Emerald Isle

The Fairy Dance

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

Beware should you meet a handsome prince on a cold November in Ireland!

One evening in late November, which is the time of year when the spirits of Ireland have the most power, the prettiest girl in all the land was going to the ancient well for water. Then, as chance would have it, her foot turned on a loose stone, and she fell. It was bad luck, but when she got back to her feet, it seemed as though she was in a strange place, and all around her was changed as if by magic!

That which was dark seemed lined with light, and faint wisps of blue stars twinkled around her head. Away in the distance she spied a great crowd gathered about a blazing bonfire, dancing and making merry, but they seemed to wear odd clothes of an old fashion. She felt herself drawn slowly towards them, and they fell silent, looking at her as she walked among them.

Suddenly her sense of wonder turned to fear, and she tried to flee, but found she could not! Then a handsome youth, dressed as richly as a prince, with a golden band on his hair, came to her and asked her to dance.

“It is a foolish thing you ask,” she said, “to dance when there is no music!”

Then he lifted his hand and made a sign to the people, and the air was filled with the sweetest music she had ever heard! The young man took her hand and they danced until the moon and stars went down, and she felt as though she was flying through the air, knowing nothing except the enchantment of the melody and the arms of her handsome partner.

At last the music faded, and she was invited to dinner with the party. The ground opened up before them and there were wide, gracious steps leading down into the earth. The young man, who seemed not to be their king, led them downwards to a great hall, furnished with gold and silver and rich, old wood.

The mighty table in the centre of the hall was bowed with the finest food and wine, dripping meat and steaming soup, succulent fruit from every corner of the world reflecting the merry candle light. She was weary, hungry and thirsty after her dance, and the young man told her that she should eat, lifting a grape to her lips.

But someone who seemed to be beneath the table whispered -

“Eat no food and drink no wine, or you will never reach your home again!”

So she put down her cup and pushed away the grape, causing the watching and expectant audience to burst out in anger, shouting and roaring. A fierce looking dark man she hadn't seen before rose up and said -

“Whoever comes to us, must drink with us!”

Then he grabbed her by the arm and held the wine to her lips, but she kept them closed tight shut no matter how much she trembled. Suddenly a red haired man jumped up beside her and pressed a herb into her hand.

“Take this,” he said, “and hold it in your hand until you get back home. None of them can touch you while you hold the Athair Luss, which your people call ground ivy.”

So she took it and held it tight, then ran as fast as her tired legs could carry her, along down the dark road with the sound of a crowd chasing after her. At long last in terror she reached her own home and locked and barred the door behind her, but it rattled in its frame as if many thumps and kicks were being laid on it!

“The power we had over you is gone through that herb that ties you to this world, but just you wait – when you dance again to the music on the hill, we'll be waiting, and then then you will stay with us forever more!” cried out a voice in the night.

But she kept that magic branch safely and the fairies never again troubled her, but I'll tell you this – it was a long time before the echoes of that fairy music left her mind, and the memories of that cold November dance with her fairy lover.

Further Folk and Faerie Tales of Ireland

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