The Irish Fairy Folk

Origins and Existence

ORIGINS

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. 

EXISTENCE

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.’[1] 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).[2] 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.

THE OTHERWORLD

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.[3]  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 like evil 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. 


[1] Wedin, W., The Sí, the Tuatha de Danaan, and the Fairies in Yeats’s Early Works, 1998.

[2] O hOgain, D., The Lore of Ireland, 2006.

[3] O hOgain, D., The Lore of Ireland, 2006.

Fairy Folklore

Is it True or False

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.”[1]

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.


[1] Elizabeth Andrews, Ulster Folklore, London, Elliot Stock, P.26 – downloaded from Project Gutenberg 29/6/2020)

Bessie and the Priest

An Irish Village Tale.

And what has become of Peggy?” I asked.

Sure, didn’t her mother pack her off to America as soon as she was able, after the baby was born? That has always been the case here, when a woman falls to misfortune. Sure, Didn’t Bessie have to go in the end, and her swearing she couldn’t give a damn for what the priest said about her?

Bessie, who?” I asked

Bessie Cairns, of course.”

There was something about that name that perked my interest and so I asked the driver to tell me about her. “Well,” he began, “it was Father Martyn that put her out of the parish. But the girl bit back and put a curse on the parish which lasts until this very day.”

“Sure, you don’t believe in things like curses, do you?”

Indeed, I do,” he insisted, “Isn’t it a desperate thing to put a curse on someone and the curse that Bessie put on this parish was a bad one. I’d go as far as to say that I have never heard tell of a worse one. The sun was well up at the time, and she was standing on the hilltop with both her hands raised skyward. Then, in her loudest voice, she laid out her terrible curse upon the entire parish. She said that every year a roof would collapse and the family in that house would leave for America, never to return. That was Bessie’s curse upon us and sure, hasn’t every word of it come true? Sure, you’ll soon see for yourself after we cross the stream.”

And whatever happened to Bessie’s baby?” I asked.

He looked at me with a puzzled expression and answered, “In the name of God, sure, I didn’t know that she had a wee one!

The driver turned his attention back to the road ahead, muttering under his breath while driving further toward the village. That old car shook, rattled and chugged along that graveled country road for a while. He was silent and I began that, perhaps, my apparent refusal to believe in the power of curses had offended him a little. But, despite this, I decided that I might be able to encourage him to be a little more forthcoming with any information he had about Miss Cairns. “Would you ever tell me, just who is this Bessie Cairns, and how was she able to get the power to put such a terrible curse on the village?

Och, sure, they say that she went into the mountains every night to meet and talk with the fairy folk. Aren’t they the only ones who could have given her the power to lay down such a curse?” he explained.

But, surely to God, she couldn’t have walked that far in one evening?

Wait ‘til I tell you, friend, that those who are in league with the fairies can walk that far, and as far as that again, in one evening. There was shepherd man that saw her, and you can see the ruins of the cottages for yourself as soon as we cross the stream. I will also show you the cottage where Bessie lived with the old blind woman before she went off.

How long is it since Bessie left?” I asked him.

Ah, now, it must be twenty years since that day,” he replied after a moment’s thought. “Sure, there hasn’t been a girl like her in these parts since she left. Of course, I was only a bit of a boy at that time, I recall her being tall and straight like a poplar tree and, when she walked along the street, there was always a bit of a swing in her hips that caused all the boys to stare after her. She had a pair of beautiful dark eyes and a smile that would light up a room. They say that she always enjoyed a laugh and could always be seen with a boy on her arm. But it was also at that time that Father Martyn first arrived in the parish and saw the village as a sort of mini Sodom and Gomorrah with all the courting that the boys and girls were doing. Now, there was no harm in it, at all, for they were young and enjoying life. Boys and girls have sought out each other’s company for hundreds of years and it has become a tradition that causes no harm. But Father Martyn closed the handball alley, because he said that the boys would go there before they would go to Mass. He also brought an end the dances at the cross-roads, claiming that they were sinful gatherings that led to immoral things happening between boys and girls that he would not permit in his parish. Personally, I never saw her, but they do say that there was no one in the district that could dance like Bessie Cairns, and many the boy would go just to see her moves. When I was a bit older, I heard it said that any boy who took a walk with her in the woods during the summer evenings would never have a thought for any other woman afterwards. In the village, the boys were all mad for her and many a fight broke out among them to see who would get the chance to walk out with her. It was all such activities that caused the priest to swear he would be rid o Bessie by hook or by crook.

The Cairns family were quite prosperous, and they ran the main village grocery store. Father Martyn decided, one evening, that he would go to the store and talk to Bessie’s parents about her behavior. But, when the priest entered the store, he found the richest farmer in the district, Mick Moore, already there and attempting to win Bessie’s hand in marriage.  Unfortunately, at least for Mick, he didn’t go straight up to Bessie to ask the question and mistake would destroy his quest. When you entered the shop there were two separate counters, with Bessie attending one and her father attending the other. But Mick Moore had chosen to approach Bessie’s father and ask him for his daughter’s hand. “How much of a fortune is there to go with Bessie?he asked.

Well now, Mick, there is many a man that would take Bessie without a fortune, you know,” said Mr. Cairns. But this did not prevent the conversation from continuing in manner approaching two men bartering for a cow. All the time, Bessie was listening to every word that was said, and she was not at all impressed. It was clear that Mick Moore had no idea just how high-spirited that Bessie was, and he continued to barter until the girl’s father until he was willing to pay fifty-pounds. The farmer thought that he had finally won through and as a final ploy told Bessie’s father, “I’ll not open a fly to her until you throw in the two heifers on the deal!”

“Bessie said nothing for the moment and continued to listen to the dealing as it continued, her temper rising with almost every word. But it was at this point that the priest chose to go over to Bessie’s counter, with a broad, satisfied smile on his face. “Aren’t you the proud one this day,” he began, “to hear that you’ll have such a fine fortune behind you? And sure, I’ll be the happy one to see you married, for I could not allow you to continue your sinful ways that lead the men of this parish astray. It is you that encourages the dancing and the courting in this village, and I’m going to put an end to it.””

“Bessie never said a word in reply and the priest moved back to where Mick Moore and Mr. Cairns were still bartering. “Now, men, why not just settle on fifty-five pounds?” said Father Martyn. The father immediately agreed to the amount since it had been suggested by the parish priest and all three men were satisfied that the marriage agreement had been settled. “What will you be taking, Father?” Cairns asked, “and you Mick?” Not one of them asked Bessie if she was pleased with the settlement and to be marrying Mick Moore.”

“None of the men knew what was in Bessie’s mind until they approached her counter. They were all rather pleased with themselves and were ready to tell her what had been agreed. But Bessie stared angrily at them and said, “I’ve just been listening to you three clowns talking about me and my future.” Then with a toss of her head she told them, in no uncertain terms, that she would be picking the man that she would marry, no matter who it pleased or didn’t.”

