John Connors and the Fairies
THERE was a man named John Connors, who lived near Killarney, and was the father of seven small children, all daughters and no sons. Connors fell into such rage and anger at having so many daughters, without any sons, that when the seventh daughter was born he would not come from the field to see the mother or the child.
When the time came for christening he wouldn't go for sponsors, and didn't care whether the wife lived or died. A couple of years after that a son was born to him, and some of the women ran to the field and told John Connors that he was the father of a fine boy. Connors was so delighted that he caught the spade he had with him and broke it on the ditch. He hurried home then and sent for bread and meat, with provisions of all kinds to supply the house.
"There are no people in the parish," said he to the wife, "fit to stand sponsors for this boy, and when night comes I'll ride over to the next parish and find sponsors there."
When night came he bridled and saddled his horse, mounted, and rode away toward the neighbouring parish to invite a friend and his wife to be godfather and godmother to his son. The village to which he was going was Beaufort, south of Killarney. There was a public-house on the road. Connors stepped in and treated the bystanders, delayed there a while, and then went his way. When he had gone a couple of miles he met a stranger riding on a white horse, a good-looking gentleman wearing red knee-breeches, swallow-tailed coat, and a Caroline hat [a tall hat].
The stranger saluted John Connors, and John returned the salute. The stranger asked where was he going at such an hour.
"I'm going," said Connors, "to Beaufort to find sponsors for my young son."
"Oh, you foolish man," said the stranger; "you left the road a mile behind you. Turn back and take the left hand."
John Connors turned back as directed, but never came to a cross-road. He was riding about half an hour when he met the same gentleman, who asked: "Are you the man I met a while ago going to Beaufort?"
"Why, you fool, you passed the road a mile or more behind. Turn back and take the right hand road. What trouble is on you that you cannot see a road when you are passing it?"
Connors turned and rode on for an hour or so, but found no side road. The same stranger met him for the third time, and asked him the same question, and told him he must turn back. "But the night is so far gone," said he, "that you'd better not be waking people. My house is near by. Stay with me till morning. You can go for the sponsors to-morrow."
John Connors thanked the stranger and said he would go with him. The stranger took him to a fine castle then, and told him to dismount and come in.
"Your horse will be taken care of," said he, "I have servants enough."
John Connors rode a splendid white horse, and the like of him wasn't in the country round. The gentleman had a good supper brought to Connors. After supper he showed him a bed and said, "Take off your clothes and sleep soundly till morning."
When Connors was asleep the stranger took the clothes, formed a corpse just like John Connors, put the clothes on it, tied the body to the horse, and leading the beast outside, turned its head towards home. He kept John Connors asleep in bed for three weeks.
The horse went towards home and reached the village next morning. The people saw the horse with the dead body on its back, and all thought it was the body of John Connors. Everybody began to cry and lament for their neighbour. He was taken off the horse, stripped, washed, and laid out on the table. There was a great wake that night, everybody mourning and lamenting over him, for wasn't he a good man and the father of a large family? The priest was sent for to celebrate mass and attend the funeral, which he did. There was a large funeral.
Three weeks later John Connors was roused from his sleep by the gentleman, who came to him and said:
"It is high time for you to be waking. Your son is christened. The wife, thinking you would never come, had the child baptized, and the priest found sponsors. Your horse stole away from here and went home."
"Sure then I am not long sleeping?"
"Indeed, then, you are: it is three whole days and nights that you are in that bed."
John Connors sat up and looked around for his clothes, but if he did he could not see a stitch of them. "Where are my clothes?" asked he.
"I know nothing of your clothes, my man, and the sooner you go out o' this the better."
Poor John was astonished. "God help me, how am I to go home without my clothes? If I had a shirt itself, it wouldn't be so bad; but to go without a rag at all on me!"
"Don't be talking," said the man; "take a sheet and be off with yourself. I have no time to lose on the like of you."
John grew in dread of the man, and taking the sheet, went out. When well away from the place he turned to look at the castle and its owner, but if he did there was nothing before him but fields and ditches.
