Jane Francesca Agnes, Lady Wilde, the mother of Oscar Wilde, was a poet and writer in her own right. She was a great supporter of the nationalist movement; and had a special interest in Irish Fairy Tales, which she helped to gather. Her collection of Irish fairy tales has been published since the mid-19th Century. She is solely responsible for the translation from Irish of these tales into English so that the tales would not be lost forever.
A WOLF STORY
A young farmer, named Connor, once missed two fine cows from his herd, and no tale or tidings could be heard of them anywhere. So he thought he would set out on a search throughout the country; and he took a stout blackthorn stick in his hand, and went his way. All day he travelled miles and miles, but never a sign of the cattle. And the evening began to grow very dark, and he was wearied and hungry, and no place near to rest in; for he was in the midst of a bleak, desolate heath, with never a habitation at all in sight, except a long, low, rude shieling, like the den of a robber or a wild beast. But a gleam of light came from a chink between the boards, and Connor took heart and went up and knocked at the door. It was opened fit once by a tall, thin, grey-haired old man, with keen, dark eyes.
“Come in,” he said, “you are welcome. We have been waiting for you. This is my wife,” and he brought him over to the hearth, where was seated an old, thin, grey woman, with long, sharp teeth and terrible glittering eyes.
“You are welcome,” she said. “We have been waiting for you – it is time for supper. Sit down and eat with us.”
Now Connor was a brave fellow, but he was a little dazed at first at the sight of this strange creature. However, as he had his stout stick with him, he thought he could make a fight for his life any way, and, meantime, he would rest and eat, for he was both hungry and weary, and it was now black night, and he would never find his way home even if he tried. So he sat down by the hearth, while the old grey woman stirred the pot on the fire. But Connor felt that she was watching him all the time with her keen, sharp eyes.
Then a knock came to the door. And the old man rose up and opened it. When in walked a slender, young black wolf, who immediately went straight across the floor to an inner room, from which in a few moments came forth a dark, slender, handsome youth, who took his place at the table and looked hard at Connor with his glittering eyes.
“You are welcome,” he said, “we have waited for you.”
Before Connor could answer another knock was heard, and in came a second wolf, who passed on to the inner room like the first, and soon after, another dark, handsome youth came out and sat down to supper with them, glaring at Connor with his keen eyes, but said no word.
“These are our sons,” said the old man, “tell them what you want, and what brought you here amongst us, for we live alone and don’t care to have spies and strangers coming to our place.”
Then Connor told his story, bow he had lost his two fine cows, and had searched all day and found no trace of them; and he knew nothing of the place he was in, nor of the kindly gentleman who asked him to supper; but if they just told him where to find his cows he would thank them, and make the best of his way home at once.
Then they all laughed and looked at each other, and the old hag looked more frightful than ever when she showed her long, sharp teeth.
On this, Connor grew angry, for he was hot tempered; and he grasped his blackthorn stick firmly in his hand and stood up, and bade them open the door for him; for he would go his way, since they would give no heed and only mocked him.
Then the eldest of the young men stood up. “Wait,” he said, “we are fierce and evil, but we never forget a kindness. Do you remember, one day down in the glen you found a poor little wolf in great agony and like to die, because a sharp thorn had pierced his side? And you gently extracted the thorn and gave him a drink, and went your way leaving him in peace and rest?”
“Aye, well do I remember it,” said Connor, “and how the poor little beast licked my hand in gratitude.”
“Well,” said the young man, “I am that wolf, and I shall help you if I can, but stay with us tonight and have no fear.”
So they sat down again to supper and feasted merrily, and then all fell fast asleep, and Connor knew nothing more till he awoke in the morning and found himself by a large hay-rick in his own field.
“Now surely,” thought he, “the adventure of last night was riot all a dream, and I shall certainly find my cows when I go home; for that excellent, good young wolf promised his help, and I feel certain he would not deceive me.”
But when he arrived home and looked over the yard and the stable and the field, there was no sign nor sight of the cows. So he grew very sad and dispirited. But just then he espied in the field close by three of the most beautiful strange cows he had ever set eyes on. “These must have strayed in,” he said, “from some neighbour’s ground;” and he took his big stick to drive them out of the gate off the field. But when he reached the gate, there stood a young black wolf watching; and when the cows tried to pass out at the gate he bit at them, and drove them back. Then Connor knew that his friend the wolf had kept his word. So he let the cows go quietly back to the field; and there they remained, and grew to be the finest in the whole country, and their descendants are flourishing to this day, and Connor grew rich and prospered; for a kind deed is never lost, but brings good luck to the doer for evermore, as the old proverb says:
“Blessings are won,
By a good deed done.”
But never again did Connor find that desolate heath or that lone shieling, though he sought far and wide, to return his thanks, as was due to the friendly wolves; nor did he ever again meet any of the family, though he mourned much whenever a slaughtered wolf was brought into the town for the sake of the reward, fearing his excellent friend might be the victim.
THE EVIL EYE
Some years ago an old woman was living in Kerry, and it was thought so unlucky to meet her in the morning, that all the girls used to go out after sunset to bring in water for the following day, that so they might avoid her evil glance; for whatever she looked on came to loss and grief.
There was a man, also, equally dreaded on account of the strange, fatal power of his glance; and so many accidents and misfortunes were traced to his presence that finally the neighbours insisted that he should wear a black patch over the Evil Eye, not to be removed unless by request; for learned gentlemen, curious in such things, sometimes came to him to ask for a proof of his power, and he would try it for a wager while drinking with his friends.
One day, near an old ruin of a castle, he met a boy weeping in great grief for his pet pigeon, which had got up to the very top of the ruin, and could not be coaxed down.
“What will you give me,” asked the man, “if I bring it down for you?”
“I have nothing to give,” said the boy, “but I will pray to God for you. Only get me back my pigeon, and I shall be happy.”
Then the man took off the black patch and looked up steadfastly at the bird; when all of a sudden it fell to the ground and lay motionless, as if stunned; but there was no harm done to it, and the boy took it up and went his way, rejoicing.
A woman in the County Galway had a beautiful child, so handsome, that all the neighbours were very careful to say “God bless it” when they saw him, for they knew the fairies would desire to steal the child, and carry it off to the hills.
But one day it chanced that an old woman, a stranger, came in. “Let me rest,” she said, “for I am weary.” And she sat down and looked at the child, but never said “God bless it.” And when she had rested, she rose up, looked again at the child fixedly, in silence, and then went her way.
All that night the child cried and would not sleep. And all next day it moaned as if in pain. So the mother told the priest, but he would do nothing for fear of the fairies. And just as the poor mother was in despair, she saw a strange woman going by the door. “Who knows,” she said to her husband, “but this woman would help us.” So they asked her to come in and rest. And when she looked at the child she said “God bless it,” instantly, and spat three times at it, and then sat down.
“Now, what will you give me,” she said, “if I tell you what ails the child?”
“I will cross your hand with silver,” said the mother, “as much as you want, only speak,” and she laid the money on the woman’s hand. “Now tell me the truth, for the sake and in the name of Mary, and the good Angels.”
“Well,” said the stranger,” the fairies have had your child these two days in the hills, and this is a changeling they have left in its place. But so many blessings were said on your child that the fairies can do it no harm. For there was only one blessing wanting, and only one person gave the Evil Eye. Now, you must watch for this woman, carry her into the house and secretly cut off a piece of her cloak. Then burn the piece close to the child, till the smoke as it rises makes him sneeze; and when this happens the spell is broken, and your own child will come back to you safe and sound, in place of the changeling.”
Then the stranger rose up and went her way.
All that evening the mother watched for the old woman, and at last she spied her on the road.
“Come in,” she cried, “come in, good woman, and rest, for the cakes are hot on the griddle, and supper is ready.”
So the woman came in, but never said “God bless you kindly,” to man or mortal, only scowled at the child, who cried worse than ever.
Now the mother had told her eldest girl to cut off a piece of the old woman’s cloak, secretly, when she sat down to eat. And the girl did as she was desired, and handed the piece to her mother, unknown to anyone. But, to their surprise, this was no sooner done than the woman rose up and went out without uttering a word; and they saw her no more.
Then the father carried the child outside, and burned the piece of cloth before the door, and held the boy over the smoke till he sneezed three times violently: after which he gave the child back to the mother, who laid him in his bed, where he slept peacefully, with a smile on his face, and cried no more with the cry of pain. And when he woke up the mother knew that she had got her own darling child back from the fairies, and no evil thing happened to him anymore.