“Father Martyn was so angry with Bessie’s attitude that he lost all power of speech. It wasn’t just the detail of what she said, but the manner in which she had spoken to them. She had already decided that the man she would marry would be marrying her for herself alone, and not for any money that might be paid to him once the register was signed, or when the first child was born. As far as Father Martyn was concerned, a girl marrying a man of her own choosing was the thin end of the moral wedge and would lead to anarchy. He had often spoken from the pulpit, saying that parents should have better control of their children and especially those of marriageable age. He said young people should not be allowed to socialize unless accompanied by a responsible adult and insisted that the parents were responsible for arranging suitable marriages for their children. So, it is no wonder that the priest lost his temper when Bessie told everyone that she would do whatever she wanted. As parish priest he had a position to maintain in the community and tried to rein in his anger, even when Bessie told him that there was not a man in the village that she thought good enough to marry. When Bessie’s father heard what his daughter intended to do, he knew that she was a woman who would never be turned from the course she had chosen.”

“Mr. Cairns now turned to Mick Moore and quietly said, “Mick, son, you might as well be on your way, big man, for you’ll never get her now.” This said he went to hear what Bessie was saying to the priest and hoping she would not upset him too much more.”

“But It was Father Martyn who was talking to Bessie and asking her bluntly, “Do you think that I am just going to allow you to gallivant about the district with one or more of the boys in this Parish? Do you think that I am just going to stand idly by and watch the boys of this parish beat lumps out of each other over the likes of you? Do you think that I want to hear more stories like that of poor Paddy Cleary who, they say, lost his senses because of the cruel way you treated him? Well, let me tell you, Bessie Cairns, that I will have none of it! I’ll have you married, or I’ll have you run out of my parish!””

“Bessie chose not to answer him. She just tossed her head nonchalantly and continued to make up packets of tea, and sugar, silently demonstrating to Father Martyn that she didn’t care about what he said, at all. Meanwhile, her father trembled with fear at the prospect of what might now happen, and what the priest might do with the blackthorn stick he had in his hand. Worried that he might just strike Bessie with the blackthorn, Mr. Cairns tried to quieten the priest by promising him that Bessie would no longer be allowed out alone in the evenings. But, that very same evening, the headstrong girl left the house to meet a young man, and both were seen by the priest. Even when she was confronted by the priest about her continuing disobedience, Bessie just laughed loudly and told the priest she was just having fun checking out the local talent.”

“Father Martyn was filled with rage at the manner in which Bessie had spoken to him and her blatant disregard of the promise her father had made to him. The priest went to confront her in the shop a second and third time, but there are no witnesses to tell of what words they spoke to each other. Next Sunday, however, from the pulpit the priest spoke strongly about the sin of disobedience, which was initiated by the devil and a woman. A disobedient daughter, he told the packed Mass, would always be the sorrow of her family and she would have the worst devil in hell always by her side. Then, pointing to Bessie Cairns in the assembly, he branded her as an evil spirit that had been sent by Satan himself to drive men mad with immoral desires. Most of those who were at Mass that day are now either dead, or gone off to America, but I remember being told that the words flowed from the priest with a spitefulness that none had ever witnessed previously. They say that from that day those people who passed close to Bessie blessed themselves to ward off any evil, and the boys of the Parish who had once been besotted with her were now afraid to even look her way. Business at the Cairns’ shop dropped dramatically as people boycotted the business because of Bessie’s presence there, and she was ordered to leave the family home.”

“Her father had thrown her out of the house?” I asked the driver.

“Sure, didn’t the priest threaten the poor man with all sorts of things if he didn’t act as the priest wanted him to. Not surprisingly, there wasn’t a person in the parish who would even speak to Bessie, because they were all so afraid of the priest. If it hadn’t been for the blind old woman, whom I told you about already, Bessie would have been left to roam the roads or enter the workhouse. The blind woman had a small cottage at the edge of the peat bog, and I’ll show it to you as we pass by. Bessie now stayed with that old blind woman for almost two years, during which she was publicly disowned by her parents. Her clothes wore out, but she was as beautiful in rags as she was in the best of clothes and, despite being told by the priest that the young men should no longer follow her with their eyes, the boys could not help but stare in admiration.”

“Despite his best efforts, Father Martyn did not get rid of her for a long time. The old blind woman had insisted that she wouldn’t see a girl like Bessie Cairns thrown onto the roads to fend for herself, and she was as good as her word for almost two years until Bessie finally went off to America. Well, at least that is what some people say she did, while others still insist that she had joined the fairy-folk. Pat Hughes said that on the day Bessie left the parish he had heard a person knocking at the window and asking him if he would leave her to the railway station in his cart. It was early morning, and Pat said that it was too early for him to be getting up, but he was certain that the person knocking the window was Bessie Cairns. He believes that she must have gritted her teeth and travelled the ten miles to the railway station by her own efforts.”

“You mentioned the curse she left?” I pointed out to him.

“Aye, indeed she did, and you’ll soon see the hill where she laid the curse for yourself. There was a local man taking a small flock of sheep to the fair that morning. The sun was just rising, and he saw her as she cursed the village, raising her hands up to the sky. Every year since that curse was laid, a roof has fallen in and, on occasion, two or three.”

There was no doubt in my mind that he believed every word of the story he had told me, and he had almost convinced me that it was true. A beautiful woman had become an evil spirit through the action of a clergyman, and she had cursed the village that would not defend her. “Look there!” the driver said suddenly, interrupting my train of thought. “Do you see that old woman? Well, that’s Bridie Cohan and she owns the house.” Looking out over the field I saw a small house built of loose stones that appeared to have no mortar holding them in place, but it appeared to be better built than some of the cottages I had seen so far. “Now,” the driver continued, “you’ll get a look at the loneliest village in Ireland!

All the surrounding fields that I saw appeared to be good, fertile land, but there were very few people wandering around the place. The number of untilled fields amazed me, and I was deeply shocked to see so many ruined homes. These were not the ruins typical of thirty or forty years previously, when people were evicted forcibly from their homes, but they had been recently abandoned by their tenants. “Aye, these homes were left voluntarily rather than the people being thrown out,” I said aloud.

That’s the truth! Sure, wouldn’t the landlord be a happy man to have them back here, but there’s no chance of that happening. Every person here will have to go eventually, and father Martyn will not have worry about immorality in the place, for he’ll be preaching to an empty chapel. There will only be old, blind Bridie Cohan who must be a hundred if she’s a day, and she can’t stand the sight of him. By the way, did you know that there has been a rumor that Bessie has been seen in America. I’ll be going there in the autumn, you know, and you can be sure that I will be keeping an eye out for her.

I smiled broadly at this and pointed out to him, “But, all of this happened twenty-years ago. Sure, you won’t be able to recognise her, for a woman changes a great deal in twenty years.”

He shook his head and said, “Now, don’t be talking nonsense. Bessie will not have changed a bit, for hasn’t she been with the fairies?

“Smelly Feet”

An Old Tale of County Armagh

In the County of Armagh, there once lived a young man, who had never washed his feet from the day he was born. His name was Danny Grealish but, because people said there was enough dirt on his feet to grow potatoes, they used to call him ‘Spud Foot’. His father would often call him, “Get up, you great waste of space and wash.” But not one inch would he move out of the bed, and never a thought did he give to washing one foot, never mind two.

There was no sense at all in talking to the idler. Everyone would constantly be making fun of him because of his dirty feet, but not one bit of attention did he pay to them. In fact, you could have said anything to him, but he had the hide of rhinoceros and would pay no heed, going his own way despite all.  Then, one night the whole family were gathered in the house, sitting by the fire, telling stories, and having great craic, with him in the middle of it. The father took a puff of his pipe and said to him, “Danny, my boy, this day you are twenty-one years old this day, and you’ve never washed a foot from the day you were born.

