young and healthy.

A Clare Woman:

   As to treasure, there was a man here dreamt of some buried things--of a skeleton and a crock of money. So he went to dig, but whether he dreamed wrong or that he didn't wait for the third dream, I don't know, but he found the skeleton, skull and all, but when he found the crock there was nothing in it, but very large snail-shells. So he threw them out in the grass, and next day when he went to look at them they were all gone. Surely there's something that's watching over that treasure under ground.
   But it doesn't do to be always looking for money. There was Whaney the miller, he was always wishing to dream of money like other people. And so he did one night, that it was hid under the millstone. So before it was hardly light he went and began to dig and dig, but he never found the money, but he dug till the mill fell down on himself.
   So when any one is covetous the old people say, "Take care would you be like Whaney the miller."
   Now I'll tell you a story that's all truth. There was a farmer man living there beyond over the mountains, and one day a strange man came in and asked a night's lodging. "Where do you come from?" says the farmer. "From the county Mayo," says he, and he told how he had a dream of a bush in this part of the world, and gave a description of it, and in his dream he saw treasure buried under it. "Then go home, my poor man," said the farmer, "for there's no such place as that about here." So the man went back again to Mayo. But the bush was all the titne just at the back of the house, and when the stranger was gone, the farmer began to dig, and, and there, sure enough, he found the pot of gold, and took it for his own use.
   But all the children he had turned silly after that; there was one of them not long ago going about the town with long hair over his shoulders.
   And after that, a poor scholar, such as used to be going about in those times, came to the house, and when he had sat down, the lid of the pot the gold was found in was lying by the fire. And he took it up and rubbed it, and there was writing on it, in Irish, that no one had ever been able to read. And the poor scholar made it out, "This side of the bush is no better than the other side." So he went out to dig, and there he found another pot on the other side just the same as the first pot and he brought it away with him, and what became of him after is unknown.

John Phelan:

   There was a man in Gort, Anthony Hynes, he and two others dreamed of finding treasure within the church of Kilmacdaugh. But when they got there at night to dig, something kept them back, for there's always something watching over where treasure is buried. I often heard that long ago in the nursery at Coole, at the cross, a man that was digging found a pot of gold. But just as he had the cover took off, he saw old Richard Gregory coming, and he covered it up, and was never able again to find the spot where it was.
   But there's dreams and dreams. I heard of a man from Mayo went to Limerick, and walked two or three times across the bridge there. And a cobbler that was sitting on the bridge took notice of him, and knew by the look of him and by the clothes he wore that he was from Mayo, and asked him what was he looking for. And he said he had a dream that under the bridge of Limerick he'd find treasure. "Well," says the cobbler, "I had a dream myself about finding treasure, but in another sort of a place than this." And he described the place where he dreamed it was, and where was that, but in the Mayo man's own garden. So he went home again, and sure enough, there he found a pot of gold with no end of riches in it. But I never heard that the cobbler found anything under the bridge at Limerick.
   I met a woman coming out one day from Cloon, and she told me that when she was a young girl, she went out one day with another girl to pick up sticks near a wood. And she chanced to lay hold on a tuft of grass, and it came up in her hand and the sod with it. And there was a hole underneath full of half-crowns, and she began to fill her apron with them, and as soon as she had the full of her apron she called to the other girl, and the minute she came there wasn't one to be seen. But what she had in her apron she kept.

A Travelling Man:

   There was a sister of mine, Bridget her name was, dreamed three nights of treasure that was buried under the bush up there, by the chapel, a mile to the east; you can see the bush there, blown slantwise by the wind from the sea. So she got three men to go along with her and they brought shovels to dig for it. But it was the woman should have lifted the first sod and she didn't do it, and they saw, coming down from the mountains of Burren, horses and horses, bearing horse-soldiers on them, and they came around the bush, and the soldiers held up their shovels, and my sister and the men that were with her made away across the field.
   The time I was in America, I went out to the country to see Tom Scanlon, my cousin, that is a farmer there and had any amount of land and feeding for the cows, and we went out of the house and sat down on a patch of grass the same as we're sitting on now. And the first word he said to me was, "Did Bridget, your sister, ever tell you of the dream she had, and the way we went digging at the bush, for I was one of the men that was along with her?" "She did often," says I. "Well," says he, "all she told you about it was true."
   There were two boys digging for razor fish near Clarenbridge, and one of them saw, as he was digging, a great lot of gold. So he said nothing, the way the other boy would know nothing about it. But when he came back for it it was gone.
   There was another boy found gold under a flagstone he lifted. But when he went back next day to get it, all the strength he had wouldn't lift the flag.

The Army Man:

   There was a forth sometime or other there inside the gate, and one Kelly told me that he was coming by it one night and saw all the hollow spread with gold, and he had not the sense to take it up, but ran away.
   A friend I had near Athenry had more sense. He saw the ground spread with gold and he took up the full of his pockets and paid his rent next day and prospered ever after, as everyone does that gets the faery gold.
   Another man I knew of had a dream of a place where there was three crooks of gold. And in the morning he went to dig and found the crocks sure enough, and nothing in them but oyster shells. That was because he went to dig after the first dream. He had a right to wait till he had dreamed of it three times.
   A girl the same way dreamt of gold hid in a rock and did not wait for the third dream, but went at once, and all she found was the full of an ass-cart near of sewing needles, and that was a queer thing to find in a rock. No, they don't always hinder you, they help you now and again.
   There was a working man used to be digging potatoes for me, and whenever he was in want of money, he found it laid on his window-sill in the night. But one day he had a drop of drink taken, he told about it, and never a penny more did he find after that.
   Sure, there's an old castle beyond Gort, Fiddane it's called, and there you'd see the gold out bleaching, but no one would like to go and take it. And my mother told me one time that a woman went up in the field beyond where the liss is, to milk the cow, and there she saw on the grass a crock full of gold. So she left the bit she had for holding the cow beside it, and she ran back to the house for to tell them all to come out and see it. But when they came the gold was nowhere to be seen, but had vanished away. But in every part of the field there was a bit of rope like the one she left beside the crock, so that she couldn't know what spot it was in at all.
   She had a right to have taken it, and told no one. They don't like to have such things told.

Mrs. Coniffe:

   That bush you took notice of, the boy told me that it is St Bridget's bush, and there is a great lot of money buried under it; they know this from an old woman that used to be here a long time ago. Three men went one time to dig for it and they dug and dug all the day and found nothing and they went home and to bed. And in the night whatever it was came to them, they never got the better of it, but died within a week. And you'd be sorry to see-as the boy did-the three coffins carried out of the three houses. And since then no other person has ever gone to look for the money.
   That's no wonder for you to know a faery bush. It grows a different shape from a common one, and looks different someway.
   As to hidden gold, I knew a man, Patrick Cornell, dreamed he found it beneath a bush. But he wasn't willing to go look for it, and his sons and his friends were always at him to tell where it was, but he would tell them nothing. But at last his sons one day persuaded him to go with them and to dig for it. So they took their car, and they set out. But when they came to a part of the road where there's a small little ditch about a foot wide beside it, he was walking and he put his foot in it and they had to bring him home, for his leg was broke. So there was no more digging for treasure after that.

A Neighbour:

   There's crocks of gold in all the forths, but there's cats and things guarding them. And if any one does find the gold, he doesn't live long afterwards. But sometimes you might see it and think that it was only a heap of dung. It's best to leave such things alone.