The aliens in the legends that follow are not those from outer space, but rather underground people from our own earth: fairies, trolls, elves, and the like.
There was a marriage in the townland of Curragraigue. After the usual festivities, and when the guests were left to themselves, and were drinking to the prosperity of the bride and bridegroom, they were startled by the appearance of the man himself rushing into the room with anguish in his looks.
"Oh!" cried he, "Margaret is carried away by the fairies, I'm sure. The girls were not left the room for half a minute when I went in, and there is no more sign of her there than if she never was born."
Great consternation prevailed, great search was made, but no Margaret was to be found. After a night and day spent in misery, the poor bridegroom laid down to take some rest. In a while he seemed to himself to awake from a troubled dream, and look out into the room. The moon was shining in through the window, and in the middle of the slanting rays stood Margaret in her white bridal clothes. He thought to speak and leap out of the bed, but his tongue was without utterance, and his limbs unable to move.
"Do not be disturbed, dear husband," said the appearance; "I am now in the power of the fairies, but if you only have courage and prudence we may be soon happy with each other again. Next Friday will be May-eve, and the whole court will ride out of the old fort after midnight. I must be there along with the rest. Sprinkle a circle with holy water, and have a black-hafted knife with you. If you have courage to pull me off the horse, and draw me into the ring, all they can do will be useless. You must have some food for me every night on the dresser, for if I taste one mouthful with them, I will be lost to you forever. The fairies got power over me because I was only thinking of you, and did not prepare myself as I ought for the sacrament. I made a bad confession, and now I am suffering for it. Don't forget what I have said."
"Oh, no, my darling," cried he, recovering his speech, but by the time he had slipped out of bed, there was no living soul in the room but himself.
Till Friday night the poor young husband spent a desolate time. The food was left on the dresser over night, and it rejoiced all hearts to find it vanished by morning. A little before midnight he was at the entrance of the old rath. He formed the circle, took his station within it, and kept the black-hafted knife ready for service. At times he was nervously afraid of losing his dear wife, and at others burning with impatience for the struggle.
At last the old fort with its dark high bushy fences cutting against the sky, was in a moment replaced by a palace and its court. A thousand lights flashed from the windows and lofty hall entrance; numerous torches were brandished by attendants stationed round the courtyard; and a numerous cavalcade of richly attired ladies and gentlemen was moving in the direction of the gate where he found himself standing.
As they rode by him laughing and jesting, he could not tell whether they were aware of his presence or not. He looked intent at each countenance as it approached, but it was some time before he caught sight of the dear face and figure borne along on a milk-white steed. She recognized him well enough, and her features now broke into a smile -- now expressed deep anxiety.
She was unable for the throng to guide the animal close to the ring of power; so he suddenly rushed out of his bounds, seized her in his arms, and lifted her off. Cries of rage and fury arose on every side; they were hemmed in, and weapons were directed at his head and breast to terrify him. He seemed to be inspired with superhuman courage and force, and wielding the powerful knife he soon cleared a space round him, all seeming dismayed by the sight of the weapon. He lost no time, but drew his wife within the ring, within which none of the myriads round dared to enter. Shouts of derision and defiance continued to fill the air for some time, but the expedition could not be delayed.
As the end of the procession filed past the gate and the circle within which the mortal pair held each other determinedly clasped, darkness and silence fell on the old rath and the fields round it, and the rescued bride and her lover breathed freely. We will not detain the sensitive reader on the happy walk home, on the joy that hailed their arrival, and on all the eager gossip that occupied the townland and the five that surround it for a month after the happy rescue.
Well, not far from my master's house there was a family of the Brogans. 'Twas the will of God that Mrs. Brogan took sick, and there was a baby born, but the poor woman died. Well, the sister, a younger girl than the woman that died, came to nurse the child. After some time she began to look very delicate and uneasy. The naghbours were beginning to talk amongs themselves about her, and it came to Brogan's ears, and, begor, it made him vexed. So he asked the sister what was up with her.
"Well, John," says she, "I did not like to tell you, but Ellie" -- that was the name of the dead woman -- "comes every night, and takes the baby and nurses it, and goes away without a word."
"By my word," says John, "she is not dead at all, but taken, and I will watch her to-night."
Good enough, he remained up, and about 12 o'clock in she came, and he put his arms around her, but as he said, felt no substance.
"You can't keep me now," says she, "for I'm married agin; but if you come to the Bottle Hill field to-morrow night, there will be about 40 of us goin' t'words Blarney, and we will all be on horses, with our husbands. All the horses will be white, and I and my man will be last. Bring a hazel stick woud [with] you and strike the horse on the right side, and I will fall off. Just as I fall, ketch me with all your might. You will know my man, for he is the only one of them that has a red head."
Well, he went, and he must have a great heart, for on they come, gallopin' like mad. Just as the man with the red head's horse came he stood one-side and struck. She fell and he gripped her like iron. Well, such a hullabaloo as there was, was never heard, and all the other men makin' game of the red-headed man.
Well, he brought her home, and they lived for years after, and had a good family, and were the happiest people around the place. I often see some of her children; of course they are all married now, and gone here and there, but that's as true as my name is Tim Brosnan.
Well, sir, he says to his wife, and a purty girl she was, as I hear um say, -- the fortune wasn't very big but 'twould buy him a good bit of leather, and I might tell you, 'twas all brogues that was worn at the time, and faith, you should be big before you would get them same.
Howisever, he started one day for Limerick would [with] and ass and car, to bring home leather and other little things he wanted. He did not return that night or the next, nor the next. Begor, the wife and some frinds went to Limerick next day, but no trace of the husband could be found. I forgot to tell you that the third morning after he was gone the wife rose very early, and there at the dure [door] was the ass and car. The whole country was searched, up high and low down, but no trace. Weeks, monts and years came and went, but he never turned up.