That’s a lie,” said Danny, “sure, didn’t I go swimming last May Day, and I couldn’t keep my feet out of the water.

Well, let me tell you, boy, they were as dirty as ever they were when you came to the shore,” said the father.

Aye, that’s the truth. They were,” replied Danny.

Precisely!” replied his father, “Isn’t that what I’m telling you! It was never in you to wash your feet.

Aye, and I will never wash them until the day that God calls me,” Danny told him.

You’re a miserable gobshite! A clown! a tinker! a good-for-nothing wastrel! What kind of answer is that? ” says the father, who drew back his hand and gave him a great thump with his fist on the boy’s jaw. “Get out of this!” he said, “I can’t stand you being about me any longer.

Danny lifted himself up from the floor and put a hand to his jaw, where he had got the fist. “Only that it is you that gave me that blow,” said the boy, “You’d never hit another blow for the rest of your life.” His eyes were filled with rage and his voice with anger as he stormed out of the house.

Just a little way off from the gable of the house there was the finest Rath in Ireland, with a fine grass bank that ran around it, and Danny would often sit there by himself. He stood, half leaning against the gable wall of the house, looking up into the sky, and watching the beautiful white moon over his head. After he was standing there for a couple of hours, he said quietly to himself, “It’s my fault that I am not away from this place before now. By God, I would rather be any other place in the world than here. Och, sure, it’s well for you, white moon, going around and around just as you wish, and no man can hold you back. I wish, I was the same as you.

Hardly were the words out of his mouth when he heard a great noise coming toward him, like the sound of many people running together, talking, and laughing, and having fun, and the sound went by him like a whirl of wind. He listened attentively to it as it went into the Rath, “Well, by my soul,” says he, ” but you’re all sounding in good form, and I’ll follow your example”.

Although he did not know it at the time, it was the fairy host that had passed him by, and he followed them into the Rath. It was there that he heard whooping, hollering, whistling, and the cheering, and every one of them crying out as loud as he could, “My horse, and bridle and saddle!”

Now, that’s not a bad shout,” said Danny, “Sure, I’ll imitate you.” Cupping his hand to his mouth, he cried out as loudly as they did, “My horse, and bridle, and saddle! My horse, and bridle, and saddle!

 In an instant, a fine horse with a bridle of gold, and a saddle of silver was standing before him and leapt upon it. The moment he was on its back Danny clearly saw that the Rath was full of horses, and of little people riding on them. One of these little people turned to him and asked, “Are you coming with us to-night, ‘Spud Feet’?

He was surprised to hear himself called this, nevertheless, he answered, “I am sure.

Well, if you are, come along,” said the little man, and he rode out with them, riding like the wind, faster than the fastest horse ever you and faster than the fox with the hounds at his tail. The cold winter’s wind that was blowing ahead of them, they overtook, and the cold winter’s wind that was behind them, could not overtake them. They made no stop or slowing down that race until they eventually came to the brink of the sea. Then every one of them cried out, “High up! High up!“. In a flash, they were high up in the air, and before Danny had time to think about where he was, they were down again on dry land and were going like the wind.

Finally, they stood, and one of the little people asked Danny, ” ‘Spud Feet’, do you know where you are now?

Not a clue,” replied Danny.

You’re in Rome, ‘Spud Feet’’” said he, “but we’re going much further than that. The daughter of the king of France is to be married to-night, and she the most handsome woman that ever the sun shone upon, and we must do our best to bring her with us if we can carry her off. You must come with us, so that we may be able to put the young girl up behind you on the horse, when we bring her away, for it’s not permitted for her to sit behind us. But you are flesh and blood, and she can take a good grip of you, to prevent her from falling off the horse. Are you satisfied, ‘Spud Feet’, and will you do what we’re telling you?

Sure, why shouldn’t I be satisfied?” said Danny. “I’m satisfied, surely, and anything that you tell me to do I’ll do it, but where are we now?

You’re in Rome now, ‘Spud Feet’,” said the fairy.

In Rome, is it?” said Danny. “Indeed, and no lie. Sure, I’m glad of that, for the parish priest that we had was suspended and lost his parish some time ago. Now, I’ll go to the Pope and get a ‘Bull’ from him that will put the priest back in his own place again.

Oh, ‘Spud Feet’,” said the fairy, “sure, you can’t do that. You won’t be allowed into the palace and, anyhow, we can’t wait for you, for we’re in a terrible hurry.

I’ll not go with you one foot,” Said Danny, “until I go to the Pope! All of you can go on ahead without me if you want. But I’ll not move an inch until I go and get the pardon for my parish priest.

“’Spud Feet’, have you completely lost your senses, man dear? You can’t go, and there’s your answer for you now! I tell you, you can’t go, so settle yourself.”

“Can you not just go on and leave me here behind you?” said Danny, “Then, when you come back, can you not just throw the wee girl up behind me?”

 “But we want you at the palace of the king of France,” said the fairy, “and you have to come with us now.

No! The devil a step I’ll take, I’ve told you,” stressed Danny, “until I get the pardon for the priest. I tell you, he’s the most honest and the most pleasant man in Ireland.

Another now stepped forward and spoke, “Now, don’t you lot be so hard on ‘Spud Feet’. Sure, that boy’s a kind boy, and he has a good heart. If he doesn’t want to come without the Pope’s bull in his hand, then we must do our best to get it for him. He and I will go into the Pope together, and you all can wait here for us.

Thank you, a thousand times,” an excited Danny said with a huge grin. “I’m ready to go with you now, for this priest is the nicest and most generous man in the world.”

You just talk too much, ‘Spud Feet’,” said the fairy leader, “but come along with me now. Get off your horse and take my hand.

Danny dismounted and took the fairy’s hand, and he heard the little man say a couple of words that he did not understand. Then, before he could get his thoughts together, he found himself in a room with the Pope. That night the Pope was sitting up late reading a book that he liked, and he was sitting on a big soft armchair with his two feet on the chimney-board. He had a fine fire going in the grate, and a little table standing at his elbow and a drop of hot whiskey with sugar in a little glass. He was so involved in his book that he never felt Danny coming up behind him. “Now ‘Spud Feet’,” said the fairy leader, “go and tell him that unless he gives you that bull, you’ll set the room on fire. And, if that fellow refuses it to you, I’ll spurt fire all around the place out of my mouth, until he thinks the place is really in a blaze, and I’ll bet you that he’ll be quick enough then to give you that pardon.”

Danny went up to the Pope and put his hand on a shoulder, with a jump of fright the Pope turned around, and when he saw Danny standing behind him, he almost fainted. “Don’t be afraid, big man,” said Danny comfortingly, “we have a parish priest at home, and some blackguard told your honour an awful lie about him, and he was a broken man. But, let me tell you that he’s the most decent man ever your honour came across, and there’s not a man, woman, or child in the entire Parish that doesn’t love him.”

Hold your whisht, you wee imp!” snapped the Pope angrily. “Where did you come from, and how did you get in here at all, for I have a lock on the door? What is it you want of me?”

Didn’t I come in through the keyhole?” Danny told him. “And I’d be very much obliged if your honour would do just what I’m asking of you.

The Pope cried out in fear, “Where are all my people? Where are my servants? Seamus! Sean! I’m killed! I’m robbed!”