Lady Wilde wrote about the evil eye: “The influence of the mysterious and malign power of the Evil Eye has at all times been as much dreaded in Ireland as it is in Egypt, Greece, or Italy at the present day. Everything young beautiful, or perfect after its kind, and which naturally attracts attention and admiration, is peculiarly liable to the fatal blight that follows the glance of the Evil Eye. It is therefore an invariable habit amongst the peasantry never to praise anything without instantly adding, “God bless it;” for were this formula omitted, the worst consequences would befall the object praised.”
THE STOLEN BRIDE
There was a fine young fellow living at a place called Querin, in the County Clare. He was brave and strong and rich, for he had his own land and his own house, and not one to lord it over him. He was called the Kern of Querin. And many a time he would go out alone to shoot the wild fowl at night along the lonely strand and sometimes cross over northward to the broad east strand, about two miles away, to find the wild geese.
One cold frosty November Eve He was watching for them, crouched down behind the ruins of an old hut, when a loud splashing noise attracted his attention. “It is the wild geese,” he thought, and raising his gun, waited in death-like silence the approach of his victim.
But presently he saw a dark mass moving along the edge of the strand. And he knew there were no wild geese near him. So he watched and waited till the black mass came closer, and then he distinctly perceived four stout men carrying a bier on their shoulders, on which lay a corpse covered with a white cloth. For a few moments they laid it down, apparently to rest themselves, and the Kern instantly fired; on which the four men ran away shrieking, and the corpse was left alone on the bier. Kern of Querin immediately sprang to the place, and lifting the cloth from the face of the corpse, beheld by the freezing starlight, the form of a beautiful young girl, apparently not dead but in a deep sleep.
Gently he passed his hand over her face and raised her up, when she opened her eyes and looked around with wild wonder, but spake never a word, though he tried to soothe and encourage her. Then, thinking it was dangerous for them to remain in that place, he raised her from the bier, and taking her hand led her away to his own house. They arrived safely, but in silence. And for twelve months did she remain with the Kern, never tasting food or speaking word for all that time.
When the next November Eve came round, he resolved to visit the east strand again, and watch from the same place, in the hope of meeting with some adventure that might throw light on the history of the beautiful girl. His way lay beside the old ruined fort called Lios-na-fallainge (the Fort of the Mantle), and as he passed, the sound of music and mirth fell on his ear. He stopped to catch the words of the voices, and had not waited long when he heard a man say in a low whisper, “Where shall we go tonight to carry off a bride?” And a second voice answered, “Wherever we go I hope better luck will be ours than we had this day twelvemonths.”
“Yes,” said a third; “on that night we carried off a rich prize, the fair daughter of O’Connor; but that clown, the Kern of Querin, broke our spell and took her from us. Yet little pleasure has he had of his bride, for she has neither eaten nor drank nor uttered a word since she entered his house.”
“And so she will remain,” said a fourth,” until he makes her eat off her father’s table-cloth, which covered her as she lay on the bier, and which is now thrown up over the top of her bed.”
On hearing all this, the Kern rushed home, and without waiting even for the morning, entered the young girl’s room, took down the table-cloth, spread it on the table, laid meat and drink thereon, and led her to it. “Drink,” he said, “that speech may come to you.” And she drank, and ate of the food, and then speech came. And she told the Kern her story, how she was to have been married to a young lord of her own country, and the wedding guests had all assembled, when she felt herself suddenly ill and swooned away, and never knew more of what had happened to her until the Kern had passed his hand over her face, by which she recovered consciousness, but could neither eat nor speak, for a spell was on her, and she was helpless.
Then the Kern prepared a chariot, and carried home the young girl to her father, who was like to die for joy when he beheld her. And the Kern grew mightily in O’Connor’s favour, so that at last he gave him his fair young daughter to wife; and the wedded pair lived together happily for many long years after, and no evil befell them, but good followed all the work of their hands.
Lady Wilde writes: This story of Kern of Querin still lingers in the faithful, vivid Irish memory, and is often told by the peasants of Clare when they gather round the fire on the awful festival of Samhain, or November Eve, when the dead walk, and the spirits of earth and air have power over mortals, whether for good or evil.
Lady Wilde wrote: THE evil influence of the fairy glance does not kill, but it throws the object into a death-like trance, in which the real body is carried off to some fairy mansion, while a log of wood, or some ugly, deformed creature is left in its place, clothed with the shadow of the stolen form. Young women, remarkable for beauty, young men, and handsome children, are the chief victims of the fairy stroke. The girls are wedded to fairy chiefs and the young men to fairy queens; and if the mortal children do not turn out well, they are sent back, and others carried off in their place. It is sometimes possible, by the spells of a powerful fairy-man, to bring back a living being from Fairy-land. But they are never quite the same after. They have always a spirit-look, especially if they have listened to the fairy music. For the fairy music is soft and low and plaintive, with a fatal charm for mortal ears.
One day a gentleman entered a cabin in the County Clare, and saw a young girl about twenty seated by the fire, chanting a melancholy song, without settled words or music. On inquiry he was told she had once heard the fairy harp, and those who hear it lose all memory of love or hate, and forget all things, and never more have any other sound in their ears save the soft music of the fairy harp, and when the spell is broken, they die.
THE following story is from the Irish, as told by a native of one of the Western Isles, where the primitive superstitions have still all the freshness of young life.
One evening late in November, which is the month when spirits have most power over all things, as the prettiest girl in all the island was going to the well for water, her foot slipped and she fell, it was an unlucky omen, and when she got up and looked round it seemed to her as if she were in a strange place, and all around her was changed as if by enchantment. But at some distance she saw a great crowd gathered round a blazing fire, and she was drawn slowly on towards them, till at last she stood in the very midst of the people; but they kept silence, looking fixedly at her; and she was afraid, and tried to turn and leave them, but she could not. Then a beautiful youth, like a prince, with a red sash, and a golden band on his long yellow hair, came up and asked her to dance.
“It is a foolish thing of you, sir, to ask me to dance,” she said, “when there is no music.”
Then he lifted his hand and made a sign to the people, and instantly the sweetest music sounded near her and around her, and the young man took her hand, and they danced and danced till the moon and the stars went down, but she seemed like one floating on the air, and she forgot everything in the world except the dancing, and the sweet low music, and her beautiful partner.
At last the dancing ceased, and her partner thanked her, and invited her to supper with the company. Then she saw an opening in the ground, and a flight of steps, and the young man, who seemed to be the king amongst them all, led her down, followed by the whole company. At the end of the stairs they came upon a large hall, all bright and beautiful with gold and silver and lights; and the table was covered with everything good to eat, and wine was poured out in golden cups for them to drink. When she sat down they all pressed her to eat the food and to drink the wine; and as she was weary after the dancing, she took the golden cup the prince handed to her, and raised it to her lips to drink. Just then, a man passed close to her, and whispered–
“Eat no food, and drink no wine, or you will never reach your home again.”
So she laid down the cup, and refused to drink. On this they were angry, and a great noise arose, and a fierce, dark man stood up, and said, “Whoever comes to us must drink with us.”
And he seized her arm, and held the wine to her lips, so that she almost died of fright. But at that moment a red-haired man came up, and he took her by the hand and led her out.
“You are safe for this time,” he said. “Take this herb, and hold it in your hand till you reach home, and no one can harm you.” And he gave her a branch of a plant called the Athair-Luss (the ground ivy). This she took, and fled away along the sward in the dark night; but all the time she heard footsteps behind her in pursuit. At last she reached home and barred the door, and went to bed, when a great clamour arose outside, and voices were heard crying to her, “The power we had over you is gone through the magic of the herb; but wait, when you dance again to the music on the hill, you will stay with us for evermore, and none shall hinder.”
However, she kept the magic branch safely, and the fairies never troubled her more; but it was long and long before the sound of the fairy music left her ears which she had danced to that November night on the hillside with her fairy lover.
Lady Wilde wrote: This is but a rude tale. Yet the moral is good, and the threat of retributive justice shows a laudable spirit of indignation on the part of the fairy race against the tyranny of man over the weaker vessel.
The “Red-haired Man,” although he is considered very unlucky in actual life, yet generally acts in the fairy world as someone who saves and helps and rescues the unhappy mortal, who himself is quite helpless under the fairy spells.
There was a man in Shark Island who used to cross over to Boffin to buy tobacco, but when the weather was too rough for the boat his ill-temper was as bad as the weather, and he used to beat his wife, and fling all the things about, so that no one could stand before him. One day a man came to him.
“What will you give me if I go over to Boffin,” said he, “and bring you the tobacco?”
“I will give you nothing,” said the other. “Whatever way you go I can go also.”
“Then come with me to the shore,” said the first man, “and I’ll show you how to get across; but as only one can go, you must go alone.”
And as they went down to the sea, they saw a great company of horsemen and ladies galloping along, with music and laughter.