The time as it happened was Sunday morning, and Connors saw at some distance down the road people on their way to mass. He hurried to the fields for fear of being seen by somebody. He kept to the fields and walked close to the ditches till he reached the side of a hill, and went along by that, keeping well out of sight. As he was nearing his own village at the side of the mountain there happened to be three or four little boys looking for stray sheep. Seeing Connors, they knew him as the dead man buried three weeks before. They screamed and ran away home, some of them falling with fright. When they came to the village they cried that they had seen John Connors, and he with a sheet on him.
Now, it is the custom in Ireland when a person dies to sprinkle holy water on the clothes of the deceased and then give them to poor people or to friends for God's sake. It is thought that by giving the clothes in this way the former owner has them to use in the other world. The person who wears the clothes must wear them three times to mass one Sunday after another and sprinkle them each time with holy water. After that they may be worn as the person likes.
When the women of the village heard the story of the boys some of them went to the widow and said:
"Tis your fault that your husband's ghost is roaming around in nakedness. You didn't give away his clothes."
"I did, indeed," said the wife. "I did my part, but it must be that the man I gave them to didn't wear them to mass, and that is why my poor husband is naked in the other world."
Now she went straight to the relative and neighbour who got the clothes. As she entered the man was sitting down to breakfast.
"Bad luck to you, you heathen!" said she. "I did not think you the man to leave my poor John naked in the other world. You neither went to mass in the clothes I gave you nor sprinkled holy water on them."
"I did, indeed. This is the third Sunday since John died, and I went to mass this morning for the third time. Sure I'd be a heathen to keep a relative naked in the other world. It wasn't your husband that the boys saw at all."
She went home then, satisfied that everything had been done as it should be.
An uncle of John Connors lived in the same village. He was a rich farmer and kept a servant girl and a servant boy. The turf bog was not far away, and all the turf at the house being burned, the servant girl was told to go down to the reek [a long pile of turf] and bring home a creel [basket] of turf. She went to the reek and was filling her creel, when she happened to look towards the far end of the reek, and there she saw a man sticking his head out from behind the turf, and he with a sheet on him. She looked a second time and saw John Connors. The girl screamed, threw down the creel, and ran away, falling every few steps from terror. It was to the reek that Connors had gone, to wait there in hiding till dark. After that he could go to his own house without any one seeing him.
The servant girl fell senseless across the farmer's threshold, and when she recovered she said: "John Connors is below in the bog behind the reek of turf, and nothing but a sheet on him."
The farmer and the servant boy laughed at her and said: "This is the way with you always when there's work to do."
The boy started off to bring the turf himself, but as he was coming near the reek John Connors thrust his head out, and the boy ran home screeching worse than the girl. Nobody would go near the reek now, and the report went out that John Connors was below in the bog minding the turf. Early that evening John Connors' wife made her children go on their knees and offer up the rosary for the repose of their father's soul. After the rosary they went to bed in a room together, but were not long in it when there was a rap at the door. The poor woman asked who was outside. John Connors answered that it was himself.
"May the Almighty God and His blessed Mother give rest to your soul!" cried the wife, and the children crossed themselves and covered their heads with the bedclothes. They were in dread he'd come in through the keyhole; they knew a ghost could do that if it wished.
John went to the window of two panes of glass and was tapping at that. The poor woman looked out, and there she saw her husband's face. She began to pray again for the repose of his soul, but he called out:
"Bad luck to you, won't you open the door to me or throw out some clothes? I am perishing from cold."
This only convinced the woman more surely. John didn't like to break the door, and as it was strong, it wouldn't be easy for him to break it, so he left the house and went to his uncle's. When he came to the door all the family were on their knees repeating the rosary for the soul of John Connors. He knocked, and the servant girl rose up to see who was outside. She unbolted and unlatched the door, opened it a bit, but seeing Connors, she came near cutting his nose off, she shut it that quickly in his face. She bolted the door then and began to scream: "John Connors' ghost is haunting me! Not another day or night will I stay in the house if I live to see morning!"
