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The Legend of Knocksheogowna
THE HILL OF THE FAIRY CALF
IN Tipperary is one of the most singularly shaped hills in the world. It has got a peak at the top like a conical nightcap thrown carelessly over your head as you awake in the morning. On the very point is built a sort of lodge, where in the summer the lady who built it and her friends used to go on parties of pleasure; but that was long after the days of the fairies, and it is, I believe, now deserted.
But before lodge was built, or acre sown, there was close to the head of this hill a large pasturage, where a herdsman spent his days and nights among the herd. The spot had been an old fairy ground, and the good people were angry that the scene of their light and airy gambols should be trampled by the rude hoofs of bulls and cows. The lowing of the cattle sounded sad in their ears, and the chief of the fairies of the hill determined in person to drive away the newcomers, and the way she thought of was this. When the harvest nights came on, and the moon shone bright and brilliant over the hill, and the cattle were lying down hushed and quiet, and the herdsman, wrapt in his mantle, was musing with his heart gladdened by the glorious company of the stars twinkling above him, she would come and dance before him,—now in one shape, now in another, but all ugly and frightful to behold. One time she would be a great horse, with the wings of an eagle, and a tail like a dragon, hissing loud, and spitting fire. Then in a moment she would change into a little man lame of a leg, with a bull's head, and a lambent flame playing around it. Then into a great ape, with duck's feet and a turkey-cock's tail. But I should be all day about it, were I to tell you all the shapes she took. And then she would roar, or neigh, or hiss, or bellow, or howl, or hoot, as never yet was roaring, neighing, hissing, bellowing, howling, or hooting heard in this world before or since. The poor herdsman would cover his face, and call on all the saints for help, but it was no use. With one puff of her breath she would blow away the fold of his greatcoat, let him hold it never so tightly over his eyes, and not a saint in heaven paid him the slightest attention. And to make matters worse, he never could stir; no, nor even shut his eyes; but there was obliged to stay, held by what power he knew not, gazing at these terrible sights until the hair of his head would lift his hat half a foot over his crown, and his teeth would be ready to fall out from chattering. But the cattle would scamper about mad, as if they were bitten by the fly; and this would last until the sun rose over the hill.
The poor cattle from want of rest were pining away, and food did them no good; besides, they met with accidents without end. Never a night passed that some of them did not fall into a pit, and get maimed, or maybe killed. Some would tumble into a river, and be drowned: in a word, there seemed never to be an end of the accidents. But what made the matter worse, there could not be a herdsman got to tend the cattle by night. One visit from the fairy drove the stoutest-hearted almost mad. The owner of the ground did not know what to do. He offered double, treble, quadruple wages, but not a man could be found for the sake of money to go through the horror of facing the fairy. She rejoiced at the successful issue of her project, and continued her pranks. The herd gradually thinning, and no man daring to remain on the ground, the fairies came back in numbers, and gambolled as merrily as before, quaffing dewdrops from acorns, and spreading their feast on the heads of capacious mushrooms.
What was to be done, the puzzled farmer thought in vain. He found that his substance was daily diminishing, his people terrified, and his rent-day coming round. It is no wonder that he looked gloomy, and walked mournfully down the road. Now in that part of the world dwelt a man of the name of Larry Hoolahan, who played on the pipes better than any other player within fifteen parishes. A roving, dashing blade was Larry, and feared nothing. Give him plenty of liquor, and he would defy the devil. He would face a mad bull, or fight single-handed against a fair. In one of his gloomy walks the farmer met him, and on Larry's asking the cause of his down looks, he told him all his misfortunes. "If that is all ails you," said Larry, "make your mind easy. Were there as many fairies on Knocksheogowna as there are potato blossoms in Eliogurty (a fertile barony in the county Tipperary), I would face them. It would be a queer thing indeed, if I, who never was afraid of a proper man, should turn my back upon a brat of a fairy not the bigness of one's thumb." "Larry," said the farmer, "do not talk so bold, for you know not who is hearing you; but, if you make your words good, and watch my herds for a week on the top of the mountain, your hand shall be free of my dish till the sun has burnt itself down to the bigness of a farthing rushlight."
