Sacred Texts  Sagas and Legends  Celtic  Index  Previous  Next 

The Fairy Child

There was a sailor that lived up in Grange when he was at home; and one time, when he was away seven or eight months, his wife was brought to bed of a fine boy. She expected her husband home soon, and she wished to put off the christening of the child till he'd be on the spot. She and her husband were not natives of the country, and they were not as much afraid of leaving the child unchristened as our people would be.

Well, the child grew and throve, and the neighbours all bothered the woman to take him to Father M.'s to be baptized, and all they said was no use. "Her husband would be soon home, and then they'd have a joyful christening."

There happened to be no one sick up in that neighbourhood for some time, so the priest did not come to the place, nor hear of the birth, and none of the people about her could make up their minds to tell upon her, it is such an ugly thing to be informing; and then the child was so healthy, and the father might be on the spot any moment.

So the time crept on, and the lad was a year and a half old, and his mother up to that time never lost five nights' rest by him; when one evening that she came in from binding after the reapers, she heard wonderful whingeing and lamenting from the little bed where he used to sleep. She ran over to him and asked him what ailed him. "Oh, mammy, I'm sick, and I'm hungry, and I'm cold; don't pull down the blanket." Well, the poor woman ran and got some boiled bread and, milk as soon as she could, and she asked her other son, that was about seven years old, when he took sick. "Oh, mother," says he, "he was as happy as a king, playing near the fire about two hours ago, and I was below in the room, when I heard a great rush like as a whole number of fowls were flying down the chimley. I heard my brother giving a great cry, and then another sound like as if the fowls were flying out again; and when I got into the kitchen there he was, so miserable-looking that I hardly knew him, and he pulling his hair, and his clothes, and his poor face so dirty. Take a look at him, and try do you know him at all."

So when she went to feed him she got such a fright, for his poor face was like an old man's, and his body, and legs, and arms, all thin and hairy. But still he resembled the child she left in the morning, and "mammy, mammy," was never out of his mouth. She heard of people being fairy-struck, so she supposed it was that that happened to him, but she never suspected her own child to be gone, and a fairy child left in its place.

Well, it's he that kept the poor woman awake many a night after, and never let her have a quiet day, crying for bread and milk, and mashed pitaytees, and stirabout; and it was still "mammy, mammy, mammy," and the glows and the moans were never out of his mouth. Well, he had like to eat the poor woman out of house and home, and the very flesh off her bones with watching and sorrow. Still nothing could persuade her that it wasn't her own child that was in it.

One neighbour and another neighbour told her their minds plain enough. "Now, ma'am, you see what it is to leave a child without being christened. If you done your duty, fairy, nor spirit, nor divel, would have no power over your child. That ounkran (cross creature) in the bed is no more your child nor I am, but a little imp that the Duiné Sighe (fairy people)--God between us and harm!--left you. By this and by that, if you don't whip him up and come along with us to Father M.'s, we'll go, hot foot, ourselves, and tell him all about it. Christened he must be before the world is a day older."

So she went over and soothered him, and said, "Come, alanna, let me dress you, and we'll go and be christened." And such roaring and screeching as came out of his throat would frighten the Danes. "I haven't the heart," says she at last; "and sure if we attempted to take him in that state we'd have the people of the three townlands

follying us to the priest's, and I'm afeard he'd take it very badly."

The next day when she came in, in the evening, she found him quite clean and fresh-looking, and his hair nicely combed. "Ah, Pat," says she to her other son, "was it you that done this?" Well, he said nothing till he and his mother were up at the fire, and the angashore (wretch) of a child in his bed in the room. "Mother," says he then, in a whisper, "the neighbours are right, and you are wrong. I was out a little bit, and when I was coming round by the wall at the back of the room, I heard some sweet voices as if they were singing inside; and so I went to the crack in the corner, and what was round the bed but a whole parcel of nicely-dressed little women, with green gowns; and they singing, and dressing the little fellow, and combing his hair, and he laughing and crowing with them. I watched for a long time, and then I stole round to the door, but the moment I pulled the string of the latch I hears the music changed to his whimpering and crying, and when I got into the room there was no sign of anything only himself. He was a little better looking, but as cantankerous as ever." "Ah," says the mother, "you are only joining the ill-natured neighbours; you're not telling a word of truth."

