BILLY MAC DANIEL was once as likely a
young man as ever shook his brogue at a patron, emptied a quart, or handled a
shillelagh: fearing for nothing but the want of drink; caring for nothing but
who should pay for it; and thinking of nothing but how to make fun over it:
drunk or sober, a word and a blow was ever the way with Billy Mac Daniel; and
a mighty easy way it is of either getting into or ending a dispute. More is
the pity that, through the means of his drinking, and fearing, and caring for
nothing, this same Billy Mac Daniel fell into bad company; for surely the good
people are the worst of all company any one could come across.
It so happened that Billy was going home
one clear frosty night not long after Christmas; the moon was round and
bright; but although it was as fine a night as heart could wish for, he felt
pinched with the cold. "By my word," chattered Billy, "a drop
of good liquor would be no bad thing to keep a man's soul from freezing in
him; and I wish I had a full measure of the best."
"Never wish it twice, Billy,"
said a little man in a three-cornered hat, bound all about with gold lace, and
with great silver buckles in his shoes, so big that it was a wonder how he
could carry them, and he held out a glass as big as himself, filled with as
good liquor as ever eye looked on or lip tasted.
"Success; my little fellow,"
said Billy Mac Daniel, nothing daunted, though well he knew the little man to
belong to the good people; "here's your health, any way, and thank
you kindly; no matter who pays for the drink;" and he took the glass and
drained it to the very bottom, without ever taking a second breath to it.
"Success," said the little man;
"and you're heartily welcome, Billy; but don't think to cheat me as you
have done others, - out with your purse and pay me like a gentleman."
"Is it I pay you?" said Billy:
"could I not just take you up and put you in my pocket. as easily as a
"Billy Mac Daniel," said the
little man, getting very angry, "you shall be my servant for seven years
and a day, and that is the way I will be paid; so make ready to follow
When Billy heard this, he began to be very
sorry for having used such bold words towards the little man; and he felt
himself, yet could not tell how, obliged to follow the little man the
live-long night about the country, up and down, and over hedge and ditch, and
through bog and brake, without any rest.
When morning began to dawn, the little man
turned round to him and said, "You may now go home, Billy, but on your
peril don't fail to meet me in the Fort-field
to-night; or if you do, it may be the worse for you in the long run. If I find
you a good servant, you will find me an indulgent master."
Home went Billy Mac Daniel; and though he
was tired and weary enough, never a wink of sleep could he get for thinking of
the little man; but he was afraid not to do his bidding, so up he got in the
evening, and away he went to the Fort-field. He was not long there before the
little man came towards him and said, "Billy, I want to go a long journey
to-night; so saddle one of my horses, and you may saddle another for
your-self, as you are to go along with me, and may be tired after your walk
Billy thought this very considerate of his
master, and thanked him accordingly: " But," said he, " if I
may be so bold, sir, I would ask which is the way to your stable, for never a
thing do I see but the fort here, and the old thorn-tree in the corner of the
field, and the stream running at the bottom of the hill, with the bit of bog
over against us."
"Ask no questions, Billy," said
the little man, "but go over to that bit of bog, and bring me two of the
strongest rushes you can find."
Billy did accordingly, wondering what the
little man would be at; and he picked out two of the stoutest rushes he could
find, with a little bunch of brown blossom stuck at the side of each, and
brought them back to his master.
"Get up, Billy," said the little
man, taking one of the rushes from him and striding across it.
"Where will I get up, please your
honour?" said Billy.
" Why, upon horseback, like me, to be
sure," said the little man.
"Is it after making a fool of me
you'd be," said Billy, "bidding me get a horse-back upon that bit of
a rush? May be you want to persuade me that the rush I pulled but while ago
out of the bog over there is a horse?"
"Up! up! and no words," said the
little man, looking very vexed; "the best horse you ever rode was but a
fool to it." So Billy, thinking all this was in joke, and fearing to Vex
his master, straddled across the rush : "Borram! Borram! Borram !"
cried the little man three times (which, in English, means to become great),
and Billy did the same after him: presently the rushes swelled up into fine
horses, and away they went full speed; but Billy, who had put the rush between
his legs, without much minding how he did it, found himself sitting on
horseback the wrong way, which was rather awkward, with his face to the
horse's tail; and so quickly had his steed started off with him, that he had
no power to turn round, and there was therefore nothing for it but to hold on
by the tail.
At last they came to their journey's end;
and stopped at the gate of a fine house: " Now, Billy," said the
little man, "do as you see me do, and follow me close; but as you did not
know your horse's head from his tail, mind that your own head does not spin
round until you can't tell whether you are standing on it or on your heels:
for remember that old liquor, though able to make a cat speak, can make a man
The little man then said some queer kind
of words, out of which Billy could make no meaning; but he contrived to say
them after him for all that; and in they both went through the key-hole of the
door, and through one key-hole after another, until they got into the
wine-cellar, which was well stored with all kinds of wine.
The little man fell to drinking as hard as
he could, and Billy noway disliking the example, did the same. "The best
of masters are you surely," said Billy to him; " no matter who is
the next; and well pleased will I be with your service if you continue to give
me plenty to drink!"
"I have made no bargain with
you," said the little man, " and will make none; but up and follow
me. Away they went, through key-hole after key-hole; and each mounting upon
the rush which he had left at the hall door, scampered off, kicking the clouds
before them like snow-balls, as soon as the words, "Borram, Borram,
Borram," had passed their lips.