The bargain was struck, and Larry went to the hill-top when the moon began to peep over the brow. He had been regaled at the farmer's house, and was bold with the extract of barley-corn. So he took his seat on a big stone under a hollow of the hill, with his back to the wind, and pulled out his pipes. He had not played long when the voice of the fairies was heard upon the blast, like a low stream of music. Presently they burst into a loud laugh, and Larry could plainly hear one say, "What! another man upon the fairies' ring? Go to him, queen, and make him repent his rashness"; and they flew away. Larry felt them pass by his face as they flew like a swarm of midges; and looking up hastily, he saw between the moon and him a great black cat, standing on the very tip of its claws, with its back up, and mewing with the voice of a water-mill. Presently it swelled up towards the sky, and turning round on its left hind-leg, whirled till it fell to the ground, from which it started in the shape of a salmon, with a cravat round its neck, and a pair of new top-boots. "Go on, jewel," said Larry: "if you dance, I'll pipe"; and he struck up. So she turned into this and that and the other, but still Larry played on, as he well knew how. At last she lost patience, as ladies will do when you do not mind their scolding, and changed herself into a calf, milk-white as the cream of Cork, and with eyes as mild as those of the girl I love. She came up gentle and fawning, in hopes to throw him off his guard by quietness, and then to work him some wrong. But Larry was not so deceived; for when she came up, he, dropping his pipes, leaped upon her back.
Now from the top of Knocksheogowna, as you look westward to the broad Atlantic, you will see the Shannon, queen of rivers, "spreading like a sea," and running on in gentle course to mingle with the ocean through the fair city of Limerick. On this night it shone under the moon, and looked beautiful from the distant hill. Fifty boats were gliding up and down on the sweet current, and the song of the fisherman rose gaily from the shore. Larry, as I said before, leaped upon the back of the fairy, and she, rejoicing at the opportunity, sprang from the hill-top, and bounded clear, at one jump, over the Shannon, flowing as it was just ten miles from the mountain's base. It was done in a second, and when she alighted on the distant bank, kicking up her heels, she flung Larry on the soft turf. No sooner was he thus planted, than he looked her straight in the face, and, scratching his head, cried out, "By my word, well done! that was not a bad leap for a calf!"
She looked at him for a moment, and then assumed her own shape. "Laurence," said she, "you are a bold fellow; will you come back the way you went?" "And that's what I will," said he, "if you let me." So, changing to a calf again, Larry got on her back, and at another bound they were again upon the top of Knocksheogowna. The fairy, once more resuming her figure, addressed him: "You have shown so much courage, Laurence," said she, "that while you keep herds on this hill you never shall be molested by me or mine. The day dawns; go down to the farmer and tell him this; and if anything I can do may be of service to you, ask and you shall have it." She vanished accordingly; and kept her word in never visiting the hill during Larry's life: but he never troubled her with requests. He piped and drank at the farmer's expense, and roosted in his chimney-corner, occasionally casting an eye to the flock. He died at last, and is buried in a green valley of pleasant Tipperary: but whether the fairies returned to the hill of Knocksheogowna after his death is more than I can say.CHAPTER 2
The Legend of Knockfierna
IT is a very good thing not to be any way in dread of the fairies, for without doubt they have then less power over a person; but to make too free with them, or to disbelieve in them altogether, is as foolish a thing as man, woman, or child can do.
It has been truly said that "good manners are no burthen," and that "civility costs nothing"; but there are some people foolhardy enough to disregard doing a civil thing, which, whatever they may think, can never harm themselves or any one else, and who at the same time will go out of their way for a bit of mischief, which never can serve them; but sooner or later they will come to know better, as you shall hear of Carroll O'Daly, a strapping young fellow up out of Connaught, whom they used to call, in his own country, "Devil Daly."
Carroll O'Daly used to go roving about from one place to another, and the fear of nothing stopped him; he would as soon pass an old churchyard or a regular fairy ground, at any hour of the night, as go from one room into another, without ever making the sign of the cross, or saying, "Good luck attend you, gentlemen."
It so happened that he was once journeying in the county of Limerick, towards "the Balbec of Ireland," the venerable town of Kilmallock; and just at the foot of Knockfierna he overtook a respectable-looking man jogging along upon a white pony. The night was coming on, and they rode side by side for some time, without much conversation passing between them, further than saluting each other very kindly; at last, Carroll O'Daly asked his companion how far he was going.
"Not far your way," said the farmer, for such his appearance bespoke him: "I'm only going to the top of this hill here."
"And what might take you there," said O'Daly, "at this time of the night?"
"Why, then," replied the farmer, "if you want to know, 'tis the good people."
"The fairies, you mean," said O'Daly.
"Whist! whist!" said his fellow-traveller, "or you may be sorry for it"; and he turned his pony off the road they were going towards a little path which led up the side of the mountain, wishing Carroll O'Daly good-night and a safe journey.
