You have two stories of wise women, said the blind man. Now I'll tell the story of a man who came to the knowledge of what gold was in the kingdom, and lost it all through his own foolishness:
Between Dingle and the village of Banog there lived one John Shea, and he was a very poor man, though he worked late and early whenever he found work to do. At last he said that he'd be starving at home no longer, he'd go to some foreign country. So off he started one day and never stopped travelling till he came to Cork and found a ship bound for Lochlin, which the people call Denmark now.
Shea went on board the ship, and the captain asked where he was going.
"I don't care much where I go," answered Shea, "if I go out of this place."
"There is no use in your going to Lochlin," said the captain; "the people there kill every Irishman that comes to that country."
"It's all one to me," said Shea; "I might as well be killed by the Danes as die of hunger at home."
The captain raised anchor, sailed away with Shea on board, and reached Lochlin at last. John Shea stepped on shore and went along, not knowing or caring much where he went. While travelling he came to a cross-road and took the right hand. At one side of the road was a hedge neatly trimmed.
This might lead to some house where I could find work," thought Shea. He travelled on and reached a fine mansion at last and went in to ask for employment. Inside he saw two old men bearded to the waist and one old hag bearded to the eyes.
"Where did you come from?" asked one of the old men.
"From Erin," said Shea.
"What brought you to Lochlin?"
"To tell you the truth, I was starving, and left home to find employment and food. I took shipping at Cork, and the captain I sailed with landed me here.
"Sit down," said one of the old men. "We will not eat you, never fear; and there is plenty of gold and silver to be had if there is any good in you. Come this way," continued the old man, rising.
Shea followed the old man, who led him to a small room. In the floor of the room was a flat stone, with a ring in the middle of it. "Lift this if you can," said the old man. Shea pulled, but thought if all the men in Erin were to try, they could not lift the stone.
"I cannot lift it now," said he; "but if I were in the country a while, and had more to eat, I think I could lift it.
The old man stooped down, both puled, and together raised the stone.
Underneath was a barrel of gold. "I will give you some of this," said the old man. Shea filled his two pockets. When he had the gold, the two men talked as follows:
"What part of Erin did you come from?"
"From Banog, near Dingle."
"Are you well acquainted with Dingle?"
"Indeed then I am. And why shouldn't I be; don't I go there to mass every Sunday, and wasn't I reared in the neighbourhood?"
"Go home now, John Shea, and in Banog, two fields from your house, is a fairy fort, and a very fine fort it is. You have gold in plenty to take you home. When you are in Dingle go to the best meatshop in the town and buy a leg of mutton, then buy a load of turf - ten to twenty creels of it - build a good fire outside the fort and roast the leg of mutton. While the mutton is roasting, the smell of it will be over the place, the fort will open, and a cat will rise out of it and come towards you. Hide before the cat sees you, and from your hiding-place watch her. She will walk up to the mutton, eat all she can of it, then she will lie down near the fire and fall asleep. That is your time. When you have the cat killed the fort will open. Do you go in then. Inside you will find a basin, a towel, and a razor. Take these and bring them to me. Touch nothing else in the fort. If you do you may never come out of it."
When John Shea had these directions he came back to Erin and made his way to Banog, bought the mutton, and did everything according to the old man's wish. When the mutton was roasted the cat came out and ate all she wanted or was able to eat. She stretched out then near the fire and fell asleep.
John Shea stole up softly, caught the cat by the throat, strangled her, and threw her aside. Straightway a broad door in the fort was thrown open. John Shea walked in through the door. In the first room on his left he saw a basin, a towel, and a razor. He did not touch these, but walked on to the next room, and there he saw a barrel of gold. At sight of the gold he remembered the old man in Lochlin, and turned back at once.
He took the basin, the towel, and the razor, hurried away from Banog to Cork, and never stopped till he walked into the old man's mansion in Lochlin.
"Have you the razor, the basin, and the towel?" asked the old man.
"I have," said John Shea; "here they are."
The two old men and the hag were there as before; they hadn't changed one hair.
"Move up here now, John Shea," said the old man; "lather and shave me."
"Oh, then, I never was any good to shave," said John Shea, "but your head is not hard, and I'll do what I can on you."
He shaved the old man, and when he had him shaved it wasn't an old man at all that was in it, but a youth of nineteen. The next old man, seeing the brother so young, was dying to lose his own beard.
"You'll make a real barber of me," said Shea.
