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Friday, October 29, 2021

Curtin - The Blood-Drawing Ghost - Keeping the Public in Public Domain

I first discovered this story in Betsy Bang's unlikely titled book The Goblins Giggle and Other Stories.

She doesn't give the source, but I decided to hunt and bring it to this blog as I was sure it was a Public Domain story.  Fortunately she kept its Irish setting and her version sounded very much like stories collected by Jeremiah Curtin.  His original version recording the story can be shared as Public Domain.  Bang's 1973 version falls under the copyright revision preventing my listing it here.  I consider her version an improvement and I tell it whenever a truly spooky story is needed.  In fact I have a story about my telling it that I'll tell you after giving you Curtin's tale.

The Blood-Drawing Ghost

THERE was a young man in the parish of Drimalegue, county Cork, who was courting three girls at one time, and he didn't know which of them would he take; they had equal fortunes, and any of the three was as pleasing to him as any other. One day when he was coming home from the fair with his two sisters, the sisters began:
'Well, John," said one of them, "why don't you get married. Why don't you take either Mary, or Peggy, or Kate?"
"I can't tell you that," said John, "till I find which of them has the best wish for me."
"How will you know?" asked the other.
"I will tell you that as soon as any person will die in the parish." In three weeks' time from that day an old man died. John went to the wake and then to the funeral. While they were burying the corpse in the graveyard John stood near a tomb which was next to the grave, and when all were going away, after burying the old man, he remained standing a while by himself, as if thinking of something; then he put his blackthorn stick on top of the tomb, stood a while longer, and on going from the graveyard left the stick behind him. He went home and ate his supper. After supper John went to a neighbour's house where young people used to meet of an evening, and the three girls happened to be there that time. John was very quiet, so that every one noticed him.
"What is troubling you this evening, John?" asked one of the girls.
"Oh, I am sorry for my beautiful blackthorn," said he.
"Did you lose it?"
"I did not," said John; "but I left it on the top of the tomb next to the grave of the man who was buried to-day, and whichever of you three will go for it is the woman I'll marry. Well, Mary will you go for my stick?" asked he.
"Faith, then, I will not," said Mary.
"Well, Peggy, will you go?"
"If I were without a man for ever," said Peggy, "I wouldn't go."
"Well, Kate," said he to the third, "will you go for my stick? If you go I'll marry you."
"Stand to your word," said Kate, "and I'll bring the stick."
"Believe me, that I will," said John.
Kate left the company behind her, and went for the stick. The graveyard was three miles away and the walk was a long one. Kate came to the place at last and made out the tomb by the fresh grave. When she had her hand on the blackthorn a voice called from the tomb:
"Leave the stick where it is and open this tomb for me."
Kate began to tremble and was greatly in dread, but something was forcing her to open the tomb--she couldn't help herself.
"Take the lid off now," said the dead man when Kate had the door open and was inside in the tomb, "and take me out of this--take me on your back."
Afraid to refuse, she took the lid from the coffin, raised the dead man on her back, and walked on in the way he directed. She walked about the distance of a mile. The load, being very heavy, was near breaking her back and killing her. She walked half a mile farther and came to a village; the houses were at the side of the road.
"Take me to the first house," said the dead man.
She took him.
"Oh, we cannot go in here," said he, when they came near. "The people have clean water inside, and they have holy water, too. Take me to the next house."
She went to the next house.
"We cannot go in there," said he, when she stopped in front of the door. "They have clean water, and there is holy water as well."
She went to the third house.
"Go in here," said the dead man. "There is neither clean water nor holy water in this place; we can stop in it."
They went in.
"Bring a chair now and put me sitting at the side of the fire. Then find me something to eat and to drink."
She placed him in a chair by the hearth, searched the house, found a dish of oatmeal and brought it. "I have nothing to give you to drink but dirty water," said she.
"Bring me a dish and a razor."
She brought the dish and the razor.
"Come, now," said he, "to the room above."
They went up to the room, where three young men, sons of the man of the house, were sleeping in bed, and Kate had to hold the dish while the dead man was drawing their blood.
