Tales of Pooka

Often appearing as a horse, Pooka sometimes gallops across countryside knocking down fences and gates, and destroying crops. In this form Pooka likes to take a rider, usually a drunkard, on a wild ride all night and shake him off in grey of morning. This person, already heavily inebriated, is also under spell of Pooka and has no recollection of what happened. This often accounts for way some people who, having gotten very drunk, report that they have no idea what happened previous night.

The only man to ever successfully ride a Pooka was High King of Ireland and founder of O’Brien dynasty, Brian Boruma Mac Cennetig (941-1014), or more commonly known as Brian Boru. Brian managed to control magic of creature by using a special bridle which used three hairs of Pooka’s tail. Brian’s physical prowess meant he was able to stay on its back until exhausted Pooka surrendered to Brian.

The king forced it to agree to two promises. First, that it no longer tormented Christian people and ruined their property, and second that it would never again attack an Irishman, except those who were drunk or were abroad with evil intent. Although Pooka agreed, it appears to have forgotten its promises over years. Remember Pooka’s overlord – The Prince of Lies?

Past history records many sightings of Pooka all over country, but most famous story is animal spirit that gave its name to Poulaphuca (Hole of Pooka) at boundary of River Liffey between counties Kildare and Wicklow. Presently this is site of a hydro-electric power station, where river flows through a narrow gorge before plunging 150 feet (46 meters) in three stages. Under second drop there is a pool, and this is called Hole of Pooka. Irish author Padraig O’Farrell (1932-2004) narrates this story which was inspired by written account of an anonymous Kildare man. The writer also has an interesting postscript at end:

“In November 1813, Kildare Hunt known as Killing Kildares set out. Having indulged in traditional stirrup cup at Tipper crossroads, near Naas, hunt failed to raise a fox until it was approaching Tipperkevin, north of Ballymore Eustace, county Kildare. Here a large fox appeared and led a course towards Liffey. Simultaneously, an un-mounted black horse appeared, that did not belong to any of riders. It was Pooka!
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“The terrain was difficult and fox ran fast, so that near Liffey, only one of members of hunt, a man named Grennan, and horse, who was really Pooka, remained with pack. The gorge was in full spate but hounds were gaining on their quarry and started to pick their way across rocks. Seeing danger, Grennan attempted to recall hounds, but Pooka ahead of them was tempting them onwards. The fox headed for ledge on narrow part of gorge then, seeing Pooka’s red eyes spitting fire, fox jumped. It missed ledge, falling into turbulent waters below. The Pooka easily leaped across gorge, disappearing into woodlands, but pack of hounds hard on scent of fox went headlong into pool.
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“Looking down, Grennan saw fox and hounds trying desperately to swim to safety through swirling swell; other hounds dashed against rocks were yelping in pain and dying. He wept as most of pack went under. Suddenly his sorrow give way to terror, he heard a diabolical neighing, like an animal laughing – from woods opposite. Grennan knew then it was Pooka.”

The writer of original story describes how in 1930s, as he stood above valleys of Liffey and King’s River, a sudden sadness came over him and he wept at sight of so many humble homes which would soon be submerged forever by Blessington Lakes, created to supply water for power station at Poulaphuca. Between 1938 and 1940 seventy-six houses were demolished and bridges at Humphreystown, Baltyboys and Burgage were blown up, before entire valley was flooded for hydroelectric power station. A Protestant church, St. Mark’s, built in 1682 was also submerged. To this day there have been many claims of people hearing bells tolling beneath waters of lakes.

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