“Spring up now on a horse and you will get across,” said the first man.
So the other sprang up as he was told, and in an instant they all jumped right across the sea and landed at Boffin. Then he ran to buy the tobacco and was back again in a minute, and found all the same company by the sea-shore. He sprang again upon a horse and they all jumped right into the sea, but suddenly stopped midway between the two islands, where there was a great rock, and beyond this they could not force the horses to move. Then there was great disquietude amongst them, and they called a council.
“There is a mortal amongst us,” they said. “Let us drown him.” And they carried the man up to the top of the rock and cast him down; and when he rose to the surface again they caught him by the hair, and cried, “Drown him! Drown him! We have the power over life and death; he must be drowned.”
And they were going to cast him down a second time, when a red-haired man pleaded for him, and carried him off with a strong hand safe to shore.
“Now,” said he, “you are safe, but mind, the spirits are watching you, and if ever again you beat your poor good wife, and knock about the things at home just to torment her out of her life, you will die upon that rock as sure as fate.” And He vanished.
So from that time forth the man was as meek as a mouse, for he was afraid; and whenever he went by the rock in his boat he always stopped a minute, and said a little prayer for his wife with a “God bless her.” And this kept away the evil, and they both lived together happily ever after to a great old age.
THE PRIEST’S SOUL
Lady Wilde wrote: In former days there were great schools in Ireland where every sort of learning was taught to the people, and even the poorest had more knowledge at that the than many a gentleman has now. But as to the priests, their learning was above all, so that the fame of Ireland went over the whole world, and many kings from foreign lands used to send their sons all the way to Ireland to be brought up in the Irish schools.
There was a little boy learning at one of them who was a wonder to every one for his cleverness. His parents were only labouring people, and of course very poor; but young as he was, and poor as he was, no king’s or lord’s son could come up to him in learning. Even the masters were put to shame, for when they were trying to teach him he would tell them something they never heard of before, and show them their ignorance. One of his great triumphs was in argument; and he would go on till he proved to you that black was white, and then when you gave in, for no one could beat him in talk, he would turn round and show you that white was black, or may be that there was no colour at all in the world. When he grew up his poor father and mother were so proud of him that they resolved to make him a priest, which they did at last, though they nearly starved themselves to get the money. Well, such another learned man was not in Ireland, and he was as great in argument as ever, so that no one could stand before him. Even the Bishops tried to talk to him, but he showed them at once they knew nothing at all.
Now there were no schoolmasters but it was the priests taught the people; and as this man was the cleverest in Ireland all the foreign kings sent their sons to him as long as he had house-room to give them. So he grew very proud, and began to forget how low he had been, and worst of all, even to forget God, who had made him what he was. And the pride of arguing got hold of him, so that from one thing to another he went on to prove that there was no Purgatory, and then no hell, and then no heaven, and then no God; and at last that men had no souls, but were no more than a dog or a cow, and when they died there was an end of them. “Who ever saw a soul?” he would say. “If you can show me one, I will believe.” No one could make any answer to this; and at last they all came to believe that as there was no other world, every one might do what they liked in this; the priest setting the example, for he took a beautiful young girl to wife. But as no priest or bishop in the whole land could be got to marry them, he was obliged to read the service over for himself. It was a great scandal, yet no one dared to say a word, for all the kings’ sons were on his side, and would have slaughtered anyone who tried to prevent his wicked goings-on. Poor boys! They all believed in him, and thought every word he said was the truth. In this way his notions began to spread about, and the whole world was going to the bad, when one night an angel came down from heaven, and told the priest he had but twenty-four hours to live. He began to tremble, and asked for a little more time.
But the angel was stiff, and told him that could not be.
“Oh, sir, have pity on my poor soul!” urged the priest.
“Oh, ho! You have a soul, then,” said the angel. “Pray, how did you find that out?”
“It has been fluttering in me ever since you appeared,” answered the priest. “What a fool I was not to think of it before.”
“A fool indeed,” said the angel. “What good was all your learning, when it could not tell you that you had a soul?”
“Ah, my lord,” said the priest, “if I am to die, tell me how soon I may be in Heaven?”
“Never, replied the angel. “You denied there was a heaven.”
“Then, my lord, may I go to Purgatory?”
“You denied Purgatory also; you must go straight to Hell,” said the angel.
“But, my lord, I denied Hell also,” answered the priest, “so you can’t send me there either.”
The angel was a little puzzled.
“Well,” said he, “I’ll tell you what I can do for you. You may either live now on earth for a hundred years enjoying every pleasure, and then be cast into hell for ever; or you may die in twenty-four hours in the most horrible torments, and pass through Purgatory, there to remain till the Day of Judgment, if only you can find some one person that believes, and through his belief mercy will be vouchsafed to you and your soul will be saved.”
The priest did not take five minutes to make up his mind. “I will have death in the twenty-four hours,” he said, “so that my soul may be saved at last.”
On this the angel gave him directions as to what he was to do, and left him.
Then, immediately, the priest entered the large room where all his scholars and the kings’ sons were seated, and called out to them, “Now, tell me the truth, and let none fear to contradict me. Tell me what is your belief. Have men souls?”
“Master,” they answered,” once we believed that men had souls; but, thanks to your teaching, we believe so no longer. There is no hell, and no heaven, and no God. This is our belief, for it is thus you taught us.”
Then the priest grew pale with fear and cried out, “Listen! I taught you a lie. There is a God, and man has an immortal soul. I believe now all I denied before.”
But the shouts of laughter that rose up drowned the priest’s voice, for they thought he was only trying them for argument.
“Prove it, master,” they cried, “prove it. Who has ever seen God? Who has ever seen the soul?”
And the room was stirred with their laughter.
The priest stood up to answer them, but no word could he utter; all his eloquence, and his powers of argument had gone from him, and he could do nothing but wring his bands and cry out, “There is a God! There is a God! Lord have mercy on my soul!”
And they all began to mock him, and repeat his own words that he had taught them, “Show him to us; show us your God.”
And he fled from them groaning with agony, for he saw that none believed, and how then could his soul be saved?
But he thought next of his wife.
“She will believe,” he said to himself. “Women never give up God.”
And he went to her; but she told him that she believed only what he taught her, and that a good wife should believe in her husband first, and before and above all things in heaven or earth.
Then despair came on him, and he rushed from the house and began to ask every one he met if they believed. But the same answer came from one and all, “We believe only what you have taught us,” for his doctrines had spread far amid wide through the county.
Then he grew half mad with fear, for the hours were passing. And he flung himself down on the ground in a lonesome spot, and wept and groaned in terror, for the time was coming fast when he must die.
Just then a little child came by.
“God save you kindly,” said the child to him.
The priest started up.
“Child, do you believe in God?” he asked.
“I have come from a far country to learn about him,” said the child. “Will your honour direct me to the best school that they have in these parts?”
“The best school and the best teacher is close by,” said the priest, and he named himself.
“Oh, not to that man,” answered the child, “for I am told he denies God, and heaven, and hell, and even that man has a soul, because we can’t see it; but I would soon put him down.”
The priest looked at hum earnestly. “How?” He inquired.
“Why,” said the child, “I would ask him if he believed he had life to show me his life.”
“But he could not do that, my child,” said the priest. “Life cannot be seen; we have it, but it is invisible.”
“Then if we have life, though we cannot see it, we may also have a soul, though it is invisible,” answered the child.
When the priest heard him speak these words he fell down on his knees before him, weeping for joy, for now he knew his soul was safe; he had met at last one that believed. And he told the child his whole story: all his wickedness, and pride, and blasphemy against the great God; and how the angel had come to him and told him of the only way in which he could be saved, through the faith and prayers of some one that believed.
“Now then,” he said to the child, “take this penknife and strike it into my breast, and go on stabbing the flesh until you see the paleness of death on my face. Then watch, for a living thing will soar up from my body as I die, and you will then know that my soul has ascended to the presence of God. And when you see this thing, make haste and run to my school and call on all my scholars to come and see that the soul of their master has left the body, and that all he taught them was a lie, for that there is a God who punishes sin, and a Heaven and a Hell, and that man has an immortal soul, destined for eternal happiness or misery.”
“I will pray,” said the child,” to have courage to do this work.”
And he kneeled down and prayed. Then when he rose up he took the penknife and struck it into the priest’s heart, and struck and struck again till all the flesh was lacerated; but still the priest lived though the agony was horrible, for he could not die until the twenty-four hours had expired. At last the agony seemed to cease, and the stillness of death settled on his face. Then the child, who was watching, saw a beautiful living creature, with four snow white wings, mount from the dead man’s body into the air and go fluttering round his head.