"Let the father and mother have that," said he, "in return for the dirty water"; meaning that if there was clean water in the house he wouldn't have taken the blood of the young men. He closed their wounds in the way that there was no sign of a cut on them. "Mix this now with the meal, get a dish of it for yourself and another for me."
She got two plates and put the oatmeal in it after mixing it, and brought two spoons. Kate wore a handkerchief on her head; she put this under her neck and tied it; she was pretending to eat, but she was putting the food to hide in the handkerchief till her plate was empty.
"Have you your share eaten?" asked the dead man.
"I have," answered Kate.
"I'll have mine finished this minute," said he, and soon after he gave her the empty dish. She put the dishes back in the dresser, and didn't mind washing them. "Come, now," said he, "and take me back to the place where you found me."
"Oh, how can I take you back; you are too great a load; 'twas killing me you were when I brought you." She was in dread of going from the house again.
"You are stronger after that food than what you were in coming; take me back to my grave."
She went against her will. She rolled up the food inside the handkerchief. There was a deep hole in the wall of the kitchen by the door, where the bar was slipped in when they barred the door; into this hole she put the handkerchief. In going back she shortened the road by going through a big field at command of the dead man. When they were at the top of the field she asked, was there any cure for those young men whose blood was drawn?
"There is no cure," said he, "except one. If any of that food had been spared, three bits of it in each young man's mouth would bring them to life again, and they'd never know of their death."
"Then," said Kate in her own mind, "that cure is to be had."
"Do you see this field?" asked the dead man.
"I do."
"Well, there is as much gold buried in it as would make rich people of all who belong to you. Do you see the three leachtans [piles of small stones]? Underneath each of them is a pot of gold."
The dead man looked around for a while; then Kate went on, without stopping, till she came to the wall of the graveyard, and just then they heard the cock crow.
"The cock is crowing," said Kate; "it's time for me to be going home."
"It is not time yet," said the dead man; "that is a bastard cock." A moment after that another cock crowed. "There the cocks are crowing a second time," said she. "No," said the dead man, "that is a bastard cock again; that's no right bird." They came to the mouth of the tomb and a cock crowed the third time.
"Well," said the girl, "that must be the right cock."
"Ah, my girl, that cock has saved your life for you. But for him I would have you with me in the grave for evermore, and if I knew this cock would crow before I was in the grave you wouldn't have the knowledge you have now of the field and the gold. Put me into the coffin where you found me. Take your time and settle me well. I cannot meddle with you now, and 'tis sorry I am to part with you."
"Will you tell me who you are?" asked Kate.
"Have you ever heard your father or mother mention a man called Edward Derrihy or his son Michael?"
"It's often I heard tell of them," replied the girl.
"Well, Edward Derrihy was my father; I am Michael. That blackthorn that you came for to-night to this graveyard was the lucky stick for you, but if you had any thought of the danger that was before you, you wouldn't be here. Settle me carefully and close the tomb well behind you."
She placed him in the coffin carefully, closed the door behind her, took the blackthorn stick, and away home with Kate. The night was far spent when she came. She was tired, and it's good reason the girl had. She thrust the stick into the thatch above the door of the house and rapped. Her sister rose up and opened the door.
"Where did you spend the night?" asked the sister. "Mother will kill you in the morning for spending the whole night from home."
"Go to bed," answered Kate, "and never mind me."
They went to bed, and Kate fell asleep the minute she touched the bed, she was that tired after the night.
When the father and mother of the three young men rose next morning, and there was no sign of their sons, the mother went to the room to call them, and there she found the three dead. She began to screech and wring her hands. She ran to the road screaming and wailing. All the neighbours crowded around to know what trouble was on her. She told them her three sons were lying dead in their bed after the night. Very soon the report spread in every direction. When Kate's father and mother heard it they hurried off to the house of the dead men. When they came home Kate was still in bed; the mother took a stick and began to beat the girl for being out all the night and in bed all the day.
"Get up now, you lazy stump of a girl," said she, "and go to the wake house; your neighbour's three sons are dead."
Kate took no notice of this. "I am very tired and sick," said she. "You'd better spare me and give me a drink."
