The Bodachs are those creatures that hide beneath a child’s bed, reaching out with cold, bony fingers to grab unwary ankles and hiss unintelligible whispers in the dark of the night. They are the bogeymen of children’s dreams, who are especially adept at tormenting children. Because they prefer pinching babies above all other prey and are, therefore, common in nurseries, children’s wards, day-care centres, and other places where children gather.
The Bodachs are distant relations with the ‘Clurichauns’, being tied mostly to the indoors and living close to mortals. They keep themselves unseen, creeping into homes through chimneys and open cellars, lurking in damp basements and under furniture until the humans of the house go to sleep, which allows them the freedom to roam at will. It is a spirit that knows just what it must accomplish to terrify a child the most, and it thrives on the screams of those awakened from sleep by nightmares. Although the Bodach has no qualms about ‘bleeding’ its victims dry of their screams, they rarely kill their victims, preferring to keep them alive for future feeding. It is also not unknown for some Bodachs to hide themselves behind equipment and beds in children’s hospitals, always seeking the weakest victim they can.
In appearance, Bodachs are wizened, wrinkly, and apparently without gender. Whatever age they may be, they appear to have wispy hair, stooped shoulders, and sour expressions. In stature, they rarely stand above five-feet tall. All are noted for having sunken cheeks, bony limbs, pointed ears and pitiless eyes. They can move much quicker than you might think, scuttling about on all four limbs, like spiders.
Much like an octopus, if the Bodach has a hole to squeeze through, it can gain entry. Although they prefer the roominess of chimneys as their usual point of entry and exit, the Bodachs have been known to enter houses through rat holes, ductwork, and even up pipes leading to toilets. Moreover, those who try to capture one find that they cannot get a firm grip, or hold them in a clinch because their natural ability ensures they are quickly freed.
Nevertheless, Bodachs are just as frail as they look. They need to remain unseen at all times in order to obtain the greatest amount of benefit from the victim’s screams, because being seen risks serious injury or death. Tradition tells us that homes with cats
There are some people who doubt the existence demons and fairies, Hell, or Heaven. At a Christmas dinner last year, a woman told me that she did not believe in ghosts or fairies, in Hell or a Heavenly paradise. She was sure that Hell was an invention created by the priesthood as a means of frightening people into being good, while ghosts, she was certain, would not be allowed to go wandering all over the mortal to do whatever they willed. The woman did, however, express a strong belief in the Fairy Folk, Leprechauns, water-horses, and in fallen an angels. At the same party I also met a man whose arms were covered in tattoos, and he held exactly the same beliefs and doubts as the woman did. Isn’t it strange that, in Ireland, no matter what we doubt, we never seem to doubt the existence of the fairy folk. But why should this be so?
There was a little girl in service to a family that lived in a seaside village along the County Down coast, beneath the shadows of the Mourne Mountains, just before the land was partitioned. Her sudden disappearance caused immediate and great excitement in the district because the rumour spread that she had been taken by the fairies. There was a story doing the rounds that a local man had struggled to keep the girl from the fairies, but they prevailed and took her from him, leaving nothing in his hands but a broomstick. The local police reacted quickly by instituting a house-to house search and advising locals to burn all the ragweed in the field from which she had vanished, believing that this action would force the fairy folk to return the girls since ragweed (bucalauns) is sacred to them. The local people spent the entire night burning bucalauns, while the police constable acted like a fairy doctor, repeating spells all the time. The next morning the little girl was discovered, wandering alone in the field. She said that the fairies had taken her far away on a fairy horse until she came at last to big river. Here she saw the man, who had tried to keep her from being carried off by the fairies drifting down the great river in a cockleshell. On the way to the river her fairy companions told her the names of several people in the village who, they prophesied, would die soon.
The policeman was right when he said it was better to believe unproved claims that appear to have little truth about them, than to deny such a claim just for the sake proof, for anyone who does this no longer has an open mind that is willing to seek out the truth. Such people have to fumble their way in a great dark and empty world in which all kinds of demons. There is no evil that can touch us if we keep a fire in our hearth and in our souls, and welcome with an open hand whatever comes to seek warmth, whether it be a man or a demon. We should not be too keen to speak fiercely to those visitors and demand that they, “Be gone!” After all, who are we to judge that our scepticism is better and more worthy than someone’s true belief.
It is said that in days long ago there were hordes of the ‘Good People’ who travelled all over this island. They were regarded as being a proud people, somewhat conceited their attitudes, and they would ride their fairy horses while soft and enchanting music played around them. But on their travels the ‘Good People’ were renowned for their habit of changing the children of mortals with one of their own, and despite the great efforts of the mortal parents to raise these children to certain standard they never met with any success.
In those days a peaceful man called Nolan lived in a small cabin that stood on a piece of land just beyond the River Bann. He was fortunate enough to meet and marry a pretty and mild-mannered woman, who gave birth to a baby boy in the first year of their marriage. Their joy at this blessing was, however, short-lived for it quickly became apparent that there was something wrong with the child. From his earliest days the child could not be taught how to crawl, or stand upright, walk, or even speak. Many of the neighbours began to conclude that the baby boy had been born a fool, but they were confused by the fact that he was physically perfect except for his larger than normal head.
Whatever the cause of the child’s problems, his mother considered to be a great challenge taking care of him in the home. Even as the child grew, he could do nothing to help himself, depending on his mother to lift him out of bed in the morning and to carry him to a chair, where she would make every effort to ensure he was comfortable for the entire day. Sitting in his chair the boy would the fire burn in the hearth until the shadows of night began to fall, and all the while he appeared to be happy and content with his lot. But he did appear to have good observational skills and even if the slightest item went missing from its usual place, he would have an angry scowl on his face until it was restored to its proper setting. And yet, his main delight was the turf fire, and when a sod of turf would fall the sparks would fly up the chimney. On seeing this display of sparks the child’s eyes would light up and he would open his mouth wide as if to shout out his approval, but not a sound was emitted from the Nolan child.
There came a day when Nolan and his wife decided that they would go to the local market, leaving the care of their child in the hands of two servants, a boy and a girl. “Now, keep a good fire burning in the hearth so the child can keep himself amused by watching the sparks from the glowing sods fly up the chimney. There’s plenty of work to be done, so work just as if I was standing at your back and telling you what to do,” said Mrs. Nolan as she left the house through the front door. But the Nolans had not long left the house when the two servants ceased working and began playing.
It was the servant boy who suggested, “We should make ourselves a wee bit of a feast now that the mistress and Mr. Nolan have left. After all, the ‘wee man’ here is not the full shilling and won’t be able to tell on us!” So, they brought out the fresh butter, cream and flour to bake cakes, and they built up the fire, set the pot hooks into the ears of the roasting pan and let down the crook for it to hang upon.
“All being well,” said the girl, “that will be well worth the wait!” Then she put the batter at the fire to bake. But all the time they were preparing their feast Nolan’s child watched their every move, not making a noise and hoping that he might be given a share of the food that his minders were preparing.
Meanwhile the cake was baking very satisfactorily, turning a beautiful golden colour and a really tempting smell began to rise from it. The two servants were now feeling very good, chatting with each other and laughing at each other’s jokes until the boy took a quick glance over the half-door to the cottage. “Jesus, Mary and Joseph!” he exclaimed. “We’re going to be well caught now, for mister Nolan and the wife are almost upon us!”
It was indeed the Noland back from the market, much earlier than expected. Shocked into action the servant girl quickly removed the cake from the fire and slipped it under the child’s chair to hide it from view. “He has a terrible look on his face,” she told the servant boy.
“That is no problem, for the idiot can’t tell them anything!”
No sooner was the cake hidden from view than the Nolans walked into the house. But all four of them nearly fainted with shock and fear, for as soon as the child saw its parents, he cried out loudly, “Hot, hot, under my chair!” The servants were frozen to the spot, dreading that their secret would be discovered, and they would be immediately dismissed from their positions. They could see the steam rising and the child continued to shout, “Hot, hot, under my chair!” No other words were uttered by the child, but the one constantly repeated phrase, “Hot, hot, under my chair.”
Still reeling from the shock of hearing their child speak out, Nolan and his wife just could not comprehend what he was saying. Trembling with excitement at the experience they never thought to take a moment to consider if his words were making any real sense at all. The child was still calling, “Hot, hot, under my chair!” and his parents never once thought to look around the room to see if anything wrong, and the two servants continued to look after their own interests by keeping silent. A sense of confusion continued to reign in the house until night began falling and everyone in the house was weary, and completely puzzled. Mrs. Nolan took hold of her son and carried him to his bed and tucked him in comfortably as she did every night. But there was not to be much rest for anyone in the house that night.
In the deep blackness of the night a powerful storm sprang up, which shook the house to its foundations with its strength. It was as if the winds blew in from every point on the compass at one time, fighting with each other in an unending effort to gain mastery. But within these winds could be heard strange noises, music and shouting voices that were evidence that the ‘Good People’ were out and about in the night playing or battling among themselves. Believing that the strange noises would frighten her child with their loudness, Mrs. Nolan took a light in her hand and went to her son’s bed. “Is everything alright, son?” she asked calmly and quietly, although she did expect him to answer. To her surprise, however, she found that the child was not in her bed, for he was already away with the fairy horsemen that had come to fetch him.
After the mother had discovered that the child had disappeared the entire disturbance about the house ceased just as quickly as it had started. The music that had accompanied the ‘Good People’ now faded into the distance and the strong winds had become like a soft breeze on a warm summer’s morning. It was now that the Nolans realised that the fierce storm had been a simple fairy diversion to cover their nightly antics.
The child was never returned to the heartbroken Nolans, but from that moment onward the ‘Good People’ left them in peace. Never again did they hear the enchanting music coming from the distant hills, nor experience the passage of the fairy host near their home. It was a sad and lonely time for the couple and often they would look forlornly at the chair where their child would sit, delightedly watching the turf glowing red in the hearth and the sparks fluttering up the chimney.
When a cow becomes dull, refuses to take food, moans, and gives other indications of suffering peculiar pain, the conclusion at once arrived at is that “she’s shot,” or, as is expressed in Irish “tá sí cáithte.” The allusion is to the sídheóga, or fairies, and the belief is that they have shot the cow.
There are peculiar symptoms which proclaim unmistakably that the cow has been shot, the principal being swelling of the body and painful moaning. Only the village ‘Cow Doctor’, however, can tell definitely. I often saw these ‘handy men,’ as they are not unfrequently called, diagnosing, and helped them to perform the cure ceremony which, I venture to say, is one of the strangest ever recorded.
The doctor stands at one side of the cow, his assistant at the other. The assistant procures a pair of tongs and a red turf coal, and slightly burns the ‘sign of the cross’ on the hair of the cow’s side. He then hands the tongs across the cow’s body to the ‘doctor’, who burns similarly the ‘sign of the cross’ on the other side, after which he passes the tongs over the cow’s back to his assistant again. This is repeated three times, and the first and principal part of the ceremony is concluded by making the ‘sign of the cross’ with the coal on the cow’s nostrils.
The second part is rather in the nature of a ‘test’ than a ‘cure’. The doctor ‘measures’ the cow with his arm from ‘elbow’ to the ‘point’ of his fingers, beginning at the cow’s tail and going towards the horns. The ‘measurement’ is also repeated three times, and if the cow is to get better, the second measurement should be shorter than the first, and the third shorter than the second, etc. Should the ‘cure’ fail – and it never fails if the cow suffers from ‘shot’ and the doctor is called in time – the owner is requested, in order to prevent a fatal termination, to “Tabhair do Mhártan i,” which means, “Giver her to Martin,” meaning St. Martin. The invariably acquiesces, and then a ‘nick’ is cut in the animal’s ear. Blood flows and death is averted. The animal can never afterwards be sold but must be killed and eaten as a feast on St. Martin’s Eve, not necessarily for many years afterwards.
In the north of Ireland, the practice is somewhat different. The owner is not prohibited from selling the animal, and instead of giving it to ‘Martin’, some member of the family who is considered ‘lucky’ is presented with it. It is no uncommon thing to see several animals, particularly cows and sheep, at fairs with incisions in their ears, or a piece cut out. If there are many incisions it is regarded as a sign that the animal is of delicate constitution, with the result that there is a reduction in the price.
The number of incisions shows the number of times the animal was in danger of death.