Now the wife kept on a little business, sellin' nick-nacks to support herself, and a son, that grew to be a fine strapping man, as I hear um say, the picture of his father.
Now, sir, the boy was in or about twenty, when one day, himself and his mother were atin' their dinner, whin in comes a man and says, "God save ye!"
"And you too," says the mother. "Will you ate a spud, sir?" says she.
He rached for the spud, and in doin' so the sleeve of his coat shortned as he reached out his hand. He had a mole on his wrist and she see it, and her husband had one in the same spot.
"Good God!" says she, "are you John M'Namara?" -- for that was his name.
"I am," says he, "and your husband, and that's my son, but I can't tell you for some time where I was since I left you. But some time I might have the power, but not now."
Well, lo and behold you, in a week's time he started to work, and the boots he made were a surprise to the whole country round, and I believe he lived for nine or ten years ater that, but he never tould her or any one where he was, but of course everbody knew that 'twas wood [with] the good people.
He was extolled by his neighbours as the best son ever known or heard of. But he had neighbours, of whose opinion he was ignorant -- neighbours who lived pretty close to him, whom he had never seen, who are, indeed, rarely seen by mortals, except on May eves and Halloweens.
An old ruined castle, about a quarter of a mile from his cabin, was said to be the abode of the "wee folk." Every Halloween were the ancient windows lighted up, and passers-by saw little figures flitting to and fro inside the building, while they heard the music of pipes and flutes.
It was well known that fairy revels took place; but nobody had the courage to intrude on them.
Jamie had often watched the little figures from a distance, and listened to the charming music, wondering what the inside of the castle was like; but one Halloween he got up and took his cap, saying to his mother, "I'm awa' to the castle to seek my fortune."
"What!" cried she, "would you venture there? you that's the poor widow's one son! Dinna be sae venturesome an' foolitch, Jamie! They'll kill you, an' then what'll come o' me?"
"Never fear, mother; nae harm 'ill happen me, but I maun gae."
He set out, and as he crossed the potato field, came in sight of the castle, whose windows were ablaze with light, that seemed to turn the russet leaves, still clinging to the crab tree branches, into gold.
Halting in the grove at one side of the ruin, he listened to the elfin revelry, and the laughter and singing made him all the more determined to proceed.
Numbers of little people, the largest about the size of a child of five years old, were dancing to the music of flutes and fiddles, while others drank and feasted.
"Welcome, Jamie Freel! welcome, welcome, Jamie!" cried the company, perceiving their visitor. The word "Welcome" was caught up and repeated by every voice in the castle.
Time flew, and Jamie was enjoying himself very much, when his hosts said, "We're going to ride to Dublin tonight to steal a young lady. Will you come too, Jamie Freel?"
"Ay, that will I!" cried the rash youth, thirsting for adventure.
A troop of horses stood at the door. Jamie mounted, and his steed rose with him into the air. He was presently flying over his mother's cottage, surrounded by the elfin troop, and on and on they went, over bold mountains, over little hills, over the deep Lough Swilley, over towns and cottages, when people were burning nuts, and eating apples, and keeping merry Halloween. It seemed to Jamie that they flew all round Ireland before they got to Dublin.
"This is Derry," said the fairies, flying over the cathedral spire; and what was said by one voice was repeated by all the rest, till fifty little voices were crying out, "Deny! Derry! Derry!"
In like manner was Jamie informed as they passed over each town on the rout, and at length he heard the silvery voices cry, "Dublin! Dublin!"
It was no mean dwelling that was to be honoured by the fairy visit, but one of the finest houses in Stephen's Green.
The troop dismounted near a window, and Jamie saw a beautiful face, on a pillow in a splendid bed. He saw the young lady lifted and carried away, while the stick which was dropped in her place on the bed took her exact form.
The lady was placed before one rider and carried a short way, then given another, and the names of the towns were cried out as before.
They were approaching home. Jamie heard "Rathmullan," "Milford," "Tamney," and then he knew they were near his own house.
"You've all had your turn at carrying the young lady," said he. "Why wouldn't I get her for a wee piece?"
"Ay, Jamie," replied they, pleasantly, "you may take your turn at carrying her, to be sure."
Holding his prize very tightly, he dropped down near his mother's door.
"Jamie Freel, Jamie Freel! is that the way you treat us?" cried they, and they too dropped down near the door.
Jamie held fast, though he knew not what he was holding, for the little folk turned the lady into all sorts of strange shapes. At one moment she was a black dog, barking and trying to bite; at another, a glowing bar of iron, which yet had no heat; then, again, a sack of wool.
But still Jamie held her, and the baffled elves were turning away, when a tiny woman, the smallest of the party, exclaimed, "Jamie Freel has her awa' frae us, but he sall hae nae gude o' her, for I'll mak' her deaf and dumb," and she threw something over the young girl.
While they rode off disappointed, Jamie lifted the latch and went in.
"Jamie, man!" cried "his mother, "you've been awa' all night; what have they done on you?"
"Naething bad, mother; I ha' the very best of gude luck. Here's a beautiful young lady I ha' brought you for company.
"Bless us an' save us!" exclaimed the mother, and for some minutes she was so astonished that she could not think of anything else to say.
Jamie told his story of the night's adventure, ending, by saying, "Surely you wouldna have allowed me to let her gang with them to be lost forever?"
"But a lady, Jamie! How can a lady eat we'er poor diet, and live in we'er poor way? I ax you that, you foolitch fellow?"
"Weel, mother, sure it's better for her to be here nor over yonder," and he pointed in the direction of the castle.
Meanwhile, the deaf and dumb girl shivered in her light clothing, stepping close to the humble turf fire.