The mother gave her a drink of milk and a bite to eat, and in the middle of the day she rose up.
"Tis a shame for you not to be at the wake house yet," said the mother; "hurry over now."
When Kate reached the house there was a great crowd of people before her and great wailing. She did not cry, but was looking on. The father was as if wild, going up and down the house wringing his hands.
"Be quiet," said Kate. "Control yourself."
"How can I do that, my dear girl, and my three fine sons lying dead in the house?"
"What would you give," asked Kate, "to the person who would bring life to them again?"
"Don't be vexing me," said the father.
"It's neither vexing you I am nor trifling," said Kate. "I can put the life in them again."
"If it was true that you could do that, I would give you all that I have inside the house and outside as well."
"All I want from you," said Kate, "is the eldest son to marry and Gort na Leachtan [the field of the stone heaps] as fortune."
"My dear, you will have that from me with the greatest blessing.
"Give me the field in writing from yourself, whether the son will marry me or not."
He gave her the field in his handwriting. She told all who were inside in the wake-house to go outside the door, every man and woman of them. Some were laughing at her and more were crying, thinking it was mad she was. She bolted the door inside, and went to the place where she left the handkerchief, found it, and put three bites of the oatmeal and the blood in the mouth of each young man, and as soon as she did that the three got their natural colour, and they looked like men sleeping. She opened the door, then called on all to come inside, and told the father to go and wake his sons.
He called each one by name, and as they woke they seemed very tired after their night's rest; they put on their clothes, and were greatly surprised to see all the people around. "How is this?" asked the eldest brother.
"Don't you know of anything that came over you in the night?" asked the father.
"We do not," said the sons. "We remember nothing at all since we fell asleep last evening."
The father then told them everything, but they could not believe it. Kate went away home and told her father and mother of her night's journey to and from the graveyard, and said that she would soon tell them more.
That day she met John.
"Did you bring the stick?" asked he.
"Find your own stick," said she, "and never speak to me again in your life."
In a week's time she went to the house of the three young men, and said to the father, "I have come for what you promised me."
"You'll get that with my blessing," said the father. He called the eldest son aside then and asked would he marry Kate, their neighbour's daughter. "I will," said the son. Three days after that the two were married and had a fine wedding. For three weeks they enjoyed a pleasant life without toil or trouble; then Kate said, "This will not do for us; we must be working. Come with me to-morrow and I'll give yourself and brothers plenty to do, and my own father and brothers as well."
She took them next day to one of the stone heaps in Gort na Leachtan. "Throw these stones to one side," said she.
They thought that she was losing her senses, but she told them that they'd soon see for themselves what she was doing. They went to work and kept at it till they had six feet deep of a hole dug; then they met with a flat stone three feet square and an iron hook in the middle of it.
"Sure there must be something underneath this," said the men. They lifted the flag, and under it was a pot of gold. All were very happy then. "There is more gold yet in the place," said Kate. "Come, now, to the other heap." They removed that heap, dug down, and found another pot of gold. They removed the third pile and found a third pot full of gold. On the side of the third pot was an inscription, and they could not make out what it was. After emptying it they placed the pot by the side of the door.
About a month later a poor scholar walked the way, and as he was going in at the door he saw the old pot and the letters on the side of it. He began to study the letters.
"You must be a good scholar if you can read what's on that pot," said the young man.
"I can," said the poor scholar, "and here it is for you. 'There is a deal more at the south side of each pot."
The young man said nothing, but putting his hand in his pocket, gave the poor scholar a good day's hire. When he was gone they went to work and found a deal more of gold at the south side of each stone heap. They were very happy then and very rich, and bought several farms and built fine houses, and it was supposed by all of them in the latter end that it was Derrihy's money that was buried under the Ieachtans, but they could give no correct account of that, and sure why need they care? When they died they left property to make their children rich to the seventh generation.