Danny had put his back to the door of the to prevent his escape, and he was afraid to go anywhere near Danny, so there was little choice Pope but to listen to the story. Danny, however, was the type of man who could not tell a story briefly and plainly, because his speech was naturally slow and coarse, and this made the Pope angry. So, when Danny had finished his story, the Pope vowed that he would never pardon the priest, and he threatened that he would have Danny put to death for his audacity in bursting in upon him uninvited. He immediately began to cry out for his servants to attend him, but there was a lock on the inside of the door which would prevent them coming into the room, whether they heard him or not. “Unless you give me a bull under your hand and seal, granting the priest his pardon, I will burn this house of yours to the ground,” Danny threatened.

The fairy man, whom the Pope had not seen, now began to blow fire and flame out of his mouth, and the Pope panicked as he thought that the room was all ablaze. He cried out, “Oh, Stop your destruction! I’ll give you the pardon you want. I’ll give you anything you want if you would stop your fire, and don’t burn my house.”

The Fairy man stopped the fire, and the Pope had to sit down at his desk and write a full pardon for the priest and giving him back his old Parish. When he had it written, he put his name under it on the paper, and he placed it in Danny’s hand. “Thank you,” Danny said humbly, “I will never come here again to disturb you, good-bye.”

“Don’t even think about it,” replied the Pope, ” for if you do, I’ll be ready for you, and you won’t get away from me so easily again. I will have you shut up in a dark prison, from which you will never get out.”

“Don’t worry, I won’t be coming again,” Danny insisted and, before he could say another word, the Fairy Man spoke some words, caught Danny’s hand again, and they left. Danny found himself among the other Fairies, and his horse waiting for him.

“Now, ‘Spud Feet’,”  they said, “you have caused us a great delay, and us in such a hurry. But, no matter, come on now, and don’t be playing such a trick again, for we won’t wait for you the next time.”

“I’m satisfied, now,” said Danny, “and I thank you all. But tell me, where are we going?”

“We’re going to the palace of the king of France,” they told him, “and if we can, we are going to carry off his daughter.”

With one voice they said, “Rise up, horse !” and the horses began leaping, and running, and prancing. The cold wind of winter that was before them they over-took, and the cold wind of winter that was behind them did not overtake them. As they raced on their journey there was no obstruction to their progress, and they never stopped once until they came as far as the palace of the King of France. On their arrival, they all got off their horses and not one of them said, and in a moment, they were all lifted up. Danny now found himself and his companions in the palace, where there was a great feast in progress.  At this feast, every nobleman and other men of rank were present and dressed in colourful silk and satin, with gold and silver jewellery. In that hall the night was as bright as the day with all the lamps and candles that were lit, causing Danny to shut his eyes because of the brightness. When he opened them again and looked out at the crowded hall, he thought that he had never seen anything as fine as all that he saw there.

There were a hundred tables spread out, and each was filled with meat and drink, flesh-meat, and cakes and sweetmeats, and wine and ale, and every drink that ever a man could think of. The musicians were at the two ends of the hall, and they were playing the sweetest music that a man’s ear had ever heard. In the centre of the hall, there were young women and fine young men dancing and turning, and going around so quickly and so lightly, that it caused Danny’s head to spin, just by looking at them. There were more people playing tricks, and others making fun and laughing, for such a feast as this had not been held in France for twenty years. This was special because the old king had no children alive but the one daughter, who was to be married to the son of another king that night. For three days the feast had been going, and on the third night, she was to be married. That was the night that Danny and the Fairy host had come in the hope that they could carry off the king’s daughter with them.

Danny and his companions were standing together at the head of the hall, where there was a fine altar dressed up, and two bishops behind it waiting patiently to marry the girl, as soon as the appointed time arrived. Nobody could see the Fairies, for they had spoken their charm of invisibility as they came in, and it was as if they were not there at all. “Tell me which of these people is the king’s daughter,” said Danny, as he became increasingly used to the noise and the light about him.

“Don’t you see her there, in front of you?” said the small fairy that was standing at his side. Danny looked to the place where the little man was pointing with his finger, and there he saw the loveliest woman that ever he had seen. The rose and the lily were in her face, and you could not tell which of them had dominance, while her entire form was smooth and slender, and her hair was falling from her head in tresses of gold. Her garments and dress were woven with gold and silver, and the bright stone that was in the ring on her hand was as shining as the sun.

Danny was almost made speechless by the loveliness and beauty of the woman before him, but when he looked at her again, he noticed that she was crying and that there were tracks of tears in her eyes. “It can’t be,” said Danny, “that she’s so sad when everybody around her is so full of joy and merriment.”

“Aye, she is very sad,” said the little man, “for she is being forced to marry against her will, and to a man, she does not love. The king was going to give her to him three years ago when she was only fifteen, but she said she was too young, and asked him to leave her as she was. The king gave her a year’s grace, and when that year was ended, he gave her another year’s grace, and then another. But, after that, he would not give her another week or a day longer. Tonight, she is eighteen years old, and it’s time for her to marry. But, indeed,” says he, and he twisted his mouth in an ugly way, “she’ll marry no king’s son if I can help it.”

Danny pitied the beautiful young lady when he heard that, and he was heart-broken to think that it would be necessary for her to marry a man she did not like, or what was worse, to take a nasty ‘Fairy Man’ for a husband. Although he said nothing, he could not help cursing the ill-fortune that had been laid out for himself, because he was helping the people that were to snatch her away from her home and from her father. Nonetheless, he began to think about what he could do to save her, but he could think of nothing. “If I could only give her some help and relief,” he told himself, “I wouldn’t care whether I was alive or dead. But I see nothing that I can do for her.” He was looking on when the king’s son came up to her and asked her for a kiss, but she turned her head away from him. Danny was filled with great sorrow for her, especially when he saw the young man taking her by the soft white hand and drawing her out to dance. They went dancing around the floor near to where Danny stood, and he could plainly see that there were tears in her eyes. When the dancing was over, the old king, her father, and her mother the queen came up and said that this was the right time to marry her. The Bishop was ready, and all had been prepared, and it was time to put the wedding-ring on her finger and give her to her husband.

The old king laughed out loud. “Well, friends,” he said, “the night is nearly over, but my son will make a great night for himself, and I’ll bet you that he won’t be rising early in the morning.”

“Well, maybe he will,” said the Fairy man in Danny’s ear, “or maybe he won’t go to bed, at all. Ha, ha, ha! “

Danny did not answer him, for he was busy watching to see what they would do then. He watched as the king took the young man by the hand, and the queen took her daughter, and they all went up together to the altar, with all the lords and great people following them. When they came near the altar and were no more than about four yards from it, the little fairy man stretched out his foot in front of the girl, and she fell. Before she was able to get up again, he threw something that was in his hand upon her, saying a couple of words, and immediately the girl was gone from the scene. Nobody could see her, for those words made her invisible. The little man had taken her and lifted her up behind Danny, and not a person saw them as they moved through the hall until they came to the door. The place was in a chaos with people screaming and crying as they searched and pulled the place apart, seeking the lady who had disappeared in front of their eyes. The fairy folk were now out of the palace door, without being seen by anyone and they all called out, “My horse, my bridle, and saddle! “

“My horse, my bridle, and saddle!” shouted Danny and in an instant, the horse was standing ready and waiting for him.

“Now, jump up, Spud Feet,” said the little man, “and put the lady behind you, and we will be going. It won’t be long until morning.”

Danny raised her up on the horse’s back, and leapt up in front of her, calling out, “Move on horse.” His horse, and the other horses with him, went in at full pace until they came to the sea.

