W. B. Yeats, ed. & sel., Fairy and Folk Tales of the Irish Peasantry (London: Walter Scott 1888)

[See Contents, supra.]



Dr. Corbett, Bishop of Oxford and Norwich, lamented long ago the departure of the English fairies. “In Queen Mary’s time” he wrote —

“When Tom came home from labour,
   Or Cis to milking rose,
Then merrily, merrily went their tabor,
   And merrily went their toes.”

 But now in the times of James, they had all gone, for “they were of the old profession”, and “their songs were Ave Maries”. In Ireland they are still extant, giving gifts to the kindly, and plaguing the surly. “Have you ever seen a fairy or such like?” I asked the old man in County Sligo. “Amn’t I annoyed with them,” was the answer. “Do the fishermen along here know anything of the mermaids?” I asked a woman of a village in County Dublin. ’Indeed, they don’t like to see them at all,” she answered, “for they always bring bad weather.” “Here is a man who believes in ghosts,” said a foreign sea-captain, pointing to a pilot of my acquaintance. “In every house over there,” said the pilot, pointing to his native village of Rosses, “there are several.” Certainly that now old and much respected dogmatist, the Spirit of the Age, has in no {x} manner made his voice heard down there. In a little while, for he has gotten a consumptive appearance of late, he will be covered over decently in his grave, and another will grow, old and much respected, in his place, and never be heard of down there, and after him another and another and another. Indeed, it is a question whether any of these personages will ever be heard of outside the newspaper offices and lecture-rooms and drawing-rooms and eel-pie houses of the cities, or if the Spirit of the Age is at any time more than a froth. At any rate, whole troops of their like will not change the Celt much. Giraldus Cambrensis found the people of the western islands a trifle paganish. “How many gods are there?” asked a priest, a little while ago, of a man from the Island of Innistor. “There is one on Innistor; but this seems a big place,” said the man, and the priest held up his hands in horror, as Giraldus had, just seven centuries before. Remember, I am not blaming the man; it is very much better to believe in a number of gods than in none at all, or think there is only one, but that he is a little sentimental and impracticable, and not constructed for the nineteenth century. The Celt, and his cromlechs, and his pillar-stones, these will not change much — indeed, it is doubtful if anybody at all changes at any time. In spite of hosts of deniers, and asserters, and wise-men, and professors, the majority still are averse to sitting down to dine thirteen at table, or being helped to salt, or walking under a ladder, or seeing a single magpie flirting his chequered tail. There are, of course, children of light who have set their faces against all this, though even a newspaper man, if you entice him into a cemetery at midnight, will believe in phantoms, for everyone is a visionary, if you scratch him deep enough. But the Celt is a visionary without scratching.
 Yet, be it noticed, if you are a stranger, you will not readily {xi} get ghost and fairy legends, even in a western village. You must go adroitly to work, and make friends with the children, and the old men, with those who have not felt the pressure of mere daylight existence, and those with whom it is growing less, and will have altogether taken itself off one of these days. The old women are most learned, but will not so readily be got to talk, for the fairies are very secretive, and much resent being talked of; and are there not many stories of old women who were nearly pinched into their graves or numbed with fairy blasts?
 At sea, when the nets are out and the pipes are lit, then will some ancient hoarder of tales become loquacious, telling his histories to the tune of the creaking of the boats. Holy-eve night, too, is a great time, and in old days many tales were to be heard at wakes. But the priest have set their faces against wakes.
