Fey Folio, the Dullahan illustrated by Vasilis Zikos
Fey Folio, the Dullahan illustrated by Vasilis Zikos

Happy Halloween! I had to find an appropriate tale for the holiday and what says Halloween more than a coach with a deadless driver and headless passenters. I don’t usually do this, but today I’m posting a poem. It’s from Ireland, first published by Thomas Crofton Croker in Fairy Legends and Traditions, 1825.

The Death Coach

‘T is midnight! – how gloomy and dark!
By Jupiter there’s not a star! –
‘T is fearful! – ‘t is awful! – and hark!
What sound is that comes from afar?

Still rolling and rumbling, that sound
Makes nearer and nearer approach;
Do I tremble, or is it the ground? –
Lord save us! – what is it? – a coach! –

A coach! – but that coach has no head;
And the horses are headless as it:
Of the driver the same may be said
And the passengers inside who sit.

See the wheels! how they fly o’er the stones!
And whirl, as the whip it goes crack:
There spokes are of dead men’s thigh bones,
And the pole is the spine of the back!

The hammer-cloth, shabby display,
Is a pall rather mildew’d by damps;
And to light this strange coach on its way,
Two hollow skulls hang up for lamps!

From the gloom of Rathcooney church-yard,
They dash down the hill of Glanmire;
Pass Lota in gallop as hard
As if horses were never to tire

With people thus headless ‘t is fun
To drive in such furious career;
Since headlong their horses can’t run,
Nor coachman be heady from beer.

Very steep is the Tivoli lane,
But up-hill to them is as down;
Nor the charms of Woodhill can detain
These Dullahans rushing to town.

Could they feel as I’ve felt – in a song –
A spell that forbade them depart;
They’d a lingering visit prolong,
And after their head lose their heart!

No matter! – ‘t is past twelve o’clock;
Through the streets they sweep on like the wind,
And, taking the road to Blackrock,
Cork city is soon left behind.

Should they hurry thus reckless along,
To supper instead of to bed,
The landlord will surely be wrong,
If he charge it at so much a head!

Yet mine host may suppose them too poor
To bring to his wealth an increase;
As till now, all who drove to his door,
Possess’d at least one crown a-piece.

Up the Deadwoman’s hill they are roll’d;
Boreenmannah is quite out of sight;
Ballintemple they reach, and behold!
At its church-yard they stop and alight.

“Who’s there?” said a voice from the ground
“We’ve no room, for the place is quite full.”
“O! room must be speedily found,
For we come from the parish of Skull.

“Though Murphys and Crowleys appear
On headstones of deep-letter’d pride;
Though Scannels and Murleys lie here,
Fitzgeralds and Toomies beside;

Yet here for the night we lie down,
To-morrow we speed on the gale;
For having no heads of our own,
We seek the Old Head of Kinsale.”

This is not a typical dullahan story. Usually, a Dullahan is a headless rider, usually seen on a black horse and carries his or her own head under one arm. The dullahan’s whip is actually the spine of a human corpse, and the wagons they sometimes use are made of similarly funereal objects, like the spokes in the poem being made of dead men’s thigh bones. When the dullahan stops riding, it is where a person is due to die. The dullahan calls out their name, at which point they immediately perish. There is no way to bar the road against a dullahan – all locks and gates open on their own when it approaches. Also, they do not appreciate being watched while on their errands, throwing a basin of blood on those who dare to do so (often a mark that they are among the next to die), or even lashing out the watchers’ eyes with their whips.

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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