Pookas Revenge

Near to where I grew up in Blessington there was a dark pool of water that fascinated and
terrified all of us children. In winter, the pool was from a sullen overflow that turned
hypnotically in its dark bowl; on a windy summer’s day it was a dirty palm that rattled loose
stones like knucklebones in a stonemason’s hand.
We were told that in this shadowy place had lived a Pooka. He disliked men on
horses and hounds, and children that climbed near his home, drowning them if he could. He
had tolerated, maybe he was a little conceited, the ladies and gentlemen coming to The Falls
by horse and carriage, by tram and car to gaze in wonder as the Liffey dropped a dramatic
hundred- and forty-feet through a narrow pass.
Then, at 10am on the 3rd of March 1940 the dam gate was dropped across the top of
the waterfall and the flow of water to his home was no more. The Pooka was forced to
move to the drowned village of Ballinahown in the middle of the new lake.
Lonely, young soldiers walked the walls of the Poulaphouca Dam. I think my mother
saw this as a challenge as she was all for exploring places that she wasn’t supposed to go!
So, one summer’s day we trekked from the hotel to the Falls and climbed into the Pooka’s
old home. Warmed by the sun we lay on our backs in the curve of smooth rock. Swallows
dipped from their nests under the bridge, wild pink valerian and green ferns tumbled down
the cliff face. We would have stayed longer but for the shadows of the overhanging trees
that suddenly chilled us and a twist of bitter wind that felt like pinching fingers.
In the summer of 1987 the Pooka took his revenge and drank all the water in the
lake. The top of the Mill House appeared, the old bridges that had crossed the river Liffey,
the granite field walls and gate posts and lastly the tumbled houses of Ballinahown. We
stood at the shoreline and stared at the receding water as swarms of black flies crawled
from the slime. A foul smell seeped up from the lake to the village and people muttered
about graves from the old village.
We went, with the other children, to Nimmo’s Bridge which is close to the Pooka’s
old home by the Falls, with our bottles of water. Gathering in the hot evenings, epic water
fights ensued that probably ensured a few lasting family rivalries and, yes, a few romances.
When all but a few drops of water remained, we’d lean over the bridge and offer it to
appease the angry Pooka. If the Pooka was there he didn’t show himself but it must have
worked because in the autumn the rain came, the lake filled and the pike men returned. We
never stepped in the lake. Some had dared to go up to their ankles and had felt the
meaningful tug of the Pooka’s fingers around their ankles.
Locally it is said that on winter nights the Pooka returns to his old home, the water
foaming over the cascade filling his silvery pool and I am drawn to this beautiful, hidden
place once more. Then I remind myself that this is Phoul-a-phooka (the demon hole), and
the chill of that summer’s day, and I am content enough with my memories.