The Stories of Seamus No.1

Away with the Fairies

His family had christened him Edward, but we preferred to call him ‘Mitch’ because he was always playing truant from school, which where we live is known as “Mitching.” He was the life in our small group of boys as we played in the fields and streams around our homes. But as ‘Mitch’ grew older he gradually became a pale, thin version of the athletic young man that he had once been. By the time he had reached his mid-thirties ‘Mitch’ had become a sickly-looking man, ashen-faced, and with a feeble constitution. His hair was light auburn in colour and he preferred to keep long, as he had done in his youth. He also had a beard that he chose neither to shave or trim in any style, leaving it to grow wildly across his lower face. Strangely, his hands were a pale colour and looked to be delicate. Indeed, they were soft and not at all hard, or coarse, as you would expect the hands of a labouring man to be. But, as a young boy he had learned the trade of a tailor from his grandfather, in which trade he excelled. ‘Mitch’ now earned a very good living from his trade and had built up a good reputation for himself throughout the area for the quality of his workmanship. We remained close to him as we grew up and were full of admiration for his tailoring talent. There were, however, some who thought him to be something of a miser, hoarding his money rather than spending it freely like other men who spent their time in the ‘Bookie Shops’ and public bars of the town. But, ‘Mitch’ was a sensible, sober and rational man, who had more to interest him than the greyhounds, the horses, or the ‘Gargle‘ (drink). Nevertheless, much to the amusement of many, he insisted that he could see and hear the fairies that lived around his workshop, the town and the district. Whenever he met and confronted anyone who voiced any doubt about his spiritual talent his eyes would fill with a frightening wild, hollow look. At the same time, his normally friendly facial expression would become suddenly dark and his brow furrowed deeply.

Whenever his name was mentioned some would simply say, “Poor Mitch Curran, sure his head’s away with the fairies.” But, in my opinion, there was no man in the town who looked less like he had mental problems than ‘Mitch’ Curran. If ever a man enjoyed the ‘craic’, loved to hear a joke or could tell a humorous story it was ‘Mitch’. He could never have been described as an unhappy man in any manner or form, and it just appeared to be a natural talent that allowed him to hear and speak to the fairy folk, and sure he was not doing anybody any harm. Strangely, ‘Mitch’ was a man who did not seem to feel pain like the rest of us, or even experience the slightest tinge of fear, and I often wondered was this because of the close relationship he had developed with the ‘Good People.’ In fact, I was certain that this was a result of the fact that ‘Mitch’s’ relationship with the fairy folk appeared to be both intimate and friendly, and he would converse with them for hours. Any person who saw these conversations take place would tell you that they were terribly one-sided affairs. But, they would also admit that the discussions did appear to give ‘Mitch’ a great amount of pleasure, causing him to laugh loudly and joke the entire time that he talked with the ‘Good People.’

There were many occasions, when I was at a loose end, that I would call into ‘Mitch’s’ workshop just to see how he was keeping. “Well, Mitch, have you seen your fairy friends today?” I would ask him.

Aaah, Jimmy, would you whisht (be quiet). Can’t you see them yourself? There must be two dozen or more running around this place and keeping me back from my work,” he often replied.

No matter how hard I looked I could not see them. They were totally invisible to me despite ‘Mitch’ constantly insisting, “There’s the oul’ fella, sitting on top of the machine for he loves to feel the vibrations through his body when I am sewing. But, they are all having a bit of a tough time at the minute. There’s nothing to worry about, however, for they are all great wee schemers, the lot of them. They’ll soon find a way to be right again. Look, there’s one them now and he’s unravelling my silk threads!” he told me as he waved his hand at a bunch of thread bobbins, just as he would to wave away a fly.

Get away out of that you wee devil, or I will leave a mark upon you that will never go away. Get out of that, you wee thief!

Now, throughout my life I had heard many different tales about the ‘Good People’ that would encourage a man to be extra-careful in any dealings he might have with them. On one occasion I asked him, “Mitch, are you not afraid of the fairies at all?

What? Am I afraid, you’re asking me?” he answered with a loud laugh. “Sure, why would I need to fear them, for they have no power over me! None at all!

Of course,” he replied in a matter-of-fact manner that made me feel that I should have known this all along. “Didn’t my da tell the priest who christened me to include the special prayer against the fairies. You know, a priest cannot refuse the prayer to anyone when it is asked of him. So, I got the special prayer and, thanks be to God, that priest did what was right.

I was puzzled for a moment and watched him as he was then apparently distracted by fairy activity elsewhere in the shop, and shouted at the them, “Will you leave all that stuff alone, you imp. You are the thief of all thieves!

Having said this, ‘Mitch’ then returned his attention to me saying, “It was a good thing indeed, for those fairies wanted to make me their king!

To be honest with you. I almost fell off the stool with the shock of what he had just revealed to me but, somehow, I managed to maintain my composure and asked him calmly, “Is that really possible?

Isn’t it me who is telling you it is? Now, if you don’t believe me then you can ask them yourself and they will tell you the truth of it!

I decided that best thing that I could do at that time was to look all around me, even though I knew I would see nothing. But, I had seen ‘Mitch’s’ temper flare with the others who had doubted him and who had tried to take ‘a hand of him’ (make fun). Not surprisingly I decided to accept what he had told me and continued to ask him questions about his little, invisible friends, I chose to continue my enquiries with him. “What size are they, Mitch?

