Folk-Lore/Volume 4/Folk-lore Gleanings from County Leitrim
FOLK-LORE GLEANINGS FROM COUNTY LEITRIM.
THE district from whence these notes are derived lies to the south-east of the lower end of Lough Allen, and comprises part of the parishes of Kiltubrid and Fenagh, in County Leitrim, the latter better known on account of the Book of Fenagh and the remains of St. Caillin's Abbey. This part of the county is fairly hilly, with wide stretches of bog, and many lakes; while towards the north of Kiltubrid lies the wild mountain district of Slieve-an-iarain. At the present time it is devoid of timber, except such as has been planted round the houses of the gentry, and this absence of trees and hedges gives the whole district a rather desolate appearance. Until the Cavan, Leitrim, and Roscommon Light Railway was constructed, a few years ago, Kiltubrid was quite cut off from outside influence. Carrick-on-Shannon is ten miles off; and Drumshanbo and Ballinamore, five and seven miles away respectively, are only small country towns. The people, therefore, have not yet lost the old traditions of the place, in spite of the fact that the native tongue has almost died out; but they are fast disappearing, and it is to be feared will ere long be extinct, as they have become under similar circumstances elsewhere.
The stories in English which I have heard told by the peasantry in co. Leitrim are, of course, not to be compared with those collected in Irish by Dr. Hyde in the next county (Roscommon), but they are interesting, I think, as showing the form that the tales have taken at the present day. As regards the general superstitions, etc., current in the district, my informants were as a rule people of over forty years of age, who referred to such matters as having been told them by their parents, who were Irish speakers.
The tales were related to me by a "little lad" of fourteen, whose mother, in her turn, heard them in her youth from her father, John Tighe, of the townland of Cordery Peyton, the son of Peter Tighe of Corrick-beside-Laheen Peyton (co. Leitrim), both of whom were Irish speakers, and spoken of as great story-tellers. The lad, Michael McManus by name, son of Patrick McManus of Aughrim in Kiltubrid, very kindly wrote the tales down for me—for which I owe him my best thanks—and I have thought it proper to put them forward here in his own words without alteration. It may be worth while to add that, so far as the family knew, the tales had never appeared in print.
There do not appear to be any customs peculiar to the immediate neighbourhood, but it may here be noted that fires are still lighted on the hills and along the sides of the roads on Saint John's Eve.
The Good People.
That the fairies are fallen angels is a widely spread belief, but still it is interesting to compare the ideas of the people in different localities on this subject. This is the Kiltubrid version: "Who are the fairies?" I asked one evening of a country woman. "The Good People (God speed them!) is it?" said she. "Well, I have heard that when there was war in heaven, and the wicked angels were being cast out, that St. John asked the Almighty would he waste the whole heavens and earth? So God said, 'Let everything stand as it is!' and so everything remained as it was that instant, and that is why there are fairies in the air (you've heard noises in the air, haven't you?), and on the earth, and under the earth."
A belief in the "good people" is, of course, very general. Cashels or forts in the fields—those round earthworks, common in many parts of the country—are held to be specially the place of meeting, and no one would willingly disturb one. There are stories of persons being struck dead for even cutting bushes round a fort. It is also said to be unwise to attempt to build on a "walk"; buildings so put up are invariably thrown down during the night. A tale is told of a man who attempted to add an outbuilding to his house, in spite of the advice of a friend—for it is in that way the fairies dissuade one from building. What he built in the day was promptly thrown down at night, because the "good people" had a walk on that side of the house, and he finally had to take his friend's advice and build on the other side.
That the "good people" take away infants from their parents, and leave "an old stick of a thief" in the guise of a child in their place is also believed. There are several tales of these changelings and their doings. Here is one: Once on a time there was a woman whose child was taken away, and an old thief left in its place, yet was he so disguised that the woman never found out the difference. Now, there lived in the same house a tailor, and one day when the woman had gone into the town, to the tailor's surprise, the baby got out some pipes and began to play. He played away merrily until he thought the woman would be returning, and then he told the tailor that he must on no account tell her, or it would be no more tunes he'd be playing him. However, the tailor did tell the woman, and sent her out to the town with directions to return speedily. So she came back in a short time and found the "young old man" sitting up in the cradle and playing to the tailor; but when she came in at the door he put the pipes under the pillow, and was as though he were an infant again. The woman was afraid when she saw that it was not her child, for when she heard the pipes going she knew the "good people" had changed them, so she took counsel with the tailor as to what was to be done. "Take the old man on your back", said he, "as though for a walk, and when you come to the stream, go to cross it, and when you are in the middle, throw him down into the water and drown him." So she did so; but when she got halfway over the stream, and went to throw the old "thing" into the water, he turned upon her and threw her in instead, and drowned her, and made his escape!
