CELT document T307006E


Douglas Hyde

Colann gan Cheann

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Long ago there was a widow woman living in the County Galway, and two sons with her, whose names were Dermod and Donal. Dermod was the eldest son, and he was the master over the house. They were large farmers, and they got a summons from the landlord to come and pay him a year's rent. They had not much money in the house, and Dermod said to Donal, “bring a load of oats to Galway, and sell it.” Donal got ready a load, put two horses under the cart, and went to Galway. He sold the oats, and got a good price for it. When he was coming home, he stopped at the half-way house, as was his custom, to have a drink himself, and to give a drink and oats to the horses.

When he went in to get a drink for himself, he saw two boys playing cards. He looked at them for a while, and one of them said: “Will you have a game?” Donal began playing, and he did not stop till he lost every penny of the price of the oats. “What will I do now?,” says Donal to himself, “Dermod will kill me. Anyhow, I'll go home and tell the truth.”

When he came home, Dermod asked him: “Did you sell the oats?” “I sold, and got a good price for it,” says Donal. “Give me the money,” says Dermod. “I haven't it,” says Donal; “I lost every penny of it playing cards at the house half-way.” “My curse, and the curse of the four-and-twenty men on you,” says Dermod. He went and told the mother the trick Donal did. “Give him his pardon this time,” says the mother, “and he won't do it again.” “You must sell another load to-morrow,” says Dermod, “and if you lose the price, don't come here.”


On the morning, the day on the morrow, Donal put another load on the cart, and he went to Galway. He sold the oats, and got a good price for it. When he was coming home, and near the half-way house, he said to himself: “I will shut my eyes till I go past that house, for fear there should be a temptation on me to go in.” He shut his eyes; but when the horses came as far as the inn, they stood, and would not go a step further, for it was their custom to get oats and water in that place every time they would be coming out of Galway. He opened his eyes, gave oats and water to the horses, and went in himself to put a coal in his pipe.

When he went in he saw the boys playing cards. They asked him to play, and (said) that perhaps he might gain all that he lost the day before. As there is a temptation on the cards, Donal began playing, and he did not stop until he lost every penny of all that he had. “There is no good in my going home now,” says Donal; “I'll stake the horses and the cart against all I lost.” He played again, and he lost the horses and the cart. Then he did not know what he should do, but he thought and said: “Unless I go home, my poor mother will be anxious. I will go home and tell the truth to her. They can but banish me.”

When he came home, Dermod asked him: “Did you sell the oats? or where are the horses and the cart?” “I lost the whole playing cards, and I would not come back except to leave ye my blessing before I go.” “That you may not ever come back, or a penny of your price,” said Dermod, “and I don't want your blessing.”

He left his blessing with his mother then, and he went travelling, looking for service. When the darkness of the night was coming, there was thirst and hunger on him. He saw a poor man coming to him, and a bag on  p.156 his back. He recognised Donal, and said: “Donal, what brought you here, or where are you going?” “I don't know you,” said Donal.

“It's many's the good night I spent in your father's house, may God have mercy upon him,” said the poor man; “perhaps there's hunger on you, and that you would not be against eating something out of my bag?”
“It's a friend that would give it to me,” says Donal. Then the poor man gave him beef and bread, and when he ate his enough, the poor man asked him: “Where are you going to-night?”
“Musha, then, I don't know,” says Donal.
“There is a gentleman in the big house up there, and he gives lodging to anyone who comes to him after the darkness of night, and I'm going to him,” says the poor man.
“Perhaps I would get lodgings with you,” says Donal. “I have no doubt of it,” says the poor man.

The pair went to the big house, and the poor man knocked at the door, and the servant opened it. “I want to see the master of this house,” says Donal.

The servant went, and the master came. “I am looking for a night's lodging,” said Donal.
“I will give ye that, if ye wait. Go up to the castle there above, and I will be after ye, and if ye wait in it till morning, each man of ye will get five score ten-penny pieces, and ye will have plenty to eat and drink as well and a good bed to sleep on.”
“That's a good offer,” said they; “we will go there.”

The pair came to the castle, went into a room, and put down a fire. It was not long till the gentleman came, bringing beef, mutton, and other things to them. “Come with me now till I show ye the cellar, there's plenty of wine and ale in it, and ye can draw your enough.” When  p.157 he showed them the cellar, he went out, and he put a lock on the door behind him.

Then Donal said to the poor man: “Put the things to eat on the table, and I'll go for the ale.” Then he got a light, and a cruiskeen (jug), and went down into the cellar. The first barrel he came to he stooped down to draw out of it, when a voice said: “Stop, that barrel is mine.” Donal looked up, and he saw a little man without a head, with his two legs spread straddle-wise on a barrel.