One old remedy for protecting a home against the ‘Good People’ is, immediately after sunset, to lock every door and window in the house and light a great turf fire in the hearth, into which you place nine irons. As these irons become heated a great noise will be heard from outside the house that are the cries of a witch trying to gain entry, begging and shrieking in pain to remove the irons from the fire, for they were burning her. When the witch finds that all her entreaties are useless, she will return to her home, shrieking, and bring back all the butter that she had previously taken. It is only then that the irons should be removed from the fire and thereby cease her torment. From that moment the farmer shall be able to enjoy the quality of his butter production and relish its undiminished quality.
It has been a long-held tradition in Ireland that a good and careful housewife should always leave a large container full of good drinking water in the kitchen before going to bed for the night. Folklore tells that one night a woman was suddenly awakened during the night by a great noise coming from the kitchen. When she went into her kitchen the woman found a crowd of the ‘fairy folk’ busying themselves cooking food on the fire or preparing the food for a feast. When they saw the woman of the house, ‘the good people’ warned her to go back to bed and she very wisely obeyed their command. When she arose the next morning the woman found that everything in the kitchen appeared to be undisturbed, except the large container that she had used for holding drinking water. The container was now full of blood, which was a hint to the woman that she should leave plenty of pure spring water for the self-invited guests.
Another story tells us that one night, in a remote cabin that sat in a wild and mountainous district of the country, many years ago, two hard-working women busied themselves spinning flax. In the silence of the night their work was suddenly disturbed by a loud knocking at the cabin door. Frightened by the unexpected noise the two women kept quiet until they heard a shrill voice ask, in Irish, “Are you within, feet-water?“
“I am,” a voice replied from within a pot that stood in the corner of the kitchen in which the family washed their feet before going to bed. There was a sound of splashing water, and an eel-like shaped creature rose up from the pot and, stretching forward, the door was unlocked door. From the night several small women of extraordinary appearance, and dressed in strange clothes, entered the cabin, and immediately began to use the spinning-wheel.
One of the women of the house, saying that she needed to fetch turf for the fire, went outside but immediately rushed back into the cabin shouting, “The mountain is on fire!“
Shrieking loudly, the uninvited strangers immediately ran out of the house exclaiming, ” My husband and my children are burnt.” Seeing that their trick had succeeded the women of the house lost not a moment in resorting to the usual precautions against fairy influence. When they closed the door, they made it more secure with iron tongs, laid a broom against the door, threw a glowing ember from the hearth into the “feet water,” plucked a quill from the wing of a speckled hen, removed the band from the spinning-wheel, placed the carded flax under a weight, and made up the fire. They had scarcely returned to their bed when the mysterious visitors were heard outside again calling in Irish as before, ” Let me in, feet-water.” But this time, the pot answered them, “No, I cannot, for there is a spark in me.” The fairy women then called upon all the other objects in the cabin, one after another, “Let me in, tongs;” “Let me in, broom;” “Let me in, speckled hen;” “Let me in, wheel-band;” “Let me in, carded flax.” Each object replied that it was powerless to obey, owing to the precautions which had been taken. The fairies thereupon raised an angry yell of disappointed, and left, uttering the curse, “May your tutor meet her reward.” Once again, we see iron used as a charm against fairy-influence and fairy-assaults. But this folk legend also gives a description of the old custom of throwing a piece of burning peat into any vessel in which the feet have been washed. In some parts of Ireland, to this day, the hissing of an ember in a pot of water is a comfort to the residents of a remote cabin, for it assures them that their home is totally secure against the assaults of the “Good People.”
In some places a horseshoe is often seen nailed over the door of a house, a dairy, or a stable, or to the mast of a fishing boat. This is said to prevent the fairies from entering the house and doing mischief to those who reside there. At the same time, it is thought to prevent fairy mischief against a farmer’s milking the cows, or from taking the horses out of the stable and riding them over hill and dale the long night through, and leaving them to be discovered in the morning trembling in every limb exhausted and bathed in sweat. In another way the horseshoe works as a charm against fairies, who are supposed to be fond of lurking in fishing boats drawn up on the seashore and take great delight in hindering fishermen in their work. It is also traditional for a small piece of iron to be sewn into an infant’s clothes and kept there until it is baptised. Yet another prevention of Fairy interference with an infant is to put salt on the cradle.
Legend tells us that the fairies were conquered by a race of beings that used iron weapons, and it is because of this that they dread that metal, or steel. It is recommended to the friends of a person who has been carried off by the ‘Good People’ that, if they should venture into the underground retreat of the fairies to bring back the captive, they should arm themselves with a ‘Missal’, or a prayer-book, and an iron knife. This latter object was to be laid on the threshold of the entrance into the ‘Rath’ so it will prevent the fairies from pursuing the rescue-party when they have found the prisoner, and are in the act of carrying him off. Another practice recommended to persons wishing to recover a spell-bound friend from the fairies is to stand at a cross-roads on ‘All Hallow Eve’, or in a ‘Rath’, or at such a place that may be pointed out by a ‘Wise Woman’ or a ‘Fairy Doctor’. Having rubbed a special ointment on the eyelids, the fairies would become visible as the troop swept past the spot indicated, and the waiting person was able to recognise the prisoner by some peculiarity of their dress, or by some other means. A sudden gust of wind would indicate the nearby approach of the fairies, and those watching would stoop to gather up dust from under their feet, which they would throw at the procession. This action would compel the troop of fairies to surrender any human being that they might have in their custody.
Folklore tells that young mothers are supposedly carried off to nurse fairy children, and that well-known pipers or fiddlers were also taken and transported to underground dwellings, where, if they ate and drank of the good things offered to them by ‘the Good People’, they would never be allowed to return to their earthly homes. Meanwhile, for a girl to dream that she sees a fairy is a sign that she will soon be married. While it is a favourable omen for a woman to dream of fairies, it is considered to be an unfavourable sign for men, and no man should undertake any important matter for several days after such a dream, or it will surely end in disappointment.
In remote parts of the country some people still believe that the fairies change children in the cradle, and if an infant begins to pine or become peevish, it is believed to be a sign that such an exchange has been affected. Indeed, there are many detailed reports concerning the removal or substitution of a child are not uncommon. In his epic poem ‘The Faerie Queene’, Edmund Spenser describes one such incident –
“. . . A fairy thee unweeting reft,
There as thou slept in tender swaddling band,
And her base elfin brood there for thee left,
Such, men do changelings call, so changed by fairies’ theft.”
It was such tales that encouraged people to carefully watch their babies until they were christened, in case they were carried off or changed by ‘The Good People’.
It was said by people that until a woman had gone through the ceremony of ‘Churching’, after the birth of her child, she remained the most dangerous being on earth. No one should eat food from her hand, and myriads of demons are always around her trying to do harm, until the priest comes and sprinkles holy water over her. It was claimed that even if she went to the river to wash, the fish would all swim away from her in fear, for fishes are a very pious race, and cannot bear to be touched by unholy hands ever since the mark of Christ’s fingers was on them. Legend informs us that they were once, by accident, the overheard an argument against transubstantiation, which was held by a heretic, and they were so shocked at his language that they all left the river. The disappointed angler could not help regretting that the fish were so very particular as to the teachings of tenets of Mother Church.
If a man leaves the house after his wife’s confinement, tradition holds that some of his clothes should be spread over the mother and infant, or the fairies will carry them both off, for the fairy queen desires, above all things, a mortal woman to nurse her fairy offspring. And if her own child happens to be an ugly little sprite, she will gladly exchange it for the beautiful human babe, who henceforth will live entirely in fairyland, and never more see his kindred or home.
Fairy changelings are recognised by their tricky nature, and by constantly complaining and crying for food. One method, which at immediately demonstrates the nature of the child, is to place it over the fire on an iron shovel until, with wild shrieks, the fairy vanishes up the chimney, screaming all sorts of curses on the household that has it this way. But while waiting for the solution of the enigma, the unfortunate child is often so dreadfully burned that it dies in great agony, its cries being heard with callous indifference by its parents, who imagine that it is the fairy child, not their own offspring, that is tortured. The fairy changeling often produces a set of tiny bagpipes, sits up in the cradle, and plays jigs, reels, and lively dance music. The inmates of the cottage are forced, greatly against their will, to commence dancing, and this enforced amusement continues until they sink from exhaustion. When the infant is thus known to be undoubtedly a changeling, it is removed on an iron shovel from the cabin, and placed on the centre of the dunghill while rhymes are recited by the fairy doctor, the director of the operations, along with some verses in Irish, such as the following:
” Fairy men and women all,
List ! it is your baby’s call;
For on the dunghill’s top he lies
Beneath the wide inclement skies.
Then come with coach and sumptuous train,
And take him to your mote again;
For if ye stay till cocks shall crow,
You’ll find him like a thing of snow;
A pallid lump, a child of scorn,
A monstrous brat of fairies born.
But ere you bear the boy away,
Restore the child you took instead;
When like a thief, the other day,
You robbed my infant’s cradle bed.
Then give me back my only son,
And I’ll forgive the harm you’ve done;
And nightly for your sportive crew,
I’ll sweep the hearth and kitchen too;
And leave you free your tricks to play,
Whene’er you choose to pass this way.
Then like ‘good people,’ do incline
To take your child and give back mine.”
(Recorded and translated by – Rev. John O’Hanlon)
When the ceremony is completed, all retire into the cottage, the door is carefully closed, and additional incantations are recited. Any sound made by the wind, or the noise made by a passing vehicle, is regarded as a signal of the fairy host arriving or departing. Then, the cabin door is opened carefully and the assembled party walk to the manure heap. The Fairy Doctor then hands the poor emaciated baby to the deluded parents, who declares that the ‘true child’ has been returned by the “Good People.”
“Wait! I’ll leave you past the stream,” said Old Ned to my friend, Jimmy, who was leaving my house one night.
“Oh, don’t mind Ned,” replied Jimmy, laughing, “the night’s clear and I won’t be afraid.”
“Sure, Jimmy’s not afraid of ghosts, Ned,” I said when my friend had left.
“Och, dear boy, God bless you! Isn’t he thin?” said Ned, “you don’t know him long or you wouldn’t say that.”
“Is that right!” I asked.
“Indeed, I do,” replied Ned emphatically, “that is, unless he has changed greatly of late.”
“And what good would it do him if you escorted him over the stream? I inquired.
“Ah, dear boy, you don’t know much, do you?”
“I can tell you, Ned, that I know nothing about such things, but I am eager to learn.”
“And did you not know that nothing bad can follow you past running water?” asked an astonished Ned.
“No, by God, I didn’t know,” I told him. “Is it true?”
“Of course, it is,” replied Ned. “Sure, I thought everyone knew that.”
“Well, no, Ned. In the part of the country I come from, although the people believe in ghosts, I never heard it.”
“Well, now, that’s odd,” said Ned as he looked down at the floor thoughtfully. “And what would you do,” he asked abruptly, “If you’re walking out at night, and, without hearing or seeing anything around you nowhere, you were to get a sudden blow on the back of your head?”
“By God! I suppose I would turn around and strike back,” I answered, laughing.
“Then, I tell you, that’s were you would be entirely wrong. By Jesus, it is little good it would do you. You wouldn’t be doing much harm with your blows, for you would be just beating the air. But you would get such a beating that, if you ever got over it you would be a lucky man, and have some good people praying for you.”
“What should I do, then?” I inquired with much interested.
“What would you do? Is that what you’re asking me?”
“Well, then, you should walk on as quickly as you can until you cross a stream of running water, and whatever it would be that would be trying to harm you could not follow you past it.”
“Oh, I see! That’s why you spoke about the stream a few moments ago.”
“Aye, that’s the reason.”
“Then, there must be some charm in running water?”
“Of course, there is! Sure, why wouldn’t there be!” Ned exclaimed earnestly.
Wherever you travel in Ireland there is a phrase you may often hear, namely – “Finding a fortune”. When a man dreams of wealth he will often say that he is “dreaming of finding a fortune. Likewise, if any poor man eventually becomes a man of wealth, this progress is scarcely ever thought of as being the result of hard work, intelligence, or even perseverance. Generally, the people around him will say that he either “found a fortune” or fell into one. Some would even suggest that he had become wealthy by secretly digging up “a crock of gold” in the ruins of an old abbey, or by catching hold of a Leprechaun and forcing him to give a crock of gold as his ransom. How, when and where the man came into the wealth is totally immaterial, because most people will be satisfied with the simple suggestion that, “He found a fortune”. Many Irishmen would suggest that going into the particulars would only destroy the romance, and their love of wonder is much more fulfilled by the thought that the change from poverty to wealth was the result of superhuman aid. The very idea that the journey to wealth can be attributed to the merely mortal efforts of hard work and prudence is so very boring.
