Irish Folklore: The Master Soda Bread Baker’s Son

A long, long time ago, in the time of the Great Frost, there lived a baker and his son Donal. He was a gifted baker but he was also hated by the community he served, in the cold harsh Derryveagh Mountains. He short-changed his customers, and would often include some stale bread along with newly baked bread in customers’ orders. The money he made from duping his customers he put into a strong box marked “Money from Fools”.

Over the years his son saw how profitable it was to dupe unsuspecting customers and treat the public with contempt and he became, in every way, like his father.
One day, the Baker was away getting supplies and his son Donal was left all alone in the bakery, and an old dishevelled woman, with bright emerald tinged eyes, entered the shop. The woman, spoke in an accent that came from the great forest: “Young Baker, I’m very hungry and penniless. Could you please give me a piece of dough?”.

Donal refused and told the woman to get out of the shop. However, the old woman persisted and would not budge. To get the old woman out of shop, Donal finally gave in, and taking a small piece of dough, he placed it in her open hand. “Dear young baker, I’m poor and have no stove to bake the dough at home, could you please bake my bread in your oven”, said the woman.

Reluctantly, he took the dough and put it in the centre of the oven. The old woman sat and waited for it to bake. After a short while he opened the oven expecting to find a small bread bap inside, but found a large loaf instead. Wanting to keep the loaf to himself he told the woman, “I can’t find your loaf, your dough must have fallen to the bottom of the oven and was burned”.

The determined old woman pleaded for another piece of dough to be baked. This time, he placed a smaller piece of dough in the oven. He waited until the dough was baked, opened the oven and found a loaf even bigger than the last one. “Dear me,” said he, pretending to scan the oven, “I have lost the dough again. It must have got burnt again.”

“That’s a pity,” said the old woman, “but try again. I’ll wait here, while you bake me another one.” So the baker’s son took a piece of dough, as small as a red penny, and put it in the oven, while the old woman sat and waited. When he thought it ought to be baked, he peered into the oven and there saw a loaf, larger than all of the others.
Looking over his shoulder, the old woman shouted, “That’s mine, Baker’s boy!”
Donal snarled at her and said, “That’s not your loaf. How could a huge loaf come from a small piece of dough? Get out of the shop and never darken my door again”. Well, when the old woman saw that Donal would not give her the loaf, her bright green eyes narrowed with anger. And her narrowed eyes scanned the recesses of his mind and saw how he had tried to cheat her, and how he had cheated a thousand others.

The woman was a fairy from the Mythical Realm, and could not be be fooled or cheated by a mortal. With a great rage in her eyes, she drew out from under her faded cloak a straight stick of yew, and touched the boy’s hand with it. Then a most wondrous transformation occurred, for Donal became all of a sudden changed into a Snowy owl, flying and fluttering round the room, and with a great flourish of its silent white wings flew out of the door, into the cold air of the Great Frost, and was never seen again.

Some, however, say he returns when the first snow falls on the Derryveagh Mountains. Then, he can be seen flying in the fading light of dusk with a penny-sized piece of dough in his beak.