"Poor crathur, she's quare and handsome! Nae wonder they set their hearts on her," said the old woman, gazing at her guest with pity and admiration. "We maun dress her first; but what, in the name o' fortune, hae I fit for the likes o' her to wear?"
She went to her press in "the room," and took out her Sunday gown of brown drugget; she then opened a drawer, and drew forth a pair of white stockings, a long snowy garment of fine linen, and a cap, her "dead dress," as she called it.
These articles of attire had long been ready for a certain triste ceremony, in which she would some day fill the chief part, and only saw the light occasionally, when they were hung out to air; but she was willing to give even these to the fair trembling visitor, who was turning in dumb sorrow and wonder from her to Jamie, and from Jamie back to her.
The poor girl suffered herself to be dressed, and then sat down on a "creepie" in the chimney corner, and buried her face in her hands.
"What'll we do to keep up a lady like thou?" cried the old woman.
"I'll work for you both, mother," replied the son.
"An' how could a lady live on we'er poor diet?" she repeated.
"I'll work for her," was all Jamie's answer.
He kept his word. The young lady was very sad for a long time, and tears stole down her cheeks many an evening while the old woman spun by the fire, and Jamie made salmon nets, an accomplishment lately acquired by him, in hopes of adding to the comfort of his guest.
But she was always gentle, and tried to smile when she perceived them looking at her; and by degrees she adapted herself to their ways and mode of life. It was not very long before she began to feed the pig, mash potatoes and meal for the fowls, and knit blue worsted socks.
So a year passed, and Halloween came round again. "Mother," said Jamie, taking down his cap, "I'm off to the ould castle to seek my fortune."
"Are you mad, Jamie?" cried his mother, in terror; "sure they'll kill you this time for what you done on them last year."
Jamie made light of her fears and went his way.
As he reached the crab tree grove, he saw bright lights in the castle windows as before, and heard loud talking. Creeping under the window, he heard the wee folk say, "That was a poor trick Jamie Freel played us this night last year, when he stole the nice young lady from us."
"Ay," said the tiny woman, "an' I punished him for it, for there she sits, a dumb image by his hearth; but he does na' know that three drops out o' this glass I hold in my hand wad gie her her hearing and her speeches back again."
Jamie's heart beat fast as he entered the hall. Again he was greeted by a chorus of welcomes from the company: "Here comes Jamie Freel! welcome, welcome, Jamie!"
As soon as the tumult subsided, the little woman said, "You be to drink our health, Jamie, out o' this glass in my hand."
Jamie snatched the glass from her and darted to the door. He never knew how he reached his cabin, but he arrived there breathless, and sank on a stove by the fire.
"You're kilt surely this time, my poor boy," said his mother.
"No, indeed, better luck than ever this time!" and he gave the lady three drops of the liquid that still remained at the bottom of the glass, notwithstanding his mad race over the potato field.
The lady began to speak, and her first words were words of thanks to Jamie.
The three inmates of the cabin had so much to say to one another, that long after cock-crow, when the fairy music had quite ceased, they were talking round the fire.
"Jamie," said the lady, "be pleased to get me paper and pen and ink, that I may write to my father, and tell him what has become of me."
She wrote, but weeks passed, and she received no answer. Again and again she wrote, and still no answer.
At length she said, "You must come with me to Dublin, Jamie, to find my father."
"I ha' no money to hire a car for you," he replied, "an' how can you travel to Dublin on your foot?"
But she implored him so much that he consented to set out with her, and walk all the way from Fannet to Dublin. It was not as easy as the fairy journey; but at last they rang the bell at the door of the house in Stephen's Green.
"Tell my father that his daughter is here," said she to the servant who opened the door.
"The gentleman that lives here has no daughter, my girl. He had one, but she died better nor a year ago."
"Do you not know me, Sullivan?"
"No, poor girl, I do not."
"Let me see the gentleman. I only ask to see him."
"Well, that's not much to ax; we'll see what can be done."
In a few moments the lady's father came to the door.
"Dear father," said she, "don't you know me?"
"How dare you call me your father?" cried the old gentleman, angrily. "You are an impostor. I have no daughter."
"Look in my face, father, and surely you'll remember me."
"My daughter is dead and buried. She died a long, long time ago." The old gentleman's voice changed from anger to sorrow. "You can go," he concluded.
"Stop, dear father, till you look at this ring on my finger. Look at your name and mine engraved on it."
"It certainly is my daughter's ring; but I do not know how you came by it. I fear in no honest way."
"Call my mother, she will be sure to know me," said the poor girl, who, by this time, was crying bitterly.
"My poor wife is beginning to forget her sorrow. She seldom speaks of her daughter now. Why should I renew her grief by reminding her of her loss?"
But the young lady persevered, till at last the mother was sent for.
"Mother," she began, when the old lady came to the door, "don't you know your daughter?"
"I have no daughter; my daughter died and was buried a long, long time ago."
"Only look in my face, and surely you'll know me."
The old lady shook her head. "You have all forgotten me; but look at this mole on my neck. Surely, mother, you know me now?"
"Yes, yes," said the mother, " my Gracie had a mole on her neck like that; but then I saw her in her coffin, and saw the lid shut down upon her."
It became Jamie's turn to speak, and he gave the history of the fairy journey, of the theft of the young lady, of the figure he had seen laid in its place, of her life with his mother in Fannet, of last Halloween, and of the three drops that had released her from her enchantment.
She took up the story when he paused, and told how kind the mother and son had been to her.
The parents could not make enough of Jamie. They treated him with every distinction, and when he expressed his wish to return to Fannet, said they did not know what to do to show their gratitude.
But an awkward complication arose. The daughter would not let him go without her. "If Jamie goes, I'll go too," she said. "He saved me from the fairies, and has worked for me ever since. If it had not been for him, dear father and mother, you would never have seen me again. If he goes, I'll go too."
