ANCIENT CURES, CHARMS, AND USAGES OF IRELAND.
CONTRIBUTIONS TO IRISH LORE.
A NIGHT WITH THE FAIRIES
In a remote part of the mountain district of the West of Ireland, there dwelt, once on a time, a young man named Denis Ryan, as fine a young fellow as ever lived, and as brave as he was handsome. But his home was very lonely and desolate, for hardly a human being ever came that way. So by degrees he grew weary of his life altogether, and longed to follow the clouds that went sailing away over his head on to the great, wide sea, beyond which were bright, beautiful new lands, where, perhaps, he might be happy. And, finally, he could bear the desolate loneliness no longer, but one day threw up his work and resolved to go down amidst the people of the plains, and see if they knew anything of joy and laughter, and the free life that stirs the soul of youth.
So early one morning, before sunrise, he began boldly to descend the mountain, not knowing which path to take, but walked on and on, till he was dead tired, without meeting a soul; when, just at nightfall, as the black darkness was coming on, he came to a rude hut in a lonely glen with nothing but bare heath all around. And the hut looked dreary and queer; but he was so pressed by hunger and fatigue, that he resolved to brave the worst, and, lifting the latch, he entered.
No one was there but an old woman crouching over the fire, and she looked very angry, and told him to begone, for that was no place for him to find shelter and food.
"But, mother," he said, "let me rest, for there is no other place in all the country round for miles and miles, and I am weary and hungry after crossing the mountains and travelling since dawn. Let me rest in peace."
Then the old woman grew softer and gentler, and let him sit down by the fire, and gave him food. But when he was rested, she told him that he had now better leave at once, as strange people were coming who would be wroth if they saw him, and certainly do him some injury.
"Yet, mother," he said, "let me stay till daylight, for I am so weary and in need of rest. Let me stay, in the name of God, and the blessing of the Lord will be on you."
"Hush!" she cried, with an angry voice, "that name is never to be named here. There are people coming who would kill you if you uttered that word before them. Now, mind what I tell you.
At midnight they will be here, and you must hold your peace, and be civil and quiet; but ask no questions, and eat no food they may offer you, and beware of making the sign of the Cross, or of naming the Name."
So he watched and waited, and at midnight a tramping was heard outside, as of the rushing of many feet, and the door flew open, and in came a crowd of little men, each wearing a red doublet and cape, and a small cocked hat on the head, with a white feather.
They stared at the stranger with bold, fearless eyes, but were not unfriendly; and when the old woman spread out the table with food, they all sat down to supper in the highest glee, and asked the young man to join them and eat.
This, however, he refused, saying he had already eaten his supper, thanks to the good, kind lady of the hut; so they let him alone, and were very merry amongst themselves. And after the food, each man produced a bottle, and drink was poured out in tiny cups with much laughter and merriment.
Now when the young wayfarer saw the beautiful red wine, he longed for it so much, that when they offered him a cup he was loth to refuse, but drank it off, and then another and another, though the old woman held up her finger, and made signs to him to warn him of the danger. And after they had all drank, and laughed, and made merry, the chief of the little men rose up and said:
"Comrades, it is time we were off, the moon is up, the wine is out, and we must go and search for more. I know of a grand gentleman in the far North who has the best cellars in the whole country round; let us go at once to him, before the day dawns, and while all the household sleep we can fill our bottles and be away before their morning dreams are over." And turning to the stranger, he asked: "Young man, will you go with us?"
"Ay, that I will," replied the young fellow, for the wine had made him valiant. "Then here's to the North! "shouted all the little men, and he shouted: "Here's to the North!" as loudly as any of them.
"Then let us be off," said the leader; "but first give our friend here a red cape and a hat with a white feather." So they dressed him up just like one of themselves, and then they all rushed out into the night like a whirlwind of fallen leaves; and presently they stopped before the gate of a stately castle, and the leader just touched the lock and it opened at once; and they entered a great hall and passed down a flight of stairs till they came to a cellar underground, locked and bolted; but the leader just touched the door with his thumb, and it opened freely; and they all went in and filled their bottles, and drank besides, as much wine as they liked of the best and rarest.
