Scéal an Tobac: The Story of the Tobacco

“Do you know what I’m going to tell you? I heard that they’re going to stop people from smoking tobacco and not to soon for them, God knows, because people nowadays are smoking away like a chimney with a rook’s nest in it, and not one of them ever saying a prayer before lighting up!”

“No good can come of it, I tell you…..”

Scéal an Tobac (The story of the Tobacco)

A long time ago in my father’s time, there was a woman and she had only one son. When he came to age she sent him to college and made a priest of him. After his coming from the college he was a short little while at home; and he was one day walking out in the garden when there came a saint in the air over his head and spoke down to him, and told the priest that he himself and all who belonged to him were damned on account of his mother. (God
protect us all this night).

The priest asked him what was the crime his mother had committed, and the saint told him that she was smoking tobacco with twelve years and she never said the tobacco prayer in all that time.

“Bad enough!” says the priest, “is there anything at all down from heaven to set that right?” says the priest.

“There’s nothing but one thing alone” says he, “and this is it. When you go in to your mother tell her as I have told to you. And unless she shall be prepared to suffer the death that I’ll tell you, not a sight of the country of heaven will your mother or anyone of her family see for ever.”

“What death is it”? said the priest to him

“She must let you” says he, “carve every bit of her body as fine as
sneeshin.” (snuff)

The priest went into the house and a heavy load on his heart. He sat upon a chair and there was great grief to be seen on his face. His mother asked him what was on him, and what had happened to him since he went out.

“Ah, there’s nothing on me but a little weariness” says he. “Kindle the pipe for me mother,” says he, “I’d like to get a blast of tobacco.”

“I’ll kindle it and welcome”, says she, “I thought avourneen,” says she, “that you were not using tobacco.”

“Ah, maybe a whiff would take this weariness off me,” says he.

True was the story. She put a coal in the pipe, and after smoking enough of the pipe herself she handed it to the priest, but she never said the prayer. And that was the reason he had told her to kindle the pipe, hoping, do you know, that she would say the prayer, but she did not.

“Poor enough!” said the priest in his own mind.

The priest told her then as the saint had told him, and she threw herself on her two knees praying God and shedding tears, and said she “a hundred welcomes to the graces of God, and if it is the death that God has promised me I am satisfied to suffer it; go out now my son,” says she, “and when I’ll be ready for you to get to your work I’ll call you in.”

The priest went out fervently reading and praying to God.

The mother washed and cleaned herself. She got sheets and sharp knives ready for the work, and when she had everything prepared she called the priest to come in.

And as the priest turned around on his foot, the brightness came over his head again, and it said to him that all his family had found forgiveness for their sins, on account of the earnest repentance that his mother was after making, and the awful death that she was fully satisfied to suffer.

The priest came into the house, and a great joy in his heart, and his mother was stretched on the length of her back on the table, and sheets under her and over her, and her two hands stretched out from her, and she praying God, and two sharp knives by her side and, says the priest to her, “rise up mother,” says he, “I have got forgiveness from the King of the Graces, for our sins, and I beseech you now from this day out, do not forget to diligently offer up the tobacco prayer every time you use it.”

And true was the story. There was never a time from that day till the day that the priest’s mother went into the clay that she did not earnestly offer up the prayer to God and to the glorious Virgin.

And do you know that the old people throughout the country used to be offering up that same prayer daily, as long as a word of our Irish language remained alive on the green island of the saints.

Do you know what I’m going to tell you? The young people nowadays know nothing of the dangers of smoking without saying the tobacco prayer.


Here is a translation of the prayer from Irish as collected in the late
19th. century by John Mac Neill from a Co. Mayo peasant by the name of Miceál Mac Ruadhrí (Rogers)

Paidir i ndiadh an Tobac (The Prayer after Tobacco)

Eighteen fulls of the churchyard of Patrick, of the mantle of Brigit, and the holy tomb of Christ, of the palace of Rome, of the church of God, be with thy soul (and the soul of him above whose head was the tobacco and with the souls of the dead in Purgatory all together. (This was said only when the tobacco was taken and given at a wake).

May not more numerous be
The grains of sand by the sea,
Or the blades of grass on the lea,
Or the drops of dew on the tree,
Than the blessings on thy soul
And the souls of the dead with thee
And my soul when the life shall flee.

It is for God to give shelter, light, and the glory of the heavens to thesouls of the dead in Purgatory

©Vince Hearns March 2001