The Three Cows

An Old Irish Tale

In the County of Armagh, there was once a poor widow woman, who had an only son called Bernard, but known to all as ‘Bear’. There were some neighbours who would have had a good word for the boy and said that he was as sharp a boy as one would care to meet. There were others, however, that thought he was not much better than an idiot. His mother, meanwhile, was a hard-working woman who struggled night and day to ensure that there would be a roof over their heads. One day his mother called to him and told him, “ ‘Bear’, my son, bad luck is not very far from us these days. There is no food in the house, and the day will soon be here when the landlord will be coming around to collect our rent. So, I want you to take our white cow, for she is the poorest of the three, and bring her over to the fair, and sell her to whoever will give you the best price for her.”

‘Bear’ was very happy to undertake this task for his mother, because it was better fun to go to the fair than to work on the farm. He brushed his clothes down, cocked his hat, and he headed off to the fair whistling a merry tune, driving the white cow ahead of him along the road. It was still early morning. The sun was not yet high, and the dew was lying thick on the hedgerows. The birds were singing on either side of the narrow country road, almost as if they joining ‘Bear’ as joyfully whistled to himself as he walked. It was one of those beautiful mornings that made you feel good about life and ‘Bear’ soaked in the fresh morning air as he drove the white cow ahead of him.

After a while ‘Bear’ came to a stile and sitting on the top of this stile there was a little man who was scarcely two feet high, and he was dressed all in green with a small red cap lying beside him. “Good morning to you, ‘Bear’,” said the little man.

‘Bear’ answered him politely, just as his mother had taught him, but he wondered how this strange little man sitting in the bright sunshine knew that he was known to all as ‘Bear’. “And how much do you think you’ll get for the white cow at the fair?” the stranger asked.

This concerned ‘Bear’ even more as he began to wonder just how this little man knew about his business at the fair, as well as his name. “Well, my mother told me to get that I should get the best price I could,” he answered.

Red HatAye, but the best price for your cow may not be in gold or silver, young man. But, if you wait a bit, I’ll show you a thing or two worth that is worth seeing.” ‘Bear watched as the little man reached down into a deep pocket of his coat and brought out a tiny harp and a tiny stool. He set these on the top step of the stile and then he reached down into his pocket again, bringing out a ‘May Bug’ gently with his hand. The ‘May Bug’ was dressed in a tiny long-tailed coat and breeches, and the moment the little man set him on the stile, he drew the stool up in front of the harp and began to try the strings and tune them up. When ‘Bear’ saw this he was so surprised that he let out a great whoop of joy.

Just wait a minute or two, for the story is not yet completed,” said the little man in green. He then took out a mouse dressed as a gentleman of quality, and a bumble-bee in a flowered silk skirt and overdress. The ‘May Bug’ began to play a tune, the mouse bowed to the bumblebee, she curtsied to him and the white cow he was driving before him. Then, as the sound of the joyful music filled the morning air, ‘Bear’ threw back his head and laughed loudly. In time with the music his feet began to jig, causing his hat to bounce on his head, and the even the cow herself began to jump about, waving her tail very happily.

After Barney had danced and laughed himself weak, the music came to an end. The dancers stopped to rest their weary legs, and Barney and the cow also stood still. “Well, and what do you think of that?” asked the little man.

I think it’s a better sight than any that I’ll be seeing at the fair.

Listen to me now,” the little man said. “I am in a great need for a good cow. To tell you the truth, it is those who live under the hill who have sent me out to buy one, and if you want them, I will give you the little harp and the musician for your white cow.”

Barney looked at what he was being offered and scratched his head for a few moments before saying, “It’s not the sort of price my mother thought I’d be getting for the cow.

It’s a price that, eventually, will be worth more than gold and silver to you,” said the little man. A few minutes later ‘Bear’ gave the little man the cow and in exchange, he took the harp, the stool, and the little ‘May Bug’. When he took out his handkerchief and wrapped them up in it very carefully, he turned back to the little man and discovered that he had disappeared entirely. There was no sign of him or the cow anywhere.

And that’s a curious thing, too,” said ‘Bear’ to himself as he set out for home. He put a get pace on his step and when he came within sight of the house, he saw his mother was at the window watching for him, and she came out to meet him.

I see you sold the cow, son,” she said excitedly. “How much did you get for it?

Come inside and I’ll show you,” smiled ‘Bear’, eager to show his mother the treasures he had been given. They went into the house and Barney dusted off the table. Putting his hand in his pocket ‘Bear’ took out the handkerchief, untied it and put the harp, the stool, and the little musician upon the table. The ‘May Bug’ made a bow to Barney’s mother, then he seated himself and began to play. If ‘Bear’ had laughed the last time he had seen the performance, he roared even more loudly now. The old woman, too, began to laugh and that was something that she had not done for many a year before. She laughed until the tears ran down her face, and then she dropped weakly into an armchair and laughed some more. But, when the music finally came to an end, the old woman wiped the tears from her eyes, and she began to return to her normal self. Then, she remembered that the food cupboard was still bare and that the rent was still due to be paid to the landlord despite the wonderful objects that ‘Bear had brought home. “You worthless excuse for a man!” she cried out to her son. “Is that what you sold the cow for? Tell me how you expect us to fill our stomachs and pay the landlord with such nonsense as this?