Another tale is told, showing how useless it is to try and outwit the changelings left in the baby's place.
One night, a man was returning home, when, as he passed a house, the window was opened, and a baby was pushed into his arms. He said nothing, though rather surprised, perhaps guessing the truth, but made his way home and told his wife what had happened, and they agreed to keep and take care of the child until its parents should claim it. Now it happened that the fairies had made a mistake that time, for they thought it was to one of themselves they were giving the child. However, they, as usual, left an "old thing" in its place. The father of the child one day happened to see the people to whom he had been given, and from them he learnt the truth. So when he went home he made a great fire on the hearth and waited until it was well hot, and then he took up the supposed baby and threw it on the fire. He was ill-advised, for after a few moments the old man gave three great puffs and blew the fire all over the room, and set the house on fire, and they were all burnt. The changeling doubtless made good his escape.
The fairies sometimes pay domiciliary visits, and do not hesitate to avail themselves of anything there may be in the house; indeed, it is unlucky to have nothing ready for them, as the following story shows:—
One night, after retiring to rest, a woman was disturbed by a great noise in her kitchen, and, on going to the door, she found that the "good people" were in possession, some toasting bread at the fire, others getting ready the meal. On attempting to enter the kitchen, the fairies shouted to her as with one voice, "Go back!" so there was nothing for it but to retire to bed again and leave them alone. The next morning she found everything as usual, save that one pail was full of blood—"which same was a parable to her", said my informant, "and for that reason the country people always leave a gallon of water in the kitchen at night, lest the 'good people' should come and want it."
The Lepracaun is sometimes to be seen, so I am told; at least some years ago, down Fenagh way, a man was working in a field and heard a noise behind him, when, turning round, what should he see but a Lepracaun seated under a big leaf, cobbling away merrily at a shoe. Before the little man had time to escape he found himself in the peasant's grasp, and was frightened almost out of his life, for the Lepracaun is always impressed with the idea that if he is caught he will be killed. His captor, however, knew right well how to turn his opportunity to account, and told the little man he would let him go if he would show him where treasure was hid, with the knowledge of which the Lepracaun is credited. Glad to escape, he showed the man where he would find a pot of gold, and was rewarded by being set at liberty.
There are throughout Ireland stories of milk stealing and butter bewitching. In the district under notice there are many tales of butter being taken from the milk, and consequently of antidotes therefor. One way is to tie a rope with nine knots in it round the churn: this will bring the butter back, supposing it to have been stolen; or you may put a harrow-pin and a crooked sixpence in the four corners of the house. A common method is to place a half-burnt turf under the churn, or a piece of heather, or a branch of rowan-berries (mountain ash) is said to be efficacious.
Once on a time there lived in the parish of Fenagh a family whose supply of milk invariably turned sour, and no butter was to be obtained. It chanced that there came to them one day an old traveller who asked for a drink. "Well", said the woman of the house, "I cannot give you milk, for all we have is bad."
"How is that?" said the traveller.
So he was told all they knew about the matter.
"If you give me a lodging this night", said he, "I will get your butter back for you"; and thinking things could not be much worse, they let him remain.
After sunset the traveller barred every door and window in the place, and made a great fire of turf, and in the fire he placed nine irons. Now, as the irons got hot, a loud roaring was heard without, and an old woman who dwelt near was seen beating at the door and windows and shouting to be let in.
"Take the irons from the fire, they have me burnt!" she said. But the traveller answered that until she brought back the butter she had taken the irons would remain in the fire to burn her. Then she tore round the house in a fury, and got upon the roof to try and get in that way to take the irons from the fire; but finding it was useless, she went home, roaring all the time for the pain she was in, and brought the butter in a barrel to the door, upon which the irons were taken from the fire, and she was released. From that time the family had no cause to complain of their milk.