"Come, now," said the leader at last, "we have had enough. Let us be off to Connaught. This is right good Spanish wine, and we'll know where to find it again; but now we must go before the day dawns."
So they all scampered off again like a rush of leaves before the wind.
But Denis had taken so much wine that he was unable to follow them, and he lay helpless on the floor of the cellar.
So when morning came, the master of the place coming in found him there fast asleep. "Ah, my fine fellow!" he exclaimed, "have I caught you at last? And all my good Spanish wine spilled about, and ever so many bottles stolen. You shall hang for this, as sure as fate."
So the poor youth was carried off to gaol, and being fairly tried by judge and jury, was condemned to be hanged, for he had no defence to offer. It was quite evident that he had broken open the cellar door and stolen the wine, and consequently deserved his fate.
And when the fatal day came, all the town was crowded to see young Denis dance the rope-dance; and the priest walked by him saying the prayers, and the hangman stood there holding the cap to cover the face of the poor young man for his execution; and the sheriff looked on to see that all was right and proper.
"Now," said the unhappy criminal, speaking up for the last time," I have just one favour to ask of these good gentlemen before I die. Do not put that ugly thing over my face which the hangman is holding in his hand, but give me my own red cap with the white feather that I had on when I was arrested in the cellar, and let me die with it on my head, and nothing else."
Now, the sheriff was a tender-hearted man, and he pitied the young fellow, so he said, "Let him have the cap; go, fetch it for him, and let him die in peace." "Ay," said Denis, "I shall now die happy," and he took the cap with the white feather in his hand, and placing it at once upon his head, he cried out in a loud voice, "Here's for home!" And then arose a great commotion amongst all the officials round the gallows, and the sheriff and the priest and the hangman stared at each other speechless with amazement, for the young man had disappeared, cap and all, and from that hour to this no tale or tidings of him could be heard; and the sheriff and the hangman looked very foolish as they made their way home amidst the hooting and the laughter of the crowd, who shouted for joy that the gallows had been cheated, for that time at least, of so fine a young fellow for a victim as Denis Kyan.
A LEGEND OF SHARK
On Shark Island there lived some years ago a woman named Mary Callan, with her one only child.
Indeed, she never had another, from the fright she got some weeks after her baby was born, and this was her strange story. Suddenly, at dead of night, she was awoke by the child crying, and starting up, she lit the candle, when to her horror she saw two strange men standing beside her bed, and they threw a mantle over her and drew her out of the house into the dark night; and there at the door she saw a horse waiting, and one of them lifted her up, and then sprang up himself, and they rode away like the wind into the darkness.
Presently they came to a great, black-looking house, where a woman was waiting, who brought her in, and she found herself all at once in a splendid hall lit up with torches and hung with silk. And the woman told her to sit down and wait till she was called, as there was very important business for her to attend to. Now, when the woman left her alone, Mary began to look about her with great curiosity, and a large silver pot on the table, filled with sweet smelling ointment, especially attracted her, so that she could not help rubbing some on her hands, and touched her eyes with the fragrant salve.
Then suddenly a strange thing happened, for the room seemed filled with children, but she knew that they were all dead, for some of them were from her own village, and she remembered their names, and when they died. And as she watched them, one of the children came over quite close, and looking fixedly at her, asked: " What brought you here, Mary, to this dreadful place? For no one can leave it until the Judgment Day, and we dwell forever in sorrow for the life that has been taken from us. And the men went for your child tonight, to bring it here amongst the dead, but when you struck a light they could do no harm; yet they are still watching for it, so hasten back, or it will be too late, and the child will die. And tell my mother that I am with the spirits of the hill, and not to fret, for we shall meet again on the Judgment Day."
"But how can I go out in the darkness?" asked Mary, "for I know not my way."
