Irish Púca Divides Town – Stuff I Found Out While Researching My Novel

Writing fantasy gives the opportunity to draw inspiration from folklore and history around the world. While European lore has taken over the fantasy genre, thanks to the popularity of Lord of the Rings and Game of Thrones, there is still a lot it has to offer – and personally I have found inspiration from the Irish Púca.

What is a Púca?

A Púca (in Anglicized spelling: Pooka or Phooka) is a type of fairy from Celtic mythology. Not the kind that look like tiny people with wings, the kind in the same vein as a goblin or troll. A dark, roguish fairy who can bring either good luck or bad luck. Many reguard it with fear.

One common story is that, while in the form of a horse, a Púca will trick weary or drunken travellers into riding on its back – and proceed to absolutely terrify them with a wild ride. Púcas can be mischievous and cause a lot of havoc, but are rarely presented as doing outright harm. Still, people were careful not to incur their wrath.

Abilities

  • Shape-shifting
  • Human speech
  • Bringing about good or bad luck
  • Giving prophecies

The Púca of Ennistymon Controversy

A more recent mention of the Púca is from just last year. Amidst the COVID anxieties, a rural Irish town was having a controversy surrounding a sculpture. What’s important to note here is that I’m not Irish and I don’t live in Ireland, so I’m approaching this subject from a perspective that’s very far removed.

From what I understand, the crux of it is this: The council wanted a statue to draw tourists to the town of Ennistymon, and artist Aidan Harte sculpted an extravagant horse head on top of a man’s skinny body. And it’s pretty awesome, in my opinion, but received criticism for being “grotesque” and “unsettling.”

The Púca of Ennistymon in Clay by Aidan Harte.

Another point against the statue is that some locals thought it doesn’t fit in the town. One said “It’s a stretch. There is no story. It’s not folklore, it’s not a legend, there is no Púca of Ennistymon. It’s like they’ve come up with some paddywhackery, out-of-the-air story that’s not apt to the area.”

Granted, not all the locals were against it. Some wanted to embrace having a “big, mad old statue.”

Twitter users argued that the sculpture was doing exactly what it was intended to do – drawing attention to the town. Naturally, the minute Twitter gets involved, things spiral out of control. What started as a question of suitability turned into a discussion about art censorship.

In the end, the sculpture didn’t make it to Ennistymon.

Personally, I feel pretty bad for the artist but hey, if the locals don’t want it, then that’s up to them. It wouldn’t do the artist any favours if his work was shoved where it wasn’t wanted.

Read Full Article: “What is a púca? And why has it caused an ideological war in rural Ireland?”

How I Came To Research The Púca

I’ve been working on a couple of WIPs. My last research post was about robots with feelings for a science fiction idea I’ve been battling with for a little while. Recently, I’ve talked about a fantasy-turned-horror I’m working on, one that was born from the movies Harvey and The Sixth Sense.

Harvey is a 1950’s comedy about a man called Elwood Dowd who sees a six-foot white rabbit, the aforementioned Harvey, who Dowd identifies as a Púca. Even though the rabbit is never seen, the two share a sweet friendship. Harvey is presented as a mischievous, cheeky, but intelligent creature who is very fond and even a little protective of Dowd. .

..Actually, that’s all conjecture. Harvey never physically appears in the film and, until the end, we only hear about him through Dowd’s descriptions. The story Harvey is not actually about Harvey, it’s about Dowd, about his world-view, and his approach to others and how others approach him. Based on a play written by Mary Chase, there have been a few adaptations outside of the 1950’s one, including one starring Jim Parsons as Dowd, which leans more towards representing Dowd as a well-meaning but slightly eccentric man with an imaginary friend.

Real or not, I was inspired by the relationship. As I said, I’m not Irish so I didn’t grow up knowing about the Púca, but you can probably tell I really enjoyed this film which is why I decided look a little more into the mythology.

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How The Púca Will Feature In My Fantasy-Horror

There’s a lot here for me to consider. My fantasy-horror has grown and changed since my initial idea of Harvey meets Sixth Sense, to the point where describing it that way will make little sense to anyone but me. (This is the reason I have begun seeking out more relevant comparative titles.)

Still, one element remains the same: The mischievous actions of a Púca , it’s “friendship” with a major character, and their impact on the rest of the cast.

I’m actually glad to learn of this more crooked, paranoia-inducing side to the Púca. It fits in really well with how my novel is growing, and is potentially a very fun spin to the Harvey but horror” pitch. While I’m not exactly sure on the endgame, the Púca I write about may not be as benevolent as the six foot tall white rabbit.

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