“If it is yours,” says Donal, “I'll go to another.” He went to another; but when he stooped down to draw, Trunk-without-head said: “That barrel is mine.” “They're not all yours,” says Donal, “I'll go to another one.” He went to another one; but when be began drawing out of it. Trunk-without-head said: “That's mine.” “I don't care,” said Donal, “I'll fill my cruiskeen.” He did that, and came up to the poor man; but he did not tell him that he saw Trunk-without-head. Then they began eating and drinking till the jug was empty. Then said Donal: “It's your turn to go down and fill the jug.” The poor man got the candle and the cruiskeen, and went down into the cellar. He began drawing out of a barrel, when he heard a voice saying: “That barrel is mine.” He looked up, and when he saw Trunk-without-head, he let cruiskeen and candle fall, and off and away with him to Donal. “Oh! it's little but I'm dead,” says the poor man; “I saw a man without a head, and his two legs spread out on the barrel, and he said it was his.” “He would not do you any harm,” said Donal, “he was there when I went down; get up and bring me the jug and the candle.” “Oh, I wouldn't go down again if I were to get Ireland without a division,” says the poor man. Donal went down, and he brought up the jug filled. “Did you see Trunk-without-head?” says the poor man.  p.158 “I did,” says Donal; “but he did not do me any harm.”

They were drinking till they were half drunk, then said Donal: “It's time for us to be going to sleep, what place would you like best, the outside of the bed, or next the wall?”
“I'll go next the wall,” said the poor man. They went to bed leaving the candle lit.

They were not long in bed till they saw three men coming in, and a bladder (football) with them. They began beating bayrees (playing at ball) on the floor; but there were two of them against one. Donal said to the poor man: “It is not right for two to be against one,” and with that he leaped out and began helping the weak side, and he without a thread on him. Then they began laughing, and walked out.

Donal went to bed again, and he was not long there till there came in a piper playing sweet music. “Rise up,” says Donal, “until we have a dance; it's a great pity to let good music go to loss.” “For your life, don't stir,” says the poor man.

Donal gave a leap out of the bed, and he fell to dancing till he was tired. Then the piper began laughing, and walked out.

Donal went to bed again; but he was not long there till there walked in two men, carrying a coffin. They left it down on the floor, and they walked out. “I don't know who's in the coffin, or whether it's for us it's meant,” said Donal; “I'll go till I see.” He gave a leap out, raised the board of the coffin, and found a dead man in it. “By my conscience, it's the cold place you have,” says Donal; “if you were able to rise up, and sit at the fire, you would be better.” The dead man rose up and warmed himself. Then said Donal, “the bed is wide  p.159 enough for three.” Donal went in the middle, the poor man next the wall, and the dead man on the outside. It was not long until the dead man began bruising Donal, and Donal bruising in on the poor man, until he was all as one as dead, and he had to give a leap out through the window, and to leave Donal and the dead man there. The dead man was crushing Donal then until he nearly put him out through the wall.

“Destruction on you,” said Donal, then; “it's you're the ungrateful man; I let you out of the coffin; I gave you a heat at the fire, and a share of my bed; and now you won't keep quiet; but I'll put you out of the bed.” Then the dead man spoke, and said: “You are a valiant man, and it stood you upon 1 to be so, or you would be dead.” “Who would kill me? ” said Donal. “I,” says the dead man; “there never came any one here this twenty years back, that I did not kill. Do you know the man who paid you for remaining here?” “He was a gentleman,” said Donal. “He is my son,” said the dead man, “and he thinks that you will be dead in the morning; but come with me now.”

The dead man took him down into the cellar, and showed him a great flag. “Lift that flag. There are three pots under it, and they filled with gold. It is on account of the gold they killed me; but they did not get the gold. Let yourself have a pot, and a pot for my son, and the other one—divide it on the poor people.” Then he opened a door in the wall, and drew out a paper, and said to Donal: “Give this to my son, and tell him that it was the butler who killed me, for my share of gold.  p.160 I can get no rest until he'll be hanged; and if there is a witness wanting I will come behind you in the court without a head on me, so that everybody can see me. When he will be hanged, you will marry my son's daughter, and come to live in this castle. Let you have no fear about me, for I shall have gone to eternal rest. Farewell now.”

Donal went to sleep, and he did not awake till the gentleman came in the morning, and he asked him did he sleep well, or where did the old man whom he left with him go? “I will tell you that another time; I have a long story to tell you first.” “Come to my house with me,” says the gentleman.