“High over, cap!” said every man of them.

“High over, cap!” said Danny, and immediately the horse rose under him, cutting a path through the clouds, and came down in Ireland. They did not stop there but went racing off to the place where Danny’s house and the Rath stood. And when they came as far as that, Danny turned and caught the young girl in his two arms and leapt off the horse. “I call out and bless you to myself, in the name of God!” he said and even before he had finished speaking the horse fell and immediately changed into the beam of a plough, from which they had made it. Simultaneously, every other horse they had was returned to its original form. Some of them were riding on an old brush, and some on a broken stick, and more on a ragweed, or a hemlock-stalk.

The ‘good people’ called out together when they heard what Danny said: “Oh, ‘Spud Feet’, you clown, you thief, no good fortune will come your way now. Why did you play that trick on us?” But they had no power at all to carry off the girl after Danny had consecrated her to himself. “Oh, ‘Spud Feet’, isn’t that a nice turn you did us, and we were so kind to you? What good have we now out of our journey to Rome and to France? Never mind now, you clown, but you’ll pay us back another time for this deceit. Believe us you’ll repent of it.”

“He’ll have no life with that young girl,” said the little man that was talking to him in the palace before that, and as he said these words, he moved over to her and struck her a slap on the side of the head. “Now,” says he, “she’ll not be able to talk anymore. So, now, ‘Spud Feet’, what good will she be to you when she’ll be dumb? It’s time for us to go, but you’ll remember us, ‘Spud Feet!” When he said that he stretched out his two hands and before Danny was able to give an answer, he and the rest of them were gone into the rath out of his sight, and he saw them no more.

He turned to the young woman and said to her, “Thanks be to God, they’re gone. Would you not sooner stay with me than with them?“. She did not answer. “She’s still troubled and grieving,” Danny told himself, and he spoke to her again, “I’m afraid that you must spend this night in my father’s house, lady, and if there is anything that I can do for you, tell me, and I’ll be your servant.” The beautiful girl remained silent, but there were tears in her eyes, and her face was white and red after each other.

Lady” said Grealish, “tell me what you would like me to do now. I never belonged at all to that lot of fairy folk who carried you away with them. I am the son of an honest farmer, and I went with them without knowing it. If I am able to send you back to your father, I’ll do it, and I pray you make any use of me now that you may wish.” He looked into her face, and he saw the mouth moving as if she was going to speak, but there came no word from it. “It cannot be,” said Danny, “that you are dumb. Did I not hear you speaking to the king’s son in the palace tonight? Or has that devil made you really dumb, when he struck his nasty hand on your jaw?

The girl raised her white smooth hand, and laid her finger on her tongue, to show him that she had lost her voice and power of speech, and the tears ran from the ducts in her two eyes like streams, and Danny’s own eyes were not dry. Although he may have rough on the outside, he had a soft heart, and could not stand the sight of the young girl in such an unhappy condition. He began thinking to himself what he could do, and he did not like the idea of bringing her home with himself to his father’s house. He fully realised that they would not believe that he had been in France and brought back with him the King of France’s daughter, and he feared that they might make fun of her.

The girl bent her head, to show him that she was obliged, and she gave him to understand that she was ready to follow him any place he was going. “We will go to the priest’s house, then,” said he, “he is under an obligation to me, and will do anything I ask him.” They went to the priest’s house, and the sun was just rising when they came to the door. Danny knocked it hard, and as early as it was the priest was up and opened the door himself. He wondered when he saw Danny and the girl, for he was certain that they had come to him wanting to be married. “Danny, aren’t you a nice boy that you can’t wait until ten o’clock or twelve, but decide to come to me at this hour, looking to get married, you and your girlfriend. You ought to know that I’m suspended and that I can’t marry you or can’t marry you lawfully. But, hold on!” said the priest as he looked again at the young girl, “In the name of God, who have you here? Who is she, and where did you get her?

 “Father,” said Danny, “you can marry me, or anybody else, from now on if you wish. But I’m not looking to be married. I came to you now, just to ask you, if you would please give a room in your house where this young lady can stay.” And with that, he drew out the ‘Papal Bull’ and gave it to the priest to read. The priest took it, and read it, in disbelief. But took careful notice of the writing and the seal, and he had no doubt, that it was a legitimate document from the Pope’s own hand.

Where did you get this?” he asked Danny, and the hand he held the paper in, was trembling with wonder and joy. “Oh, now! ” said Danny, airily enough, “I got it last night in Rome. I remained a couple of hours in the city when I was on my way to bring this young-lady, daughter of the king of France, back with me.” The priest looked at him as though he had ten heads on him. But without putting another question to him, the priest asked them both to come in. When they entered the house, the priest shut the door, brought them into the parlour, and bade them be seated.

Now, Danny,” said he, “tell me the truth. Where did you get this ‘bull’, and who is this young lady, and are you completely out of your senses, or are you only making a joke out of me?“.

I’m not telling you a word of a lie, nor am I making a joke of you,” said Danny. “But it was from the Pope himself that I got the paper, and it was from the palace of the King of France that I carried off this lady, and she is the daughter of the king of France.” He began to tell his whole story to the priest, surprising the priest so much surprised that he could not help calling out at times or clapping his hands together. When Danny said that from what he saw he thought the girl was not happy with the marriage that was going to take place in the palace before he and the fairy-folk broke it up, there came a red blush into the girl’s cheek, and that persuaded him that she would sooner be as she was, and as badly as she was, than be to a man she hated. When Danny said that he would be very thankful to the priest if he would keep her in his own house, the kind man said he would do that as long as Danny wanted, but that he did not know what they ought to do with her, because they had no means of sending her back to her father again. Danny made it clear that he was uneasy for the same reason, but that he saw nothing else to do but to keep quiet until they should find some opportunity of doing something better.

They decided between themselves that the priest should say that she was his brother’s daughter, who had come to visit him from another county. They also agreed that the priest should tell everybody that she was dumb and do his best to keep everyone away from her. They told the young girl what they intended to do, and she showed her support through her eyes. Danny then went home and, when his people asked him where he had been, said that he was asleep at the foot of the ditch, and had passed the night there.

There was great surprise among the neighbours when the honest priest showed them all the Pope’s bull and regained his old position. Everyone rejoiced at the news because they could never see any fault at all in that honest man, except that every now and again he would have too much of a liking for a drop of whiskey. But no one could say that he ever saw him in a state that he could not utter “here’s to your health,” as well as any other man in the land. But if they were surprised to see the priest back again in his old place, they were much more surprised at the arrival of a girl so suddenly to his house without anyone knowing where she was from, or what business she had there. Some of the people said that everything was not as it ought to be, and others that it was not possible that the Pope gave the parish back to the priest after taking it from him before, on account of the complaints about his drinking. And there were more of them, too, who said that Danny was not at all like the same man that he was before, and that it was a great surprise how he was going every day to the priest’s house. But the one thing they could not quite understand was how the priest had come to respect for him. There was seldom a day passed but Danny would not go to the priest’s house and have a talk with him, and as often as he would come, he used to hope to find the young lady well again, and able to speak. Alas! she remained dumb and silent, without relief or cure. Since she had no other means of talking, she communicated by moving her hand and fingers, winking her eyes, opening and shutting her mouth, laughing or smiling, and a thousand other signs, so that it was not long until they came to understand each other very well.