 In the Parochial Survey of Ireland it is recorded how the story-tellers used to gather together of an evening, and if any had a different version from the others, they would all recite theirs and vote, and the man who had varied would have to abide by their verdict. In this way stories have been handed down with such accuracy, that the long tale of Dierdre was, in the earlier decades of this century, told almost word for word, as in the very ancient MSS. in the Royal Dublin Society. In one case only it varied, and then the MS. was obviously wrong — a passage had been forgotten by the copyist. But this accuracy is rather in the folk and bardic tales than in the fairy legends, for these vary widely, being usually adapted to some neighbouring village or local fairy-seeing celebrity. Each county has usually some family, or personage, supposed to have been favoured or plagued, especially by the phantoms, as the Hackets of Castle Hacket, Galway, who had for their ancestor a fairy, {xii} or John-o’-Daly of Lisadell, Sligo, who wrote “Eilleen Aroon”, the song the Scots have stolen and called “Robin Adair”, and which Handel would sooner have written than all his oratorios, [1] and the “O’Donahue of Kerry”. Round these men stories tended to group themselves, sometimes deserting more ancient heroes for the purpose. Round poets have they gathered especially, for poetry in Ireland has always been mysteriously connected with magic.
 These folk tales are full of simplicity and musical occurrences, for they are the literature of a class for whom every incident in the old rut of birth, love, pain, and death has cropped up unchanged for centuries: who have steeped everything in the heart: to whom everything is a symbol. They have the spade over which man has leant from the beginning. The people of the cities have the machine, which is prose and a parvenu. They have few events. They can turn over the incidents of a long life as they sit by the fire. With us nothing has time to gather meaning, and too many things are occurring for even a big heart to hold. It is said the most eloquent people in the world are the Arabs, who have only the bare earth of the desert and a sky swept bare by the sun. “Wisdom has alighted upon three things,” goes their proverb; “the hand of the Chinese, the brain of the Frank, and the tongue of the Arab.” This, I take it, is the meaning of that simplicity sought for so much in these days by all the poets, and not to be had at any price.
 The most notable and typical story-teller of my acquaintance is one Paddy Flynn, a little, bright-eyed, old man, living in a leaky one-roomed cottage of the village of B—, “The most gentle — i.e., fairy-place in the whole {xiii} of the County Sligo,” he says, though others claim that honour for Drumahair or for Drumcliff. A very pious old man, too! You may have some time to inspect his strange figure and ragged hair, if he happen to be in a devout humour, before he comes to the doings of the gentry. A strange devotion! Old tales of Columkill, and what he said to his mother. “How are you today, mother?” “Worse!” “May you be worse tomorrow”; and on the next day, “How are you today, mother?” “Worse!” “May you be worse tomorrow”; and on the next, “How are you today, mother?” “Better, thank God.” “May you be better tomorrow.” In which undutiful manner he will tell you Columkill inculcated cheerfulness. Then most likely he will wander off into his favourite theme — how the judge smiles alike in rewarding the good and condemning the lost to unceasing flames. Very consoling does it appear to Paddy Flynn, this melancholy and apocalyptic cheerfulness of the Judge. Nor seems his own cheerfulness quite earthly — though a very palpable cheerfulness. The first time I saw him he was cooking mushrooms for himself; the next time he was asleep under a hedge, smiling in his sleep. Assuredly some joy not quite of this steadfast earth lightens in those eyes — swift as the eyes of a rabbit — among so many wrinkles, for Paddy Flynn is very old. A melancholy there is in the midst of their cheerfulness — a melancholy that is almost a portion of their joy, the visionary melancholy of purely instinctive natures and of all animals. In the triple solitude of age and eccentricity and partial deafness he goes about much pestered by children.
