Welsh, Llin y tylwyth teg, Llin y munnydd.
In Wales the elegant little mountain flax is called "Llin y tylwyth teg," or Fairy's flax.* Whether any attempt has ever been made to spin it by mortal hands I know not, but the slender stem, when snapped across or slowly stretched, exhibits the same fibrous threads by which all the tribe are distinguished; and which in this plant are remarkable for extreme delicacy with which minuteness and strength are united; so that if the fairies did spin - and we have the authority of old chroniclers and bards without number for supposing that they did - we may very well fancy their gossamer robes to have been fabricated from this plant, even though it might not have produced a web which should quite vie with the "woven wind" of old.
It must frequently occur to the reflective mind that there is an innate disposition in the human heart to trace to some higher intelligence the knowledge of such arts or sciences as materially influence its comfort or its happiness; and to the perversion of this ineffaceable aspiration for the rendering of worship we may trace, in every age, in every land, the dark fables with which early history is enveloped. Demigods, genii, fairies, and elves of every description, attest the constancy of this feeling of dependence on a superior being, which is, as it were, a natural instinct of the uninstructed, but not unendowed, mind, which, as yet, looks not up to the true "cause of every cause".
* Literally flax of the Fair family.
The origin of flax-dressing is one of the economic arts which, from its great industrial importance, has been thus attributed to supernatural teaching. And it is said that even yet the Irish peasantry repeat the mythical story of its introduction into their island by the "dwellers on the Shahbna mountain." These genii, who bear the generic name of Mann, are said to have been "long, long ago," foreigners from far-off lands, whose families settled on this mountain, and first instructed the natives in the art of shiris, or ouris, i. e., the management of flax and hemp, as well as of cattle and tillage. In lapse of time these mann became invisible and supernatural beings, who still, however, exercised a kind of helpful supervision over the arts they had introduced. The word ouris is even yet applied by the peasants of the west, to the meetings of women at each other's houses for the purpose of carding the stock of wool or spinning the crop of flax.* And at no very remote period, it was believed that wherever these social neighbour-like gatherings took place the 'mann were present invisibly, and gave their assistance, astonishing the workers by the speed with which the task was accomplished. "Many hands make light work," says the proverb, and I suppose that it never occurred to any of these damsels that their own merriment and lively conversation in the midst of these labours made them appear less wearisome than when pursued in solitary silence.
I must, however, distinctly state that this admission does not authorise any impertinent remarks on the alleged volubility of the daughters of Eve, the indulgence of which has - by a most gratuitous assumption - been supposed to afford them relief during their hardest labours. For it is to be remembered that the more taciturn sex are constrained to acknowledge a similar assistance from the world invisible - in the form of an opportunity for a "long chat" - for when a seiserac, or ploughing-match, on the same joint-stock principles occurs, there are also the mann assisting in the shape of extra, but unseen, horses, causing the husbandmen great amazement at the large quantity of ground which they find to be ploughed in the day. How it was ascertained that these invisible beings assumed the shape of horses I must leave to the imagination of the reader. The monks of olden time being, probably, unable to eradicate this superstition turned it, as we are informed by Valiancy, to practical account by inculcating the belief, that if the ouris or seiserac were commenced on the Sabbath, or continued one moment after the hour of twelve on Saturday night, the mann would assuredly break the spinning-wheels, or spoil the corn.*
* Meetings similar to the carding gatherings of the Sardinians, or the "Bees" of the Americans.
I think, as I write, that I can see the gravely criticising looks of some venerable and venerating lover of antiquity; I think I hear scarce suppressed murmurings respecting the folly of permitting a popular and worthless - even if a pleasant - legend to obscure the presumed historical fact of the introduction of the flax plant, and its manufacture, into Ireland by the Phoenicians. For it may be asked why the mann should not be the spiritual remains of those commercial men of old? Why the "five-horned † chief" of the Shahbna mountain should not have been one of the "princes of Tyre," or colonists from some other land? men having been deified e'er now for less benefits conferred on their fellows! However, I agree with the learned Professor Hodges, and Dr. O'Donovan, of Queen's College, as to the improbability of their having been from Tyre;‡ and the former asserts that the Phoenician theory is an unsupported assumption, while the antiquarian and philological researches of the latter shew that the term anart,§ which is applied to the kind of coarse.
* "Anglo-Irish History".
† The ouris, say the old chroniclers, wore a stated-number of horns on their head-dresses, in accordance with their rank, those of a chieftain amounting to five. In connexion with the Phoenician theory, it will be remembered that the horn is the oriental symbol of power.
‡ The occupation of Ireland by the Phoenicians, and their relationship to the Irish, are now reckoned among fables.
§ From Anairt, Irish, soft. (?) linen worn by the Irish peasantry, is not only not Phoenician, hut "has no cognate term in any language" with which he is acquainted."* Such are the opinions of men who have studied the subject.