‘Bear’ couldn’t give an answer to his mother, for he didn’t have one. The money, however, had to be gathered some way or other, and the next morning, ‘Bear’s’ mother sent him off to the fair again, and this time it was the dappled cow he was driving before him, which was a much finer and larger cow than old ‘Whitey’ had been. As he came nearer and nearer the stile he kept looking and looking to see whether the little man in green was there. It was not until the young man came quite close to the stile that he spied him. There sat the small man on the top step in the sunlight, with his red cap lying beside him. “Well, how did your mother like the price you got for old ‘Whitey’?” the small man asked.

She didn’t think very much of it, and the trouble I got into with her is all thanks to you.

Sure, don’t worry about it! The woman will be thankful enough someday for the price I paid you. Now, is the dappled cow for sale, too?

Aye, it is for sale but not to you,” answered ‘Bear’.

Ah, ‘Bear’, ‘Bear’! I’m beginning to think you must be the eejit that some people call you. There’s no one can pay you as good a price as I can offer you. If you had this well-dressed gentleman of a mouse to dance to the music your mother would split her sides with laughter, and you can have him for yourself in exchange for that cow.”

‘Bear’ stood his ground and would not listen to any deal the little man put forward. But the little man coaxed and wheedled, until finally ‘Bear’ gave him the cow, and took the little mouse in exchange for it. When he reached home again, he found his mother was on the lookout for him. “How much money did you get for the cow?” she asked him.

‘Bear’ made no answer, but he untied his handkerchief, and let the little mouse step out on the table. The old widow looked at this new prize with its cocked hat under its arm, and with its claws on its hip, as he made a grand bow to her. She could say or do nothing but stare and grin with admiration. Then, ‘Bear’ put the ‘May Bug’ and the harp on the table too, and as soon as it had tuned up, it began to play, and the tune was pleasant that it caused his very heart dance in the bosom. The mouse then began to dance and twirl and jig up and down, and ‘Bear’ and his mother stood and laughed until they almost split their sides.

But after the tune ended, the old woman came to herself again, and she was a very angry soul. She began to cry just as hard as she had previously laughed, for both the white cow and the dappled cow were gone, and the landlord’s rent was no nearer to being paid than it had been two days before. But they had to have the money, and there was nothing left but to allow ‘Bear’ to set off the next day for the fair with the red cow, which was the finest of the three animals she once had. ‘Bear’ trudged along, driving the cow before him, and after a while, he once again came to the stile, and there, once again, was the little man in green seated upon it. “Good-day to you, ‘Bear’,” said he.

‘Bear’ never said a word.

That’s a fine cow you have there,” said the little man, but ‘Bear’ trudged along the narrow road as though he had not heard him, and he never so much as turned his head. “No, ‘Bear’, just hold on a minute, friend,” the little man said. “We have made two bargains, and now we ought to make the third, for there is said to be good luck in odd numbers.

‘Bear’ would have willingly walked on if he could, but when the little man said, “Wait a bit,” it seemed as though he were rooted to the ground, and he could not stir a step, however hard he tried. Then the little man began to beg and plead with ‘Bear’ to let him have the cow in exchange for the bumble-bee, and for a very long time, Barney continued to refuse. At last, however, he could hold out no longer and the trade was made. No sooner had the young man agreed and taken the bumblebee in his handkerchief than,  “pouff!” the little man and the cow both disappeared like a warm breath on a window-pane.

‘Bear’ stared and wondered, and then he turned toward home again, but the nearer he came to the house the slower he walked, for he had some notion as to what his mother would have to say about the bargain he had made. Needless to say, things turned out just the way he had thought they would. When he first put the bumblebee and the others on the kitchen table, when the ‘May Bug’ began to play and the others to dance, his mother laughed and laughed as she had never laughed before in all her life. But when they stopped, and she had come to herself again, she was so angry that simply scolding the young man not enough punishment for him. She grabbed hold of a broom, and if ‘Bear’ had not run out and hidden in the cow byre, he would have had a beating that would have more than dusted his coat for him. However, what was done was done, and what they were to do now to get food and money was more than either of them could say. But the next morning, ‘Bear’ suddenly had a grand scheme in his head.

“Listen, mother, I have a great plan in mind that might bring us in a few pennies,” he said. “I will take the ‘May Bug’, the mouse and the bumble-bee with me to the fair to-day. When we are there the ‘May Bug’ will play the harp and the mouse and the bumble-bee will dance, and it may be the people will be so happy with their tricks that they will give me some pennies.” There was nothing better than this that she could think of, and so the widow gave her consent, and off Bear set for the fair. But I can tell you that if his heart was light his stomach was lighter, for he had had nothing to put in it that morning. He trudged along and trudged along the road, and after a time he came to the stile, and there was the little green man sitting on it just as he had sat before.

Good-day, Bear,” the little man greeted him.

Good-day, and bad luck to you,” answered Bear sternly. “It was a dirty trick you played on me when you took our three cows from me and gave me only such nonsense as I carry here in my pocket as payment.

Bear,” said the little man in a solemn tone, “I tell you that never again in all your life will you make as good a bargain as you made with me. I will tell you now, truthfully, that the price I paid you shall be the making of you.”

Aye, and how will that come about?” asked Bear sarcastically.

King of Erin“Sure, isn’t that what I came here to tell you,” replied the little man. “I’m sure that you already know that the king of Erin has a daughter.

Aye,” answered Bear.

