Celtic Fairy Tales

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CELTIC FAIRY TALES

SELECTED AND EDITED BY

JOSEPH JACOBS

_SAY THIS

Three times, with your eyes shut_

Mothuighim boladh an Éireannaigh bhinn bhreugaigh faoi m’fhóidín
dúthaigh.

_And you will see

What you will see_

TO ALFRED NUTT

PREFACE

Last year, in giving the young ones a volume of English Fairy Tales, my
difficulty was one of collection. This time, in offering them specimens
of the rich folk-fancy of the Celts of these islands, my trouble has
rather been one of selection. Ireland began to collect her folk-tales
almost as early as any country in Europe, and Croker has found a whole
school of successors in Carleton, Griffin, Kennedy, Curtin, and Douglas
Hyde. Scotland had the great name of Campbell, and has still efficient
followers in MacDougall, MacInnes, Carmichael, Macleod, and Campbell of
Tiree. Gallant little Wales has no name to rank alongside these; in
this department the Cymru have shown less vigour than the Gaedhel.
Perhaps the Eisteddfod, by offering prizes for the collection of Welsh
folk-tales, may remove this inferiority. Meanwhile Wales must be
content to be somewhat scantily represented among the Fairy Tales of
the Celts, while the extinct Cornish tongue has only contributed one
tale.

In making my selection I have chiefly tried to make the stories
characteristic. It would have been easy, especially from Kennedy, to
have made up a volume entirely filled with “Grimm’s Goblins” à la
Celtique
. But one can have too much even of that very good thing, and
I have therefore avoided as far as possible the more familiar
“formulae” of folk-tale literature. To do this I had to withdraw from
the English-speaking Pale both in Scotland and Ireland, and I laid down
the rule to include only tales that have been taken down from Celtic
peasants ignorant of English.

Having laid down the rule, I immediately proceeded to break it. The
success of a fairy book, I am convinced, depends on the due admixture
of the comic and the romantic: Grimm and Asbjörnsen knew this secret,
and they alone. But the Celtic peasant who speaks Gaelic takes the
pleasure of telling tales somewhat sadly: so far as he has been printed
and translated, I found him, to my surprise, conspicuously lacking in
humour. For the comic relief of this volume I have therefore had to
turn mainly to the Irish peasant of the Pale; and what richer source
could I draw from?

For the more romantic tales I have depended on the Gaelic, and, as I
know about as much of Gaelic as an Irish Nationalist M. P., I have had
to depend on translators. But I have felt myself more at liberty than
the translators themselves, who have generally been over-literal, in
changing, excising, or modifying the original. I have even gone
further. In order that the tales should be characteristically Celtic, I
have paid more particular attention to tales that are to be found on
both sides of the North Channel.

In re-telling them I have had no scruple in interpolating now and then
a Scotch incident into an Irish variant of the same story, or vice
versa
. Where the translators appealed to English folklorists and
scholars, I am trying to attract English children. They translated; I
endeavoured to transfer. In short, I have tried to put myself into the
position of an ollamh or sheenachie familiar with both forms of
Gaelic, and anxious to put his stories in the best way to attract
English children. I trust I shall be forgiven by Celtic scholars for
the changes I have had to make to effect this end.

The stories collected in this volume are longer and more detailed than
the English ones I brought together last Christmas. The romantic ones
are certainly more romantic, and the comic ones perhaps more comic,
though there may be room for a difference of opinion on this latter
point. This superiority of the Celtic folk-tales is due as much to the
conditions under which they have been collected, as to any innate
superiority of the folk-imagination. The folk-tale in England is in the
last stages of exhaustion. The Celtic folk-tales have been collected
while the practice of story-telling is still in full vigour, though
there are every signs that its term of life is already numbered. The
more the reason why they should be collected and put on record while
there is yet time. On the whole, the industry of the collectors of
Celtic folk-lore is to be commended, as may be seen from the survey of
it I have prefixed to the Notes and References at the end of the
volume. Among these, I would call attention to the study of the legend
of Beth Gellert, the origin of which, I believe, I have settled.

While I have endeavoured to render the language of the tales simple and
free from bookish artifice, I have not felt at liberty to retell the
tales in the English way. I have not scrupled to retain a Celtic turn
of speech, and here and there a Celtic word, which I have not
explained within brackets—a practice to be abhorred of all good men. A
few words unknown to the reader only add effectiveness and local colour
to a narrative, as Mr. Kipling well knows.

One characteristic of the Celtic folk-lore I have endeavoured to
represent in my selection, because it is nearly unique at the present
day in Europe. Nowhere else is there so large and consistent a body of
oral tradition about the national and mythical heroes as amongst the
Gaels. Only the byline, or hero-songs of Russia, equal in extent the
amount of knowledge about the heroes of the past that still exists
among the Gaelic-speaking peasantry of Scotland and Ireland. And the
Irish tales and ballads have this peculiarity, that some of them have
been extant, and can be traced, for well nigh a thousand years. I have
selected as a specimen of this class the Story of Deirdre, collected
among the Scotch peasantry a few years ago, into which I have been able
to insert a passage taken from an Irish vellum of the twelfth century.
I could have more than filled this volume with similar oral traditions
about Finn (the Fingal of Macpherson’s “Ossian”). But the story of
Finn, as told by the Gaelic peasantry of to-day, deserves a volume by
itself, while the adventures of the Ultonian hero, Cuchulain, could
easily fill another.

