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In the Valley of the Boyne
[Note: This is taken from W.Y. Evans Wentz's The Fairy Faith in Celtic Countries.]
In walking along the River Boyne, from Slane to Knowth and New Grange, I stopped at the cottage of Owen Morgan, at Ross-na-Righ, or ‘the Wood of the Kings’, though the ancient wood has long since disappeared; and as we sat looking out over the sunlit beauty of Ireland’s classic river, and in full view of the first of the famous moats, this is what Owen Morgan told me : -
How the Shoemaker’s Daughter became the Queen of Tara.-
‘In olden times there lived a shoemaker and his wife up there near Moat Knowth, and their first child was taken by the queen of the fairies who lived inside the moat, and a little leprechaun left in its place. The same exchange was made when the second child was born. At the birth of the third child the fairy queen came again and ordered one of her three servants to take the child; but the child could not be moved because of a great beam of iron, too heavy to lift, which lay across the baby’s breast. The second servant and then the third failed like the first, and the queen herself could not move the child. The mother being short of pins had used a needle to fasten the child’s clothes, and that was what appeared to the fairies as a beam of iron, for there was virtue in steel in those days.
‘So the fairy queen decided to bestow gifts upon the child; and advised each of the three servants to give, in turn, a different gift. The first one said, “May she be the grandest lady in the world”; the second one said, “May she be the greatest singer in the world”; and the third one said, “May she be the best mantle-maker in the world.” Then the fairy queen said, “Your gifts are all very good, but I will give a gift of my own better than any of them: the first time she happens to go out of the house let her come back into it under the form of a rat.” The mother heard all that the fairy women said, and so she never permitted her daughter to leave the house.
‘When the girl reached the age of eighteen, it happened that the young prince of Tara, in riding by on a hunt, heard her singing, and so entranced was he with the music that he stopped to listen; and, the song ended, he entered the house, and upon seeing the wonderful beauty of the singer asked her to marry him. The mother said that could not be, and-taking the daughter out of the house for the first time brought her back into it in an apron under the form of a rat, that the prince might understand the refusal.
‘This enchantment, however, did not change the prince’s love for the beautiful singer; and be explained how there was a day mentioned with his father, the king, for all the great ladies of Ireland to assemble in the Halls of Tara, and that the grandest lady and the greatest singer and the best mantle-maker would be chosen as his wife. When he added that each lady must come in a chariot, the rat spoke to him and said that he must send to her home, on the day named, four piebald cats and a pack of cards, and that she would make her appearance, provided that at the time her chariot came to the Halls of Tara no one save the prince should be allowed near it; and, she finally said to the prince, “Until the day mentioned with your father, you must carry me as a rat in your pocket.”
‘But before the great day arrived, the rat had made everything known to one of the fairy women, and so when the four piebald cats and the pack of cards reached the girl’s home, the fairies at once turned the cats into the four most splendid horses in the world, and the pack of cards into the most wonderful chariot in the world; and, as the chariot was setting out from the Moat for Tara, the fairy queen clapped her hands and laughed, and the enchantment over the girl was broken, so that she became, as before, the prettiest lady in the world, and she sitting in the chariot.
‘When the prince saw the wonderful chariot coming, he knew whose it was, and went out alone to meet it; but he could not believe his eyes on seeing the lady inside. And then she told him about the witches and fairies, and explained everything.
‘Hundreds of ladies had come to the Halls of Tara from all Ireland, and every one as grand as could be. The contest began with the singing, and ended with the mantle-making, and the young girl was the last to appear; but to the amazement of all the company the king had to give in (admit) that the strange woman was the grandest lady, the greatest singer, and the best mantle-maker in Ireland; and when the old king died she became the Queen of Tara..’
After this ancient legend, which Owen Morgan heard from the old folks when he was a boy, he told me many anecdotes about the ‘good people’ of the Boyne, who are little men usually dressed in red.
The ‘Good People’ at New Grange.-Between
Knowth and, New Grange I met Maggie Tinunons carrying a pail of butter-milk to her calves; and when we stopped on the road to talk, I asked her, in due time, if any of the ‘good people’ ever appeared in the region, or about New Grange, which we could see in the field, and she replied, in reference to New Grange :-‘ I am sure the neighbours used to see the good people come. out of it at night and in the morning. The good people inherited the fort.’
Then I asked her what the ‘good people’ are, and she said :-‘ When they disappear they go like fog; they must be something like spirits, or how could they disappear in that way? I knew of people,’ she added, ‘who would milk in the fields about here and spill milk on the ground for the good people; and pots of potatoes would be put out for the good people at night.’
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