There is always some old gossip in every community who has a plentiful supply of stories to make her listeners marvel at the wonderful and extraordinary short cuts that some have used to gain their fortunes. There is an old Irish saying that states, “That there never was a fool who had not a greater fool to admire him.” In the same manner there never was an old woman who told such stories, who did not have plenty of listeners to her. One listener to such stories was Danny Kelly, and he enjoyed listening to a certain ‘Cailleach’ who had an extensive library of stories for every possible occasion. Danny was a true devotee to the old hag and would often give her small gifts to encourage her to relate her tales. In most cases these gifts were packets of cigarettes, to which she had a particular craving.
Another regular attendant at the feet of the Cailleach was Una Lennon, who was as much mesmerised by the stories as was Danny Kelly. In fact, the two of them were as idle as each other when it came to work. A day never passed that Danny and Una did not pay a visit to the old woman, because she was always ay home, seated in a huge armchair, because she was too old and decrepit to move far. In fact, the furthest that the old woman could walk was from her armchair to the large seat outside the cottage door. In the warm summer days, she could be found seated here enjoying the warming rays of the sun and ready to tell her stories. There she would sit and rock herself to and fro in the sunny days of July and August, dressed in her old creased clothes that appeared not to have been washed in an awfully long time. With her long, untidy grey hair unbrushed the casual observer may have asked if she was made for the dilapidated cottage, or had they simply grown into a likeness of one another. The tattered thatch on the roof resembled the old woman’s straggling hair, and the spots of old age on her face were like the grey lichens that covered the cottage walls. The sallow colour of those walls bore a strong likeness to the tint of the old woman’s shrivelled skin. At the top of the roof there was a rudely built chimney that out of which flowed clouds of grey-blue smoke. In fact, the chimney and the old woman could be seen smoking away from morning until night, and both were poorly dressed, lonely, and were fast falling into decay.
It was at this cottage that Danny Kelly and Una Lennon were sure to meet every day. Danny would usually saunter up to the cottage and call out, “Good morning, Granny!”
“The same to you, dear boy,” the old woman would mumble in her usual way.
“Here are some cigarettes for you, granny.”
“Ah, sure you’re a real wee darling, Danny. Many thanks, but I hadn’t expected to see you today.”
“No, Granny, you wouldn’t have, for I was only passing this way, while I ran an errand for the Boss, and I thought that I might as well step over and find out how you were doing.”
“You’re a good boy, Danny.”
“Thanks, but it’s a hot day, by God, and it’s not going to get any cooler soon. I’m totally out of breath and the sweat is running down the sheugh of my arse, for I’m not fit for all this running. But this is an important errand, and the Boss man told me to hurry up. That is why I was running, and I took a short cut across the fields and past the old castle. When I was passing by there, I suddenly remembered what you told me a wee while ago. You know, about the crock of gold that is hid there for certain, and waiting for anyone that could, to come upon it.”
“Aye, and that’s the truth, Danny, wee darling. I have never heard about any other hidden crock of gold, that I can remember.”
“Well, well! think of that! Then, it will be me that will be the lucky man that finds it.”
“Good luck to you, Danny. But that will not be until it is laid out for someone to pick it up.”
“Sure, isn’t that what I have often said to myself, and why would it not be my chance to be the man that the treasure was laid out for.”
“Well, there’s no one who knows that,” mumbled the old woman mysteriously, as she put out the butt of her cigarette and lit a new one from the fresh stock Danny had brought her.
“That’s true enough. Oh, but you have a great deal of knowledge, granny! There is no knowing what the future holds for anyone, but they say there’s great virtue in dreams.”
“Sure, there is no one that can deny that, Danny,” said the Cailleach, “and by the way maybe you would step into the house and bring me out a bit of live turf from the fire to light my cigarette.”
“Of course, I will, granny;” and away Danny went to do what he had been asked.
While Danny was raking from amongst the embers on the hearth for a piece of still live turf, Una made her appearance outside the old woman’s cottage, giving her the usual cordial greeting. Just as she had given her greeting, Danny emerged from the cottage, holding a bit of glowing turf between two sticks that acted as a pair of makeshift tongs. “Surprise, surprise, is that you Danny?” Una asked.
“Sure, who else would it be?” said Danny.
“Well, you told me over an hour ago, down there in the big field, that you were in a hurry and hadn’t got time to talk.”
“True. I am in a hurry, and I wouldn’t be her at all only I just stepped in to say, ‘Good day!’ to the old one, and to light a cigarette for her, the poor dear.”
“Well, don’t be standing there and allowing the coal to go black, Danny,” said the old woman; “but let me light my cigarette immediately.”
“Of course, granny,” said Danny, as he applied the lit piece of turf to the end of her cigarette until it began to glow read with inhale. “And now, Una, darling, if you’re so sharp when it comes to other peoples’ business, what the devil brings you here, when you should be taking care of the geese up in the yard. It is there you should be, and not here. I wonder what the Boss woman would say if she knew?”
“Oh, sure I left them safe, and they should be able to take care of themselves for a wee bit longer, and I wanted to ask granny about a dream I had.’
“But, so do I,” said Darby, “and you know the rule is first come first served. And so, granny, you have always said that there’s a great amount of truth in dreams.”
She took a long-drawn drag of her cigarette and said nothing at all about dreams. “By Jaysus, but that’s a good bit of tobacco in them cigarettes! Aye, it’s fine and strong, and almost takes the breath from you, it’s so good. Well done to you Danny, darling boy!”
“You’re truly kind, granny. But as I was saying about the dreams–you said that there was a great amount of truth in them.”
“Who says there is not?” said the old woman in an authoritative tone and gave Danny a dark and disapproving look.
“Sure, it isn’t me you would suspect of saying such a thing? I was only going to tell you that I had a clear dream last night, and sure, I came here to ask you about what it meant.”
“Well, my dear, tell us your dream,” said the old woman as she took an increasing number of long drags from her cigarette.
“Well, you see,” said Danny,
“That’s true, my darling boy! Now go on.”
“Well, as I was saying, I came to the cross-roads, and soon after I saw four walls. Now, I think those four walls means the old castle to me.”
“That’s likely enough, dear boy.”
“Oh,” said Una, who was listening with her mouth as wide open as Carlingford Lough, “sure, you know the old castle has only three walls, and how could that be it?”
“That doesn’t matter at all,” said the old woman, “It ought to have four walls, and that’s the same thing!”
“Well, well! I never thought of that,” said Una, as she lifted her hands above her head in wonder. “Sure enough, so it ought!”
“Go on, Danny,” said the old woman.
“Well, I thought the greatest number of crows that I have ever seen flew out of the castle, and I think that must mean that the gold is there!”
“Did you count how many there was?” asked the Cailleach, solemnly.
“No! Sorry, but I never thought of that,” said Danny, deeply vexed by his apparent omission
“Well, could you tell me if there was an odd or even number of them, dear boy?”
“No, sure I could not say for certain.”
“Well, that’s it!” said the old woman, shaking her head in disappointment. “How can I tell the meaning of your dream, if you don’t know how it came out exactly?”
“Well, granny, but don’t you think the crows were a sign of gold?”
“Yes–if they flew low down.”
“By God then, now I remember, they did fly low down in the sky, and I said to myself there would be rain soon, because the crows were flying so low.”
“I wish you didn’t dream of rain, Danny.”
“Why not, granny? What harm is there in it?”
“Oh, nothing, only it comes in an awkward place in your dream.”
“But it doesn’t spoil the dream, I hope?”
“Oh no, not at all. Go on.”
“Well, with that, I thought I was passing by Dolan’s grain store, and he asked me, ‘Will you carry home this sack of meal for me?’ Now, you know, meal is a sign of money. Sure, every fool knows that.”
“You’re right, dear boy.”
“And so, I took the sack of meal on my shoulder, and I thought the weight of it was killing me, just as if it was a sack of gold.”
“Go on Danny.”
“And with that I thought I met with a cat, and that, as you know, means an ill-natured woman.”
“That’s right, Danny.”
“And says she to me: ‘Danny Kelly,’ says she, ‘you’re mighty yellow about the face. God bless you! Is it the jandies (jaundice) you have?’ says she. Now wasn’t that mighty sharp of her? I think the jandies means gold?”
“Yes. If it was the yellow jandies you dreamed about, but not the black jandies.”
“Well, it was the yellow jandies.”
“Very good, dear boy, that’s making a fair job of it.”
“I thought so myself,” said Danny, “even more so when there was a dog in my dream next, and that’s another sign, you know.”
“Right, dear boy.”
“And he had a silver collar on him.”
“Oh, that silver collar is not so good, Danny. What made you dream of silver, anyway?”
“Why, what harm is there in that?”
“Oh, I thought you knew better than to dream of silver. Why, my young friend, sure, silver is a sign of disappointment, everywhere.”
“Oh, damnation!” said Danny, in horror, “and is my dream spoilt by that bloody collar?”
“It is almost spoilt. But it isn’t yet. It would be spoilt only for the dog. Now, the dog is a good sign, and so it will be only a small disappointment, maybe a falling out with some acquaintance.”
“Oh, what does that matter,” said Danny. “Sure, the dream is still good, isn’t it?”
“Aye, the dream is still good. But, tell me if you also dreamed of three sprigs of spearmint at the end of it?”
“Well, I could not say for certain, because I was just about to awaken at that time, and the dream was not so clear to me.”
“I wish you could be more certain of that.”
“You know, I have it my mind that there was spearmint in it, because I thought there was a garden in part of it, and the spearmint was likely to be there.”
“It is, sure enough, and so you did dream of the three sprigs of spearmint.”
“Indeed, I could almost swear on the good book that I dreamt of it. I’m nearly certain, if not completely sure.”
“Well, that’s reasonable. It’s a good dream, Danny.”
“Is it, really?”
“Indeed, it is, Danny. Now wait until the next quarter of the new moon, and dream again then, and you’ll see what’ll come of it.”
“Be sure that I will, granny. Oh, but it’s you have taken the meaning out of it beyond everything, and rest assured that, if I find the crock, it will be yourself who will also profit from it. But I must be going now, granny. The Boss man told me to hurry with my errand, or else I would stay longer with you. Good morning’ to you, good morning! Una! I’ll see you to-morrow sometime, granny.” And Danny went off with a new spring in his step.
From the foregoing story you can see just how gullible poor Danny was, but it was not in his belief of the “truth in dreams” alone that his weakness lay. He had a very deep belief in fairy folk of all sorts and sizes when discussions came around to them, and he was always on the look-out for a Leprechaun. Now, a Leprechaun is a fairy of peculiar tastes, properties, and powers, which it is necessary to acquaint you, the reader, with. His taste as to occupying his time is humbly working at making shoes, and he loves to hide himself away in shady nooks where he can sit alone and pursue his vocation undisturbed. In fact, he is quite a hermit in this respect, for there is no instance of anyone seeing two Leprechauns together.
But the Leprechaun is quite handsome in his outfit, which usually includes a red square-cut coat, that is richly laced with gold, a waistcoat and trousers of the same style, a cocked hat, shoes, and buckles. He has the habit of deceiving, in a great degree, those who chance to discover him. To date none has ever been known to outplay a Leprechaun in the “keen encounter of wits,” which his meeting with mortals always produces. This is brought about by him possessing the power of bestowing unbounded wealth on whoever can keep him within sight until he is so weary of being observed that he gives in to the ransom demanded. This is the final objective of any mortal who is fortunate to surprise and seize the Leprechaun. He must never look away from him, until the threat of his destruction forces the Leprechaun to produce the hidden treasure. This fairy being is, however, usually much too clever for us clumsy mortals and almost always sure to devise some trick that will make us avert our eyes, which will allow him to vanish from our grasp.
It was this ‘Enchanted Cobbler’ of the meadows that Danny Kelly was always seeking. Although he was constantly on the look-out for a Leprechaun, he had never even gotten within sight of one, and he had been given the name of the ‘Fairy Finder’ as a sign of the derision he was held in by others. There was also many a trick that was played upon him. On some occasions a twig stuck in the long grass, with a red rag hanging from it, has fooled Danny into cautious observance. He would carefully approach the decoy for a closer inspection, and a laugh from behind a bush or hedge would then have shown that he was the tool of some trickster. Yet, although this happened quite often, it did not cure him from his folly. There wasn’t a turkey- cock that had a quicker eye for a bit of red, or flew at it with greater eagerness, than Danny Kelly, and he continued to believe that one day or other he would reap the reward of his watching, by finding a real Leprechaun.
