Black Pooka
Illustration by Igor Oleynikov

“The Boy and the Pooka” is a story in The King with Horse’s Ears and Other Irish Folktales retold by Batt Burns and illustrated by Igor Oleynikov, 2009. Burns is a professional storyteller who divides his time between the US and Ireland. In this collection, he retells the folktales he grew up listening to his grandfather tell.

In “The Boy and the Pooka” all the residents of a valley near Kenmare Bay are afraid of a monstrous dog, the pooka, who has been roaming the area as long as any can remember. Parents warn their children to behave, lest the Black Pooka take him away. The valley storyteller, Old Jamesie, tells everyone that if they leave te pooka alone they don’t need to be afraid of him, but that doesn’t change anyone’s opinion.

Conor, Old Jamesie’s grandson, comes to spend a school break in the valley. He brings his brand new bicycle with him, but when he is sent to the store for groceries, his bike is gone when he comes back out. After searching and talking to the police, Conor starts his long walk home, but it’s already beginning to get dark.

When Conor gets to the stone bridge, her hears footsteps behind him. He starts to run, but the footsteps keep up. Conor falls and the huge black dog towers over him. Conor is terrified. Then he hears a horse. His Uncle Tom is on his way to find Conor who is very late arriving home. Tom’s horse won’t cross the bridge, but Tom sees the dog and the boy and hits at the dog with his walking stick, but it goes through the dog like it’s air.

Then the dog laughs and tells Tom to put the stick away. Tom and Conor are both amazed, nobody knew the Black Pooka could talk. Surprisingly, they are no longer afraid or angry. The Black Pooka tells them of the curse he is under, that he has to live as the giant black do until someone accepts his offer of help and thanks him. Conor says the only help he needs is to find his bike, which the Black Pooka quickly does. Conor thanks him, delighted. Then the Black Pooka glided through a farmer’s gate and disappeared into the shadows. “That was the last sighting of the Black Pooka in that remote Kerry valley.”

I like the lesson here. Don’t judge based on appearances but rather by actions. The pooka had never harmed anyone, but the people were afraid of it just based on its looks. Also, it’s easier to fear things we don’t understand than to try to learn more about them.

I’m looking forward to reading some of the other stories in this collection. You can find it at Amazon or check your library.

Thursday’s Tales is a weekly event here at Carol’s Notebook. Fairy tales, folktales, tall tales, even re-tellings, I love them all.


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