The Leprechaun and Jack Fox

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Every Imbolc thousands of people visited Tobar Muire (Mary's Well), near Dundalk.  They crept around the well on their knees, nine times in a westerly direction. 

This they believed, would cure all their ailments.  Then they would go away and begin their harvest. 

A man called Jack Fox had just completed this ritual and was heading for his fields with his scythe on his back.

  From the hedgerow he heard a chirrup sound like that of a cricket.  He wondered if it was a horse-chaffinch but it was too late for their song.  He walked on but he heard the sound again.  This time it sounded more distinct.  'Tic-Tac-Too, Tic Tac Too.'  Slowly it began to dawn on Jack what the noise might be, and the hairs on the back of his neck stood up.

He rose up on his tip-toes and peeped over the hedge and saw nothing and it had gone quiet all of a sudden.  He walked on further and soon he heard the tapping sound again, he pushed the bushes aside and saw a little man sitting by a last no bigger than a farthing, shaping a tiny shoe that shone like gold.  The hammer with which he worked was the size of a pin.  As he tapped, his pointed cap waved backwards and forwards almost hypnotising Jack, but not enough to divert his attention from the shoe-maker.

Jack knew he was looking at a leprechaun and he remembered that the fairy could lead him to a crock of gold if he made sure to keep his eyes on him.  He laid his scythe down and crept closer.  'Bail ó Dhía ar an obair,' said Jack and quickly added in English 'God bless the work' in case the fellow did not know Irish.

'Go raibh maith agat, and thank you too' the shoe-maker answered smiling.  'It's a hot day.  Would you take a sup?'  he said reaching for a jar that lay by his stool.  He hoped Jack would look towards the vessel but instead Jack fixed his gaze more intently and asked 'What is that you're drinking?'

'Best of Gorse whiskey, the Water of Life Uisce Beatha!'  replied the leprechaun.

'You'd never get whiskey made from gorse, maybe a sweet wine, but not whiskey.'

'Give it a try, if you doubt me' replied the leprechaun.  'Just reach down and hand me up a glass.'

Jack was smart again and resisted looking away from the leprechaun but kept his eyes firmly on him.

The leprechaun tried everything.  He told Jack that his cattle were breaking out of the field behind him.  He shouted that Jack's scythe was going to fall and cut his neck.  He said he had heather beer as well as whiskey and that if he drank that he would live forever.  'The recipe had been handed down in my family for generations.  The Milesians brought if over to Ireland and gave it to us.'

'And what is your name?'  Jack asked.

'Night and day and far away.'

'That's a strange name.'

'So is yours, Jack Fox.  Do you live in a covert up on the Cooley Mountains or what?' joked the leprechaun.

'How is it you know my name?'  demanded Jack.

'Why wouldn't I know it, sure I've been living on your farm for longer than you yourself.'

Jack felt he ought to broach the subject of the crock of gold.  'Well, you had better bring me to the end of the rainbow where your pot of money lies,'  he ordered.

The leprechaun laughed.  'Where did you hear that nonsense?'

'Come on now, I know it's true, bring me to your crock of gold immediately!' said Jack making his face as angry looking as possible.

The little man began to look frightened and Jack threatened to roast him over a griddle if he didn't hurry up.

'Alright then, I'll tell you where it is, but it isn't at the end of the rainbow, come on then and follow me' said the leprechaun and he made to go on ahead.

Jack quickly grabbed him and held on tight keeping his eyes still fixed on the leprechaun.  And so they made their way over stiles, and across streams and fields practically glued to each other until at last they came to a field covered in dandelions.  'There you are,' said the leprechaun pointing to one flower, 'it's under that caisearbhán there that you must dig, but I must be on my way now for I have many more shoes to make for the ceilí tonight and I'll be in trouble if no one has any shoes to dance in. 

'Hold it now,' said Jack 'swear on your honour, that the crock is under there, and then I'll let you go.'

'I swear on my honour and on all my ancestors, that it is there.'

'Alright, then away you go and slán!' said Jack.

'Slán is beannacht, health and a blessing,' said the leprechaun, and Jack thought he caught a glint in his eye.

Jack had nothing else but his stocking with which to mark the flower so he took it off and put it over the dandelion.  Then he went off home to fetch a spade.  When he got back he told his wife the story and said that they would be rich and they need never work again.  He whistled with delight as he grabbed his spade and returned to the field of dandelions.  When he got there he screamed with anger.  On every dandelion in the fifty acres there was a sock exactly the same colour as his own.

'That cleasaí has fooled me rightly!' bewailed Jack  'I could dig for a hundred years and still never find the right place.'

A flurry of wind rose behind him and blew across the expanse of stockings they fluttered in the same hypnotising way that the leprechaun's hat had done when Jack had first seen him working at his last.  Jack swore he could hear hundreds of dandelions laughing.  Dejected and downcast, he returned home and told his wife of his failure.

'Well, at least I won't have to knit you another stocking for donkeys years!' and with that they both burst out laughing and saw the humour of it all.

Source: Traditional Folk Tale


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