So he ran to bring the scholars; and when they saw it they all knew it was the soul of their master, and they watched with wonder and awe until it passed from sight into the clouds.
And this was the first butterfly that was ever seen in Ireland; and now all men know that the butterflies are the souls of the dead waiting for the moment when they may enter Purgatory, and so pass through torture to purification and peace.
But the schools of Ireland were quite deserted after that the, for people said, “What is the use of going so far to learn when the wisest man in all Ireland did not know if he had a soul till he was near losing it; and was only saved at last through the simple belief of a little child?”
THE FAIRY RACE
THE Sidhe, or spirit race, called also the Feadh-Ree, or fairies, are supposed to have been once angels in heaven, who were cast out by Divine command as a punishment for their inordinate pride.
Some fell to earth, and dwelt there, long before man was created, as the first gods of the earth. Others fell into the sea, and they built themselves beautiful fairy palaces of crystal and pearl underneath the waves; but on moonlight nights they often come up on the land, riding their white horses, and they hold revels with their fairy kindred of the earth, who live in the clefts of the hills, and they dance together on the greensward under the ancient trees, and drink nectar from the cups of the flowers, which is the fairy wine.
Other fairies, however, are demoniacal, and given to evil and malicious deeds; for when cast out of heaven they fell into hell, and there the devil holds them under his rule, and sends them forth as he wills upon missions of evil to tempt the souls of men downward by the false glitter of sin and pleasure. These spirits dwell under the earth and impart their knowledge only to certain evil persons chosen of the devil, who gives them power to make incantations, and brew love potions, and to work wicked spells, and they can assume different forms by their knowledge and use of certain magical herbs.
The witch women who have been taught by them, and have thus become tools of the Evil One, are the terror of the neighbourhood; for they have all the power of the fairies and all the malice of the devil, who reveals to them secrets of times and days, and secrets of herbs, and secrets of evil spells; and by the power of magic they can affect all their purposes, whether for good or ill.
The fairies of the earth are small and beautiful. They passionately love music and dancing, and live luxuriously in their palaces under the hills and in the deep mountain caves; and they can obtain all things lovely for their fairy homes, merely by the strength of their magic power. They can also assume all forms, and will never know death until the last day comes, when their doom is to vanish away – to be annihilated for ever. But they are very jealous of the human race who are so tall and strong, and to whom has been promised immortality. And they are often tempted by the beauty of a mortal woman and greatly desire to have her as a wife.
The children of such marriages have a strange mystic nature, and generally become famous in music and song. But they are passionate, revengeful, and not easy to live with. Everyone knows them to be of the Sidhe or spirit race, by their beautiful eyes and their bold, reckless temperament.
The fairy king and princes dress in green, with red caps bound on the head with a golden fillet. The fairy queen and the great court lathes are robed in glittering silver gauze, spangled with diamonds, and their long golden hair sweeps the ground as they dance on the greensward.
Their favourite camp and resting-place is under a hawthorn tree, and a peasant would die sooner than cut down one of the ancient hawthorns sacred to the fairies, and which generally stands in the centre of a fairy ring. But the people never offer worship to these fairy beings, for they look on the Sidhe as a race quite inferior to man. At the same time they have an immense dread and fear of the mystic fairy power, and never interfere with them nor offend them knowingly.
The Sidhe often strive to carry off the handsome children, who are then reared in the beautiful fairy palaces under the earth, and wedded to fairy mates when they grow up.
The people dread the idea of a fairy changeling being left in the cradle in place of their own lovely child; and if a wizened little thing is found there, it is sometimes taken out at night and laid in an open grave till morning, when they hope to find their own child restored, although more often nothing is found save the cold corpse of the poor outcast.
Sometimes it is said the fairies carry off the mortal child for a sacrifice, as they have to offer one every seven years to the devil in return for the power he gives them. And beautiful young girls are carried off, also, either for sacrifice or to be wedded to the fairy king.
The fairies are pure and cleanly in their habits, and they like above all things a pail of water to be set for them at night, in case they may wish to bathe.
They also delight in good wines, and are careful to repay the donor in blessings, for they are truly upright and honest. The great lords of Ireland, in ancient times, used to leave a keg of the finest Spanish wine frequently at night out on the window-sill for the fairies, and in the morning it was all gone.
Fire is a great preventative against fairy magic, for fire is the most sacred of all created things, and man alone has power over it. No animal has ever yet attained the knowledge of how to draw out the spirit of fire from the stone or the wood, where it has found a dwelling-place. If a ring of fire is made round cattle or a child’s cradle, or if fire is placed under the churn, the fairies have no power to harm. And the spirit of the fire is certain to destroy all fairy magic, if it exist.
THE TRIAL BY FIRE
THE ordeal by fire is the great test adopted by the peasants to try if a child or any one is fairy-struck. There was a man in Mayo who was bedridden for months and months, and though he ate up all the food they brought him, he never grew a bit stronger, and on Sundays when they went to mass, they locked him up and left him alone in the place with plenty of food. Now there was a fine field close by, and one Sunday, coming home from mass earlier than usual, they saw a great company of people bowling in the field, and the sick man amongst them, but at that moment he vanished away; and when the family reached home, there was the sick man lying fast asleep in his bed.
“Get up,” they said, “for we have seen you bowling with the fairies and you sha’n’t eat or drink any more at our expense.”
But he refused, and said he was too ill to move. Then they made down a large fire of turf and said, “Get up, or we’ll lay you on the fire and break the fairy spell.” And they took hold of him to burn him. Then he was frightened, and rose up and went out at the door, and they watched him till he stopped in the field where the hurlers played, and lay down there in the grass; but when they went up to him he was dead.
A man going to his work one morning early saw two women going up to a house, and one said, “There is a beautiful boy in this house, go in and hand it out to me, and we’ll leave the dead child in its place.” And the other went in at the window as she was told, and handed out a sleeping child, and took the dead child and laid it in the bed within. Now the man saw it was fairy work, and he went over and made the sign of the cross on the sleeping child, whereupon the two women shrieked as if they had been struck, and fled away, dropping the child on the grass. Then the man took it up gently, and put it under his coat, and went away to his wife.
“Here,” he said, “take care of this child till I come back, and burn a turf beside the cradle to keep off the fairies.”
When he passed by the house again, where he had seen the two women, he heard a great crying and lamentation; and he entered in and asked what ailed them.
“See here,” said, the mother, “my child is dead in its cradle. It died in the night, and no one near.” And she wept bitterly.
“Be comforted,” said the man; “this is a fairy changeling, your child is safe!” and he told her the story. “Now,” He said,” if you don’t believe me, just lay this dead child on the fire, and we’ll see what will happen.”
So she made down a good fire, and took the dead child in her arms, and laid it on the hot turf, saying, “Burn, burn, burn – if of the devil, burn; but if of God and the Saints, be safe from harm.” And the child no sooner felt the fire than it sprang up the chimney with a cry and disappeared.
THE LADY WITCH
ABOUT a hundred years ago there lived a woman in Joyce County, of whom all the neighbours were afraid, for she had always plenty of money, though no one knew how she came by it; and the best of eating and drinking went on at her house, chiefly at night – meat and fowls and Spanish wines in plenty for all comers. And when people asked how it all came, she laughed and said, “I have paid for it,” but would tell them no more.
So the word went through the county that she had sold herself to the Evil One, and could have everything she wanted by merely wishing and willing, and because of her riches they called her “The Lady Witch.”
She never went out but at night, and then always with a bridle and whip in her hand; and the sound of a horse galloping was heard often far on in the night along the roads near her house.
Then a strange story was whispered about, that if a young man drank of her Spanish wines at supper and afterwards fell asleep, she would throw the bridle over him and change him to a horse, and ride him all over the country, and whatever she touched with her whip became hers. Fowls, or butter, or wines, or the new-made cakes – she had but to wish and will and they were carried by spirit hands to her house, and laid in her larder. Then when the ride was done, and she had gathered enough through the country of all she wanted, she took the bridle off the young man, and he came back to his own shape and fell asleep; and when he awoke he had no knowledge of all that had happened, and the Lady Witch bade him come again and drink of her Spanish wines as often as it pleased him.
Now there was a fine brave young fellow in the neighbourhood, and he determined to make out the truth of the story. So be often went back and forwards, and made friends with the Lady Witch, and sat down to talk to her, but always on the watch. And she took a great fancy to him and told him he must come to supper some night, and she would give him the best of everything, and he must taste her Spanish wine.
So she named the night, and he went gladly, for he was filled with curiosity. And when he arrived there was a beautiful supper laid, and plenty of wine to drink and he ate and drank, but was cautious about the wine, and spilled it on the ground from his glass when her head was turned away. Then he pretended to be very sleepy, and she said, “My son, you are weary. He down there on the bench and sleep, for the night is far spent, and you are far from your home.”
