St Johnston and Carrigans Donegal



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The gruesome legend of Stumpy's Brae was occasionally called the Legend of Tom the Toiler according to Ireland's Own.   It is doubtful that Ireland's Own was correct on that point.

Stumpy's Brae is the steep brae between Craighadoes and Lifford near a bridge that is featured in the legend.   

Oral tradition says that Tom was murdered in a house there with a pick for his belongings by an elderly couple for his belongings. 

They tried to put him in his pack after emptying it of the goods but he was too tall.  So they cut off his legs at the knee to bury him.  Legend says he was buried among the roots of a tree.  Tom came back for vengeance as a gruesome ghost that walked about on the stumps of his legs and tormented his killers to their dying day.  

Oral tradition claims that the farmer's house was the old house at the foot of what is now called Stumpy's Brae.  The house was demolished in recent years.  The poem being written evidence has to be taken more seriously than oral tradition.  It says Stumpy was carried from the house over the bridge to the Brae for burial.

Oral tradition varies as to where Stumpy was sacrilegiously interred.  The story says they carried the body to a Brae and that there was a bridge over a burn between their house and where they put him.  Those who believe the house at Stumpy's Bray was the murder site say that the burial transpired in Craighadoes at a small brae between what used to be Joshua Galbraith's farm house and the road.  The legend tells us that the ghost went over the bridge and there is bridge between where Stumpy was supposedly buried in Craighadoes and Stumpy's Brae. 

The poem differs from oral tradition in the following respects.  It says Stumpy was taken from the farmer's house across the bridge up to the Brae for burial.

Other oral traditions have been preserved in accounts such as the following essay that can be found on the Dúchas website.  This account rings true unlike the poem.

Stumpy’s Brae!

Not far from the village of St. Johnston’s is a steep hill known as ‘Stump’s Brae’. Stump still haunts that hill and if you stop to listen some night when the moon is full you may hear the sound of his wooden stump on the hard road as he paces up and down. You will never see the man himself, you will only hear the sound of his footsteps.

Now long ago there was an old man living in St. Johnston. He had only one leg. The reason for this we do not know but the fact remains that instead of a right leg he had only a wooden stump. When the walked up the village street the wooden stump made a loud clattering sound and the people would say without even looking out through their windows ‘There goes old stumpy’. He was rich but there were whispers and rumours that he had obtained his money by some not altogether honest means. No one knew from whence he came. He himself never offered any information on the subject and his whole past remained shrouded in mystery.

Late one evening as he was coming home from market he was robbed and brutally murdered. Although thorough investigations were made in the murderer was never found and since, superstitious people always say that he can be heard walking on this brae.

I have heard the above story on several occasions.
R.W. Cunningham
Ardagh N.S. St. Johnston, Co. Donegal.

Dú » The Schools’ Collection » Co. Donegal » Ardagh