On this day for the past few years I’ve invited my readers in out of the cold stormy night, beckoned them to gather around the fire, perhaps have a drop of something to stop the blood running cold, and listen to a story. To be sure it’s a simple story of an All Hallow’s Eve a hundred years ago or more. Well yes a simple story but one that tells of a sinful man that to this very day wanders the earth paying his unholy pact with the Evil One himself. A man so bad that even the Devil would have no truck with him when his time came. Though if legend is to be believed the Devil couldn‘t take the soul of Jack. Old Satan may be many things but he is a Devil of his word and where Jack was concerned he kept it.
Some say that Jack lived near Tuar Mhic Éadaigh in the bog-lands of County Mayo while others claim he came from one of the villages that dot the Boireann in County Clare. But where ever he may have lived he was generally regarded, if regarded at all, as the most unpleasant, stingy, sinful man in town. Mothers would warn their children off becoming like Jack with his cadging ways; the local farmers always counted their change if Jack went to the trouble of buying something at the weekly market that he could not steal from their fields; even the local priest would hide the poor box when he saw Jack near the church – though there were few enough occasions that the miserable sinner darkened the doors of that holy place. Sadly not even his own relatives could find anything good to say about the man, if indeed they’d even own up to his being one of theirs.
But some how on his nightly visits to the local teach tábhairne, or even worse one of the an sibíns that sprung up as soon as the gardai had dismantled the last one, he always found a stranger or poor drunken eegit who’d stand him a drink or two. And rarely would the source of such largess receive so much as a word of thanks from the ungrateful Jack. Now one night Jack was sprawled in the corner of one of the lowest an sibíns in the County, it was so low that only one other person had bothered to cross the threshold the entire night. A stranger to the area, he was dressed in a long coat that covered him almost from head to toe and there was a whiff of sulfur in the room that could hardly have come from the weak embers the tábhairneoir had provided for the drinkers to warm themselves.
“Sure, I’d sell my soul to the Devil for one more drink,” said Jack. That was something he had said more than once at the end of an evening but never with the very Devil sitting in the room with him. Suddenly the stranger was gone but two bright new farthings appeared on the table at Jack’s hand. Now Jack may have been scuttered that night but he wasn’t that done that he hadn’t realized who had been sitting across the room for him. He grabbed the coins and shoved them in his coat pocket but in that pocket he also had a rosary that his dying mother had given him. He had long since forgotten any of the holy words that went with the beads but he did know that the Devil couldn’t fight the power of a crucifix no matter how tarnished. Struggle as he might to free him self from the confines of that foul-smelling prison the Devil knew he was trapped and offered Jack a bargain. If he would release him the Devil would grant him a reprieve: in ten years time, to the day, he would come to claim Jack’s soul. Knowing Jack’s reputation the Devil made sure that they sealed the bargain with a handshake and disappeared leaving behind only a lingering smell of brimstone.
For the next ten years Jack continued on his way unchanged; cadging, cheating, lying, and boozing, never heeding the promised meeting with the Lord of Hell. But the day of reckoning finally arrived and ten years, to the day, as he stumbled home gee-eyed from the drink the Devil appeared to stake his claim. Sure of his prize the Devil jeered at Jack and asked if he had any last wishes before he lost his immortal soul. Now once again Jack was drunk but not that bolloxed that he wasn’t going to try and get the better of the Devil. “Sure,” said Jack “I’d like to taste an apple from yonder tree but I’m too fluthered to climb it myself. Be a good lad then and fetch one for me.” The Devil laughed at the request and climbed the tree; quick as flint Jack drew out his knife and carved a cross in the truck of the tree. Now it’s already known that that cross immobilizes the Evil One but another fact known to those who make a study of these things is that the Devil cannot work his evil in the air. Once again Jack had him trapped and it was then that the cunning reprobate made his demand: the Devil must promise to never again try to claim Jack’s soul. Frustrated but given little choice the Devil agreed. Jack covered up the cross and the Devil climbed down and went on his way muttering now useless curses.
But Jack’s day of judgment was not far off. The following All Hallow’s Eve Jack died and his soul made it’s way, as must all souls, to the Gates of Paradise. Saint Peter read the scroll of Jack’s life with mounting horror, if ever an immortal soul was unworthy of a place among the blessed it was this unrepentant wastrel. So the good Saint sent Jack on his way down the path to Hell. But as unwelcome as he had been in Heaven it was doubly so at the Infernal Gates. That bargain. That bloody bargain! The Devil had sworn to never claim his soul and being, as stated earlier, a Devil of his word Jack was refused a place even at the fires of Hell.
Jack found himself back on Earth in the darkness that engulfs the Eve of All Hallows more deeply than any other night of the year. “Give me some light,” pleaded the now frightened man. The Devil laughed, at last he had his own back, and tossed him one of the eternally flaming embers from Hell fire. “Do with it what you will,” mocked the Devil, “as you wander the earth for eternity.” In the light cast by the ember Jack saw an old turnip that had been left in the field by one of the farmers he had stolen from in his earthly times. The turnip was hollowed with rot and the skin had been pockmarked and resembled a human face. Jack placed the ember in the gaping mouth and using the turnip as a lantern stumbled his way across the field searching for the rest that, thanks to his too clever bargain, he would never find.
It is said that too this day, particularly on that night of the Christian year when the unrepentant congregate, that Jack of the Lantern scours the earth looking for a place of rest. Sadly even in his restless state he has not mended his evil ways and the only way to ensure that he does not stop at your abode is to place a lighted turnip carved in the shape of a face in the window of your home. Why this talisman has this power has never been fully explained but it is best not to take chances on Halloween’.
On this day in 1923: The first of 160 consecutive days of 100° Fahrenheit at Marble Bar, Western Australia.