Sacred Texts  Sagas and Legends  Celtic  Index  Previous  Next 

James Murray and Saint Martin

(told by Timothy Sheahy)

THERE was a small farmer named James Murray, who lived between this and Slieve Mish. He had the grass of seven cows, but though he had the land, he hadn't stock to put on it; he had but the one cow. Being a poor man, he went to Cork with four firkins of butter for a neighbour. He never thought what day of the month it was until he had the butter sold in the city, and it was Saint Martin's eve at the time. Himself and his father before him and his grandfather had always killed something to honour Saint Martin, and when he was in Cork on Saint Martin's eve he felt heartsore and could not eat. He walked around and muttered to himself: "I wish to the Almighty God I was at home; my house will be disgraced for ever."
The words weren't out of his mouth when a fine-looking gentleman stood before him and asked: 'What trouble is on you, good man?"
James Murray told the gentleman.
'Well, my poor man, you would like to be at home to-night?"
"Indeed, then, I would, and but for I forgot the day of the month, it isn't here I'd be now, poor as I am."
"Where do you live?"
"Near the foot of Slieve Mish, in Kerry."
"Bring out your horse and creels, and you will be at home."
"What is the use in talking? 'Tis too far for such a journey."
"Never mind; bring out your horse."
James Murray led out the horse, mounted, and rode away. He thought he wasn't two hours on the road when he was going in at his own door. Sure, his wife was astonished and didn't believe that he could be home from Cork in that time; it was only when he showed the money they paid him for the other man's butter that she believed.
'Well, this is Saint Martin's eve!"
"It is," said she. 'What are we to do? I don't know, for we have nothing to kill."
Out went James and drove in the cow.
'What are you going to do?" asked the wife.
"To kill the cow in honour of Saint Martin."
"Indeed, then, you will not."
"I will, indeed," and he killed her. He skinned the cow and cooked some of her flesh, but the woman was down in the room at the other end of the house lamenting.
"Come up now and eat your supper," said the husband.
But she would not eat, and was only complaining and crying.
After supper the whole family went to bed. Murray rose at daybreak next morning, went to the door, and saw seven grey cows, and they feeding in the field.
'Whose cows are those eating my grass?" cried he, and ran out to drive them away. Then he saw that they were not like other cattle in the district, and they were fat and bursting with milk.
"I'll have the milk at least, to pay for the grass they've eaten," said James Murray. So his wife milked the grey cows and he drove them back to the field. The cows were contented in themselves and didn't wish to go away. Next day he published the cows, but no one ever came to claim them.
"It was the Almighty God and Saint Martin who sent these cows," said he, and he kept them. In the summer all the cows had heifer calves, and every year for seven years they had heifer calves, and the calves were all grey, like the cows. James Murray got very rich, and his crops were the best in the county. He bought new land and had a deal of money put away; but it happened on the eighth year one of the cows had a bull calf. What did Murray do but kill the calf. That minute the seven old cows began to bellow and run away, and the calves bellowed and followed them, all ran and never stopped till they went into the sea and disappeared under the waves. They were never seen after that, but, as Murray used to give away a heifer calf sometimes during the seven years, there are cows of that breed around Slieve Mish and Dingle to this day, and every one is as good as two cows.

Next: Fairy Cows