CELTIC FAIRY TALES
CELTIC FAIRY TALES
_SELECTED AND EDITED BY_
Three times with your eyes shut_
Mothuighim boladh an Eireannaigh bhinn bhreugaigh faoi m'fhoidin
_And you will see
What you will see_
_TO ALFRED NUTT_
Last year in giving the young ones a volume of English Fairy Tales
my difficulty was one of collection. This time in offering them
specimens of the rich folk-fancy of the Celts of these islands my
trouble has rather been one of selection. Ireland began to collect
her folk-tales almost as early as any country in Europe and Croker
has found a whole school of successors in Carleton Griffin
Kennedy Curtin and Douglas Hyde. Scotland had the great name of
Campbell and has still efficient followers in MacDougall MacInnes
Carmichael Macleod and Campbell of Tiree. Gallant little Wales has
no name to rank alongside these; in this department the Cymru have
shown less vigour than the Gaedhel. Perhaps the Eisteddfod by
offering prizes for the collection of Welsh folk-tales may remove
this inferiority. Meanwhile Wales must be content to be somewhat
scantily represented among the Fairy Tales of the Celts while the
extinct Cornish tongue has only contributed one tale.
In making my selection I have chiefly tried to make the stories
characteristic. It would have been easy especially from Kennedy to
have made up a volume entirely filled with "Grimm's Goblins" _a la
Celtique_. But one can have too much even of that very good
thing and I have therefore avoided as far as possible the more
familiar "formulae" of folk-tale literature. To do this I had to
withdraw from the English-speaking Pale both in Scotland and
Ireland and I laid down the rule to include only tales that have
been taken down from Celtic peasants ignorant of English.
Having laid down the rule I immediately proceeded to break it. The
success of a fairy book I am convinced depends on the due
admixture of the comic and the romantic: Grimm and Asbjornsen knew
this secret and they alone. But the Celtic peasant who speaks
Gaelic takes the pleasure of telling tales somewhat sadly: so far as
he has been printed and translated I found him to my surprise
conspicuously lacking in humour. For the comic relief of this volume
I have therefore had to turn mainly to the Irish peasant of the
Pale; and what richer source could I draw from?
For the more romantic tales I have depended on the Gaelic and as I
know about as much of Gaelic as an Irish Nationalist M. P. I have
had to depend on translators. But I have felt myself more at liberty
than the translators themselves who have generally been over-
literal in changing excising or modifying the original. I have
even gone further. In order that the tales should be characteristically
Celtic I have paid more particular attention to tales that are to be
found on both sides of the North Channel.
In re-telling them I have had no scruple in interpolating now and
then a Scotch incident into an Irish variant of the same story or
_vice versa_. Where the translators appealed to English folklorists
and scholars I am trying to attract English children. They translated; I
endeavoured to transfer. In short I have tried to put myself into the
position of an _ollamh_ or _sheenachie_ familiar with both forms
of Gaelic and anxious to put his stories in the best way to attract
English children. I trust I shall be forgiven by Celtic scholars for the
changes I have had to make to effect this end.
The stories collected in this volume are longer and more detailed
than the English ones I brought together last Christmas. The
romantic ones are certainly more romantic and the comic ones
perhaps more comic though there may be room for a difference of
opinion on this latter point. This superiority of the Celtic folk-
tales is due as much to the conditions under which they have been
collected as to any innate superiority of the folk-imagination. The
folk-tale in England is in the last stages of exhaustion. The Celtic
folk-tales have been collected while the practice of story-telling
is still in full vigour though there are every signs that its term
of life is already numbered. The more the reason why they should be
collected and put on record while there is yet time. On the whole
the industry of the collectors of Celtic folk-lore is to be
commended as may be seen from the survey of it I have prefixed to
the Notes and References at the end of the volume. Among these I
would call attention to the study of the legend of Beth Gellert the
origin of which I believe I have settled.
