ONE stormy night Patrick Burke was seated
in the chimney corner, smoking his pipe quite contentedly after his hard day's
work; his two little boys were roasting potatoes in the ashes, while his rosy
daughter held a splinter [a splinter, or slip of bog-deal, which, being dipped
in tallow, is used as a candle] to her mother, who, seated on a
siesteen [a low block-like seat, made of straw bands firmly sewed or bound
together], was mending a rent in Patrick's old coat; and Judy, the maid, was
singing merrily to the sound of her wheel, that kept up a beautiful humming
noise, just like the sweet drone of a bagpipe.
Indeed they all seemed quite
contented and happy; for the storm howled without, and they were warm and snug
within; by the side of a blazing turf fire. "I was just thinking,"
said Patrick, taking the dudeen from his mouth and giving it a rap on his
thumbnail to shake out the ashes - " I was just thinking how thankful we
ought to be to have a snug bit of a cabin this pelting' night over our heads,
for in all my born days I never heard the like of it."
"And that's no lie for you,
Pat," said his wife; " but, whisht; what noise is that I hard? "
and she dropped her work upon her knees, and looked fearfully towards the
door. " The Vargin herself defend us all !" cried Judy, at
the same time rapidly making a pious sign on her forehead, "if 'tis not
the banshee !"
"Hold your tongue, you fool,"
said Patrick, it's only the old gate swinging in the wind ;" and he
had scarcely spoken, when the door was assailed by a violent knocking. Molly
began to mumble her prayers, and Judy proceeded to mutter over the muster-roll
of saints; the youngsters scampered off to hide themselves behind the
settle-bed; the storm howled louder and more fiercely than ever, and the
rapping was renewed with redoubled violence.
"Whisht, whisht ! " said Patrick
- " what a noise ye're all making about nothing at all. Judy a-roon,
can't you go and see who's at the door?" for, notwithstanding his assumed
bravery, Pat Burke preferred that the maid should open the door.
"Why, then, is it me you're speaking
to?" said Judy, in the tone of astonishment; " and is it cracked mad
you are, Mister Burke; or is it, may be, that you want me to be rund
away with, and made a horse of, like my grandfather was? - the sorrow a step
will I stir to open the door, if you were as great a man again as you are, Pat
"Bother you, then ! and hold your
tongue, and I'll go myself." So saying, up got Patrick, and made the best
of his way to the door. " Who's there?" said he, and his voice
trembled mightily all the while. In the name of Saint Patrick, who's
there?" " 'Tis I, Pat," answered a voice which he immediately
knew to be the young squire's.
In a moment the door was opened, and in
walked a young man, with a gun in his hand, and a brace of dogs at his heels.
"Your honour's honour is quite welcome, entirely," said Patrick; who
was a very civil sort of a fellow, especially to his betters. " Your
honour's honour is quite welcome; and if ye'll be so condescending as to
demean yourself by taking off your wet jacket, Molly can give ye a bran new
blanket, and ye can sit forenent the fire while the clothes are drying."
"Thank you, Pat," said the
squire, as he wrapt himself, like Mr. Weld, in the proffered blanket.
"But what made you keep me so long at
"Why, then, your honour 'twas all
along of Judy, there, being so much afraid of the good people; and a good
right she has, after what happened to her grandfather - the Lord rest his soul
"And what was that, Pat?" said
"Why, then; your honour must know
that Judy had a grandfather; and he was ould Diarmid Bawn, the piper,
as personable a looking man as any in the five parishes he was and he could
play the pipes so sweetly, and make them spake to such perfection, that
it did one's heart good to hear him. We never had any one, for that matter, in
this side of the country like him, before or since, except James Gandsey, that
is own piper to Lord Headley - his honour's lord-ship is the real good
gentleman - and 'tis Mr. Gandsey's music that is the pride of Killarney lakes.