Och, sure they’re only wee boys, wearing green coats and the prettiest of little brogue shoes that a man ever set eyes on. There’s two old friends of mine, there,” he pointed toward a shelf of cloth lying in rolls. “They’re running on top of that cloth there. The one with the grey beard is the oldest of them and goes by the name, ‘Munchy’. The other one, with the small green bowler hat is called ‘Cheeks’ and he can play the Uileann pipes (Irish Bagpipes) like an angel.” ‘Mitch’ looked over to the rolls of cloth again and he called, “Cheeks, give us a wee tune on those pipes of yours, you blackguard. Play the ‘Stalk of Barley’.” Then he turned to me and hissed,” Now, Jim, whisht and listen!” While he continued his sewing, ‘Mitch’ beat time to the music with his feet on the wooden floor and seemed to be enjoying every note as if it was real, but I heard nothing.

This was not the only time that I visited Mitch in his workshop and I was not the only person to spend some time with him there. But, every time I had gone to his workshop I tried to hear the faintest sound of fairy voice, but I heard and saw nothing. Even as I sat there listening, ‘Mitch’s’ tongue never once ceased moving in his head. His wife once told me that there were many nights, after ‘Mitch’ went to bed, when he would awaken from his sleep and appear to brush the bedclothes as he made efforts to clear away the fairies from his bed. “Get out of here!” he would shout at them. “You shouldn’t be in here and, ‘Christ’ what time is this for you to begin playing those damned pipes? Get out and let me sleep, for I am completely knackered.” But, if they did not go away immediately he would shout at them again. The only noise that ‘Mitch’s’ wife could hear, however, came from her husband.

Now, if you go away and leave me in peace to sleep, then I will give you a wee surprise tomorrow,” he would try to sweeten them. “I will get the wife to make a big rice pudding and we will share it between us. You know you love rice pudding and, if you do what I ask, you will be licking the bottom of your bowl.

Turning to his wife, who was now wide awake, he would sleepily tell her, “They are not bad wee men, darling. Look at them all leaving quietly except for ‘Old Red’ over there. You know, it’s the aches of his old age that makes him want to sleep in the same bed as myself.” His wife, of course, could see nothing and would angrily pout as her husband put his head down on the pillow again, pulled the bedclothes closer around him, and returned to a peaceful sleep. Mrs. Curran could not, unfortunately, do the same. When she was awakened it could take her an hour or more to get back to sleep again and, even then, there would only be an hour or two until she had to rise and prepare breakfast.

Just adjacent to the town’s boundary stood the house of Frankie McCann, where I had spent many happy nights with very close friends, playing cards. It was a comfortable, warm cottage in which the fire was never allowed to die in the hearth and the kettle was always on the boil. The far gable-end of the house from the entrance gate was partly built into a grass covered mound that was said by some to be a home to the fairy folk. For many of the townspeople, however, McCann’s house was not only a place for fairies, but it was said by them to be haunted by the spirits of unbaptised children that were buried on the southern side of the mound. The gossips said that none but the brave, the McCann family and unbelievers like me, dared to enter the property. It must be said, however, that in every way possible such rumours were nearly as good as a burglar alarm for keeping undesirables away.

Frankie’s child had been sickly baby since birth and even the doctor was not sure about exactly what was making her so sick. It was almost mid-summer, when fairies are at their most lively, that the child once again took a fever and began to cough harshly. One evening, around dark, we had gathered for a hand of cards in the house and we heard the strange sound of wood being sawed coming from the grassy mound. Puzzled by the noise we put our cards down on the table and decided that we would search for the source of the noise. On the mound, however, there were only white-thorn trees growing on the mound, and no local man in his right mind would even consider risking his life by sawing down one of those fairy trees. More puzzling to us was the fact that it was very late in the evening for any person to be sawing anything, which was also cause for concern.

There were seven or eight of us and we worked together to scour the entire property to find the source of the noise, but we found nothing. Other than ourselves we could find no other person, spirit or creature thereabouts. So, with nothing to be seen around the mound we returned to the house and sat down to resume our card game. But, we had no sooner sat down upon the chairs when the noise was heard once more, and this time it was much nearer to the house. We rushed from our seats into the darkness outside in the hope of catching the rascal off guard. Once again, however, we saw nothing untoward.

Several of us were standing together upon the grassy mound when we heard the sawing noise coming from a small hollow about one hundred yards from where we stood. Although the hollow was completely open to our view and we could hear the noise clearly, we could see no sign of a perpetrator. We moved closer to the hollow in the hope that we would finally discover who, or what, was making this strange noise. But, when we arrived at the hollow we could still hear the sawing noise, only now, added to this, there was the noise of nails being hammered into timber. It was now time, we decided, to send for ‘Mitch’ Curran’s assistance and we sent Tommy Bell to fetch him. Tommy’s task didn’t take him very long to complete and ‘Mitch’ was soon at our sides. As we expected, almost without hesitation, ‘Mitch’ announced the solution to our puzzle. He informed us, “It’s the fairies making the noise. I see them all and they are very busy.”

“But, what are they doing?” I asked him.

“They are building a coffin for a child,” he said almost in a whisper. “The body of the coffin is built and now they are finishing the lid.”