When the second old man was shaved he was eighteen years of age.
"For God's sake, shave me!" begged the hag.
"I never thought to shave a woman," said Shea; "but I can't refuse you."
Shea shaved the old hag, and she was a young girl of sixteen.
"Now," said the two brothers to John Shea, "since you have done so much good to us we'll take you hunting."
They went out hunting, and all the game they saw that day was one mouse. They brought the mouse home and boiled it. When John Shea had his part of the mouse eaten he knew where all the hidden' gold was in Erin. Up he jumped from his seat.
"Musha, my God!" cried he. "I am the happiest man in the world this day. The devil a piece of gold is there in Erin but I know where it is. I'll be the rich man now!"
The two men, seeing John Shea jumping and hearing him screech from delight, said:
"There was never much power of keeping a secret in the Irish."
"He is not to be trusted," said the sister; "he would give away the secret. Let him have some of the mouse broth to drink."
The men gave him the broth. He drank of it and lost knowledge of all the treasures the moment he swallowed the broth. They gave him only money enough for his passage to Cork and told him to go his own way for himself, they had no further use for him.
John Shea went back to Banog, where he died in the famine year (1847), and was buried at public expense.
The preceding group of fairy tales are connected with the peninsula between the bays of Dingle and Tralee. The following tales were taken down west of the Killarney mountains, but between Dingle Bay and Kenmare River, and relate to the southern half of Kerry.
In this mountainous region the Gaelic language is spoken generally by the older inhabitants, and in many places ancient ways of thinking are well preserved among people of fifty years and upward. Persons between thirty and fifty, though they know the old-time ideas,' do not live in them altogether. As to people of the rising generation, their minds seem turned in another direction. They are not settled anywhere yet; some of them are seeking, others are drifting.
In general, the region is not one of rapid movement, and in many nooks and corners of it the past is well represented. The present tales touching fairies, ghosts, and various personages outside ordinary human life refer to actual beliefs. Some persons hold to these beliefs as firmly as possible; indeed, they are among the main articles of faith for a good number of the old people.
There are persons in the educated world who consider fairy tales as mere sources of amusement; there are others who look on them as too frivolous to be read by serious people. Both views are erroneous. Fairy tales contain the remnants of a religious system prior to Christianity. When these tales are collected and compared with each other and with that mass of Keltic literature extending from the twelfth to the present century, and which remains in manuscript in Dublin, London, Brussels, Rome, and elsewhere, we may expect to find a certain religious system, a certain philosophy of life and death, exhibited to us with a tolerable degree of distinctness.
In the fairy tales which I have collected so far, and in the conversation of the men who told them to me, I find a remarkable freedom of intercourse between the visible and the unseen worlds, between what we call the dead and the living - a certain intimate communion between what has been and what is. Unless in the case of old people, it can hardly be said that there is such a thing as death in the Keltic fairy philosophy. Children and young persons are removed; other bodies, apparently diseased or dying, are put in their places. The persons removed are taken to fairy mansions; if they eat they are lost to this life; if they refrain they have seven years in which return is possible.
This is only one item in the system of extra human forces in Keltic belief. All that we find so far in Hero Tales or Fairy Tales in Ireland is in close connection with that pre-Christian religion which covered the earth and included all races of men, which, in its boundless variety, was essentially the same, whether we consider the Greeks and Hindoos or the Indians of North and South America. For this religion, raising the dead, travelling on the water, running through the air, are not exceptional or wonderful; they are of daily occurrence and common; they are not merely incidents in it, but part of its machinery. This old universal religion had many other ideas which acquired new associations after the Christian era and took on new names. It is most interesting to note how much of it survives yet, not only among the uninstructed but among the leaders of mankind.
I found two tales of St. Martin, which are given here. The first is curious as containing the man-eating ghost, which is common enough among the Slavs, but which I find now in Ireland for the first time.
The grey cows from the sea, in the second St. Martin story, seem of the same breed as Glas Gainach brought from Spain by Elin Gow and the Glas Gavlen stolen by Balor of Tory Island.
The sacredness of the plough chains is an interesting bit of agricultural lore in the story of John Reardon. The heated coulter of a plough is used in Ireland to force confession from a witch who prevents butter from appearing when milk is churned.
The ocular illusion by which one thing seems another, which causes Tom Connors to think that an old horse is his cow Cooby, is common among all peoples. I found some excellent illustrations of it in stories of the Modoc Indians of Oregon.