When they came back to the Fort-field,'
the little man dismissed Billy, bidding him to be there the next night at the
same hour. Thus did they go on, night after night, shaping their course one
night here, and another night there sometimes north, and sometimes east, and
sometimes south, until there was not a gentleman's wine-cellar in all Ireland
they had not visited, and could tell the flavour of every wine in it as well -
aye, better than the butler himself.
One night when Billy Mac Daniel met the
little man as usual in the Fort-field, and was going to the bog to fetch the
horses for their journey, his master said to him, " Billy, I shall want
another horse to-night, for may be we may bring back more company with us than
So Billy, who now knew better than to
question any order given to him by his master, brought a third rush, much
wondering who it might be that would travel back in their company, and whether
he was about to have. a fellow-servant. "If I have, " thought Billy,
"he shall go and fetch the horses from the bog every night; for I don't
see why I am not, every inch of me, as good a gentleman as my master."
Well, away they went, Billy leading the
third horse, and never stopped until they came to a snug farmer's house in the
county Limerick, close under the old castle of Carrigogunniel, that was built,
they say, by the great Brian Boru. Within the house there was great carousing
going forward, and the little man stopped outside for some time to listen;
then turning round all of a sudden, said, " Billy, I will be a thousand
years old tomorrow!"
" God bless us, sir," said
Billy, " will you I"
"Don't say these words again;
Billy," said the little man, " or you will be my ruin for ever. Now,
Billy, as I will be a thousand years in the world to-morrow, I think it is
full time for me to get married."
"I think so too, without any kind of
doubt at all," said Billy, "if ever you mean to marry."
"And to that purpose," said the
little man, have I come all the way to Carrigogunniel; for in this house, this
very night, is young Darby Riley going to be married to Bridget Rooney; and as
she is a tall and comely girl, and has come of decent people, I think of
marrying her myself, and taking her off with me."
"And what will Darby Riley say to
that?" said Billy.
"Silence!" said the little man,
putting on a mighty severe look: " I did not bring you here with me to
ask questions;" and without holding further argument, he began saying the
queer words which had the power of passing him through the key-hole as free as
air, and which Billy thought himself mighty clever to be able to say after
In they both went; and for the better
viewing the company, the little man perched himself up as nimbly as a
cock-sparrow upon one of the big beams which went across the house over all
their heads, and Billy did the same upon another facing him ; but not being
much accustomed to roosting in such a place, his legs hung down as untidy as
may be, and it was quite clear he had not taken pattern after the way in which
the little man had bundled himself up together. If the little man had been a
tailor all his life, he could not have sat more contentedly upon his haunches.
There they were, both master and man,
looking down upon the fun that was going forward - and under them were the
priest and piper - and the father of Darby Riley, with Darby's two brothers
and his uncle's son - and there were both the father and the mother of Bridget
Rooney, and proud enough the old couple were that night of their daughter, as
good right they had - and her four sisters with brand new ribands in their
caps, and her three brothers all looking as clean and as clever as any three
boys in Munster - and there were uncles and aunts, and gossips and cousins
enough besides to make 'a full house of it - and plenty was there to eat and
drink on the table for every one of them, if they had been double the number.
Now it happened, just as: Mrs. Rooney had
helped his reverence to the first cut of the pig's head which was placed
before her, beautifully bolstered up with white savoys, that the bride gave a
sneeze which made every one at table start, but not a soul said " God
bless us." All thinking that the priest would have done so, as he ought.
If he had done his duty, no one wished to take the word out of his mouth,
which unfortunately was pre-occupied with pig's head and greens. And after a
moment's pause, the fun and merriment of the bridal feast went on without the
Of this circumstance both Billy and his
master were no inattentive spectators from their exalted stations. " Ha
!" exclaimed the little man, throwing one leg from under him with a
joyous flourish, and his eye twinkled with a strange light, whilst his
eyebrows became elevated into the curvature of Gothic arches -" Ha!"
said he, leering down at the bride, and then up at Billy, I have half of her
now, surely.. Let her sneeze but twice more, and she is mine, in spite of
priest, mass-book and Darby Riley."
Again the fair Bridget sneezed; but it was
so gently, and she blushed so much, that few except the little man
took, or seemed to take, any notice; and no one thought of saying "God
Billy all this time regarded the poor girl
with a most rueful expression of countenance; for he could not help thinking
what a terrible thing it was for a nice young girl of nineteen, with large
blue eyes, transparent skin, and dimpled cheeks, suffused with health and joy,
to be obliged to marry an ugly little bit of a man who was a thousand years
old, barring a day.
At this critical moment the bride gave a
third sneeze, and Billy roared out with all his might, "God save us
!" Whether this exclamation resulted from his soliloquy, or from the mere
force of habit, he never could tell exactly himself; but no sooner was it
uttered, than the little man, his face glowing with rage and disappointment,
sprung from the beam on which he had perched himself; and shrieking out in the
shrill voice of a cracked bagpipe, " I discharge you my service, Billy
Mac Daniel - take that for your wages, gave poor Billy a most furious
kick in the back, which sent his unfortunate servant sprawling upon his face
and hands right in the middle of the supper table.
If Billy was astonished, how much more so
was every one of the company into which he was thrown with so little ceremony;
but when they heard his story, Father Cooney laid down his knife and fork, and
married the young couple out of hand with all speed; and Billy Mac Daniel
danced the Rinka at their wedding, and plenty did he drink at it too, which
was what he thought more of than dancing.
Source: Thomas Crofton
Croker - Fairy Legends and Traditions, first published 1825.
republished by: Collins Press, Cork, 1998.