Read Celtic Fairy Tales Online
Authors: Joseph Jacobs
Not long were the witches in coming back, and they raged and called
"Open! open!" they screamed; "open, feet-water!"
"I cannot," said the feet-water; "I am scattered on the ground, and
my path is down to the Lough."
"Open, open, wood and trees and beam!" they cried to the door.
"I cannot," said the door, "for the beam is fixed in the jambs and I
have no power to move."
"Open, open, cake that we have made and mingled with blood!" they
"I cannot," said the cake, "for I am broken and bruised, and my
blood is on the lips of the sleeping children."
Then the witches rushed through the air with great cries, and fled
back to Slievenamon, uttering strange curses on the Spirit of the
Well, who had wished their ruin; but the woman and the house were
left in peace, and a mantle dropped by one of the witches in her
flight was kept hung up by the mistress in memory of that night; and
this mantle was kept by the same family from generation to
generation for five hundred years after.
Conall Yellowclaw was a sturdy tenant in Erin: he had three sons.
There was at that time a king over every fifth of Erin. It fell out
for the children of the king that was near Conall, that they
themselves and the children of Conall came to blows. The children of
Conall got the upper hand, and they killed the king's big son. The
king sent a message for Conall, and he said to him—"Oh, Conall!
what made your sons go to spring on my sons till my big son was
killed by your children? but I see that though I follow you
revengefully, I shall not be much better for it, and I will now set
a thing before you, and if you will do it, I will not follow you
with revenge. If you and your sons will get me the brown horse of
the king of Lochlann, you shall get the souls of your sons."
"Why," said Conall, "should not I do the pleasure of the king,
though there should be no souls of my sons in dread at all. Hard is
the matter you require of me, but I will lose my own life, and the
life of my sons, or else I will do the pleasure of the king."
After these words Conall left the king, and he went home: when he
got home he was under much trouble and perplexity. When he went to
lie down he told his wife the thing the king had set before him. His
wife took much sorrow that he was obliged to part from herself,
while she knew not if she should see him more.
"Oh, Conall," said she, "why didst not thou let the king do his own
pleasure to thy sons, rather than be going now, while I know not if
ever I shall see thee more?"
When he rose on the morrow, he set himself and his three sons in
order, and they took their journey towards Lochlann, and they made
no stop but tore through ocean till they reached it. When they
reached Lochlann they did not know what they should do. Said the old
man to his sons, "Stop ye, and we will seek out the house of the
When they went into the house of the king's miller, the man asked
them to stop there for the night. Conall told the miller that his
own children and the children of his king had fallen out, and that
his children had killed the king's son, and there was nothing that
would please the king but that he should get the brown horse of the
king of Lochlann.
"If you will do me a kindness, and will put me in a way to get him,
for certain I will pay ye for it."
"The thing is silly that you are come to seek," said the miller;
"for the king has laid his mind on him so greatly that you will not
get him in any way unless you steal him; but if you can make out a
way, I will keep it secret."
"This is what I am thinking," said Conall, "since you are working
every day for the king, you and your gillies could put myself and my
sons into five sacks of bran."
"The plan that has come into your head is not bad," said the miller.
The miller spoke to his gillies, and he said to them to do this, and
they put them in five sacks. The king's gillies came to seek the
bran, and they took the five sacks with them, and they emptied them
before the horses. The servants locked the door, and they went away.
When they rose to lay hand on the brown horse, said Conall, "You
shall not do that. It is hard to get out of this; let us make for
ourselves five hiding holes, so that if they hear us we may go and
hide." They made the holes, then they laid hands on the horse. The
horse was pretty well unbroken, and he set to making a terrible
noise through the stable. The king heard the noise. "It must be my
brown horse," said he to his gillies; "find out what is wrong with
The servants went out, and when Conall and his sons saw them coming
they went into the hiding holes. The servants looked amongst the
horses, and they did not find anything wrong; and they returned and
they told this to the king, and the king said to them that if
nothing was wrong they should go to their places of rest. When the
gillies had time to be gone, Conall and his sons laid their hands
again on the horse. If the noise was great that he made before, the
noise he made now was seven times greater. The king sent a message
for his gillies again, and said for certain there was something
troubling the brown horse. "Go and look well about him." The
servants went out, and they went to their hiding holes. The servants
rummaged well, and did not find a thing. They returned and they told
"That is marvellous for me," said the king: "go you to lie down
again, and if I notice it again I will go out myself."
When Conall and his sons perceived that the gillies were gone, they
laid hands again on the horse, and one of them caught him, and if
the noise that the horse made on the two former times was great, he
made more this time.
"Be this from me," said the king; "it must be that some one is
troubling my brown horse." He sounded the bell hastily, and when his
waiting-man came to him, he said to him to let the stable gillies
know that something was wrong with the horse. The gillies came, and
the king went with them. When Conall and his sons perceived the
company coming they went to the hiding holes.
The king was a wary man, and he saw where the horses were making a
"Be wary," said the king, "there are men within the stable, let us
get at them somehow."
The king followed the tracks of the men, and he found them. Every
one knew Conall, for he was a valued tenant of the king of Erin, and
when the king brought them up out of the holes he said, "Oh, Conall,
is it you that are here?"
"I am, O king, without question, and necessity made me come. I am
under thy pardon, and under thine honour, and under thy grace." He
told how it happened to him, and that he had to get the brown horse
for the king of Erin, or that his sons were to be put to death. "I
knew that I should not get him by asking, and I was going to steal
"Yes, Conall, it is well enough, but come in," said the king. He
desired his look-out men to set a watch on the sons of Conall, and
to give them meat. And a double watch was set that night on the sons
"Now, O Conall," said the king, "were you ever in a harder place
than to be seeing your lot of sons hanged tomorrow? But you set it
to my goodness and to my grace, and say that it was necessity
brought it on you, so I must not hang you. Tell me any case in which
you were as hard as this, and if you tell that, you shall get the
soul of your youngest son."