But all of that was in the hands of Fate, and he would have to wait on its fulfilment. In the meantime, however, he was sure that he had the castle and the “crock of gold”, and under the good omens given by his dream he had decided to take that affair immediately in hand. To help him in the work of digging and pulling the thick walls of the castle to pieces, he selected Una. She was known to be a brave, two-handed worker, who was as great a believer in dreams and omens as Danny himself. Furthermore, Una promised him total secrecy, and she agreed to take a small share of the treasure for her reward in assisting him to find it.
For about two months Danny and Una laboured in vain until, at last, something came of their exertions. In the course of their work, when they got tired, they would both sit down to rest themselves and talk over their past disappointments and future hopes. Now it was during one of these intervals of repose that Danny, as he was resting himself on one of the large, dressed cornerstones of the ruin, suddenly realised that he had fallen in love with Una. At the same time, Una had begun to think much in the same way about Danny, and when the work was done, he and Una were married the first available Sunday.
Any calculating men among you will ask if he found the treasure before being married the girl? But Danny was an unsophisticated type of boy, and such boys never calculate on these occasions. The story goes that Una Lennon was the only treasure Darby discovered in that old castle. Danny’s acquaintances were over the moon on the occasion of his marriage, and they swore that he had got a great woman. Others felt such comments to be quite humorous, for Una, was a woman who was on the large side of the scale. Some people would, indeed, be unkind enough to say that she was “the full of a door,” and the joyous news spread like wildfire all over the country.
” Hey there, did you hear the news?”
“The news about Danny Kelly.”
“What about him?”
“Sure, didn’t he find finally find himself a fairy.”
“Get away out of this!”
“It’s the truth I’m tellin’ you. He’s married to Una Lennon.”
“Ha! ha! ha! by all that’s holy, she is some kind of fairy! But, more power to you, Danny, you’ve definitely caught one now!”
But the fairy he had caught did not satisfy Danny enough to persuade him to give up his life-long pursuit of a wealthy future. He still kept constantly on the look-out for a Leprechaun, and one morning as he was going to his work, he was stopped suddenly on the path, which lay through a field of standing corn. Danny’s eyes caught sight of something ahead of him, and his gaze became riveted upon the object as he planned his approach. He crouched and crawled and was making his way with great caution towards the object of his riveted gaze, when he was, quite unexpectedly, hit on the back of the head with a thump that considerably. Such was the blow that Danny’s eyesight suddenly became fuzzy, he swore he heard the voice of his mother, a vigorous, malicious old hag, in his ear at the same time with a hearty, “Get up out of that, you lazy bollix. What are you sneaking around here for, when you should be minding your work, you blackguard?”
“Weesht! weesht! Ma,” urged Danny as he held his hand to his lips signalling her to be quiet.
“What do you mean, you gobshite?”
“Mother, will you be quiet, for God’s sake! Weesht! I can see it.”
“What do you see?”
“Stoop down here for a moment and look straight ahead of you. Don’t you see it as plain as day?”
“That little red thing, over there,” Danny pointed.
“Well, what of it?”
“See, there it’s starting to move. Oh, Christ! The bloody thing is going to be gone before I can get my hands on it. Jaysus Ma! Why did you come here at all, making a racket and frightening it away?”
“Ah! To the devil with you! You big, useless clown! Is it that red thing over there you mean?”
“Yes! That’s it! Now keep your voice low, like I tell you.”
“Why, you damned eejit, you fool, it’s nothing but a poppy dancing in the breeze,” the old woman told him with a sneer, she went over to the spot where it grew. Plucking the plant up by the roots, she threw it at Danny, along with a great deal of verbal abuse. “Get up to hell from there and get to your work, instead of being the sneaking, lazy tramp that you are.”
It was some time after this event that Danny Kelly had a meeting with Doctor Dermot McFlynn. It has to be said at this stage that this medical man would become famous throughout the countryside, because of the great events that occurred from this meeting. But before we hear about this it is necessary that you learn something of the doctor himself. His father, Paddy McFlynn, had been a popular and very prosperous veterinarian with the local cattle farmers. Such was the regard in which his father was held that his son, Dermot, became determined to qualify as a physician and make human beings, instead of animals, the object of his care. He was assisted in his endeavours by his father, who had scraped some money together to help his son set up his surgery in the neighbouring village. Here Dermot soon earned himself the reputation of being a “great bone-setter”, and mender of cracked skulls, which were the result of fair fighting and whisky over-indulgence. But Dermot’s father eventually passed away and, as he was the only son, Dermot inherited all the old man’s money. The amount of money left to him was considerable, and he decided to better his qualifications. For this purpose, Dermot gave up his small surgery and went abroad.
He remained abroad for some years before he returned to Ireland, declaring himself to be a Professor of medicine, gained from one of Europe’s most noted universities. Dr. McFlynn became known to his neighbours, one and all, as Dr. McFun, which better described his activities in the community. The little money that he once possessed was now spent in his pursuit of professional honours, and he returned to his home with a full title, but an empty wallet. Unfortunately, McFlynn’s small, rural practice did not provide enough funds to replenish his empty coffers. This state of affairs eventually effected his efforts to maintain his personal and professional appearance in the community. His clothes became ragged and his mode of transport was of so much a lesser standard than what was expected of a man in his position.
He was glad to accept an invitation to a meal whenever he had the luck to get one, and the offer of an overnight stay was always certain to be accepted, because that assured him of breakfast the next morning. He was, however, often asked to dinner from a mix of motives, such as out of kindness, and for fun. Although a good dinner was always a welcome novelty to the McFlynn, his efforts to maintain the pretence of his status and the manner in which communicated with others made him a subject of fun to those invited him. He had managed to gain an invite from all of the wealthier farmers and country gentlemen in the district, but he finally was honoured to receive an invitation from the largest landowner in the area. On the appointed day Doctor McFlynn dressed himself in the manner of a faculty member of the university from which he graduated. Dressed in this manner he made his way the few miles to the ‘Lodge’, where he presented himself.
When the doctor appeared in the drawing-room of the large house, dressed as he was, it caused considerable amusement among those gathered there. But their attention was redirected from him by the announcement that dinner was served. Such an announcement always attracts the immediate attention of a group dinner, because free food always supersedes every other consideration. The ‘Lodge’ was always famed for providing excellent dinners, and the doctor took great advantage of it by ensuring that no opportunity of filling his glass with the choice wines that were provided. In fact, he took advantage so many opportunities, that the poor little man was very intoxicated by the time that the guests were about to separate.
At the doctor’s request his vehicle was brought to the front door, just as the last remaining guests were about to make their way home separate. Every one of the guests had left the ‘Lodge’, and still there was no sign of the vehicle being at the door. Finally, a servant made his appearance, and he told Dermot that it was not possible for him to drive home.
“What do you mean by ‘not possible’?” said the owner of the house. “Is the car not in the garage area?”
“Yes, sir,” said the servant, “but the doctor is not capable…” At this point a, sometimes heated, discussion took place. The host asked the doctor if he was certain of his ability to make his way home. The doctor, of course, insisted that he was and immediately began to stagger his way to where his vehicle was parked. The servant and the host made every attempt to dissuade him from taking such action, but all were in vain. Every manoeuvre that they made to prevent the doctor met with a counter, sometimes resorting to on squealing and flinging up his arms, to break through the barrier put up against him.
This was the manner in which the doctor hoped to secure the offer of a bed for a night. He may even have been successful if it was not for an old yardman who had heard the loud discussion outside the ‘Lodge.’ He was doubled over with arthritis, using a walking stick and had a severe shake in his hand. “Don’t you worry doctor, just let me at the car, and I’ll drive you to your home, where I could stay until morning.”
“Oh, Jaysus,” said the doctor, “Don’t trouble yourself, I’ll be able to drive alright.” He went to the place where his car was parked and got himself into the driver’s seat.
“I don’t think you should be doing this,” said the host.
“There’s no trouble. Sure, it’s only a few miles to home and it won’t take much time,” slurred the doctor, and proceeded to turn the key in the ignition.
With several turns of the steering-wheel, and much crunching of gears, the doctor managed to get the car pointed in the right direction and slowly drove off, in low gears and with a jumping motion. It was not, however, his destiny to sleep at home that night. Dermot was filled with the choicest and most potent of wines, overpowering his senses that he was unable to accurately steer his vehicle homeward. He could not remember seeing the open gate, or even driving through into a meadow, and finally into a shallow ditch. At the side of an upturned car, a hundred yards from the road, spent the rest of the night, unhurt and snoring peacefully. He was awakened the next morning by the golden light of a rising sun and the lowing of the cows as they gathered around the vehicle. At the same time Danny Kelly was walking along the track that ran alongside the ditch where the doctor was beginning to awaken, and on seeing the doctor’s car, Danny went to help.
You will recall that the doctor was dressed in red, because of the previous night’s dinner appointment. Moreover, Dermot was a little man, and his gold-laced hat and ponderous shoe-buckles completed the ensemble, which Danny immediately assumed to belong to the spirit that he had been hunting for. Danny was certain that, at long last, he had discovered a Leprechaun. He was so amazed by his discovery that he was riveted to the spot, and his pulse was beat so fast, that he could not move or breathe freely for some seconds. When he had recovered his senses, and he began to make his way stealthily to the place where the doctor was sleeping slept. As he moved closer to the doctor, he became increasingly certain that what he was seeing was, indeed, his long-sought prize. When he came within reach of his goal, Danny made one great jump, landing on the unfortunate little man, fastening his huge hand around his throat while, at the same time, he let out a cheer of triumph, “By God, my Bucko! I have finally got the hold of you!”
Being suddenly and violently aroused from his drunken stupor, the poor little doctor was shocked and bewildered. As he opened his eyes, he met the ferocious glare of a triumphant and delighted Danny Kelly. “What’s happening?” he gurgled because that was all that the iron grip of Danny’s hand upon his throat would allow him to do.
“Gold!” shouted Danny. “Gold! gold! gold!”
“What about gold?” asked a panicking doctor.
“Is it Paddy Gold you’re talking about? Has he taken ill again?” asked the doctor, rubbing his eyes to make sure he wasn’t dreaming the whole thing. “Jaysus, man, don’t choke me. I will go immediately,” he said as he tried to get up on his feet.
Danny tightened his hold on the doctor and telling him, “By God, you won’t.”
“For Christ’s sake, will you let me go?” the doctor roared.
“Let you go? Aye, that would be the clever thing to do! I don’t think so”
“Will you let me go, you crazy eejit?”
“Gold! gold! you little vagabond!”
“Well I’m going, if you’ll allow me.”
“The Devil a step you’ll be taking,” Danny told him and his grip tightened so as to almost choke him.
“Oh, murder! Murder, For God’s sake!”
“Weesht, you thief! How dare you speak of God, you devil’s imp!”
The poor little man, upset by the suddenness of his waking and the roughness of the treatment he was receiving, was in a state of complete bewilderment. For the first time he now realised that he was lying on grass and under bushes. Rolling his eyes in his search for help, Dermot began to shout, “Where am l? God help me!”
“Weesht! you crooked little trickster – I swear by all that’s holy, if you say God again, I’ll cut your throat.”
“What are you gripping on to me so tightly?”
“Just in case you might try to vanish! See how well I know you, you blackguard.”
“Then, for God’s sake, if you know me so well, please treat me with proper respect.”
“Respect, indeed? That’s a good thing for you to ask. So, to hell with respect! Damn your impudence, you thieving old rogue.”
“Who taught you to call your betters such names? How dare you use a professional gentleman like me so roughly?”
“Oh, do you hear him! – a professional gentleman, is it? Do you not think I know you, you little old cobbler?”
“Cobbler? Christ’s sake man, what do you mean, you buck eejit? Let me go, now!” scolded the doctor as he struggled violently to rise from the ground.
“Not one inch will you go out of here until give me what I want.”
“What is it you want, then?”
“Gold — Gold!”
“So, you’re a thief and you want to rob me, do you?”
“What robbery are you talking about? That won’t work, even though you think yourself to be clever, and you won’t frighten me either. Come on, now, give it to me immediately. You might as well since I’ll never let go of my grip of you until you hand over the gold.”
“‘ I swear to God that I possess no gold or silver. All I have is four shillings in the pockets of my trousers, which you are most welcome to if you let go of my throat.”
“Four-shillings! What makes you think that I’m such a gobshite, that I will be satisfied with a lousy four-shillings. You know, for three straws, I would thrash you within an inch of your life this very minute for your impudence. Come, no more nonsense from you and out with the gold you’re hiding!”
