Emerald Isle

The Legend of Bottle Hill

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

Easy gotten is easy lost, and ill gotten may cost more than you think

Back in the olden days when fairies were more often seen than they are today, whether that was because there were more people in the countryside or there was more countryside, farmer Purcell rented a few acres in Mourne near Mallow in Cork, as his means allowed. Those means didn't allow much, sad to say, for his plot was poor and barren.

Like most people in those days, Mick, for Michael was his first name, had a family which kept growing bigger. Although blessed with good health their fortunes were not so favoured, and while every member of the family did what they could to contribute, that was little enough.

Still they got on well enough until a particularly bad year when the oats were spoiled and the chickens died of the pip, and the pig got measles and could be sold for very little at the market.

Mick looked at his wife sorrowfully and announced he'd have to bring the cow to market next and sell it if they were to have any hope at all of making the rent this year, and heavy storms due on top of everything else. They wept together for they knew that their luck had run out, and it wasn't likely to be the way it had been.

So Molly, that is Mick's wife, put a needle and thread through his coat, for it was ripped under the arm, and told him not to sell the cow unless it was for the shiniest penny. He took the cow and made his way slowly towards the town, and he glanced towards the low mounds of the sidhe hills as he went.

“Oh, then, if I only had half of the money that's buried in you, 'tisn't driving this poor cow I'd be now! Why, then, isn't it too bad that it should be there covered over with earth, and many a one besides me wanting? Well, if it's God's will, I'll have some money myself coming back.”

He went onwards, past the sun-painted abbey and over some mountains until he came to the place which is known today as Bottle Hill, and he had no sooner set foot on it than a man overtook him.

They exchanged greetings but Mick's eyes lingered, for the stranger was a little man, you'd almost call him a dwarf, only he wasn't quite so little neither. He had an old wrinkled, yellow face, for all the world like a dried cauliflower, only he had a sharp little nose, and red eyes, and white hair, and his lips were not red, but all his face was one colour, and his eyes never were quiet, but looking at everything, and although they were red they made Mick feel quite cold when he looked at them.

And another thing that made Mick uneasy, he couldn't see one bit of the little man's legs or body since he was wrapped up in a greatcoat. Mick increased his pace but the fellow kept up with him, although exactly how he walked was a mystery –  his fellow traveller did not seem to walk like other men, nor to put one foot before the other, but to glide over the rough road like a shadow, without noise and without effort.

Mick's fear rose in his heart and he was afraid to look at the man, or cross himself, so he said a little prayer and wished he hadn't come out that day, or that he was on another hill, or that he didn't have to watch the cow so that he could run away from the bad thing beside him, when suddenly the man spoke to him!

“Where are you headed with that cow, honest man?” the man asked in shrill and piercing tones.

“I'm off to the fair of Cork,” responding with a tremble in his voice.

“Are you going to sell her?” said the stranger, pointing at the cow.

“What other reason would I have to be going as I am?” replied Mick.

“Will you sell her to me?” said the strange little man.

Mick nearly jumped out of his skin but he was more afraid to refuse “What will you give me for her?” he asked, and the peculiar man pulled out an empty bottle, brandishing it triumphantly!

Despite himself Mick burst out laughing, but the man frowned.

“Laugh if you will," said the little man, "but I tell you this bottle is better for you than all the money you will get for the cow in Cork –  aye, than ten thousand times as much!” but Mick laughed again.

“Why, then,” says he, “do you think I am such a fool as to give my good cow for a bottle-and an empty one, too? I won't do it,” and quite wise you might think him to take such an apparently foolish bargain! But the old stranger wrangled and argued and haggled in his odd shrill voice, until at last he said:

“I tell you this bottle is better to you than money take it, and give me the cow. I ask you for the last time, Mick Purcell!” and it struck Mick to wonder how the man knew his name, but he was already continuing, “I know you, and I have regard for you so do as I warn you, or you may be sorry for it. How do you know but your cow will die before you go to Cork?”

Fear came upon Mick again, but the stranger continued “And how do you know but there will be much cattle at the fair, and you will get a bad price, or may be you might be robbed when you are coming home, but what need I talk more to you, when you are determined to throw away your luck, Mick Purcell!”

Mick was about to say “God forbid,” but as though reading his mind, the stranger held up his hand to forestall him.

“Well good luck to you then Mick,” he said, “although you will have none, and I say for the final time, take it, and be rich or refuse it, and beg for your life, and see your children in poverty, and your wife dying for want!”

He gave an ugly and malicious grin, which made him look more peculiar than ever, and at last Mick yielded although he hardly knew why himself.

“Take the cow,” said he, seizing the bottle in a fit of desperation, “and if you are telling a lie, the curse of the poor will be on you.”

“I care neither for your curses nor your blessings, but I have spoken truth, Mick Purcell, and when you go home, never mind if your wife is angry, but be quiet yourself, and make her sweep the room clean, set the table out right, and spread a clean cloth over it. Then put the bottle on the ground, saying the words, Bottle, do your duty, and you will see.“

And with that he made off with the cow as quick as ever Mick had seen a man go who wasn't running.

