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Armagh Tales

T.G.F. Paterson, the late Curator of Armagh County Museum and one of Co. Armagh's greatest-ever historians, was a tireless researcher of all things historical and genealogical, recording and copying any material he could get his hands on. He was much sought after as a speaker at local functions, and, although he published little, many articles of his appeared in society journals and local newspapers. The following collection is taken from "Harvest Home-The Last Sheaf: A selection of the writings of TGF Paterson relating to County Armagh. Dundalgan Press 1975" with full acknowledgement to the publishers.


George Paterson collected great numbers of tales and legends from all parts of County Armagh. He wrote them down unobtrusively and they are an accurate reflection of the attitudes and dialects of old country folk. Nearly 200 such tales were included in his " Country Cracks," first published in 1939. Many others were found among his papers, and from them I have made the selection which follows. The name of the townland in which the tale was collected is usually given.
[E. Estyn Evans]


" There was a time when the boys and girls of Cross had more spirit in them than they hev now. In them days if a fella wanted a girl he tuk her. It wus airy to do. He grabbed her comin' from the chapel, or maybe a wake, or the two of them might go off from a blaye-berryin'. After that there'd soon be a weddin' for indeed the gerl's people wud tell her till agree, to save her character.

Weddin's in them days too wur weddin's-an' mind ye them days are not so long ago-an' well worth seem'. Them that hed side-cars loaned them or brought them and them that had no sich conveyances went astride their pony or horse an' the crowd followed on fut. There'd be a great party at the bride's house an' bonefires."


"The raison people would up-end the egg when they picked the mate from it, and drive the spoon through its bottom, was that the wee people wudn't be able till sail away in it. Me grandfather did it and his grandfather afore him. But there wur some that didn't and that's why there are no wee people now."



" It was the custom here to throw up a loose wall before the house was built. This was done so that the builder wad know the wee people's wishes. If the stones set, the house wus begun, but if they wur thrown it wus a sign to move. There wur lots of houses on the hill a hundred years ago. Filled with spinning and weaving, they wur, an' care wus taken in all of them to rake the fire and clean and tidy the hearth at night. The wee people wur great weavers an' helpful at times."



" I heared of a lone bush that was cut one winter be a man when firing was short, be a man too that should have knowed better. It was burned at his wake. It was a very gentle thorn the cows would niver lie down under it. If fother was given to them at it they'd ate it an' lave."



" The fairies of Ulster used to meet here for till elect their king an' for many nights it wouldn't be safe till be about. An' there war fairy cats here too. It wasn't wise till luk at them if ye saw them on the roads at night. A man once coaxed one of them into a house an' it destroyed the place."

Ardmore, Lough Neagh


" In that field over the road there was the finest thorn iver, though it's wastin' now. An' Larry McParland, he's the one that caused it. Sure he tried till stub it down, an' wasn't he thrown right across the field till the very road itself, as many another can tell ye besides meself. An' now it will soon be down with the cattle scratching it, but the divil a one wud lay han' till it otherwise, an' it in as good a field as iver wus."


" Lone bushes were left alone. I heared of one that was cut be the son of the house an' he went wrong in his head after; but he might have gone that way anyhow-you never know where insanity will come out."

Clontygora, 1939


" A man once followed a fairy funeral. He wus up late at night an' heared the convoy comin'. He slipped out an' followed them an' they disappeared into Lisletrim fort. He heared the noise of them walking plain but he saw none of them."


" They wur goin' to break up the forth1 in the days of my forebears, but when the horses and plough wur upon it, a slice of bread was thrown right in front of them. It wus a strange thing to happen and they wur bothered, but a wise woman told them that if the place wus left alone the Nugents would niver want for bread. An' thank God we niver did even in the Famine time. It wus always a right fairy place."

1 Drumboy Fort commands an extensive view. Famous locally because of a ballad of twenty-six verses written in its honour by a man who had travelled the county over " an' niver had the fire of poetry lighted in his heart until he saw the view from Drumboy."


" A crowd 0f hares used till gather in the wee forth at night. They used till jist sit there an' even the "grue"1 that cud see them well wud luk the other way. Me gran'father himself went in once when they were there. He saw the lot of them in the centre of the ring. But when they saw him they slipped into the sheugh of the fort. As soon as he left they were back on the rampar. He was sorely bothered be them, an' one night he borrowed a gun an' let them have it. An' sure as yer here the nixt mornin' there wus hardly an oul' woman that wusn't in bed."2

1 Greyhound.
2 Witches had the power of becoming hares when in quest of butter, etc.


" A man hed till rise in a hurry one night till fetch the midwife woman because 0f his wife being tuk with her pains. He went for the woman an' got her safely an' when they wur futing it back he wanted her till take the near cut. But divil a bit of her wud. Said she : ` The longest way roun' at this hour is the shortest way home.' ` All right,' says he, ` let us both put our best fut foremost then.'