This being her resolution, the old gentleman said that Jamie should become his son-in-law. The mother was brought from Fannet in a coach and four, and there was a splendid wedding.
They all lived together in the grand Dublin house, and Jamie was heir to untold wealth at his father-in-law's death.
All night the gay rabble sweep to and fro across the land, invisible to all, unless perhaps where, in some more than commonly "gentle" place -- Drumcliff or Drum-a-hair -- the night-capped heads of faery-doctors may be thrust from their doors to see what mischief the "gentry" are doing. To their trained eyes and ears the fields are covered by red-hatted riders, and the air is full of shrill voices -- a sound like whistling, as an ancient Scottish seer has recorded, and wholly different from the talk of the angels, who "speak much in the throat, like the Irish," as Lilly, the astrologer, has wisely said.
If there be a new-born baby or new-wed bride in the neighbourhood, the night-capped "doctors" will peer with more than common care, for the unearthly troop do not always return empty-handed. Sometimes a new-wed bride or a new-born baby goes with them into their mountains; the door swings to behind, and the new-born or the new-wed moves henceforth in the bloodless land of Faery; happy enough, but doomed to melt out at the last judgment like bright vapour, for the soul cannot live without sorrow.
Through this door of white stone, and the other doors of that land where geabheadh tu an sonas aer pighin ("you can buy joy for a penny"), have gone kings, queens, and princes, but so greatly has the power of Faery dwindled, that there are none but peasants in these sad chronicles of mine.
Somewhere about the beginning of last century appeared at the western corner of Market Street, Sligo, where the butcher's shop now is, not a palace, as in Keats's Lamia, but an apothecary's shop, ruled over by a certain unaccountable Dr. Opendon. Where he came from, none ever knew. There also was in Sligo, in those days, a woman, Ormsby by name, whose husband had fallen mysteriously sick. The doctors could make nothing of him. Nothing seemed wrong with him, yet weaker and weaker he grew. Away went the wife to Dr. Opendon. She was shown into the shop parlour. A black cat was sitting straight up before the fire. She had just time to see that the side-board was covered with fruit, and to say to herself, "Fruit must be wholesome when the doctor has so much," before Dr. Opendon came in. He was dressed all in black, the same as the cat, and his wife walked behind him dressed in black likewise. She gave him a guinea, and got a little bottle in return. Her husband recovered that time.
Meanwhile the black doctor cured many people; but one day a rich patient died, and cat, wife, and doctor all vanished the night after. In a year the man Ormsby fell sick once more. Now he was a good-looking man, and his wife felt sure the "gentry" were coveting him. She went and called on the "faery-doctor" at Cairnsfoot. As soon as he had heard her tale, he went behind the back door and began muttering, muttering, muttering -- making spells.
Her husband got well this time also. But after a while he sickened again, the fatal third time, and away went she once more to Cairnsfoot, and out went the faery-doctor behind his back door and began muttering, but soon he came in and told her it was no use -- her husband would die; and sure enough the man died, and ever after when she spoke of him Mrs. Ormsby shook her head saying she knew well where he was, and it wasn't in heaven or hell or purgatory either. She probably believed that a log of wood was left behind in his place, but so bewitched that it seemed the dead body of her husband.
She is dead now herself, but many still living remember her. She was, I believe, for a time a servant or else a kind of pensioner of some relations of my own.
Sometimes those who are carried off are allowed after many years -- seven usually -- a final glimpse of their friends. Many years ago a woman vanished suddenly from a Sligo garden where she was walking with her husband. When her son, who was then a baby, had grown up he received word in some way, not handed down, that his mother was glamoured by faeries, and imprisoned for the time in a house in Glasgow and longing to see him. Glasgow in those days of sailing-ships seemed to the peasant mind almost over the edge of the known world, yet he, being a dutiful son, started away.
For a long time he walked the streets of Glasgow; at last down in a cellar he saw his mother working. She was happy, she said, and had the best of good eating, and would he not eat? and therewith laid all kinds of food on the table; but he, knowing well that she was trying to cast on him the glamour by giving him faery food, that she might keep him with her, refused and came home to his people in Sligo.
Some five miles southward of Sligo is a gloomy and tree-bordered pond, a great gathering-place of water-fowl, called, because of its form, the Heart Lake. It is haunted by stranger things than heron, snipe, or wild duck. Out of this lake, as from the white square stone in Ben Bulben, issues an unearthly troop. Once men began to drain it; suddenly one of them raised a cry that he saw his house in flames. They turned round, and every man there saw his own cottage burning. They hurried home to find it was but faery glamour. To this hour on the border of the lake is shown a half-dug trench -- the signet of their impiety.
A little way from this lake I heard a beautiful and mournful history of faery kidnapping. I heard it from a little old woman in a white cap, who sings to herself in Gaelic, and moves from one foot to the other as though she remembered the dancing of her youth.
A young man going at nightfall to the house of his just married bride, met in the way a jolly company, and with them his bride. They were faeries, and had stolen her as a wife for the chief of their band. To him they seemed only a company of merry mortals. His bride, when she saw her old love, bade him welcome, but was most fearful lest he should eat the faery food, and so be glamoured out of the earth into that bloodless dim nation, wherefore she set him down to play cards with three of the cavalcade; and he played on, realizing nothing until he saw the chief of the band carrying his bride away in his arms. Immediately he started up, and knew that they were faeries; for slowly all that jolly company melted into shadow and night. He hurried to the house of his beloved. As he drew near came to him the cry of the keeners. She had died some time before he came.
Some noteless Gaelic poet had made this into a forgotten ballad, some odd verses of which my white-capped friend remembered and sang for me.
