Plé:Bull Bhalbhae

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The 425 tale type starts off similarly to the 440 with a monster for husband, but it deviates in that the bride must search for and recover her husband after he transforms. One such tale is Sean Ó Conaill’s “Bull Bhalbhae”.


One sister asked to marry the King of the Eastern World, one asked to marry the King of the Western World while the third asked to marry Bull Bhalbhae - a bull by day, and a man by night. What follows is a story of tragedy, love and triumph over adversity. What more could you want in a folktale?

This story, titled as 'Bull Bhalbhae', and recounted by the Kerry storyteller Seán Ó Conaill is not unique to Ireland. A version is also well known in Scotland, referred to as The Black Bull of Norroway. In academic circles it has been identified as type AT425 in the Aarne-Thompson folktale classification index - The Search for the Lost Husband.

We had cause to re-read this tale this week as we are re-hanging a painting by the artist Emer Martin in our foyer, in which she depicts a scene from this particular story. Titled as She Would Never Return Home, the painting draws many admiring glances from visitors and guests alike.

Leabhar Sheáin Uí Chonaill, as compiled and edited by Seamus Ó Duilearga and published in 1948 is a testament to the storyteller's gift and the lasting legacy of the oral tradition in Cill Rialaig, Co. Kerry. Also available in English translation by Máire MacNeill it is cumpulsory reading for all students of the folklore and storytelling tradition in Ireland, encompassing folktales, finn tales, local legends, fairy legends, songs, prayers, charms, and much more. We have reference copies available in our library here as well as the original transcribed materials in our manuscript archive.

And so to end as the storyteller himself used to, "sin é mo sgéal-sa, má tá bréag ann, bíodh! Ní mise a chum ná cheap é!"

Painting: She Would Never Return Home by Emer Martin. Photograph: Seán Ó Conaill (75) and his wife, Cill Rialaig, Baile an Sceilg, 1928. Photographer: O.M. Sandvik. Copyright: National Folklore Collection, UCD