Emerald Isle

The Bean Feasa and the Swept Man

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

Being swept off your feet is not always a good thing

Michael O’Guggin from Cahir Cam was the only son of a small farmer in County Cork, and his family loved him well, so to keep him from getting on the boat to America with all of his friends, they signed over the farm to him and married him to a lovely girl at what we would consider a very young age these days,

And yet although he had grown up healthy and seemed to be in no ways lacking, shortly after that he became sickly and ill, swooning often and having a hard time carrying out his day’s work.

First them took him to the doctor, who prescribed some medicine, but it did little good. Then they took him to the priest, who prayed for his wellbeing, but alas, his prayers went unanswered even if they were heard,

At the last then, they took the young man to the wise woman, that famous Máire Ní Mhurchú who you may have heard of before, for she was famous in her ways and wisdom.

Well I’ll tell you, Máire took one look at poor Michael and knew he’d been swept, as they say. This meant his spirit was gone from him and taken somewhere else, and only a little mind left in his ailing body. Not too soon had they brought him either, for a body without a spirit is an unnatural thing and cannot long maintain its hold on this world!

There was but one cure and that was a particular herb that grew only in the graveyard of the next parish. In this parish was an ancient dolmen, a monument of the old people and people who were old when even they first tilled the black soil of Eriú.

Strange potencies yet lingered in the loam and only this plant had the holding of them

Yet it would be a dangerous expedition, for not only the wandering shades of pagan ancients might take notice of their pilfering, but those very good folk who had swept away Michael’s own spirit! So she instructed them to gather a half dozen strong men to accompany her and help deal with any difficulties that might arise.

That very night they set off, under the dark of the new moon, for at no other time were the mystical savours of this herb stronger, and Máire told the men to wait outside the graveyard gates before drawing an odd, curved bronze knife and passing within.

Not long after she emerged again, walking strangely, as though trying to affect a nonchalant stroll while moving as quickly as she could, her face as pale as snow in the gloom.

“Up,” she hissed through clenched teeth, “up and rise as though your souls depended on it!” and she nimbly climbed up on the horse behind Tadhg Caobach. Without further ado the company set off at a great pace, the hooves of their horses striking ruddy sparks from the cobbles where they crossed them.

“How much farther must we go?” shouted back Michael’s father “the horses cannot ride so all night long!”

“Get us to the stream at Glaise Na Naíonán,” she shouted back, almost slipping from the horse in her need to be heard, only saved by Tadhg’s strong arm, “only get us to the boundary waters and there will be nothing further to fear! If any man falls behind, shun him from this night!”

“What do we have to fear?” he shouted again in puzzlement, but she gave him no answer, and they raced until the reached the stream, where the horses stopped with no prompt from their riders, heaving and panting, knowing they were safe.

They made it back to Cahir Cam before the sun lifted itself above the horizon, and Máire asked to be alone with the young man for a while. When she emerged, she was holding his hand, and the colour had returned to his cheeks.

He said that Máire had been right and he had been swept from himself by a charm of the people from under the ill, and he had flown on an autumn wind across the land to their court next to Tráigh an Phéarla, Pearl Beach in English. For nigh on a full year he had been held captive amid those festive shadowy halls, meeting only one person he knew, an aunt of his that had passed away some time earlier.

As if in a fever dream he remembered she had told him to eat of no food and drink of no wine in this place, for is he did he would owe them a debt, and he would have to stay with them forever. The only food he ate were those few scraps that farmers left out for the fairy host as it flew across the countryside.

Among the host was a fine and beautiful looking red haired woman who was forever trying to get him to taste their food and take more notice of herself, even making delicious soups and meals to attract his attention. Well he heeded the words of his aunt though and refused, until one day the red haired woman lost all patience with him and gave him a slap that knocked his vision out!

He lived a short and sickly life after that, blind as a bat until the day he died.

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