Sometimes one hears of stolen people acting as good genii to the living, as in this tale, heard also close by the haunted pond, of John Kirwan of Castle Hacket. The Kirwans are a family much rumoured of in peasant stories, and believed to be he descendants of a man and a spirit. They have ever been famous for beauty, and I have read that the mother of the present Lord Cloncurry was of their tribe.
John Kirwan was a great horse-racing man, and once landed in Liverpool with a fine horse, going racing somewhere in middle England. That evening, as he walked by the docks, a slip of a boy came up and asked where he was stabling his horse. In such and such a place, he answered.
"Don't put him there," said the slip of a boy; "that stable will be burnt to-night"
He took his horse else-where, and sure enough the stable was burnt down. Next day the boy came and asked as reward to ride as his jockey in the coming race, and then was gone. The race-time came round. At the last moment the boy ran forward and mounted, saying, "If I strike him with the whip in my left hand I will lose, but if in my right hand bet all you are worth." For, said Paddy Flynn, who told me the tale, "the left arm is good for nothing. I might go on making the sign of the cross with it, and all that, come Christmas, and a Banshee, or such like, would no more mind than if it was that broom."
Well, the slip of a boy struck the horse with his right hand, and John Kirwan cleared the field out.
When the race was over, "What can I do for you now?" said he.
"Nothing but this," said the boy: "my mother has a cottage on your land -- they stole me from the cradle. Be good to her, John Kirwan, and wherever your horses go I will watch that no ill follows them; but you will never see me more."
With that he made himself air, and vanished.
Sometimes animals are carried off -- apparently drowned animals more than others. In Claremorris, Galway, Paddy Flynn told me, lived a poor widow with one cow and its calf. The cow fell into the river, and was washed away. There was a man thereabouts who went to a red-haired woman -- for such are supposed to be wise in these things -- and she told him to take the calf down to the edge of the river, and hide himself and watch. He did as she had told him, and as evening came on the calf began to low, and after a while the cow came along the edge of the river and commenced suckling it.
Then, as he had been told, he caught the cow's tail. Away they went at a great pace, across hedges and ditches, till they came to a royalty (a name for the little circular ditches, commonly called raths or forts, that Ireland is covered with since Pagan times). Therein he saw walking or sitting all the people who had died out of his village in his time. A woman was sitting on the edge with a child on her knees, and she called out to him to mind what the red-haired woman had told him, and he remembered she had said, "Bleed the cow."
So he stuck his knife into the cow and drew blood. That broke the spell, and he was able to turn her homeward.
"Do not forget the spancel," said the woman with the child on her knees; "take the inside one."
There were three spancels on a bush; he took one, and the cow was driven safely home to the widow.
There is hardly a valley or mountainside where folk cannot tell you of some one pillaged from amongst them. Two or three miles from the Heart Lake lives an old woman who was stolen away in her youth. After seven years she was brought home again for some reason or other, but she had no toes left. She had danced them off. Many near the white stone door in Ben Bulben have been stolen away.
It is far easier to be sensible in cities than in many country places I could tell you of. When one walks on those grey roads at evening by the scented elder-bushes of the white cottages, watching the faint mountains gathering the clouds upon their heads, one all too readily discovers, beyond the thin cobweb veil of the senses, those creatures, the goblins, hurrying from the white square stone door to the north, or from the Heart Lake in the south.
There was once a great lord in that part of the country who had a beautiful wife called Ethna, the loveliest bride in all the land. And her husband was so proud of her that day after day he had festivals in her honour; and from morning till night his castle was filled with lords and ladies, and nothing but music and dancing and feasting and hunting and pleasure was thought of.
One evening while the feast was merriest, and Ethna floated through the dance in her robe of silver gossamer clasped with jewels, more bright and beautiful than the stars in heaven, she suddenly let go the hand of her partner and sank to the floor in a faint.
They carried her to her room, where she lay long quite insensible; but towards the morning she woke up and declared that she had passed the night in a beautiful palace, and was so happy that she longed to sleep again and go there in her dreams. And they watched by her all day, but when the shades of evening fell dark on the castle, low music was heard at her window, and Ethna again fell into a deep trance from which nothing could rouse her.
Then her old nurse was set to watch her; but the woman grew weary in the silence and fell asleep, and never awoke till the sun had risen. And when she looked towards the bed, she saw to her horror that the young bride had disappeared. The whole household was roused up at once, and search made everywhere, but no trace of her could be found in all the castle, nor in the gardens, nor in the park. Her husband sent messengers in every direction, but to no purpose -- no one had seen her; no sign of her could be found, living or dead.
Then the young lord mounted his swiftest steed and galloped right off to Knockma, to question Finvarra, the fairy king, if he could give any tidings of the bride, or direct him where to search for her; for he and Finvarra were friends, and many a good keg of Spanish wine had been left outside the window of the castle at night for the fairies to carry away, by order of the young lord. But he little dreamed now that Finvarra himself was the traitor; so he galloped on like mad till he reached Knockma, the hill of the fairies.
And as he stopped to rest his horse by the fairy rath, he heard voices in the air above him, and one said, "Right glad is Finvarra now, for he has the beautiful bride in his palace at last; and never more will she see her husband's face."
"Yet," answered another, "if he dig down through the hill to the centre of the earth, he would find his bride; but the work is hard and the way is difficult, and Finvarra has more power than any mortal man."
"That is yet to be seen," exclaimed the young lord. "Neither fairy, nor devil, nor Finvarra himself shall stand between me and my fair young wife;" and on the instant he sent word by his servants to gather together all the workmen and labourers of the country round with their spades and pickaxes, to dig through the hill till they came to the fairy palace.