“I have no gold, so don’t choke me. If you murder me, remember there’s law in this land, so you would be better letting me go.”
“Not an inch! Give me the gold, I tell you, you little vagabond!” said Danny as he began shaking him very violently.
“Don’t murder me, for Heaven’s sake!”
“I will murder you if you don’t give me a hatful of gold this minute!”
“A hatful of gold? Who exactly do you take me for?”
“Sure, I know you’re a Leprechaun, you damned deceiver!”
“A Leprechaun?” asked the doctor, in mingled indignation and amazement. “Jaysus, big man. You’ve made a terrible mistake.”
“Do I look stupid? No, of course I’m not! I have you now, and I’ll hold on to you. I’ve been looking for you for such a long time, and I’ve caught you at last. Be sure that I will either have your life or the gold.”
“Dear Jaysus, young man, you are making a mistake! I’m not a Leprechaun! I’m Doctor McFlynn.”
“That’s more lies! You’re trying to trick me, but it will not work. Do you think I don’t know the difference between a doctor and a Leprechaun? Just give me the gold, you old cheat!”
“I tell you, I’m Doctor Dermot McFlynn. Mind what you’re doing, there are laws in this land, and I think I’m beginning to recognise you. You’re that eejit Kelly!”
“Oh, you are a cunning old thief, and a complete old rogue. But, I’m far too clever for you. You just want to frighten me. You are a no-good trickster, and you’ll do anything to get away!”
“Your name is Kelly! I remember you, so take care what you do. Surely you know me. I’m Doctor McFlynn, can’t you see that I am?”
“Well, you have the dirty yellow pinched look of him, sure enough. But I know you are just trying to trick me and, besides, the doctor has dirty old, tattered black clothes on him. He isn’t all dressed in red like you.”
“But, that’s an accident, for God’s sake.”
“Give me the gold this minute, and no more of your old nonsense.”
“I tell you, Kelly–“
“Hold your tongue and give me the gold.”
“By all that’s–“
“Will you give it to me?”
“How can I?”
“Have it your way, then. You’ll see what the end of it will be,” said Danny, as he rose up, but he still kept his iron grip on the doctor. “Now, for the last time, I ask you, will you give me the gold? or by all that’s holy, I will put you where you’ll never see daylight until you make me a rich man.”
“I swear, I have no gold.”
“Well, then, I’ll keep a hold of you until you find it,” said Danny, who tucked the little man into a headlock with his arm, and he ran home with him as fast as he could.
He kicked at the door of his cottage to gain entry, when he reached home, calling out, “Let me in! let me in! Hurry up, woman, I have him.”
“Who have you?” asked Una, as she opened the door.
“Look at that!” said Danny in triumph. “I caught him at last!”
“It’s a Leprechaun, isn’t it?” said Una.
“A devil of a one,” said Danny, throwing the doctor down upon the bed, while still holding him tightly. “Open the big chest, Una, and we’ll lock him up in it! And we’ll keep him until he gives us the gold.”
“Murder! murder!” screamed the doctor. “You’re going to lock me up in a chest!”
“Give me the gold, then, and I won’t.”
“Dear Jaysus, how many times do I have to tell you that I have no gold to give you.”
“Don’t believe him, Danny darling,” said Una. “Those Leprechauns are the biggest liars in all the world.”
“Sure, I know that!” said Danny, “as well as you do. Oh, all the trouble I’ve had with him, and only because I’m so knowledgeable, he’d have confounded me long ago.”
“Well done to you, Danny dear!”‘
“Mrs. Kelly,” said the doctor.
“Oh, Lord!” said Una, in surprise, “did you ever hear the likes of that? How does he know my name!”
“Of course, he does,” said Danny, “and why shouldn’t he? Sure, he’s a fairy, you know.”
“I’m no fairy, Mrs. Kelly. I’m a doctor! Doctor McFlynn.”
“Don’t you believe him, darling,” said Danny. “Hurry up now and open the chest.”
“Danny Kelly,” said the doctor, “let me go, and I’ll cure you whenever you want my assistance.”
“Well, I want your assistance now,” said Danny, “for I’m awfully bad right now with poverty, and if you cure me of that, I’ll let you go.”
“What will become of me?” asked the doctor in despair, as Danny carried him towards the big chest which Una had opened.
“I’ll tell you what’ll become of you,” said Danny, and he took hold of a hatchet that lying within his reach. “By all the saints in heaven, if you don’t agree to fill that big chest full of gold for me before midnight, I’ll chop you into small pieces for the pot.” And with that Danny crammed him into the box.
“Oh, Mrs. Kelly, have mercy on me,” said the doctor, “and whenever you’re sick I’ll attend you.”
“God forbid!” said Una, “it’s not the likes of you that I’ll want when I’m sick. Attend me, indeed! The devil a bit of it, you little imp, maybe you’d run away with my baby, or it’s a Banshee you would turn yourself into, and sing for my death. Shut him up, Danny, for it’s not lucky to be talking with the likes of him.”
“Oh!” roared the doctor, as his cries were stifled by the lid of the chest being closed on him. The key was turned in the lock, and Una sprinkled some holy water over it, from a little bottle that hung in one corner of the cottage, to prevent the fairy from having any power upon it.
Danny and Una now sat down to discuss things, and they began forming their plans as to what they would do with their money. They were certain of the gold now that the Leprechaun was completely in their power. Now and then Danny would get up from his seat and go over to the chest, much in the same way as one goes to the door of a room where a naughty child has been locked up. They just want to know “if the child is good yet,” and giving a thump on the lid, would call out, “Well, you little thief, will you give me the gold yet?”
A groan and a faint answer of denial was all the reply Danny received.
“Very well, stay there. But remember, if you don’t give in before midnight, I’ll chop you to pieces.” He then got hold of a billhook, and began to sharpen it close to the chest, so that the Leprechaun might hear him. When the poor doctor heard these preparations being made, he felt more dead than alive. He could hear the horrid scraping of the iron against the stone, interspersed with the occasional torment from Danny, such as, “Do you hear that, you thief? I’m getting ready for you.” Then away he’d rasp at the grindstone again, and as he paused to feel the edge of the weapon, he would exclaim: “By Jaysus, I’ll have this as sharp as a razor soon.”
In the meantime, the prisoner was incredibly lucky that there were many large chinks in the chest, or else suffocation from his confinement would have brought about the fate that Danny had promised him. Now that things appeared likely to go hard with him, the doctor began to think that he should pretend to be what Danny mistook him for and, perhaps, regain his freedom by underhand methods. To this end, when Darby had finished sharpening his billhook, the doctor replied, in answer to one of Danny’s demands for gold, that he saw it was no point in delaying any to give it to his captor. He admitted that Darby was far too cunning for him, and that he was now ready to make him the richest man in the country. “I’ll take no less than the full of that chest,” said Danny.
“You shall have ten chests full of’ it, Danny,” promised the doctor, “if you’ll only do what I bid you.”
“Sure, I’ll do anything.”
“Well, you will have to prepare the mysticnitrationserumandsodiumcarbonlite.”
“Holy Christ, what is that and how do I prepare it?”
“Silence, Danny Kelly, and listen to me. This is a magical ointment, which I will show you how to make and, whenever you want gold, all you have to do is to rub a little of the ointment on the point of a pick-axe, or your spade, and dig wherever you please for you will always be sure to find treasure.”
“Oh, just think of that! Be sure that I’ll make plenty of it when you show me how it is made?”
“First of all, you must go into the town, Danny, and get me three things, and fold them three times in three rags that have been torn out of the left side of a petticoat that has not known water for a year.”
“Well, I can do that much, anyhow,” said Una, who immediately began tearing the required pieces out of her under-garment.
“And what three things am I to get you?”
“First bring me a grain of salt from a house that stands at a crossroads.”
“Crossroads?” asked Danny, who lucked at Una with a puzzled expression.
“By my soul, but it’s my dream that’s coming to reality!”
“Silence, Danny Kelly,” said the doctor, solemnly. “Mark me, Danny Kelly” he told him and proceeded to repeat a load of gibberish to Danny, which he told him to remember and then to repeat back to him. Danny could not do this, and the doctor said he would write it down for him, and tearing a leaf from his pocketbook, he began to write in pencil. Knowing Danny could not read, the doctor wrote down the condition that he was in, and requested help to free him. He then told Danny to deliver the note to the Chemist shop in the town, and they would provide him with a drug that was the key to successfully complete the ointment.
Following Dermot’s instructions, Danny went to the Chemist Shop, and it happened to be dinnertime when he arrived. The Pharmacist had a few friends dining with him, and Danny was detained until they all chose to leave the table and to go in a group to liberate the poor little doctor. He was pulled out of the chest amid the laughter of his liberators and the fury of Danny and Una, both of whom made put up a considerable fight against being robbed of their prize. Finally, the doctor’s friends got him out of the house, and proceeded to the town for some supper. There, the whole party kept getting magnificently drunk, until sleep plunged them into dizzy dream, of Leprechauns and Fairy Finders. For several days after this the doctor swore to have vengeance against Danny and threatened a prosecution. But Dermot’s friends recommended that he should let the matter rest, because it would only bring it to public attention and gain him nothing but laughter for damages. As for Danny Kelly there was nothing or no-one who could ever persuade him that it was not a red Leprechaun he had caught. He swore that it was by some dark magic performed by the fairy that caused it to change form itself into the resemblance of the doctor. Danny often said that the great mistake he made at that time was “giving the little thief so much time, for if he had the chance again, he would have immediately cut his throat.”
There is great luxuriance about Irish mythology, filled with Gods, Goddesses, Heroes, Spirits and fantastic creatures of all sorts. This is particularly conspicuous when it comes to the history and characteristics of the ‘Fairy Folk’, more commonly known in Ireland as ‘The Good People.’ As with most mythological characters the origins of these people are confused and the subject of widespread debate. One popular belief concerning the origins of ‘The Fairy Folk’ suggests their beginnings are linked to a group of invaders known as the ‘Tuatha de Danann,’ which means “the people of the goddess Danu”, who were revered as gods by the native Irish. Over time, however, the ‘Tuatha de Danann’ succumbed to fresh invaders, who banished these so-called gods to the underground portion of Ireland. It is from this that people came to believe that fairies lived under the ground, and they came to be called ‘The Sidhe’ (pronounced: Shee).
Another popular belief, that may arise from after the arrival of Christianity in Ireland, suggests that the ‘Fairy Folk’ were once angels and were so numerous that they formed a large part of the population in heaven. When Satan turned against God and gathered a host of angels around him in open rebellion, there were some who did not want to join in the war that followed. They were fearful of the consequences that might be visited upon them by the victor and, therefore, preferred to see who won the battle before taking sides. Then, when the rebellious angels were defeated and expelled from heaven, those angels who had stood aside and did nothing were also banished. The offence of these neutral angels was one of omission rather than rebellion and they were not consigned to an eternity in the pit of hell with Satan and his followers. They were, instead, sent to earth where they were to remain, but not without hope that they may receive a pardon on the last day and be re-admitted to heaven. They are, therefore, expected to be on best behaviour, but they do retain the power to do a great amount of harm. It is for this reason that they are feared and only spoken of in quiet among the rural Irish, even today.
Stories about the fairy folk have been heard from all parts of the world, and one of the most interesting and consistent things about them appears to be that they can shape shift and make themselves look like anyone or anything they wish. They are, however, believed to be smaller than humans, averaging a height of between three and four feet. Generally, within Irish folklore, the ‘Fairy Folk’ are described as being slightly taller than people and very beautiful, with reports suggesting that some fairies, such as the ‘Irish Sidhe’, were typically of a height of seven feet tall. One report I read says, “Though, by nature, they’re not the length of your finger, they can make themselves the size of a tower when it pleases them, and have that ugliness that you’d faint with the looks of them, as knowing they can strike you dead on the spot, or change you into a dog, or a pig, or a unicorn, or any other dirty beast they please.“
These ‘Good People’ were often seen wearing clothes of red and green that depended upon the tribe to which they belonged and their rank within the tribe. Some were described as having green skin, while other sources describe them as looking much like humans but with a strange, ‘otherworldly’ aura about them. and the appearance of being either very young or very old to help in the perception of mortals to their wisdom. It is said that, generally, the people of the fairy hills were very pale and were usually finely dressed, but otherwise were human-like in their appearance. Stories say that the ‘Fairy Folk’ often appear wearing green, red or grey clothing, and may have blond or brown hair. They could be either male or female and could appear either alone or in groups. But, when it comes to their clothes, the records generally agree that young lady fairies wear pure white robes and usually allow their hair to flow loosely over their shoulders. Meanwhile, the more matronly fairies tie up their tresses in a coil on the top or back of the head and surrounding their temple with a golden band. The young gentlemen fairies wear green jackets, with white breeches and stockings. But, when a fairy of either sex has need of a cap or head-covering, they will use the flower of the foxglove. Within Irish folklore, however, the female fairies are known to appear with messages or warnings, while groups of male fairies would gather to play games of Hurling, for which they needed a single human player in order to have the game.
