Gobán Saor and the King of England’s Castle, The

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  • Teideal (Title): Gobán Saor and the King of England’s Castle, The.
  • Uimhir Chatalóige Ollscoil Washington (University of Washington Catalogue Number): 850117.
  • Uimhir Chnuasach Bhéaloideas Éireann (National Folklore of Ireland Number): none.
  • Uimhir Roud (Roud Number): none.
  • Uimhir Laws (Laws Number): none.
  • Uimhir Child (Child Number): none.
  • Cnuasach (Collection): Joe Heaney Collection, University of Washington, Seattle.
  • Teanga na Croímhíre (Core-Item Language): English.
  • Catagóir (Category): story.
  • Ainm an té a thug (Name of Informant): Joe Heaney.
  • Ainm an té a thóg (Name of Collector): James Cowdery.
  • Dáta an taifeadta (Recording Date): between 1979 and 1981.
  • Suíomh an taifeadta (Recording Location): Wesleyan University, Middletown, Connecticut, United States of America.
  • Ocáid an taifeadta (Recording Occasion): private.
  • Daoine eile a bhí i láthair (Others present): unavailable.
  • Stádas chóipcheart an taifeadta (Recording copyright status): unavailable.

Shorten the road

The Gobán Saor – the best stonemason who ever lived – was building castles all over Ireland. The king of England heard about him, and invited him to build a castle for him in England – but he said to himself that, once they had his castle built, they’d never build another1.

He sets off for England with his son. On the road, the Gobán Saor asks his son, ‘Shorten the road for me.’ The son has no idea what his father means, so they turn back home. When they reach the house, the wife knows better than to ask any questions, but simply helps them set off once again next morning. The same thing happens – the Gobán Saor asks his son to ‘shorten the road,’ and the son remains clueless. That night, at home, the mother asks her son why they keep turning back; and when her son explains the problem, she tells him that his father wants him to tell him a story.
So the following day, they set out, and the Gobán Saor asks the question, and the son tells a story, and eventually they reach the spot where the king of England wants his castle built. They work away at building it, and when they’re nearly done, they are approached by a serving girl from the castle, who speaks Irish. She tells them that the king intends to kill them when they’ve finished the castle.

The Gobán Saor then tells the king that he needs to send his son for a tool they’ve left behind in Ireland. ‘No,’ says the king, ‘my son will go for it – you both stay here.’ So the Gobán Saor writes a note for the king’s son, telling his wife what tool they need -cor in aghaidh an caim, ‘crooked against the crooked.’ When the son reaches the Gobán Saor’s house, the wife sees the note, understands the situation, and tells the son that the tool is in a trunk. When the son goes to the trunk, she locks him into it.

The king’s son is then surety for the Gobán Saor and his own son, allowing them to return home safely.


1. In some versions of this story the explanation is given that the king doesn’t want anyone else’s castle to be better than his own, and this is why he intends to kill the stonemason once the work is finished.