Danny was always thinking about how he should send her back to her father, but there was no one to go with her, and he himself did not know what road to take, for he had never been out of his own country before the night he brought her away with him. Nor had the priest any better knowledge than he, but when Danny asked him, he wrote three or four letters to the King of France, and gave them to buyers and sellers of wares, who used to be going from place to place across the sea. They all went astray, however, and not one ever came to the king’s hand. This was the way they were for many months, and Danny was falling deeper and deeper in love with her every day, and it was plain to himself and the priest that she also liked him. The boy soon began to fear that the King would, somehow, hear where his daughter was and would take her away from him, and he pleaded the priest to write no more letters, but to leave the matter to God.

In this manner, a year passed until there came a day when Danny was lying by himself on the grass on the last day of October, and he was thinking about everything that happened to him from the day that he had gone with the fairy-folk across the sea. He suddenly remembered that it was one November night that he was standing at the gable of the house when the whirlwind came, and the fairy-folk in it, and he said to himself: “We have a November night again today,  and I’ll stand in the same place I was last year until I see will the ‘good people’ come again. Perhaps I might see or hear something that would be useful to me and might bring back Mary’s voice” – that being the name Danny and the priest had given the King’s daughter, for neither of them knew her right name. He told his intentions to the priest, and the priest gave him his blessing. Danny then went to the old Rath when the night was darkening, and he stood with his bent elbow leaning on a grey old flag, waiting until the middle of the night should come. The moon rose slowly, and it was like a knob of fire behind him, and there was a white fog which was raised up over the fields of grass and all damp places, through the coolness of the night after a great heat in the day. The night was calm as is a lake when there is not a breath of wind to move a wave on it, and there was no sound to be heard but the hum of the insects that would go by from time to time, or the hoarse sudden scream of the wild geese, as they passed from lake to lake, half a mile up in the air over his head, or the sharp whistle of the golden and green plovers, rising and flying, flying and rising, as they do on a calm night. There were thousands upon thousands of bright stars shining over his head, and there was a little frost, which left the grass under his foot white and crisp.

 He stood there for an hour, for two hours, for three hours, and the frost increased greatly so that he heard the breaking of the daisies under his foot every time he moved. He was thinking, in his own mind, at last, that the fairy-folk would not come that night, and that it was as good for him to return back again, when he heard a sound far away from him, coming towards him, and he recognised what it was at the first moment. The sound increased, and at first, it was like the beating of waves on a stony shore, and then it was like the falling of a great waterfall, and at last, it was like a loud storm in the tops of the trees, and then the whirlwind burst into the Rath, and the fairy-folk was in it. It all went by him so suddenly that he lost his breath with it, but he came to himself on the spot, and he began listening to what they would say. Scarcely had they gathered into the Rath until they all began shouting, and screaming, and talking amongst themselves. Then, each one of them cried out, “My horse, and bridle, and saddle! My horse, and bridle, and saddle!

Danny now took courage, and called out as loudly as any of them, “My horse, and bridle and saddle! My horse, and bridle and saddle!

But before the word was out of his mouth, another man cried out; “Oh! ‘Spud Feet’, my boy, are you here with us again? How are you coming on with your woman? There’s no use in your calling for your horse tonight, I bet you won’t make fools of us again. It was a good trick you played on us last year!“.

It was,” said another man, “he won’t do it again.”

Isn’t he a smart lad, the same lad! To take a woman with him that never said as much to him as, ‘how do you do?’ since this time last year!” says the third man.

Perhaps he just likes to be looking at her,” said another voice.

And if the eejit only knew that there’s a herb growing up by his own door, and to boil it and give it to her, she’d be well,” said another voice.

 “That’s true.

He is an eejit!’

Don’t be bothering your head with him, we’ll be going.

We’ll leave the gobshite as he is.”

And with that, they rose up into the air, and out with them the way they came. They left poor Danny standing where they found him and the two eyes going out of his head, looking after them and wondering. He did not stand long till he went back, and he thought about all he saw and heard, and wondering whether there was really a herb at his own door that would bring back the voice of the King’s daughter. “It can’t be,” he told himself, “that they would tell it to me if there was any truth in it, but perhaps the fairy man didn’t think before he let the word slip out of his mouth. I’ll search as soon as the sun rises, to see if there’s any plant growing beside the house except thistles and dockings.” He went home, and as tired as he was, he did not sleep a wink until the sun rose in the morning. He got up then, and it was the first thing he did to go out and search through the grass round about the house, trying to see if he could he get any herb that he did not recognize. And, indeed, he was not long searching until he saw a large, strange herb that was growing up just by the gable of the house. He went over to it, and examined it closely, and saw that there were seven little branches coming out of the stalk, and seven leaves growing on every branch of them and that there was a white sap in the leaves. “It’s very wonderful,” he said to himself, “that I never noticed this herb before. If there’s any virtue in a herb at all, it ought to be in such a strange one as this.

He drew out his knife, cut the plant, and carried it into his own house, stripped the leaves off it and cut-up the stalk, and there came a thick, white juice out of it, as there comes out of the dandelion when it is bruised, except that the juice was more like oil. He put it in a little pot and a little water in it and laid it on the fire until the water was boiling, and then he took a cup, filled it half up with the juice, and put it to his own mouth. It came into his head then that perhaps it was a poison that was in it, and that the ‘good people’ were only tempting him that he might kill himself with that trick or put the girl to death without meaning it. He put down the cup again, raised a couple of drops on the top of his finger, and put it to his mouth. It was not bitter, and, indeed, had a sweet, agreeable taste. He grew bolder then, and drank the full of a thimble of it, and then as much again, and he never stopped till he had half the cup drunk. He fell asleep after that and did not wake till it was night, and there was great hunger and great thirst on him. He had to wait, then, until the day returned. But he determined as soon as he should wake in the morning, that he would go to the king’s daughter and give her a drink of the juice of the herb.

As soon as he got up in the morning, he went over to the priest’s house with the drink in his hand, and he never felt himself so bold and valiant, and spirited and light, as he was that day, and he was quite certain that it was the drink he drank which made him so hearty. When he came to the house, he found the priest and the young lady within, and they were wondering greatly why he had not visited them for two days. He told them all his news and said that he was certain that there was great power in that herb, and that it would do the lady no hurt, for he tried it himself and got good from it, and then he made her taste it, for he vowed and swore that there was no harm in it. Danny handed her the cup, and she drank half of it, and then fell back on her bed and a heavy sleep came on her, and she never woke out of that sleep until the next morning.

Danny and the priest sat up the entire night with her, waiting until she should awaken, and they were between hope and despair, between the expectation of saving her and fear of hurting her. She awoke at last when the sun had gone half its way through the day. She rubbed her eyes and looked like a person who did not know where she was. She was like one astonished when she saw Danny and the priest in the same room with her, and she sat up doing her best to collect her thoughts. The two men were anxious to see would she speak, or would she not speak, and when they remained silent for a couple of minutes, the priest said to her, “Did you sleep well, Mary?

She answered him, “I slept well, thank you.

No sooner did Danny hear her talking than he gave a shout of joy and ran over to her and fell on his two knees, and said, “A thousand thanks to God, who has given you back your voice, my love, speak again to me.