Maybe, like me, you wonder about the blackthorn walking stick?  (In Bang's version, "Mary Culhane and the Dead Man", the girl is retrieving her father's beloved blackthorn walking stick.)  They've been prized for centuries throughout Ireland and the British Isles.  Blackthorn wood is heavier and stronger than hazel and comes from the blackthorn bush that grows in the hedgerows all over Ireland. With its characteristic knots either polished smooth or left knobbly, these walking sticks are very distinctive and each is individual.  Yes, it is indeed the fighting stick also known as a Shillelagh.  

I certainly prefer the stick being a prized family possession instead of it being a bride test, but old folktales are not always "politically correct."  Changes over time is part of the "folk process."

I promised to tell a story about me telling the story.  With spooky storytelling it's best to warn your audience the stories will get spookier as your program proceeds.  Once I was hired to tell at a Halloween party with a variety of ages and activities.  I was parked with the kids, mainly girls on the edge of becoming teenagers.  With them was a little boy who kept asking me if I had any stories about Darth Vader (he pronounced it Dahth Vayda).  Finally to the relief of the older kids he moved on to another activity.  I began "Mary Culhane" and was in far enough when he returned.  He was quickly brought up to where we were in the story and I proceeded.  We had just gotten to the point where the three young men have their throats slit when an elderly woman cut through the room.  I was sure she didn't consider the story appropriate for his age.  She was long gone by the time the story ended and the little guy piped up with "That woulda been a lot sca'wier (scarier) if it had been about Dahth Vayda!"


This is part of a series of postings of stories under the category, "Keeping the Public in Public Domain."  The idea behind Public Domain was to preserve our cultural heritage after the authors and their immediate heirs were compensated.  I feel strongly current copyright law delays this intent on works of the 20th century.  My own library of folklore includes so many books within the Public Domain I decided to share stories from them.  I hope you enjoy discovering new stories.  

At the same time, my own involvement in storytelling regularly creates projects requiring research as part of my sharing stories with an audience.  Whenever that research needs to be shown here, the publishing of Public Domain stories will not occur that week.  This is a return to my regular posting of a research project here.  (Don't worry, this isn't dry research, my research is always geared towards future storytelling to an audience.)  Response has convinced me that "Keeping the Public in Public Domain" should continue along with my other postings as often as I can manage it.
Other Public Domain story resources I recommend-
  • There are many online resources for Public Domain stories, maybe none for folklore is as ambitious as fellow storyteller, Yoel Perez's database, Yashpeh, the International Folktales Collection.  I have long recommended it and continue to do so.  He has loaded Stith Thompson's Motif Index into his server as a database so you can search the whole 6 volumes for whatever word or expression you like by pressing one key.
  • You may have noticed I'm no longer certain Dr. Perez has the largest database, although his offering the Motif Index certainly qualifies for those of us seeking specific types of stories.  There's another site, FairyTalez claiming to be the largest, with "over 2000 fairy tales, folktales, and fables" and they are "fully optimized for phones, tablets, and PCs", free and presented without ads.

    Between those two sites, there is much for story-lovers, but as they say in infomercials, "Wait, there's more!"
The email list for storytellers, Storytell, discussed Online Story Sources and came up with these additional suggestions:            
         - David K. Brown -
         - Richard Martin -
         - Spirit of Trees -
         - Story-Lovers - is now only accessible through the Wayback Machine, described below, but the late Jackie Baldwin's wonderful site lives on there, fully searchable manually (the Google search doesn't work), at .  It's not easy, but go to snapshot for October 22 2016  and you can click on SOS: Searching Out Stories to scroll down through the many story topics and click on the story topic that interests you.
       - World of Tales - 
           - Zalka Csenge Virag - doesn't give the actual stories, but her recommendations, working her way through each country on a continent, give excellent ideas for finding new books and stories to love and tell.
You're going to find many of the links on these sites have gone down, BUT go to the Internet Archive Wayback Machine to find some of these old links.  Tim's site, for example, is so huge probably updating it would be a full-time job.  In the case of Story-Lovers, it's great that Jackie Baldwin set it up to stay online as long as it did after she could no longer maintain it.  Possibly searches maintained it.  Unfortunately Storytell list member, Papa Joe is on both Tim Sheppard's site and Story-Lovers, but he no longer maintains his old Papa Joe's Traveling Storytelling Show website and his Library (something you want to see!) is now only on the Wayback Machine.  It took some patience working back through claims of snapshots but finally in December of 2006 it appears!
    Somebody as of this writing whose stories can still be found by his website is the late Chuck Larkin -  I prefer to list these sites by their complete address so they can be found by the Wayback Machine, a.k.a., when that becomes the only way to find them.
You can see why I recommend these to you. Have fun discovering even more stories!

1 comment:

PapaJoe Gaudet said...

Lois, you are such a treasure. I love this version! And it's obviously an earlier form of our Mary Culhaine.