So he lay down as if he were quite dead with sleep, and closed his eyes, but watched her all the time.
And she came over in a little while and looked at him steadily, but he never stirred, only breathed the more heavily.
Then she went softly and took the bridle from the wall, and stole over to fling it over his head; but he started up, and, seizing, the bridle, threw it over the woman, who was immediately changed into a spanking grey mare. And he led her out and jumped on her back and rode away as fast as the wind till he came to the forge.
“Ho, smith,” he cried, “rise up and shoe my mare, for she is weary after the journey.”
And the smith got up and did his work as he was bid, well and strong. Then the young man mounted again, and rode back like the wind to the house of the Witch; and there he took off the bridle, and she immediately regained her own form, and sank down in a deep sleep.
But as the shoes had been put on at the forge without saying the proper form of words, they remained on her hands and feet, and no power on earth could remove them.
So she never rose from her bed again, and died not long after of grief and shame. And not one in the whole country would follow the coffin of the Lady Witch to the grave; and the bridle was burned with fire, and of all her riches nothing was left but a handful of ashes, and this was flung to the four points of earth and the four winds of heaven; so the enchantment was broken and the power of the Evil One ended.
ETHNA THE BRIDE
THE fairies, as we know, are greatly attracted by the beauty of mortal women, and Finvarra the king employs his numerous sprites to find out and carry off when possible the prettiest girls and brides in the country. These are spirited away by enchantment to his fairy palace at Knockma in Tuam, where they remain under a fairy spell, forgetting all about time earthly life and soothed to passive enjoyment, as in a sweet dream, by the soft low melody of the fairy music, which has the power to lull the hearer into a trance of ecstasy.
There was once a great lord in that part of the country who had a beautiful wife called Ethna, the loveliest bride in all the land. And her husband was so proud of her that day after day he had festivals in her honour; and from morning till night his castle was filled with lords and ladies, and nothing but music and dancing and feasting and hunting and pleasure was thought of.
One evening while the feast was merriest, and Ethna floated through the dance in her robe of silver gossamer clasped with jewels, more bright and beautiful than the stars in heaven, she suddenly let go the hand of her partner and sank to the floor in a faint.
They carried her to her room, where she lay long quite insensible; but towards the morning she woke up and declared that she had passed the night in a beautiful palace, and was so happy that she longed to sleep again and go there in her dreams. And they watched by her all day, but when the shades of evening fell dark on the castle, low music was heard at her window, and Ethna again fell into a deep trance from which nothing could rouse her.
Then her old nurse was set to watch her; but the woman grew weary in the silence and fell asleep, and never awoke till the sun had risen. And when she looked towards the bed, she saw to her horror that the young bride had disappeared. The whole household was roused up at once, and search made everywhere, but no trace of her could be found in all the castle, nor in the gardens, nor in the park. Her husband sent messengers in every, direction, but to no purpose–no one had seen her; no sigh of her could be found, living or dead.
Then the young lord mounted his swiftest steed and galloped right off to Knockma, to question Finvarra, the fairy king, if he could give any tidings of the bride, or direct him where to search for her; for he and Finvarra were friends, and many a good keg of Spanish wine had been left outside the window of the castle at night for the fairies to carry away, by order of the young lord. But he little dreamed now that Finvarra himself was the traitor; so he galloped on like mad till he reached Knockma, the hill of the fairies.
And as he stopped to rest his horse by the fairy rath, he heard voices in the air above him, and one said, “Right glad is Finvarra now, for he has the beautiful bride in his palace at last; and never more will she see her husband’s face.”
“Yet,” answered another, “if he dig down through the hill to the centre of the earth, he would find his bride; but the work is hard and the way is difficult, and Finvarra has more power than any mortal man.”
“That is yet to be seen,” exclaimed the young lord. “Neither fairy, nor devil, nor Finvarra himself shall stand between me and my fair young wife;” and on the instant he sent word by his servants to gather together all the workmen and labourers of the country round with their spades and pickaxes, to dig through the hill till they came to the fairy palace.
And the workmen came, a great crowd of them, and they dug through the hill all that day till a great deep trench was made down to the very centre. Then at sunset they left off for the night; but next morning when they assembled again to continue their work, behold, all time clay was put back again into the trench, and the hill looked as if never a spade had touched it – for so Finvarra had ordered; and he was powerful over earth and air and sea.
But the young lord had a brave heart, and he made the men go on with the work; and the trench was dug again, wide and deep into the centre of the hill. And this went on for three days, but always with the same result, for the clay was put back again each night and the hill looked the same as before, and they were no nearer to the fairy palace.
Then the young lord was ready to die for, rage and grief, but suddenly he heard a voice near him like a whisper in the air, and the words it said were these, “Sprinkle the earth you have dug up with salt, and your work will be safe.”
On this new life came into his heart, and he sent word through all the country to gather salt from the people; and the clay was sprinkled with it that night, when the men had left off their work at the hill.
Next morning they all rose up early in great anxiety to see what had happened, and there to their great joy was the trench all safe, just as they had left it, and all the earth round it was untouched.
Then the young lord knew he had power over Finvarra, and he bade the men work on with a good heart, for they would soon reach the fairy palace now in the centre of the hill. So by the next day a great glen was cut right through deep down to the middle of the earth, and they could hear the fairy music if they put their ear close to the ground, and voices were heard round them in the air.
“See now,” said one, “Finvarra is sad, for if one of those mortal men strike a blow on the fairy palace with their spades, it will crumble to dust, and fade away like the mist.”
“Then let Finvarra give up the bride,” said another, “and we shall be safe.”
On which the voice of” Finvarra himself was heard, clear like the note of a silver bugle through the hill.
“Stop your work,” he said. “Oh, men of earth, lay down your spades, and at sunset the bride shall be given back to her husband. I, Finvarra, have spoken.”
Then the young lord bade them stop the work, and lay down their spades till the sun went down. And at sunset he mounted his great chestnut steed and rode to the head of the glen, and watched and waited; and just as the red light flushed all the sky, he saw his wife coming along the path in her robe of silver gossamer, more beautiful than ever; and he sprang from the saddle and lifted her up before him, and rode away like the storm wind back to the castle. And there they laid Ethna on her bed; hut she closed her eyes and spake no word. So day after day passed, and still she never spake or smiled, but seemed like one in a trance.
And great sorrow fell upon every one, for they feared she had eaten of the fairy food, and that the enchantment would never be broken. So her husband was very miserable. But one evening as he was riding home late, he heard voices in the air, and one of them said, “It is now a year and a day since the young lord brought home his beautiful wife from Finvarra; but what good is she to him? She is speechless and like one dead; for her spirit is with the fairies though her form is there beside him.”
Then another voice answered, “And so she will remain unless the spell is broken, he must unloose the girdle from her waist that is fastened with an enchanted pin, and burn the girdle with fire, and throw the ashes before the door, and bury the enchanted pin in the earth; then will her spirit come back from Fairy-land, and she will once more speak and have true life.”
Hearing this the young lord at once set spurs to his horse, and on reaching the castle hastened to the room where Ethna lay on her couch silent and beautiful like a waxen figure. Then, being determined to test the truth of the spirit voices, he untied the girdle, and after much difficulty extracted the enchanted pin from the folds. But still Ethna spoke no word; then he took the girdle and burned it with fire, and strewed the ashes before the door, and he buried the enchanted pin in a deep hole in the earth, under a fairy thorn, that no hand might disturb the spot. After which he returned to his young wife, who smiled as she looked at him, and held forth her hand. Great was his joy to see the soul coming back to the beautiful form, and he raised her up and kissed her; and speech and memory came back to her at that moment, amid all her former life, just as if it had never been broken or interrupted; but the year that her spirit had passed in Fairyland seemed to her but as a dream of the night, from which she had just awoke.
After this Finvarra made no further efforts to carry her off; but the deep cut in the hill remains to this day, and is called “The Fairy’s Glen.” So no one can doubt the truth of the story as here narrated.
THE FAIRIES’ REVENGE
THE fairies have a great objection to the fairy raths, where they meet at night, being built upon by mortal man. A farmer called Johnstone, having plenty of money, bought some land, and chose a beautiful green spot to build a house on, the very spot the fairies loved best.
The neighbours warned him that it was a fairy rath; but he laughed and never minded (for he was from the north), and looked at such things as mere old-wives’ tales. So he built the house and made it beautiful to live in; and no people in the country were so well off as the Johnstones so that the people said the farmer must have found a pot of gold in the fairy rath.