All the family fastened themselves in a room and threw themselves into bed, forgetting to undress or to finish their prayers. John Connors began to kick the door, but nobody would open it; then he tapped at the window and begged the uncle to let him in or put out some clothes to him, but the uncle and children were out of their wits with fear.
The doctor's house was the next one, and Connors thought to himself, "I might as well go to the doctor and tell all to him; tell him that the village is gone mad." So he made his way to the doctor's, but the servant boy there roared and screeched from terror when he saw him, ran to his master, and said, "John Connors' ghost is below at the door, and not a thing but a sheet on him."
"You were always a fool," said the doctor. "There is never a ghost in this world."
"God knows, then, the ghost of John Connors is at the door," said the boy.
To convince the boy, the master raised the upper window. He looked out and saw the ghost sure enough. Down went the window with a slap.
"Don't open the door!" cried the doctor. "He is below; there is some mystery in this."
Since the doctor wouldn't let him in any more than the others, John Connors was cursing and swearing terribly.
"God be good to us," said the doctor. "His soul must be damned, for if his soul was in purgatory it is not cursing and swearing he'd be, but praying. Surely, 'tis damned he is, and the Lord have mercy on the people of this village; but I won't stay another day in it; I'll move to the town to-morrow morning."
Now John left the doctor's house and went to the priest, thinking that he could make all clear to the priest, for everybody else had gone mad. He knocked at the priest's door and the housekeeper opened it. She screamed and ran away, but left the door open behind her. As she was running towards the stairs she fell, and the priest, hearing the fall, hurried out to see what the matter was.
"Oh, father," cried the housekeeper, "John Connors' ghost is below in the kitchen, and he with only a sheet on him!"
"Not true," said the priest. "There is never a person seen after parting with this world."
The words were barely out of his mouth when the ghost was there before him.
"In the name of God," said the priest, "are you dead or alive? You must be dead, for I said mass in your house, and you a corpse on the table, and I was at your funeral."
"How can you be foolish like the people of the village? I'm alive. Who would kill me?"
"God, who kills everybody, and but for your being dead, how was I to be asked to your funeral?"
"Tis all a mistake," said John. "If it's dead I was it isn't here I'd be talking to you to-night."
"If you are alive, where are your clothes?"
"I don't know where they are or how they went from me, but I haven't them, sure enough."
"Go into the kitchen," said the priest. "I'll bring you clothes, and then you must tell me what happened to you."
When John had the clothes on he told the priest that, the day the child was born, he went to Beaufort for sponsors, and, being late, he met a gentleman, who sent him back and forth on the road and then took him to his house. "I went to bed," said John, "and slept till he waked me. My clothes were gone from me then, and I had nothing to wear but an old sheet. More than this I don't know: but everybody runs from me, and my wife won't let me into the house."
"Oh, then, it's Daniel O'Donohue, King of Lochlein, that played the trick on you," said the priest. "Why didn't you get sponsors at home in this parish for your son as you did for your daughters? For the remainder of your life show no partiality to son or daughter among your children. It would be a just punishment if more trouble came to you. You were not content with the will of God, though it is the duty of every man to take what God gives him. Three weeks ago your supposed body was buried and all thought you dead through your own pride and wilfulness."
"That is why my wife wouldn't let me in. Now, your Reverence, come with me and convince my wife, or she will not open the door."
The priest and John Connors went to the house and knocked, but the answer they got was a prayer for the repose of John Connors' soul. The priest went to the window then and called out to open the door.
Mrs. Connors opened the door, and seeing her husband behind the priest she screamed and fell: a little girl that was with her at the door dropped speechless on the floor. When the woman recovered, the priest began to persuade her that her husband was living, but she wouldn't believe that he was alive till she took hold of his hand: then she felt of his face and hair and was convinced.
When the priest had explained everything he went away home. No matter how large his family was in after years, John Connors never went from home to find sponsors.