"Never mind," said the child; "here, take this leaf, and crush it close in your hand, and it will guide you safe from harm." And she placed a green leaf in the woman's hand, and on the instant Mary found herself outside the door of the great house; but a tremor fell on. her, for loud voices were heard calling her back, and footsteps seemed to pursue her as she fled away. Then, just as she was sinking to the earth with fright, she grasped the leaf close in her hand, and in a moment she was at her own door, and the footsteps of the pursuers ceased; but she heard a great cry within the house, and a woman rushed out and seized her arm. "Come, Mary," she said, "come quickly. Your child is dying. Something is strangling it, and we cannot help or save him."
Then Mary, wild with fear, sprang to the little bed where lay the child, and he was quite black in the face, as if some one was holding him by the "throat; but, quick as thought, Mary took the leaf and crushed it into the child's hand. And gradually the convulsion passed away, and the natural colour came back, and in a little while he slept peacefully in his mother's arms, and she laid him in his bed and watched by him all night; but no harm came, and no evil thing touched him.
And in the morning he smiled up at his mother, bright and rosy as ever, and then she knew that the fairy power was broken, and the child was saved by he spell of the leaf that had come to her from the hands of the dead that dwell in the Spirit Land, And Mary made a case for the leaf, and worked it richly, and tied it round her neck to wear for ever more. And from that day the fairies ceased to molest her, and her child grew and prospered, for the spirits of the dead watched over him to keep him safe from harm.
THE DOCTORS VISIT
The fairies have always an earnest desire for the aid of a mortal physician in sickness, especially if a fairy baby is expected. One evening, late in summer, a servant in rich livery rode up to the house of the chief doctor of Roscommon, and handed him a letter requesting his attendance immediately for a lady of rank, who had been taken suddenly ill, and was in great danger.
The doctor, with that alacrity in cases of emergency for which his honourable profession is distinguished, instantly ordered his horse; but as he was quite unacquainted with the locality mentioned, and had never even heard the name of the residence before, he requested the servant to accompany him, and they rode off together at a brisk pace.
After a couple of hours' ride they came to a fine house in a park thickly wooded, and there on the steps of the mansion was a grand, stately gentleman awaiting them, like a nobleman in dress and bearing, who received the doctor with great courtesy, and led him into the house, where a number of servants in splendid livery were in attendance.
Having passed through a spacious hall, the doctor and the gentleman entered a gorgeous saloon hung with silk and tapestry, and from that they passed into the lady's sleeping-chamber, when the master of the house withdrew, leaving the doctor alone with the lady, who lay on a gilded couch, with rich silken curtains falling all round her.
The doctor lost no time in making use of his professional skill, and with the best results, but all the time the lady had a black veil over her face, and spoke no word. However, when all had ended satisfactorily, the doctor rang the bell, and the gentleman appeared.
He made no remark to the veiled lady, but courteously thanking the doctor, handed him forty golden guineas as his fee, and then requested him to come to supper, which was awaiting them in the grand saloon.
There the doctor found many noble guests assembled, and ladies glittering with jewels, and a gorgeous feast covered the table; but he was tired, and threw himself on the sofa to rest, when all the company gathered round him and entreated him to eat and drink. And the master handed him a silver cup of ruby wine, and told him he must drink the lady's health, and he pressed the cup into his hand.
So the doctor was too polite to refuse, and he rose up with the cup in his hand to quaff the wine in honour of the lady, when a beautiful young girl near him touched his foot, and whispered, gently:
"Beware of the wine; touch nothing here; it is fatal," and she drew him down again on the sofa, and sat beside him, holding his hand. And it seemed to him nothing on earth could surpass her in beauty, with her golden hair, and glittering eyes; and still she held his hand, and murmured soft words in his ear till a faintness came over him, and gradually his eyes closed in a deep sleep, and he knew nothing more till the sound of his own name,called in a loud voice, aroused him.
