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 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.