Danny Kelly – The Fairy Finder

Part 1

leprechaun mythWherever you travel in Ireland there is a phrase you may often hear, namely – “Finding a fortune”. When a man dreams of wealth he will often say that he is “dreaming of finding a fortune. Likewise, if any poor man eventually becomes a man of wealth, this progress is scarcely ever thought of as being the result of hard work, intelligence, or even perseverance. Generally, the people around him will say that he either “found a fortune”, or fell into one. Some would even suggest that he had become wealthy by secretly digging up “a crock of gold” in the ruins of an old abbey, or by catching hold of a Leprechaun and forcing him to give a crock of gold as his ransom. How, when and where the man came into the wealth is totally immaterial, because most people will be satisfied with the simple suggestion that, “He found a fortune”. Many Irishmen would suggest that going into the particulars would only destroy the romance, and their love of wonder is much more fulfilled by the thought that the change from poverty to wealth was the result of superhuman aid. The very idea that the journey to wealth can be attributed to the merely mortal efforts of hardwork and prudence is so very boring.

There is always some old gossip in every community who has a plentiful supply of stories to make her listeners marvel at the wonderful and extraordinary short cuts that some have used to gain their fortunes. There is an old Irish saying that states, “That there never was a fool who had not a greater fool to admire him.” In the same manner there never was an old woman who told such stories, who did not have plenty of listeners to her.  One listener to such stories was Danny Kelly, and he enjoyed listening to a certain ‘Cailleach’ who had an extensive library of stories for every possible occasion. Danny was a true devotee to the old hag and would often give her small gifts to encourage her to relate her tales. In most cases these gifts were packets of cigarettes, to which she had a particular craving.

Another regular attendant  at the feet of the Cailleach was Una Lennon, who was as much mesmerised by the stories as was Danny Kelly. In fact, the two of them were as idle as each other when it came to work. A day never passed that Danny and Una did not pay a visit to the old woman, because she was always ay home, seated in a huge armchair, because she was too old and decrepit to move far. In fact, the furthest that the old woman could walk was from her armchair to the large seat outside the cottage door. In the warm summer days she could be found seated here enjoying the warming rays of the sun and ready to tell her stories. There she would sit and rock herself to and fro in the sunny days of July and August, dressed in her old creased clothes that appeared not to have been washed in a very long time. With her long, untidy grey hair not brushed the casual observer may have asked if she was made for the dilapidated cottage, or had they simply grown into a likeness of one another. The tattered thatch on the roof resembled the old woman’s straggling hair, and the spots of old age on her face were like the grey lichens that covered the cottage walls. The sallow colour of those walls bore a very strong likeness to the tint of the old woman’s shrivelled skin. At the top of the roof there was a rudely built chimney that out of which flowed clouds of grey-blue smoke. In fact, the chimney and the old woman could be seen smoking away from morning until night, and both were poorly dressed, lonely, and were fast falling into decay.

It was at this cottage that Danny Kelly and Una Lennon were sure to meet every day. Danny would usually saunter up to the cottage and call out, “Good morning, Granny!”

“The same to you, dear boy,” the old woman would mumble in her usual way.

“Here are some cigarettes for you, granny.”

Ah, sure you’re a real wee darling, Danny. Many thanks, but I hadn’t expected to see you today.”

“No, Granny,  you wouldn’t have, for I was only passing this way, while I ran an errand for the Boss and I thought that I might as well step over and find out how you were doing.”

“You’re a good boy, Danny.”

“Thanks, but it’s a hot day, by God, and it’s not going to get any cooler soon. I’m totally out of breath and the sweat is running down the sheugh of my arse, for I’m not fit for all this running. But, this is an important errand, and the Boss man told me to hurry up. That is why I was running, and I took a short cut across the fields and past the old castle. When I was passing by there I suddenly remembered what you told me a wee while ago. You know, about the crock of gold that is hid there for certain, and waiting for anyone that could, to come upon it.”

“Aye, and that’s the truth, Danny, wee darling. I have never heard about any other hidden crock of gold, that I can remember.”

“Well, well! think of that! Then, it will be me that will be the lucky man that finds it.”

“Good luck to you, Danny. But, that will not be until it is laid out for someone to pick it up.”

“Sure, isn’t that what I have often said to myself, and why would it not be my chance to be the man that the treasure was laid out for.”

“Well, there’s no one who  knows that,” mumbled the old woman mysteriously, as she put out the butt of her cigarette and lit a new one from the fresh stock Danny had brought her.

“That’s true enough. Oh, but you have a great deal of knowledge, granny! There is no knowing what the future holds for anyone, but they say there’s great virtue in dreams.”