"That fellow," thought Carroll, "is about no good this blessed night, and I would have no fear of swearing wrong if I took my Bible oath that it is something else beside the fairies, or the good people, as he calls them, that is taking him up the mountain at this hour. The fairies!" he repeated; "is it for a well-shaped man like him to be going after little chaps like the fairies? To be sure, some say there are such things, and some say not; but I know this, that never afraid would I be of a dozen of them, ay, of two dozen, for that matter, if they are no bigger than what I hear tell of."
Carroll O'Daly, whilst these thoughts were passing in his mind, had fixed his eyes steadfastly on the mountain, behind which the full moon was rising majestically. Upon an elevated point that appeared darkly against the moon's disc, he beheld the figure of a man leading a pony, and he had no doubt it was that of the farmer with whom he had just parted company.
A sudden resolve to follow flashed across the mind of O'Daly with the speed of lightning: both his courage and curiosity had been worked up by his cogitations to a pitch of chivalry; and muttering, "Here's after you, old boy," he dismounted from his horse, bound him to an old thorn tree, and then commenced vigorously ascending the mountain.
Following as well as he could the direction taken by the figures of the man and pony, he pursued his way, occasionally guided by their partial appearance: and after toiling nearly three hours over a rugged and sometimes swampy path, came to a green spot on the top of the mountain, where he saw the white pony at full liberty, grazing as quietly as may be. O'Daly looked around for the rider, but he was nowhere to be seen; he however soon discovered close to where the pony stood an opening in the mountain like the mouth of a pit, and he remembered having heard, when a child, many a tale about the "Poul-duve," or Black Hole of Knockfierna; how it was the entrance to the fairy castle which was within the mountain; and how a man, whose name was Ahern, a land surveyor in that part of the country, had once attempted to fathom it with a line, and had been drawn down into it, and was never again heard of; with many other tales of the like nature.
"But," thought O'Daly, "these are old women's stories; and since I've come up so far I'll just knock at the castle door, and see if the fairies are at home."
No sooner said than done; for seizing a large stone, as big, ay, bigger than his two hands, he flung it with all his strength down into the Poul-duve of Knockfierna. He heard it bounding and tumbling about from one rock to another with a terrible noise, and he leant his head over to try and hear if it would reach the bottom,—when what should the very stone he had thrown in do but come up again with as much force as it had gone down, and gave him such a blow full in the face that it sent him rolling down the side of Knockfierna head over heels, tumbling from one crag to another, much faster than he came up; and in the morning Carroll O'Daly was found lying beside his horse, the bridge of his nose broken which disfigured him for life, his head all cut and bruised, and both his eyes closed up, and as black as if Sir Daniel Donnelly had painted them for him.
Carroll O'Daly was never bold again in riding alone near the haunts of the fairies after dusk; but small blame to him for that; and if ever he happened to be benighted in a lonesome place he would make the best of his way to his journey's end, without asking questions or turning to the right or to the left, to seek after the good people, or any who kept company with them.CHAPTER 3
The Legend of Knockgrafton
THERE was once a poor man who lived in the fertile glen of Aherlow, at the foot of the gloomy Galtee mountains, and he had a great hump on his back; he looked just as if his body had been rolled up and placed upon his shoulders; and his head was pressed down with the weight so much that his chin, when he was sitting, used to rest upon his knees for support. The country people were rather shy of meeting him in any lonesome place, for though a poor creature, he was as harmless and as inoffensive as a new-born infant, yet his deformity was so great, that he scarcely appeared to be a human creature, and some ill-minded persons had set strange stories about him afloat. He was said to have a great knowledge of herbs and charms; but certain it was that he had a mighty skillful hand in plaiting straw and rushes into hats and baskets, which was the way he made his livelihood.
Lusmore, for that was the nickname put upon him by reason of his always wearing a sprig of the fairy cap, or lusmore (the foxglove), in his little straw hat, would ever get a higher penny for his plaited work than any one else, and perhaps that was the reason why some one, out of envy, had circulated the strange stories about him. Be that as it may, it happened that he was returning one evening from the pretty town of Cahir towards Cappagh, and as little Lusmore walked very slowly, on account of the great hump upon his back, it was quite dark when he came to the old moat of Knockgrafton, which stood on the right-hand side of his road. Tired and weary was he, and noways comfortable in his own mind at thinking how much farther he had to travel, and that he should be walking all the night; so he sat down under the moat to rest himself, and began looking mournfully enough upon the moon, which,
"Rising in clouded majesty, at length
Apparent Queen, unveil'd her peerless light,
And o'er the dark her silver mantle threw."
Excerpted from Irish Fairy Legends by T. Crofton Croker, Thomas Wright, Daniel Maclise, W. T. Green. Copyright © 2008 Dover Publications, Inc.. Excerpted by permission of Dover Publications, Inc..
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