The Stray Sod.
Among the minor superstitions current is that of the "stray sod". The old folk say that wherever an unbaptised child is buried there is a "stray sod", so that at night, if you walk in that field and chance upon the particular spot, you have no power but to set off wandering all that night! A man, they say, whilst walking in the fields one night, happened on a "stray sod", and immediately found himself wandering. He was carried up and down a "quick" or set hedge, until he was wearied, and although he turned his coat and hat (said usually to be an antidote), yet he could not find his way out, and at last, when day broke, he was miles and miles away from home, and had to find his way back as best he could.
In the northern part of the parish of Kiltubrid, just under Slieve-an-iarain, there is a holy well dedicated to Saint Patrick, regarding which a story is told common to many other similar wells. The people say that here there dwelt a trout and a salmon, but that one day an impious angler caught them both and took them home. When, however, they were placed in the pan over the fire they both hopped out on to the ground and made their way back to the well.
On the last Sunday in July every year, called Garland Sunday, the young people still make garlands of flowers and place them round certain wells. One of these, Tober-a- dony, is in the parish of Kiltoghert, and besides the wells there is a cavern-like fissure in the side of the mountain above mentioned, Slieve-an-iarain, known as Polthicoghlan, or familiarly as Polthi, which is similarly treated. Into this hole-without-a-bottom runs a stream of water from the mountain which is supposed to flow into one of the lakes some way off.
Behind Kiltubrid Church is a small lake known as Lough Caogh (the blind lake), the water of which possesses medicinal qualities and is much resorted to. It is said to be especially good for erysipelas, or for swellings either on man or beast. The story is that it was only a small well, just large enough to put down a gallon measure, but that St. Augustine came and enlarged it to its present size. Mondays and Thursdays are best for taking the water, which must be fetched in three bottles, an Ave and a Pater being said as each bottle is filled, and on leaving the place It is strictly forbidden to look behind one, or the effect of the water will be lost.
It is small wonder that all sorts of stories are told about the lake, and that it is said to be enchanted, and no one will go near it after dark. There are also said to be water-horses in it, to which the following bears witness:
Once on a time a gossoon, who was working in the field hard by the lake, caught what he thought was a tame horse, and began to harrow with him. He was, however, a water-horse in disguise, and presently he ran away, and dragging harrow, gossoon, and all after him, disappeared into the lough. The unfortunate lad, when he found himself going, cried out for help, but when the other men who were working there came up to the lake, they could see nothing but blood. It is said that the gossoon with the horse and harrow is sometimes to be seen wandering round the margin of the lough.
The fear-gorta (hungry man) is usually said to appear at famine times, and to wander about asking for food. In Kiltubrid, however, the term is applied to a hunger which is said to seize you whilst on the mountains, and which is fatal if not speedily satisfied. There is also said to be a fear-gorta stone at the base of Slieve-an-iarain, upon which if you tread you are seized with this unappeasable hunger.
Witches seem to have disappeared from this part of the country; at least, I could not hear of any person who was regarded in the light of one. There are also few tales of their former performances, save a general idea that they assumed a hare's shape at times when it suited them to do so. The story—common to many other places—is told of how a hare one day, chased by dogs, fled to a house near at 184 Folk-lore Gleanings from County Leitrim. hand, but as it was entering the door, one of the dogs managed to tear a piece of the skin from a leg. The hunters, on entering the house, found only an old woman there with her side bleeding, by which token they knew she was a witch.
There is also a prejudice against eating hares on the part of some of the people, lest they should turn out to be witches. A cry would, however, be heard, I was informed, when the hare was being cut up.
The following stories: (1) "Whittlegaire"; (2) "You're a Liar"; (3) "The Glass Mountains", were, as stated above, written down at my request by the narrator, and are in his own language:—
There were a long time ago three brothers, and two of them went out to seek their fortune. There was a little lad, and they were going to leave him behind, as he was no use, and they told him that if he attempted to stir out of the house they would kill him.
So they went on, and it was evening, and they looked behind them—they were about twenty miles from home—and they see the little lad after them. They went back with him and left him in the house again, and they went away the next morning. In the evening he was after them again, and they said that it was better to let him come with them, as it might be in him the luck was.