“Sure, there is no one that can deny that, Danny,” said the Cailleach, “and by the way maybe you would step into the house and bring me out a bit of live turf from the fire to light my cigarette.”

“Of course I will, granny;” and away Danny went to do what he had been asked.

While Danny was raking from amongst the embers on the hearth for  a piece of still live turf, Una made her appearance outside the old woman’s cottage, giving her the usual cordial greeting. Just as she had given her greeting, Danny emerged from the cottage, holding a bit of glowing turf between two sticks that acted as a pair of makeshift tongs. “Surprise, surprise, is that you Danny?” Una asked.

“Sure, who else would it be?” said Danny.

“Well, you told me over an hour ago, down there in the big field, that you were in a hurry and hadn’t got time to talk.”

“True. I am in a hurry, and I wouldn’t be her at all only I just stepped in to say ‘Good day!’ to the old one, and to light a cigarette for her, the poor dear.”

“Well, don’t be standing there and allowing the coal to go black, Danny,” said the old woman; “but let me light my cigarette immediately.”

“Of course, granny,” said Danny, as he applied the lit piece of turf to the end of her cigarette until it began to glow read with inhale.  “And now,  Una, darling, if you’re so sharp when it comes to other peoples’ business, what the devil brings you here, when you should be taking care of  the geese up in the yard. It is there you should be, and not here. I wonder what would the Boss woman would say if she knew?”

“Oh, sure I left them safe, and they should be able to take care of themselves for a wee bit longer, and I wanted to ask granny about a dream I had.’

“But, so do I,” said Darby, “and you know the rule is first come first served.  And so, granny, you have always said that there’s a great amount of truth in dreams.”

She took a long-drawn drag of her cigarette and said nothing at all about dreams. “By Jaysus, but that’s a good bit of tobacco in them cigarettes! Aye, it’s fine and strong, and almost takes the breath from you, it’s so good. Well done to you Danny, darling boy!”

“You’re very kind, granny. But, as I was saying about the dreams–you said that there was a great amount of truth in them.”

“Who says there is not?” said the old woman in an authoritative tone, and gave Danny a dark and disapproving look.

“Sure, it isn’t me you would suspect of saying such a thing? I was only going to tell you that I had a very clear dream last night, and sure, I came here to ask you about what it meant.”

“Well, my dear, tell us your dream,” said the old woman as she took an increasing number of long drags from her cigarette.

“Well, you see,” said Danny,

“That’s very true, my darling boy! Now go on.”

“Well, as I was saying, I came to the cross-roads, and soon after I saw four walls. Now, I think those four walls means the old castle to me.”

“That’s likely enough, dear boy.”

“Oh,” said Una, who was listening with her mouth as wide open as Carlingford Lough, “sure, you know the old castle has only three walls, and how could that be it?”

“That doesn’t matter at all,” said the old woman, “It ought to have four walls, and that’s the same thing!”

“Well, well! I never thought of that,” said Una, as she lifted her hands above her head in wonder. “Sure enough, so it ought!”

“Go on, Danny,” said the old woman .

“Well, I thought the greatest number of crows that I have ever seen flew out of the castle, and I think that must mean that the gold is there!”

“Did you count how many there was?” asked the Cailleach, solemnly.

“No! Sorry, but I never thought of that,” said Danny, deeply vexed by his apparent omission

“Well, could you tell me if there was an odd or even number of them, dear boy?”

No, sure I could not say for certain.”

“Well, that’s it!” said the old woman, shaking her head in disappointment. “How can I tell the meaning of your dream, if you don’t know how it came out exactly?”

“Well, granny, but don’t you think the crows were a sign of gold?”

“Yes–if they flew low down.”

“By God then, now I remember, they did fly low down in the sky, and I said to myself there would be rain soon, because the crows were flying so low.”

“I wish you didn’t dream of rain, Danny.”

“Why not,  granny? What harm is there in it?”

“Oh, nothing, only it comes in an awkward place in your dream.”

“But it doesn’t spoil the dream, I hope?”

“Oh no, not at all. Go on.”

“Well, with that, I thought I was passing by Dolan’s grain store, and he asked me, ‘Will you carry home this sack of meal for me?’ Now, you know, meal is a sign of money. Sure, every fool knows that.”

“You’re right, dear boy.”

“And so I took the sack of meal on my shoulder, and I thought the weight of it was killing me, just as if it was a sack of gold.”

“Go on Danny.”

“And with that I thought I met with a cat, and that, as you know, means an ill-natured woman.”

That’s right, Danny.”

