The Witching of Teddy O’Neal


(notes by Philip Holberton drawing on the research of Andrew Rutherford and Thomas Pinney)


This poem was published in the Civil and Military Gazette on 14 September 1887, with the signature ‘R.K.’ It was not collected by Kipling, but is to be found in Rutherford (p. 384) and Pinney (p. 1862).

The Poem

This is a lament for a young man who went ‘up the Hill’ and was bewitched by the Good Folk, the fairies of Ireland. He was called by the music to dune and rath—the hill–fort seat of Finvarra. A ‘dunhe’ was a stone built keep, and a ‘rath’ an outer earthwork. Fionnbhar was the King of the old gods of Western Ireland, and the King of the Dead in ancient Irish tradition. There Teddy O’Neal lost his heart and his soul to a witch-wife.

There are echoes here of the Pre-Raphaelite interest in mediaeval myth and legend. Kipling’s uncle, Edward Burne-Jones painted “The Beguiling of Merlin”, above. For Puck of Pook’s Hill (1906) Kipling borrowed the character of Puck from Shakespeare and created his own mythology of the supernatural ‘People of the Hills’. He never let the children call them ‘fairies’ because of the sentimental Victorian associations of the word. (See Puck of Pook’s Hill p. 14.)

However, as Kipling’s readers would have known, this is a parable of the fate of a young man going on leave to the hill-station of Simla, and becoming bewitched there—as it might be by Mrs. Hauksbee or Mrs. Reiver. See “The Rescue of Pluffles” (November 1886).


©Philip Holberton 2020 All rights reserved