On one of the many rocky islands that lie off the West coast of Ireland lived a fisherman called Kelly. He was a muscular man who was fond of his drink and his tobacco, and he would take his ill-temper out on his wife by beating and by throwing things around the house. All other men on the island were afraid of Kelly and would not stand up to his bullying ways and the called him ‘The Bull’. But Kelly would go out to sea every day that there was fair weather and catch as many fish as he could, which he would subsequently bring to Kilclough and the fish factory there. These trips were, of course, ideal opportunities for ‘The Bull’ to stock up on his supplies, especially his tobacco and whiskey, and the odd grocery item that his wife might need for the house.
For several days the weather had caused the sea to toss and boil, while wind-driven rain and grey skies made it difficult to see very far ahead. ‘The Bull’ had run out of tobacco and alcohol several days previously and further inflamed his already famed fiery temper, making him even more violent and it was his poor wife that suffered the consequences. Then, one day, a loud knock came to the Kelly’s cabin door and his bruised, long-suffering wife was ordered to answer it. When she opened the door to the visitor, she came face to face with a red-haired man whom she did not recognise. “Is he in?” asked the man in a deep gruff voice.
“Paddy!” she called out, “there’s someone to see you.”
“Who?” asked ‘The Bull’ but before he could get an answer the red-haired stranger was by his side.
“It’s only me,” he spoke softly to Kelly, taking him totally by surprise.
The sudden appearance of the red-haired man was believed to be an unlucky omen, but Kelly was in such an ill-temper that he never thought about omens. “What is it you want?” he snapped at the stranger.
“What will you give me to go over to Kilclough and bring back what you are in most need of?”
Kelly laughed loudly. “Nothing!” he said. “I will give you nothing for whatever means you use to go there I am more than able to use that means also.”
“Alright,” said the visitor with a knowing smile on his face. “Get on your coat and come with me down to the shore. I will show you how to get across the sea, but as only one of us can go, you must go alone.”
Without hesitation Kelly pulled on his heavy sea coat and followed the red-haired man out of the cabin door. Together they followed the path down to the stone-covered shore where the waves were rolling in. Then, out of the mist, there came a large herd of horses with men and women on their backs, galloping along singing loudly and laughing. The ginger-haired man now turned to Kelly and told him, “Get up there now on a horse and it will take you across the water.”
Although he was suspicious of the stranger, Kelly got up on a horse as requested and in an instant the animal jumped out over the sea and landed in the centre of Kilclough. Overjoyed with his good fortune ‘The Bull’ ran to the store and bought both his tobacco and whiskey supply and within minutes he was back to his horse. To his surprise the other riders were assembled by the seashore and eager to be off. So, ‘The Bull’ got up on his horse again and they all immediately jumped into the seas. On this occasion, however, they came to a halt midway between Kilclough and home, where there was a large island of rock beyond which the horses could not be made to pass. There was great disquiet among them all and they decided to call a meeting to decide the best way forward. “There is a mortal among us,” one of the riders called out to the rest. “Let us drown him now, so we can pass!”
They gathered around ‘The Bull’ and lifted him from his horse and carried him to the top of the rock and threw him down into the sea. Then, when he returned to the surface, he was grabbed by all the hands and the crowd called out, “Drown him! Drown him! We have the power over life and death here and he must be drowned!” But just as they were making ready to throw him from the top of the rock for a second time the ginger-haired man pleaded for his life and with a strong hand led him to the shore.
As ‘The Bull’ walked up from the shoreline towards the cabin again the red-haired man spoke softly to him. “You are safe now,” he said, “but just remember that the spirits are watching you at all times, and should you ever again beat your wife, or throw furniture and things about the home in a foul temper you will discover that you shall die upon that rock.” With these words the stranger disappeared. But from that time onward ‘The Bull’ was as meek as a mouse, for there was now a great fear on him. Each time that he passed the rock in his boat he would stop and say a wee prayer for his wife. By adhering to this, Kelly kept the evil away and they both lived together happily until they reached a good old age.
To you, the reader, this may sound like a simple tale, but it is a story with a good moral behind it. The red-haired man might be thought to be an unlucky omen, but it is the one who saves, helps and rescues any mortal who is unhappy, or finds themselves helpless in the hands of the fairy folk. The story, however, demonstrates how the threat of justified retribution from the anger of fairies can reduce the tyranny of one person over another who is weaker.