“And says she to me: ‘Danny Kelly,’ says she, ‘you’re mighty yellow about the face. God bless you! Is it the jandies (jaundice) you have?’ says she. Now wasn’t that mighty sharp of her? I think the jandies means gold?”

Yes. If it was the yellow jandies you dreamed about, but not the black jandies.”

“Well, it was the yellow jandies.”

“Very good, dear boy, that’s making a fair job of it.”

“I thought so myself,” said Danny, “even more so when there was a dog in my dream next, and that’s another sign, you know.”

“Right, dear boy.”

“And he had a silver collar on him.”

“Oh, that silver collar is not so good, Danny. What made you dream of silver, anyway?”

“Why, what harm is there in that?”

“Oh, I thought you knew better than to dream of silver. Why, my young friend, sure, silver is a sign of disappointment, everywhere.”

“Oh, damnation!” said Danny, in horror, “and is my dream spoilt by that bloody collar?”

“It is almost spoilt. But, it isn’t yet. It would be spoilt only for the dog. Now, the dog is a good sign, and so it will be only a small disappointment, maybe a falling out with some acquaintance.”

“Oh, what does that matter,” said Danny. “Sure, the dream is still good, isn’t it?”

“Aye, the dream is still good. But, tell me if you also dreamed of three sprigs of spearmint at the end of it?”

“Well, I could not say for certain, because I was just about to awaken at that time, and the dream was not so clear to me.”

“I wish you could be more certain of that.”

“You know, I have it my mind that there was spearmint in it, because I thought there was a garden in part of it, and the spearmint was likely to be there.”

“It is, sure enough, and so you did dream of the three sprigs of spearmint.”

“Indeed, I could almost swear on the good book that I dreamt of it. I’m nearly certain, if not completely sure.”

“Well, that’s reasonable. It’s a good dream, Danny.”

“Is it, really?”

“Indeed it is, Danny. Now wait until the next quarter of the new moon, and dream again then, and you’ll see what’ll come of it.”

“Be sure that I will, granny. Oh, but it’s you have taken the meaning out of it beyond everything, and rest assured that, if I find the crock, it will be yourself who will also profit from it. But, I must be going now, granny. The Boss man told me to hurry with my errand, or else I would stay longer with you. Good morning’ to you, good morning! Una! I’ll see you to-morrow sometime, granny.” And Danny went off with a new spring in his step.

From the foregoing story you can see just how gullible poor Danny was, but it was not in his belief of the “truth in dreams” alone that his weakness lay. He had a very deep belief in fairy folk of all sorts and sizes when discussions came around to them, and he was always on the look-out for a Leprechaun. Now, a Leprechaun is a fairy of peculiar tastes, properties and powers, which it is necessary to acquaint you, the reader, with. His taste as to occupying his time is humbly working at making shoes, and he loves to hide himself away in shady nooks where he can sit alone and pursue his vocation undisturbed. In fact, he is quite a hermit in this respect, for there is no instance of anyone seeing two Leprechauns together.

But, the Leprechaun is quite handsome in his outfit, which usually includes a red square-cut coat, that is richly laced with gold,  a waistcoat and trousers of the same style, a cocked hat, shoes and buckles. He has the habit of deceiving, in a great degree, those who chance to discover him. To date none has ever been known to outplay a Leprechaun in the “keen encounter of wits,” which his meeting with mortals always produces. This is brought about by him possessing the power of bestowing unbounded wealth on whoever can keep him within sight until he is so weary of being observed that he gives in to the ransom demanded. This is the final objective of any mortal who is fortunate to surprise and seize the Leprechaun. He must never look away from him, until the threat of his destruction forces the Leprechaun to produce the hidden treasure. This fairy being is, however, usually much too clever for us clumsy mortals and almost always sure to devise some trick that will make us avert our eyes, which will allow him to vanish from our grasp.

It was this ‘Enchanted Cobbler’ of the meadows that Danny Kelly was always seeking. Although he was constantly on the look-out for a Leprechaun, he had never even gotten within sight of one, and he had been given the name of the ‘Fairy Finder’ as a sign of the derision he was held in by others. There was also many a trick that was played upon him. On some occasions a twig stuck in the long grass, with a red rag hanging from it, has fooled Danny into cautious observance. He would carefully approach the decoy for a closer inspection, and a laugh from behind a bush or hedge would then have shown that he was the tool of some trickster. Yet, although this happened quite often, it did not cure him from his folly. There wasn’t a turkey- cock that had a quicker eye for a bit of red, or flew at it with greater eagerness, than Danny Kelly, and he continued to believe that one day or other he would reap the reward of his watching, by finding a  real Leprechaun.

