Monday 6 August 2012

Folklore snippets: 'Another Troy'?

Homes on the Great Blasket, Ida M Flower, c. 1920

From ‘The Western Island’ by Robin Flower, Oxford 1944, an account of the writer’s experiences visiting and staying on the Great Blasket between 1910 and 1935.  Until 1953, the inhabitants of Great Blasket Island formed the most westerly settlement in Ireland. This small fishing community of less than 150 people lived in little cottages perched on the relatively sheltered north-east shore. In 1953 the Irish Government evacuated the islanders.

A story from Tomás ó Crithin:

‘When I was a young man growing up, it was a different world from the world we have today.  There was no silent drinking then into the tavern and out of it without a word said, but you would be walking the road and the tavern-door would open, and you would go in. There would be as many as twenty men in the room drinking, and every man that came in he would not go out without singing a song or telling a tale.  …The country was full to the lid of songs and stories, and you would not put a stir out of you from getting up in the morning to lying down at night but you would meet a poet, man or woman, making songs on all that would be happening. It is not now as it was then, but it is like a sea on ebb, and only pools left here and there among the rocks.  And it is a good thought of us to put down the songs and stories before they are lost from the world for ever.’

And so, he sitting on one side of the table, rolling a savoury sprig of dillisk round and round in his mouth to lend a salt flavour to his speech, and I diligently writing on the other side, the picture of the Island’s past grew from day to day under our hands.  At times I would stop him as an unfamiliar world or strange twist of phrase struck across my ear, and he would courteously explain it… Thus on one occasion, the phrase ‘the treacherous horse that brought destruction on Troy’ came into a song.

‘And what horse was that?’ I said.

‘It was the horse of wood,’ he answered, ‘that was made to be given to the King that was over Troy.  They took it with them and brought it into the middle of the city, and it was lovely to look upon.  It was in that city Helen was, she that brought the world to death; every man that used to come with a host seeking her, there would go no man of them safe home without falling because of Helen before the city of Troy.  It was said that the whole world would have fallen by reason of Helen that time if it had not been for the thought this man had, to give the horse of wood to the King.  There was an opening in it unknown to all, two men in it, and it full of powder and shot.  When the horse was in the middle of the city, and every one of them weary from looking at it, a night of the nights my pair opened the horse and out with them. They brought with them their share of powder and shot.  They scattered it here and there through the city in the deep night; they set fire to it and left not a living soul in Troy that wasn’t burnt that night.’

Derelict homes on The Great Blasket Island, Co. Kerry, Ireland.


  1. Wonderful, Kath! I love 'full to the lid'. I so much enjoy this site. Thank you for all the work you put into it, the lovely snippets you share and the images you find.

  2. Thankyou Sue! It's lovely to be able to share them with you and other like-minded people!