Emerald Isle

The Child-Thieves

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

Listen to the wisdom of the elderly

Once upon a time in County Kerry, there lived a wealthy farmer and his wife, blessed in every way with the exception of only one – they had no children. They put a brave face on it, but with every year passing they grew older and their hopes grew colder, although the ember never quite faded.

So you can imagine their delight when finally, at long last, the lady of the house conceived and grew large with child – too large, in fact, for it was not one child but two!

Words could hardly be shaped to describe their happiness. So long had they hoped and dreamed, and then to be blessed with twins! They held a celebration and invited all the neighbours, family and friends when the children were born, and paid no mind nor never heeded the frowns on the faces of the old women when everyone exclaimed how beautiful the children were.

“Whisht,” they muttered among themselves, puffing on pipes and looking about gimlet-eyed, “it is not wise to say such things in case the good folk from the hollow hills and bramblewood might hear and grow jealous! For they have no children of their own, and have not in many and many a long year…”

But the merry farmer simply poured them another generous tot of brandy to hush their grumbling and the dancing continued.

Well I am sorry to say – none sorrier – that not even a moon had waxed and waned before both of the children had passed from this life. Their illness was unknown and the doctors could do nothing. The prayers of the priests were to no avail. Their parents were distraught beyond measure at the seeming cruelty of a world that could grant their wish then steal it away, but they never once cursed God or Heaven.

Instead they held to one another and drew strength from their union to pass through their grief, which would never truly end, but became part of their lives, and on they went as people will walk through a blizzard – for it was better than lying down.

Even this dreadful event could not mute their joy when not long after, the farmer’s wife conceived again! They felt a fresh light begin to shine in their mending  hearts, and the farmer took all of the kindly wishes for the future he could take – as well as an iron charm given to him by one of the old ladies.

“Carry this along with you wherever you go,” she said, holding him by the shoulder so that he knew to take her seriously, “and a black-handled knife if you have one, but if not, this will do.” He did as she asked, for he saw no harm in it, although he didn’t mention it to his wife.

The time came at last and while the midwife was inside the house helping with the birth, the farmer decided he’d take a walk around the cool night air to calm his nerves. He was walking past one of his fields which happened to have a lios or fairy fort in it, when he overheard voices speaking in hushed tones.

“’Tis born. Go now as quick as you can!”

An old voice like rough stones answered

“I can’t go – it is too far!”

The first voice repeated,

“Go now – it is born. Go now!”

The farmer stood struck by an odd feeling, when he suddenly became very aware of the old iron charm in his pocket, and taken with inexplicable terror he turned and ran as fast as his legs could carry him back into the farmhouse.

The child had just been born and the midwife was taking him to be washed in a tub, when the farmer strode up and held the iron charm before the babe.

“Put that in your mouth!” he said grimly.

“I can’t swallow that!” the child replied in a hoarse and husky old voice.

“Eat it I said!” shouted the farmer and made to put it in the baby’s mouth, but before he could, it leapt from the arms of the woman and fled as fast as a bounding deer out the door and into the night.

Chaos and mayhem ensued, accusations and explanations, weeping and shouting, before all were silenced by a rapping at the farmhouse door. The farmer went to open it, and found outside a young woman carrying the farmer’s real newborn child in her arms, and bringing with her the two twins who were thought to have passed away!

In shock, the farmer sat with his wife, and bade the woman and children to sit as well. He looked at them closely and knew them for his own, and he tried to get them to eat something but they refused.

He got up from his seat and locked the door of the house, then he went to each child and made them drink a taste of milk, for he knew if they had living food they would never go back to the lios and the darkness that had tried to take them.

The young woman stayed on as a maid in the house, and the family prospered in happiness all the days of their lives!

Further Folk and Faerie Tales of Ireland

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