But you may not know that this princess is so beautiful that there never was likes of her seen anywhere in all the world before and that the poor girl is as sad as she is beautiful. It is feared, indeed, that unless something happens to cheer her up, she will grieve her life away. Therefore, the king, her father, has promised that whoever can make her laugh three times shall have her for his wife.”

But what has all that to do with me?” asked Bear.

What? Can’t you see that you may be the lad to raise the laugh from her and win her for your wife, and it is with the ‘ May Bug’, the mouse and the bumble-bee that you shall be able to do it.”

Man dear isn’t that the truth!” exclaimed Bear slapping his leg, “there’s surely nobody in all of this world that could look at those creatures playing their wee tricks and keep a sober face on him.

The little man then laid out to Bear exactly how he was to proceed and act, and Bear listened intently until he had made sense of all the little man had to say, and then in a flash, he vanished from sight, and Barney saw him no more. He now turned his face away from the direction of the fair and toward where the palace stood, and off he set, one foot before the other, just as fast as he could go.

After a long journey Bear and came to the place, he wished to go, and a very grand fine palace it was when he reached it. But in front of it, there was a strange, terrifying sight, which did nothing for Bear’s confidence or his will to continue. There in front of the door stood twelve tall stakes, and upon eleven of these stakes were eleven heads, but upon the twelfth stake, there was no head at all. Bear decided he would not stare long at this scene and, gathering all the courage he still had he went forward, marching up to the palace door and rapping it loudly with his stick. A few moments later it opened and there stood a man, all in gold lace, looking out at him. “What do you want here?” he asked.

I have come to see the princess and to make her laugh,” Bearn answered boldly and with confidence.

Well, you have a hard task before you,” said the man. “However, I am not the one to tell you can or can’t, and I will go and tell the king you are here.”

Princess (2)He went away and then presently he not much later he returned with the king at his side. The king looked at Bear intensely for a moment or two and then he said, “You are a fine stout lad, but I doubt that you are the one to make the princess laugh. Nevertheless, you can try if you wish, although there are certain conditions must know about before you begin. You must make her laugh three times before you can have her for a wife, and if you fail your head will be cut off and set upon a stake, for the princess has made me promise that this shall be the punishment for failure.” The king went on to tell him that eleven stout lads had already lost their heads,“and there they are to prove it,” he said, as he pointed to the stakes before the palace door.

Bear looked and saw again that the twelfth stake had nothing on it, and he liked the looks of it even less than before, for it seemed to him to be waiting for his head to be fitted on top. However, he was not the type of man to turn back at this stage and he told them, “Your majesty, I will give it a try, whether I succeed or fail.”

Very well,” said the king; “and when will you try?

Now,” said Bear, “if you will just give me a moment or two.”

He then took out the ‘May Bug’, the mouse and the bumble-bee and tied them all together with a long piece of string, one in front of the other. Then, setting them on the floor, he took the end of the string in his hand. Now, when the king saw that, he began to laugh, and the man in gold lace began to laugh. They laughed and laughed until the tears ran down their cheeks and they had to wipe them away. “Do you know, boy,” said the king, “you may be the one to win the princess for a wife, after all.” With that they set off down a long hall, the king first, and the man in gold lace next, and, last of all, Bear with the three little creatures following.

At the end of the hall, there was a grand fine room with a grand fine throne placed in it. Upon the throne sat the princess, and she was looking very sad. And, all the ladies that were standing around her looked very sad too, for that was the polite and safest thing for them to do when she was sorrowful. She frowned deeply when she saw the king enter, and when she saw the man in gold lace follow, she scowled. But when she saw Bear in all his tattered clothes, holding one end of the string, and the three little creatures hopping along behind him, first she smiled and then she grinned, and then she threw back her head and let out such a laugh you could have heard it a mile away.

That’s one!” cried Bear. Then he untied the little creatures and called for a table and set them upon it, and he drew out the harp and stool and gave it to the ‘May Bug’. It seated itself and tuned the harp, while the princess and all her ladies stared and stared. Then, it began to play and the mouse and the bumble-bee began to dance. They danced so fine and light, you’d have thought they’d had wings to their feet. At this spectacle, the princess let out a laugh that was twice as loud as the other.

Thank you, princess,” said Bear, “that’s two.” But, at that, the princess stopped laughing and looked as glum as the grave. The ‘ May Bug’ played, the others danced, faster and faster, but not a third laugh could they get out of the princess, and it seemed as though Bear would lose his head after all. But the little mouse saw as well as Bear what was happening and suddenly, he whirled around and brought his tail, whack! across the bumble-bee’s mouth. That set the bumble-bee to coughing. It coughed and coughed as though it would cough its head off and the princess began to laugh for the third time. The more it coughed the more she laughed until it seemed as though she might die of laughing.

That makes the third time,” cried Bear ecstatically, “and now I think you’ll agree that I’ve won the princess fairly.” Well, no one could deny that, so he was taken to another grand room in the palace and there he was washed and combed and dressed in fine clothes, and when that was done, he looked so brave and straight and handsome that the princess was glad enough to have him for a husband. They were married the next day, and a coach and four were sent to bring the old mother to the wedding. When she came and saw her own son, Bear, dressed in that way and holding a royal princess by the hand, she could hardly believe her eyes, and almost died of joy as the princess had of laughing. A great feast was held in celebration, and the little man in green was there, too, and feasted with the best of them, but nobody saw him for he had his red cap on his head, and that made him invisible

More Irish Fairies

Changelings and other Fairy beings

In the past the Irish peasantry never thought, even for one moment, that a child abducted from its home would have been killed and buried in the cold earth somewhere. In their minds they imagined that the missing child was living among the fairies, although this belief did not lessen the heartbreak felt by the parents. They were convinced that their child was now condemned to endure, if not enjoy, all the changes in circumstances they would experience in a life that was constrained by their exile from heaven and earth. When the child was not restored again to its parents, it was assumed by the entire community that the child’s life was being prolonged to an indefinite period while it lived among the fairy-folk.