"I will tell a case as hard in which I was," said Conall. "I was
once a young lad, and my father had much land, and he had parks of
year-old cows, and one of them had just calved, and my father told
me to bring her home. I found the cow, and took her with us. There
fell a shower of snow. We went into the herd's bothy, and we took
the cow and the calf in with us, and we were letting the shower pass
from us. Who should come in but one cat and ten, and one great one-
eyed fox-coloured cat as head bard over them. When they came in, in
very deed I myself had no liking for their company. 'Strike up with
you,' said the head bard, 'why should we be still? and sing a cronan
to Conall Yellowclaw.' I was amazed that my name was known to the
cats themselves. When they had sung the cronan, said the head bard,
'Now, O Conall, pay the reward of the cronan that the cats have sung
to thee.' 'Well then,' said I myself, 'I have no reward whatsoever
for you, unless you should go down and take that calf.' No sooner
said I the word than the two cats and ten went down to attack the
calf, and in very deed, he did not last them long. 'Play up with
you, why should you be silent? Make a cronan to Conall Yellowclaw,'
said the head bard. Certainly I had no liking at all for the cronan,
but up came the one cat and ten, and if they did not sing me a
cronan then and there! 'Pay them now their reward,' said the great
fox-coloured cat. 'I am tired myself of yourselves and your
rewards,' said I. 'I have no reward for you unless you take that cow
down there.' They betook themselves to the cow, and indeed she did
not last them long.
"'Why will you be silent? Go up and sing a cronan to Conall
Yellowclaw,' said the head bard. And surely, oh king, I had no care
for them or for their cronan, for I began to see that they were not
good comrades. When they had sung me the cronan they betook
themselves down where the head bard was. 'Pay now their reward, said
the head bard; and for sure, oh king, I had no reward for them; and
I said to them, 'I have no reward for you.' And surely, oh king,
there was catterwauling between them. So I leapt out at a turf
window that was at the back of the house. I took myself off as hard
as I might into the wood. I was swift enough and strong at that
time; and when I felt the rustling toirm of the cats after me I
climbed into as high a tree as I saw in the place, and one that was
close in the top; and I hid myself as well as I might. The cats
began to search for me through the wood, and they could not find me;
and when they were tired, each one said to the other that they would
turn back. 'But,' said the one-eyed fox-coloured cat that was
commander-in-chief over them, 'you saw him not with your two eyes,
and though I have but one eye, there's the rascal up in the tree.'
When he had said that, one of them went up in the tree, and as he
was coming where I was, I drew a weapon that I had and I killed him.
'Be this from me!' said the one-eyed one—'I must not be losing my
company thus; gather round the root of the tree and dig about it,
and let down that villain to earth.' On this they gathered about the
tree, and they dug about the root, and the first branching root that
they cut, she gave a shiver to fall, and I myself gave a shout, and
it was not to be wondered at.
"There was in the neighbourhood of the wood a priest, and he had ten
men with him delving, and he said, 'There is a shout of a man in
extremity and I must not be without replying to it.' And the wisest
of the men said, 'Let it alone till we hear it again.' The cats
began again digging wildly, and they broke the next root; and I
myself gave the next shout, and in very deed it was not a weak one.
'Certainly,' said the priest, 'it is a man in extremity—let us
move.' They set themselves in order for moving. And the cats arose
on the tree, and they broke the third root, and the tree fell on her
elbow. Then I gave the third shout. The stalwart men hastened, and
when they saw how the cats served the tree, they began at them with
the spades; and they themselves and the cats began at each other,
till the cats ran away. And surely, oh king, I did not move till I
saw the last one of them off. And then I came home. And there's the
hardest case in which I ever was; and it seems to me that tearing by
the cats were harder than hanging to-morrow by the king of
"Och! Conall," said the king, "you are full of words. You have freed
the soul of your son with your tale; and if you tell me a harder
case than that you will get your second youngest son, and then you
will have two sons."
"Well then," said Conall, "on condition that thou dost that, I will
tell thee how I was once in a harder case than to be in thy power in
"Let's hear," said the king.
"I was then," said Conall, "quite a young lad, and I went out
hunting, and my father's land was beside the sea, and it was rough
with rocks, caves, and rifts. When I was going on the top of the
shore, I saw as if there were a smoke coming up between two rocks,
and I began to look what might be the meaning of the smoke coming up
there. When I was looking, what should I do but fall; and the place
was so full of heather, that neither bone nor skin was broken. I
knew not how I should get out of this. I was not looking before me,
but I kept looking overhead the way I came—and thinking that the
day would never come that I could get up there. It was terrible for
me to be there till I should die. I heard a great clattering coming,
and what was there but a great giant and two dozen of goats with
him, and a buck at their head. And when the giant had tied the
goats, he came up and he said to me, 'Hao O! Conall, it's long since
my knife has been rusting in my pouch waiting for thy tender flesh.'
'Och!' said I, 'it's not much you will be bettered by me, though you
should tear me asunder; I will make but one meal for you. But I see
that you are one-eyed. I am a good leech, and I will give you the
sight of the other eye.' The giant went and he drew the great
caldron on the site of the fire. I myself was telling him how he
should heat the water, so that I should give its sight to the other
eye. I got heather and I made a rubber of it, and I set him upright
in the caldron. I began at the eye that was well, pretending to him
that I would give its sight to the other one, till I left them as
bad as each other; and surely it was easier to spoil the one that
was well than to give sight to the other.