Emerald Isle

A Bride for the Fairy

Irish and Celtic myths and legends, Irish folklore and Irish fairy tales tales of Ireland

A Bride for the Fairy, and only the best will do

James Mac Neill was as strapping a young fellow as you could hope to meet, and likely with it. Never did he walk away from a tussle or a drink, and never far from his hand was his shillelagh. He had no fears save the lacking of a pint, no cares except for who would pay for it, and not a thought in his head but how to have fun after it.

One cold and clear frosty night after Christmas, Jimmy – as his friends called him – was making his way home under a crisp, clear, silver full moon, and although the night was as fine as you could wish for, he felt himself pinched with the chill.

Gathering up his coat around his neck, he muttered to himself through lips gone numb, “I'd give a good lot for a taste of warm whiskey, I would, and I wish I had a measure of the best!”

“Never wish it twice Jimmy,” said a strange and wizened man out of the hedges, holding up a glass the same size as himself, filled with as fine a liquor as ever was kept for fancy guests.

“To your health, wee man!” toasted Jimmy, not a bit confounded by this sudden apparition, although he guessed it was one of the good people, and taking the glass he put it away with a single swallow.

“And to yours, Jimmy,” returned the odd fellow, “now put your hand in your pocket and pay me for it like a gentleman, and don't think to cheat me as you have others!”

“I will pay you, will I?” asked Jimmy, his head not a little spun with the fine drink, “maybe I should just take you and drop you in my pocket like a blackberry instead!”

“Jimmy!” roared the creature, now getting very angry, “for that you'll serve me seven years and a day, and that will cover your bill, so come on and lift your feet and follow!”

And so he did, although he didn't understand why he obeyed, he felt compelled to do so. After a long night of trooping over fields and tramping over ditches Jimmy was very sorry for his quick words, but as the sun was about to rise the wrinkled man said to him “Now don't forget, you meet me by the mound tonight, or it'll be the worse for you! If you're a good servant you may find me an indulgent master.”

As tired as he was Jimmy could get not a wink of sleep for thinking about what had happened. For all that, he was too frightened not to go to the mound that evening, for it's well known that the good people work terrible mischief on those who cross them, and off he went to the field of the mound when the time was right.

He had hardly arrived when out popped the odd man again!

“We're going on a long journey tonight, Jimmy,” he said, “so get ahold of my horses and saddle one for both of us while you're at it, as you may be tired after gallivanting around the country last night.”

Thinking this very considerate, Jimmy looked about him to find the stables, but could see none – only the field, the mound, an old blackthorn tree and a stretch of bog not far off. When he said as much to the wizened man, he was told to go fetch two of the strongest rushes he could from the bogside, and be quick about it.

“Well this old fellow's cracked,” said Jimmy to himself, but not aloud for his mouth had gotten him in enough trouble, but he did as he was bid and returned with two good stout rushes.

“Up we go, Jimmy!” said the dark old man, standing over the rush and lifting it up.

“Up we go where, your honour?” asked Jimmy, mystified. “Surely you're making a fool of me, trying to tell me that piece of rush is a horse?”

“Up, up! And shut up!” barked the fellow crankily, “there's no horse like it to be ridden in this world!”

Well Jimmy thought he looked the right amadan but was afraid for his life, so he carefully bestrode the rush and stood there feeling foolish. The twisted man cried out words in the old language, which mean “become great”, and presently Jimmy was astounded to feel the rush between his legs swell to become a fine horse, and off they galloped!

Jimmy who hadn't thought much about how he was sitting found himself back to front on the horse, but with the speed of it he'd no means to turn himself rightwise, so all he could do was hold on to the tail as they rode.

At length they reached their destination, and the horses stopped outside the gate of a fine house.

“Now Jimmy,” said the gnarled man, “do as I do and no more and no less, since you didn't know the front from the back of your horse remember that strong drink can make a man's head spin enough that he mistakes it for his feet!”

Then he said some strange words that Jimmy didn't recognise, but he mouthed them well enough anyway, and was astounded to find the house and gate grown to a great size! Vast they loomed over him, like mighty wooden cliffs, and Jimmy let out a yelp of surprise, only to find his voice no louder than a field mouse.

And then it dawned on him that he himself was no larger in size either, and it wasn't the house that had grown, but himself that had shrunk!

Up they clambered and in through one key hole after another, pausing only to gesture at the cat, which hissed and fled the unnatural couple, until they reached the wine cellar which was well stocked with vintages only quality had tasted before this night.

Well the crooked man settled down for a night's hard drinking, and Jimmy liked his duties well enough to join him! The pair of them got rollicking drunk and managed after some effort to make their way back to their horses as morning drew near.