They went on to a big house; there was no one in it but an old woman and three daughters. They asked lodging. She said she would give them lodging, but the two elder brothers would have to lie on the floor; "and as for you, Whittlegaire", said she, turning to the little one, "you will have to lie in the corner, for there's no other room for you." They were soon asleep, except the little boy, and he was watching her, and saw her tie two ribbons on her daughters' necks. When the old woman went away he took the ribbons off and tied them on his two brothers' necks. So when she came down again she killed her two daughters.
Whittlegaire, when she was asleep again, called his brothers and brought them out, and told them to bring their clothes and not to wait, and when he got them out he told them all. The next morning they went to a farmer's house. He asked them where did they lodge all night, and they told him "in that old house there below"; and he asked them how they escaped, for no one ever yet lodged in that house but was killed. They told the farmer all, and how Whittlegaire saved them. The farmer said he would give them work and his eldest daughter to be married to the eldest brother if Whittlegaire would go and steal the Quilt of Diamonds on the old witch's bed. So Whittlegaire went and got a long crook, and put it down the chimney, and hooked it in the Quilt, and pulled it up the chimney, and made off The old woman followed him, and she said: "Whittlegaire, you killed my two daughters, and now you've stolen my Quilt of Diamonds!"
"Go along, you old rap, you killed them yourself," said he; "and I'll do more than that to you."
The farmer said he never knew a little boy so good; and he said that he'd get his second daughter married to Whittlegaire's second brother if he would go and steal him the Boots of Swiftness.
He went to the house and stole the boots, which were under the bed, and he put the boots on. The old woman followed him, but he gave a mile in every step, and went across a big river and waited until she came down, because, as she was a witch, she could not cross the river.
"Whittlegaire," she said, "you killed my two daughters, and stole my Quilt of Diamonds and the Boots of Swiftness!"
"Go along, you old rap," said he; "I'll do more than that to you."
He gave the Boots of Swiftness to the farmer, who said he wouldn't get them married unless Whittlegaire brought him the Sword of Lightning.
So Whittlegaire went, and he brought a little bag of salt with him, and went up on the house. There was a pot of meat on the fire boiling, and he began shaking down the salt until he dried up all the water and it began to burn. The old woman told her daughter to go out for a gallon of water.
"Oh!" said the daughter, "if Whittlegaire catches me, sure he will kill me."
"Oh, bring the Sword of Lightning with you," said the old woman; "and if he's coming, you will surely see him."
So when the girl stooped to the well to lift the gallon of water, he threw her in and drowned her, and snatched the Sword of Lightning and ran away with it.
The old woman came out and saw him run, and when he got over the river he waited.
"Whittlegaire," she says, "you killed my three daughters, you stole my Quilt of Diamonds, and my Boots of Swiftness, and now you have my Sword of Lightning."
"Go along, you old rap," said he; I'll do more than that to you!"
So he brought the Sword of Lightning to the farmer.
The farmer then promised his youngest daughter to Whittlegaire himself, and said he would give them a good farm if he would bring him the Steed of Bells which was in the old woman's stable. This steed had his hair plaited, and on every plait there was a bell. Whittlegaire went to steal the steed, and the horse shook, and every bell rang.
The old woman came out. "Whittlegaire," you're here," said she; "and if I get you, I'll kill you." So she looked through the whole stable, and she couldn't find him, for he hid.
When he got her asleep again he went to steal the horse, and every bell rang again, and waked the woman. She came out, and she says: "Whittlegaire, I'll not go in till I get you." She looked, and she got him.
"Whittlegaire, I have you," she says.
"Well, you have," said he.
"I don't know what death will be hard enough to give you."
"Well, I don't know, for I've earned a hard death; so the worst death you can give me is to put down a pot and boil a pot of stirabout, and put lots of butter in it, and let me eat until I 'm not able to stir, and put me into a bag, tie me in, and get a stick and beat me until the butter comes out through the bag!"
"Well, that's the very death I'll give you."
So she put down the pot, and boiled the stirabout, and put lots of butter in it, and let him eat it till he wasn't able to stir, and put him in the bag, and tied him in.