It has, in the past, been considered irreverent and bad luck to call the ‘Fairy Folk’ by that name, or simply ‘Fairies’, and the rural folk of Ireland became accustomed to creating more genteel substitutes such as ‘The Good People.’ Although this reluctance to use the term ‘Fairies’ seems to be relaxing in these modern days, there is still a widespread preference to use the substitute names instead. In this article we will try to remain with those terms that most people are familiar with, such as the ‘Wee Folk’ or the ‘Little People’. It is likely that such terms were derived as a means of minimising their power and influence, and as a description of their physical stature.
Many in the world have heard of the Irish ‘Leprechaun’ and consider them to be members of the ‘Fairy Folk’, but they are said by some to be unfit associates for the ‘Good People’. Nevertheless, the ‘Good People’ are a sociable community who always live in large societies with each member involved in a plan of work that is to the benefit of all. They own all their property, the kind and value of which is unknown, in common and are united in their desire to achieve any communal objective. But they are, however, divided into groups of evil or good, which are occasionally involved in night-time battles with each other. The male fairies are very familiar with every military role and, like most of Ireland’s population, are divided into various factions. But, unlike other the mortal factions, the objects of contention among the fairy factions is rarely known for definite. There is a report of a great battle among the fairies that occurred many years ago in County Kerry. One party of fairy warriors stood upon a Rath, while the opposing army of fairies stood on an unused and lonely graveyard. The only mortal to witness the encounter was Paddy O’Donoghue, who related what he saw as follows – “Sure, wasn’t I lying beside the road, being on my way home, weak and tired with all the walking I had done? There was a bright moon out that night, and I heard a noise like a million soldiers tramping on the road, so I rose up and looked, and the way ahead was full of little men. These creatures were just the length of my hand, with green coats on, and all stood in rows like one of those army regiments, each man with a pike on his shoulder and a shield on his arm.One was in the front, as if he was the general, walking with his chin up as proud as a peacock. By God, but I was terribly scared, and I prayed faster than ever I had done in my life, for they were far too close to me for comfort or convenience. But they all went by, not a single one of them turning his head to look at me at all, thanks be to God for that, and so, they left me. After they were completely gone, I was curious to see what they were after, so I followed them, a good bit behind them, and ready to jump and run like a hare at the least noise, for I was afraid that if they caught me, they’d make me a pig at once or change me into some kind of a beast. They marched into the field between the graveyard and the Rath, and there was another army there with red coats, from the graveyard, and the two armies had the biggest fight you’ve ever seen, the greens against the reds. After looking on for a bit, I got excited, for the greens were beating the reds badly, and I up and gave a yahoo and called out, ‘At them again! Don’t leave one of those blackguards untouched!’ And with that word, the sight left my eyes and I remember no more until morning, and there I was, lying on the road where I had seen them, as stiff as a crutch.”
They say that fairy bodies are not composed of flesh and bone like we mortals, but of a kind of ethereal substance whose true nature is unknown. They can be clearly seen by some, many reports of which have been recorded, but some observers also tell us that they can also be seen through as if looking through a mist. In Ireland there is a belief that the fairies have a white blood, which is spilled in those occasional night battles between different groups of which the only evidence appears to be the remains of an inexplicable white liquid (Fairy Blood). They have, of course, the power of being able to vanish from the sight of mortals and the fact that the air seems to be filled with their presence causes ordinary mortals to give them respect. There are reports of them being heard without being seen, especially when they travel through the air and are recognised by the humming noise like that made by swarms of bees. It must be said, however, that despite modern artistic interpretations of the ‘Fairy Folk’ there is no evidence as to them possessing wings. A certain Kerry man, called Barney Murphy, thought that they had wings for he had seen several a number of years ago that seemed to have long, semi-transparent pinions, “like them that grows on a dragon-fly,” described them. But Barney’s neighbours, however, contradicted his report by adamantly denying that the ‘Good People’ had wings, suggesting that at the time Barney saw the fairies he was too drunk to distinguish a pair of wings from a pair of legs, and so this evidence of fairy wings must remain in doubt.
Fairy lore allows us to divide the ‘Good People’ into two distinct categories, i.e. ‘Trooping Fairies’ or ‘Solitary Fairies’. The trooping fairies are a matriarchal society and they consider socialisation and status important within their community. Moreover, they can be further divided into those who are known to be good and those who are more disposed to be bad. The ‘Solitary Fairies’ obviously live alone, but they are known to attach themselves to a certain family or house. But, despite what type of fairy is present, it is often recommended that local people leave offerings outside their homes overnight as a means of appeasing them. Even if the food offered is still there the next morning the people believed that it was the fairies would have appreciated the thought at least.
The people had other means and methods to prevent bad things from happening to them, including the keeping of a few charms and talismans handy that might just work against fairy magic. Iron is the most well-known and effective element to ward off the fairy folk, though steel might prove to be a better weapon because it is a much purer form of iron. In Irish folklore it is known that the importance of Iron does not just lie in its ability to ward off the fairies. It is also known as a means of deterring ghosts, witches, and more supernatural beings. The sound of bells and whistling can also keep away fairies and, if you ever found yourself being chased by evil fairies, you could leap to safety by crossing running water. By throwing burning embers at the fairies you could drive them away from entering your house, and some people would sprinkle their clothes with oatmeal while also carrying some in their pockets to guard against the fairies approaching. Four leaf clovers have always been considered lucky and will break any fairy magic, or you could always plant a rowan tree outside your house, or as a last choice you could simply try any blessed religious item. But mortals should always remember that there are many reasons as to why you should not even think of offending the fairies. Stories have described how fairy folk, when they feel themselves offended might lift extremely heavy objects, leave your hair in terrible tangles, or even replace your child with one of their own, or a magical block of wood.
In the mythology of Ireland, we have learned that the ‘Good People’ are derived from ‘Tuatha Dé Danann’ and are the original inhabitants of the ‘hollow hills’. They are the beings most strongly associated with agriculture and the produce of the land, and those ‘hollow hills’ in which they live are believed to be the entrances to their land of the ‘Fairy Folk’, sometimes called ‘Fairyland’. The ‘Good People’ were just as likely to be connected to mysterious, otherworldly islands that usually appeared in the West to fishermen but could never be reached, as they were to the hills and mounds of Ireland itself. (McNeill, M., The Silver Bough, Vol. 1; 1956). In Irish lore, the ‘Fairy Folk’ are everywhere. They live in the land, on the sea, and in the air. They are associated with the mounds and stone circles that litter the Irish landscape, as well as the multitude of watery places such as wells, springs, the sea and bogs, caverns, and strange swirls of wind, as well as specific trees, particularly lone Hawthorn trees.
It is also common belief in Ireland that the ‘Fairy Folk’ live in a parallel world to our own, into which mortals can accidentally enter through ‘Fairy Rings’. Although this other world may run in parallel to our own, time does not pass in the same way as it does in our mortal world. Tradition tells us that once a mortal enters this ‘Fairy Land’, there is almost no means of going back to their own world, and many Irish tales abound with stories concerning those people who were kidnapped by the ‘Fairy Folk’. Within these tales we can see that the concept of the ‘Fairy Land’ in Irish minds was just as complex as their beliefs about the ‘Fairy Folk’ that inhabited that land. On every occasion these ‘Fairy Lands’ were always described as being places of great beauty, wealth and peace. It is, therefore, not surprising to read in these stories that many mortals brought to such places did not want to leave until an overwhelming longing overtook them to see their families and homes. But, when these people did leave the ‘Fairy Land’ they would discover that hundreds of years had passed, and they would die and fade into dust as soon as they came in contact with mortality once again.
The ‘Good People’ are not confined just to their own realms, or the area around the entrances into those realms. Many stories reveal that they were able to go out into our world, occasionally appearing in local markets and fairs. Often, they would go unrecognized in such places, unless someone with the second sight saw them or they encountered someone who had previously dealt with them and still retained the ability to see them.
In the fairy lore of the Celts, the ‘Good People’ are described as being ruled by a monarchy and included a working class who were permitted to visit human markets and fairs in disguise, or were able to appear to farmers as people seeking to borrow something from them. When seen they were often riding on fine horses, coloured black, white or grey, and with hounds following. In older tales it is indicated that the deer in the forests are the cattle of the fairies. But it is on the quarter days Samhain, Imbolc, Bealtaine, and Lughnasa that the ‘Good People’ are said to be particularly active, moving from one hollow hill to another along long-established fairy roads. At Samhain and Bealtaine fairy influence is at its strongest and all mortals should take great care to avoid upsetting them. Bealtaine was known to be a time when the ‘Good People’ travelled the land, appearing as a stranger at the door of various houses asking for milk, or a coal from the fire. By giving these items to the ‘Good People’ it was said the household would have secured good luck for the year ahead. At Samhain, however, they are known to move from their summer to their winter homes in the hollow hills, and it is said that mortals face great danger if they come across them at night, for they are especially active between twilight and midnight. They travel in large bands and, although their parties are never seen in the daytime, there is little difficulty in following their line of march, for it has been reported that, “sure they make the most terrible little cloud of dust ever raised, and not a bit of wind causing it at all,” so that a fairy migration is sometimes the talk of the entire county.
The most malicious fairy host, an airborne tribe, are known to be most active at night, appearing as a wind that is very much feared by the country people. When this wind comes upon them the people avert their eyes from it and pray for safety, because they sometimes take people. These mortals are often taken great distances, where they may be kept forever, helping the ‘Good People’ as they carry out their mayhem and mischief throughout the country.
The ‘Fairy Folk’ are usually invisible to the eyes of mortal people, unless they wish for themselves to be seen, or the mortal has the gift of ‘second sight’. This ability to seem invisible is due to their power to deceive human senses by making one thing appear like another, such as making a handful of leaves being made to look like gold coins. Nevertheless, their movements along fairy paths and roads can be noticed by other means. The ‘Good People’ are known to ride out in procession, or ‘Fairy Raids’, which could prove to be dangerous to any mortal beings that they came across. As they ride out, they can create sudden whirlwinds or sudden blasts of wind, and they are known to present a threat to new brides, midwives and new-born babies.
