Once there was a farmer, a widower, Tom Reardon, who lived near Castlemain. He had an only son, a fine strong boy, who was almost a man, and the boy's name was John. This farmer married a second time, and the stepmother hated the boy and gave him neither rest nor peace. She was turning the father's mind against the son, till at last the farmer resolved to put the son in a place where a ghost was, and this ghost never let any man go without killing him.
One day the father sent the son to the forge with some chains belonging to a plough; he would have two horses ploughing next day.
The boy took the chains to the forge; and it was nearly evening when the father sent him, and the forge was four miles away.
The smith had much work and he hadn't the chains mended till close on to midnight. The smith had two sons, and they didn't wish to let John go, but he said he must go, for he had promised to be home and the father would kill him if he stayed away. They stood before him in the door, but he went in spite of them.
When two miles from the forge a ghost rose up before John, a woman; she attacked him and they fought for two hours, when he put the plough chain round her. She could do nothing then, because what belongs to a plough is blessed. He fastened the chain and dragged the ghost home with him, and told her to go to the bedroom and give the father and stepmother a rough handling, not to spare them.
The ghost beat them till the father cried for mercy, and said if he lived till morning he'd leave the place, and that the wife was the cause of putting John in the way to be killed.
John put food on the table and told the ghost to sit down and eat for herself, but she refused and said he must take her back to the very spot where he found her. John was willing to do that, and he went with her. She told him to come to that place on the following night, that there was a sister of hers, a ghost, a deal more determined and stronger than what herself was.
John told her that maybe the two of them would attack and kill him. She said that they would not, that she wanted his help against the sister, and that he would not be sorry for helping her. He told her he would come, and when he was leaving her she said not to forget the plough chains.
Next morning the father was going to leave the house, but the wife persuaded him to stay. "That ghost will never walk the way again," said she.
John went the following night, and the ghost was waiting before him on the spot where he fought with her. They walked on together two miles by a different road, and halted. They were talking in that place a while when the sister came and attacked John Reardon, and they were fighting two hours and she was getting the better of the boy, when the first sister put the plough chains around her. He pulled her home with the chains, and the first sister walked along behind them. When John came to the house he opened the door, and when the father saw the two ghosts he said that if morning overtook him alive he'd leave the son everything, the farm and the house.
The son told the second ghost to go down and give a good turn to the stepmother; "let her have a few strong knocks," said he.
The second ghost barely left life in the stepmother. John had food on the table, but they would not take a bite, and the second sister said he must take her back to the very spot where he met her first. He said he would. She told him that he was the bravest man that ever stood before her, and that she would not threaten him again in the world, and told him to come the next night. He said he would not, for the two might attack and get the better of him. They promised they would not attack, but would help him, for it was to get the upper hand of the youngest and strongest of the sisters that they wanted him, and that he must bring the plough chains, for without them they could do nothing.
He agreed to go if they would give their word not to harm him. They said they would give the word and would help him the best they could.
The next day, when the father was going to leave the place, the wife would not let him. "Stay where you are," she said, "they'll never trouble us again."
John went the third night, and when he came the two sisters were before him, and they walked till they travelled four miles; then told him to stop on the green grass at one side, and not to be on the road.
They weren't waiting long when the third sister came, and red lightning flashing from her mouth. She went at John, and with the first blow that she gave him put him on his knees. He rose with the help of the two sisters, and for three hours they fought, and the youngest sister was getting the better of the boy when the two others threw the chains around her. The boy dragged her away home with him then, and when the stepmother saw the three sisters coming herself and John's father were terrified and they died of fright, the two of them.
John put food on the table, and told the sisters to come and eat, but they refused, and the youngest told him that he must take her to the spot where he fought with her. All four went to that place, and at parting they promised never to harm him, and to put him in the way that he would never need to do a day's work, nor his children after him, if he had any. The eldest sister old him to come on the following night, and to bring a spade with him; she would tell him, she said, her whole history from first to last.
He went, and what she told him was this: Long ago her father was one of the richest men in all Ireland; her mother died when the three sisters were very young, and ten or twelve years after the father died, and left the care of all the wealth and treasures in the castle to herself, telling her to make three equal parts of it, and to let herself and each of the other two sisters have one of these parts. But she was in love with a young man unknown to her father, and one night when the two sisters were fast asleep, and she thought if she killed them she would have the whole fortune for herself and her husband, she took a knife and cut their throats, and when she had them killed she got sorry and did the same to herself. The sentence put on them was that none of the three was to have rest or peace till some man without fear would come and conquer them, and John was the first to attempt this.
She took him then to her father's castle - only the ruins of it were standing, no roof and only some of the walls, and showed where all the riches and treasures were. John, to make sure, took his spade and dug away, dug with what strength was in him, and just before daybreak he came to the treasure. That moment the three sisters left good health with him, turned into three doves, and flew away.
He had riches enough for himself and for seven generations after him.