He started up and looked round. The morning sun was bright in the east, but all the glory and the beauty of the festival had vanished, and he was in a churchyard alone. No, not quite alone, for his faithful servant Terry was beside him, assisting him to rise.
"Where am I?" exclaimed the bewildered doctor, "and what has brought me here?"
"Look there," said Terry, "your honour is just lying on Father Byrne's tombstone. And lucky it is the sign of the Cross is upon it, so I knew your honour was safe when I called you; and glad I am, for I have been looking for you since daylight, and never would have thought of trying the churchyard, only the mare, poor beast, was at the gate, as if trying to get in. Though how your honour came here is a wonder, unless you were carried over the wall, for the gate was locked, and I ran myself to get the key. And it's a hard bed you've had, and a cold bolster," added Terry, rolling away a big stone that bad been placed under the doctor's head for a pillow. "God protect us, master dear, but the good people must have had a hand in this work, and bad luck would have come of it, only your honour lay down on the sign of the blessed Cross, and so your honour is safe this time, anyway."
"Well, Terry, help me up," said the doctor, who was rather benumbed, and a little crestfallen, thinking of that beautiful young creature who had played hiin such a trick" and, Terry, go and fetch the mare, for I must be home at once."
So while the mare was coming round, the doctor put his hand in his pocket just to comfort himself with a sight of the golden guineas; but, lo! nothing was there save a handful of moss, and the doctor rode home a sadder and a wiser man.
Every district in Ireland has its peculiar and separate fairy chief or king. Finvarra, as every one knows, has his palace on the hill of Knockma, at Tuam, deep under the ground, where the walls are of crystal, and the floor is paved with gold.
And he has power over all the fairies of that region, and is adored by them, for he is handsome and splendid, and all the fairy ladies of his Court are beautiful as a garden of roses. But another chief rules over the western sea-coast of the Atlantic, whose name is Fiachra.
Now there was a gentleman of ancient lineage living in that part of the country, of the great race of the O'Haras; and Lochlin O'Hara was noted above all others for the open house and the liberal hand, for he spent his money like a king right royally; but bad times came, he got engaged in a lawsuit which carried off all his money, and Lochlin O'Hara was on the verge of despair, when at last the good news came that the cause was given in his favour, and all the land of his forefathers was to be restored to him.
So he resolved to make a great feast to all comers to celebrate his triumph; but when he began to reckon up the numerous friends and relations who were sure to assemble to drink his health, and all the guests from the country round, he grew alarmed, for there was not wine enough in the cellars for them all; and the weather was bad, and no boat could get to Galway. So he thought of Fiachra, the fairy chief, who was always good to the old families, especially the O'Haras; and he wrote him a letter telling of his great need, and asking for the royal help of the fairy king. And he threw the letter into the sea and waited the result.
Not long, however, had he to wait, for the next day there was a storm along the coast, and a great keg of Spanish wine was flung up on the beach as if from a shipwreck. But O'Hara knew that Fiachra had sent it, and he and his friends feasted and drank right merrily, and in no man's memory had such wine ever been poured out at a feast as Lochlin O'Hara gave on that night to the assembled guests in the home of his fathers.
For Fiachra honoured the old race because they had ever been good to the fairies, and never meddled with their hunting-grounds, but always respected their raths and mounds, and the ancient hawthorns where they sheltered and lived happily, and danced all night in the moonlight to the fairy music.
THE WESTERN ISLES
The islanders in these remote places are firm believers in witchcraft to this day, and still practise many strange spells among themselves. There was a man called Ned Flaherty, who was specially suspected by his neighbours as being in league with the Evil One, for, though he had only a small patch of ground, yet he had always plenty of corn to bring to the market, and was rich and well off and wanted for nothing. So they all determined to watch by turns; and one morning the neighbour who was set to spy over the field saw something black going to and fro, each time carrying a grain of corn, which, then it set in the ground and returned for more, till many grains were thus carried away and planted. Then at last the man got near, and saw that it was a hideous black insect doing all the work, and he stooped down and caught it, and put it in a horn snuff-box that he happened to have with him, and shut down the lid close and carried it home.