The ‘Good People’ have the family relations of husband and wife, parent and child, and although it is said by some that fairy husbands and wives have as many little disagreements as are found in mortal households, “for, sure a woman’s tongue is longer than a man’s patience,” and “a husband is bound to be nagged incessantly day in and day out, for a woman’s jaw is sharpened on the devil’s grindstone,” yet opinions unfavourable to married happiness among the fairies are not generally well received. On the contrary, it is believed that married life in fairy circles is regulated on the basis of the absolute submission of the wife to the husband. This particular point was explained by a Donegal woman in this way, “They’re one, that’s the husband and the wife, but he’s more the one than she is.” Meanwhile, the love of children is one of the most prominent traits of fairy character, but as it manifests itself by stealing beautiful babes, replacing them by young ‘Leprechauns’ as changelings, the fairies are much dreaded by mothers along the west coast of Ireland, and they take many precautions against the ‘Fairy Folk’. Thefts of this kind now rarely occur, but at one time they were common, as “in them old days, you could see ten fairies where there isn’t one now, because they are leaving the country.“
A notable case of baby stealing occurred in the family of Termon MacGrath, who had a castle, now in picturesque ruins, on the shore of Lough Erne, in the County Donegal. The person telling the story was a ‘wise woman’ who lived in what was an apology for a cabin. It was, indeed, a thatched shed that had been placed against the precipitous side of the glen almost beneath the castle. The wretched shelter was nearly concealed from view by the overhanging branches of a large tree and by thick undergrowth, and seemed unfit for a pig-sty, but, though her surroundings were poor beyond description, ‘Old Meg,’ as her neighbour said, “knew a great deal about fairies and witches and could keep them from a baby better than any woman that ever drew breath.” Giving her a bit of tobacco, to enable her to take a draw of the pipe, quickly brought out the story. “It’s many years ago, that Termon MacGrath went, with all his army, to the war in the County of Tyrone, and while he was gone the baby was born and they called her Eva. She was her mother’s first, so she felt mighty uneasy in her mind about her, knowing that the ‘Good People’ always go after the first one that comes, and even more when it’s a girl they try harder to steal than when it’s a boy, because they believe that they’re easier to rear, although it’s me that doesn’t believe that one girl makes more trouble than do ten boys and isn’t as good.So, when the baby was born they sent out for an old witch of a widow who had set herself up as a wise woman, and she knew no more about doctoring than a pig, but they thought she could keep away the fairies, and that’s a job that takes one who tries to have no end of knowledge in the fairy folk. But the poor old woman did the best that she knew how, and so, God be good to her, she wasn’t to be blamed for that. But it’s the likes of her that put shame on them that have great knowledge of such things, for they make people think all wise women as ignorant as she is, herself. So she made the sign of the cross on the baby’s forehead with ashes, and she told them to bite off its nails and not to cut them until nine weeks had passed, and she held a burning candle before its eyes, so it would do the deeds of light and not of darkness, and mixed sugar and salt and oil, and gave it to her, so that her life would be sweet and long preserved and go smooth, but the old widow forgot one thing. She didn’t put a lucky shamrock, that’s got four leaves, in a gospel and tie it around the baby’s neck with a thread pulled out of her gown, and not remembering to do this, all the rest was no good at all. Nor did she tell the mother not to take her eyes off the child until the ninth day, for after that the fairies couldn’t take her. So the nurse took the baby into the next room and laid it on the bed, and went away for a minute, but thinking that she heard it cry, back she came and there was the baby, bedclothes and all just going through the floor, being dragged away by the fairies.The nurse scratched and caught the clothes and the maid helped her, so that the two of them pulled with all their might and got the bedclothes up again, but while the child was out of sight, the fairies changed it and put a fairy child in its place, but the nurse didn’t know what the fairies had done, nor had the old witch, that shows she was an ignorant woman entirely. But the fairies took Eva away under the lake where they treated her wonderfully. Every night they gave her a dance, with the loveliest music that was ever heard, with big drums and little drums, and fiddles and pipes and trumpets, for such a band the ‘Good People’ do have when they give a dance. So she grew and the queen said she should have a husband among the fairies, but she fell in love with an old Leprechaun, and the queen, to prevent such a thing, let her walk on the shore of the lake where she met Darby O’Hoolighan and loved him and married him with the queen’s consent. The queen told her to tell him if he struck her three blows without a reason, she’d leave him and come back to the fairies. The queen gave her a great number of riches, sheep and pigs without number and more oxen than you could count in a week. So, she and Darby lived together as happy as two doves, and she hadn’t as much care as a blind piper’s dog, moreover, they had two boys as good looking as their mother and as strong as their father.
“One day, after they’d been married seventeen years, she and Darby were going to a wedding, and she was slow, so Darby told her for to hurry and gave her a slap on the shoulder with the palm of his hand, and she began to cry. He asked her what was wrong with her and she told him he’d struck her the first of the three blows. So, he was very sorry and said he’d be careful in the future, but it wasn’t more than a year after, when he was teaching one of the boys to use a stick, that she got behind him and got hit with the shillelagh. That was the second blow, and made her lose her temper, and they had a real quarrel. So, he got mad, saying that neither of the blows ought to be counted, for they were both accidental. So, he flung the stick against the wall, ‘Devil take the stick,’ he said, and went out quick, and the stick fell back from the wall and hit her on the head. ‘That’s the third,’ she said, and she kissed her sons and walked out. Then she called the cows in the field and they left their grazing and followed her; she called the oxen in the stalls and they stopped eating and came out; and she spoke to the calf that was hanging in the yard, that they’d killed that morning and it got down and came along. The lamb that was killed the day before, it came; and the pigs that were salted and hanging up to dry, they came, all after her in a string.Then she called to her things in the house, and the chairs walked out, and the tables, and the chest of drawers, and the boxes, all of them put out legs like beasts and came along, with the pots and pans, and gridiron, and buckets, and noggins, leaving the house as bare as an evicted tenant’s, and all after her to the lake, where they went under and disappeared, and haven’t been seen by man to this blessed day.
“Now, there’s some that say the story isn’t true, because, they say how would a woman do such a thing and go off that a way and take everything she had, just because her husband hit her by accident those three times. But those who say it forget that she was a young woman, even if she did have those boys I was telling you about, and faith, it’s no lie I’m saying, that it’s not in the power of the angels of God to be knowing what a young woman will be doing. After they get old, and losing their teeth, and their beauty goes, then they’re sober and get over those notions; but it takes a long time to make an old one out of a young wan.
“But she didn’t forget the boys she’d left, and once in a while she’d come to the edge of the lake when they were close by the bank and spoke with them, for even, if she was half a fairy, she’d a mother’s heart that the good God put in her bosom; and one time they saw her with little man along with her, that was a Leprechaun, as they knew by the look of him, and that makes me believe that the real reason for her leaving her husband was to get back the old Leprechaun she was in love with before she was married to Darby O’Hoolighan.”
The ‘Fairy Folk’ are known to have produced children with humans and in order to procreate they have a nasty habit of stealing a bride from her wedding to marry one of their own kind instead. At some later date they might even kidnap a midwife to assist the bride to deliver the child of her fairy husband. Their penchant for kidnapping new brides is believed to be a result of their low birth rate and the need to increase their population with human babies and women. There are some who mighty dispute this cause, but what other cause could there be for stealing brides and babies, for which they are famed.
Within Irish folklore there are ample stories concerning kidnapped midwives and musicians who are released back into their own world after an agreed time period. Normally, those mortals taken into the fairy realm can never return if the eat or drink anything while there, but this rule does not hold for those who are taken for a pre-determined time period. There are also stories of those who go to the ‘Good People’ for a single night of dancing and entertainment only to emerge the next morning to find that four, forty, or four hundred years have passed in the mortal world.
The fairies commonly made their homes only in raths and Tumuli of Pagan days in Ireland, and, for this reason, the raths are much dreaded, and after sundown are avoided by the ordinary peasant folk. Attempts have been made to remove some of these raths from the landscape, but the unwillingness of the local people to engage in the work, no matter what inducements may be offered to them, has generally resulted in the work being abandoned. It has been reported that on one of the islands in the Upper Lake of Killarney there is a rath, and the proprietor, finding it occupied too much ground, resolved to have it levelled to increase the arable surface of the field. The work was begun, but one morning, in the early dawn, as the laborers were crossing the lake on their way to the island, they saw a procession of about two hundred persons, dressed like monks, leave the island and proceed to the mainland, followed, as the workmen thought, by a long line of small, shining figures. The phenomenon might have been genuine, but a mirage is by no means an uncommon appearance in some parts of Ireland, nevertheless work on the rath was at once postponed indefinitely. Besides raths, old castles, deserted graveyards, ruined churches, secluded glens in the mountains, springs, lakes, and caves are all homes and resorts to fairies, as is very well known on Ireland’s west coast.
As we know, there are many fairy hills and raths that exist throughout the island of Ireland, and between them run fairy roads and paths which are also invisible to mortal eyes. It is traditional that people refuse to build on such roads and paths, because to do so will inevitably bring the builder bad-luck, and often death. It is not such a good idea to disturb the site of the ‘Good Peoples’’ home, and to dig into a fairy mound, or cut down a fairy tree, will certainly bring the disturber misfortune and, perhaps, death. Even in this modern, technologically advanced society that Ireland has become there is still a very strong belief in such things will participate in protests against many road plans if it interferes with fairy trees, raths or mounds. It is also a fact that heavy fines can be placed upon those people who would destroy or damage fairy mounds, even if they are on private property.
The ‘Good People’ can either bless or harm mortals with whom they come into contact, and their gifts could bring great blessings to those who receive them, or they can be simple illusions that become worthless by dawn. In the same way the ‘Fairy Wind’ can bring illness or cause injury to humans including a sudden cramp, or stitch that tradition says is caused by an invisible ‘shot’ from an arrow fired by a disgruntled fairy. In some cases, this ‘Fairy Shot’ might be used against cattle and would cause them to waste away after they are struck, but it was a power that could be granted to witches that are close to the ‘Good People.’ In fact, it was widely believed in Ireland that witches learned their magic arts, for good or bad, from the ‘Good People’ with whom they were believed to closely associate themselves. Such friends of the ‘Fairy Folk’ were, of course, privy taught special knowledge and things like magic and healing. A favoured musician, a harpist or piper, might be given greater skill or particularly good instrument. The main amusements of the fairies consist of music, dancing, and ball-playing. In music their skill exceeds that of men, while their dancing is perfect, the only drawback being the fact that it blights the grass, “fairy-rings” of dead grass, apparently caused by a peculiar fungous growth, being common in Ireland. Although their musical instruments are few, the fairies can use these few with wonderful skill. It is said that near Colooney, in County Sligo, there was a “Wise Woman,” whose grandmother’s aunt once witnessed a fairy ball, the music for which was furnished by an orchestra which the management had no doubt been at great pains and expense to secure and instruct. She stated, “It was the cutest sight alive. There was a place for them to stand on, and a wonderful big fiddle of the size you could sleep in it, that was played by a monstrous frog, and two little fiddles, that two kittens fiddled on, and two big drums, beaten by cats, and two trumpets, played by fat pigs. All around the fairies were dancing like angels, the fireflies giving them light to see by, and the moonbeams shining on the lake, for it was by the shore it was, and if you don’t believe it, the glen’s still there, that they call the ‘Fairy Glen’ to this day.”
The fairies do much singing, usually in chorus, and their songs were formerly more frequently heard than they are today. Even now a belated peasant, who has been at a wake, or is coming home from a fair, in passing a rath will sometimes hear the soft strains of their voices in the distance, and will hurry away before they discover his presence and be angry at the unwelcome intrusion on their privacy. When in unusually good spirits they will sometimes admit a mortal to their celebrations, but should he speak, the scene at once vanishes, he becomes insensible, and generally finds himself by the roadside the next morning, “with that degree of pains in his arms and legs and back, that if sixteen thousand devils were after him, he couldn’t move a toe to save his own soul, that’s what the fairies do by pinching and punching him for coming on them and speaking out loud.”
As previously stated, they might appear as a stranger seeking to borrow something, needing milk or coal from the fire, or be encountered alone in a field or wood, or on a road. Those mortals brave enough to seek them out might choose to sleep on fairy mounds, or raths, or rings, in the knowledge that it would result in either a blessing or madness.
Thankfully, there are a variety of charms to protect us against the ‘Fairy Folk’, which are far too numerous to get into any depth with here. One example of these is – to keep a new mother and her baby safe from the ‘fairies’ they would be given milk from a cow who had eaten a ‘bog-violet’ (mothan). A charm to force a fairy host into releasing anyone they may have taken is to throw the dust from the road, an iron knife, or your left shoe at them and say, “This is yours; that is mine!” (McNeill, M., The Silver Bough, Vol. 1; 1956). In those cases where a person is suffering from a bad fairy spell or curse, a ‘Fairy Doctor’ must be found, who is a person who has special knowledge of the fairies. These ‘Doctors’ are able to diagnose the exact cause and produce the appropriate charm, chant, or herb that will cure the unfortunate victim. Farmers, meanwhile, would tie a red ribbon on their cattle or horses as a means of keeping fairies away. Some would tie a rowan twig on to a cow’s tail, or lightly strike the animals with rowan or hazel switches to achieve the same aim. Just as rowan and red thread is known to protect things from fairies, there are other well-known protections, such as anything that is made of iron.
A means of maintaining good relations with the ‘Fairy Folk’ is to offer the gifts such as milk, butter, and bread left by the doorway, or at the roots of a ‘Fairy Tree’, as well as a small amount of whatever one is drinking poured out onto the ground. In some instances, milk might be thrown in the air for the fairies or butter buried near a bog as an offering to them. On holy days, it was customary for some people to offer a heavy porridge that was poured into a hole in the earth, or bread which could be left out, or tossed over the shoulder. Among other people it was customary, on Beltaine, to bleed live cattle and offer the blood collected to the fairies. These days people still make offerings to the ‘Good People’ in certain parts of Ireland which include milk, cream, bread or other baked goods, honey, and portions of meals, as well as alcohol.
In conclusion, it must be pointed out that there appears to be a long standing and complex association between the ‘Fairy Folk’ and the dead. In fact, the dead often appear among the ranks of the ‘Good People’, especially the newly dead. There is also evidence to suggest that better class of fairies are fond of human society and often act as guardians to those they love. In parts of Donegal and Galway they are believed to receive the souls of the dying and escort them to the gates of heaven although they are not allowed to enter with them. On this account, fairies love graves and graveyards, having often been seen walking to and fro among the grassy mounds. There are, indeed, some accounts of faction fights among the fairy bands at or shortly after a funeral, the question in dispute being whether the soul of the departed belonged to one or the other faction.