 As to the reality of his fairy and spirit-seeing powers, not all are agreed. One day we were talking of the Banshee. “I have seen it”, he said, “down there by the {xiv} water ’batting’ the river with its hands”. He it was who said the fairies annoyed him.
 Not that the Sceptic is entirely afar even from these western villages. I found him one morning as he bound his corn in a merest pocket-handkerchief of a field. Very different from Paddy Flynn — Scepticism in every wrinkle of his face, and a travelled man, too! — a foot-long Mohawk Indian tattooed on one of his arms to evidence the matter. “They who travel,” says a neighbouring priest, shaking his head over him, and quoting Thomas À Kempis, “seldom come holy.” I had mentioned ghosts to this Sceptic. “Ghosts,” said he; “there are no such things at all, at all, but the gentry, they stand to reason; for the devil, when he fell out of heaven, took the weak-minded ones with him, and they were put into the waste places. And that’s what the gentry are. But they are getting scarce now, because their time’s over, ye see, and they’re going back. But ghosts, no! And I’ll tell ye something more I don’t believe in — the fire of hell;” then, in a low voice, “that’s only invented to give the priests and the parsons something to do.” Thereupon this man, so full of enlightenment, returned to his corn-binding.
 The various collectors of Irish folk-lore have, from our point of view, one great merit, and from the point of view of others, one great fault. They have made their work literature rather than science, and told us of the Irish peasantry rather than of the primitive religion of mankind, or whatever else the folk-lorists are on the gad after. To be considered scientists they should have tabulated all their tales in forms like grocers’ bills — item the fairy king, item the queen. Instead of this they have caught the very voice of the people, the very pulse of life, each giving what was most noticed in his day. {xv} Croker and Lover, full of the ideas of harum-scarum Irish gentility, saw everything humorised. The impulse of the Irish literature of their time came from a class that did not — mainly for political reasons — take the populace seriously, and imagined the country as a humorist’s Arcadia; its passion, its gloom, its tragedy, they knew nothing of. What they did was not wholly false; they merely magnified an irresponsible type, found oftenest among boatmen, carmen, and gentlemen’s servants, into the type of a whole nation, and created the stage Irishman. The writers of ’forty-eight, and the famine combined, burst their bubble. Their work had the dash as well as the shallowness of an ascendant and idle class, and in Croker is touched everywhere with beauty — a gentle Arcadian beauty. Carleton, a peasant born, has in many of his stories — I have been only able to give a few of the slightest — more especially in his ghost stories, a much more serious way with him, for all his humour. Kennedy, an old bookseller in Dublin, who seems to have had a something of genuine belief in the fairies, came next in time. He has far less literary faculty, but is wonderfully accurate, giving often the very words the stories were told in. But the best book since Croker is Lady Wilde’s Ancient Legends. The humour has all given way to pathos and tenderness. We have here the innermost heart of the Celt in the moments he has grown to love through years of persecution, when, cushioning himself about with dreams, and hearing fairy-songs in the twilight, he ponders on the soul and on the dead. Here is the Celt, only it is the Celt dreaming.
