Visions and Beliefs in the West of Ireland
The Fool of the Forth
We had, before our quest
began, heard of faeries and banshees and the walking
dead; but neither Mr. Yeats in Sligo nor I in Galway had ever heard of "the
worst of them all," the Fool of Forth, the Amadan-na-Briona, he whose stroke is,
as death, incurable. As to the fool in this world, the pity for him is mingled
with some awe, for who knows what windows may have been opened to those who are
under the moon's spell, who do not give in to our limitations, are not "bound by
reason to the wheel." it is so in the East also, and I remember the surprise of
the European doctor who had charge of an hospital in one of the Native States of
India, because when the ruler of the State came one day to visit it, he and his
high officials, while generous and pitiful to the bodily sick, bowed down and
saluted a young lad who had lost his wits, as if recognizing an emissary from a
In one of my little comedies "The Full Moon," the cracked woman comforts her
half-witted brother, saying of his common-sense critics, "It is as dull as
themselves you would be maybe, and the world to be different and the moon to
change its courses with the sun." Those commonsense people of Cloon describe a
fool as "one that is laughing and mocking, and that would not have the same
habits as yourself, or to have no fear of things you would be in dread of, or to
be using a difierent class of food." May it not be the old story of the deaf man
thinking all his fellow guests had suddenly lost their reason when they began to
dance, and he alone could not hear the call of the pipes?
There is perhaps sometimes a confusion in the mind between things seen and
unseen, for an old woman telling me she had often heard of the Amadan-na-Briona
went on "And I knew one too, and he's not dead a twelvemonth. It's at night he
used to be away with them, and they used to try to bring people away into the
forth where he was.
"Was he a fool in this world too? Well, he was mostly, and i think I know
another that's living now."
I was told by:
A Woman Bringing Oysters from the Strand:
There was a boy, one Rivers, got the touch last June, from the
Amadan-na-Briona, the Fool of the Forth, and for that touch there is no cure. It
came to the house in the night-time and knocked at the door, and he was in bed
and he did not rise to let it in. And it knocked the second time, and even then,
if he had answered it, he might have escaped. But when it knocked the third time
he fell back on the bed, and one side of him as if dead, and his jaw fell on the
He knew it was the Amadan-na-Briona did it, but he did not see him--he only
felt him. And he used to be running in every place after that and trying to
drown himself, and he was in great dread his father would say he was mad, and
bring him away to Ballinasloe. He used to be asking me could his father do that
to him. He was brought to Ballinasloe after and he died there, and his body was
brought back and buried at Drumacoo.
Cnoc-na-Briona is full of them, near Cappard. The Amadan-na-Briona is the
master of them all, I heard the priest say that.
There was a man of the MacNeills passing by it one night corning back from
the bog, and they brought him in, and when he came out next day--God save the
mark--his face was turned to his poll. They sent then to Father Jordan, and he
turned it right again. The man said they beat him while he was with them, and he
saw there a great many of his friends that were dead.
The Spinning Woman:
There are fools among them, and the fools we see like that Amadan at
Ballymore go away with them at night. And so do the women fools, that we call
lenshees, that means, an ape.
It's true enough there is no cure for the stroke of the Amadan-na-Briona.
There was an old man I knew long ago, he had a tape, and he could tell what
disease you had with measuring you, and he knew many things. And he said to me
one time "What month of the year is the worst?" And I said, "The month of May,
of course," "It is not," he said, "but the month of June, for that's the month
that the Amadan gives his stroke." They say he looks like any other man, but
he's leathan--wide--and not smart. I know a boy one time got a great
fright, for a lamb looked over the wall at him, and it with a big beard on it,
and he knew it was the Amadan, for it was the month of June. And they brought
him to that man I was telling you about, that had the tape. And when he saw him
he said "Send for the priest and get a Mass said over him." And so they did, and
what would you say but he's living yet, and has a family.
A Seaside Man:
The stroke of the Fool is what there is no cure for; any one that gets that
is gone. The Amadan-na-Briona we call him. It's said they are mostly good
neighbours. I suppose the reason of the Amadan being wicked is he not having his
wits, he strikes out at all he meets.
A Clare Man:
They, the other sort of people, might be passing you close and they might
touch you; but any one that gets the touch of the Amadan-na-briona is done for.
And it's true enough that it's in the month of June he's most likely to give the
touch. I knew one that got it, and told me about it himself.
He was a boy I knew well, and he told me that one night a gentleman came to
him, that had been his landlord, and that was dead. And he told him to come
along with him, for he wanted to fight another man. And when he went he found
two great troops of them, and the other troop had a living man with them too,
and he was put to fight him. And they had a great fight and at last he got the
better of the other man, and then the troop on his side gave a great shout, and
he was left home again.
But about three years after that he was cutting bushes in a wood, and he saw
the Amadan coming at him. He had a big vessel in his arms, and it shining, so
that the boy could see nothing else, but he put it behind his back then, and
came running; and he said he looked wide and wild, like the side of a hill.
And the boy ran, and the Amadan threw the vessel after him, and it broke with
a great noise, and whatever came out of it, his head was gone then and there. He
lived for a while after and used to be telling us many things, but his wits were
gone. He thought they mightn't have liked him to beat the other man, and he used
to be afraid something would come on him.
A friend of mine saw the Amadan one time in Poul-na-shionac, low-sized and
very wide, and with a big hat on him, very high, and he'd make shoes for you if
you could get a hold of him. But there are some say "No, that is not the
Amadan-na-Briona, that is the leprechaun."
An Old Woman:
The Amadan-na-Briona is a bad one to meet. If you don't say, "The Lord be
between us and harm," when you meet him, you are gone for ever and always. What
does he look like? I suppose like any fool in a house--a sort of a clown.
A Man near Athenry:
Biddy Early could cure nearly all things, but she said that the only thing
that she could do no cure for was the touch of the Amadan.
Biddy Early couldn't do nothing for the touch of the Amadan, because its
power was greater than hers.
In the Workhouse:
The Amadan-na-Briona, he changes his shape every two days. Sometimes he comes
like a youngster, and then he'll come like the worst of beasts. Trying to give
the touch he used to be. I heard it said of late that he was shot, but I think
myself it would be hard to shoot him.
Ned Meehan of Killinane:
The Amadan is the worst; I saw him myself one time, and I'd be swept if I
didn't make away on the moment. It was on a racecourse at Ballybrit, and no one
there but myself, and I sitting with my back to the wall and smoking my pipe.
And all at once the Amadan was all around me, in every place, and I ran and got
out of the field or I'd be swept. And I saw others of them in the field; it was
full of them, red scarfs they had on them.
I came home as quick as I could, and I didn't get over the fright for a long
time, but there he was all about me.
Meehan's wife says: I remember you well coming in that night, and you
trembling with the fright you got. And you told me the appearance he had, like a
jockey he was, on a grey horse.
"That is true indeed," says Ned, and he goes on:
And one night I was up in that field beyond, watching sheep that were near
their time to drop, and I saw a light moving through the fields beside me, and
down the road and no one with it. It stopped for a while where the water is and
went on again.
And there was a woman in Ballygra the same night heard the coach-a-baur
passing, and she not hearing at all about the lights I saw.
A Man at Kilcolgan:
Father Callaghan that used to be in Esker was able to do great cures; he
could cure even a man that had met the Amadan-na-Briona. But to meet the Amadan
is to be in prison for ever.