But the fairies were all the time plotting how they could punish the farmer for taking away their dancing ground, and for cutting down the hawthorn bush where they held their revels when the moon was full. And one day when the cows were milking, a little old woman in a blue cloak came to Mrs Johnstone and asked her for a porringer of milk.
“Go away,” said the mistress of the house, “you shall have no milk from me. I’ll have no tramps coming about my place.” And she told the farm servants to chase her away.
Sometime after, the best and finest of the cows sickened and gave no milk, and lost her horns and teeth and finally died.
Then one day as Mrs Johnstone was sitting spinning flax in the parlour, the same little woman in the blue cloak suddenly stood before her.
“Your maids are baking cakes in the kitchen,” she said; “give me some off the griddle to carry away with me.”
“Go out of this,” cried the farmer’s wife, angrily; “you are a wicked old wretch, and have poisoned my best cow.” And she bade the farm servants drive her off with sticks.
Now the Johnstones had one only child; a beautiful bright boy, as strong as a young colt, and as full of life and merriment. But soon after this he began to grow queer and strange, and was disturbed in his sleep; for he said the fairies came round him at night and pinched and beat him, and some sat on his chest and he could neither breathe nor move. And they told him they would never leave him in peace unless he promised to give them a supper every night of a griddle cake and a porringer of milk. So to soothe the child the mother had these things laid every night on a table beside his bed, and in the morning they were gone.
But still the child pined away, and his eyes got a strange, wild look, as if he saw nothing near or around him, only something far, far away that troubled his spirit. And when they asked him what ailed him, he said the fairies carried him away to the hills every night, where he danced and danced with them till the morning, when they brought him back and laid him again in his bed.
At last the farmer and his wife were at their wits’ end from grief and despair, for the child was pining away before their eyes, and they could do nothing for him to help him. One night he cried out in great agony, “Mother! mother! send for the priest to take away the fairies, for they are killing me; they are here on my chest, crushing me to death,” and his eyes were wild with terror.
Now the farmer and his wife believed in no fairies, and in no priest, but to soothe the child they did as he asked and sent for the priest, who prayed over him and sprinkled him with holy water.
The poor little fellow seemed calmer as the priest prayed, and he said the fairies were leaving him and going away, and then he sank into a quiet sleep. But when he woke in the morning he told his parents that he had a beautiful dream and was walking in a lovely garden with the angels; and he knew it was heaven, and that he would be there before night, for the angels told him they would come for him.
Then they watched by the sick child all through the night, for they saw the fever was still on him, but hoped a change would come before morning; for he now slept quite calmly with a smile on his lips.
But just as the clock struck midnight, he awoke and sat up, and when his mother put her arms round him weeping, he whispered to her–
“The angels are here, mother,” and then he sank back, and so died.
Now after this calamity the farmer never held up his head. He ceased to mind his farm, and the crops went to ruin and the cattle died, and finally before a year and a day were over he was laid in the grave by the side of his little son; and the land passed into other hands, and as no one would live in the house it was pulled down. No one, either, would plant on the rath; so the grass grew again all over it, green amid beautiful, and the fairies danced there once more in the moonlight as they used to do in the old time, free and happy; and thus the evil spell was broken for evermore.
But the people would have nothing to do with the childless mother, so she went away back to her own people, a brokenhearted, miserable woman – a warning to all who would arouse the vengeance of the fairies by interfering with their ancient rights and possessions and privileges.
THE Phouka is a friendly being, and often helps the farmer at his work if he is treated well and kindly. One day a farmer’s son was minding cattle in the field when something rushed past him like the wind; but he was not frightened, for he knew it was the Phouka on his way to the old mill by the moat where the fairies met every night. So he called out, “Phouka, Phouka! Show me what you are like, and I’ll give you my big coat to keep you warm.” Then a young bull came to him lashing his tail like mad; but Phadrig threw the coat over him, and in a moment he was quiet as a lamb, and told the boy to come to the mill that night when the moon was up, and he would have good luck.
So Phadrig went, but saw nothing except sacks of corn all lying about on the ground, for the men had fallen asleep, and no work was done. Then he lay down also and slept, for he was very tired: and when he woke up early in time morning there was all the meal ground, though certainly the men had not done it, for they still slept. And this happened for three nights, after which Phadrig determined to keep awake and watch.
Now there was an old chest in the mill, and he crept into this to hide, and just looked through the keyhole to see what would happen. And exactly at midnight six little fellows came in, each, carrying a sack of corn upon his back; and after then came an old man in tattered rags of clothes, and he bade them turn the mill, and they turned and turned till all was ground.
Then Phadrig ran to tell his father, and the miller determined to watch, the next night with his son, and both together saw the same thing happen.
“Now,” said the farmer, “I see it is the Phouka’s work, and let him work if it pleases him, for the men are idle and lazy and only sleep. So I’ll pack the whole set off to-morrow, and leave the grinding of the corn to this excellent old Phouka.”
After this the farmer grew so rich that there was no end to his money, for he had no men to pay, and all his corn was ground without his spending a penny. Of course the people wondered much over his riches, but he never told them about the Phouka, or their curiosity would have spoiled the luck.
Now Phadrig went often to the mill and hid in the chest that he might watch the fairies at work; but he had great pity for the poor old Phouka in his tattered clothes, who yet directed everything and had hard work of it sometimes keeping the little Phoukas in order. So Phadrig, out of love and gratitude, bought a blue suit of cloth and silk and laid it one night on the floor of the mill just where the old Phouka always stood to give his orders to the little men, and then he crept into the chest to watch.
“How is this?” said the Phouka when he saw the clothes. “Are these for me? I shall be turned into a fine gentleman.”
And he put them on, and then began to walk up and down admiring himself. But suddenly he remembered the corn and went to grind as usual, then stopped and cried out, “No, no. No more work for me. Fine gentlemen don’t grind corn. I’ll go out and see a little of the world and show my fine clothes.” And he kicked away the old rags into a corner, and went out.
No corn was ground that night, nor the next, nor the next; all the little Phoukas ran away, and not a sound was heard in the mill. Then Phadrig grew very sorry for the loss of his old friend, and used to go out into the fields and call out, “Phouka, Phouka! Come back to me. Let me see your face.” But the old Phouka never came back, and all his life long Phadrig never looked on the face of his friend again. However, the farmer had made so much money that he wanted no more help; and he sold the mill, and reared up Phadrig to be a great scholar and a gentleman, who had his own house and land and servants. And in time he married a beautiful lady, so beautiful that the people said she must be daughter to the king of the fairies.
A strange thing happened at the wedding, for when they all stood up to drink the bride’s health, Phadrig saw beside him a golden cup filled with wine. And no one knew how, the golden cup had come to his hand; but Phadrig guessed it was the Phouka’s gift, and he drank the wine without fear and made his bride drink also. And ever after their lives were happy and prosperous, and the golden cup was kept as a treasure in the family, and the descendants of Phadrig have it in their possession to this day.
THE FARMER PUNISHED
A farmer once lived near the Boyne, close to an old churchyard. He was very rich, and had crops and cattle, but was so hard and avaricious that the people hated him; for his habit was to get up very early in the morning and go out to the fields to watch that no one took a cabbage or a turnip, or got a cup of milk when the cows were being milked, for the love of God and the saints.
One morning, as he was out as usual by sunrise spying about the place, he heard a child crying bitterly, “Oh, mother, mother! I am hungry. Give me something, or I’ll die.”
“Hush, darling,” said the mother, “though the hunger is on you, wait; for the farmer’s cow will be milked presently, and I’ll knock down the pail so the milk will be spilt upon the ground, and you can drink your fill.”
When the farmer heard this he sent a stout man to watch the girl that milked, and to tie the cow’s feet that she should not kick. So that the no milk was spilled upon the ground.
Next morning he went out again by sunrise, and, he heard the child crying more bitterly even than before, “Mother, mother! I am hungry. Give me to eat.”
“Wait, my child,” said the mother; “the farmer’s maid bakes cakes today, and I’ll make the dish to fall just as she is carrying them from the griddle. So we shall have plenty to eat.”
Then the farmer went home and locked up the meal, and said, “No cakes shall be baked to-day, not till the night.” But the cry of the child was in his ears, and he could not rest.
So early in the morning he was out again, and bitter was the cry of the child as he passed the copse –
“Mother, mother!” it said, “I have had no milk, I have had no cake; let me lay down my head on your breast and die.”
“Wait,” said the mother, “someone will die before you, my darling. Let the old man look to his son, for he will be killed in battle before many days are over; and then the curse will be lifted from the poor, and we shall have food in plenty.”