The breath rushed out of my body with the shock of what I had heard. My mind began to struggle to decide if what Mitch had said was true or not. Later, that very same evening the sickly child passed away and was grieved by the child’s loving parents. The next evening Frankie’s brother arrived at the house and, bringing a worktable outside, he began to construct a coffin for his niece. Those who heard the uncle working on this task at the back of the house agreed that the sawing and hammering sounds were exactly the same as those noises that were heard the previous night.

The Fairies

Where are the wonderful elves, and the fairy creatures bright?

Where are the tiny things that danced in the pale moonlight?

Danced in a magic ring, and fluttered in robes of white,

Like motes in the sunbeam whirled, like leaves in the forest hoar.

Hark to the sound of the sea, and the cry of the waves on the shore.

Where are the dusky gnomes who toiled in the golden ground?

So that the miners trembled hearing their hammers’ sound,

Hearing them tapping, tapping, delving in darkness bound,

A thousand tapping hammers, beneath them hammering.

Hark to the muttered thunder, the voice of the hidden spring.

Where are the forest fairies, the elves in Lincoln green,

Deep in the forest hidden, and never in cities seen,

Sought for by timid maidens, on sainted Hallowe’en,

The joy of all true lovers, a merry band were they!

Hark to the hum of the bee, in the scented blooms of May.

Where are the household fairies, who loved the embers’ glow,

Who played at games with the shadows flickering to and fro,

But left no track on the sanded floor, no trace on the fallen snow,

And filled up the little slippers the children left behind,

Hark to the howl of the tempest, the moan of the stormy wind.

The elves are waiting, waiting, for the golden days to come,

When grief shall be known no longer, nor faithful love be dumb;

Till the figures all are added up, and finished the mighty sum.

Ah yes, they are waiting, waiting, till grief shall be no more.

Hark to the rustle of raindrops, that kiss the deserted shore.

Running Water

Fairy Folklore

Sure, I’ll leave you past the stream,” said an old man to a friend of mine who was leaving my house one night.

Oh, don’t annoy yourself, Eddie,” my friend replied, laughing; “the night’s a clear one, and I won’t be afraid.

Sure, he’s not afraid of ghosts, Eddie? ” said I, when my friend had left.

Och, God bless you! He isn’t afraid?” smiled Eddie, “well, I don’t think you know him very long or you wouldn’t be saying that.

Do you tell me he is afraid of ghosts!” I exclaimed.

I do,” replied Ned emphatically, “that is unless he has changed greatly this last while.”

And what good would it do him if you escorted him over the stream?” I asked.

Ah! For goodness sake, do you know nothing at all?

I can assure you, Eddie, I, for one, am not well versed in those things. But I am very willing to learn.

And did you never hear that nothing bad can follow you past running water?” asked Eddie, astonished by my admission of ignorance.

Honestly, no,” I  replied. “Is that the truth?

Indeed, it is,” answered Eddie. ” Sure, I thought everybody knew that.”

Well, no, Eddie! In that part of the country where I come from, the people believe in ghosts alright, but I don’t think any ever heard of that.

Well, now, isn’t that a quare thing,” said Eddie, looking down at the floor thoughtfully.

And what would you do,” he asked, “if you were walking about at night, and, without hearing or seeing anything anywhere around you, you were to get a blow, very suddenly, on the back of your head?

By God! I suppose I’d turn around and strike back,” I answered and laughed.

Ha ha! Well, that is where you’d be entirely wrong. Indeed, that would be a move that would do you little good. Damn the bit harm your fists would be doing, for you’d only be beating the air. And, at the same time, you’d be getting such a thrashing yourself that if you ever survived it, you’d be a lucky man, and be thankful for some good person’s prayers.”

Well, tell me, what should I be doing then?” I inquired with great interest.

What should you be doing? Is that what you’re asking me?

Yes.”

You should be walking on you should, until you cross a stream of running water, and whatever it is that would be trying to do you harm couldn’t follow you past it.

“Oh, I see!” I replied, rather deflated by the answer he gave me, but to keep him encouraged I said, “That’s why you spoke about the stream a few  moments ago.

Aye, that’s the very way son,

Then there must be some magic charm in running water?

To be sure there is, and why wouldn’t there be?” he exclaimed earnestly as if I doubted his word.

The Bodach

The Bodachs are those creatures that hide beneath a child’s bed, reaching out with cold, bony fingers to grab unwary ankles and hiss unintelligible whispers in the dark of the night. They are the bogeymen of children’s dreams, who are especially adept at tormenting children. Because they prefer pinching babies above all other prey and are, therefore, common in nurseries, children’s wards, day-care centres, and other places where children gather.

Nightmare

The Bodachs are distant relations with the ‘Clurichauns’, being tied mostly to the indoors and living close to mortals. They keep themselves unseen, creeping into homes through chimneys and open cellars, lurking in damp basements and under furniture until the humans of the house go to sleep, which allows them the freedom to roam at will. It is a spirit that knows just what it must accomplish to terrify a child the most, and it thrives on the screams of those awakened from sleep by nightmares. Although the Bodach has no qualms about ‘bleeding’ its victims dry of their screams, they rarely kill their victims, preferring to keep them alive for future feeding. It is also not unknown for some Bodachs to hide themselves behind equipment and beds in children’s hospitals, always seeking the weakest victim they can.

