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Storyteller: The Great Big Hairy Boggart

Long ago there was a farmer called Jude who bought a field at a very low price. “I wonder why it was so cheap,” said his wife, Beth. “Do you think it will be all right?”

“Of course it will!” replied Jude. “It’s good land. And to think it’s mine. All mine!”

Mine, you mean!”

Jude and Beth turned round and were amazed to see a great big hairy boggart, standing only a few yards away. He had bloodshot eyes and a nose as round and red as a beetroot. Long, fleshy ears poked through his hair, which stood up like a hedgehog’s prickles. He has a set of whiskers as tangled as a hawthorn bush.

The boggart’s clothes were in tatters and his trousers were held up with old rope. His hairy knees and elbows showed through ragged tears and worn-out holes. And he had the longest arms you have ever seen, with fists as big as turnips.

“Get off my land!” he shrieked, waving his arms about like a windmill.

Your land?” said Jude.

“That’s what I said. My land, and my boggart father’s land before me, and his father’s before that.”

“You must be joking,” said Jude. “I paid good money for this land and I signed the deeds.”

“You just get yourself off it!” yelled the boggart. “I was here first!” And he began to jump up and down in a rage.

“Well I’m here now!” said Jude. “And I own it.”

They stuck their chins out and glared angrily at each other. But neither of them would budge. Then Beth said: “Perhaps I’ve got the answer. You plant the crop, Jude, and the boggart can reap it. Then we can all have the harvest.”

“Hmm, all right,” said the boggart.

Jude did not see why he should do all the work and then give half his crop away. But Beth waved her hand to silence him.

“So which half of the crop do you want, boggart, the tops or the bottoms?”

“You what?”

“Do you want what grows above the ground or what grows under it. One or the other. Be quick. Make up your mind.”

“Oh, I’ll take the tops,” chuckled the boggart. “You can keep the roots.”

So Jude and the boggart shook hands on the bargain.

“Fine!” said Beth as she walked home with Jude. “All you have to do now is plant potatoes.”

So Jude ploughed his land and planted potatoes. He hoed the weeds and watched the bushy green plants come up. When harvest came the boggart returned to the field and demanded his share of the crop.

“There you are,” said Jude. “The tops are all yours. Lovely potato plants just right for...well, I’m sure you’ll find some use for them.”

“You little rogue!” roared the boggart. “You miserable cheat! That’s not fair! Why, I’ll, I’ll…”

“A bargain is a bargain, boggart. Now take the potato tops and leave me alone.!

“Hmmph!” The boggart was fuming with anger. “I’ll get even with you next year!”

“What do you want next year then, tops or bottoms?” asked Beth.

“Bottoms, of course. You can keep the tops next time!” And the boggart stomped off.

“Now what shall we do?” asked Jude.

“Plant barley, my dear. Let the boggart make what he can out of barley roots!”

So, after Jude had dug up all his potatoes, he planted his field and sowed barley seed. He rolled the land and watered it, and when the spring came young green shoots appeared. By harvest time, when the great big hairy boggart arrived for his share of the crops, the field was a swaying carpet of gold.

“There it is,” said Jude. “I’ll have the tops and you can have the roots.”

The boggart screamed with rage. “You’ve cheated my again, you little shrimp. Why I’ll, I’ll…”

“Now, now!” said Jude. “A deal’s a deal.”

“All right, farmer Jude, you win this time. But next year we’ll both have the top of the crop. And you’ll plant wheat. When harvest time comes we’ll both reap it. You start from the north end of the field and I’ll start from the south. We keep what we cut.”

Jude looked at the boggart’s long arms and knew that he would be able to cut the wheat much faster than he could.

“No, no deal,” said Jude.

“It’s either that or a fight to the death!” growled the boggart, and he thrashed his hairy arms above his head and stamped his huge feet.

“What a terrible sight!” laughed Jude. “Please - don’t let’s fight. I wouldn’t want to hurt a boggart!” So they shook hands on the deal and the boggart went away sniggering.

Jude told Beth about the bargain. “He’s got such strong arms! He’ll cut ten times as much wheat as I can. He’s beaten us this time, I’m afraid.”

Beth thought for a minute. “Suppose that some of the wheat grew with tougher stalks than the rest,” she said. “Then one scythe would get blunt much quicker than the other.” And she told him her plan.

“Oh, that’s it!” said Jude. “I’m glad the boggart doesn’t have a wife as clever as you!”

Jude ploughed the land and planted the wheat seed, then he watched the crop grow tall and golden. Just before the harvest he bought some thin iron rods and crept out to the boggart’s end of the field in the middle of the night. He stuck the rods into the ground among the stalks of wheat.

Harvest day came and the great big hairy boggart arrived, carrying a scythe in each of his huge hands. Jude started cutting the wheat from the top end of the field, and the boggart started from the other. Jude swung his scythe in steady, sweeping strokes and the golden wheat fell down all around him. But the boggart cut and hacked and sweated and swore, and then he stopped.

“The weeds in the wheat down this end seem mighty tough!” he shouted.

“No trouble up this end!” called Jude.

The boggart was too stupid to notice the iron rods. So he sharpened both scythes and went on hacking at the wheat. Eventually he stopped, mopping his forehead. “I’m tired out with cutting these weeds.”

“Really?” said Jude. “That’s funny. I’m still as fresh as a daisy.”

The boggart tried again, swinging his scythes in all directions, but with each stroke they got more blunt and chipped. Finally he threw them down in a rage.

“You can keep your useless land!” he yelled at Jude. “It’s more trouble than it’s worth.” He strode off over a hedge and vanished down the road into the distance. And the great big hairy boggart never bothered Jude and Beth again.

Irish folk tale