In the north west of Ireland, tales of ghosts, faeries, hauntings and the legends of Donegal, are often told after a drop of the black stuff. These tales go long into the night. One tale, often told round a turf fire after a few glasses of whiskey or stout, involved a legendary baker of the north. This tale of Donegal Fairylore, the Baker’s Son, is told here.
Muckish Mountain: The Story of the Baker’s Son
A very long time ago, I cannot tell you when, it was so long ago, there lived, not far from Muckish Mountain, a master baker who used to sell his fine bread to all the folks around. He was a nasty, greedy man, who sought in every way to hoard money, and didn’t think twice about cheating his customers. He had a son, Cathal Cian, who helped him in his shop, and seeing how his father treated the people, and how he succeeded in gathering money through bad practices, he, too, in time came to be like his father.
One day, when his father was away on business, and the son was all alone in the shop, an old wizened woman with very bright startling eyes came in:
“Baker’s apprentice,” said she, “give me a piece of dough I beg of you, for I am old and very hungry.” The son at first told her to be off, but as the old woman was persistent and would not go, and pleaded harder than before for some bread, finally the baker’s son took a piece of dough, and giving it to her, said: “There now, be off with you, and don’t trouble me any more.”
“My dear apprentice,” said the woman, “you have given me a piece of dough, please let me bake it in your oven, for I am poor and have no oven of my own to bake it in.” “Very well,” replied the son, and, taking the dough, he placed it in the centre of the oven, while the old woman sat and waited until it was baked. When the son thought the bread was ready he looked in the oven expecting to find there a small roll, and was astonished to find, instead, a large loaf of bread. Pretending not to notice the large loaf, he scanned the oven as if searching for something. “I cannot find your bread,” said he. “It must have fallen into the fire and got burnt.”
“Oh well,” said the old woman, “give me another piece of dough instead and I will wait here while it bakes.” So the son took another piece of dough, even smaller than the first piece, and put it in the oven and shut the door. After a few minutes he looked in again, and found there another loaf, even larger than the last. “Dearie me,” said he, pretending to look about the oven, “I have lost the piece of dough again. There’s no roll here.” “Tis a great pity,” said the old woman, “but never mind. I will wait while you bake me another one.”
So the baker’s son took a piece of dough, as small as his thumb, and put it in the oven, while the old woman sat and waited. When he thought it ought to be baked, he looked into the oven and there saw a loaf, larger than all of the others.
“That is my loaf,” said the old woman. “No,” replied the son. “How could such a large loaf have grown out of a small piece of dough?” “It is mine, to be sure,” said the woman. “It is not,” said the son, “and you can’t have it.”
Well, when the old woman saw that the boy would not give her the loaf, her bright eyes narrowed with anger. And her narrowed eyes saw how he had tried to cheat her, for she was a fairy from beyond the west and beyond the Realm of the Hollow Hill, and could not be cheated, knowing all the tricks of the baker’s son. With a great rage in her eyes, she drew out from under her faded emerald cloak a stick of yew, and touched the boy’s right hand with it. Then a most wonderful thing occurred, for the baker’s son became all of a sudden changed into a barn owl, flying and fluttering around the room, and with a great flourish of its silent wings made for the door, and, finding it open, he flew out and was never seen again.
Some, however, say he returns at dusk on the 16th of May, every year, on the feast day of Saint Honore, the Patron Saint of Bakers. Then, he can be seen flying over Muckish Mountain with a thumb-sized piece of dough in his talons.