In appearance, Bodachs are wizened, wrinkly, and apparently without gender. Whatever age they may be, they appear to have wispy hair, stooped shoulders, and sour expressions. In stature, they rarely stand above five-feet tall. All are noted for having sunken cheeks, bony limbs, pointed ears and pitiless eyes. They can move much quicker than you might think, scuttling about on all four limbs, like spiders.

Much like an octopus, if the Bodach has a hole to squeeze through, it can gain entry. Although they prefer the roominess of chimneys as their usual point of entry and exit, the Bodachs have been known to enter houses through rat holes, ductwork, and even up pipes leading to toilets. Moreover, those who try to capture one find that they cannot get a firm grip, or hold them in a clinch because their natural ability ensures they are quickly freed.

Nevertheless, Bodachs are just as frail as they look. They need to remain unseen at all times in order to obtain the greatest amount of benefit from the victim’s screams, because being seen risks serious injury or death. Tradition tells us that homes with cats

True or not?

There are some people who doubt the existence demons and fairies, Hell, or Heaven. At a Christmas dinner last year, a woman told me that she did not believe in ghosts or fairies, in Hell or a Heavenly paradise. She was sure that Hell was an invention created by the priesthood as a means of frightening people into being good, while ghosts, she was certain, would not be allowed to go wandering all over the mortal to do whatever they willed.  The woman did, however, express a strong belief in the Fairy Folk, Leprechauns, water-horses, and in fallen an angels. At the same party I also met a man whose arms were covered in tattoos, and he held exactly the same beliefs and doubts as the woman did. Isn’t it strange that, in Ireland, no matter what we doubt, we never seem to doubt the existence of the fairy folk. But why should this be so?

There was a little girl in service to a family that lived in a seaside village along the County Down coast, beneath the shadows of the Mourne Mountains, just before the land was partitioned. Her sudden disappearance caused immediate and great excitement in the district because the rumour spread that she had been taken by the fairies. There was a story doing the rounds that a local man had struggled to keep the girl from the fairies, but they prevailed and took her from him, leaving nothing in his hands but a broomstick. The local police reacted quickly by instituting a house-to house search and advising locals to burn all the ragweed in the field from which she had vanished, believing that this action would force the fairy folk to return the girls since ragweed (bucalauns) is sacred to them. The local people spent the entire night burning bucalauns, while the police constable acted like a fairy doctor, repeating spells all the time. The next morning the little girl was discovered, wandering alone in the field. She said that the fairies had taken her far away on a fairy horse until she came at last to big river. Here she saw the man, who had tried to keep her from being carried off by the fairies drifting down the great river in a cockleshell. On the way to the river her fairy companions told her the names of several people in the village who, they prophesied, would die soon.

The policeman was right when he said it was better to believe unproved claims that appear to have little truth about them, than to deny such a claim just for the sake proof, for anyone who does this no longer has an open mind that is willing to seek out the truth. Such people have to fumble their way in a great dark and empty world in which all kinds of demons. There is no evil that can touch us if we keep a fire in our hearth and in our souls, and welcome with an open hand whatever comes to seek warmth, whether it be a man or a demon. We should not be too keen to speak fiercely to those visitors and demand that they, “Be gone!” After all, who are we to judge that our scepticism is better and more worthy than someone’s true belief.

Jim

Funeral Among the Little People

The term of Fairy life appears…

Restricted to a thousand years ; `

And hence, ’tis said, the envious spite,

With which some fairy elves delight ‘

To vex those days with care and strife,

Which prelude man’s immortal life.

Though Fancy’s eye at eve has seen

Bright fairies dancing on the green ;

And oft returning traced at morn

The rings by frequent footsteps worn ;

Though Fancy’s eye has Puck espied

While many a trick malign he tried;

Or kinder sprites has seen at night,

Aid human toils with elfish might

Their bounty oft in gifts has known,

Or proved-their wants by trivial loan;

Their utmost weakness still was hid,

A sight to prying gaze forbid,

Till one strange night, revealed at last

To rustic Wight, with awe aghast.

Amid the drifted sands of Hayle,

The home of many a fairy tale,

From far St. Ives old Richard came,

With pilchards laden for his dame.

Retarded by the burden’s weight,

He crossed the mystic Towyn late.

From cloudless skies a moon serene,

With silvery light illumined the scene ;

A deadened hell, with toll suppressed,

Alone disturbed the landscape’s rest ;

As up the hill his course he wound,

With wondering ears he caught the sound,

And when towards Lelant church he drew,

Bright lights within it gleamed to view.

Then nameless fears his heart assailed,

Yet hope inquisitive prevailed;

With cautious steps, with movement still,

He ventured towards a window sill,

Peeped in, and dazzled by the light,

Saw only, all within was bright.

At length, along the centre aisle,

With progress slow, in double file

He saw a long procession move

Through crowds impressed with sorrowing love.

Their tiny torches, slips of pine,

On all the fair, assembly shine,

And flowers of phosphorescent light

Cast radiance from the altar’s height.

No coffin, sable robes, or pal],

Obscured this fairy funeral.

They wreaths of ting roses wore,

And sprays of blossomed myrtle bore ;.

Six to the bier their shoulders pressed,

Whereon, attired in flowing vest,

A fairy lady, so minute

No human type her form might suit,

So fair, so exquisite, her face,

Our language fails to speak its grace ;

So lovely, in that sad display,

Like “ a dead seraph ” there she lay.