Now in a little while there was a great commotion, for Flaherty's wife had disappeared, and all the next day they searched for her, but without success. Then the man happening to tell the story of the insect in his snuff-box to a neighbour,
"How do you know," said his friend, "but this may be Flaherty's wife you have in the box?"
And Flaherty himself, hearing of the tale, came to the house and heard the whole story, after which he begged the man to come home with him, and bring the box with him and open it in his presence. This the man did, before Flaherty and several of the neighbours, that all might judge of the truth of the strange story. And when the box was opened, out crawled a large black insect like a beetle, and ran direct into the woman's room as hard as it could go. And after a little while out came Mrs. Flaherty, looking very pale, and with one of her fingers bleeding.
"What means this blood?" asked the man.
"Why," said Flaherty, "when you shut down the box, you snapped off a little bit of the beetle's claw that was outside, so my wife suffers."
Then all the people saw that there was witchcraft in the house, and the Flaherfcys were shunned by every one, and finally they sailed away from the island and were seen no more.
In Shark Island they tell a story of a man called Dermot, whose wife died of a fever, leaving two children, a boy and a girl. The girl died a year and a day after the mother, but the boy throve well, until one day when the fever seized him, and he cried out that his mother had come for him, and was calling him. And he asked for a drink of water, but there was none in the house. So a girl took a can and ran down to the well to fill it; and as she was stooping down a black shadow fell on her and covered her. Then she saw the dead mother close beside her, and nearly fainted with fright.
" Never fear, Mary alanna," said the woman, "but do as I bid you. When you go home, you will see a black cock by the head of the child's bed. This is the Spirit of Death come to carry away the boy; but you must prevent him. Therefore do as I tell you. Catch a crowing hen and kill her, and sprinkle the blood over the bed, and take ten straws and throw the tenth away, and stir the blood with the rest; then lay them on the child, and he will sleep and do well." On this the dead woman vanished, and the girl went home and did as she was ordered; the hen was killed, and the blood sprinkled. And the boy slept after the blood touched him, and slept on and on till the morning. Then he sat up and asked for food, and said he was now quite well, and must go and play.
So they let him get up, and he was as strong as ever, and no harm came to him any more.
And the heart of the father was glad that the child was given back to him through the sprinkling of the blood.
Now it happened that about three months after, a child of one of the neighbours grew sick, and was like to die. Then the man's wife rose up and said:
"See, now, our child is like to die, but look how Dermot cured his son through the sprinkling of blood. Let us do the like."
So they caught a crowing hen and killed her, and sprinkled the blood over the sick child. But, lo! a terrible thing happened, for the door was flung open, and in walked two monstrous black cats.
"How dare you kill my kitten?" said one of them "my darling only kitten! But you shall suffer for it."
"Ay," said the other, "we'll teach you how to insult a royal cat again, and kill one of our great race just to save your own wretched child," and they flew at the man and tore his face and hands.
Then the wife rushed at them with the churn-dash, while the man strove to defend himself with a spade. But all the same the cats had the best of it, and clawed and tore and scratched till the miserable pair could not see for the blood streaming down their faces.
Luckily, however, the neighbours, hearing the- scrimmage, rushed in and helped to fight the cats; but soon they had to fly, for the cats were too strong for them, and not a soul could stand before them. However, at last the cats grew tired, and after licking their paws and washing their faces, they moved towards the door to go away, first saying to the man: "Now we have done enough to punish you for this time, and your baby will live, for Death can take but one this night, and he has taken our child. So yours is safe, and this we swear by the blood, and by the power of the great king of the cats." So they whisked out of the house, and were never more seen by man or mortal on the island of Shark.