But the farmer laughed. “There is no war in Ireland now,” he said to himself. “How then can my son be killed in battle?” And he went home to his own house, and there in the courtyard was his son cleaning his spear and sharpening his arrows. He was a comely youth, tall and slender as a young oak-tree, and his brown hair fell in long curls over his shoulders.
“Father,” he said, “I am summoned by the king, for he is at war with the other kings. So give me the swiftest horse you have, for I must be off to-night to join the king’s men. And see, I have my spears and arrows ready.”
Now at that time in Ireland there were four great kings, and each of them had two deputies. And the king of Leinster made a great feast for the deputies, and to seven of them he gave a brooch of gold each, but to the eighth only a brooch of silver, for, he said, the man is not a prince like the others. Then the eighth deputy was angry, and he struck the king’s page full in the face for handing him the brooch. On this all the knights sprang up and drew their swords, and some took one part and some another, and there was a great fight in the hall. And afterwards the four kings quarrelled, and the king of Leinster sent out messengers to bid all his people come to help him. So the farmer’s son got the message as well as the others, and he made ready at once to join the battle with a proud heart for the sake of the king and a young man’s love of adventure.
Then the farmer was filled with rage.
“This is the wicked work of the witch woman,” he said; “but as I would not give her milk to spill, for the cakes when baked, so I will not give her the life of my only son.”
And he took large stones and built up great walls the height of a man, round a hut, and set a great stone at the top to close it, only leaving ‘places for a vessel of food to be handed down. And he placed the lad within the hut.
“Now,” he said,” the king shall not have him, nor the king’s men; he is safe from the battle and the spears of the warriors.”
So the next morning he rose up quite content, and was out at sunrise as usual; and as he walked by the churchyard, he heard the child laughing. And the mother said, “Child, you laugh by a grave. For the farmer’s son will be laid in that ground before three days are over, and then the curse will he lifted from the poor. He would not let the milk be spilled, nor the cakes to be baked, but he cannot keep his son from death. The spell is on him for evil.”
Then a voice said, “But his father has walled him round in a hut with strong walls, high as a man. how then can he die in battle?”
And the woman answered, “I climbed the hut last night and gave him nine stones, and bade him throw them one by one over his left shoulder, and each the a stone of the wall would fall down, till free space was left him to escape, and this he did; and before sunrise this morning he fled away, and has joined the king’s army; but his grave is ready, and in three days he will be in this ground, for his doom is spoken.”
When the farmer heard these words, he rushed like mad to the hut, and called his son by name; but no answer came. Then he climbed up and looked in through the hole at the top, but no sign of his son was there. And he wrung his hands in despair, and went home and spake no word, but sat moaning with his head buried in his hands.
And on the third day he heard the steps of men outside, and he rose up, for he knew they were bearing the body of his dead son to the door. And he went out to meet them, and there lay the corpse of the young man on the bier, pale and beautiful, struck through and through by a spear, even as he had died in battle.
And they laid him in the churchyard, just as the witch-woman had foretold, while all the people wept, for the young man was noble to look upon, and of a good and upright spirit.
But the father neither spoke nor wept his mind was gone, and his heart was broken. And soon he lay down and died, un-pitied by all; for he was hard and cruel in his life, and no man wept for him; and all the riches he had gathered by grinding down the poor melted away, and his race perished from the land, and his name was heard of no more, and no blessing rested on his memory.
THE FARMER’S WIFE
DOWN in the South there lived another rich farmer and his wife, who were both of them hated by the people for their stingy, hard-hearted ways. Never a word of kindness was on their lips, and never a blessing from the poor was invoked on their heads.
One day an old woman came to the door to beg a little food – a cake from the griddle, or a few potatoes, or a handful of meal; but she was harshly refused by the farmer’s wife and turned away.
Then she came back in a little while, and begged for a drink of milk, for she was faint and weary, she said, and had travelled far. This was also refused, and she was ordered to leave the place at once. But the woman still begged hard for leave to rest herself a little, and for even a drink of butter milk, for it was churning day and she knew there must be plenty in the house. Then the farmer’s wife grew very angry, and said she would turn the dogs on her if she didn’t go away, and that no tramp should get anything from her. On this the woman muttered some words, with her hand on the lintel of the door, and then went her way. Soon after, being much heated by the violence of her anger, the farmer’s wife went to the dairy for a drink; but as she poured out the draught she saw something black in the cup, and she tried to take it out with her finger, but it always escaped her. Then, being very thirsty, she drank off the milk, and still another and another cup, and in the drinking the black object disappeared. That night, however, she felt nigh to death, for her body began to swell, and turned black all over. Medical aid was sent for, but the doctor could make out nothing of the cause or nature of the strange disease. Then the priest was summoned, and he at once, having heard the story, said there was witchcraft in it; and he proceeded to pray, and to exorcise the evil spirit in the woman. Besides this he made her be placed in a hot bath, into which he poured some holy water.
At first the woman uttered fierce cries, and said her body seemed rent and torn; but gradually she became calmer, and the blackness slowly went down from head to feet, and finally disappeared, leaving the body fair and whole, all except one hand, and this remained still as black as ink. The holy water was poured on it, and the priest prayed, but nothing would remove the devil’s mark.
So the priest told her at last that the blackness would remain as a sign and token of her sins against the poor; and from that day forth to her death the mark of the evil spell remained on her, but she grew kinder to the poor, for her heart was shaken by terror. And when she came to die there was no blackness on her hand, for the tears of the poor she had succoured and befriended had washed all the devil’s mark away, before the moment came when her soul was to appear before God.
THE MIDNIGHT RIDE
A Peasant’s Tale
ONE evening a man called Shawn Ruadh was out looking for a red cow that had strayed away, when he heard voices round him, and one said “Get me a horse,” and another cried “Get me a horse.”
“And get me a horse, too,” said Shawn, “since they seem so plenty, for I’d like a ride along with you,” and with that he found himself on the instant mounted on a fine grey horse beside another man who rode a black horse. And they rode away and away till they came to a great city.
“Now, do you know where you are?” said the black horseman. “You are in London, and whatever you want you can have.”
“Thank you kindly, my friend,” said the other, “so, with your leave, I’ll just have a good suit of clothes, for I’m much in want of that same. Can I have them?”
“By all means,” said the black horseman; “there, go into that merchant’s shop and ask for what you like, and if he refuses just throw the stone I give you on the floor and the whole place will seem on fire. But don’t be frightened; only wait your good luck.”
So Shawn went into the biggest shop there, and he spoke to the merchant quite stiff and proud.
“Show me the best suit of clothes you have,” said he. “Never mind the price, that’s of no consequence, only be very particular as to the fit.”
But the shopman laughed aloud. “We don’t make clothes for beggars like you,” he said. “Be off out of this.”
Then Shawn threw down the stone on the floor, and immediately the whole place seemed on fire, and the merchant ran out himself and all the shopmen after him to get pails of water, and Shawn laughed when he saw them all drenched.
“Now what will you give me,” said he, “if I put out the fire for you?”
“You shall have the price of the best suit of clothes in the shop,” answered the merchant, “all paid down in gold; only help me to put out the fire.”
So Shawn stooped down and picked up the stone, and put it quietly into his pocket, and instantly all the flames disappeared: and the merchant was so grateful that he paid him down all the gold for the clothes, and more. And Shawn bid him good-night, and mounted the grey steed again quite happy in himself.
“Now,” said the black horseman, “is there anything else you, desire? For it is near ten o’clock, and we must be back by midnight; so just say what you would like to do.”
“Well,” said Shawn Ruadh, “I would like of all things to see the Pope of Rome, for two of our priests are disputing as to who is to get the parish, and I want Father M’Grath to have it, for I have a great opinion of him, and if I ask his holiness he’ll settle it all in no time and for ever.”
“Come then,” said the black horseman; “it is a long way to Rome, certainly, but I think we’ll manage it in the two hours, and be back before twelve o’clock.”
So away they rode like the wind, and in no the Shawn found himself before the great palace of the Pope; and all the grand servants with gold sticks in their hands stared at him, and asked him what he wanted.
“Just go in,” said he,” and tell his Holiness, that Shawn Ruadh, all the way from Ireland, is here and wants to see him very particularly.”
But the servants laughed, and struck him with their gold sticks and hunted him away from the gate. Now the Pope hearing the rout looked out of the window, and seeing Shawn Ruadh he came down and asked him what he wanted.
“Just this, your holiness,” answered Shawn, “I want a letter on behalf of Father M’Grath bidding the Bishop give him the parish, and I’ll wait till your Holiness writes it; and meanwhile let me have a little supper, for hungry I am after my long ride.”
Then the Pope laughed, and told the servants to drive the fellow away, for he was evidently out of his wits.
