Aidan Harte, the Puca and me

Poking The Puca

“I want to ride to the ridge where the West commences
And gaze at the moon ’til I lose my senses
I can’t look at hobbles and I can’t stand fences
Don’t fence me in”
Cole Porter

jab or prod (someone or something) with one’s finger or a sharp object.
“he got poked in the arm by a life saving vaccine”
an act of poking someone or something
“she gave his arm a poke “

So, yes, this is the long way around telling you that I got the Pfizer vaccine this week…and a badge ! The whole process from beginning to end was so friendly and efficient , a magnificent triumph for all involved. When I got back to work my Soulmate asked how had it gone and wasn’t satisfied with my initial answer of “Fine”, so I gave a blow by blow account of everyone I met and spoke to including the nurse in the cubicle.

“And then the nurse said ‘I hope you don’t take this the wrong way, but you are much younger looking than the rest of today’s cohort’. And I beamed from ear to ear.”

“Of course you did.” My Soulmate said.” And what was her name ?”


For readers not familiar with the story of Ennistymon and the Puca, the short version is, Ennistymon is a lovely wee town in County Clare and they help a public competition for a new art piece for their town square. A wonderful sculptor called Aidan Harte submitted a design for a sculpture of a Puca and won. Just as he was getting to the final stage of casting the statue he was told to wait, there were some objections from the great and the good of Ennistymon society.

This has led to the sort of publicity that Ennistymon was not looking for.

The local council have to decide by the end of the month whether to take the statue or not.

I messaged Aidan and said that Monaghan was not only the True Centre Of The Universe, but also had more Pucas per head of population than anywhere else in Ireland and was always welcoming to them. I attached the following story which I said had appeared in The Northern Stranded in 1898. Aidan read the story to his wife over breakfast and I’ll offer a mystery prize this week for whoever tells me at what point in the telling of the story that she spat out her cornflakes ….

I, Aidan, Puca.

Monaghan, 1898.

Michael ran through the tiny school yard, tears stinging his angry cheeks, ignoring the barks of Master Brady to come back. He’d never go back. He could never go back after that. He’d cleared the small wall at the end of the yard and was now almost in the trees at the edge of Rossmore, he could no longer hear Master Brady. He looked back one last time as he ran just to make sure that he was safe. He was. Then he wasn’t. He ran straight into something, winded himself and fell back into the long grass dazed and panting for breath.

“Calm down there young fella.” Someone said.

Michael tried to open his eyes. Everything was blurry, he couldn’t focus…but he could have sworn that he was looking at a horse.

“You are looking at a horse !” The someone said.

He opened his eyes wider, there was a bit of a glare now, but there was no doubt about it, he was definitely looking at a horse.

“I’ve already told you you’re looking at a horse ! Did you bump your head as well ?”

Michael involuntarily rubbed the back of his head to check. Nothing felt untoward. He looked around. There was a large black horse towering over him, his head lowered so close to his own that he could feel it’s grassy breath…

“Grassy breath ? How dare you !” the someone said, with mock indignation.

Michael leaned left and right of the horse to see who was speaking. He couldn’t see anyone.

“Of course you can’t see anyone ! I’m talking ! I’m someone !”

Michael looked straight at the horse, smiled and laughed nervously. “I think I’m talking to a horse.”

“Of course you’re talking to a horse. Goodness, we’re going round in circles. Hold on, is this better ?”

And with that Michael was dazed again by a blinding light. He felt something on his chest, and as he blinked his eyes, he recoiled as he saw a giant rat smiling at him.

“I’m a wombat ! A giant rat, how are ye ???”

The wombat hopped off his chest and then there was another blinding light. Michael was afraid to open his eyes at all now. He felt a hand grabbing his.

“Up you get, Master Brady has sent for the Peelers, you need to get into the wood.”

He opened his eyes and was finally relieved to see a smiling young man wearing a navy jumper under a tweed jacket and a helping him to his feet. He was relieved and giddy now. “Were you here the whole time ? Where’s the horse gone ? And the giant ra…I mean wombat ?”

“We’ll chat when we get to the woods.”

Michael followed the young man into the woods. They walked in silence for a few minutes before Michael’s sense of himself and his own safety started to come back to him.

“Don’t worry, you’re safe with me.”

“How do you do that ?” Michael asked. “How do you know what I’m thinking ?”

“That’s easy. You’re a very loud thinker.” The young man laughed at his own joke and then stopped when he saw that Michael wasn’t , and in fact looked a little frightened. “Sit down for a minute and I’ll explain.”

Michael sat down, arms folded defensively, but took a quick look around to see possible escape routes.

“My name is Aidan and I am here to help.” He held out his hand to Michael. Michael kept his arms folded.

“Where’s the horse…and the wombat ?”

“Take a deep breath, and shield your eyes.” Aidan said. There were three quick flashes of light, Aidan changed into the horse and the wombat in quick succession before becoming the young man again. Michael sat open mouthed on the ground.