Next day Pat had a new story. "Mother," says he, "I was sitting here while you were out, and I began to wonder why 'he was so quiet, so I went into the room to see if he was asleep. There he was, sitting up with his old face on him, and he frightened the life out of me, he spoke so plain. 'Paudh,' says he, 'go and light your mother's pipe, and let me have a shough; I'm tired o' my life lying here.' 'Ah, you thief,' 'says I, 'wait till you hear what she'll say to you when I tell her this.' 'Tell away, you pick-thanks,' says he; 'she won't believe a word you say.'" "And neither do I believe one word from you," said the mother.

At last a letter came from the father, that was serving on board the Futhryom (Le Foudroyant?), saying he'd be home after the letter as soon as coaches and ships could carry him. "Now," says the poor woman, "we'll have the christening any way." So the next day she went to New Ross to buy sugar and tay, and beef and pork, to give a grand let-out to welcome her husband; but bedad the long-headed neighbours took that opportunity to gain their ends of the fairy imp. They gathered round the house, and one stout woman came up to the bed, promiskis-like, and wrapped him up in the quilt before he had time to defend himself, and away down the lane to the Boro she went, and the whole townland at her heels. He thought to get away, but she held him pinned as if he was in a vice: and he kept roaring, and the crowd kept laughing, and they never crack-cried till they were at the stepping-stones going to Ballybawn from Grange.

Well, when he felt himself near the water he roared like a score of bulls, and kicked like the divel, but my brave woman wasn't to be daunted. She got on the first stepping-stone, and the water, as black as night from the turf-mull (mould), running under her. He felt as heavy as lead, but she held on to the second. Well, she thought she'd go down there with the roaring, and the weight, and the dismal colour of the river, but she got to the middlestone, and there down through the quilt he fell as a heavy stone would through a muslin handkerchief. Off he went, whirling round and round, and letting the frightfulest laughs out of him, and showing his teeth and cracking his fingers at the people on the banks. "Oh, yous think yous are very clever, now," says he. "You may tell that fool of a woman from me that all I'm sorry for is that I didn't choke her, or do worse for her, before her husband comes home; bad luck to yous all!"

Well, they all came back joyful enough, though they were a little frightened. But weren't they rejoiced to meet the poor woman running to them with her fine healthy child in her arms, that she found in a delightful sleep when she got back from the town. You may be sure the next day didn't pass over him till he was baptized, and the next day his father got safe home. Well, I needn't say how happy they were; but bedad the woman was a little ashamed of herself next Sunday at Rathnure Chapel while Father James was preaching about the wickedness of neglecting to get young babies baptized as soon as possible after they're born.


Life among the Icelandic elves only partially resembles that among the Celtic fairies. The process of jetting rid of one of them when introduced into a human family is, however, much the same among Celts and Scandinavians. The Breton or Irish housewife being incommoded by a squalling, rickety brat, collects a number of eggs; and after throwing away the contents, places the shells carefully in a pot set over the fire. He looks with wonder on the operation; and when, in reply to his question, she explains that she is going to extract beer from them, he cries out, "I remember when they were building Babel, and never heard before of a brewery of egg-shells." Being now sure of his quality she summons her relations, and they get rid of him by taking him on a shovel, and landing him comfortably in the middle of the dung-lough at the bottom of the bawn, and letting him cry his fill. His fairy relations come to his rescue with little loss of time, and he vents his rage at not having done more mischief while he had been in such comfortable quarters.

Ión Arnason tells us, in his "Icelandic Legends" lately published by Mr. Bentley, that a Northern woman, under the same circumstances, sets a pot, furnished with some eatable, on the fire; and having fastened many twigs in continuation of a spoon handle till the end of the shank appears above the chimney, she inserts the bowl in the mess. This excites the curiosity of the imp, and he is dislodged in the same way as his far-off brother in Galway. It would be, perhaps, trying the patience of the reader unduly to enlarge on all the ingenious devices practised for the ejectment of different intruders, so we will, using a story-teller's privilege, surround one case with the circumstances which waited on three or four.

Next: The Changeling and his Bagpipes