The Folk-Lore Journal/Volume 1/An Irish Folk-tale

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AN IRISH FOLK-TALE.

T
HE following folk-tale I took down from the mouth of an old Irish woman about twelve years ago. She had heard it, she told me, from an old schoolmaster when she was a girl [i. e. about 1810—1820], but her memory was evidently at fault here and there. I give it as nearly as possible in her own words.

"When St. Joseph, and the Blessed Virgin, and the Infant Lord were flying into Egypt, they came to a place where four roads met. At one roadside there was sitting a tinker, at another a cobbler, at another a dhear, and at the fourth a clock or blackbeetle—I forget what a dhear is—a worm or something that way. Well, St. Joseph was in a great doubt which road to take for fear they might tell his pursuers. But he didn't mind the tinker and cobbler so much, because they were busy over their work, and not heeding the passers-by. So he went on, the Virgin in a pannier on one side the ass, and the Child in the other; and by-and-by up comes the Jews, and axes the cobbler and them all—and they said it in Irish—if they had seen such and such people passing that way. And when they went on to ax when or how long ago—"Ne, ne," said the dhear—that is "yesterday—for he was loath to tell them the whole truth. But the clock took him up, and said "Nu, nu," that is "to-day." For this treachery of the clock and the dhear, St. Joseph laid the punishment on them, that each should always go with his head bent down to the ground, and never be able to right himself when turned over on his back. And as for the others, the tinker and the cobbler, they were condemned to go wandering about continually."

The word pronounced dhear perhaps stands for the Irish dairbh, a worm. Ne is the Irish or nae, yesterday; and nu is the Irish ^niugh or 'niumh, to-day. A very similar legend from the south of Ireland, wherein the blackbeetle turns informer under the same circumstances, but is punished by having his original vest of crimson changed into its present satanic black, is given in Philological Soc. Trans. for 1859, p. 94. Compare its Somerset name, Devil's-cow, and North-West Lincolnshire, little devil, a small blackbeetle. The same story, with variations, is found in North Scotland and the Azores; see The Gentleman's Magazine, October 1876, p. 510.

The Laurels, Chelmsford Road,
Woodford.