“Donkey Ears…Donkey Ears”

Dear Reader:

As I was finishing up the fourth book in The Tour (Connor O’Shea) Irish series…one of the tourists read a famous Irish fable to one of the little girls on the tour bus…much to her delight. I experienced an “Aha”  memory moment from my own childhood… because my siblings and I used to go around pulling on each other’s ear lobes and yelling “Donkey Ears…Donkey Ears.” “Hee-Haw…Hee-Haw!”

I loved doing it but not getting it unexpectedly done to me….and as a little girl I would fuss and puts my hands over my ears to protect them before chasing after my brothers or the neighborhood children playing “Donkey Ears.” (It was a form of the game “Tag” and being “It.”)

I had no way of knowing that the story behind “Donkey Ears” derived from old Irish folklore… passed down from generation to generation with a life lesson found within its pages. Since Irish blood runs through the blood lines on both my mother and father’s side…there is no doubt we had heard the story as children and it captured our imagination….enough to invent the “Donkey Ears” game!

There are many different versions of the story I discovered while doing Irish folklore research….contrasting Irish versions with different kings and settings…from the king with the “donkey ears” to the king with “horse ears”…even all the way back to Greek mythology…it appears that many distinct cultures at one time were familiar with the main theme of the story and passed it along using their cultural backgrounds as the setting for the tale.

I am “mix-meshing” a couple of the Irish versions without changing the theme…since the lesson is an important one to carry through life.

Loch Íne  is a popular spot a few miles outside Skibbereen, Ireland… (Cork County) that’s very pleasant for swimming, walking and picnics. Despite its popularity, most people who visit this tranquil area are completely unfamiliar with its connection to one of Ireland’s most famous legends – the King with the Donkey Ears!

Out in the center of the lake is an island called Castle Island with the ruins of the O’Driscoll stronghold (Cloghan Castle now completely overgrown – see red circle), from which the island derives its English name. According to local folklore, this is the area where the events of the ‘King with Donkey Ears’ took place.

In the local version of the story, an O’Driscoll king was said to have been born with donkey’s ears. Because a blemish such as this would traditionally have meant the king was unfit to rule, he kept this secret by growing his hair long and having it cut once a year and then putting the barber to death so his secret would never leak out.

At the Loch Íne site, the barber was supposedly drowned and a bed of reeds was later seen to spring up out of the water at that spot.


Some time later, the king’s piper, seeing the reeds in the lake used them to make a new musical pipe to entertain the king. At a feast thrown in the hall by the O’Driscoll King, (as the piper began to play)…the pipes took on a life of their own and started singing/chanting musically:

“The King has Donkey Ears!” “The King has Donkey Ears!”

At first the king’s face turned red with fury…”Bring me that piper!” The piper was dragged to him crying “I didn’t know…I swear.”

The king slowly look around the stunned, frightened crowd and realized he had become a monster in order to cover up something that really didn’t matter. He told the guards to release the terrified musician and sincerely apologized to him.

He, took off his crown and pulled out his gray donkey ears. He then did something even more astonishing…he started laughing at himself in the mirror… and told the children to come touch and pull his funny “donkey ears”….now the little princes and princesses were laughing and soon the whole banquet room was howling with laughter.

The king realized that by pointing out his problem first…and laughing about it…nobody was making fun of him….only laughing with him. He was free at last to be who he had been all along…a kind, generous leader.

By the time he died…the beloved king was mourned and missed by all…the town people made donkey ears to wear to his funeral and held hands laughing and hee-hawing while tears of sadness ran down their faces in honor of their “Beloved King Donkey Ears!”


The last four days in a row when I have turned on my radio station 102.5…a mixture of today’s hits and the 80’s…Rod Stewart has been  singing “Forever Young.”

It has always been one of my favorite songs and makes me feel happy just to hear it…because regardless of what is going on age-wise with me…I still do feel young at heart and just as excited about each brand new day as I was years ago.


I will have to admit, however, it is true what they say about certain facial “appendages” growing larger as we get older…our noses and our ears…if my ears grow much more…I think I might be a candidate to play the role of “King Donkey Ears.” 🙂 *My earrings keep getting bigger and bigger to cover them! Thank goodness for being a girl!)

So until tomorrow…”Smile and the world smiles with you…”

“Today is my favorite day”  Winnie the Pooh

*Anne and I traded books yesterday…she is keeping  little Sophie…a friend’s dog for a few days and Nala didn’t like that she was having to share me with her friend…when I came in each dog wanted their time jumping on my lap and knocking the other off….it is nice to be fought over!



About Becky Dingle

I was born a Tarheel but ended up a Sandlapper. My grandparents were cotton farmers in Laurens, South Carolina and it was in my grandmother’s house that my love of storytelling began beside an old Franklin stove. When I graduated from Laurens High School, I attended Erskine College (Due West of what?) and would later get my Masters Degree in Education/Social Studies from Charleston Southern. I am presently an adjunct professor/clinical supervisor at CSU and have also taught at the College of Charleston. For 28 years I taught Social Studies through storytelling. My philosophy matched Rudyard Kipling’s quote: “If history were taught in the form of stories, it would never be forgotten.” Today I still spread this message through workshops and presentations throughout the state. The secret of success in teaching social studies is always in the story. I want to keep learning and being surprised by life…it is the greatest teacher. Like Kermit said, “When you’re green you grow, when you’re ripe you rot.”
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2 Responses to “Donkey Ears…Donkey Ears”

  1. bcparkison says:

    The donkey ear story is new to me. Funny and sweet …in a funny way.
    Of course you know dogs just “know” people. They have a keen since of who is and who isn’t a good person.


    • Becky Dingle says:

      I got Nala her first stuffed toy…monkey… who is so beloved…Anne has had to patch him back together several times…so Nala and I go back a long way.


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