Soon they wur near the house an' sure as yer here, they heared voices an' both of them wur afeared. ` It's the wee people mebbe,' says she, and with that they stopped till listen-but soma a long they stayed! It wus the wee people right enough, confabbin' about the chile that was comin' an' the mother herself too. It wus a bit of a shock to the poor man for he lecked his wife an' didn't want till lose his first wee one either. Says the midwife woman: ` Let us be away as fast as we can, if we get there before them we may gunk them yet.'

An' the woman nearly died in her labour an' mebbe the shile wud have done so as well, only that the midwife woman knowed all the charms. I heared what she did, but me sowl to glory if I can mind the rest of the tale an' them that cud finish the story is gone, God rest them."

Ardgonnel, c. 1930


"I wus only a chile-I wus not much then, but well I mind hearing about the wee people on Slieve Gullion. Many a night there wus light on top an' the wee people cud be seen plain as ye like disportin' themselves aroun' the bonfires. There'd be scores of fires an' hundreds of wee people. An' some of them wur mounted an' wud ride their horses through the flames. Lots of the oul' ones saw them. I saw the fires once but didn't see the horsemen."



"I here was a power of whiskey made on Coney in the oul' days. An' a sonsy place it was too for the job, for the divil a house there wus to be seen, though Lord Charleymont has one now. But shure even if there wus no house on it at all, it's little peace there'd be for the like since they planted police-barracks all over the dacent countryside.

It's well known that two men were busy there with a still one night when they heared flutes and bagpipes an' mebbe a fiddle or two They both heared it and they both listened. An' it cum nearer till them. An' they saw the wee people but they did nothing till disturb them. An' always they'd Ieave a drop of whiskey for them au' always it wud be gone in the morning. An' them two men had the greatest luck iver for the divil a gauger iver got howl' of a sup they made. The wee people were ay good till them they tuk to."

Maghery fishermen, Lough Neagh, 1940


" Witches there were in days bygone. There's fact for that. They were part of the times then. Nowadays people are too busy with other things till be dabbling in ` Black Art.' I mind well the oul' people talking of a woman that cud take butter from the cows. She was seen at it many a morning. There she'd be in the grazing trailing a rope behind her. And that brought all the butter from that field till her. And the rope wasn't hay or straw mind ye but made of human hair that she had gathered the country over. Nothing cud be done about that kind of one. But there was another sort that ye might shoot at, the kind that went about as hares on the same arn.1 Ye had to have a silver bullet for them bodies and they were plentiful too at one time. It was quare about the hair rope but sure many a thing happened then to put the country in an uproar. I mind a ghost that kept the whole townland in the house at night for many a long year, but God only knows where the thing is now."


1 Errand.


" Me gran'father minded a fight at the graveyard gate between two funerals that arrived tilgither. It wus a hell of a scrap by he's account. They went for each other like Turks, alI because of a notion that the corp who was first through the gates wud hev the other bludy fella to chop and carry for him.

People wur quare in them days-why if oul' weemin had water till throw out an' it was night, they'd be afeared to do it in case it was hurtful to some one, but whether it was ghosts or fairies they wur afeared of I heven't a notion. An' if he went for a walk in the graveyard an' tripped on a grave it was bad, but heaven help ye if ye spread yer length in such a spot. Ye might just as well go home an' make yer will.

Many a grave was hoked 1 in the oul' days, an' not be people wantin' bodies for doctors at all, but be people wantin' skins for charms. It's a pity till God ye wurn't here in me gran'father's time. He knowed all."

Terryhoogan, 1928

1 Re-opened.


" Grimes oxtercogged 1 with the fairies often. He'd bo in conversation with them and people would hear him talking till them, but he'd always deny it. Many a time goin' till the well he was heared tellin' them to keep off him. He was a wee bit of a man, and she was six feet, and he'd even deny it to her."


1 Went arm-in-arm, was intimate with.


" Cows were sometimes elf-shot when I wus wee. I mind a man cud cure the bother. He'd take a bit of a kindled turf from the fire be the tongs an' move it from side to side an' say a bit of a prayer. It wus then put under the cow's nose an' she wus soon better."

