Diarmaid Ferriter: Have we really got to stage where the auld Púca must be cancelled?

‘Sinister’ sculpture of pagan mythological figure will now not be erected in Clare town

Sculptor Aidan Harte with his bronze statue of the Púca

Sculptor Aidan Harte with his bronze statue of the Púca

One of my earliest childhood memories is a 1970s primary school performance at Halloween. Dressed in the simplest of ghost costumes we recited the lines “Púca! Púca! Is mise an Púca! Púca!/ Púca! Púca! A haon, a dó, a trí/ Seo í an oíche, Oíche Shamna/A théim ar cuairt chun do thí/Chun do thí!”

I don’t recall any outraged intervention by the local Catholic priest at this pagan anthem, preoccupied, as I’m sure he was, with more serious matters. In any case, we were merely carrying on a long-standing tradition of childhood Púca performances. But there were many versions of the Púca. Renowned Kerry storyteller Seán Ó Conaill’s Púca stories were recorded in the 1920s; it was believed, he recounted, “that the Púca could take any shape he wanted. He could make a dog or a horse or a cow of himself. It used to be said that it was harvest time when the Púca was most often seen, running among the hay cocks, gambolling and sporting by himself”. In the 1930s, the Irish Folklore Commission collected a rich archive of stories and traditions from schoolchildren around the country, including from Clare, where references to the Púca abounded. These children spoke to their parents and grandparents and wrote down the stories.

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