Emerald Isle

A Promise

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

The cost of breaking promises can be high

There was a prince in Ireland a long, long time ago, back when Ireland still had princes, and O'Donall was his name. A brave fellow he was, and powerful, but given to risk and heedless thrills in his hunting and leaping and running and swimming, all the better to impress his friends. He was lord of a wide land, and he wasn't hard on the poor folk – if they couldn't pay the rent he wouldn't take the bread from their mouths or the beasts from their fields.

In his pursuit of ever greater excitement, he walked down paths that few have tread, and even fewer had come back from! Strange trysts he held in moonlit groves and books that were old when the hills were young he read, and from them he learned the old Druid ways of turning himself into any shape or form he desired.

This was a great gift, but the one who taught it to him warned him sternly – beware should a woman screech while he was in any body but his own, or the dark old night from which he drew his strange faculties would claim him as his own!

And so for all his feckless and libertine ways he was very careful never to change his shape when there was a woman about, and he gave his friends great amusement with his antics. From east to west and north to south, people talked of the prince and his endless shapes.

Eventually his wife grew tired of hearing about these wonders from strangers and demanded he show them to her, so that she might see with her own two eyes. Day and night she gave him no peace, and in truth he was very fond of her, with her golden hair and sparkling green eyes, so he agreed that he'd give her a taste.

But first he warned her as sternly as he himself had been warned, not to open her mouth or say one word while he performed his feats, or it would be a day to rue. She in her turn promised to be silent, so he turned himself into a proud stag, and stepped about the halls to the cheers of the onlookers, putting one candle on each of his horns.

When he grew tired of that, he became the most beautiful and enormous fish that you ever saw, and as always, no one could understand how he changed himself. Then he had his men carry barrels of water to the very top of the castle, filling up the roof, and began swimming there. As he swam round and round, the castle began to creak with the strain of it, and seemed about to turn upside down and collapse. His lady was inside the castle when it started to spin and tilt, and got topsy-turvy from it. Losing the run of herself and forgetting all his commands, she screeched of fright!

Surely enough it was a sour screech for her husband, for without another word he took a leap into the lake and was never seen from that day to this. The castle where the shapechanging prince held his court can be seen on the map below!

Further Folk and Faerie Tales of Ireland

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