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Better Butter

‘God bless all here’ as our ancestors used to say upon arrival at the home of a friend, neighbour, or stranger. Not just a blessing on all within that home, it meant he who entered possessed not the evil eye.

In my great-grandparents’ time, curses, spells, and witchcraft were common practise. It was the 1870’s and women were careful with their milk and butter. They believed bad feelings caused concern for the precious household, products which brought valuable shillings back from the market.

Essie Donoghue Feery was one of these extraordinary women. Her devoted husband, John ‘The Clock’ Feery was sentenced to two years in jail for severely injuring members of the stronger McCormack family, after they’d driven him, Essie and nine young children out of a cottage on land he’d worked hard for years. This left the Feerys homeless and penniless.

The McCormack woman was of the evil eye, and had conspired with her husband and five sons to torment John off his land. He was a lone man, yet still he done them six men great harm before conceding defeat. Retreating a mile and a half back into the bog of Ring, he built a beautiful peat hut as a homestead for his wife and children.

Feery is a name that describes the little people most gifted with a deathless courage. But back to this one woman Essie Donoghue Feery, of great faith, kindness, and compassion. Old Evil Eye McCormack saw her chance. John was in jail and Essie alone there with nine children. This was the way of it.

The Evil Eye brought evil everywhere with her. Every few days calling to the peat hut with offers to help pretending to be in kindness and remorse for harms done. But Essie was no fool. She knew the Evil Eye meant no good. In milking Essie’s two cows the following day, the cows ceased to produce milk. On churning the butter, it failed to rise in the churn and became sour. This denied Essie much needed shillings from the market.

Essie had been born and reared above, in the hills. Croghan was four miles away, but she called in to Old Lady Dunne, said to have far greater spells than Evil Eye McCormack. ‘What ails you, Essie Dear ?’ asked Old Lady Dunne. On hearing the story, Old Lady Dunne rose from her chair, and this she did say: ‘Musha, Musha, Essie Dear. I am an old lady but follow me. I’ve waited many years to curse the Evil Eye McCormack. Now do exactly as I tell you.’ She returned from her garden with herbs and then this she did say. ‘I am bid by God to only use the poison of plant to destroy evil and the goodness of plant to help the sick. Person, or animal.’ She began to chant and held up the herbs as if in offering.

‘Now Essie, half an hour before you know the evil eye to be coming, put a poker in the coals of the fire and throw a few of these herbs upon it. Just a few at a time, because too much and the smoke could leave you unconscious. Then when you see Evil Eye McCormack coming across the bog towards you, use the red hot poker to make a sign of the cross on the inside of your front door, and continue to put herbs upon the fire. Do as I bid you and this will be the last time Evil Eye McCormack ever bothers you. This done, I’ll summon the black fallen angel to drive her away.’

It is said that once Essie made the sign of a cross on the door with that red hot poker, Evil Eye McCormack was heard roaring across the Bog of Ring and Derrycoffey. ‘My heart! My heart! Oh God, my heart is burning!’ No one saw her after that, but Essie’s cows and butter became better than ever.

Fast forward to in our cottage in 1970, where I sat in the dark with the light of the big open turf fire blazing. About ten of us sat around Paddy O’ Reilly, who lived two cottages up from ours. He was my favourite storyteller about the Banshee. I saw the flames of that fire reflected in his eyes just at the moment he told us of the black banshee roaring in the Bog of Ring many years before. He said, so terrifying were her haunting cries heard across the bog, it drove several people into insanity. They’d never be the same again.

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