is one of the most singularly shaped hills in the world. It has got a peak at
the top like a conical nightcap thrown carelessly over your head as you awake
in the morning. On the very point is built a sort of lodge, where in the
summer the lady who built it and her friends used to go on parties of
pleasure; but that was long after the days of the fairies, and it is, I
believe, now deserted.
But before lodge was built, or acre sown, there was close
to the head of this hill a large pasturage, where a herdsman spent his days
and nights among the herd. The spot had been an old fairy ground, and the good
people were angry that the scene of their light and airy gambols should be
trampled by the rude hoofs of bulls and cows. The lowing of the cattle sounded
sad in their ears, and the chief of the fairies of the hill determined in
person to drive away the new comers; and the way she thought of was this:
When the harvest nights came on, and the moon shone
bright and brilliant over the hill, and the cattle were lying down hushed and
quiet, and the herdsman, wrapt in his mantle, was musing with his heart
gladdened by the glorious company of the stars twinkling above him, she would
come and dance before him, - now in one shape - now in another, but all ugly
and frightful to behold.
One time she would be a great horse, with the wings of an
eagle, and a tail like a dragon, hissing loud and spitting fire. Then in a
moment she would change into a little man lame of a leg, with a bull's head,
and a lambent flame playing round it. Then into a great ape, with duck's feet
and a turkey cock's tail. But I should be all day about it were I to tell you
all the shapes she took.
And then she would roar, or neigh, or hiss, or
bellow, or howl, or hoot, as never yet was roaring, neighing, hissing,
bellowing, howling, or hooting, heard in this world before or since. The poor
herdsman would cover his face, and call on all the saints for help, but it was
With one puff of her breath she would blow away the fold of his great
coat, let him hold it never so tightly over his eyes, and not a saint in
heaven paid him the slightest attention. And to make matters worse, he never
could stir; no, nor even shut his eyes, but there was obliged to stay, held by
what power he knew not, gazing at these terrible sights until the hair of his
head would lift his hat half a foot over his crown, and his teeth would be
ready to fall out from chattering. But the cattle would scamper about mad, as
if they were bitten by the fly; and this would last until the sun rose over
The poor cattle from want of rest were pining away, and
food did them no good; besides, they met with accidents without end. Never a
night passed that some of them did not fall into a pit, and get maimed, or may
Some would tumble into a river and be drowned: in a
word, there seemed never to be an end of the accidents. But what made the
matter worse, there could not be a herdsman got to tend the cattle by night.
One visit from the fairy drove the stoutest-hearted almost mad.
The owner of the ground did not know what to do. He
offered double, treble, quadruple wages, but not a man could be found for the
sake of money to go through the horror of facing the fairy. She rejoiced at
the successful issue of her project, and continued her pranks. The herd
gradually thinning, and no man daring to remain on the ground, the fairies
came back in numbers, and gambolled as merrily as before, quaffing dew-drops
from acorns, and spreading their feast on the heads of capacious mushrooms.
What was to be done? the puzzled farmer thought in vain.
He found that his substance was daily diminishing, his people terrified, and
his rent day coming round. It is no Wonder that he looked gloomy, and walked
mournfully down the road.
Now in that part of the world dwelt a man of the
name of Larry Hoolahan, who played on the pipes better than any other player
within fifteen parishes. A roving dashing blade was Larry, and feared nothing.
Give him plenty of liquor, and he would defy the devil. He would face a mad
bull, or fight single-handed against a fair.
In one of his gloomy walks the farmer met him, and
on Larry's asking the cause of his down looks, he told him all his
misfortunes. " If that is all ails you," said Larry, "make your
mind easy. Were there as many fairies on Knocksheogowna as "there are
potato blossoms in Eliogurty, I would face them. It would be a queer thing,
indeed, if I, who never was afraid of a proper man, should turn my back upon a
brat of a fairy not the bigness of one's thumb." " Larry," said
the farmer, " do not talk so bold, for you know not who is hearing you;
but, if you make your words good, and watch my herds for a week on the top of
the mountain, your hand shall be free of my dish till the sun has burnt itself
down to the bigness of a farthing rushlight."
The bargain was struck, and Larry went to the hill-top,
when the' moon began to peep over the brow. He had been regaled at the
farmer's house, and was bold with the extract of barley-corn.
So he took his seat on a big stone under a hollow of the
hill, with his back to the wind, and pulled out his pipes. He had not played
long when the voice of the fairies was heard upon the blast, like a slow
stream of music. Presently they burst out into a loud laugh, and Larry could
plainly hear one say, "What! another man upon the fairies' ring? Go to
him, queen, and make him repent his rashness;" and they flew away.
Larry felt them pass by his face as they flew like a
swarm of midges; and, looking up hastily, he saw between the moon and him a
great black cat, standing on the very tip of its claws, with its back up, and
mewing with the voice of a water-mill.
Presently it swelled up towards the sky, and,
turning round on its left hind leg, whirled till it fell to the ground,
from which it started up in the shape of a salmon, with a cravat round its
neck, and a pair of new top boots. " Go on, jewel," said Larry;
"if you dance, I'll pipe ;" and he struck up. So she turned into
this, and that, and the other, but still Larry played on, as he well knew
At last she lost patience, as ladies will do when you do
not mind their scolding, and changed herself into a calf, milk-white as the
cream of Cork, and with eyes as mild as those of the girl I love. She came up
gentle and fawning, in hopes to throw him off his guard by quietness, and then
to work him some wrong. But Larry was not so deceived; for when she came up,
he, dropping his pipes, leaped upon her back.
Now from the top of Knocksheogowna, as you look westward
to the broad Atlantic, you will see the Shannon, queen of rivers, spreading
like a sea, and running on in gentle course to mingle with the ocean through
the fair city of Limerick. It on this night shone under the moon, and looked
beautiful from the distant hill. Fifty boats were gliding up and down on the
sweet current, and the song of the fishermen rose gaily from the shore.
Larry, as I said before, leaped upon the back of
the fairy, and she, rejoiced at the opportunity, sprung from the hill-top, and
bounded clear, at one jump, over the Shannon, flowing as it was just ten miles
from the mountain's base. It was done in a second, and when she alighted on
the distant bank, kicking up her heels, she flung Larry on the soft turf. No
sooner was he thus planted, than he looked her straight in the face, and
scratching his head, cried out, "By my word, well done! that was not a
bad leap for a calf!"
She looked at him for a moment, and then assumed her own
shape. "Laurence," said she, "you are a bold fellow; will you
come back the way you went?" "And that's what I will," said he,
"if you let me." So changing to a calf again, again Larry got on her
back, and at another bound they were again upon the top of Knocksheogowna.
The fairy once more resuming her figure, addressed
him: "You have shown so much courage, Laurence," said she,
"that while you keep herds on this hill you never shall be molested by me
or mine. The day dawns, go down to the farmer, and tell him this; and if any
thing I can do may be of service to you, ask and you shall have it." She
vanished accordingly; and kept her word in never visiting the hill during
Larry's life: but he never troubled her with requests.
He piped and drank at
the farmer's expense, and roosted in his chimney corner, occasionally casting
an eye to the flock. He died at last, and is buried in a green valley of
pleasant Tipperary: but whether the fairies returned to the hill of Knocksheogowna
after his death is more than I can say.
*Knocksheogowna. Signifies "The Hill of
the Fairy Calf"
Source: Thomas Crofton
Croker - Fairy Legends and Traditions, first published 1825
republished by Collins Press, Cork, 1998.