O’Hara – The Fairy Man

Part 1

Spirit CouncilIf we were we to believe the stories and old wives’ tales handed down to us by our grandmothers we would not be faulted for thinking that, at one time, Ireland was a land controlled by spirits and demons. Ireland is filled with tales concerning witches, warlocks, white ladies, fairies, and leprechauns. It seems that the earth, the air, and the sky, were peopled by these mysterious beings at one time. In every crumbling and desolate cottage on the uninhabited moorland or woodland lived a witch or warlock. Elsewhere, the margins of our beautiful loughs, the hearts of our silent and isolated glens, the recesses of our romantic mountain valleys, the mould covered walls of every ancient ruin, and the mystic circle of each hill-fort, were said to be the chosen to all sorts of strange, unearthly beings.

These beliefs were not just held to by the ignorant and uneducated peasantry. In fact, many who were well educated and moved in more enlightened circles within society were equally infected by such beliefs. There were very sensible and well-informed people in the land who turned a deaf ear to any voice of reason and the dictates of common sense. In fact, such people would more easily doubt the truth of the Holy Bible than the existence of supernatural beings influencing life. The stories of such beings had become so interwoven in the superstition of the entire people, and social system, that no event could happen to a person during their lifetime in which the ‘Good People’ were not implicated, either for good or evil.

If the head, or a member, of a leading family died, the wail of the banshee was sure to be heard in the twilight calling for the ‘Death Coach’ to come. Should a favourite child in a family be brought down by disease, it was believed that the beautiful, beloved child had been changed for a squalling, ravenous, and decrepit starveling. If a farmer’s cattle ailed, or his milk cows were not productive, it was likely that the cattle had been touched by the fairies or bewitched. Should your much beloved wife be suddenly taken away from you, it was alleged that the fairies were the culprits. They took her in her most kind, loving, and the most interesting persona, and left you a bland, unattractive, wooden person in her stead.

I can recollect clearly the thrill of fear, mingled with a certain amount of pleasure, with which I listened to the tales of a great aunt. It is over fifty years since that time, when my great aunt would visit and warm herself at my mother’s fireside. She would chat idly over a cup of sweet tea and speak to me about all the spiritual beings that she had knowledge of. She was an educated woman, and very pious, but she would sooner doubt herself than the existence of witches and fairies. Her mind and memory was a fountain of knowledge and a store-room of memories of those occasions when they had played a role in the life of her family. These stories I then began to believe in most implicitly, particularly because in many instances the people involved were also members of my own family. For instance, she told me the story of how her grandfather, one autumn morning, detected a large hare, which was in the act of milking one of his cows. He fired his gun at thief, wounding it, and when he tracked the blood trail left behind, he discovered that it was flowing from the thigh of an old woman who lived in a nearby ruin of a cabin.

This knowledgeable woman could also relate how an elder brother had surprised a leprechaun as he was in the middle of making a pair of shoes for his people. Her brother could describe his clothing down to the smallest detail, and how the leprechaun had escaped captivity by pretending to strike at my uncle’s eye with his awl. This tactic caused my uncle to wink just at that moment when he was in the act of seizing the creature, and thereby prevented him from gaining his fortune. She also told the story of a child which was taken from its mother’s arms one night while she slept. Luckily, the child was missed before he could be carried out of the house, through the key-hole, and on hearing the cries of the heartbroken parent the child was dropped to the floor without suffering any injury. It had never occurred to my great aunt that the child might have rolled out of the bed accidentally.

There was another tale that she would often tell me, and it would have been worse than heresy to doubt the truth of it, because she knew the parties involved very well. There was an honest, hardworking man called John M’Kinney, who lived in a nearby village. One night, reluctantly, he was obliged to leave his warm bed during “the witching hour”. He had almost forgotten something of importance that was needed the next day and he went immediately to fetch it. While he was on his way back home the silence of the night was disturbed by the strokes of an axe reverberating through a neighbouring area of woodland. As he stopped to listen, John heard some voices in conversation with each other. His curiosity caused him to draw up and listen to what was being said. It was then, when he distinctly heard the question asked, “What are you doing to-night?” and to his dismay the response was, “I’m making a wife for John M’Kinney.”