But many other strange things have also happened on the island according to the narration of the islanders, who are extremely accurate in all the details they give, and never exaggerate, only tell the simple truth, which we are bound to accept unquestioned; for the people are too simple to invent. They only tell in their plain, unvarnished idiom, what they have seen or heard. A man and his wife on the island had two children, lovely as angels, and were very happy. But in process of time a third child was born, a son, and he was two inches longer than any baby that ever yet was seen, and had a great head of black hair, and even something like a beard. And he went on growing up fast to three years old, and was as wise as a man, besides eating a power of food.
But after that he dwindled down, and became quite weeshee and no size at all, though he ate as much as ever. And he was queer in his ways, and with his wizened little face looked just like the sprite of an old man or an ugly dwarf.
Well, one Sunday the parents went to mass, leaving a young girl to tako care of the children.
And, while she was out in the garden picking flowers, suddenly she heard the merriest, jolliest dance-tune from the bagpipes, played by some one in the house.
That must be Tom the Piper, she said, as she went in; but lo and behold, there was the little imp stuck up in his grandmother's arm-chair, and he playing away with all his might the sweetest music on a set of paper pipes, and with his wizened face looking fifty years old at least. " Oh, the Lord between us and harm!" exclaimed the girl, rushing out of the house, and screaming at the top of her voice: "Help! help! sure it's the devil himself is sitting there, and not the child at all!" And the neighbours ran when they heard the screams, and went back with her into the house, but not a sign of the little imp was to be seen, though, after much searching he was discovered behind the meal-tub, a mere little sheeoge, not the size of a sod of turf, and burned black as any coal, and quite dead, stiff and stark, with the withered face of an old, old man.
So they all knew he was a witch-child. And when the parents came home they had him put outside on the shovel, and before night he was gone; the devil or the fairies had carried him away. And right glad were the man and his wife
to be so well rid of the imp of Satan, who was never more seen or heard of in the house from that hour.
The islanders seem to live for ever in the presence of the spiritual; and every event of their lives, whether for good or ill luck, is attributed to the influence of unseen beings, who are sometimes good, but more often malign to mortals. Every sickness or accident or misfortune is believed to be the work of the invisible Sidhe, or fairy race; and all the primitive science of the people, their knowledge of herbs, and of powerful charms and incantation, is used to break the spells and counteract the sinister designs of the active sprites who haunt the house, and are especially anxious to get possession of the children and carry them off to the fairy homes. A pretty little girl was out one day weeding in the turnip-field, when a sudden blast swept over the place, and gave her a chill, so that she lost the use of her limbs for the time, and was carried home and put to bed. Six months she lay there, and grew thinner and thinner, till she looked like a little old woman. So the people saw at last that she was fairy-struck, and no doubt was away every night with the fairies on the hill, though she seemed to be lying there helpless in her bed. And they beat her and starved her to make her tell them how she got away, and what she did when with the fairies.
But the poor child cried to them, "Sure, I am little Mary, and never a foot have I stirred out since you laid me in this bed."Yet not a word would they believe, and set to work to make a powerful fairy potion of known potency against witch-work; three drops to be poured into her ear and three drops down her throat, and the remainder to be used for washing her. And they sent for a wise fairy-woman to see what could be done. But Mary said, "I will not drink the potion. Let me die, for then I shall go to heaven and be at peace."
"Well," said the wise woman," there is one thing yet may be done to break the devil's spell that is over the child, and if that fails she must die.
Let her father carry her to the bog every morning before sunrise, and dip her down for twice seven days in the name of the Holy Trinity and the blessed saints. And if that does not help and cure her, then the power of the Evil One is too strong, and I can do no more. But let her father try it, in the name of God."
So each morning for twice seven days the father carried the child to the bog, and dipped her down before the sun had risen. And gradually her health and strength returned, and at the end of the twice seven days, on the final day of the cure, she was able to walk all the way back to her own place. And the weakness passed from her limbs, and the colour and beauty came back to her face, for the spell of the fairies was broken at last through the words of the wise woman, and her power over the spirits of evil.