Night after night they pilfered cellars the length and breadth of the country, sometimes north, sometimes east, sometimes south and sometimes west, until they knew the stock of every pub and fine house better than the landlord or the butler!

Then one night as they came to the turning of the year, near Samhain, the stooped man told Jimmy to get three rushes this time, for they'd be bringing back more company than they'd take.

So Jimmy, who now knew better than to question any order given to him by his master, brought a third rush, much wondering who it might be that would travel back in their company, and whether he was about to have a fellow-servant. “If I have,“ thought Jimmy, “he shall go and fetch the horses from the bog every night, for I don't see why I am not, every inch of me, as good a gentleman as my master.”

Well, away they went, Jimmy leading the third horse, and never stopped until they came to a snug farmer's house in the county Limerick, close under the old castle of Carrigogunnel, that was built, they say, by the great Brian Boru. Within the house there was great carousing going forward, and the strange man stopped outside for some time to listen; then turning round all of a sudden, said, “Jimmy, I will be a thousand years old tomorrow!”

“God bless us, sir,”said Jimmy, “will you!”

“Don't say these words again, Jimmy,” said the he, “or you will be my ruin forever. Now, as I will be a thousand years in the world tomorrow, I think it is time for me to get married.”

“I think so too, without any kind of doubt at all,” said Jimmy, “tis a bit late in the day to be playing the field!”

Giving him a dark look the wrinkled man continued, “And to that purpose have I come all the way to Carrigogunnel - for in this house, this very night, is young Darby Riley going to be married to Bridget Rooney. As she is a tall and comely girl, and has come of decent people, I'm thinking of marrying her myself, and taking her off with me.”

“And what will Darby Riley say to that?” said Jimmy.

“Hold your whist,” said the crooked man with a thunderous glower “I did not bring you here with me to ask questions,” and without further argument, he began saying those strange words which had the power of passing him through the keyhole as free as air, and which Jimmy thought himself mighty clever to be able to say after him.

In they both went, and to better view the company, the strange man perched himself up as nimbly as a cocksparrow upon one of the big beams which went across the house over all their heads, and Jimmy did the same upon another facing him.

But he was not much accustomed to roosting in such a place, so his legs hung down as untidy as may be, and it was clear he had not mastered the manner in which the fairy man had bundled himself up together. If he had been a tailor all his life, he could not have sat more contentedly upon his haunches.

There they were, both fairy and man, looking down upon the fun that was taking place, and under them were the priest and piper, and the father of Darby Riley, with Darby's two brothers and his uncle's son, and many others.

Mrs. Rooney had helped his reverence to the first cut of the pig's head which was placed before her, beautifully decorated with white ribbons, and the bride gave a sneeze which made everyone at table jump - but not a soul said “God bless you.”

All thought that the priest would have done so, as he should have, but no one wished to take the words out of his mouth, which unfortunately was preoccupied with pig's head and greens. And after a moment's pause, the fun and merriment of the bridal feast went on without a pious benediction.

 “Ha!” exclaimed the bent man, throwing one leg from under him with a joyous flourish, and his eye twinkled with a strange light, whilst his eyebrows raised to the curves of church arches. “Ha!” said he again, leering down at the bride, and then up at Jimmy.

“I have half of her now, surely. Let her sneeze but twice more, and she is mine, in spite of priest, mass-book and Darby Riley.”

Again the fair Bridget sneezed, but it was so gently, and she blushed so much, that few except the wizened man took, or seemed to take, any notice - and no one thought of saying “God bless you.”

Jimmy regarded the poor girl with a rueful expression on his face, for he couldn't help thinking what a terrible thing it was for a nice young girl of nineteen, with beautiful blue eyes, milky skin and dimpled cheeks, suffused with health and joy, to be obliged to marry an ugly twisted strap of a man who was a thousand years old, barring a day.

At this moment the bride gave a third sneeze, and Jimmy roared out with all his might, “God bless you!”

Whether he meant to let a roar or just gave a shout out of habit even he couldn't tell you, but no sooner was it uttered than the strange man, his face glowing with rage and disappointment, sprang from the beam on which he had perched himself.

Shrieking out in the shrill voice of a cracked bagpipe, “I discharge you from my service, Jimmy Mac Neill, and take that for your wages,” giving poor Jimmy a lively boot in the rear which sent the unfortunate man sprawling on his face and hands right in the middle of the supper table.

If Jimmy was astonished, how much more so was every one of the company into which he was thrown with so little ceremony, but when they heard his story, Father Cooney laid down his knife and fork, and married the young couple on the spot with all speed.

Jimmy Mac Daniel danced the rinca at their wedding, and plenty did he drink at it too, which was to him the best part of the evening. The house where it happened is marked near on the map below.

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