The idea that the fairy-folk practiced human abduction was held as being true among the Irish peasantry of days long passed. Today, when a child goes missing, or is abducted, all sorts of alarm bells begin to ring in our society. Some are returned unharmed, but most are found alive or dead, but all suffered at the hands of evil people. But, there are still some of whom no trace has been found. In many cases within Irish peasant homes those children who suddenly became sickly, or acted strangely, were often called changelings. It was said that the original child had been abducted from their home by the fairy-folk and replaced with an old, decrepit, sickly, emaciated ugly fairy child. The human parents almost expected such a thing to happen, especially when they knew that the fairy-folk prized young and lovely mortal children.

ChangelingTo guard against such things happening to children the midwives were accustomed to giving newly-born children a small spoonful of whisky, mixed with earth, as its first food. This was a charm intended to preserve the child from any extraordinary spell that may be cast upon them by the fairies. Special care was taken to watch over all new-born babies and to guard them until after they had been christened. Only then would they be considered free from the threat of abduction, or changed for a deformed, evil fairy child.

Although the peasant woman feared for her newborn child, especially if it was a handsome, fit, and pleasing child. But, it was not only children that were subjected to abduction and forced exile from their homes. Records speak of mortal women, who had recently been confined in childbirth, were also subject to abduction by the fairy-folk, who took them to the fairy realm where they would be forced to suckle and nurse fairy-born infants.

In Irish folklore, Changelings are said to have an inclination for carrying out certain grotesque pranks. They were known to mysteriously obtain a set of pipes, which they would carry under their arm, and they would often sit up in their cradle to perform a variety of airs with great flourish, as well as some strange grimaces. When the Changeling plays lively jigs, reels and hornpipes on that instrument, the people living in the cottage immediately began to dance wildly despite their reservations. Though they might be ready to drop with exhaustion the dancers are unable to stop their dancing until the Changeling stops playing.

Despite all the hilarious whims and oddities that a changeling might possess, it was still regarded as a very unwelcome family intruder. It was not unknown for the fairy child to be thrown across the fire’s hearth to attempt to eject him from the household. He would then suddenly vanish up through the open chimney, all the while calling on vengeance and shouting curses, as well as all kinds of terrible names, against the family that had sheltered him for so long.

The other method of removing the changeling froma cabin was to use a clean shovel to pick it up and place it on the centre of a dung-hill. In the meantime, the parents still believed that their own children would be returned to them no matter how long they had been absent. Men and women with special knowledge of the fairy-folk, called ‘fairy-doctors’ were called upon to direct certain prayers that would ensure the true child would return. The verses of these prayers were usually chanted in Irish. The following are the lines of a prayer that was once used for this reason and is translated into English and recorded Rev. John O’Hanlon (1870) :-

“Fairy-men and women all,

List! – it is your baby’s call;

For on the dung-hill’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 limp, 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,

But, give me back my only son,

And I’ll forgive the harm you done;

And nightly, for your gamboling 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.”

When these words, or words like them, had been recited the Fairy-Doctors would retire to an adjoining cottage, closing the door carefully behind them and await whatever might happen, while they repeated some additional prayers and incantations. Any noise, whether caused by the elements or a passing vehicle, was quickly put down as due to the approach or departure of a fairy troop. When the door was opened sometime afterwards these so-called ‘Doctors’ would confidently declare that the true child had been returned. The poor emaciated being atop of the dung-hill was then brought into the cabin, and its deluded parents were told that their child would not long survive. The subsequent death of the child through mistreatment and malnourishment appeared to confirm the prediction made by the ‘Fairy-Doctor’. Each occasion added to the reputation already established by the ‘Fairy-Doctor’ among the Irish peasantry.

Fairy ManChildren, however, were not the only occupants of the raths who had been abducted. The fairy-folk would take a fancy to the pipes used by accomplished pipers, as well as the instruments used by other famous musicians. These people would often be abducted and brought to the underground and underwater habitations of the fair-folk. Unfortunately for these musicians, they had to play their music for the finely dressed, frisky little gentlemen and ladies. While the fairies danced the musicians played, until they were almost dead with fatigue. One saving grace, however, was that the fairy-folk were very conscientious about giving out good servings of refreshments and, usually before morning, those whom they had abducted would be freed. Sometimes, however, the musician was invited to stay with the fairy-folk but, if he preferred to return home to the land of mortals, he was allowed to go freely. But, the fairies will take away the musician’s instrument and replace it with one that is much more perfect and sweeter toned. Moreover, the fame of having been abducted to the land of the fairy-folk and having been given such a gift will establish the musician’s place in society, and his future financial prospects.

Likewise, midwives were said to be abducted to the fairy raths as pillion passengers on fairy horses that conducted them into the invisible abodes of the fairy-folk. Should these women take any food or drink while they are with the fairy-folk they cannot return home. But, these women are constantly pressed to eat and drink by the fairies, who constantly presented luxurious meals and drinks to them, upon which are placed the spell of detention.