I have endeavoured to include in this volume the best and most typical
stories told by the chief masters of the Celtic folk-tale, Campbell,
Kennedy, Hyde, and Curtin, and to these I have added the best tales
scattered elsewhere. By this means I hope I have put together a volume,
containing both the best, and the best known folk-tales of the Celts. I
have only been enabled to do this by the courtesy of those who owned
the copyright of these stories. Lady Wilde has kindly granted me the
use of her effective version of “The Horned Women;” and I have
specially to thank Messrs. Macmillan for right to use Kennedy’s
“Legendary Fictions,” and Messrs. Sampson Low & Co., for the use of Mr.
Curtin’s Tales.

In making my selection, and in all doubtful points of treatment, I have
had resource to the wide knowledge of my friend Mr. Alfred Nutt in all
branches of Celtic folk-lore. If this volume does anything to represent
to English children the vision and colour, the magic and charm, of the
Celtic folk-imagination, this is due in large measure to the care with
which Mr. Nutt has watched its inception and progress. With him by my
side I could venture into regions where the non-Celt wanders at his own
risk.

Lastly, I have again to rejoice in the co-operation of my friend, Mr.
J. D. Batten, in giving form to the creations of the folk-fancy. He has
endeavoured in his illustrations to retain as much as possible of
Celtic ornamentation; for all details of Celtic archaeology he has
authority. Yet both he and I have striven to give Celtic things as they
appear to, and attract, the English mind, rather than attempt the
hopeless task of representing them as they are to Celts. The fate of
the Celt in the British Empire bids fair to resemble that of the Greeks
among the Romans. “They went forth to battle, but they always fell,”
yet the captive Celt has enslaved his captor in the realm of
imagination. The present volume attempts to begin the pleasant
captivity from the earliest years. If it could succeed in giving a
common fund of imaginative wealth to the Celtic and the Saxon children
of these isles, it might do more for a true union of hearts than all
your politics.

JOSEPH JACOBS.

CONTENTS

I. CONNLA AND THE FAIRY MAIDEN
II. GULEESH
III. THE FIELD OF BOLIAUNS
IV. THE HORNED WOMEN
V. CONAL YELLOWCLAW
VI. HUDDEN AND DUDDEN AND DONALD O’NEARY
VII. THE SHEPHERD OF MYDDVAI
VIII. THE SPRIGHTLY TAILOR
IX. THE STORY OF DEIRDRE
X. MUNACHAR AND MANACHAR
XI. GOLD-TREE AND SILVER-TREE
XII. KING O’TOOLE AND HIS GOOSE
XIII. THE WOOING OF OLWEN
XIV. JACK AND HIS COMRADES
XV. THE SHEE AN GANNON AND THE GRUAGACH GAIRE
XVI. THE STORY-TELLER AT FAULT
XVII. THE SEA-MAIDEN
XVIII. A LEGEND OF KNOCKMANY
XIX. FAIR, BROWN, AND TREMBLING
XX. JACK AND HIS MASTER
XXI. BETH GELLERT
XXII. THE TALE OF IVAN
XXIII. ANDREW COFFEY
XXIV. THE BATTLE OF THE BIRDS
XXV. BREWERY OF EGGSHELLS
XXVI. THE LAD WITH THE GOAT-SKIN

NOTES AND REFERENCES

CONNLA AND THE FAIRY MAIDEN

Connla of the Fiery Hair was son of Conn of the Hundred Fights. One day
as he stood by the side of his father on the height of Usna, he saw a
maiden clad in strange attire coming towards him.

“Whence comest thou, maiden?” said Connla.

“I come from the Plains of the Ever Living,” she said, “there where
there is neither death nor sin. There we keep holiday alway, nor need
we help from any in our joy. And in all our pleasure we have no strife.
And because we have our homes in the round green hills, men call us the
Hill Folk.”

The king and all with him wondered much to hear a voice when they saw
no one. For save Connla alone, none saw the Fairy Maiden.

“To whom art thou talking, my son?” said Conn the king.

Then the maiden answered, “Connla speaks to a young, fair maid, whom
neither death nor old age awaits. I love Connla, and now I call him
away to the Plain of Pleasure, Moy Mell, where Boadag is king for aye,
nor has there been complaint or sorrow in that land since he has held
the kingship. Oh, come with me, Connla of the Fiery Hair, ruddy as the
dawn with thy tawny skin. A fairy crown awaits thee to grace thy comely
face and royal form. Come, and never shall thy comeliness fade, nor thy
youth, till the last awful day of judgment.”

The king in fear at what the maiden said, which he heard though he
could not see her, called aloud to his Druid, Coran by name.

“Oh, Coran of the many spells,” he said, “and of the cunning magic, I
call upon thy aid. A task is upon me too great for all my skill and
wit, greater than any laid upon me since I seized the kingship. A
maiden unseen has met us, and by her power would take from me my dear,
my comely son. If thou help not, he will be taken from thy king by
woman’s wiles and witchery.”

Then Coran the Druid stood forth and chanted his spells towards the
spot where the maiden’s voice had been heard. And none heard her voice
again, nor could Connla see her longer. Only as she vanished before the
Druid’s mighty spell, she threw an apple to Connla.

For a whole month from that day Connla would take nothing, either to
eat or to drink, save only from that apple. But as he ate it grew again
and always kept whole. And all the while there grew within him a mighty
yearning and longing after the maiden he had seen.

But when the last day of the month of waiting came, Connla stood by the
side of the king his father on the Plain of Arcomin, and again he saw
the maiden come towards him, and again she spoke to him.

“‘Tis a glorious place, forsooth, that Connla holds among short-lived
mortals awaiting the day of death. But now the folk of life, the
ever-living ones, beg and bid thee come to Moy Mell, the Plain of
Pleasure, for they have learnt to know thee, seeing thee in thy home
among thy dear ones.”

When Conn the king heard the maiden’s voice he called to his men aloud
and said:

“Summon swift my Druid Coran, for I see she has again this day the

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