And the workmen came, a great crowd of them, and they dug through the hill all that day till a great deep trench was made down to the very centre. Then at sunset they left off for the night; but next morning when they assembled again to continue their work, behold, all the clay was put back again into the trench, and the hill looked as if never a spade had touched it -- for so Finvarra had ordered; and he was powerful over earth and air and sea.
But the young lord had a brave heart, and he made the men go on with the work; and the trench was dug again, wide and deep into the centre of the hill. And this went on for three days, but always with the same result, for the clay was put back again each night and the hill looked the same as before, and they were no nearer to the fairy palace.
Then the young lord was ready to die for rage and grief, but suddenly he heard a voice near him like a whisper in the air, and the words it said were these: "Sprinkle the earth you have dug up with salt, and your work will be safe."
On this new life came into his heart, and lie sent word through all the country to gather salt from the people; and the clay was sprinkled with it that night, when the men had left off their work at the hill.
Next morning they all rose up early in great anxiety to see what had happened, and there to their great joy was the trench all safe, just as they had left it, and all the earth round it was untouched.
Then the young lord knew he had power over Finvarra, and he bade the men work on with a good heart, for they would soon reach the fairy palace now in the centre of the hill. So by the next day a great glen was cut right through deep down to the middle of the earth, and they could hear the fairy music if they put their ear close to the ground, and voices were heard round them in the air.
"See now," said one, "Finvarra is sad, for if one of those mortal men strike a blow on the fairy palace with their spades, it will crumble to dust, and fade away like the mist."
"Then let Finvarra give up the bride," said another, "and we shall be safe."
On which the voice of Finvarra himself was heard, clear like the note of a silver bugle through the hill. "Stop your work," he said. "Oh, men of earth, lay down your spades, and at sunset the bride shall be given back to her husband. I, Finvarra, have spoken."
Then the young lord bade them stop the work, and lay down their spades till the sun went down. And at sunset he mounted his great chestnut steed and rode to the head of the glen, and watched and waited; and just as the red light flushed all the sky, lie saw his wife coming along the path in her robe of silver gossamer, more beautiful than ever; and he sprang from the saddle and lifted her up before him, and rode away like the storm wind back to the castle. And there they laid Ethna on her bed; but she closed her eyes and spake no word. So day after day passed, and still she never spake or smiled, but seemed like one in a trance.
And great sorrow fell upon every one, for they feared she had eaten of the fairy food, and that the enchantment would never be btoken. So her husband was very miserable. But one evening as he was riding home late, he heard voices in the air, and one of them said, "It is now a year and a day since the young lord brought home his beautiful wife from Finvarra; but what good is she to him? She is speechless and like one dead; for her spirit is with the fairies though her form is there beside him."
Then another voice answered, "And so she will remain unless the spell is broken. He must unloose the girdle from her waist that is fastened with an enchanted pin, and burn the girdle with fire, and throw the ashes before the door, and bury the enchanted pin in the earth; then will her spirit come back from Fairyland, and she will once more speak and have true life."
Hearing this the young lord at once set spurs to his horse, and on reaching the castle hastened to the room where Ethna lay on her couch silent and beautiful like a waxen figure. Then, being determined to test the truth of the spirit voices, he untied the girdle, and after much difficulty extracted the enchanted pin from the folds. But still Ethna spoke no word; then he took the girdle and burned it with fire, and strewed the ashes before the door, and he buried the enchanted pin in a deep hole in the earth, under a fairy thorn, that no hand might disturb the spot. After which he returned to his young wife, who smiled as she looked at him, aud held forth her hand. Great was his joy to see the soul coming back to the beautiful form, and he raised her up and kissed her; and speech and memory came back to her at that moment, and all her former life, just as if it had never been broken or interrupted; but the year that her spirit had passed in Fairyland seemed to her but as a dream of the night, from which she had just awoke.
After this Finvarra made no further efforts to carry her off; but the deep cut in the hill remains to this day, and is called "The Fairy's Glen." So no one can doubt the truth of the story as here narrated.
While returning home late one evening, it was his fate to fall in with a troop of fairies, who were not pleased to have their gambols disturbed by a mortal. Requesting him to depart, they politely offered him the choice of three means of locomotion, viz., being carried off by a "high wind, middle wind, or low wind." The jockey soon made up his mind, and elected to make his trip through the air by the assistance of a high wind.
No sooner had he given his decision, than he found himself whisked high up into the air, and his senses completely bewildered by the rapidity of his flight; he did not recover himself again till he came in contact with the earth, being suddenly dropped in the middle of a garden near Ty Gough, on the Bryndu Road, many miles distant from the spot whence he started on his aerial journey.
Ned, when relating this story, would vouch for its genuineness in the most solemn manner, and the person who narrated it to the writer brought forward, as a proof of its truth, "that there was not the slightest trace of any person going into the garden while Ned was found in the middle of it."
The ultimate fate of the hero of the above incident was extremely melancholy. Returning home inebriated one night, he appears to have mistaken his road, and walked into the Severn, just below the Long Bridge, where his body was found next morning.
There was an old man living in those days who used to frequent the fairs that were held across the mountains. One day he was crossing the mountains to a fair, and when he got to a lonely valley he sat down, for he was tired, and he dropped off to sleep, and his bag fell down by his side. When he was sound asleep the fairies came and carried him off, bag and all, and took him under the earth, and when he awoke he found himself in a great palace of gold, full of fairies dancing and singing. And they took him and showed him everything, the splendid gold room and gardens, and they kept dancing round him until he fell asleep.
When he was asleep they carried him back to the same spot where they had found him, and when he awoke he thought he had been dreaming, so he looked for his bag, and got hold of it, but he could hardly lift it. When he opened it he found it was nearly filled with gold.
He managed to pick it up, and turning round, he went home.
When he got home, his wife Kaddy said, "What's to do, why haven't you been to the fair?"