While I have endeavoured to render the language of the tales simple
and free from bookish artifice I have not felt at liberty to retell
the tales in the English way. I have not scrupled to retain a Celtic
turn of speech and here and there a Celtic word which I have
_not_ explained within brackets--a practice to be abhorred of
all good men. A few words unknown to the reader only add
effectiveness and local colour to a narrative as Mr. Kipling well
One characteristic of the Celtic folk-lore I have endeavoured to
represent in my selection because it is nearly unique at the
present day in Europe. Nowhere else is there so large and consistent
a body of oral tradition about the national and mythical heroes as
amongst the Gaels. Only the _byline_ or hero-songs of Russia
equal in extent the amount of knowledge about the heroes of the past
that still exists among the Gaelic-speaking peasantry of Scotland
and Ireland. And the Irish tales and ballads have this peculiarity
that some of them have been extant and can be traced for well nigh
a thousand years. I have selected as a specimen of this class the
Story of Deirdre collected among the Scotch peasantry a few years
ago into which I have been able to insert a passage taken from an
Irish vellum of the twelfth century. I could have more than filled
this volume with similar oral traditions about Finn (the Fingal of
Macpherson's "Ossian"). But the story of Finn as told by the Gaelic
peasantry of to-day deserves a volume by itself while the
adventures of the Ultonian hero Cuchulain could easily fill
I have endeavoured to include in this volume the best and most
typical stories told by the chief masters of the Celtic folk-tale
Campbell Kennedy Hyde and Curtin and to these I have added the
best tales scattered elsewhere. By this means I hope I have put
together a volume containing both the best and the best known
folk-tales of the Celts. I have only been enabled to do this by the
courtesy of those who owned the copyright of these stories. Lady
Wilde has kindly granted me the use of her effective version of "The
Horned Women;" and I have specially to thank Messrs. Macmillan for
right to use Kennedy's "Legendary Fictions" and Messrs. Sampson Low
& Co. for the use of Mr. Curtin's Tales.
In making my selection and in all doubtful points of treatment I
have had resource to the wide knowledge of my friend Mr. Alfred Nutt
in all branches of Celtic folk-lore. If this volume does anything to
represent to English children the vision and colour the magic and
charm of the Celtic folk-imagination this is due in large measure
to the care with which Mr. Nutt has watched its inception and
progress. With him by my side I could venture into regions where the
non-Celt wanders at his own risk.
Lastly I have again to rejoice in the co-operation of my friend
Mr. J. D. Batten in giving form to the creations of the folk-fancy.
He has endeavoured in his illustrations to retain as much as
possible of Celtic ornamentation; for all details of Celtic
archaeology he has authority. Yet both he and I have striven to give
Celtic things as they appear to and attract the English mind
rather than attempt the hopeless task of representing them as they
are to Celts. The fate of the Celt in the British Empire bids fair
to resemble that of the Greeks among the Romans. "They went forth to
battle but they always fell" yet the captive Celt has enslaved his
captor in the realm of imagination. The present volume attempts to
begin the pleasant captivity from the earliest years. If it could
succeed in giving a common fund of imaginative wealth to the Celtic
and the Saxon children of these isles it might do more for a true
union of hearts than all your politics.
I. CONNLA AND THE FAIRY MAIDEN
III. THE FIELD OF BOLIAUNS
IV. THE HORNED WOMEN
V. CONAL YELLOWCLAW
VI. HUDDEN AND DUDDEN AND DONALD O'NEARY
VII. THE SHEPHERD OF MYDDVAI
VIII. THE SPRIGHTLY TAILOR
IX. THE STORY OF DEIRDRE
X. MUNACHAR AND MANACHAR
XI. GOLD-TREE AND SILVER-TREE
XII. KING O'TOOLE AND HIS GOOSE
XIII. THE WOOING OF OLWEN
XIV. JACK AND HIS COMRADES
XV. THE SHEE AN GANNON AND THE GRUAGACH GAIRE
XVI. THE STORY-TELLER AT FAULT
XVII. THE SEA-MAIDEN
XVIII. A LEGEND OF KNOCKMANY
XIX. FAIR BROWN AND TREMBLING
XX. JACK AND HIS MASTER
XXI. BETH GELLERT
XXII. THE TALE OF IVAN
XXIII. ANDREW COFFEY
XXIV. THE BATTLE OF THE BIRDS
XXV. BREWERY OF EGGSHELLS
XXVI. THE LAD WITH THE GOAT-SKIN
NOTES AND REFERENCES
CONNLA AND THE FAIRY MAIDEN
Connla of the Fiery Hair was son of Conn of the Hundred Fights. One
day as he stood by the side of his father on the height of Usna he
saw a maiden clad in strange attire coming towards him.
