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Mary's Cluricaune

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A Roscommon Cluricaune cantered by the shores of Lough Ree riding on his buachalán or ragwort steed on a fine sunny day in June.  He loved to go to the hunts and he heard the horn of the master of the Galway Blazers who were far from home and searching a covert nearby.   He ran behind a furze bush and hid until the red-jacketed gentry rode by, and as they did he joined them having changed shape so that he looked like a handsome man riding on a black stallion.  So handsome do these shape-shifting Cluricaunes appear to mortal women that it is not unknown for them to abandon all common sense and ride off after the fairy men in hot pursuit.

And so it happened that when the Roscommon fairy gave chase to the fox he himself was chased by one of the fairest maidens that ever came out of Galway.   Mary Flaherty was her name and her father was a respected landowner from Salthill.  She had hair as dark as a raven's wing, skin as smooth as the silk from China and lips as red as a rowan-berry.  She had many suitors and many proposals of marriage which she had thus far declined.

The Cluricaune noticed he was being followed and swerved off the track crossing a fairy rath as he did so.  Mary followed but when her horse came to the rath it stopped in its tracks so suddenly that she was flung over its head and landed unceremoniously in the middle of the rath.  The Cluricaune circled back and got down and helped her to her feet.  The rest of the hunting party were well ahead by this time.

Mary was amazed as the handsome stranger knew her by name and knew all of her family history and the names of her friends and associates.  There was a ball at the Flaherty's residence that evening so Mary invited the Cluricaune to be her guest.  He agreed to attend and asked her a favour in return namely that she would enter her horse for the main event at the Knockcroghery point to point race meeting the following day.  He promised to provide a jockey that would win the race for her.  Mary thought this unlikely because her horse was slower than treacle.  She felt compelled to do as the stranger wished so that next day as she went to saddle her horse she saw a small man dressed in jockey's clothes.  These seemed to emit an amber glow that had a strange soothing effect on Mary.

'I will do the rest,' said the small man and he mounted the horse and rode off through the fields.  Mary went in the carriage with her family and soon they all arrived at the horse-race grounds.  There was no sign of Mary's horse and the race in which he was entered was nearly on.  Ten other horses lined up for the start and then the steward called for Dubh which was the name of Mary's horse, then from behind a tree-covered hillock came her horse and its tiny rider and the crowd were much amused at the sight of it all.  Mary's father got angry and gave out to her and her foolishness but she told him to stay quiet and bet his money on Dubh.

'But that horse will only come last, what are you thinking of?'  Mary knew the truth of this remark and wondered why she was acting so foolishly.  Her father nevertheless felt a strange compunction to bet on the old horse and he placed a large bet just before the race began.

As soon as the flag dropped, a strange wind whistled in the trees surrounding the field and Dubh and his rider jumped the fences effortlessly there was great cheers and celebration when he finished the race fields ahead of every other entrant.  Mary rushed to thank the little jockey but he was nowhere to be found and instead she found the handsome stranger was holding her horses reins when she arrived at the finish line.  

'Where did the little jockey go?' she asked.

'He has gone to celebrate our win at my home there is a feast prepared, Come I will take you there.'

The Cluricaune hoisted Mary on to his own horse and urged it onwards and Mary felt as if she was floating on air instead of riding a horse.  They came to a mansion made of a bright orange stone and a dozen ladies in waiting danced down the steps and took her to a splendid amethyst tiled bathing room and gently washed her in pink water scented with aromatic oils.  Then they dressed her in a magnificent gown of red and black and led her to the dining room.  It was furnished in rich tapestries which covered the walls and golden chandeliers hung from the high ceiling.  The tables were laden with foods of every sort and description.  She ate and drank and danced with the handsome young men.

At the stroke of midnight the Cluricaune asked her to dance but when he placed his hand around her waist she felt an unwelcome burning sensation and slowly her gaiety gave way to fear.  The Cluricaune's dark eyes turned red and his nostrils flared.

Then she noticed that among the dancers were friends and relatives of hers that had died years before and they all wore a strange blank expression on their faces.  The music grew louder and quicker and the Cluricaune whirled her up and around and around and his hand seemed to burn even more into her back.

They whirled up out of the palace and into the sky and Mary could see her own home down below and as she saw it she remembered her family and the comforts of home and well-wished them all and blessed them as soon as she had said her blessing the Cluricaune shrieked in pain and let go of her waist.  She fell back to earth but floated down gently as if she were a feather.

Her parents welcomed her home and said she was foolish to walk home.  'You need not have been scared to face me' her father said 'the horse I was first going to back didn't win either and sure second to last is an improvement for Dubh though what we were all thinking to have him entered is another matter entirely.' 

Mary was astonished at this news but kept quiet and the memories of her adventure faded like a bad dream until the following Samhain when she was being measured for a dress her seamstress remarked on the red hand-shaped mark on Mary's lower back.

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