Friday, February 19, 2010

Sláinte mhaith! (Good health)

Slemish Mountain, County Antrim, Ireland
Slemish Mountain, the first known Irish home of St. Patrick is in Co. Antrim. The mountain rises about 1500 feet (437 metres) above the surrounding plain, and it is actually the central core of an extinct volcano.

I grew up with a large, extended Irish family and we are very proud of our heritage. My grandparents came over from County Mayo in the early part of the 20th century so it makes good sense that one of my favorite days of the year is St. Patrick's Day. Today, I offer you some stories from the Emerald Isle, along with a few other items to help you celebrate along with me!

* If you would like to read a little bit more about my Irish family you can click over to a blog post I wrote in 2008, A Step Back In Time.

The Fairy Dance

One evening late in November, which is the month when spirits have most power over all things, as the prettiest girl in all the island was going to the well for water, her foot slipped and she fell, it was an unlucky omen, and when she got up and looked round it seemed to her as if she were in a strange place, and all around her was changed as if by enchantment. But at some distance she saw a great crowd gathered round a blazing fire, and she was drawn slowly on towards them, till at last she stood in the very midst of the people; but they kept silence, looking fixedly at her; and she was afraid, and tried to turn and leave them, but she could not. Then a beautiful youth, like a prince, with a red sash, and a golden band on his long yellow hair, came up and asked her to dance.

"It is a foolish thing of you, sir, to ask me to dance," she said, "when there is no music."

Take the Fair Face of Woman, and Gently Suspending, With Butterflies,  
Flowers, and Jewels Attending by Sophie Anderson

Then he lifted his hand and made a sign to the people, and instantly the sweetest music sounded near her and around her, and the young man took her hand, and they danced and danced till the moon and the stars went down, but she seemed like one floating on the air, and she forgot everything in the world except the dancing, and the sweet low music, and her beautiful partner.

At last the dancing ceased, and her partner thanked her, and invited her to supper with the company. Then she saw an opening in the ground, and a flight of steps, and the young man, who seemed to be the king amongst them all, led her down, followed by the whole company. At the end of the stairs they came upon a large hall, all bright and beautiful with gold and silver and lights; and the table was covered with everything good to eat, and wine was poured out in golden cups for them to drink. When she sat down they all pressed her to eat the food and to drink the wine; and as she was weary after the dancing, she took the golden cup the prince handed to her, and raised it to her lips to drink. Just then, a man passed close to her, and whispered--

"Eat no food, and drink no wine, or you will never reach your home again."

So she laid down the cup, and refused to drink. On this they were angry, and a great noise arose, and a fierce, dark man stood up, and said--

"Whoever comes to us must drink with us."

And he seized her arm, and held the wine to her lips, so that she almost died of fright. But at that moment a red-haired man came up, and he took her by the hand and led her out.

"You are safe for this time," he said. "Take this herb, and hold it in your hand till you reach home, and no one can harm you." And he gave her a branch of a plant called the Athair-Luss (the ground ivy).

This she took, and fled away along the sward in the dark night; but all the time she heard footsteps behind her in pursuit. At last she reached home and barred the door, and went to bed, when a great clamour arose outside, and voices were heard crying to her--

"The power we had over you is gone through the magic of the herb; but wait--when you dance again to the music on the hill, you will stay with us for evermore, and none shall hinder."

However, she kept the magic branch safely, and the fairies never troubled her more; but it was long and long before the sound of the fairy music left her ears which she had danced to that November night on the hillside with her fairy lover.

Fairy Justice - A Legend of Shak Island

The "Red-haired Man," although he is considered very unlucky in actual life, yet generally acts in the fairy world as the benevolent Deus ex machina, that saves and helps and rescues the unhappy mortal, who himself is quite helpless under the fairy spells.

There was a man in Shark Island who used to cross over to Boffin [a] to buy tobacco, but when the weather was too rough for the boat his ill-temper was as bad as the weather, and he used to beat his wife, and fling all the things about, so that no one could stand before him. One day a man came to him.

"What will you give me if I go over to Boffin," said he, "and bring you the tobacco?"

"I will give you nothing," said the other. "Whatever way you go I can go also."

"Then come with me to the shore," said the first man, "and I'll show you how to get across; but as only one can go, you must go alone..."
For the rest of the story click here.