"Whence comest thou maiden?" said Connla.
"I come from the Plains of the Ever Living" she said "there where
there is neither death nor sin. There we keep holiday alway nor
need we help from any in our joy. And in all our pleasure we have no
strife. And because we have our homes in the round green hills men
call us the Hill Folk."
The king and all with him wondered much to hear a voice when they
saw no one. For save Connla alone none saw the Fairy Maiden.
"To whom art thou talking my son?" said Conn the king.
Then the maiden answered "Connla speaks to a young fair maid whom
neither death nor old age awaits. I love Connla and now I call him
away to the Plain of Pleasure Moy Mell where Boadag is king for
aye nor has there been complaint or sorrow in that land since he
has held the kingship. Oh come with me Connla of the Fiery Hair
ruddy as the dawn with thy tawny skin. A fairy crown awaits thee to
grace thy comely face and royal form. Come and never shall thy
comeliness fade nor thy youth till the last awful day of
The king in fear at what the maiden said which he heard though he
could not see her called aloud to his Druid Coran by name.
"Oh Coran of the many spells" he said "and of the cunning magic
I call upon thy aid. A task is upon me too great for all my skill
and wit greater than any laid upon me since I seized the kingship.
A maiden unseen has met us and by her power would take from me my
dear my comely son. If thou help not he will be taken from thy
king by woman's wiles and witchery."
Then Coran the Druid stood forth and chanted his spells towards the
spot where the maiden's voice had been heard. And none heard her
voice again nor could Connla see her longer. Only as she vanished
before the Druid's mighty spell she threw an apple to Connla.
For a whole month from that day Connla would take nothing either to
eat or to drink save only from that apple. But as he ate it grew
again and always kept whole. And all the while there grew within him
a mighty yearning and longing after the maiden he had seen.
But when the last day of the month of waiting came Connla stood by
the side of the king his father on the Plain of Arcomin and again
he saw the maiden come towards him and again she spoke to him.
"'Tis a glorious place forsooth that Connla holds among short-
lived mortals awaiting the day of death. But now the folk of life
the ever-living ones beg and bid thee come to Moy Mell the Plain
of Pleasure for they have learnt to know thee seeing thee in thy
home among thy dear ones."
When Conn the king heard the maiden's voice he called to his men
aloud and said:
"Summon swift my Druid Coran for I see she has again this day the
power of speech."
Then the maiden said: "Oh mighty Conn fighter of a hundred fights
the Druid's power is little loved; it has little honour in the
mighty land peopled with so many of the upright. When the Law will
come it will do away with the Druid's magic spells that come from
the lips of the false black demon."
Then Conn the king observed that since the maiden came Connla his
son spoke to none that spake to him. So Conn of the hundred fights
said to him "Is it to thy mind what the woman says my son?"
"'Tis hard upon me" then said Connla; "I love my own folk above all
things; but yet but yet a longing seizes me for the maiden."
When the maiden heard this she answered and said "The ocean is not
so strong as the waves of thy longing. Come with me in my curragh
the gleaming straight-gliding crystal canoe. Soon we can reach
Boadag's realm. I see the bright sun sink yet far as it is we can
reach it before dark. There is too another land worthy of thy
journey a land joyous to all that seek it. Only wives and maidens
dwell there. If thou wilt we can seek it and live there alone
together in joy."
When the maiden ceased to speak Connla of the Fiery Hair rushed
away from them and sprang into the curragh the gleaming straight-
gliding crystal canoe. And then they all king and court saw it
glide away over the bright sea towards the setting sun. Away and
away till eye could see it no longer and Connla and the Fairy
Maiden went their way on the sea and were no more seen nor did any
know where they came.
There was once a boy in the County Mayo; Guleesh was his name. There
was the finest rath a little way off from the gable of the house
and he was often in the habit of seating himself on the fine grass
bank that was running round it. One night he stood half leaning
against the gable of the house and looking up into the sky and
watching the beautiful white moon over his head. After he had been
standing that way for a couple of hours he said to himself: "My
bitter grief that I am not gone away out of this place altogether.
I'd sooner be any place in the world than here. Och it's well for
you white moon" says he "that's turning round turning round as
you please yourself and no man can put you back. I wish I was the
same as you."
