Emerald Isle

The Brown Bear of Norway

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

Love can run a strange course

A king in Ireland asked his daughters whom they wanted to marry. The oldest wanted the king of Ulster, the second the king of Munster, and the youngest the Brown Bear of Norway. That night, the youngest princess woke to find herself in a grand hall, and a handsome prince on his knees before her, asking her to marry him.

They were married at once, and the prince explained that a witch had transformed him into a bear to get him to marry her daughter. Now that she had married him, he would be freed if she endured five years of trials.

They had three children in succession, but an eagle, a greyhound, and a lady took each one, and the princess, after losing the last child, told her husband that she wanted to visit her family. He told her that to return, she had only to wish it while lying down at night, and the next morning, she would wake in her old bed.

She told her family her tale, and while she did not want to lose any more children, she was certain it was not her husband's fault, and she missed him. A woman told her to burn his bear fur, and then he would have to be a man both night and day. She stopped drinking a drink he gave her before she went to bed, and woke up and burned his fur. The man woke and told her that now he had to marry a witch's daughter; it had been the witch who had given her that advice.

The princess chased after her husband, and just as the night fell, they both reached a little house. A little boy played before the hearth, and her husband told her that the boy was their son, and the woman whose house it was, was the eagle who had carried the boy away.

The woman made them welcome, and her husband gave her a pair of scissors, that would turn anything they cut into silk. He told her he would forget her during the day, but remember at night.

On the second night, they found a house with their daughter, and he gave her a comb that would make pearls and diamonds fall from her hair.

On the third night, they found a house with their third child, and he gave her a hand-reel with golden thread that had no end, and half their wedding ring.

He told her that once the prince entered the forest of forgetfulness the next day, he would forget her and the children utterly, unless she reached his home and put her half of the ring to his. The forest tried to keep her out, but she commanded it, by the gifts she bore, to let her in, and found a great house and a woodman's cottage nearby.

She went to the cottage and persuaded the woodman and his wife to take her as their servant, saying she would take no wages, but give them silk, diamonds, pearls, and golden thread whenever they wanted. She heard that a prince had come to live at the witch's dún, so that is where she went next.

The servants at the fortress annoyed her with their attentions. She invited the head steward, the most persistent, and asked him to pick her some honeysuckle. When he did, she used the gifts she bore to give him horns and make him sing all the way back to the great house.

His fellow servants laughed at him until she let the charm drop. The prince, having heard of this, went to look at her and was puzzled by the sight. The witch's daughter came and saw the scissors, and the princess would only exchange them for a night outside the prince's chamber. She awoke in the night and could not wake the prince, and the head steward ridiculed her as he put her out again. She tried again, with the comb, to no better success.

The third day, the prince did not merely look at her but stopped to ask if he could do anything for her, and she asked if he heard anything in the night. He said he had thought he heard singing in his dreams. She asked him if he had drunk anything before he slept, and when he said he had, she asked him to not drink it.

That night, bargained for with the reel, she sang, and the prince roused. The princess was able to put the half-rings together, and he regained his memory. The dún fell apart, and the witch and her daughter vanished. And with that, the prince and the princess soon regained their children and set out for their own dún.

Some say their dún was near to the spot marked on the map below.

Further Folk and Faerie Tales of Ireland

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