“You’re a Puca !” He said after a moment. “You’re a Puca !” He repeated.

“Yes.” Aidan replied.

“What’s a wombat ?” Michael asked after a moment.

“A marsupial, it’s a mammal from Australia.”

Michael thought for a moment “Why a wombat ?”

“Why not  ?” Aidan answered.

“Master Brady said Pucas could take the shape of horses, dogs, hares, goats, or cats…and human , obviously.”

“As I’m sure you’ll agree Michael, Master Brady knows bugger all about bugger all !”

Michael smiled at this. All of the adults he knew, including his own mother, held the Master in high esteem. Michael, along with the other twenty four children in the school, didn’t. He knew that Master Brady was a lazy oaf. He would have said a lazy , prejudiced oaf, but at this point Michael was only eight and didn’t know what prejudiced meant.

“So, you can change into any animal you wish ?”

“Yes, although I usually keep it to the horse…and the wombat…and this” Aidan said , looking down at himself, stretching out his arms admiringly as he did so.

“So , you could change into an elephant ?”

“Yes…technically ….”

“Change into an elephant !” Michael shouted excitedly.

“No.” Aidan replied. “ If I change into anything larger than a horse it tires me out for a week.”

“Please !” Michael pleaded.


“Please, please, please, please…..”

“ALRIGHT !” Aidan interrupted. “ A small one, just for a moment.”

There was a flash. Michael opened his eyes and there , patting his head with it’s trunk was a baby elephant, it blew into his ear, Michael laughed, there was another flash of light and Aidan was sitting on the ground beside him.

“Happy now ?”

“Very.” Michael replied. He thought again for a moment.

“What am I doing here ?” Aidan said.

“Yes” Michael replied.” But I do wish you would stop doing that. I think I’m going mad.”

“I promise.” Aidan replied.

“ So what are you doing here ?” Michael asked out loud this time.

“ I live here.” Aidan replied. “ I used to live in Kilkenny. I loved Kilkenny, still do a bit, but I wanted to travel . I went to Ennistymon, have you heard of it ? No ? You’re lucky. It’s trapped in time…and not a good time. I ran from there in a blind panic and ended up in Monaghan, and once you see Monaghan, ahh sure you know yourself.” He said nudging Michael knowingly. Michael didn’t know and said so.

“Monaghan is full of Pucas of course !”

“I’ve never seen one before you.” Michael replied.

“Yes you have ! Aughey, the publican, Connolly , the communist, Fr.Nolan, the…well Fr.Nolan, McKenna, the bike shop chap, Miss Treanor, the midwife, Hughie The Buck, Dr.Duffy, Beano Clerkin….”

“No way !” Michael replied.

“Yes, indeed, all Pucas. Before you knew they were Pucas what did you think that they all had in common ?”

Michael thought hard for a moment and then blurted out “They all help others !”

“Good lad ! You’re exactly right. They do indeed. A sure sign. Although you could have answered that they all seem to have a fondness for carrots,all wear hats to cover their equine like ears, have an irrational attachment to Mr.McGuinness’s forge ,and that they are never around on Fair Day, but yes, they’re all perfectly nice.”

Michael was open mouthed again. He’d always had his suspicions about Fr.Nolan always wearing his hat while saying mass, but this ? “All of them ?” he asked.

“Yes ! And that’s just the ones on Glaslough St., the towns full of them ! It’s wonderful.”

“But why Monaghan ?”

“Why Monaghan what ?”

“Why is Monaghan full of Pucas ?”

“Monaghan is full of Pucas because Monaghan is full of Pucas.Simple !”

“I see…at least I think I do…” Michael’s voice trailed off. He could hear the school bell ringing for the end of day. Soon Master Brady would be storming towards his mother’s house and….well it didn’t bear thinking about what would happen. And that was just tonight ! He’d have to face Master Brady tomorrow, and the day after that, and the day after that, and …

“Yes, yes, yes, and the day after that !” Aidan interjected, and then said “Sorry!” forgetting he’d promised to stop hearing Michael’s thoughts.

“Now you listen to me young Michael. You are going to go home now and do your chores as normal. Tomorrow morning you will go to school as normal. All will be well.”

“But what about Master Brady ?” Michael asked unconvinced.

Aidan clicked his fingers and in rapid succession changed from a man to a baby elephant, then to a wombat , and then to a horse…and then to a half man half horse…and then to a man again.

“I think I can handle Master Brady. Now off home with you.”

Michael made to leave, but he stopped and said “ Why are you helping me ? “

“Two reasons “ Aidan replied. “Firstly , and simply, I am helping you because I can. And secondly because last winter you fed that little wren every morning on your kitchen window ledge. Every single frosty morning, without fail, you saved some of your own breakfast, crumbs from your bread, or cold bits of your porridge. That wren wouldn’t have lived without you. In fact he thrived !”

“You ? You were that little wren ?”