Well I can tell you that Mick was extra careful with the bottle on his way home, although he hardly knew what to say to his wife. Not minding that, she knew well what to say to him when he told her the whole tale! She flew into a rage and began to shout and complain, and was about to throw the very bottle at him when he gently and quietly took it from her hand and laid it on the table.

Poor Molly sat down crying, while Mick told her his story again, with many a crossing and blessing between him and harm. His wife could not help believing him since she had as much faith in fairies as she had in the priest.

She got up without saying one word and began to sweep the earthen floor with a brush made of heather, then she tidied up everything, put out the long table, and spread her only clean cloth upon it.

Mick placed the bottle on the ground, looked at it and said, “Bottle, do your duty!”

Their eldest son, a chubby lad of about five years old, cried out  and pointed “look there, look there!”

Two tiny little fellows in strangely hued robes rose like light from the bottle, and in an instant covered the table with dishes and plates of gold and silver, full of the finest food that had ever been seen, and when they were done went into the bottle again!

Mick and his wife looked at everything with astonishment, naturally enough, they had never seen such plates and dishes before and were struck with admiration. Almost the glitter took away their appetites but eventually Molly said, “Come and sit down, Mick, and try and eat a bit, sure you ought to be hungry after such a good day's work!”

Wasting no time and not risking an awakening from a possible dream, Mick sat and the whole family ate a hearty meal. Afterwards they waited for the two gentlemen to come and remove the plates but they never did arrive.

Molly picked up the dishes very carefully and said “That old fellow told you no lies Mick – you'll be a wealthy man yet!”

The very next day Mick went back on the road to Cork, where he sold the plate and bought a horse and cart, and again they ate well each and every night until their wealth became difficult to conceal! The eye of the landlord fell upon them and he knocked at the door to inquire as to where they were making so much money, for it was not from the poor plot they rented from him!

Mick of course was unwilling to say how he had come by his newfound wealth, but the landlord pestered him so much that he eventually showed the bottle, and explained how it worked.

His landlord offered him a pile of money for it, but Mick would not sell the bottle, until at last he was offered the whole farm in perpetuity! At that he relented and decided to sell the bottle, for he could not imagine having any more money. Of course he was mistaken, and they squandered money as though it would never end, until at last he was left with only the one cow again!

Mick had no choice but to bring the cow to Cork to sell, so he took the road he had taken before, hoping to meet the strange old fellow on his way. As he stood there in the morning mists listening to a lark sing its joyous song, he gazed about him with apprehension, hardly daring to hope.

But he need not have worried, for before long rang out that high pitched voice!

“Well Mick Purcell,” he said “I told you that you'd be rich, did I not?”

“Indeed you surely did, sir,” replied Mick, “but I am not rich now, unless you might have another bottle in exchange for my cow?”

“I happen to have exactly that right here,” shrilled the odd creature, “and I'll be delighted to swap it for your cow! You know what to do with it.”

Mick bid him farewell with many thanks and fairly skipped home. Molly greeted him with as much joy as he felt himself, and quick as a flash they had the bottle on the table and the magical incantation chanted.

Their expectant eyes saw a new sight rising up however – two burly looking brutes dressed in rough robes and carrying knobbly cudgels! Mick, Molly and their family screamed but it was no good – the heavies beat the living daylights out of them and their children, and they spared none on account of frailty! Mick got two cauliflower ears and Molly got a punch in the mouth, until they were all on the ground, at which point the two toughs popped back into the bottle as neat as you like.

Picking himself off the ground some time later, Mick pondered what had just happened. He understood well enough now the dangers of dealing with fairies, but an idea came to him, and he brought the bottle to the landlord's new house the next evening.

The landlord was throwing a great party and had invited people from near and far, his splendour was a sight to behold, but Mick got a servant to send him out to the hall.

“Well, what do you want now?” demanded the landlord, and laughed to see Mick's state, “some were just born to be poor, Mick,” he chuckled.

“Nothing, sir, only I have another bottle,” replied Mick.

“Oho! Is it as good as the first?” the stout gentleman asked.

“Yes, sir, and better, if you like, I will show it to you before all the ladies and gentlemen.”

So saying, Mick was brought into the great hall where he saw his old bottle standing high up on a shelf. Mick set his bottle on the floor and uttered the magic words. In a moment the landlord was tumbled on the floor, ladies, gentlemen and servants were running, and roaring, and sprawling, kicking, and shrieking!

Eventually the landlord cried out, “Stop those two devils, Mick Purcell, or I'll have you hanged!”

“They never shall stop,” shouted back Mick, “till I get my own bottle that I see up there at top of that shelf!”

“Give it down to him, give it down to him before we are all killed!” shouted the landlord.

Mick quickly put his bottle into his waistcoat and the two bruisers popped back into their own bottle, and he carried the two bottles home.

To make a long enough story a bit shorter, Mick and his wife Molly became richer than ever, his son married the landlord's only daughter, and they lived happily ever after, until they died at a great old age and the servants broke the bottles quarrelling at their wake.

But still the hill has the name upon it, and so it will be always Bottle hill until the end of the world.

Bottle hill is located on the map below!

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