“Devil the bit of it!” said Jack, “you’ll make no wife for me, for I have enough trouble already. I think I’ll do very well with the one I have.” With these words John turned on his heels and rushed home, hardly drawing his breath until he had his wife held tightly in his arms. He gripped her so tightly it was almost a death-grip he had on her, and we would not loosen his hold until the crisis was over, and in this way he had foiled the plans of the fairies,

In years gone by the entire social system within Ireland was deeply pervaded by the idea of supernatural influence. As a consequence of this there was an indefinable aura of dread and fear, which hung like the ‘Sword of Damocles’ over the heads of all, and embittered their very lives. It is true that the evil was only imaginary, but not on that account any the less hurtful. Superstition is a mental malady is, therefore, very difficult to counteract or eradicate, and often led to a sense of real anxiety and distress among people. Just as the case of M’Kinstrey, whose ideas were filled with witchcraft and fairy freaks, never even thought that the noise and voices he had heard might be a practical joke played by some of his neighbours. As a consequence, therefore, he suffered all the feelings of suspense and trouble that warned that there was real danger nearby.

The spread of useful knowledge and the dissemination of sound education among all classes in our society have lately effected a great change in the intellectual powers of the people. Such encounters with the supernatural, like those described herein, are still sometimes used to “adorn a tale,” are now unheeded. In fact, there are few of my countrymen who would hold, even for a single moment, any belief in the absurd idea of evil creatures. Nevertheless, there are always some exceptions. These exceptions might include a few old women, who may be still haunted by the sprites of their younger days. In some remote districts of the country a belief in witchcraft certainly prevails among the local folk. But, most of these beliefs and fears have been ingrained by prejudices from youth, and they have been fostered and kept alive by the practices of con-men and others who say they can prevent the effects of these beings with counter-charms. These low-lives exist and continue to prosper because of the credulity of the public. In general, throughout Ireland, belief in witches, fairies, and the like is virtually defunct now.

The Fairy Thorn

A Poem written in Ireland by Samuel Ferguson (1810-1886)

Get up, our Anna dear, from the weary spinning wheel;

For your father’s on the hill, and your mother is asleep:

Come up above the crags, and we’ll dance a highland-reel

Around the fairy thorn on the steep.

At Anna Grace’ door ’twas thus the maidens cried,
Three merry maiden fair in kirtles of the green,
And Anna laid the rock and the weary wheel aside,
The fairest of the four, I ween.
They’re glancing through the glimmer of the quiet eve,
Away in milky wavings of neck and ancle bare;
The heavy-sliding stream in its sleepy song they leave,
And the craigs in the ghostly air.
And linking hand in hand, and swinging as they go,
The maids along the hill-side have ta’en their fearless way,
Till they come to where the rowan trees in lonely beauty grow
Beside the Fairy Hawthorn grey.
The Hawthorn stand between the ashes tall and slim,
Like matron with her twin grand-daughters at her knee;
The Rowan berries cluster o’er low head grey and dim
In ruddy kisses sweet to see.
The merry maidens four have ranged them in a row,
Between each lovely couple a stately rowan stem,
And away in maze’s wavy, like skimming birds they go,
Oh, never caroll’d bird like them!
But solemn in the silence of the silvery haze
That drinks away their voices in echoless repose
And dreamily the evening has still’d the haunted braes,
And dreamier the gloaming grows.
And sinking one by one, like lark-notes from the sky
When the falcon’s shadow saileth across the open shaw,
Are hush’d the maidens’ voices, as cowering down they lie
In the flutter of their sudden awe.
Far, from the air above, and the grassy ground beneath,
And from the mountain-ashes and the old Whitethorn between,
A power of faint enchantment doth through their beings breathe,
And they sink down together on the green.
They sink together silent, and stealing side by side,
They fling their lovely arms o’er their drooping necks so fair,
Then vainly arrive again their naked arms to hide,
For their shrinking necks again are bare.
Thus clasp’d and prostrate all with their heads together bow’d,
Soft o’er their bosoms beating – the only human sound –
They hear the silky footsteps of the silent fairy crowd.
Like a river in the air, gliding round.
No scream can any raise, no prayer can any say,
But wild, wild, the terror of the speechless three –
For they feel fair Anna Grace drown silently away,
By whom they dare not look to see.
They fed their tresses twine with her parting locks of gold,
And the curls elastic falling as her head withdraws;
They feel her sliding arms from their tranced arms unfold.
But they may not look to see the cause:
For heavy on their senses the faint enchantment lies
Through all that night of anguish and perilous amaze;
And neither fear nor wonder can open their quivering eyes
Or their limbs from the cold ground raise.
Till out of night the earth has roll’d her dewy side,
With every haunted mountain and streamy vale below;
When, as the mist dissolves in the yellow morning tide,
The maiden’s trance dissolveth so.
Then fly the ghastly three as swiftly as they may,
And tell their tale of sorrow to anxious friends in vain –
They pined away and died within the year and day,
And ne’er was Anna Grace seen again.