 Besides these are two writers of importance, who have published, so far, nothing in book shape — Miss Letitia Maclintock and Mr. Douglas Hyde. Miss Maclintock writes accurately and beautifully the half Scottish dialect of {xvi} Ulster; and Mr. Douglas Hyde is now preparing a volume of folk tales in Gaelic, having taken them down, for the most part, word for word among the Gaelic speakers of Roscommon and Galway. He is, perhaps, most to be trusted of all. He knows the people thoroughly. Others see a phase of Irish life; he understands all its elements. His work is neither humorous nor mournful; it is simply life. I hope he may put some of his gatherings into ballads, for he is the last of our ballad-writers of the school of Walsh and Callanan — men whose work seems fragrant with turf smoke. And this brings to mind the chap-books. They are to be found brown with turf smoke on cottage shelves, and are, or were, sold on every hand by the pedlars, but cannot be found in any library of this city of the Sassenach. “The Royal Fairy Tales”, “The Hibernian Tales”, and “The Legends of the Fairies” are the fairy literature of the people.
 Several specimens of our fairy poetry are given. It is more Eke the fairy poetry of Scotland than of England. The personages of English fairy literature are merely, in most cases, mortals beautifully masquerading. Nobody ever believed in such fairies. They are romantic bubbles from Provence. Nobody ever laid new milk on their doorstep for them.
 As to my own part in this book, I have tried to make it representative, as far as so few pages would allow, of every kind of Irish folk-faith. The reader will perhaps wonder that in all my notes I have not rationalised a single hobgoblin. I seek for shelter to the words of Socrates. [2]
 Phædrus. I should like to know, Socrates, whether the {xvii} place is not somewhere here at which Boreas is said to have carried off Orithyia from the banks of the Ilissus?
 Socrates. That is the tradition.
 Phædrus. And is this the exact spot? The little stream is delightfully clear and bright; I can fancy that there might be maidens playing near.
 Socrates. I believe the spot is not exactly here, but about a quarter-of-a-mile lower down, where you cross to the temple of Artemis, and I think that there is some sort of an altar of Boreas at the place.
 Phædrus. I do not recollect; but I beseech you to tell me, Socrates, do you believe this tale?
 Socrates. The wise are doubtful, and I should not be singular if, like them, I also doubted. I might have a rational explanation that Orithyia was playing with Pharmacia, when a northern gust carried her over the neighbouring rocks; and this being the manner of her death, she was said to have been carried away by Boreas. There is a discrepancy, however, about the locality. According to another version of the story, she was taken from the Areopagus, and not from this place. Now I quite acknowledge that these allegories are very nice, but he is not to be envied who has to invent them; much labour and ingenuity will be required of him; and when he has once begun, he must go on and rehabilitate centaurs and chimeras dire. Gorgons and winged steeds flow in apace and numberless other inconceivable and portentous monsters. And if he is sceptical about them, and would fain reduce them one after another to the rules of probability, this sort of crude philosophy will take up all his time. Now, I have certainly not time for such inquiries. Shall I tell you why? I must first know myself, as the Delphian inscription says; to be curious about that which is not my {xviii} business, while I am still in ignorance of my own self, would be ridiculous. And, therefore, I say farewell to all this; the common opinion is enough for me. For, as I was saying, I want to know not about this, but about myself. Am I, indeed, a wonder more complicated and swollen with passion than the serpent Typho, or a creature of gentler and simpler sort, to whom nature has given a diviner and lowlier destiny? [3]