We constantly hear stories about the gifts that the fairies can and have bestowed upon mortals like us. The fairies, however, were known to be less free in bestowing the riches of gold and silver to humans as a reward. Even when such riches were offered, those people so rewarded still found it very difficult to get their hands on it. There are many stories told about ‘crocks of gold’ and other treasures given by the fairy-folk that usually turn into stones, dry leaves, old bones, or something equally as worthless.

The Irish ‘fairy-man’, or ‘Fairy-women’, sometimes called ‘Fairy-Doctors’, were supposed to hold some mysterious sort of communication and influence with the fairies that lived in the motes and raths of the country. There were, of course, many rumours that these ‘fairy-doctors’ were impostors, who were originally changelings themselves. Such was the wariness of such people by the peasantry that they were generally relegated to living an almost hermit existence and a deep veil of mystery shrouded everything that they did.

They said that they were very well acquainted with all the secret things of the past, present and future. It was, allegedly, within their power to cure all illnesses and diseases that affect both man and beast. They said they could assist in the discovery and restoration of lost property, as well as give descriptions that would assist in the detection of the thief and their prosecution. People would go to them to have their fortunes told, because it was believed that they had knowledge of all matters that were of concern to the person. It was said that the fairies could cause cream to produce great amounts of cheese and the ‘fairy-doctors’ would take great care to impress on the minds of the ignorant that it would be desirable to make friends with the fairy-folk. This would prevent any evil effects caused by fairy resentment which could sometimes be regarded as fatal to the individual against whom it is directed.

The ‘fairy-doctors’ would often collect herbs and plants over which they would mumble certain spells and then use them as charms and cures for various troubles. These plants and herbs were considered to have been specially impregnated by some mysterious fairy influence that is efficacious for the healing arts. Sometimes, ‘Knowledgeable Old Women’, also called ‘Fairy-women’, were often known to exercise charms that did not encourage people to have confidence in their success. For example, an herb, or a bit of burnt sod taken from a the bonfire on St. John’s night in midsummer was often sewn into the clothes of women. It was a charm that was supposed to protect the wearer from any fairy plots, or abductions.

It was also said that there was an ointment that midwives used to smear on the fairy-children that, if rubbed on the eye of a mortal, would enable the mortal to see the spiritless skeleton of fairy illusions in the underground halls and palaces. Old friends and neighbours would often be discovered among the fairy followers in this manner. The fairies themselves, during their dancing and singing, also became visible to the eye that was rubbed with this ointment. Should a mortal make any sign to show that they could see the, the fairies would ask, “Do you see me?”

If answered in the positive they would be asked, “Which eye?”

Once informed the fairy will thrust his finger, or even puff his breath into that eye, and blind the incautious person, causing the charm to be removed.

As a final point of interest, the ‘Fairy-man’ was also called a ‘Charmer’ or ‘Cow-Doctor’ because he undertook to remove any fairy charms from sick cattle by preparing herbs and potions by spring well. So secretive was this process that he would not allow anyone to approach the site while he was creating his various concoctions. In some cases, particularly in the West of Ireland, cows were often driven into certain natural springs or loughs that were designated as being holy. This was done, usually, to restore the normal supply of dairy milk and butter, if the owner believed it had been reduced by some supernatural means. Considered to be a necessary part of the charm a bit of fresh butter was thrown into the water while certain incantations were sung.

Paddy Kelly’s Riches

Many years ago, I am told, there was a man by the name of Paddy Kelly, who lived quite near to the market town of Lurgan in the beautiful, ‘Orchard County’ of Armagh. One bright morning, as was his custom, he rose up from his bed when the sun was not much above the horizon. He had no watch on his arm and he was unsure about what time of day it was. A confusion not at all helped by the fact that the fine light coming through his window originated from a watery early morning sun. But, Paddy did know what day of the week it was, and that he had wanted to rise early so that he could go to the fair in town. There he had high hopes of being able to sell his young, healthy donkey, which he had raised from birth.

 Paddy washed and dressed before taking his breakfast of porridge and toast, Then, as he finished his white enamel mug filled with strong tea, Paddy gathered his coat before he set out on his journey to the fair. He had not gone more than three miles along the road from his home that morning when a great dark cloud dimmed the light of the early morning sun, and a heavy shower of rain began to fall. Paddy looked about him and, about five hundred yards from the road, slightly obscured by some trees, he caught sight of a large house. Without a second thought he decided that he would make his way, as quickly as possible, to the house and shelter there until the rain came to an end. In his rush he was a little out of breath when he finally reached the house, and he was very surprised to see that the door before him was already opened wide. Thinking that maybe the owner had seen him rushing to the house in the rain, and opened the door for him, Paddy went into the house unannounced. As he entered he saw a large room to his left, with a grand, welcoming fire already burning in the grate. Paddy decided to sit himself down upon a small stool that stood beside the wall to await the house owner’s arrival. But, the warmth from the fire soon filled the room and rapidly began to make Paddy sleepy. weaselThen, just as his eyes started closing in sleep, he noticed a big weasel coming to the fire place and it had something very bright and yellow in its mouth, which it dropped on the hearth-stone before hurrying away again. Within a few moments the weasel returned with a similar object held tightly in her mouth, dropping it on the hearthstone before again disappearing. The weasel soon came back again with the same object in her mouth, and Paddy realised that it was a bright gold sovereign that she had. Once again, the weasel dropped the coin on the hearth-stone and scampered from his sight. But, she kept coming and going until, at last, she had piled a great heap of shining sovereigns on the hearth. When Paddy was sure that she was finally gone from the room he quickly rose up from the stool and walked over to the fireplace. Then, using both hands he rapidly bundled all the gold coins, that the weasel had piled up on the hearth, into his jacket pockets and, as quietly as possible, he hurried out of the house.