The Fairy Child
A ancient woman living at Innis-Sark said that in her youth she knew a young woman who had been married for five years, but had no children. And her husband was a rough, rude fellow, and used to taunt her and beat her often, because she was childless. But in the course of the it came to pass that a man-child was born to her; and he was beautiful to look on as an angel from heaven. And the father was so proud of the child that he often stayed at home to rock the cradle, and help his wife at the work.

One day, however, as he rocked the cradle, the child looked up suddenly at him, and lo! there was a great beard on its face. Then the father cried out to his wife--"This is not a child, but a demon! You have put an evil spell on him."

And he struck her and beat her worse than ever he had done in his life before, so that she screamed aloud for help. On this the place grew quite dark, and thunder rolled over their heads, and the door flew wide open with a great crash, and in walked two strange women, with red caps on their heads and stout sticks in their hands. And they rushed at the man, and one held his arms while the other beat him till he was nearly dead.

"We are the avengers," they said; "look on us and tremble for if you ever beat your wife again, we will come and kill you. Kneel down now, and ask her pardon."

And when the poor wretch did so, all trembling with fright, they vanished away.

"Now," said the man, when they were gone, "this house is no fit place for me. I'll leave it for ever."

So he went his way, and troubled his wife no more.
Then the child sat up in the cradle.

"Now, mother," says he, "since that man has gone, I'll tell you what you are to do. There is a holy well near this that you have never seen, but you will know it by the bunch of green rushes that grows over the mouth. Go there and stoop down and cry out aloud three times, and an old woman will come up, and whatever you want she will give it to you. Only tell no one of the well or of the woman, or evil will come of it..."
For the rest of the story click here.

Paddy the Piper

The only introduction I shall attempt to the following "extravaganza" is to request the reader to suppose it to be delivered by a frolicking Irish peasant In the richest brogue and most dramatic manner.

"I'll tell you, sir, a mighty quare story, and it's as thrue as I'm standin' here, and that's no lie.

"It was in the time of the 'ruction, whin the long summer days, like many a fine fellow's precious life, was out short by raison of the martial law, that wouldn't let a dacent boy be out in the evenin', good or bad; for whin the day's work was over, divil a one of us dar go to meet a frind over a glass, or a girl at the dance, but must go home and shut ourselves up, and never budge, nor rise latch; nor dhraw boult, antil the morning kem agin.

"Well, to come to my story. 'Twas afther night-fall, and we wor sittin' round the fire, and the praties wor boilin', and the noggins of butthermilk was standin' ready for our suppers, whin a knock kem to the door.

"'Whisht!' says my father. 'Here's the sojers come upon us now,' says he. 'Bad luck to thim, the villians! I'm afeared they seen a glimmer of the fire through the crack in the door,' says he.

"'No,' says my mother, 'for I'm afther hangin' an ould sack and my new petticoat agin it a while ago.'

"'Well, whisht, anyhow,' says my father, 'for there's a knock agin,' and we all held our tongues till another thump kem to the door.

"'Oh, it's a folly to purtind any more,' says my father; 'they're too cute to be put off that-a-way,' says he. 'Go, Shamus,' says he to me, 'and see who's in it.'

"'How can I see who's in it in the dark?' says I.

"Well,' says he, 'light the candle, thin, and see who's in it, but don't open the door, for your life, barrin' they brake it in,' says he, 'exceptin' to the sojers, and spake thim fair, if it's thim.'

"So with that I wint to the door, and there was another knock....
For the rest of the tale click here.

The Stolen Bride

About the year 1670 there was a fine young fellow living at a place called Querin, in the County Clare. He was brave and strong and rich, for he had his own land and his own house, and not one to lord it over him. He was called the Kern of Querin. And many a time he would go out alone to shoot the wild fowl at night along the lonely strand and sometimes cross over northward to the broad east strand, about two miles away, to find the wild geese.

One cold frosty November Eve He was watching for them, crouched down behind the ruins of an old hut, when a loud splashing noise attracted his attention. "It is the wild geese," he thought, and raising his gun, waited in death-like silence the approach of his victim.