"I've got something here," he said, and showed his wife the gold.
"Why, where did you get that?"
But he wouldn't tell her. Since she was curious, like all women, she kept worrying him all night -- for he'd put the money in a box under the bed -- so he told her about the fairies.
Next morning, when he awoke, he thought he'd go to the fair and buy a lot of things, and he went to the box to get some of the gold, but found it full of cockle-shells.
He then turned his face homeward, but when he reached there all was changed: his parents were dead, his brothers and sisters could not recognize him, and his sweetheart was married to another. At the thought of such changes he broke his heart, and died in less than a week after his return.
To prove this, he mentioned to them how they were occupied on such and such a day, and, among other things, how they took their corn on a particular day to Ramsey. He reminded them also of their having heard a sudden sharp crack as they were passing by a thorn bush he named, and how they were so startled that one of them would have run back home. He asked them if they remembered that, and they said they did, only too well. He then explained to them the meaning of the noise, namely, that one of the fairies with whom he had been galloping the whole time was about to let fly an arrow at his brothers, but that as he was going to do this, he (the missing brother) raised a plate and intercepted the arrow: that was the sharp noise they had heard.
Such was the account he had to give of his sojourn in Faery.
Soon after the marriage his first wife appeared to Ballaleece one night, and said to him, "My man, my man, I was taken away by the Little People, and I live with them near to you. I can be set free if you will but do what I tell you."
"Tell me quick," said Ballaleece.
"We'll be riding through Ballaleece barn at midnight on Friday," said she. "We'll be going in on one door and out on another. I'll be riding behind one of the men on horseback. You'll sweep the barn clean, and mind there is not one straw left on the floor. Catch hold of my bridle rein, hold it fast, and I shall be free."
When the night came Ballaleece took a besom and swept the barn floor so clean that not one speck was left on it. Then he waited in the dark.
At midnight the barn doors opened wide, sweet music was heard, and in through the open door came a fine company of Little People, in green jackets and red caps, riding fine horses. On the last horse, sitting behind a Little Fellow, Ballaleece saw his first wife as pretty as a picture, and as young as when she left him. He seized hold of her bridle rein, but he was shaken from side to side like a leaf on a tree, and he was not able to hold her.
As she went out through the door she stretched out her right hand and pointed to a bushel in the corner of the barn, and called out in a sad voice, "There's been a straw put under the bushel for that reason you couldn't hold me, and you've done with me for ever!"
The second wife had heard what had passed and had hidden the straw, and turned the bushel upside down so that it would not be seen.
The young wife was never heard of any more.
Now in all this there is really nothing, but an old fabulous Story, which has been handed down even to our Days from the Times of Heathenism, of a certain Sort of Beings called Lamiæ, which were esteemed so mischievous and cruel, as to take away young Children and slay them. These, together with the the Fauns, the Gods of the Woods, seem to have formed the Notion of Fairies.
Mr. Hals [See Davies Gilbert's Parochial History of Cornwall] has given one version of this story, which differs in some respects from the tale as I heard it, from an old woman some thirty years since, who then lived in this parish. Her tale was to the following effect.
It was a lovely evening, and the little boy was gathering flowers in the fields, near a wood. The child was charmed by hearing some beautiful music, which he at first mistook for the song of birds; but, being a sharp boy, he was not long deceived, and he went towards the wood to ascertain from whence the melodious sounds came. When he reached the verge of the wood, the music was of so exquisite a character, that he was compelled to follow the sound, which appeared to travel before him. Lured in this way, the boy penetrated to the dark center of the grove, and here, meeting with some difficulties, owing to the thick growth of underwood, he paused, and began to think of returning. The music, however, became more ravishing than before, and some invisible being appeared to crush down all the low and tangled plants, thus forming for him a passage, over which he passed without any difficulty.
At length he found himself on the edge of a small lake, and, greatly to his astonishment, the darkness of night was around him, but the heavens were thick with stars. The music ceased, and, wearied with his wanderings, the boy fell asleep on a bed of ferns.
He related, on his restoration to his parents, that he was taken by a beautiful lady through palaces of the most gorgeous description. Pillars of glass supported arches which glistened with every color, and these were hung with crystals far exceeding anything which were ever seen in the caverns of a Cornish mine. It is, however, stated that many days passed away before the child was found by his friends, and that at length he was discovered one lovely morning sleeping on the bed of ferns, on which he was supposed to have fallen asleep on the first adventurous evening.
There was no reason given by the narrator why the boy was "spirited away" in the first instance, or why he was returned. Her impression was, that some sprites, pleased with the child's innocence and beauty, had entranced him. That when asleep he had been carried through the waters to the fairy abodes beneath them; and she felt assured that a child so treated would be kept under the especial guardianship of the sprites for ever afterwards. Of this, however, tradition leaves us in ignorance.
There is a green hill above Kintraw, known as the Fairies' Hill, of which the following story is told.
Many years ago, the wife of the farmer at Kintraw fell ill and died, leaving two or three young children. The Sunday after the funeral the farmer and his servants went to church, leaving the children at home in charge of the eldest, a girl of about ten years of age. On the farmer's return the children told him their mother had been to see them, and had combed their hair and dressed them. As they still persisted in their statement after being remonstrated with, they were punished for telling what was not true.
The following Sunday the same thing occurred again. The father now told the children, if their mother came again, they were in inquire of her why she came. Next Sunday, when she reappeared, the eldest child put her father's question to her, when the mother told them she had been carried off by the "Good People" (Daione Sìth), and could only get away for an hour or two on Sundays, and should her coffin be opened it would be found to contain only a withered leaf.