 I have to thank Messrs. Macmillan, and the editors of Belgravia, All the Year Round, and Monthly Packet, for leave to quote from Patrick Kennedy’s Legendary Fictions of the Irish Celts, and Miss Maclintock’s articles respectively; Lady Wilde, for leave to give what I would from her Ancient Legends of Ireland (Ward & Downey); and Mr. Douglas Hyde, for his three unpublished stories, and for valuable and valued assistance in several ways; and also Mr. Allingham, and other copyright holders, for their poems. Mr. Allingham’s poems are from Irish Songs and Poems (Reeves and Turner); Fergusson’s [sic], from Sealey, Bryers, & Walker’s shilling reprint; my own and Miss O’Leary’s from Ballads and Poems of Young Ireland, 1888, a little anthology published by Gill & Sons, Dublin.

W. B. Yeats



The Irish word for fairy is sheehogue [sidheóg], a diminutive of “shee” in banshee. Fairies are deenee shee [daoine sidhe] (fairy people).
 Who are they? “Fallen angels who were not good enough to be saved, nor bad enough to be lost,” say the peasantry. “The gods of the earth,” says the Book of Armagh. “The gods of pagan Ireland,” say the Irish antiquarians, “the Tuatha De Danán, who, when no longer worshipped and fed with offerings, dwindled away in the popular imagination, and now are only a few spans high.”
 And they will tell you, in proof, that the names of fairy chiefs are the names of old Danán heroes, and the places where they especially gather together, Danán burying-places, and that the Tuath De Danán used also to be called the slooa-shee [sheagh sidhe] (the fairy host), or Marcra shee (the fairy cavalcade).
 On the other hand, there is much evidence to prove them fallen angels. Witness the nature of the creatures, their caprice, their way of being good to the good and evil to the evil, having every charm but conscience — consistency. Beings so quickly offended that you must not speak much about them at all, and never call them anything but the “gentry”, or else daoine maithe, which in English means good people, yet so easily pleased, they will do their best to keep misfortune away from you, if you leave a {2} little milk for them on the window-sill over night. On the whole, the popular belief tells us most about them, telling us how they fell, and yet were not lost, because their evil was wholly without malice.
 Are they “the gods of the earth”? Perhaps! Many poets, and all mystic and occult writers, in all ages and countries, have declared that behind the visible are chains on chains of conscious beings, who are not of heaven but of the earth, who have no inherent form but change according to their whim, or the mind that sees them. You cannot lift your hand without influencing and being influenced by hoards. The visible world is merely their skin. In dreams we go amongst them, and play with them, and combat with them. They are, perhaps, human souls in the crucible — these creatures of whim.
 Do not think the fairies are always little. Everything is capricious about them, even their size. They seem to take what size or shape pleases them. Their chief occupations are feasting, fighting, and making love, and playing the most beautiful music. They have only one industrious person amongst them, the lepracaun — the shoemaker. Perhaps they wear their shoes out with dancing. Near the village of Ballisodare is a little woman who lived amongst them seven years. When she came home she had no toes — she had danced them off.
 They have three great festivals in the year — May Eve, Midsummer Eve, November Eve. On May Eve, every seventh year, they fight all round, but mostly on the “Plain-a-Bawn” (wherever that is), for the harvest, for the best ears of grain belong to them. An old man told me he saw them fight once; they tore the thatch off a house in the midst of it all. Had anyone else been near they would merely have seen a great wind whirling everything into the air as it passed. When the wind makes the straws and leaves whirl as it passes, that is the fairies, and the peasantry take off their hats and say, “God bless them”.
 On Midsummer Eve, when the bonfires are lighted on every hill in honour of St. John, the fairies are at their gayest, and sometimes steal away beautiful mortals to be their brides. {3}
 On November Eve they are at their gloomiest, for according to the old Gaelic reckoning, this is the first night of winter. This night they dance with the ghosts, and the pooka is abroad, and witches make their spells, and girls set a table with food in the name of the devil, that the fetch of their future lover may come through the window and eat of the food. After November Eve the blackberries are no longer wholesome, for the pooka has spoiled them.
 When they are angry they paralyse men and cattle with their fairy darts.
 When they are gay they sing. Many a poor girl has heard them, and pined away and died, for love of that singing. Plenty of the old beautiful tunes of Ireland are only their music, caught up by eavesdroppers. No wise peasant would hum “The Pretty Girl milking the Cow” near a fairy rath, for they are jealous, and do not like to hear their songs on clumsy mortal lips. Carolan, the last of the Irish bards, slept on a rath, and ever after the fairy tunes ran in his head, and made him the great man he was.
 Do they die? Blake saw a fairy’s funeral; but in Ireland we say they are immortal.


“The Fairies”
William Allingham

Up the airy mountain,
   Down the rushy glen,
We daren't go a-hunting
   For fear of little men;
Wee folk, good folk,
   Trooping all together;
Green jacket, red cap,
   And white owl's feather! {4}

Down along the rocky shore
   Some make their home,
They live on crispy pancakes
   Of yellow tide-foam;
Some in the reeds
   Of the black mountain lake,
With frogs for their watch-dogs,
   All night awake.

High on the hill-top
   The old King sits;
He is now so old and grey
   He's nigh lost his wits.
With a bridge of white mist
   Columbkill he crosses,
On his stately journeys
   From Slieveleague to Rosses;
Or going up with music
   On cold starry nights,
To sup with the Queen
   Of the gay Northern Lights.

They stole little Bridget
   For seven years long;
When she came down again
   Her friends were all gone.
They took her lightly back,
   Between the night and morrow,
They thought that she was fast asleep,
   But she was dead with sorrow.
They have kept her ever since
   Deep within the lake,
On a bed of flag-leaves,
   Watching till she wake.