Despite his best efforts, Paddy was not as fast on his feet as the weasel, and he had not gotten very far before he heard the noise of the angry animal coming after him. The irate weasel was screeching and screaming loudly at Paddy, like a set of Uileann-pipes that were being played very badly. Filled with wrath the weasel quickly overtook Paddy on the road, where she jumped and twisted herself in the air, making every possible effort to get a hold of his throat, so she could tear it out. But, Paddy carried a good thick stick of oak and he used it to keep the snapping weasel from him. Then two men, who were travelling along the same road as Paddy, and in the same direction, came up to him. With one of these men was a large, sturdy dog that began snarling at the angry weasel and chased it into a hole in the wall.

Paddy continued along the road to the fair in the company of the two men and arrived there without any more interruption. Earlier that morning Paddy had headed off to the fair with the sole aim of selling his donkey and returning home immediately with the money he earned from the sale. By the afternoon things had changed and instead of coming straight home with the money he got for the donkey, Paddy went to a trader and bought himself a horse with some of the money he had taken from the weasel. He felt like a wealthy man and he wanted to come home just as a wealthy man should, proudly riding a horse. As they trotted along Paddy reached the place where the dog had chased the weasel away from him. Suddenly, seemingly from nowhere, the angry weasel came scrambling of a narrow hole in the wall. With great athleticism the weasel leaped up from the ground, catching Paddy’s horse by the throat and causing the terrified animal to bolt.

Tormented by the pain of the weasel’s bite the horse rushed off and Paddy could only keep his tight grip on the animal’s mane with the greatest of difficulty. Finally, blinded with agony, the poor horse took a huge leap that brought his rider and he into a big, wide drain that was filled with brackish water and black mud. Both horse and rider were out of their depth, choking and drowning very rapidly, until a small group of men, coming along the road from Portadown, saw the difficulty they were in and they managed to chase the weasel away from the scene. They also helped Paddy and his mount to exit the drain and put them back on their way along the road.  Paddy, now in a very dishevelled condition, finally brought the horse home with him and put him into the byre, while he went to his bed and fell fast asleep.

It was very early, the next morning, when Paddy rose up from his bed and prepared himself to go out to the byre and give his new horse some fresh hay and oats. But, when he finally reached the byre door, Paddy saw the weasel scampering out of the byre with her fur completely soaked with a large patch of thick red blood. “Christ almighty! A thousand curses on you and may each one be worse than the one before,” screamed Paddy, “Satan’s polecat and killer of the innocent, what have you done now?”

Paddy hurried into the byre wondering what he would find. There, lying on the hay covered floor, he found the horse, two of his dairy cows, and two newly born calves lying dead in pools of blood. Shocked, upset and angry, Paddy came out of the byre cursing and swearing loudly, and he went immediately to his large farm dog, which was already fighting in its chains, barking and snarling at the weasel as it glared menacingly at Paddy. He now took hold of the chains, loosened them and set the massive dog at the evil killer. The dog snapped at the weasel, taking a tight grip of the struggling creature which, at the same time, took a strong hold of the huge mastiff. Although Paddy’s dog was an excellent farm guard-dog, and despite his size, he was quickly forced to loosen his hold of the weasel before Paddy could reach the battle site.

As the vicious weasel scampered off to make good her escape, Paddy kept his eyes on her movements. He followed her every twist and turn, through grass and bush, until he saw her slink into a small, disused and badly dilapidated cottage that stood at the edge of a shallow lake. Paddy, with the dog at his side, now ran rapidly to catch up with their fleeing enemy. When, at last, he reached the front of the small cottage Paddy took a tight hold of the dog, shook it violently to make the animal very angry and prepare him for the vicious fight ahead.

With his hound well prepared, Paddy sent him into the cottage before he would enter it himself. As the dog moved into the hovel it began to bark loudly and growl threateningly, which encouraged Paddy to go into the building after him. But, as his eyes became accustomed to the dark of the building, he noticed an old hag of a woman lurking in a corner of one room. Taken completely by surprise with the presence of the old woman, Paddy nervously asked her if she had seen a weasel running through the building.

I saw nothing,” said she quietly. “Sure, isn’t it myself that is all destroyed with a terrible sickness that’s upon me. You must get out of this place as quickly as you can before you catch it and are destroyed yourself.

As Paddy and the old woman were talking, the large dog quietly keptCailleach creeping up closer to them. Unnoticed by Paddy the dog came to a point from which it suddenly gave a big leap upward and caught the old woman by the throat. With a piercing and terrified scream of pain the old woman cried out, “Paddy Kelly get your dog off me, and I’ll make you a very rich man.”

Paddy taking a tight hold of his dog once again, forced it to loosen its hold on the old woman. He shouted at her, “Tell me who you are, you old witch, and tell me why did you kill my horse and my cows?

“First tell me why you stole away my gold that I had been gathering, throughout the hills and hollows of the world, for five hundred years or more?

I thought you were a weasel,” Paddy said, “or I wouldn’t have touched your gold.