White flowers the little corpse o’erspread,

White blossoms wreathed the beauteous head,

And twined among the hair’s gold thread.

The bier approached the altar rail,

They rested it within the pale,

While close beneath that altar’s shade,

With many a pickaxe small, and spade,

A host of little sextons gave

Their toil to shape a little grave.

With all the reverence of love,

Then tenderest hands the corpse remove,

And fondest looks all thronging pressed

To see her, ere her latest rest.

The corpse was lowered, and off they tear

Their wreaths, and breaking in despair

Their flowery branches wildly spread,

And loudly wail, Our Queen is dead !

Our Queen is dead ! A sexton’s spade

Then dust on that fair body laid,—

And thrilling from the host arose

A shriek, so eloquent of woes,

That Richard, from his caution thrown,

Augments its clamour with his own.

That very instant all was rout,

And every fairy light went out.

Unknown

Changeling

It is said that in days long ago there were hordes of the ‘Good People’ who travelled all over this island. They were regarded as being a proud people, somewhat conceited their attitudes, and they would ride their fairy horses while soft and enchanting music played around them. But on their travels the ‘Good People’ were renowned for their habit of changing the children of mortals with one of their own, and despite the great efforts of the mortal parents to raise these children to certain standard they never met with any success.

In those days a peaceful man called Nolan lived in a small cabin that stood on a piece of land just beyond the River Bann. He was fortunate enough to meet and marry a pretty and mild-mannered woman, who gave birth to a baby boy in the first year of their marriage. Their joy at this blessing was, however, short-lived for it quickly became apparent that there was something wrong with the child. From his earliest days the child could not be taught how to crawl, or stand upright, walk, or even speak. Many of the neighbours began to conclude that the baby boy had been born a fool, but they were confused by the fact that he was physically perfect except for his larger than normal head.

Whatever the cause of the child’s problems, his mother considered to be a great challenge taking care of him in the home. Even as the child grew, he could do nothing to help himself, depending on his mother to lift him out of bed in the morning and to carry him to a chair, where she would make every effort to ensure he was comfortable for the entire day. Sitting in his chair the boy would the fire burn in the hearth until the shadows of night began to fall, and all the while he appeared to be happy and content with his lot. But he did appear to have good observational skills and even if the slightest item went missing from its usual place, he would have an angry scowl on his face until it was restored to its proper setting. And yet, his main delight was the turf fire, and when a sod of turf would fall the sparks would fly up the chimney. On seeing this display of sparks the child’s eyes would light up and he would open his mouth wide as if to shout out his approval, but not a sound was emitted from the Nolan child.

There came a day when Nolan and his wife decided that they would go to the local market, leaving the care of their child in the hands of two servants, a boy and a girl. “Now, keep a good fire burning in the hearth so the child can keep himself amused by watching the sparks from the glowing sods fly up the chimney. There’s plenty of work to be done, so work just as if I was standing at your back and telling you what to do,” said Mrs. Nolan as she left the house through the front door. But the Nolans had not long left the house when the two servants ceased working and began playing.

It was the servant boy who suggested, “We should make ourselves a wee bit of a feast now that the mistress and Mr. Nolan have left. After all, the ‘wee man’ here is not the full shilling and won’t be able to tell on us!” So, they brought out the fresh butter, cream and flour to bake cakes, and they built up the fire, set the pot hooks into the ears of the roasting pan and let down the crook for it to hang upon.

All being well,” said the girl, “that will be well worth the wait!” Then she put the batter at the fire to bake. But all the time they were preparing their feast Nolan’s child watched their every move, not making a noise and hoping that he might be given a share of the food that his minders were preparing.

Meanwhile the cake was baking very satisfactorily, turning a beautiful golden colour and a really tempting smell began to rise from it. The two servants were now feeling very good, chatting with each other and laughing at each other’s jokes until the boy took a quick glance over the half-door to the cottage. “Jesus, Mary and Joseph!” he exclaimed. “We’re going to be well caught now, for mister Nolan and the wife are almost upon us!

It was indeed the Noland back from the market, much earlier than expected. Shocked into action the servant girl quickly removed the cake from the fire and slipped it under the child’s chair to hide it from view. “He has a terrible look on his face,” she told the servant boy.

“That is no problem, for the idiot can’t tell them anything!”

No sooner was the cake hidden from view than the Nolans walked into the house. But all four of them nearly fainted with shock and fear, for as soon as the child saw its parents, he cried out loudly, “Hot, hot, under my chair!” The servants were frozen to the spot, dreading that their secret would be discovered, and they would be immediately dismissed from their positions. They could see the steam rising and the child continued to shout, “Hot, hot, under my chair!” No other words were uttered by the child, but the one constantly repeated phrase, “Hot, hot, under my chair.”

Still reeling from the shock of hearing their child speak out, Nolan and his wife just could not comprehend what he was saying. Trembling with excitement at the experience they never thought to take a moment to consider if his words were making any real sense at all. The child was still calling, “Hot, hot, under my chair!” and his parents never once thought to look around the room to see if anything wrong, and the two servants continued to look after their own interests by keeping silent. A sense of confusion continued to reign in the house until night began falling and everyone in the house was weary, and completely puzzled. Mrs. Nolan took hold of her son and carried him to his bed and tucked him in comfortably as she did every night. But there was not to be much rest for anyone in the house that night.