But presently he saw a dark mass moving along the edge of the strand. And he knew there were no wild geese near him. So he watched and waited till the black mass came closer, and then he distinctly perceived four stout men carrying a bier on their shoulders, on which lay a corpse covered with a white cloth. For a few moments they laid it down, apparently to rest themselves, and the Kern instantly fired; on which the four men ran away shrieking, and the corpse was left alone on the bier. Kern of Querin immediately sprang to the place, and lifting the cloth from the face of the corpse, beheld by the freezing starlight, the form of a beautiful young girl, apparently not dead but in a deep sleep...
For the rest of the story click here.

The Leprechaun of Ardmore Tower
The Leprechaun--that flash from elf-land--was perched comfortably upon the west window ledge, high up in Ardmore Tower. Dawn was just beginning to send misty, gray lights over the rolling land. Winds that have blown since the world began were blowing around the old Irish tower. It was the south wind, this morning, that was blowing the strongest--the wind from the good sea that washed the coast of Ardmore and the high-lands of Ireland. The strong, stone tower, tapering skyward, stood, as it stands today, like a silent sentinel on the "hill of the sheep"--the "great hill." Below its conical top, two windows, east and west, looked out, and it's on the ledge of the west one--mind you--that the Leprechaun was sitting. He had been sitting there since sundown. An iron bar, inside the tower, goes from the top of the west window to the top of the east window, and once, no one knows how long ago, seven small bells hung from this bar under the pinnacle. They are gone now, but in the old days they used to ring often.

"That's so," said the Leprechaun. He was always saying "That's so," to agree with himself or other people--himself oftenest.

This little elf, in red jacket and green breeches who spends most of his days and some of his nights making shoes for the fairy folk, has been working the past night on a pair of riding boots for the fairy prince who wants the boots by sunrise. Tap, tap, tap--goes the Leprechaun's tiny hammer. Whish, whish, go his swift fingers. Hum, hum-m-m-m-, goes his little singing tune, for the Leprechaun could no more work without singing than you could sleep without shutting your eyes.

"That's so!" said the Leprechaun.

He is only six inches high, and harder to catch than a will-o'-the-wisp. If one could ever succeed in catching him, and then could keep looking at him, he might tell--though not a bit willingly--where a wonderful crock of gold is. But do you think you could keep looking at him and at him alone? Why, just as you think you are looking at nothing else, he, somehow, makes you look away from him, and, ochone, he is gone! He's that clever.

"That's so!" said the Leprechaun.

Many an enchantment the Leprechaun can perform, for all he appears so simple as he pegs away at the riding boots. Yes, himself it is that can blight the corn or snip off hair most unexpectedly. When he sits, crosslegged at his work, whether on a cornice of a roof or on a twig of the low bushes, it's just as well not to let him know you are watching him. The Irish fairy folk are all like that, and draw magic out of earth and sea and sky, or else draw it out of nothing at all.

"Do you hear that?" said the Leprechaun...
For the rest of the story click here.

Now pour yourself a Guinness or  hot toddy, sit back and enjoy these books from long ago.

The Ballad Poetry of Ireland by Charles Gavan Duffy, 1846

The Traditional Games of England, Scotland and Ireland by Alice Bertha Gomme 1898

For the Children

A bibliography of Irish Folk and Fairytales from The Center for Children's books.

Short, printable Irish stories for the children.

Hiding Leprechaun Craft – Cute, fun and easy.

I leave with you a Celtic blessing. Happy St. Patrick's Day my friends. Sáinte mhaith! (good health)

May the light of your soul guide you.
May the light of your soul bless the work that you do
with the secret love and warmth of your heart.

May you see in what you do the beauty of your own soul.
May the sacredness of your work bring healing, light
and renewal to those who work with you
and to those who see and receive your work.

May your work never weary you.
May it release within you wellsprings of
refreshment, inspiration and excitement.
May you be present in what you do.

May you never become lost in bland absences.
May the day never burden.
May dawn find you awake and alert,
approaching your new day with dreams, possibilities and promises.

May evening find you gracious and fulfilled.
May you go into the night blessed, sheltered and protected.
May your soul calm, console and renew you.

Karen Chace 2010 ©

This blog post was researched and compiled by Karen Chace. Permission for private use is granted. Distribution, either electronically or on paper is prohibited without my expressed written permission. For permission please contact me at Of course, if you wish to link to my blog via your website, blog, newsletter, Facebook page or Twitter please feel free to do so; I greatly appreciate your support and personal integrity.