Tassagh district


" It's very gentle country all aroun' here, but I have been to the other side of Slieve Gullion where they had giants and witches as well. Did ye iver hear of Finn McCool ? Well, there's some say it wus he an' not the Calley Berry who threw the White Stone.1 But sure they both mebbe had a han' in it, for they wur both upon the earth togither. An' if he wus fleet of fut an' strong of limbs she wus strong in spells. Do ye know her house on the mountain an' the lake beside it? Shure it was into that very lake she coaxed fool Finn. An' in he went fresh an' youthful an' out he come a done oul' man. An' they had a high time making him right again.

Often I started up the mountain to see the lake2 but I cud never head the whole road, I wus so afeared, for ye know a weddin' party went into her house once, an' they were turned till stone. Her house goes down an' down an' in the bottom chamber sits the Calley Berry herself till this very day. Ay an' will till the end 0f time. But where Finn is I know not, 0r if I do I disremember."

1 A standing stone in the Dorsey entrenchment formerly whitewashed each spring.

2 This refers to the lake on the summit of Slieve Gullion, between the northern and southern cairns.


" The oul' lake- is haunted right enough. What do ye want to bathe in it anyhow for ? There's other places ye could try. Sure ye know the bother Finn got into. What chance would a mortal have when Finn that was near a god was so badly used ? "



" It wus a gran' hirin' fair they used till have here but who needs sarvent boys now ? Shure the young fellas now wud rather drive a bus or go till Ameriky or one of them foreign places, than feel the reins atween their fingers.

Ay ! it's a hard life the farmers have but it's good till be alive an' in the fiefs with the horses at times. Ye have a guess as till how the saysons go when yer in the open. Not but what they've changed too. I doubt whether it wus wise till alter the clock. Shure what has foolish man till do with God's own time.

But mind ye I'm not denyin' the long evenin's is good for them that has the time till skite about. But what about the mornin's an' the dew on the grass, an' nothin' a doin' at all, at all, until it's nearing the middle of the day ? "

Hamilton's Bawn, c. 1930


" There wus a gatherin' of all the birds of the air one day to houl' a contest as to which would be king among them. Many a time I heared the story. They wur all there, big, small, great and little and some wur gay wi' colour like the kingfisher and others sober-coloured like the wee jinny wran.

There was a great contention as to how the matter wud be decided but in the end it wus arranged that the one that cud rise the highest wud be the king. They wur all there and they started. The lark soared into the sky, but it wus soon passed be the hawk and the eagle. Soon the eagle left them all behind and in no time was high as the sun itself. There and then it proclaimed itself king of the air but as sure as to-morrow a wee wran had hid itself in the topney of the eagle unknownst, from which it rose and continued upwards singing: ` I'm your king, king of the air am I' The eagle wus sore put out but it wus too tired to follow and the wran won. It's a right cute wee bird the same wran."



" Long ago, gentleman, ay, an' ladies too of the very highest degree, come from far and near to dine upon the table, an' put their glass an' bottle in the very holes in which King James put his. In them days too the rock was kept clean and free from whins, but now they're growing over the very holes that held the glass and bottle.

In my father's day nobody come'd to the `Rampars '2 who didn't visit ` the King's Table,' an' always they'd have a meal there. Often as a chile I showed people the way till it, but sure nobody bothers with it now."

Dorsey, c. 1928

1 See John Donaldson's History of the Fews, 1923 edition, p. 50.

2 Local name for Dorset' entrenchment, an enclosure linked by tradition with Emain Macha and pre-Christian in period.


When I wus a boy it wus often I'd be on the mountain above wi' oul' Sammy Morrison who wus herd till the Moores of Lisnadill. An' it's often he toul' me brothers an' me that a bull of the oul' days-mebbe indeed the one that chased Patrick he's self-is buried in under the Grey Stone. The marks of its feet are on stones till this very day.

That wus in the oul' days an' the oul' people always had it that the ` Bull's Track ' in Ballymacnab wus made be that very animal. They said it went clane mad when Patrick tried to settle on Carrickatuke. An' the dancin' an' roarin' of it put the fear of God in the whole countryside-and no wonder, for shure ivery night it wud be wreckin' all that Patrick hed built be day on Carrick beyaut. Ah sure, only for that bull Armagh wud be on the fine site-that's if the story is true-an' mind ye there's something in oul' stories or they wudn't be toul'.

The bull went mad; ay, completely crazy, an' he riz at Carrick an' lit at Ballymacnab, an' the noise wus awful. It frightened even Patrick, an' he gathered the country from far an' near, an' they slew the baste an' dragged him till Corran."

1 Standing on Corran mountain, at a height of 850 ft., the Grey Stone is some seven miles S. of Armagh.

Acknowledgement: Harvest Home-The Last Sheaf: A selection of the writings of TGF Paterson relating to County Armagh. Dundalgan Press 1975