In the deep blackness of the night a powerful storm sprang up, which shook the house to its foundations with its strength. It was as if the winds blew in from every point on the compass at one time, fighting with each other in an unending effort to gain mastery. But within these winds could be heard strange noises, music and shouting voices that were evidence that the ‘Good People’ were out and about in the night playing or battling among themselves. Believing that the strange noises would frighten her child with their loudness, Mrs. Nolan took a light in her hand and went to her son’s bed. “Is everything alright, son?” she asked calmly and quietly, although she did expect him to answer. To her surprise, however, she found that the child was not in her bed, for he was already away with the fairy horsemen that had come to fetch him.

After the mother had discovered that the child had disappeared the entire disturbance about the house ceased just as quickly as it had started. The music that had accompanied the ‘Good People’ now faded into the distance and the strong winds had become like a soft breeze on a warm summer’s morning. It was now that the Nolans realised that the fierce storm had been a simple fairy diversion to cover their nightly antics.

The child was never returned to the heartbroken Nolans, but from that moment onward the ‘Good People’ left them in peace. Never again did they hear the enchanting music coming from the distant hills, nor experience the passage of the fairy host near their home. It was a sad and lonely time for the couple and often they would look forlornly at the chair where their child would sit, delightedly watching the turf glowing red in the hearth and the sparks fluttering up the chimney.

Shot

A Folklore Article

When a cow becomes dull, refuses to take food, moans, and gives other indications of suffering peculiar pain, the conclusion at once arrived at is that “she’s shot,” or, as is expressed in Irish “tá sí cáithte.” The allusion is to the sídheóga, or fairies, and the belief is that they have shot the cow.

There are peculiar symptoms which proclaim unmistakably that the cow has been shot, the principal being swelling of the body and painful moaning. Only the village ‘Cow Doctor’, however, can tell definitely. I often saw these ‘handy men,’ as they are not unfrequently called, diagnosing, and helped them to perform the cure ceremony which, I venture to say, is one of the strangest ever recorded.

The doctor stands at one side of the cow, his assistant at the other. The assistant procures a pair of tongs and a red turf coal, and slightly burns the ‘sign of the cross’ on the hair of the cow’s side. He then hands the tongs across the cow’s body to the ‘doctor’, who burns similarly the ‘sign of the cross’ on the other side, after which he passes the tongs over the cow’s back to his assistant again. This is repeated three times, and the first and principal part of the ceremony is concluded by making the ‘sign of the cross’ with the coal on the cow’s nostrils.

The second part is rather in the nature of a ‘test’ than a ‘cure’. The doctor ‘measures’ the cow with his arm from ‘elbow’ to the ‘point’ of his fingers, beginning at the cow’s tail and going towards the horns. The ‘measurement’ is also repeated three times, and if the cow is to get better, the second measurement should be shorter than the first, and the third shorter than the second, etc. Should the ‘cure’ fail – and it never fails if the cow suffers from ‘shot’ and the doctor is called in time – the owner is requested, in order to prevent a fatal termination, to “Tabhair do Mhártan i,” which means, “Giver her to Martin,” meaning St. Martin. The invariably acquiesces, and then a ‘nick’ is cut in the animal’s ear. Blood flows and death is averted. The animal can never afterwards be sold but must be killed and eaten as a feast on St. Martin’s Eve, not necessarily for many years afterwards.

In the north of Ireland, the practice is somewhat different. The owner is not prohibited from selling the animal, and instead of giving it to ‘Martin’, some member of the family who is considered ‘lucky’ is presented with it. It is no uncommon thing to see several animals, particularly cows and sheep, at fairs with incisions in their ears, or a piece cut out. If there are many incisions it is regarded as a sign that the animal is of delicate constitution, with the result that there is a reduction in the price.

The number of incisions shows the number of times the animal was in danger of death.

Fairy Lore

“Fairy Preventions”

One old remedy for protecting a home against the ‘Good People’ is, immediately after sunset, to lock every door and window in the house and light a great turf fire in the hearth, into which you place nine irons. As these irons become heated a great noise will be heard from outside the house that are the cries of a witch trying to gain entry, begging and shrieking in pain to remove the irons from the fire, for they were burning her. When the witch finds that all her entreaties are useless, she will return to her home, shrieking, and bring back all the butter that she had previously taken. It is only then that the irons should be removed from the fire and thereby cease her torment. From that moment the farmer shall be able to enjoy the quality of his butter production and relish its undiminished quality.

It has been a long-held tradition in Ireland that a good and careful housewife should always leave a large container full of good drinking water in the kitchen before going to bed for the night. Folklore tells that one night a woman was suddenly awakened during the night by a great noise coming from the kitchen. When she went into her kitchen the woman found a crowd of the ‘fairy folk’ busying themselves cooking food on the fire or preparing the food for a feast. When they saw the woman of the house, ‘the good people’ warned her to go back to bed and she very wisely obeyed their command. When she arose the next morning the woman found that everything in the kitchen appeared to be undisturbed, except the large container that she had used for holding drinking water. The container was now full of blood, which was a hint to the woman that she should leave plenty of pure spring water for the self-invited guests.