So Shawn grew angry, and flung down the stone on the floor, and instantly all the palace seemed on fire, and the Pope ordered the grand servants to go for water; and they had to run about like mad getting pails and jugs of water, whatever they could lay bands on; and all their fine clothes were spoiled, and the beautiful gold sticks were flung away in their fright, while they took the jugs and splashed and dashed the water over each other.
Now it was Shawn’s turn to laugh till his sides ached, but his holiness looked very grave.
“Well,” said Shawn, “if I put out the fire what will you do for me? Will you write that letter?”
“Ay, I will,” said the Pope, “and you shall have your supper also; only help us to put out the fire, my fine fellow.”
So Shawn quietly put the stone back in his pocket, and instantly all the flames disappeared.
“Now,” said the Pope, “you shall have supper of the best in the palace; and I’ll write a letter to the Bishop ordering him to give Father M’Grath the parish. And here, besides, is a purse of gold for yourself, and take it with my blessing.”
Then he ordered all the grand servants to get supper for the excellent young man from Ireland, and to make him comfortable. So Shawn was mightily pleased, and ate and drank like a prince. Then he mounted his grey steed again, and just as midnight struck he found himself at his own door, but all alone; for the grey steed and the black horseman had both vanished. But there stood his wife crying her eyes out and in great trouble.
“O Shawn, Agra! I thought you were dead or that evil had fallen on you.”
“Not a bit of it,” said Shawn, “I’ve been supping with the Pope of Rome, and look here at all the gold I’ve brought home for you, my darling.”
And he put his hand in his pocket to get the purse; but ho! There was nothing there except a rough, grey stone. And from that hour to this his wife believes that he dreamed the whole story as he lay under the hay-rick, on his way home from a carouse with the boys.
However, Father M’Grath got the parish, and Shawn took good care to tell him how he had spoken up boldly for him to the Pope of Rome, and made his holiness write the letter to the Bishop about him. And Father M’Grath was a nice gentleman, and he smiled and told Shawn he thanked him kindly for his good word.
THE Leprehauns are merry, industrious, tricksy little sprites, who do all the shoemaker’s work and the tailor’s and the cobbler’s for the fairy gentry, and are often seen at sunset under the hedge singing and stitching. They know all the secrets of hidden treasure, and if they take a fancy to a person will guide him to the spot in the fairy rath where the pot of gold lies buried. It is believed that a family now living near Castlerea came by their riches in a strange way, all through the good offices of a friendly Leprehaun. And the legend has been handed down through many generations as an established fact.
There was a poor boy once, one of their forefathers, who used to drive his cart of turf daily back and forward, and make what money be could by the sale; but he was a strange boy, very silent and moody, and the people said he was a fairy changeling, for he joined in no sports and scarcely ever spoke to anyone, but spent the nights reading all the old bits of books he picked up in his rambles. The one thing he longed for above all others was to get rich, and to be able to give up the old weary turf cart, and live in peace and quietness all alone, with nothing but books round him, in a beautiful house and garden all by himself.
Now he had read in the old books how the Leprehauns knew all the secret places where gold lay hid, and day by day he watched for a sight of the little cobbler, and listened for the click, click of his hammer as he sat under the hedge mending the shoes.
At last, one evening just as the sun set, he saw a little fellow under a dock leaf, working away, dressed all in green, with a cocked hat on his head. So the boy jumped down from the cart and seized him by the neck.
“Now, you don’t stir from this,” he cried, “till you tell me where to find the hidden gold.”
“Easy now,” said the Leprehaun, “don’t hurt me, and I will tell you all about it. But mind you, I could hurt you if I chose, for I have the power; but I won’t do it, for we are cousins once removed. So as we are near relations I’ll just be good, and show you the place of the secret gold that none can have or keep except those of fairy blood and race. Come along with me, then, to the old fort of Lipenshaw, for there it lies. But make haste, for when the last red glow of the sun vanishes the gold will disappear also, and you will never find it again.”
“Come off, then,” said the boy, and he carried the Leprehaun into the turf cart, and drove off. And in a second they were at the old fort, and went in through a door made in the stone wall.
“Now, look around,” said the Leprehaun; and the boy saw the whole ground covered with gold pieces, and there were vessels of silver lying about in such plenty that all the riches of all the world seemed gathered there.
“Now take what you want,” said the Leprehaun, “but hasten, for if that door shuts you will never leave this place as long as you live.”
So the boy gathered up his arms full of gold and silver, and flung them into the cart; and was on his way back for more when the door shut with a clap like thunder, and all the place became dark as night. And he saw no more of the Leprehaun, and had not time even to thank him.
So he thought it best to drive home at once with his treasure, and when he arrived and was all alone by himself he counted his riches, and all the bright yellow gold pieces, enough for a king’s ransom.
And he was very wise and told no one; but went off next day to Dublin and put all his treasures into the bank, and found that he was now indeed as rich as a lord.
So he ordered a fine house to be built with spacious gardens, and he had servants and carriages and books to his heart’s content. And he gathered all the wise men round him to give him the learning of a gentleman; and he became a great and powerful man in the country, where his memory is still held in high honour, and his descendants are living to this day rich and prosperous; for their wealth has never decreased though they have ever given largely to the poor, and are noted above all things for the friendly heart and the liberal hand.
But the Leprehauns can be bitterly malicious if they are offended, and one should be very cautious in dealing with them, and always treat them with great civility, or they will take revenge and never reveal the secret of the hidden gold.
One day a young lad was out in the fields at work when he saw a little fellow, not the height of his hand, mending shoes under a dock leaf. And he went over, never taking his eyes off him for fear he would vanish away; and when he got quite close he made a grab at the creature, and lifted him up and put him in his pocket.
Then he ran away home as fast as he could, and when he had the Leprehaun safe in the house, he tied him by an iron chain to the hob.
“Now, tell me,” he said, “where am I to find a pot of gold? Let me know the place or I’ll punish you.”
“I know of no pot of gold,” said the Leprehaun; “but let me go that I may finish mending the shoes.”
“Then I’ll make you tell me,” said the lad.
And with that he made down a great fire, and put the little fellow on it and scorched him.
“Oh, take me off, take me off!” cried the Leprehaun, “and I’ll tell you. Just there, under the dock leaf, where you found me, there is a pot of gold. Go; dig and find.”
So the lad was delighted, and ran to the door; but it so happened that his mother was just then coming in with the pail of fresh milk, and in his haste he knocked the pail out of her hand, and all the milk was spilled on the floor.
Then, when the mother saw the Leprehaun, she grew very angry and beat him. “Go away, you little wretch!” she cried. “You have overlooked the milk and brought ill-luck.” And she kicked him out of the house.
But the lad ran off to find the dock leaf, though he came back very sorrowful in the evening, for he had dug and dug nearly down to the middle of the earth; but no pot of gold was to be seen.
That same night the husband was coming home from his work, and as he passed the old fort he heard voices and laughter, and one said–
“They are looking for a pot of gold; but they little know that a crock of gold is lying down in the bottom of the old quarry, hid under the stones close by the garden wall. But whoever gets it must go of a dark night at twelve o’clock, and beware of bringing his wife with him.”
So the man hurried home and told his wife he would go that very night, for it was black dark, and she must stay at home and watch for him, and not stir from the house till he came back. Then he went out into the dark night alone.
Now,” thought the wife, when he was gone, “if I could only get to the quarry before him I would have the pot of gold all to myself; while if he gets it I shall have nothing.”
And with that she went out and ran like the wind until she reached the quarry, and then she began to creep down very quietly in the black dark. But a great stone was in her path, and she stumbled over it, and fell down and down till she reached the bottom, and there she lay groaning, for her leg was broken by the fall.
Just then her husband came to the edge of the quarry and, began to descend. But when he heard the groans he was frightened.
“Cross of Christ about us!” he exclaimed; “what is that down below? Is it evil, or is it good?”
“Oh, comedown, come down and help me!” cried the woman. It’s your wife is here, and my leg is broken, and I’ll die if you don t help me.”
“And is this my pot of gold?” exclaimed the poor man. “Only my wife with a broken leg lying at the bottom of the quarry.”
And he was at his wits’ end to know what to do, for the night was so dark he could not see a hand before him. So he roused up a neighbour, and between them they dragged up the poor woman and carried her home, and laid her on the bed half dead from fright, and it was many a day before she was able to get about as usual; indeed she limped all her life long, so that the people said the curse of the Leprehaun was on her.
But as to the pot of gold, from that day to this not one of the family, father or son, or any belonging to them, ever set eyes on it. However, the little Leprehaun still sits under the dock leaf of the hedge and laughs at them as he mends the shoes with his little hammer–tick tack, tick tack–but they are afraid to touch him, for now they know he can take his revenge.