By the craggy hill-side,
   Through the mosses bare,
They have planted thorn-trees
   For pleasure here and there. {5}
Is any man so daring
   As dig them up in spite,
He shall find their sharpest thorns
   In his bed at night.

Up the airy mountain,
   Down the rushy glen,
We daren't go a-hunting
   For fear of little men;
Wee folk, good folk,
   Trooping all together;
Green jacket, red cap,
   And white owl's feather!


Frank Martin and the Fairies
William Carleton

Martin was a thin, pale man, when I saw him, of a sickly look, and a constitution naturally feeble. His hair was a light auburn, his beard mostly unshaven, and his hands of a singular delicacy and whiteness, owing, I dare say, as much to the soft and easy nature of his employment as to his infirm health. In everything else he was as sensible, sober, and rational as any other man; but on the topic of fairies, the man’s mania was peculiarly strong and immovable. Indeed, I remember that the expression of his eyes was singularly wild and hollow, and his long narrow temples sallow and emaciated.
 Now, this man did not lead an unhappy life, nor did the malady he laboured under seem to be productive of either pain or terror to him, although one might be apt to imagine otherwise. On the contrary, he and the fairies maintained the most friendly intimacy, and their dialogues — which I {6} fear were woefully one-sided ones-must have been a source of great pleasure to him, for they were conducted with much mirth and laughter, on his part at least.
 “Well, Frank, when did you see the fairies?”
 “Whist! there’s two dozen of them in the shop (the weaving shop) this minute. There’s a little ould fellow sittin’ on the top of the sleys, an’ all to be rocked while I’m weavin’. The sorrow’s in them, but they’re the greatest little skamers alive, so they are. See, there’s another of them at my dressin’ noggin. [3] Go out o’ that, you shingawn; or, bad cess to me, if you don’t, but I’ll lave you a mark. Ha! cut, you thief you!”
 “Frank, am’t you afeard o’ them?”
 “Is it me! Arra, what ud’ I be afeard o’ them for? Sure they have no power over me.”
 “And why haven’t they, Frank?”
 “Because I was baptised against them.”
 “What do you mean by that?”
 “Why, the priest that christened me was tould by my father, to put in the proper prayer against the fairies — an’ a priest can’t refuse it when he’s asked — an’ he did so. Begorra, it’s well for me that he did — (let the tallow alone, you little glutton — see, theres a weeny thief o’ them aitin’ my tallow) — becaise, you see, it was their intention to make me king o’ the fairies.”
 “Is it possible?”
 “Devil a lie in it. Sure you may ax them, an’ they’ll tell you.”
 “What size are they, Frank?”
 “Oh, little wee fellows, with green coats, an’ the purtiest little shoes ever you seen. There’s two of them — both ould acquaintances o’ mine — runnin’ along the yarn-beam. That ould fellow with the bob-wig is called Jim jam, an’ the other chap, with the three-cocked hat, is called Nickey Nick. Nickey plays the pipes. Nickey, give us a tune, or I’ll {7} malivogue you — come now, “Lough Erne Shore”. Whist, now — listen!”
 The poor fellow, though weaving as fast as he could all the time, yet bestowed every possible mark of attention to the music, and seemed to enjoy it as much as if it had been real.
 But who can tell whether that which we look upon as a privation may not after all be a fountain of increased happiness, greater, perhaps, than any which we ourselves enjoy? I forget who the poet is who says —

   “Mysterious are thy laws;
The vision’s finer than the view;
Her landscape Nature never drew
   So fair as Fancy draws.”

