The Irish Phouka
The Phouka is a legend of Ireland, but Scandinavia and other European Countries have similar legends. The Irish Phouka is a member of the fairy race but there are conflicting opinions about his powers and personality. He is a changeling, whose most favorite form is that of a sleek, black horse but it is also told that he takes the shape of a deformed goblin. He is known to change into the form of a huge, hairy bogeyman, a broad-winged eagle or a black goat with curled horns. The Phouka can also duplicate the human voice to use it as a weapon for tricking mortal men. He is known to be mischievous, capricious and sometimes terrifying. Let's see what we can learn about the Phouka in this ancient tale.
The Phouka is a friendly creature of the fairy race who often helps the farmer at his work but only if he is treated kindly. One day, a farmer's son, called Phadrig (Patrick), was tending to the cattle in the field, when something rushed past him like the wind. He was not frightened because he knew it was the Phouka, who was on his way to the old mill where the fairies met every night. He called out to the Phouka and asked him to show him what Phoukas are like, in exchange for a gift of his coat to keep the Phouka warm. When a young bull came up to the Phouka, lashing his tail at him, Phadrig threw the coat over the creature and the bull was as quiet as a lamb. The Phouka told the boy to come to the mill that night, when the moon was up, and he would have good luck.
Phadrig went to the mill but saw nothing except sacks of corn lying around on the ground. The farmer's men had fallen asleep and the corn had not been ground. While waiting for the Phouka, he lay down and fell asleep, as he was very tired. When he awoke in the morning, all the corn was ground but the men had not done it because they were still asleep. This happened for three nights, after which Phadrig decided to stay awake and watch.
There was an old chest in the mill and Phadrig crept into it to hide while he looked through the keyhole to see what would happen. At exactly midnight, six little fairies came in, each carrying a sack of corn on his back. Afterwards, there came an old man in tattered clothes and he asked the fairies to turn the mill, which they did until all the corn was ground.
Phadrig ran to tell his father. The miller decided to watch that night with his son and they both saw the same thing happen. Now the farmer knew that it was the Phouka's work and he let him continue to work as long as it pleased him. His workmen were idle and lazy, so he packed the whole lot off, and left the grinding to this excellent old Phouka.
After this, the farmer became very rich and there was no end to his money. After all, there were no men to pay for working and his corn was ground every night without him spending a penny. The neighbors all wondered how he became so rich but, in fear of losing his good luck, he never told them about the Phouka.
Phadrig went often to the mill and hid in the chest to watch the fairies at work. He felt pity for the poor old Phouka in his ragged clothes because he sometimes had a difficult task supervising the little fairies. Phadrig, out of love and gratitude, bought a fine suit of clothes and laid it out on the floor of the mill where the old Phouka always stood to give his orders, then he crept into the chest to watch.
When the Phouka saw the clothes, he wondered if they were for him, and thought that he would be turned into a fine gentleman. He put them on and began to walk up and down admiring himself. He remembered the corn and went to grind as usual, then he suddenly stopped. He thought to himself that there would be no more work for him to do because fine gentlemen don't grind corn. He kicked his tattered old clothes into a corner and left.
No corn was ground that night, nor the next, nor the next. All the little fairies ran away and not a sound was heard in the mill. Phadrig grew very sorry for the loss of his old friend and would go out into the fields calling for the Phouka, asking him to come back. The old Phouka never came back and Phadrig never saw the face of his friend again. However, the farmer had become so rich that he needed no more help and he sold the mill. Phadrig was raised to be a scholar and a gentleman, who had his own house, land and servants. Soon he married a beautiful lady, who was so beautiful that everyone thought she must be the daughter of the king of the fairies.
Something odd happened at their wedding. When they all stood up to drink to the bride's health, Phadrig saw a golden cup filled with wine, but no one knew how it had appeared there. Phadrig guessed it was the Phouka's gift and he and his bride drank the wine without fear. Ever after their lives were happy and prosperous; and the golden cup was kept as a family treasure, of which the descendants of Phadrig still have in their possession to this day.
More Stories about the Irish Fairy The Fairies Revenge The Legend of the Irish Fairy Race Children's Books with an Irish theme
by Tomie DePaola
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