The farmer, much perplexed, went to the minister for advice, who scoffed at the idea of any supernatural connection with the children's story, ridiculed the existence of "Good People," and would not allow the coffin to be opened. The matter was therefore allowed to rest. But, some little time after, the minister, who had gone to Lochgilphead for the day, was found lying dead near the Fairies' Hill, a victim, many people thought, to the indignation of the Fairy world he had laughed at.
John Roy, who lived in Glenbroun, in the parish of Abernethy, being out one night on the hills in search of his cattle, met a troop of fairies, who seemed to have got a prize of some sort or other. Recollecting that the fairies are obliged to exchange whatever they may have with any one who offers them anything, however low in value, for it, he flung his bonnet to them, crying Shuis slo slumus sheen (i.e., mine is yours and yours is mine). The fairies dropped their booty, which proved to be a Sassenach (English) lady whom the dwellers of Shian of Coir-laggac had carried away from her own country, leaving a stock in her place which, of course, died and was buried.
John brought her home, and she lived for many years in his house.
"It happened, however, in the course of time," said the Gaelic narrator, "that the new king found it necessary to make the great roads through these countries by means of soldiers, for the purpose of letting coaches and carriages pass to the northern cities; and those soldiers had officers and commanders in the same way as our fighting army have now. Those soldiers were never great favorites in these countries, particularly during the time that our kings were alive; and consequently it was no easy matter for them, either officers or men, to procure for themselves comfortable quarters."
But John Roy would not keep up the national animosity to the cottan dearg (red-coats), and he offered a residence in his house to a Saxon captain and his son. When there they could not take their eyes off the English lady, and the son remarked to his father what a strong likeness she bore to his deceased mother.
The father replied that he too had been struck with the resemblance, and said he could almost fancy she was his wife. He then mentioned her name and those of some persons connected with them. The lady by these words at once recognized her husband and son, and honest John Roy had the satisfaction of reuniting the long-separated husband and wife, and receiving their most grateful acknowledgments.
The fiddler, of course, knew no one, and had nowhere to go, and when the old man asked him to spend the night at his house, he very gladly accepted the invitation. It so happened that the following day was Sacrament Sunday, and they both went to church. The fiddler asked to be permitted to communicate. This request was granted, but no sooner did he touch the "elements" [bread and wine of the Eucharist] than he crumbled into dust.
When the dance was ended she bethought herself of her husband and hastened home. Here it appeared to her that everything in and about the place was changed, and on entering the village, she recognized neither house nor farm, and heard nothing of the noisy mirth of the wedding. At length she found herself standing before her husband's dwelling, but on entering saw no one whom she knew, and no one who knew her.
One old woman only, on hearing the bride's lamentation, exclaimed, "Is it then you, who a hundred years ago disappeared at my grandfather's brother's wedding?"
At these words the aged bride fell down and instantly expired.
As a smith was at work in his forge late one evening, he heard great wailing out on the road, and by the light of the red-hot iron that he was hammering, he saw a woman whom a troll was driving along, bawling at her "A little more! A little more!" He ran out, put the red-hot iron between them, and thus delivered her from the power of the troll.
He led her into his house and that night she was delivered of twins.
In the morning he waited on [went to] her husband, who he supposed must be in great affliction at the loss of his wife. But to his surprise he saw there, in bed, a woman the very image of her he had saved from the troll. Knowing at once what she must be, he raised an axe he had in his hand, and cleft her skull.
The matter was soon explained to the satisfaction of the husband, who gladly received his real wife and her twins.
One night a number of fishermen quartered themselves in a hut by a fishing village on the northwest shores of an island. After they had gone to bed, and while they were yet awake, they saw a white, dew-besprinkled woman's hand reaching in through the door. They well understood that their visitor was a sea nymph, who sought their destruction, and feigned unconsciousness of her presence.
The following day their number was added to by the coming of a young, courageous and newly married man from Kinnar, in Lummelund. When they related to him their adventure of the night before, he made fun of their being afraid to take a beautiful woman by the hand, and boasted that if he had been present he would not have neglected to grasp the proffered hand.
That evening when they laid themselves down in the same room, the late arrival with them, the door opened again, and a plump, white woman's arm, with a most beautiful hand, reached in over the sleepers.
The young man arose from his bed, approached the door and seized the outstretched hand, impelled, perhaps, more by the fear of his comrades scoffing at his boasted bravery, than by any desire for a closer acquaintance with the strange visitor.
Immediately his comrades witnessed him drawn noiselessly out through the door, which closed softly after him. They thought he would return soon, but when morning approached and he did not appear, they set out in search of him. Far and near the search was pursued, but without success. His disappearance was complete.
Three years passed and nothing had been heard of the missing man. His young wife, who had mourned him all this time as dead, was finally persuaded to marry another. On the evening of the wedding day, while the mirth was at its highest, a stranger entered the cottage. Upon closer observation some of the guests thought they recognized the bride's former husband.
The utmost surprise and commotion followed.
In answer to the inquiries of those present as to where he came from and where he had been, he related that it was a sea nymph whose hand he had taken that night when he left the fisherman's hut; and that he was dragged by her down into the sea. In her pearly halls he forgot his wife, parents, and all that was loved by him until the morning of that day, when the sea nymph exclaimed, "There will be a dusting out in Kinnar this evening."
Then his senses immediately returned, and, with anxiety, he asked, "Then it is my wife who is to be the bride?"
The sea nymph replied in the affirmative.
At his urgent request, she allowed him to come up to see his wife as a bride, stipulating that when he arrived at the house he should not enter. When he came and saw her adorned with garland and crown he could, nevertheless, not resist the desire to enter. Then came a tempest and took away half the roof of the house, whereupon the man fell sick and three days later died.
Return to D. L. Ashliman's folktexts, a library of folktales, folklore, fairy tales, and mythology.
Revised August 31, 2021.