She had ne'er a stick heavy enough to beat him, and she had to go away to get one. When he got her away, he took out his knife and cut the bag, got out and filled it up with stones, and tied it up again. The old woman came back with the stick and began to beat the bag, and she beat it a long time.
"Whittlegaire," she says, "I think I have killed you enough, though the butter isn't coming through the bag." So she opened the sack and shook out—all the stones!
She ran out to the stable, but the steed was gone; and she looked and saw Whittlegaire galloping with the horse, which soon leaped the river. Then he waited. "Whittlegaire," she said, "you killed my three daughters, you stole my Quilt of Diamonds, and Boots of Swiftness, and Sword of Lightning, and now you have my Steed of Bells; you have all from me now."
He came back a few days after, and he found the old woman dead in the house. He got a room full of gold, and a room full of silver, and a room full of dead people she had killed. So he married the farmer's daughter, and
"They put down the kettle and made tay;
The above ending is tacked on to all tales in this district.
The people were unable to explain the name of the hero "Whittlegaire". Whittle was said to be a corruption of "Whistle". Gaire was declared by one to mean "laughter", while another said it should be géur (sharp).
Jack and the King, or You're a Liar!
Long ago there was a king, and anyone that would get him to say "You are a liar", he would get his daughter married to him. So there went hundreds of young men, and none of them could get him to say "You are a liar".
There was a servant-boy, and he asked his master to buy him a suit of clothes; so the master did, and he went to the king's house. He said to the servant, "I want to see the king."
The king came out and asked what was the matter with him. He said he came to see if he could get him to say "You are a liar".
Then said the king, "Come here until I show you a great tree which grows here below." So they went down.
Said the king, "Did you ever see such a tree in your life?" Replied Jack, "The smallest tree in our wood is bigger than that."
Then said the king, "Come down farther until you see the meadow that is here below." So they went down.
Said the king, "Did you ever see such grass as that in your life?" Then said Jack, "The after-grass in our meadow is better than that."
"Well", said the king, "come here until I show you a great turnip which grows here beyond." So they went over.
"Did you ever see such a turnip as that?" said the king. Then said Jack, "When we were pulling our turnips, the little ones we were leaving after us, the smallest of them was bigger than that. When we had them all pulled we let in the sheep to the turnip-ground. One of them began to eat on the side of a turnip, and in three weeks she came out on the other side with two lambs!"
"Very good", said the king; "come up to the garden until you see a beanstalk which grows there." So they went up.
Said the king, "Did you ever see such a beanstalk as that in your life?"
"I did", said Jack; "there grew one in our garden. When it was two months old you could not see the top of it; so I prepared one day to climb the beanstalk. I was two days climbing, and I sat down and ate my supper, and I slept all night in the branches. I started to climb in the morning, and on the approach of evening I heard a great noise over my head; what was it but a nest of bees; so I went in on the door of the nest. The old queen-bee met me, she went to sting me, I drew my sword and cut off her right wing, it fell on me, and I lay under it for two days, for I could not get up; but the weather was so very warm the wing began to decay. The third day I got out from under it, so I went on further. I heard another great noise over my head; what was it but a nest of wasps. I got afraid, and says I to myself, 'I will leap'; so I did, and sank to my shoulders in the rock! I could not get out, so I cut off my head and sent it away for help to take me out of the rock. A fox came out of a den and began snarling at my head. I gave one leap, and I bursted the rock for two miles, and I ran over and hit the fox one kick, and I knocked three kings out of him, and the worst of them was a better man than you!" said Jack.
"You are a liar!" said the king.
So Jack had to get the king's daughter married to him, and they lived happy ever afterwards.
The Glass Mountains.
Long ago there was a young gentleman, a beautiful young man, he got married to a young lady. He was enchanted. He said to her, "Which would you rather I would be, a man at night and a bull in the daytime, or a bull at night and a man in the daytime?" She said, "I would rather have you a man at night and a bull in the day."
When they were one year married there was a young son born for them, and he told her, if anything would happen the child not to cry one tear. So a big black dog came down the chimney and took the child out of her arms, and brought it with him. She never shed a tear.
The next year there was another boy born for them. Her husband told her, if anything would happen the second child not to shed a tear. The black dog came a second time, and brought the other child with him. She never shed a tear.