When they were going to the house, whom should they see coming out of the bushes, but the poor man without a thread on him, more than the night he was born, and he shaking with the cold. The gentleman got him his clothes, gave him his wages, and off for ever with him.

Donal went to the gentleman's house, and when he ate and drank his enough, he said: “I have a story to tell you.” Then he told him everything that happened to him the night before, until he came as far as the part about the gold. “Come with me till I see the gold,” said the gentleman. He went to the castle, he lifted the flag, and when he saw the gold, he said: “I know now that the story is true.”

When he got the entire information from Donal, he got a warrant against the butler; but concealed the crime it was for. When the butler was brought before the judge, Donal was there, and gave witness. Then the judge read out of his papers, and said: “I cannot find this man guilty without more evidence.”
“I am here,” said Trunk-without-head, coming behind Donal. When the butler saw him, he said to the judge:  p.161 “Go no farther, I am guilty; I killed the man, and his head is under the hearth-stone in his own room.” Then the judge gave order to hang the butler, and Trunk-without-head went away.

The day on the morrow, Donal was married to the gentleman's daughter, and got a great fortune with her, and went to live in the castle.

A short time after this, he got ready his coach and went on a visit to his mother.

When Dermod saw the coach coming, he did not know who the great man was or who was in it. The mother came out and ran to him, saying: “Are not you my own Donal, the love of my heart you are? I was praying for you since you went.” Then Dermod asked pardon of him, and got it. Then Donal gave him a purse of gold, saying at the same time: “There's the price of the two loads of oats, of the horses, and of the cart.” Then he said to his mother: “You ought to come home with me. I have a fine castle without anybody in it but my wife and the servants.” “I will go with you,” said the mother; “and I will remain with you till I die.”

Donal took his mother home, and they spent a prosperous life together in the castle.

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Title statement

Title (uniform): Trunk-Without-Head

Title (original, Irish): Colann gan Cheann

Author: Douglas Hyde

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Electronic edition compiled by: Beatrix Färber

Proof corrections by: Beatrix Färber and Olan Daly

Funded by: School of History, University College, Cork

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1. First draft

Extent: 3750 words

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Publisher: CELT: Corpus of Electronic Texts: a project of University College, Cork

Address: College Road, Cork, Ireland— http://www.ucc.ie/celt

Date: 2012

Distributor: CELT online at University College, Cork, Ireland.

CELT document ID: T307006E

Availability: Available with prior consent of the CELT programme for purposes of academic research and teaching only. This work is copyrighted and reproduced here with the kind permission of the copyright holder.

Notes statement

This story was collected by Douglas Hyde from Eadbhard Loingseach near Ballinrobe, as he notes on p. 240. The original Irish version was published in his Leabhar Sgeulaigheachta, (see below).

Source description

Literature by or about Douglas Hyde

  1. Douglas Hyde, Leabhar Sgeulaigheachta: folk stories in Irish with notes by Dr. Hyde, LL.D. (Dublin: Gill 1889), 171–183.
  2. Douglas Hyde, An Irish funeral oration over Owen O'Neill of the house of Clanaboy, Ulster Journal of Archaeology 3/4; 4/1 (1897) 258–271, 50–55.
  3. Douglas Hyde, A literary history of Ireland from the earliest times to the present day (Dublin 1899).
  4. Diarmuid Ó Cobhthaigh, Douglas Hyde: an Craoibhín Aoibhinn (Dublin: Maunsel 1917).
  5. Douglas Hyde, Catalogue of the books and manuscripts comprising the library of Sir John T. Gilbert (Dublin 1918).
  6. Douglas Hyde [=an Craoibhín Aoibhinn] (ed.), Abhráin ghrádha Chúige Chonnacht: ar n-a gcruinniughadh agus ar n-a bhfoillsiughadh de'n chéad uair (Baile Átha Cliath [=Dublin]: Foillseacháin Rialtais 1931).
  7. Douglas Hyde [=an Craoibhín Aoibhinn] (ed. & trans.), Abhráin diadha Chúige Connacht [=The religious songs of Connacht: a collection of poems, stories, prayers, satures, ranns, charms etc. being chapter VI of the Songs of Connacht (Dublin: Gill 1905–06).
  8. Douglas Hyde, Mo thúras go h-Americe (Dublin 1937).
  9. Douglas Hyde, Mise agus an Connradh (Dublin 1937).
  10. Diarmid Coffey, Douglas Hyde, President of Ireland (Dublin: Maunsel 1918).
  11. Review of above, The Irish Monthly, vol. 46/537 (March 1918) 179–180.
  12. P. S. O'Hegarty, A bibliography of Dr. Douglas Hyde (Dublin: privately printed by Alex. Thom 1939).
  13. Doiminic Ó Dálaigh, 'The young Douglas Hyde', Studia Hibernica 10 (1970) 108–135.
  14. Seán Ó Lúing, 'Douglas Hyde and the Gaelic League', Studies: An Irish Quarterly Review 62/246 (summer 1973) 123–138.
  15. Gareth W. Dunleavy, Douglas Hyde (Lewisburg, New Jersey: Bucknell University Press 1974).
  16. Dominic Daly, The young Douglas Hyde: the dawn of the Irish revolution and renaissance, 1874–1893 (Dublin: Irish University Press 1974).
  17. Robert Welch, 'Douglas Hyde and His Translations of Gaelic Verse', Studies: An Irish Quarterly Review 64/255 (autumn 1975) 243–257.
  18. Gareth Dunleavy, 'Hyde's Crusade for the Language and the Case of the Embarrassing Packets', Studies: An Irish Quarterly Review 73 (1984) 12–25.
  19. Douglas Hyde, Language, Lore, and Lyrics: Essays and Lectures. Edited by Breandán Ó Conaire. (Blackrock: Irish Academic Press 1986).
  20. Janet Egleson Dunleavy & Gareth W. Dunleavy, Douglas Hyde: a maker of modern Ireland (Berkeley: University of California Press 1991).
  21. Brian MacCuarta, review of above, Studies: An Irish Quarterly Review 81/321 (spring 1992) 122–124.
  22. Risteárd Ó Glaisne, Dúbhglas de h-Íde (1860–1949): náisiúnach neamhspleách 1910–1949 (Baile Átha Cliath [=Dublin]: Conradh na Gaeilge 1993).
  23. Seán Ó Lúing, Celtic studies in Europe: and other essays (Dublin: Geography Publications 2000).