“Goodness no ! I was the cat that ate that plump little wren. He was delicious. Thank you.
 Now off you trot.”

Michael made his way home.

Aidan went to the school. He could see Master Brady through the window putting on his coat, smiling as he put the leather strap in his satchel, blowing out the oil lamp on his desk and then making for the door. He didn’t make it as far as the door. He was half way across the classroom when he heard a strange scraping noise coming from the other side of the door. It sounded all the world like something being dragged across the wooden floor…like a hoof. There was a loud thud on the door. Then a creaking sound. Something was pressing against the door, pressing so hard that the door was bulging in towards the room. There was another loud thud and then the door exploded into splinters. Master Brady shielded his face for a moment and then looked up to see a large horse ! He fell back. It was only as he tried to stand that he saw that it wasn’t a horse, at least not entirely. The creature before him snorting loudly had a large horses head , but the torso of a man , and two cloven feet.

Master Brady blessed himself.

“Oh, no Brady, there’s nothing nor no one saving you. Your days of poisoning young minds and terrorising young bodies are over.” Aidan spat out the words. “ Get up !”

Master Brady got up, terrified and speechless.

“Out !” Aidan snapped.

Master Brady meekly made his way out to the yard. “What will you do to me ?” he stammered.

“Nothing.” Aidan said, and then began to hum a tune, and stamp his hooves in time. Brady involuntarily mimicked his actions. Aidan started to hum faster and dance faster and Brady wildly did the same. Then Aidan leaned towards Brady and blew into his ear, and then he stopped humming and stamping his hooves. Brady didn’t stop. He could still hear the mad humming and was compelled to dance.

“Be gone !” Aidan commanded , and Brady danced off into the night, thrashing his limbs about wildly.

Michael slept well. He got up the next morning and convinced himself that it had all been a dream. And then he became afraid. If it had been a dream then he would have to face Master Brady today in school. Then again Master Brady hadn’t called to his house last night to demand punishment either, so it wasn’t a dream. But Pucas ? In Monaghan ?
He had his porridge and made his way down Glaslough St. to school. Mr.Connolly, the Communist was making his way back home from the shops. He smiled at Michael. That was odd, Michael thought, he doesn’t normally smile.

“Oh yes I do !” Mr. Connolly , the Communist, said, and then he lifted his hat to Michael and said “Good Day.” And carried on.

Was it Michael’s imagination, or did Mr.Connolly , the Communist, have little donkey ears ?

“They’re Arabian ! You cheeky child !” Mr.Connolly , the Communist, roared after him.

Michael ran down the street and the whole way to school, Mr.Aughey and Miss Treanor had called out greetings to him , but he’d kept his gaze on the street ahead and said nothing. He didn’t stop running until he got to the school yard. His friend Joe ran straight up to him, followed by everyone else.

“Let’s see it then.” Joe demanded.

“See what ?”

“The strap marks you got from Brady last night.”

“He didn’t call around to the house.”

“What ?” Joe was incredulous. “You’re for it today so.” Everyone else made sympathetic noises . The bell rang and their shoulders collectively slumped and they dragged they way into the school, hardly noticing the brand new door.

Michael took his seat and stared straight ahead. They all stared straight ahead, at Master Brady sitting at his desk, behind his newspaper, The Times, of London, a proper newspaper, as he always told them. He started to tap his foot nervously, and pinch the palms of his hands, in the age old mistaken belief all school children have at that age that this would somehow take the sting out of the inevitable strapping he was about to receive.

Without putting the paper down Master Brady called out “Michael , would you be so kind as to join me at the top of the classroom ? I have a surprise for you.”

Michael, slowly made his way up to the top of the class, some classmates made prayer signs for him, others drew their fingers across their necks. He thought he’d never get to the top of the room…and then all of a sudden there he was.

Master Brady continued to read the paper. From behind it he slid out a yellow covered periodical. “I thought you’d find this interesting. You can keep it. Now, back to your desk.”

Michael turned around in a daze, to be greeted by the open mouths and stares of the whole class. He, and they had all expected him to get a royal thrashing , and yet here he was , thrashless, and with a present ….from Master Brady !

He returned to his seat and looked at the periodical he’d been given , it had a yellow spine, and the front cover was bordered in yellow with “National Geographic Society” written at the top. Underneath was a picture of what yesterday morning Michael would have thought of as a giant ray, but today knew to be a wombat. He looked up at the front of the class. Master Brady was standing up and folding his newspaper away. He looked exactly the same , except that he was wearing a navy jumper and a tweed jacket, and hadn’t taken off his hat…and he was smiling…Master Brady never smiled.

Master Brady stood and addressed them “ I would like to apologise to all you all for my terrible behaviour in the past, and to promise that from now on both you, and I will enjoy each and every day here…or my name is not Aidan…I mean Master Brady. Now, who’d like to see a baby elephant ?”



P.S This is David Byrne’s version of Don’t Fence Me In

Author: paul

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