Hardly was the word out of his mouth when he heard a great noise
coming like the sound of many people running together and talking
and laughing and making sport and the sound went by him like a
whirl of wind and he was listening to it going into the rath.
"Musha by my soul" says he "but ye're merry enough and I'll
What was in it but the fairy host though he did not know at first
that it was they who were in it but he followed them into the rath.
It's there he heard the _fulparnee_ and the _folpornee_ the
_rap-lay-hoota_ and the _roolya-boolya_ that they had there
and every man of them crying out as loud as he could: "My horse
and bridle and saddle! My horse and bridle and saddle!"
"By my hand" said Guleesh "my boy that's not bad. I'll imitate
ye" and he cried out as well as they: "My horse and bridle and
saddle! My horse and bridle and saddle!" And on the moment there
was a fine horse with a bridle of gold and a saddle of silver
standing before him. He leaped up on it and the moment he was on
its back he saw clearly that the rath was full of horses and of
little people going riding on them.
Said a man of them to him: "Are you coming with us to-night
"I am surely" said Guleesh.
"If you are come along" said the little man and out they went all
together riding like the wind faster than the fastest horse ever
you saw a-hunting and faster than the fox and the hounds at his
The cold winter's wind that was before them they overtook her and
the cold winter's wind that was behind them she did not overtake
them. And stop nor stay of that full race did they make none until
they came to the brink of the sea.
Then every one of them said: "Hie over cap! Hie over cap!" and that
moment they were up in the air and before Guleesh had time to
remember where he was they were down on dry land again and were
going like the wind.
At last they stood still and a man of them said to Guleesh:
"Guleesh do you know where you are now?"
"Not a know" says Guleesh.
"You're in France Guleesh" said he. "The daughter of the king of
France is to be married to-night the handsomest woman that the sun
ever saw and we must do our best to bring her with us; if we're
only able to carry her off; and you must come with us that we may be
able to put the young girl up behind you on the horse when we'll be
bringing her away for it's not lawful for us to put her sitting
behind ourselves. But you're flesh and blood and she can take a
good grip of you so that she won't fall off the horse. Are you
satisfied Guleesh and will you do what we're telling you?"
"Why shouldn't I be satisfied?" said Guleesh. "I'm satisfied
surely and anything that ye will tell me to do I'll do it without
They got off their horses there and a man of them said a word that
Guleesh did not understand and on the moment they were lifted up
and Guleesh found himself and his companions in the palace. There
was a great feast going on there and there was not a nobleman or a
gentleman in the kingdom but was gathered there dressed in silk and
satin and gold and silver and the night was as bright as the day
with all the lamps and candles that were lit and Guleesh had to
shut his two eyes at the brightness. When he opened them again and
looked from him he thought he never saw anything as fine as all he
saw there. There were a hundred tables spread out and their full of
meat and drink on each table of them flesh-meat and cakes and
sweetmeats and wine and ale and every drink that ever a man saw.
The musicians were at the two ends of the hall and they were
playing the sweetest music that ever a man's ear heard and there
were young women and fine youths in the middle of the hall dancing
and turning and going round so quickly and so lightly that it put
a _soorawn_ in Guleesh's head to be looking at them. There were
more there playing tricks and more making fun and laughing for
such a feast as there was that day had not been in France for twenty
years because the old king had no children alive but only the one
daughter and she was to be married to the son of another king that
night. Three days the feast was going on and the third night she
was to be married and that was the night that Guleesh and the
sheehogues came hoping if they could to carry off with them the
king's young daughter.
Guleesh and his companions were standing together at the head of the
hall where there was a fine altar dressed up and two bishops
behind it waiting to marry the girl as soon as the right time
should come. Now nobody could see the sheehogues for they said a
word as they came in that made them all invisible as if they had
not been in it at all.
"Tell me which of them is the king's daughter" said Guleesh when
he was becoming a little used to the noise and the light.
"Don't you see her there away from you?" said the little man that he
was talking to.
Guleesh looked where the little man was pointing with his finger
and there he saw the loveliest woman that was he thought upon the
ridge of the world. The rose and the lily were fighting together in
her face and one could not tell which of them got the victory. Her
arms and hands were like the lime her mouth as red as a strawberry
when it is ripe her foot was as small and as light as another one's
hand her form was smooth and slender and her hair was falling down