The lady answered him that she understood it was he who had boiled that drink for her and gave it to her. She was thankful to him from her heart for all the kindness he had shown her since the day she first came to Ireland, and that he might be certain that she never would forget it. Danny was ready to die with satisfaction and delight. Then they brought her food, and she ate with a good appetite, and was merry and joyous, and never stopped talking with the priest while she was eating. After that Danny went home to his house and stretched himself on the bed and fell asleep again, for the force of the herb was not all spent, and he passed another day and a night sleeping. When he awoke, he went back to the priest’s house and found that the young lady was in the same state and that she was asleep almost since the time that he left the house. He went into her chamber with the priest, and they remained there watching her until she awoke the second time, and she had her voice back, as well as ever, and Danny was overjoyed.

The priest put food on the table again, and they ate together. After this, Danny used to come to the house from day to day, and the friendship that was between him and the king’s daughter increased, because she had no one to speak to except Danny and the priest, and she liked Danny best. He had to tell her the way about standing by the Rath when the ‘good people’ came, and how he went into the Pope, and how the Fairy man blew fire out of his mouth, and every other thing that he had done until the time that the ‘good people’ carried her off. When he had told all, he would have to begin it again from the start, and she never tired of listening to him. When they had been that way for another half year, she said that she could wait no longer without going back to her father and mother. She was certain that they were grieving terribly for her, and that it was a shame for her to leave them in such grief when it was in her power to go to them. The priest did all he could to keep her with them for another while, but without any effect, and Danny spoke every sweet word that came into his head, trying to get win her over to the idea and to coax her and make her stay as she was, but it was no good. She was determined that she would go, and no man alive would make her change her intention. She had not much money, but only two rings that were on her hand, when the ‘good people’ carried her away, and a gold pin that was in her hair, and golden buckles that were on her little shoes. The priest took and sold them and gave her the money, and she said that she was ready to go. She left her blessing and farewell with the priest and Danny and departed. She was not long gone before a great grief and melancholy began to come over Danny that he knew he would soon die unless he could be near her, and he followed her. After being restored to her parents and they, having heard the whole story, permitted the princess and Danny to marry. They lived a long, married life together with neither care, sickness nor sorrow, mishap nor misfortune until the hour of their death.

Fingers Kelly’s Vision

Throughout Ireland, there are many hills, and all are of varying sizes. Some are covered in forest, some covered in gorse and heather, some covered in grass, and some others with rock and shale. Each and every hill has its own story in local folklore, but there are some which are particularly renowned. One particular hill stands out from the others and still haunts the people who live on or around its slopes. The hill has a peak that time has eroded into a smooth shape and, over one hundred years ago, the owner of the land built a small summerhouse there for his children. His daughters were often to be seen at the summerhouse, where they would picnic while admiring the beautiful scenery that surrounded them. But, just as Ireland changed over the subsequent years so did this small summerhouse, and it soon fell into ruin. Before the summerhouse was built, however, the hill was largely used as pasturage for cattle. In those times the herdsman would spend most of his days and nights on that peak.

The Bodact

It must be told, at this stage of the story, that the man who owned the land on and around the hill was not a popular character in the district. He was seen as one of the new, modern farmers who wanted to squeeze every last ounce of profit out of the land, neglecting any and all of the traditions of the local people. They had always considered the peak to be the home of the “Good People,” who blessed the entire district with their presence. Understandably, since the purchase of the land by the new owner, the “Good People” had grown restless and angry that their special place should be trampled over by the hooves of bulls, cows and sheep. Under normal circumstances tradition called for the “Good People” to be given both food and drink in return for their permission to work upon their special land. The new landowner had done nothing but show the “Good People” his disdain by choosing not to believe in their existence.

To the ears of the “Good People” the lowing of the cattle and the crying of the sheep were sad sounds that hurt them and made them melancholy. They turned to their queen and pleaded with her to do something to relieve their plight and the plight of the animals. The queen loved her people, of course, and listened with patience to their pleas for her assistance. At length she told her people that she would do something to drive away the animals from these places, along with those who cared for them. It was her decision to wait until the arrival of the harvest nights came, when cloudless skies would allow the moon to shine its silver light brightly upon the hill. On those peaceful nights the cattle and sheep would lie down to rest while the herdsmen also settled themselves to sleep beneath the bright, twinkling stars that filled the night sky. It was the the queen would come to them and make her appearance before them. She would dance, changing shapes from one ugly, frightening thing to another, threatening them by circling like a huge spider ready to strike with its deadly fangs.

In her first appearance the queen showed herself as a great horse, with the wings of an eagle, and the tail of a dragon. She came to them spitting fire and roaring so loudly that the ground trembled. Then she would change to a limping man with the head of a bull, over which a flame moved lightly and flickered softly in the darkness of the night. She would follow this by forming herself into a variety of hideous, monstrous shapes, that terrified those who saw her. She reared, hissed, bellowed and howled loudly, making those who saw her believe that the very doors of hell had been opened to allow all its demons into the world. Screaming in absolute terror the herdsmen pulled their great coats over their eyes, believing if they could not see the demon, then the demon could not see them. Shaking in their terror the herdsmen whimpered every prayer they could think of, to all the saints in heaven that they would come and rescue them. The Fairy Queen would blow up a strong breeze that removed the greatcoats that covered their eyes, despite the great efforts they made to keep them in place. Worse still, the saints to whom they offered such earnest pleas did not come and rescue them from the horror. They could not move in their fear and the hair on their heads stood up, turning grey because of the terror they felt. Even as they prayed their teeth chattered so much, as they shook with fear, that they were certain they would fall out of their mouths. Meanwhile, their herds were scampering here, there, and everywhere. Some animals called out loudly and bolted wildly, as if they had been driven mad by a huge swarm of biting flies. Frozen to the spot in their terror the herdsmen could do nothing for them.

The horrors of that first night only ended when the first rays of dawn’s sun shone upon the hill from the east. All around the herdsmen the cattle and sheep had been scattered everywhere. Many had fallen to the ground too exhausted to stand or graze upon the rich green grass. Others staggered about, walking into trees, bushes, and hedges. Some of the animals, because they had been so badly frightened, had stampeded into a pit, or ditch, maiming themselves beyond healing. These would have to be disposed of but, in the fast, flowing river that flowed by the base of the hill, many more were already dead. During the night they had been drawn down hill in their terror and carelessly ploughed into the fast, flowing stream.

Each and every night for the following two weeks the same events occurred until, finally there was hardly a man in the county who would dare take the job of herdsman on that hill. The stoutest and hardiest men had been recruited to the job and promised good rewards, but none stayed after they had been visited by the Fairy Queen. The once great herd of cattle and sheep had thinned rapidly and no amount of money or any other reward would convince a man to endure the horror of facing the demons that lived upon that hill. He who owned the herd was at a loss as to what he could do about the problem, while the fairies began to return to their former abode in greater numbers. Once again, the evenings were filled with fairy music and dancing, drinking and feasting, sports and challenges, all of which pleased the Fairy Queen.

The great landowner had continued to see his livestock become smaller in number and, with such losses, his income became seriously depleted. The man’s family worried about him as they watched the normal sparkle of life that he had possessed leave him. They were worried for his welfare because he had become so depressed. Moreover, they wondered what the future held for him and what would happen to them. But, in the local village of Ardee there lived a man known as “Fingers” Kelly. He would not have been anyone’s first choice as a potential saviour because he was better known for his drinking habits and for being a master of the “Uileann Pipes”. It was indeed true that Fingers enjoyed a good glass of whisky and a few glasses of porter. But it was also known that with a drink on him Fingers had the heart of a lion that feared no man or creature. He was not the type of man, drunk or sober, who would seek out trouble, but neither would he walk away from trouble if it sought him.