There are many stories within Irish folklore that feature someone seeing a person whom they thought to be dead. This is often explained by saying that the person in question had not died but was taken by the ‘Fairy Folk’ and a ‘Changeling’ left behind, which was buried in the person’s name. In many stories a person is believed to have died but appears, often in a dream, to a loved one and explains that they have been taken into ‘Fairy Land’ and can only be rescued in a certain way .This rescue plan usually involves the living person going to a crossroads at midnight when the ‘Fairy Raid’ will pass by and grabbing their loved one from the horse he or she is riding.
Giving honour and offerings to the ‘Fairy Folk’ is an important aspect of an Irish folklore customs and are traditions that we would all do well to continue in our modern, scientifically and technologically advanced world. The more kindly fairies often take great pleasure in assisting those who treat them with proper respect, and as the favours always take a practical form, there is sometimes a business value in the show of reverence for them. There was Barney Noonan, of the County Leitrim, for instance, who was described “And no better boy was in the county than Barney. He’d work as regular as a pump and liked a bit of a diversion as well as anybody when he had time for it. That, wasn’t often, to be sure, but he couldn’t be blamed for that, for he wasn’t rich enough by no manner of means to be celebrating regularly. He’d a great regard for the ‘Good People’, and when he went be the rath beyond his field, he’d pull off his cap and take the clay pipe out of his mouth, as polite as a dancing master, and say, ‘God save you, ladies and gentlemen,’ that the ‘Good People’ always heard though they never showed themselves to him.He had a bit of bog land, that the hay was on, and after cutting it, he left it to dry, and the sun came out beautiful and, in a day or so, the hay was as dry as powder and ready to put away. “So Barney was going to put it up, but, it being the day of the fair, he thought he’d take the calf and sell it, and so he did, and coming up with the boys, he stayed over his time, being hindered with the drinking and dancing and chatting-up the girls, so it was after dark when he got home and the night as black as a crow, the clouds gathering on the tops of the mountains likeevil spirits and creeping down into the glens like angels of destruction, and the wind howling like ten thousand Banshees, but Barney didn’t mind it all, being stupefied with the drink he’d had. So the hay never entered the head of him, but in he went and tumbled in bed and was snoring like a horse in two minutes, for he was a bachelor, God bless him, and had no wife to nag him and ask him where he’d been, and what he’d been at, and make him tell a hundred lies about not getting home before. So, it came on to thunder and lightning like all the evil demons in the universe were fighting with cannons in the sky, and by and by there was a clap loud enough to split your skull and Barney woke up.
“‘Damn it,’ says he to himself, ‘it’s going to rain and me hay on the ground. What will I do?’ says he. “So, he rolled over on the bed and looked out of a crack for to see if it was really raining. And there was the biggest crowd he had ever seen of little men and women. They’d built a row of fires from the cow-house to the bog and were coming in a string like the cows going home, each one with his two arms full of hay. Some were in the cow-house, receiving the hay; some were in the field, raking the hay together; and some were standing with their hands in their pockets as if they were the bosses, telling the rest for to make haste. And so, they did, for every one run like he was going for the doctor, and brought a load and hurried back for more.
“Barney looked through the crack at them, crossing himself every minute with admiration for the speed they had. ‘God be good to me,’ says he to himself, ‘It is not every young man in Leitrim that’s got haymakers like them,’ only he never spoke a word out loud, for he knew very well the ‘Good People’ wouldn’t like it. So, they brought in all the hay and put it in the house and then let the fires go out and made another big fire in front of the door and began to dance round it with the sweetest music Barney had ever heard.
“Now by this time he’d got up and feeling easy in his mind about the hay, began to be very merry. He looked on through the door at them dancing, and by and by they brought out a jug with little tumblers and began to drink something that they poured out of the jug. If Barney had the sense of a herring, he’d have kept still and let them drink their fill without opening the big mouth on him, being that he was as full as a goose himself and needed no more; but when he saw the jug and the tumblers and the fairies drinking away with all their might, he got mad and bellowed out like a bull, ‘A-a-h now, you little skites, is it drinking you are, and never giving a sup to a thirsty mortal that always treats you as well as he knows how,’ and immediately the fairies, and the fire, and the jug all went out of his sight, and he went to bed again in a temper. While he was lying there, he thought he heard talking and a secret revelry going on, but when he peeped out again, not a thing did he see but the black night and the rain coming down and each drop would fill a water glass. So, he went to sleep, contented that the hay was in, but not pleased that the ‘Good People’ would be pigs entirely, to be drinking under his eyes and not offer him a taste, no, not so much as a smell of the jug.
“In the morning up he gets and out to look at the hay and see if the fairies put it in right, for he says, ‘It’s a job they’re not used to.’ So, he looked in the cow-house and thought his eyes would leave him when there wasn’t a straw in the house at all. ‘Holy Moses,’ says he, ‘what have they done with it?’ and he couldn’t conceive what had happened to the hay. So he looked in the field and it was all there; bad luck to the bit of it had the fairies left in the house at all, but when he shouted at them, they got very angry and took all the hay back again to the bog, putting every straw where Barney laid it, and it was as wet as a drowned cat. But it was a lesson to him he never forgot, and I’ll guarantee you that the next time the fairies help him in with his hay he’ll keep still and let them drink themselves to death if they please without saying a word.” We should not forget or turn our backs on the ‘Fairy Realm’ that has existed side by side with our own for so many centuries. Honouring the ‘Fairy Folk’ prevents ill-luck befalling us and can bring us good luck and blessings. More importantly it helps us to create a reciprocal relationship between us and the ‘Fairy Folk’ that is based on respect and friendship. Nevertheless, it is never a bad idea to know the signs of fairy trouble and how to protect yourself against them or find a ‘Fairy Doctor’ or Wise Woman to help you.
But we must remember that the fairies are by no means so numerous these days as they used to be. It is said their demise began with the rapid spread of National Schools and Father Mathew’s Temperance movement throughout Ireland, for it is known “they hate learning and wisdom and are lovers of nature.” In a few remote districts, where the schools scarce, the ‘Good People’ are still to be found, and their doings are told to us with a childlike faith in the power of these first inhabitants of Ireland, for it seems to be agreed among many researchers that they were in the country long before the coming either of the Gael, or of the English oppressor. So it is, that we mortals humans have a long and complex relationship with the ‘Fairy Folk’ and we must always remember that they are just as present today as they have ever been.
Wedin, W., The Sí, the Tuatha de Danaan, and the Fairies in Yeats’s Early Works, 1998.
The following article is the first part of a series of articles under the same title, which have had some success on Facebook Groups. I hope that you will enjoy these articles just as much.
Part One – Introduction
The following is an old Irish tale that is told of a young man who was kidnapped by the fairy folk, who left a copy of his body in his place. The discovery of this false body encouraged the family to believe that the young man had died, just as it was meant to do. The day of the boy’s funeral was sad for all those family members, neighbours and friends who were in attendance and that same night the young man’s father had a disturbing dream. In this vision he saw his ‘dead’ son appear to him and reveal that he was not dead but had been kidnapped by the Sidhe (Irish Fairies – pronounced ‘Shee’). He appealed to his father to come and rescue him by making his way to the Cross in the nearby village at midnight on Midsummer Night’s Eve, bringing with him some trusted friends, a black-handled knife, and some whiskey. In the dream the boy explained that his father was to wait until he would see his son pass by on a fairy horse and then cut off the animal’s right ear. The father was warned that only by following these instruction could he successfully release the boy from the Sidhe. So, when Midsummer Night’s Eve arrived the boy’s father and his trusted friends gathered at the Cross as he was told. The party waited but they did not see the fairy host riding past, and the son was lost to his family for all time. Unknown to the father, the spell had not worked because the scheme had been cursed by the presence in the group of a man who had murdered three other men.
A familiar Irish fairy tale which, like most Irish fairy tales, does not have a happy-ever-after ending. Unfortunately, there is another common tendency in that those who read these stories often consign them to tales of fantasy. In these modern times of the twenty-first century, however, there has been a rebirth of interest in such stories because they are considered to be tales of mystery and imagination and categorised as “Young Adult Fiction.” But for many readers of Irish Fairy Folklore this is a great error because there is evidence that not all folklore stories can be simply assigned to the category of fictional fantasy. In fact, some of the tales told may have some degree contained within them. Consider the following story that was related by Elizabeth Andrews in her book “Ulster Folklore” –
“In the time of the press-gang a crowd was seen approaching some cottages. A great alarm ensued, and the young men fled; but it was soon discovered that these people did not come from a man-of-war – they were fairies.
A terrible story, showing how the fairies can punish their captives, was told to me by an old woman at Armoy in County Antrim, who vouched for it as being ‘Candid Truth’. A man’s wife was carried away by the fairies; he married again, but one night his first wife met him, told him where she was, and besought him to release her, saying that if he would do so she would leave that part of the country and not trouble him anymore. She begged him however, not to make the attempt unless he were confident he could carry it out, as if he failed she would die a terrible death. He promised to save her. He promised to save her, and she told him to watch at midnight when she would be riding past the house with the fairies; she would put her hand in at the window, and he must grasp it and hold tight. He did as she bade him, and although the fairies pulled hard, he had nearly saved her, when his second wife saw what was going on, and tore his hand away. The poor woman was dragged off, and across the fields he heard her piercing cries, and saw next morning the drops of blood where the fairies had murdered her.”
The reader can undoubtedly see the similarities in both stories, but the former tale appears to have some historical proof of its veracity as reported in ‘The Kerry Evening Post’ of 1st July 1837. Under a heading of “Fairy Tale” the reporter states that the events in the first story actually happened. In 1837 as young Tipperary man did die and, after his funeral, his father had a dream. In that dream, it was said, the son asked his father to save him from the fairies at midnight on 24th June. The boy also gave his father instructions to bring some friends, whiskey, and a black-handled knife. The father, it is reported, duly assembled his neighbours to go with him on this mission, in total about 1,200 locals, and as darkness fell, on 24th June, they were ready as instructed. The fairy host did not show itself and the fact that a triple murderer was present was not revealed until a subsequent dream. It would be a challenge these days if twelve of my neighbours, never mind 1,200, would gather with me to rescue a fairy kidnap victim. The story, however, does demonstrate that there was a deeply held and widespread belief among the Irish people concerning the fairy folk. If the people did not think that the fairy folk were real then you can be certain 1200 people would not have assembled to assist a father in his rescue of a son from the fairy realm.
The middle of the nineteenth century was a period in Irish history during which the existence of fairies was taken most seriously by large sections of the people and also began to feature in written accounts. Most of the fairy lore that we have today has been handed down to us from these times in the tales and superstitions collected and published in the later nineteenth century. In later years, this knowledge was greatly added to by the folklore archives which were collected during the 1930s and 1940s in an unprecedented effort by the Irish Government. But it appears that those who study the tales and superstitions consider the ways in which they compare with the stories and beliefs in other parts of the country, or even among other nationalities. Personally, I study the stories and superstitions because of the simple enjoyment they give and the wonder aroused at the fact that 1,200 Irishmen and women gathered one night, prepared to do battle with a fairy host to release a young man who had been taken against his will.
In the middle of the nineteenth century the Irish peasantry held strongly to their belief in the fairy folk, which caused certain sectors to attack such beliefs in the hope of destroying what they considered to be pure nonsense. Ireland at that time was under the administrative and military control of the class-obsessed Anglo-Irish establishment who looked upon the Irish as simple-minded, useless, and lazy. Their belief in the fairy folk was seen as emphasising their simple mindedness and entitled to be mocked. Meanwhile, the Catholic Emancipation Act saw the re-establishment of the Catholic Church in Ireland, and it was a major objective of the clergy to quash the heretical belief system that acknowledged the presence of fairy folk. Also, with the widespread growth of nationalism in the country there was a campaign of modernisation to bring Ireland into the modern era, where there would be no room for fairy tales and superstitions. All of these actions have resulted in the present-day attitude that fairies, fairy tales, and superstitions are more suited to children rather than adults. Nevertheless, in many areas of Ireland the belief in fairy folk and fair lore remain an important aspect of rural life and how it is lived.
 Elizabeth Andrews, Ulster Folklore, London, Elliot Stock, P.26 – downloaded from Project Gutenberg 29/6/2020)