Devil and Bailiff McGlynn, The
DESCRIPTION: A woman wishes the Devil take a piglet digging her potatoes and a boy stealing her piglet. He refuses because "it was only her lips that have said it." When she wishes the Devil take the bailiff , he does: "Twas straight from her heart that came surely"
EARLIEST DATE: 1952 (IRTunneyFamily01)
LONG DESCRIPTION: The Devil and Bailiff McGlynn discuss business. Nearby a woman wishes the Devil take a piglet digging among her potatos but the Devil won't take it because "it was only her lips that have said it, and that's not sufficient for me." Then a boy runs off with the piglet and she wishes the Devil might take him, but the Devil doesn't because "it was only her lips that have said it, and that's not sufficient for me." When she sees the bailiff and wishes the Devil take him, it's done: says the Devil, "Twas straight from her heart that came surely"
KEYWORDS: curse farming humorous animal youth Devil
FOUND IN: Ireland
REFERENCES (1 citation):
Tunney-StoneFiddle, p. 95, "The Devil and Bailiff McGlynn" (1 text)
Michael Gallagher, "The Devil and Bailiff Maglyn" (on IRTunneyFamily01)
NOTES: Tunney-StoneFiddle: "Even his [Uncle Mick's] songs of the Land War [roughly 1879-1885] and landlordism, with all its attendant evils, had a spark of humour in them. For example, listen to this little ditty describing the love and affection in which bailiffs were held in those stirring days." - BS
For background on the Land War, see e.g. "The Bold Tenant Farmer." However, there is reason to doubt this link (even if the Land War caused the Irish to tell more tales about the evils of bailiffs).
Abby Sale points out to me the clear connection between this song and the tale of "The Devil and the Bailiff" found in Asbjornsen and Moe (which is short, so the comparison is quite apt; it is on pp. 168-169 of NorwegianFolk). There seems to an equivalent Irish tale, though all the printed versions of it seem to be modern.
In outline, the story that the Devil comes to collect the Bailiff -- but stops to chat for a bit. They hit it off well -- presumably because they are so alike. The song hints at this:
Now, one of these boys was the devil
And the other was Bailiff McGlynn,
And the one was as foul as the other
And both were as ugly as sin.
They agree to a some sort of contest, the idea apparently being that they travel along together and listen to people cursing. If someone is cursed soon enough, then the Devil takes *that* soul rather than the Bailiff's. But the curse must be "from the heart."
They visit a cottage, and as they come by, the pet pig gets its snout in the cream, and the woman says, "The devil take the pig" -- but they do not take the pig, because the curse was not from the heart. Later, a mother curses her child for being mischievous. Again, the curse is not meant. But the two then meet a pair of farmers, who curse the bailiff. That curse, the Devil declares, is from the heart -- and the bailiff is taken.
The tale is even older in England -- Murray Schoolbraid points that it is The Friar's Tale in Chaucer's Canterbury Tales -- although in Chaucer, it is a Summoner who meets the fiend (a point Chaucer uses to bring out the rivalry between Friar and Summoner), and the devil is in disguise and the two agree to share whatever they get (an idea similar to the hunting contest in Sir Gawain and the Green Knight).
The question then becomes, Where did Chaucer get the tale? Benet, p. 408, says that it is from the Latin Promptuarium Exemplorum, and others agree that it is an exemplum -- i.e. a story around which morality tales and sermons can be built.
Chaucer/Benson, p. 875, says that "The tale of the heart-felt curse is probably of folk origin, and numerous analogies found across northern Europe indicate that any avaricious type might be used for the role here played by a summoner." The notes mention in particular Caesarius of Heisterbach's Libri VIII miraculorum, of the thirteenth century, in which the guilty party is an advocatus or administrator of church estates. But the Riverside editors note that there are two similar English folktales which resemble Chaucer's in that the man fails to realize he is under threat. One of these is from a sermon by Robert Rypon of Durham in which the man is actually a bailiff (Ohlgren/Matheson, p. 45, add that the sermon was in Latin, and point to an additional work about it by Helen Cooper). As usual, of course, Chaucer amplified the tale.
Walton credits the song to Cathal McGarvey (1866-1927), but Walton's attributions are said to be very suspect, and it is interesting that the only collections seem to be from Tunney and his uncle, Michael Gallagher. Still, it seems certain that someone rewrote the tale as a song; the only question is, Who? - RBW
Last updated in version 3.3
- Benet: William Rose Benet, editor, The Reader's Encyclopdedia, first edition, 1948 (I use the four-volume Crowell edition but usually check it against the single volume fourth edition edited by Bruce Murphy and published 1996 by Harper-Collins)
- Chaucer/Benson: Larry D. Benson, general editor, The Riverside Chaucer, third edition, Houghton Mifflin, 1987 (based on F. N. Robinson, The Works of Geoffrey Chaucer, which is considered to be the first and second editions of this work)
- NorwegianFolk: Norwegian Folk Tales from the collection of Peter Christen Asbornsen and Jorgen Moe, illustrated by Erik Werenskiold and Theodor Kittelsen, translated by Pat Shaw Iversen and Carl Norman, The Viking Press, 1960
- Ohlgren/Matheson: Thomas H. Ohlgren, Robin Hood: The Early Poems, 1465-1560, Texts, Contexts, and Ideology, with an Appendix: The Dialects and Languages of Selected Robin Hood Poes by Lister M. Matheson, University of Delaware Press, 2007
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