Fingers liked nothing more than taking a stroll into the countryside, where he could sit and play his pipes in peace. One evening as Fingers sat upon a large, black rock the landowner happened to pass by. Regularly the landowner would walk alongside the river that ran along the foot of the hill and consider what could be done. As he approached Fingers on his rocky perch the piper spoke to him. “Jimmy McCann, why do you have a face on you that would trip a train?” he asked.

“Fingers my man,” the landowner replied, “sure I find myself in a desperate way.”

“Dear God, Jimmy, what has happened?”

“It’s the fairies on the hill that have me destroyed,”

“Fairies?” asked Fingers.

Jimmy McCann sat down on the large rock with Fingers. “Aye. The fairies have took a great dislike to me and mine!” Jimmy told him. “I’m losing cattle left, right and centre, and every herdsman in the county has been scared off.”

Fingers put his pipes down on the rock, jumped down to the pathway and faced Jimmy. “Quit your worrying, Jimmy, sure I’ll help you,” he told him.

“You will?”

“Of course, I will. Sure, what sort of trouble could they give you? I can sort them out. After all they are much smaller than us,” laughed Fingers.

“Be careful what you say Fingers,” Jimmy warned him. “You don’t know who or what could be listening to you.”

Almost in unison they moved their heads to and fro trying to make sure they were alone and that no one could hear them speak. “If you will help me and take care of my cattle for one week on top of this hill, I will make sure you never want for anything,” he told Fingers quietly.

“That’s no problem, Jimmy” smiled Fingers, offering his hand to shake agreement on their deal.

Jimmy took his hand eagerly, shaking it strongly. There was a great sense of relief that came over him and he asked, “Start tonight?”

“Why not?” answered Fingers and the two men sauntered off, shoulder to shoulder, toward Jimmy’s house. In the big farmhouse Fingers was well fed, and well supplied with whisky, which would help him keep him warm in the cold air of night. After he had eaten well Fingers put on a heavy coat and, with his pipes over his shoulder, he walked to the top of the hill, just as the bright harvest moon rose into the cloudless night sky. What was left of Jimmy’s cattle and sheep were quietly grazing as he reached the summit, where he found a big stone in the hollow of a small hillock. The stone, he decided, would give him ample shelter from the cool night breezes and he began to settle down, unfurling his pipes to play a pleasant, quiet tune.

Fingers had just begun to play, completing only a couple of bars of his tune before hearing sweet voices from the shadows. He recognised them immediately as the voices of the fairy folk singing softly and comfortingly. As he strained his ears, however, he could also hear some of his visitors muttering and, occasionally, laughing. “It is another of those cattle watchers,” he heard one of them say. Go and report it to the Queen. He will be a sorry man that he ever dared set foot on this hill.” There was nothing more said, and Fingers could not see them leave with the darkness of the night. But, for some reason or other, he turned his head upward and looked at the top of the hollow in which he sat. There, above him, silhouetted against the bright, silver moon he saw the massive figure of a black cat. The back of the cat was raised as if ready to pounce, and the hairs along its spinal ridge were standing up. The creature’s huge claws looked like great spears ready to grab and pull apart its victim. As it looked down on Fingers with blood-red eyes the monster cat gave a strange, frightening noise and began to swell rapidly into yet another creature, much larger than the cat. As it made its metamorphosis the gigantic creature fell to the ground not far from where Fingers was sitting. The piper didn’t move, even as the creature rose up from the ground, and took the shape huge, savage Bear.

“Come to dance to the music of my pipes?” Fingers asked the creature calmly. There was no immediate reply to his question, but he continued, nonetheless. “Just you begin your dance and I will join in with the pipes.” The Fairy Queen remained silent while she changed her shape, taking on a variety of terrible and monstrous characters. Fingers, however, laughed loudly at her efforts to frighten him and he continued to play the pipes until the queen finally lost patience with her puzzling and stubborn opponent. If fear had no effect on this man, she thought, then she would try a different means of forcing him away from fairy lands. The queen instantly changed into a milk-white coloured calf and began to gently moo at the piper. Step by step she brought herself closer to Fingers and hoped to take him by surprise. She planned that by demonstrating a female gentility towards the man it might be enough to put him off his guard. Perhaps it would give her a much better opportunity to rid herself and her fairy folk of this human presence. Fingers, however, was no fool and could not be so easily deceived by such trickery. In her disguise as a milk-white calf the Queen came closer with a motion that showed him no sign of danger or threat. Suddenly, Fingers dropped his pipes to the ground and in one jump leaped upon the back of the calf.

It was the fairy queen who was caught completely by surprise when Fingers jumped on her back, but she reacted quickly to rid herself once of this burden. She immediately began to buck and leap in the moonlight that lit up the night sky. But no matter how hard she tried the queen could do nothing to loosen the grip that Finger’s had on her. In her frustration the Fairy Queen summoned all her strength and took a huge leap from the steepest side of the Hill. With one enormous bound her flight took her across the wide and fast flowing river that coursed by the base of the hill. Then, as she landed on the far bank of the river, she kicked up her heels once again, loosening the man’s grip and causing him to fall from her back on to the soft turf. After catching his breath Fingers lifted himself up on one elbow and he looked the queen directly in the eyes. “That was a big leap for such a small calf”, he laughed aloud.

In an instant the queen returned to her own shape and stood over the man lying on the ground. “You mean it was some leap to be made with you upon my back,” she said. “Would you like to go back the same way you came?”

Fingers was quite undisturbed by the apparent threat and replied, “Why not?” Then, as the queen returned to the shape of a calf once more, Fingers jumped upon her back. He had hardly got himself settled before she took one huge bound that brought them back to the summit of the hill.

The queen resumed her natural shape and again came to stand before Fingers. “You have shown great courage in standing to face all the horrors that I have brought upon you. You stayed upon my back as I leaped from this great hill and back again,” the queen smiled at him. “I will honour the courage you have shown, and I will tell you now that while you keep the herds on this hill you never shall be molested by me or my people!”

Fingers was happy with what he had heard and thanked the queen graciously. “Look to the east now,” she said. “The morning sun is about to rise and you should go immediately to farmer McCann and tell him of my promise to you. Be assured that if ever there should be any service that I can do for you, ask and you shall have it.” With these words the Fairy Queen disappeared from Fingers’ sight

It has been many years since the events in this story, but the fairy queen kept her word and never again visited the hill during the remainder of Fingers Kelly’s life. In like manner Kelly never troubled the queen nor her people with any requests. For many years he continued to play his pipes on the hill while he attended the cattle and never again had he to pay for a drink out of his own pocket. In fact, Fingers Kelly never wanted for anything ever again, living his life to the full and in comfort. When Fingers eventually passed away, he was buried at the foot of the hill, on the Riverbank and near the big stone on which he played his pipes. There are those who will tell you that on peaceful summer evenings, if you walk on the hill, you can still hear the melodious refrains of the “Uillean Pipes” wafted upon the breezes that blow across the summit. They also say that if you can keep your approach quiet you will have every opportunity to see the Fairy Queen and her folk dancing to the music that the spirit of Fingers Kelly plays for them.

On the hill at Ardee

They say you can see

The Dancing Queen and her Fairies.

Then comes the sunrise

and the sun shines in your eyes.You’ll see no more than the daisies.”