Well, as I was saying, Diarmid was
Judy's grandfather, and he rented a small mountainy farm; and he was walking
about the fields one moonlight night, quite melancholy-like in himself for
want of the tobaccy; because, why, the river was flooded, and he could
not get across to buy any, and Diarmid would rather go to bed without his
supper than a whiff of the dudeen. Well, your honour, just as he came to the
old fort in the far field, what
should he see? - the Lord preserve us! - but a large army of the good people,
'coutered for all the world just like the dragoons ! ' Are ye all ready?' said
a little fellow at their head dressed out like a general. 'No;' said a little
curmudgeon of a chap all dressed in red, from the crown of his cocked hat to
the sole of his boot. ' No, general,' said he: 'if you don't get the Fir
darrig a horse he must stay behind, and ye'll lose the battle."
"' There's Diarmid Bawn,' said the
general, pointing to Judy's grandfather, your honour, make a horse of him.'
"So with that master Fir darrig comes
up to Diarmid, who, you may be sure, was in a mighty great fright; but he
determined, seeing there was no help for him, to put a bold face on the
matter; and so he began to cross himself, and to say some blessed words, that
nothing bad could stand before.
" 'Is that what you'd be after, you
spalpeen?' said the little red imp, at the same time grinning a horrible grin;
' I'm not the man to care a straw for either your words or your crossings.'
So, without more to do, he gives poor Diarmid a rap with the flat side of his
sword, and in a moment he was changed into a horse, with little Fir darrig
stuck fast on his back.
" Away they all flew over the wide
ocean, like so many wild geese, screaming and chattering all the time, till
they came to Jamaica; and there they had a murdering fight with the good
people of that country.
Well, it was all very well with them, and
they stuck to it manfully, and fought it out fairly, till one of the Jamaica
men made a cut with his sword under Diarmid's left eye, and then, sir, your
see, poor Diarmid lost his temper entirely, and he dashed into the very middle
of them, with Fir darrig mounted upon his back, and he threw out his heels,
and he whisked his tail about, and wheeled and turned round and round at such
a rate, that he soon made a fair clearance of them, horse, foot, and dragoons.
At last Diarmid's faction got the
better, all through his means; and then they had such feasting and rejoicing,
and gave Diarmid, who was the finest horse amongst them all, the best of every
" ' Let every man take a hand of tobaccy
for Diarmid Bawn,' said the general; and so they did; and away they flew, for
'twas getting near morning, to the old fort back again, and there they
vanished like the mist from the mountain.
" When Diarmid looked about the sun
was rising and he thought it was all a dream, till he saw a big rick of tobaccy
in the old fort, and felt the blood running from his left eye: for sure enough
he was wounded in the battle, and would have been kilt entirely, if it
was n't for a gospel composed by Father Murphy that hung about his neck ever
since he had the scarlet fever; and for certain, it was enough to have given
him another scarlet fever to have had the little red man all night on his
back, whip and spur for the bare life.
However, there was the tobaccy heaped
up in a great heap by his side; and he heard a voice, although he could see no
one, telling him, ' That 'twas all his own, for his good behaviour in the
battle; and that whenever Fir darrig would want a horse again he'd know where
to find a clever beast, as he never rode a better than Diarmid Bawn.' That's
what he said, sir."
"Thank you, Pat," said the
squire; "it certainly is a wonderful story, and I am not surprised at
Judy's alarm. But now, as the storm is over, and the moon shining brightly,
I'll make the best of my way home." So saying, he disrobed himself of the
blanket, put on his coat, and, whistling his dogs, set off across the
mountain; while Patrick stood at the door, bawling after him, "May God
and the blessed Virgin preserve your honour, and keep ye from the good people;
for 't was of a moonlight night like this that Diarmid Bawn was made a horse
of; for the Fir darrig to ride."
Source: Thomas Crofton
Croker - Fairy Legends and Traditions, first published 1825
republished by: Collins Press, Cork, 1998.