And, another thing,” said Paddy, “if you have been living in this world for five hundred years already, is it not about time that you went to your eternal rest now.

I would if it were not for the fact that I committed a great sin when I was very young,” explained the old woman, “and now I can only be released from my terrible sufferings if you can pay the cost of one hundred and fifty masses for my soul’s salvation.”

Where would I get all the money to pay for them? ” asked Paddy.

If you would go and dig under a bush that stands over a little well in the corner of that field over there,” she pointed, “you’ll find a pot filled with gold. Just you pay the money for the masses, and you can keep whatever is left of the gold to yourself. But, I will tell you that there is a great stone that covers the pot and, when you lift the stone off, you will find a big black dog rushing out. This hound might look fierce to you, but don’t be afraid of him, because he is a son of mine. As soon as you retrieve the gold from the pot, buy the house in which you saw me for the first time. There is no doubt that you will get it at a cheap price, for it is well known that the house has a ghost haunting it. Then, look and you will discover my son down in the cellar of the house. He will not do you any harm, but he shall be a good friend to you. Then, in a month from this day, I will be dead and, when I am dead, I want you to put a fire under this little hut and burn it down so there is nothing left. Be assured that if you never tell any living soul a thing about me, you will have a great amount of good luck in your life.”

Just tell me one thing before I leave, old woman; What is your name? ” asked Paddy.

Maura Keown,” she told him.

Silently, turning away from the old woman, Paddy left her standing alone in the hut and went home. But, when the first dark shadows of night fell across the country, Paddy grabbed hold of a spade and took it with him as he went to seek the bush that was in the corner of the field, which the old woman had indicated to him. As soon as he had come upon the bush, Paddy immediately began digging with the spade, and it did not take him very long to uncover the pot. As he had been told, when he removed the large stone off the pot, a big black dog sprang out of the hole and ran off, with Paddy’s dog in close pursuit. Meanwhile, Paddy worked quickly to collect up the gold and brought it back to his home, where he hid it in the cow-house.

It was about a month after this episode that Paddy went up to the fair at Dromore. While he was there he bought a pair of cows, a horse, and a dozen sheep for his farm, much to the surprise of his neighbours. These people were very taken aback at Paddy’s new spending power and they wondered and discussed among themselves the source of the man’s new-found wealth. Of course, there were rumours circulating that Paddy had been granted a wish from the fairy folk, while others speculated that he had captured a Leprechaun and received his crock of gold as the ransom. Paddy, however, paid little attention to the rumours and speculations of his neighbours. Then, one day, Paddy dressed himself in his best clothes and set off toward town. He had decided to pay a call on the man who owned the large house where he had first seen the weasel, and he asked the owner if he could buy the house from him, as well as all the land that was round about it.

You can have the house without paying any rent at all” said the owner, “but there is a ghost in it, and I wouldn’t like you to go to live in it without my telling you. However, if you wish to purchase it I must tell you that I cannot part with the land unless I can get at least a thousand pounds more than you have offered me.

Perhaps I have as much money as you require,” replied Paddy. “I can be here to-morrow with the money, but only if you are ready to give me immediate possession.

I’ll be ready,” the gentleman assured Paddy, who immediately went home to tell his wife that he had just bought a large house and a considerable holding of land.

Where did you get the money?” asked the wife anxiously.

Never you mind,” Paddy told her. “It isn’t any of your business where I got it?

Leprechaun 2The very next day Paddy went to meet the gentleman again, gave him the money, and got possession of the house and land. Alongside this, the gentleman left him the furniture and everything that was in the house, as part of the bargain. Then, to confirm his possession, Paddy stayed in the house that night. After darkness fell he made his way carefully down to the cellar, as he had been instructed to by the old woman. In the cellar, to his surprise, he saw a little man with his two legs spread out upon a barrel. “God be good to you for an honest man,” said the wee man to Paddy.

May God be good to you to,” replied Paddy, nervously.

Don’t be afraid of me at all,” says the little man. “I will be a constant friend to you, if you are able to keep a secret.

I can be assured that I am able to do that. Sure, didn’t I keep your mother’s secret, and be confident that I’ll keep yours as well.

Maybe you’re thirsty?” asked the little man.

I am indeed,” said Paddy, “just a little.”

The small man put his hand into the pocket of the coat he was wearing and took out a finely made goblet of gold material. He gave the goblet to Paddy, and told him, ”Draw some wine out of that barrel under me.

Paddy took the goblet and filled it wine from the barrel, and he handed it to the little man. “You have the first drink,” the man said.

Paddy drank the wine and then drew another full goblet from the barrel, which he handed to the little man, who drank it.

Fill up and have another drink,” said the little man. “I feel like having a good session tonight.”

The pair of them sat there drinking until they were both half drunk. Then the little man leaped down to the floor, and asked Paddy, “Do you like music?’

Of course I do, ” said Paddy, “and I’m a good dancer, too.”

Lift up the big flag-stone over there in the corner, and you’ll get my pipes under it.

Paddy lifted the flag-stone, got the pipes, and gave them to the little man. He squeezed the pipes on the bag and began playing a fine melody. Paddy began dancing in time to the music until he had tired himself out. Then they had another drink together, and the little man spoke to him softly, “Do as my mother told you, and I’ll show you great riches. You can bring your wife in here, if you wish, but don’t tell her that I’m there, and she won’t see me. If you need a drink of ale or wine at any time, feel free to come here and help yourself. Goodbye for now. Go to your bed and sleep, then come again to me to-morrow night.