Another story tells us that one night, in a remote cabin that sat in a wild and mountainous district of the country, many years ago, two hard-working women busied themselves spinning flax. In the silence of the night their work was suddenly disturbed by a loud knocking at the cabin door. Frightened by the unexpected noise the two women kept quiet until they heard a shrill voice ask, in Irish, “Are you within, feet-water?

I am,” a voice replied from within a pot that stood in the corner of the kitchen in which the family washed their feet before going to bed. There was a sound of splashing water, and an eel-like shaped creature rose up from the pot and, stretching forward, the door was unlocked door. From the night several small women of extraordinary appearance, and dressed in strange clothes, entered the cabin, and immediately began to use the spinning-wheel.

One of the women of the house, saying that she needed to fetch turf for the fire, went outside but immediately rushed back into the cabin shouting, “The mountain is on fire!

Shrieking loudly, the uninvited strangers immediately ran out of the house exclaiming, ” My husband and my children are burnt.” Seeing that their trick had succeeded the women of the house lost not a moment in resorting to the usual precautions against fairy influence. When they closed the door, they made it more secure with iron tongs, laid a broom against the door, threw a glowing ember from the hearth into the “feet water,” plucked a quill from the wing of a speckled hen, removed the band from the spinning-wheel, placed the carded flax under a weight, and made up the fire. They had scarcely returned to their bed when the mysterious visitors were heard outside again calling in Irish as before, ” Let me in, feet-water.” But this time, the pot answered them, “No, I cannot, for there is a spark in me.” The fairy women then called upon all the other objects in the cabin, one after another, “Let me in, tongs;” “Let me in, broom;” “Let me in, speckled hen;” “Let me in, wheel-band;” “Let me in, carded flax.” Each object replied that it was powerless to obey, owing to the precautions which had been taken. The fairies thereupon raised an angry yell of disappointed, and left, uttering the curse, “May your tutor meet her reward.” Once again, we see iron used as a charm against fairy-influence and fairy-assaults. But this folk legend also gives a description of the old custom of throwing a piece of burning peat into any vessel in which the feet have been washed. In some parts of Ireland, to this day, the hissing of an ember in a pot of water is a comfort to the residents of a remote cabin, for it assures them that their home is totally secure against the assaults of the “Good People.”

In some places a horseshoe is often seen nailed over the door of a house, a dairy, or a stable, or to the mast of a fishing boat. This is said to prevent the fairies from entering the house and doing mischief to those who reside there. At the same time, it is thought to prevent fairy mischief against a farmer’s milking the cows, or from taking the horses out of the stable and riding them over hill and dale the long night through, and leaving them to be discovered in the morning trembling in every limb exhausted and bathed in sweat. In another way the horseshoe works as a charm against fairies, who are supposed to be fond of lurking in fishing boats drawn up on the seashore and take great delight in hindering fishermen in their work. It is also traditional for a small piece of iron to be sewn into an infant’s clothes and kept there until it is baptised. Yet another prevention of Fairy interference with an infant is to put salt on the cradle.

Legend tells us that the fairies were conquered by a race of beings that used iron weapons, and it is because of this that they dread that metal, or steel. It is recommended to the friends of a person who has been carried off by the ‘Good People’ that, if they should venture into the underground retreat of the fairies to bring back the captive, they should arm themselves with a ‘Missal’, or a prayer-book, and an iron knife. This latter object was to be laid on the threshold of the entrance into the ‘Rath’ so it will prevent the fairies from pursuing the rescue-party when they have found the prisoner, and are in the act of carrying him off. Another practice recommended to persons wishing to recover a spell-bound friend from the fairies is to stand at a cross-roads on ‘All Hallow Eve’, or in a ‘Rath’, or at such a place that may be pointed out by a ‘Wise Woman’ or a ‘Fairy Doctor’. Having rubbed a special ointment on the eyelids, the fairies would become visible as the troop swept past the spot indicated, and the waiting person was able to recognise the prisoner by some peculiarity of their dress, or by some other means. A sudden gust of wind would indicate the nearby approach of the fairies, and those watching would stoop to gather up dust from under their feet, which they would throw at the procession. This action would compel the troop of fairies to surrender any human being that they might have in their custody.

Folklore tells that young mothers are supposedly carried off to nurse fairy children, and that well-known pipers or fiddlers were also taken and transported to underground dwellings, where, if they ate and drank of the good things offered to them by ‘the Good People’, they would never be allowed to return to their earthly homes. Meanwhile, for a girl to dream that she sees a fairy is a sign that she will soon be married. While it is a favourable omen for a woman to dream of fairies, it is considered to be an unfavourable sign for men, and no man should undertake any important matter for several days after such a dream, or it will surely end in disappointment.

In remote parts of the country some people still believe that the fairies change children in the cradle, and if an infant begins to pine or become peevish, it is believed to be a sign that such an exchange has been affected. Indeed, there are many detailed reports concerning the removal or substitution of a child are not uncommon. In his epic poem ‘The Faerie Queene’, Edmund Spenser describes one such incident –

“. . . A fairy thee unweeting reft,

There as thou slept in tender swaddling band,

And her base elfin brood there for thee left,

Such, men do changelings call, so changed by fairies’ theft.”

It was such tales that encouraged people to carefully watch their babies until they were christened, in case they were carried off or changed by ‘The Good People’.