The edition used in the digital edition

Hyde, Douglas (1890). Beside the Fire: a Collection of Irish Gaelic folk stories; with additional notes by Alfred Nutt‍. 1st ed. lviii + 203 pages. London: David Nutt.

You can add this reference to your bibliographic database by copying or downloading the following:

  title 	 = {Beside the Fire: a Collection of Irish Gaelic folk stories; with additional notes by Alfred Nutt},
  author 	 = {Douglas Hyde},
  edition 	 = {1},
  note 	 = {lviii + 203 pages},
  publisher 	 = {David Nutt},
  address 	 = {London },
  date 	 = {1890}


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Project description: CELT: Corpus of Electronic Texts

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The present text covers pages 171 to 183 and the notes on p. 193–4 of the volume.

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Correction: Text has been checked and proof-read twice.

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Segmentation: div0=the folk-tale. Page-breaks are marked pb n="".

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Profile description

Creation: Translation by Douglas Hyde; original Irish 19th century.

Date: 1890

Language usage

  • The Text is in English. (en)
  • Some Irish words occur in the tale and notes. (ga)

Keywords: folklore; folktale; Trunk without head; prose; 19c; translation

Revision description

(Most recent first)

  1. 2012-05-03: File proof-read (2); more strucural makup applied; header created; file parsed; SGML and HTML files created. (ed. Beatrix Färber)
  2. 2012-05-01: File proof-read (1); basic strucural makup applied. (ed. Olan Daly)
  3. 2012-05-01: File captured. (text capture Beatrix Färber)


Page 157. This description of the decapitated ghost sitting astride the beer-barrel, reminds one of Crofton Croker's “Clooricaun,” and of the hag's son in the story of Paudyeen O'Kelly and the Weasel. In Scotch Highland tradition, there is a “trunk-without-head,” who infested a certain ford, and killed people who attempted to pass that way; he is not the subject, however, of any regular story.

In a variant of this tale the hero's name is Labhras (Laurence) and the castle where the ghost appeared is called Baile-an-bhroin (Ballinvrone). It is also mentioned, that when the ghost appeared in court, he came in streaming with blood, as he was the day he was killed, and that the butler, on seeing him, fainted.


It is Donal's courage which saves him from the ghost, just as happens in another story which I got, and which is a close Gaelic parallel to Grimm's Man who went out to learn to shake with fear2 The ghost whom the hero lays explains that he had been for thirty years waiting to meet some one who would not be afraid of him. There is an evident moral in this.

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  1. That means “It was well for yourself it was so.” This old Elizabethan idiom is of frequent occurrence in Connacht English, having with other Elizabethanisms, either filtered its way across the island from the Pale, or else been picked up by the people from the English peasantry with whom they have to associate when they go over to England to reap the harvest. 🢀

  2. Von einem der auszog, das Gruseln zu lernen. 🢀


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