The Hunchback of Knockgrafton
Irish and Celtic myths and legends, Irish folklore and Irish fairy tales tales of Ireland
It pays to be kind in The Hunchback of Knockgrafton
The children of De Danann once ruled the island of Ireland, before they departed back to their own lands in the farthest west or went below the earth in their fairy mounds to dance and sing forevermore, but if you're lucky – or unlucky! – you might still come across them in the wild places and those deep forests yet untouched.
And so it was with the man called Lusmore, a poor hunchback who lived in the shadow of the Galtee mountains, in the green glen of Aherlow. He was called Lusmore as a kind of nickname you see, for that means foxglove in the old language and he'd always wear a sprig of it in his hat. It was a flower long known to be a favourite of the fairy folk and had little enough to do with foxes, for foxes don't have hands and so gloves aren't of much use to them. The fairies found a use for them though, and that was atop their heads as caps.
He was known around and about for his crafty ways with herbs and skilful weaving of straw and rushes, which was at the time a talent much more useful than it is today, good for making hats and baskets, even to telling stories in the design of them. Charms he could weave which would help the harvest, or fend off dark spirits on Samhain, or could be given to the ocean for good fishing.
It is well that you had to bend over for the weaving, for his back was so humped that he couldn't stand up straight! Not only that but it looked as though his body had been rolled up in a ball and stuck to his shoulders, and when he sat himself down his chin would almost touch his knees. As is always the way, people with too much time on their hands gossiped about him and rumoured he was up to no good, but in truth he was a kindly sort of fellow given to walking alone in the wilderness looking for herbs.
He was doing just that one evening as he strolled from Cahir to Cappagh, but he'd left it later than he should have and his pace was not quick, so he sat himself down for a rest by the mound of Knockgrafton after the sun had set. The mounds were known to be places of the fairy folk but Lusmore wasn't overly bothered by that, since he meant harm to nobody fair or otherwise.
As he stretched his weary bones the moon rose above him, and he fancied he heard unearthly music from somewhere – not here, not there, but below him! Pressing his ear to the ground with some discomfort, his mouth opened as beautiful, eldritch melodies rose and made the grasses shiver.
Many voices sang in perfect harmony, rising and falling and swaying and leaping, singing only two words, over and over:
Dé Luain, Dé Máirt
Dé Luain, Dé Máirt
Dé Luain, Dé Máirt
Which means, Monday, Tuesday. Again and again they sang these words, then stopped, and Lusmore was saddened for although the song itself was simple, the music it was sung to captivated his spirit. After a while though, he felt that he could perhaps add a little to it and help make it richer yet.
So when the voices sang
Dé Luain, Dé Máirt
Dé Luain, Dé Máirt
Dé Luain, Dé Máirt
He added “Agus Dé Céadaoin” along with the tune and beat of the music, which means Wednesday.
He thought to himself that this would be the perfect addition, since of course Wednesday follows Monday and Tuesday, but the music below suddenly stopped dead with the beat of a single drum.
While he held his breath in fright, suddenly aware of what he'd done, below him the fairies held a great conference among themselves, for this was something new to them. The song they'd sung was one of their ancient tunes, and had been the same since they'd first gone down into the mounds, but they quickly agreed that it was made all the better by Lusmore's contribution!
They decided to welcome this master musician into their midst, and reached up from the mound to take him down into their Otherworld. With that, Lusmore felt himself grabbed by many hands and spun around and around as though in a great wind, and into the dark earth as if it were no more than smoke.
The fair folk weren't one bit concerned about his appearance, and plied him with rich meads and rare delicacies, singing and dancing around him in circles, celebrating him as though he were one of their own maestros. As happy as he was with this, in contrast to the way his own people had treated him, he soon spotted nearby a large group of fairies talking urgently with one another near to where he sat.
As one, they spun and faced him, pointing their fingers, and as one they sang:
Doubt not, nor deplore,
For the hump which you bore
On your back is no more!
Look down on the floor,
And see it, Lusmore!
Astonished, Lusmore watched the great weight he'd borne since a child topple from his shoulders and fall to the ground. Incredibly, he felt himself stretch and stand tall and straight, and he wept with wonder to feel his head brush the roof of the fairy hall. For he was, without the hump, a fine and handsome man!
His head spun and presently he fell asleep among the fairies, awakening covered in dew outside the mound among the cattle and sheep having their breakfast. The morning sun shone down on him warmly and nearly he regretted awakening, so wonderful had been his dream the previous night.
Or had it been a dream? He reached behind himself to find – the hump was gone from him! He leapt to his feet and danced the first jig he'd ever danced, raising the praises of the fairy folk to the high skies above. And not alone had they taken his hump but given him a fine new set of clothes to boot, which was as well for his old ones no longer fit.
From that day forward nobody knew him until he said his name, and they laughed at his tale although they couldn't deny he was much changed.
He went back to his life, weaving rushes and selling herbs, happy as a man could be, when one morning a woman knocked at his door. She asked him could he direct her to Cappagh, and he said he could not, for she was already in Cappagh. Then she asked him for the way to the house of Lusmore, and he told her she was already there.
"I have come," said the woman, "out of Decie's country, in the county of Waterford looking after one Lusmore, who, I have heard tell, had his hump taken off by the fairies. For there is a son of a gossip of mine who has got a hump on him that will be his death, and maybe if he could use the same charm as Lusmore, the hump may be taken off him. And now I have told you the reason of my coming so far. 'Tis to find out about this charm, if I can."
Well Lusmore who hadn't a bad bone in him truth be told, shared his story with the woman, and she thanked him and bid him good day, happy and hopeful for the cure that was in it.
When she got back as far as Waterford she told the humpbacked man there everything she had heard, and he got up in a little cart and made his way with all haste to the mound of Knockgrafton. It was a bit of a journey but he didn't mind as long as he was cured.
Now this man's name was Jack Madden, and he was of a very different character to Lusmore, known to be peevish and and cunning, impatient and prone to bad habits, although I suppose much could be forgiven as his life had been so marked.
But I'll tell you this – the fairies aren't forgiving sorts!
When Jack Madden heard the music start to rise, he was moved not at all for his heart was as hard as stone, and he was impatient to be rid of his hump. So when the words were scarce sung, he bawled out straight away
“Agus Déardaoin, Agus Dé hAoine!”
Which means, “and Thursday, and Friday,” for in his low craftiness and greed he thought he'd get two nice suits instead of just the one as well as his hump removed, for adding two words.
Well the music stopped alright, and the fairy host emerged, screeching and bellowing, demanding to know who had spoiled their lovely song! In their wrath they found Jack Madden awaiting his prize, so they thought they'd give him what he was asking for, instead of what he'd asked for, if you follow my meaning.
Jack Madden! Jack Madden!
Your words came so crass in
the song we felt glad in
Your life we will sadden
Here's two humps for you, Jack Madden!
Two dozen of their strongest held him down while the others got Lusmore's hump, which had been stored for reasons best known to themselves, and roughly jammed it down on Jack Madden's shoulders, kicking him off the mound after.
When the others came to find him in the morning, expecting to see a straightened man with a new suit, instead they found a man half-dead with a hump almost the size of the mound! Back home they went, downcast and horrified, carrying him between them, and their gossip told of the dangers of trifling with fairy gifts from that day on.
The fairy mound can be found, if you've a mind to find it, on the map below.
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