It was said by people that until a woman had gone through the ceremony of ‘Churching’, after the birth of her child, she remained the most dangerous being on earth. No one should eat food from her hand, and myriads of demons are always around her trying to do harm, until the priest comes and sprinkles holy water over her. It was claimed that even if she went to the river to wash, the fish would all swim away from her in fear, for fishes are a very pious race, and cannot bear to be touched by unholy hands ever since the mark of Christ’s fingers was on them. Legend informs us that they were once, by accident, the overheard an argument against transubstantiation, which was held by a heretic, and they were so shocked at his language that they all left the river. The disappointed angler could not help regretting that the fish were so very particular as to the teachings of tenets of Mother Church.

If a man leaves the house after his wife’s confinement, tradition holds that some of his clothes should be spread over the mother and infant, or the fairies will carry them both off, for the fairy queen desires, above all things, a mortal woman to nurse her fairy offspring. And if her own child happens to be an ugly little sprite, she will gladly exchange it for the beautiful human babe, who henceforth will live entirely in fairyland, and never more see his kindred or home.

Fairy changelings are recognised by their tricky nature, and by constantly complaining and crying for food. One method, which at immediately demonstrates the nature of the child, is to place it over the fire on an iron shovel until, with wild shrieks, the fairy vanishes up the chimney, screaming all sorts of curses on the household that has it this way. But while waiting for the solution of the enigma, the unfortunate child is often so dreadfully burned that it dies in great agony, its cries being heard with callous indifference by its parents, who imagine that it is the fairy child, not their own offspring, that is tortured. The fairy changeling often produces a set of tiny bagpipes, sits up in the cradle, and plays jigs, reels, and lively dance music. The inmates of the cottage are forced, greatly against their will, to commence dancing, and this enforced amusement continues until they sink from exhaustion. When the infant is thus known to be undoubtedly a changeling, it is removed on an iron shovel from the cabin, and placed on the centre of the dunghill while rhymes are recited by the fairy doctor, the director of the operations, along with some verses in Irish, such as the following:

” Fairy men and women all,

List ! it is your baby’s call;

For on the dunghill’s top he lies

Beneath the wide inclement skies.

Then come with coach and sumptuous train,

And take him to your mote again;

For if ye stay till cocks shall crow,

You’ll find him like a thing of snow;

A pallid lump, a child of scorn,

A monstrous brat of fairies born.

But ere you bear the boy away,

Restore the child you took instead;

When like a thief, the other day,

You robbed my infant’s cradle bed.

Then give me back my only son,

And I’ll forgive the harm you’ve done;

And nightly for your sportive crew,

I’ll sweep the hearth and kitchen too;

And leave you free your tricks to play,

Whene’er you choose to pass this way.

Then like ‘good people,’ do incline

To take your child and give back mine.”

(Recorded and translated by – Rev. John O’Hanlon)

When the ceremony is completed, all retire into the cottage, the door is carefully closed, and additional incantations are recited. Any sound made by the wind, or the noise made by a passing vehicle, is regarded as a signal of the fairy host arriving or departing. Then, the cabin door is opened carefully and the assembled party walk to the manure heap. The Fairy Doctor then hands the poor emaciated baby to the deluded parents, who declares that the ‘true child’ has been returned by the “Good People.”

Running Water

“Wait! I’ll leave you past the stream,” said Old Ned to my friend, Jimmy, who was leaving my house one night.

“Oh, don’t mind Ned,” replied Jimmy, laughing, “the night’s clear and I won’t be afraid.”

“Sure, Jimmy’s not afraid of ghosts, Ned,” I said when my friend had left.

“Och, dear boy, God bless you! Isn’t he thin?” said Ned, “you don’t know him long or you wouldn’t say that.”

“Is that right!” I asked.

“Indeed, I do,” replied Ned emphatically, “that is, unless he has changed greatly of late.”

“And what good would it do him if you escorted him over the stream? I inquired.

“Ah, dear boy, you don’t know much, do you?”

“I can tell you, Ned, that I know nothing about such things, but I am eager to learn.”

“And did you not know that nothing bad can follow you past running water?” asked an astonished Ned.

“No, by God, I didn’t know,” I told him. “Is it true?”

“Of course, it is,” replied Ned. “Sure, I thought everyone knew that.”

“Well, no, Ned. In the part of the country I come from, although the people believe in ghosts, I never heard it.”

“Well, now, that’s odd,” said Ned as he looked down at the floor thoughtfully. “And what would you do,” he asked abruptly, “If you’re walking out at night, and, without hearing or seeing anything around you nowhere, you were to get a sudden blow on the back of your head?”

“By God! I suppose I would turn around and strike back,” I answered, laughing.

“Then, I tell you, that’s were you would be entirely wrong. By Jesus, it is little good it would do you. You wouldn’t be doing much harm with your blows, for you would be just beating the air. But you would get such a beating that, if you ever got over it you would be a lucky man, and have some good people praying for you.”

“What should I do, then?” I inquired with much interested.

“What would you do? Is that what you’re asking me?”

“Yes”.

“Well, then, you should walk on as quickly as you can until you cross a stream of running water, and whatever it would be that would be trying to harm you could not follow you past it.”

“Oh, I see! That’s why you spoke about the stream a few moments ago.”

“Aye, that’s the reason.”

“Then, there must be some charm in running water?”

“Of course, there is! Sure, why wouldn’t there be!” Ned exclaimed earnestly.