This folklore account details the superstitions surrounding butter churning and the belief that butter could be stolen by supernatural means. It was told by Honor Gaffney from Aclare, Wexford in 1938.
‘It was believed by the people long ago, that certain people were under the power of the devil, and that they could ‘take away’ other people’s butter, that is, that you could churn and churn away for hours, and no butter would come. If the butter was ‘taken’, the milk would rise in froth all over the churn but there would be no butter. Sometimes the cream would have an awful smell. The power was supposed to be got from the Evil One on May morning by skimming a well before the sun rose. There was a rhyme to be recited whilst the skimming was going on. A piece of whitish fat or butter with milk dropping from it was supposed to be left at the door of the house where the butter was to be taken. The people of the house would know then that they would have no butter when churning. The cure for this was to get the coulter out of the plough and put it in the fire and redden it in the devil’s name. Then the person who had ‘taken’ the butter would have to come into the house whether he or she liked it or not, and then of course everyone would know who their awful enemy was‘.
Honor’s story forms part of the Schools’ Folklore Collection, a large and important corpus of material, whose compilation occurred between 1937 and 1938. This far-sighted scheme, run by the Irish Folklore Commission, saw over 100,000 schoolchildren collecting local folklore from their parents, grandparents and older members of the community.
Related by Honor Gaffney of Aclare, Wexford to M.E. Campbell, teacher at Aclare School in 1938. IFCS 873:180-1