The third year there was a daughter born for them. The husband told her, "If anything happens this child, if you shed one tear you will never see me again." The black dog came down the chimney and took the daughter with him out of her mother's arms. The mother shed one tear, and her husband never returned. She was grieved and heart-broken, and she said she would go in search of her husband.
The first day she travelled a long journey, and she came to a little house. There was only an old man and woman and a little boy in the house. She asked lodging for the night, so they gave her lodging. In the morning, when she was going away, the little boy gave her a comb. He told her to mind it, that any person who combed their hair with it would be the nicest person in the world.
The next day, late in the evening, she came to another little house. There was an old man and woman and a little boy in it. She asked lodging for the night. She got it. The next morning, when she was going away, the little boy gave her a scissors, and he said, "Mind this, the worst clothes you will cut with this will become the nicest in the world."
The next day, late in the evening, she came to another little house, at the foot of the Glass Mountains. There was an old man and woman and a pretty little girl. She was blind of one eye. She asked lodging for the night. The old man said he would make a pair of glass slippers for her, if she would stop seven years with him, and that she could climb the Glass Mountains. The old man told her that her husband was living at the back of the Glass Mountains, and that he was married to another lady, and that all his enchantments were gone at the end of the seven years.
When she was going away the little girl gave her an egg, and told her when she would break it, there would come four horses and a carriage out of it. So she climbed the Glass Mountains. There was a beautiful castle at the back of them. She walked about the avenue, and the lady came out and asked her what she wanted. She said she was hungry. She brought her in and gave her breakfast.
She took out the comb, and said that any person that would comb their hair with that would be the nicest person in the world, and if she let her sleep one night with her husband, she would give her the comb. So she said she would.
So night came on, and when her husband went to bed she gave him a drink, and put sleeping-drops on it, so she let her to bed with him. She said;
"Three babes I bore for thee,
She continued saying this the whole night, but he was so fast asleep he never found her.
She had to rise early before he awoke, and the mistress hid her until the gentleman went away shooting. She took out the scissors, and told her anything she would cut with that would be the nicest thing in the world, and she would give it to her if she would let her sleep another night with her husband. She said she would. So she gave him a drink the next night, and put sleeping-drops on it, so she let her sleep with her husband the second night. She said:
"Three babes I bore for thee.
He was so fast asleep that he never found her. She had to arise early before he awoke. The mistress hid her. The gentleman arose and went away shooting. There was another young gentleman that slept in the next bedroom to them. He said to the gentleman next day, "There is a ghost in your bedroom, did you not hear it? I have heard it say for the last two nights:
'Three babes I bore for thee.
I never slept a wink for the last two nights but listening to it."
The gentleman said, "My wife gave me a drink for the last two nights, it made me sick" (i.e., ill).
The other gentleman said to him, "Do not take that drink to-night, but try and stop awake until you see would you find it."
The woman took out the egg and broke it, and there came a coach and four horses out of it. She said she would give it to her if she would let her sleep the third night with her husband. She said she would. When her husband went to bed she brought him a drink with sleeping-drops on it. He said he would not drink it until she would bring him a cut of bread. She went for the bread,, and he threw the drink in the grate, and he let on he was fast asleep. She let the woman go to bed to him. She said again:
"Three babes I bore for three,
The gentleman did not speak for a long time; at last he turned to her and asked her was she his first wife, and she said "Yes". He told her that they were her three children that were in the three little houses; and that it was the one tear that she dropped that blinded the little girl's eye. He told her when she would rise in the morning, and take breakfast, to go away to the foot of the Glass Mountains, and that he would be there as soon as her, and so he was. They two crossed the Glass Mountains, and brought their three children home to their own castle, and lived happy ever afterwards.
This tale is substantially the same as that in Mr. Curtin's Irish Myths and Tales, under the name of "The Three Daughters of Coluath O'Hara, King of Desmond", where the enchantment is caused by the Queen of Tir-na-n-og. There are, however, many differences between the two versions. Mr. Curtin's version makes no mention of the Glass Mountains, an important incident here; neither is the night song of the wife given by him. On the other hand, the first part of the story is much fuller in his version, and that told here has undoubtedly suffered in the process of translation into English.
"My bonny bull of oranges" the narrator could not explain; it was as he had always heard it. It is suggested that it is a corruption of "Bull of Norroway".