One fine summer's evening Michael Noonan went over to
Jack Brien's the shoemaker, at Ballyduff, for the pair of brogues which Jack
was mending for him. It was a pretty walk the way he took, but very lonesome;
all along by the riverside, down under the oak-wood, till he came to Hanlon's
mill, that used to be, but that had gone to ruin many a long year ago.
Melancholy enough the walls of that same mill looked; the
great old wheel, black with age, all covered over with moss and ferns, and the
bushes all hanging down about it. There it stood, silent and motionless; and a
sad contrast it was to its former busy clack, with the stream which once gave
it use rippling idly along.
Old Hanlon was a man that had great knowledge of all
sorts; there was not an herb that grew in the field but he could tell the name
of it and its use, out of a big book he had written, every word of it in the
real Irish karacter. He kept a school once, and could teach the Latin;
that surely is a blessed tongue all over the wide world; and I hear tell as
how "the great Burke" went to school to him. Master Edmund lived up
at the old house there, which was then in the family, and it was the Nagles
that got it afterwards, but they sold it.
But it was Michael Noonan's walk I was about speaking of.
It was fairly between lights, the day was clean gone, and the moon was not yet
up, when Mick was walking smartly across the Inch. Well, he heard, coming down
out of the wood, such blowing of horns and hallooing, and the cry of all the
hounds in the world, and he thought they were coming after him; and the galloping
of the horses, and the voice of the whipper-in, and he shouting out, just like
the fine old song,
" Hallo Piper, Lilly, agus Finder; "
and the echo over from the grey rock across the river
giving back every word as plainly as it was spoken. But nothing could Mick
see, and the shouting and hallooing following him every step of the way till
he got up to Jack Brien's door; and he was certain, too, he heard the clack of
old Hanlon's mill going, through all the clatter. To be sure, he ran as fast
as fear and his legs could carry him, and never once looked behind him, well
knowing that the Duhallow hounds were out in quite another quarter that day,
and that nothing good could come out of the noise of Hanlon's mill.
Well, Michael Noonan got his brogues, and well heeled
they were, and well pleased was he with them; when who should be seated at
Jack Brien's before him, but a gossip of his, one Darby Haynes, a mighty
decent man, that had a horse and car of his own, and that used to be
travelling with it, taking loads like the royal mail coach between Cork and
Limerick; and when he was at home, Darby was a near neighbour of Michael
"Is it home you're going with the brogues this
blessed night?" said Darby to him.
"Where else would it be?" replied Mick :
"but, by my word, 't is not across the Inch back again I'm going, after
all I heard coming here; 'tis to no good that old Hanlon's mill is busy
"True, for you," said Darby; " and may be
you'd take the horse and car home for me, Mick, by way of company, as 't is
along the road you go. I'm waiting here to see a sister's son of mine that I
expect. from Kilcoleman." " That same I'll do," answered Mick,
" with a thousand welcomes." So Mick drove the car fair and easy,
knowing that the poor beast had come off a long journey; and Mick - God reward
him for it - was always tender-hearted and good to the dumb creatures.
The night was a beautiful one; the moon was better than a
quarter old; and Mick, looking up at her, could not help bestowing a blessing
on her beautiful face, shining down so sweetly upon the gentle Awbeg. He had
now got out of the open road, and had come to where the trees grew on each
side of it: he proceeded for some space in the chequered light which the moon
gave through them.
At one time, when a big old tree got between him
and the moon, it was so dark, that he could hardly see the horse's head; then,
as be passed on, the. moonbeams would stream through the open boughs and
variegate the road with light and shade. Mick was lying down in the car at his
ease, having got clear of the plantation, and was watching the bright piece of
a moon in a little pool at the road side, when he saw it disappear all of a
sudden as if a great cloud came over the sky.
He turned round on his elbow to see if it was so; but how
was Mick astonished at finding, close along-side of the car, a great high
black coach drawn by six black horses, with long black tails reaching almost
down to the ground, and a coachman dressed all in black sitting up on the box.
But what surprised Mick the most was that he could
see no sign of a head either upon coach man or horses. It swept rapidly by
him, and he could perceive the horses raising their feet as if they were in a
fine slinging trot, the coachman touching them up with his long whip, and the
wheels spinning round like hoddy-doddies; still he could hear no noise, only
the regular step of his gossip Darby's horse, and the squeaking of the
grudgeons of the car, that were as good as lost entirely for want of a little
Poor Mick's heart almost died within him, but he said
nothing, only looked on; and the black coach swept away, and was soon lost
among some distant trees. Mick saw nothing more of it, or, indeed, of any
thing else. He got home just as the moon was going down behind Mount Hillery -
took the tackling off the horse, turned the beast out in the field for the
night, and got to his bed.
Next morning, early, he was standing at the road-side,
thinking of all that had happened the night before, when he saw Dan Madden,
that was Mr. Wrixon's huntsman, coming on the master's best horse down the
hill, as hard as ever he went at the tail of the hounds. Mick's mind instantly
misgave him that all was not right, so he stood out in the very middle of the
road, and caught hold of Dan's bridle when he came up.
"Mick, dear - for the love of God ! don't stop
me," cried Dan.
"Why, what's the hurry?" said Mick.
"Oh, the master ! - he's off - he's off - he'll
never cross a horse again till the day of judgement!"
"Why, what would ail his honour?" said Mick;
" sure it is no later than yesterday morning that I was talking to him,
and he stout and hearty; and says he to me, Mick, says he -"
"Stout and hearty was he?" answered Madden;
"and was he not out with me in the kennel last night, when I was feeding
the dogs; and didn't he come out to the stable, and give a ball to Peg
Pullaway with his own hand, and tell me he'd ride the old General to-day; and
sure," said Dan, wiping his eyes with the sleeve of his coat, "who'd
have thought that the first thing I'd see this morning was the mistress
standing at my bed-side, and bidding me get up and ride off like fire for
Doctor Galway; for the master had got a fit, and" - poor Dan's grief
choked his voice -" oh, Mick ! if you have a heart in you, run over
yourself, or send the gossoon for Kate Finnigan, the midwife; she's a cruel
skilful woman, and may be she might save the master, till I get the
Dan struck his spurs into the hunter, and Michael Noonan
flung off his newly-mended brogues, and cut across the fields to Kate
Finnigan's; but neither the doctor nor Kitty was of any avail, and the next
night's moon saw Ballygibblin -and more's the pity - a house of mourning.
Source: Thomas Crofton
Croker - Fairy Legends and Traditions, first published 1825
republished by: Collins Press, Cork, 1998.