Paddy went to his bed, and it wasn’t long before he fell fast asleep. Early the next morning Paddy went home, and he brought his wife and children to the big house, where they made themselves comfortable. That night Paddy made his way down to the cellar, where the little man welcomed him and asked him if he wanted to dance.

Not until I get a drink,” said Paddy.

Drink your fill,” said the little man, “that barrel will never be empty as long as you live.

Paddy drank the full of the goblet, and then gave a drink to the little man. The small companion accepted the drink from him and told him, “I am going to the fairy castle tonight, to play music for the good-people, and if you come along with me you’ll see some great fun. I’ll give you a horse, for the journey, the likes of which you have never seen before.

I’ll go with you, of course,” replied Paddy, ” but what sort of excuse will I make to my wife.

There is no need for you to worry about that. I will bring you away from her side without her knowing it, when you are both asleep together, and then I will bring you back to her in the same manner,” explained the little man.

That sounds like a good plan,” smiled Paddy, “but we will have another drink before I leave you.” Paddy drank goblet after goblet until he was half drunk, and then he went to bed with his wife. When Paddy awoke, however, he found himself riding on a huge horse near to the legendary fairy castle, and the little man was riding on another horse by his side. When they came as far as the green hill of the castle, the little man said a couple of words that Paddy did not understand. At that moment the green hill opened, and the two men went rode into what was a fine chamber.

Paddy had never saw such a gathering of people like of that which was in the castle. The entire place was filled with little people, men and women, young and old, and they all welcomed the little man they knew as ‘Donal the Piper’, into their midst with Paddy Kelly. From among the crowd the king and queen of the fairies stepped forward and said to them, “We are all going on a visit to-night to Knockmore, to the high king and queen of our people.”

At the king’s signal they all got up from where they were seated and went out of the chamber. There were horses ready for each one of them and a coach prepared for the king and the queen to travel in. The king and queen got into their coach, while each man leaped on his own horse, and Paddy followed close behind them. The wee piper had gone ahead of them all and began to play music for them as they rapidly rode off into the night. With the magic of the good people it did not take them long until they came, at last to the hill of Knockmore. As they arrived at the hill it opened, and the king passed in with the rest of his followers.

Awaiting them all were Finvara and Nuala, the High-king and Queen of the fairy host of Uladh, surrounded by thousands of their little people. Finvara came up to them and told them, “We are going to play a hurling match tonight against the fairy host of Munster, and unless we beat them our fame and magic will be gone forever. Our match is to be fought out on the ‘field of gold’ that lies beneath Slieve Gullion”.

The host of Uladh cried out in unison, “We are all ready for the fight, and we know that we shall beat them all.”

“Let us all get out there then,” cried the high king, “or the men from the hills of Munster will be on the ground before us.

They all went out of the hill, with little Donal and twelve more pipers moving ahead of them, playing music they could march to. When they came to ‘The Field of Gold’ the fairy host of Munster had gathered in great numbers before them. For those who don’t know fairy lore, it is a requirement at such events, whether they are for fighting or playing hurling, that the fairy host have two live men beside them. This was the reason that little Donal took Paddy Kelly with him and, meanwhile, there was a man they called the “Rory Geary“, from Cork, who stood with the fairy host of Munster.

Hurling 1

In moments the two fairy hosts had lined up their teams and the ball was thrown up between them. From that moment the real fun began in earnest. They were hurling away, and the pipers playing music, until Paddy Kelly saw the host of Munster was starting to get the upper-hand, and he began to help the fairy host of Uladh. The man ‘Geary‘ came up and he made a move toward Paddy Kelly, but Paddy was the quicker of the two and turned him head over heels. It didn’t take long for the two opposing groups of fairies to abandon hurling and begin fighting. But, in a very short period of time the host of Uladh had gained victory by beating those from Munster. Defeated and deflated, the host of Munster turned themselves into flying beetles and, in revenge, began to eat every green thing that they came across. They were destroying the entire country before them until they came as far as the place where the Bann River flows into Lough Neagh. At that place there rose up thousands of doves from out of the trees, and they began to swallow down the beetles and, since that time, this place has been known to all folklorists as ‘The Sanctuary of the Doves’.

When the fairy host of Uladh had won their battle, they came back to the hill of Knockmore filled with a great joy. Finvara, the High King of the fairies, gave Paddy Kelly a purse of gold and, after the presentation, the little piper brought him back home, putting him into the bed beside his wife, and leaving him sleeping there.

Another month passed by, but without much happening. Until, one evening, Paddy went down to the cellar. When he reached the cellar the little man, Donal, said to him sadly, “My mother is dead, and it is time to burn the house over her.

I should have remembered,” said Paddy. “She told me that she had only a month of life left in this world, and that month was up yesterday.

The next morning Paddy went to the hut and he found that the old woman was indeed dead. Just as he had promised, Paddy put a lighted coal under the hut and set it on fire. When he returned home, Paddy visited the little man and told him that the hut was burned according to his mother’s request. In return, the little man gave him a leather purse and said to him, “This purse will never be empty as long as you are alive. From now, you will never see me again, but in your heart always hold a loving remembrance of the weasel, because it was she who was the beginning and the prime cause of your prosperity.” Then Donal went away from view and Paddy never saw him again.

Thereafter, Paddy Kelly and his wife lived for many years in the large house and, when he died, he left a great wealth behind him, and a large family to enjoy it.