 Many a time, when a mere child, not more than six or seven years of age, have I gone as far as Frank’s weaving-shop, in order, with a heart divided between curiosity and fear, to listen to his conversation with the good people. From morning till night his tongue was going almost as incessantly as his shuttle; and it was well known that at night, whenever he awoke out of his sleep, the first thing he did was to put out his hand, and push them, as it were, off his bed.
 “Go out o’ this, you thieves, you — go out o’ this now, an’ let me alone. Nickey, is this any time to be playing the pipes, and me wants to sleep? Go off, now — troth if yez do, you’ll see what I’ll give yez tomorrow. Sure I’ll be makin’ new dressin’s; and if yez behave decently, maybe I’ll lave yez the scrapin’ o’ the pot. There now. Och! poor things, they’re dacent crathurs. Sure they’re all gone, barrin’ poor Red-cap, that doesn’t like to lave me.” And then the harmless monomaniac would fall back into what we trust was an innocent slumber.
 About this time there was said to have occurred a very remarkable circumstance, which gave poor Frank a vast deal of importance among the neighbours. A man named Frank Thomas, the same in whose house Mickey M’Rorey held the first dance at which I ever saw him, as detailed in {8} a former sketch; this man, I say, had a child sick, but of what complaint I cannot now remember, nor is it of any importance. One of the gables of Thomas’s house was built against, or rather into, a Forth or Rath, called Towny, or properly Tonagh Forth. It was said to be haunted by the fairies, and what gave it a character peculiarly wild in my eyes was, that there were on the southern side of it two or three little green mounds, which were said to be the graves of unchristened children, over which it was considered dangerous and unlucky to pass. At all events, the season was mid-summer; and one evening about dusk, during the illness of the child, the noise of a hand-saw was heard upon the Forth. This was considered rather strange, and, after a little time, a few of those who were assembled at Frank Thomas’s went to see who it could be that was sawing in such a place, or what they could be sawing at so late an hour, for every one knew that nobody in the whole country about them would dare to cut down the few white-thorns that grew upon the Forth. On going to examine, however, judge of their surprise, when, after surrounding and searching the whole place, they could discover no trace of either saw or sawyer. In fact, with the exception of themselves, there was no one, either natural or supernatural, visible. They then returned to the house, and had scarcely sat down, when it was heard again within ten yards of them. Another examination of the premises took place, but with equal success. Now, however, while standing on the Forth, they heard the sawing in a little hollow, about a hundred and fifty yards below them, which was completely exposed to their view. but they could see nobody. A party of them immediately went down to ascertain, if possible, what this singular noise and invisible labour could mean; but on arriving at the spot, they heard the sawing, to which were now added hammering, and the driving of nails upon the Forth above, whilst those who stood on the Forth continued to hear it in the hollow. On comparing notes, they resolved to send down to Billy Nelson’s for Frank Martin a distance of only {9} about eighty or ninety yards. He was soon on the spot, and without a moment’s hesitation solved the enigma.
 “’Tis the fairies,” said he. ’I see them, and busy crathurs they are.”
 “But what are they sawing, Frank?”
 “They are makin’ a child’s coffin,” he replied; “they have the body already made, an’ they’re now nailin’ the lid together.”
 That night the child died, and the story goes that on the second evening afterwards, the carpenter who was called upon to make the coffin brought a table out from Thomas’s house to the Forth, as a temporary bench; and, it is said, that the sawing and hammering necessary for the completion of his task were precisely the same which had been heard the evening but one before — neither more nor less. I remember the death of the child myself, and the making of its coffin, but I think the story of the supernatural carpenter was not heard in the village for some months after its interment.
 Frank had every appearance of a hypochondriac about him. At the time I saw him, he might be about thirty-four years of age, but I do not think, from the debility of his frame and infirm health, that he has been alive for several years. He was an object of considerable interest and curiosity, and often have I been present when he was pointed out to strangers as “the man that could see the good people”.



1. He lived some time in Dublin, and heard it then.
2. Phædrus, Jowett’s translation (Clarendon Press).
3. The dressings are a species of sizy flummery, which is brushed into the yarn to keep the thread round and even, and to prevent it from being frayed by the friction of the reed.

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