The Palace in the Rath
Every one from Bunclody to Enniscorthy knows the rath [a] between Tombrick and Munfin. Well, there was a poor, honest, quiet little creature, that lived just at the pass of Glanamoin, between the hill of Coolgarrow and Kilachdiarmid. His back was broken when he was a child, and he earned his bread by making cradles, and bosses, and chairs, and beehives, out of straw and briers. No one in the barony of Bantry or Scarawalsh could equal him at these. Well, he was a sober little fellow enough, but the best of us may be overtaken. He was coming from tile fair of Enniscorthy one fine summer evening, up along the beautiful shady road of Munfin; and when he came near the stream that bounds Tombrick, he turned into the fields to make his road short. He was singing merrily enough, but by degrees he got a little stupefied; and when he was passing the dry, grassy ditch that surrounds the rath, he felt an inclination to sit and rest himself.
It is hard to sit awhile, and have your eyes a little glassy, and the things seeming to turn round you, without falling off asleep; and asleep my poor little man of straw was in a few minutes. Things like droves of cattle, or soldiers marching, or big flakes of foam on a flooded river, were pushing on through his brain, and he thought the drums were playing a march, when up he woke, and there in the face of the steep bank that was overgrown with bushes and blackthorn, a passage was open between nice pillars, and inside was a great vaulted room, with arches crossing each other, a hundred lamps hanging from the vault, and thousands of nice little gentlemen and ladies, with green coats and gowns, and red sugar-loaf caps, curled at the tops like old Irish birredhs, dancing and singing, and nice little pipers and fiddlers, perched up in a little gallery by themselves, and playing music to help out the singing.
He was a little cowed at first, but as he found no one taking notice of him, he stole in, and sat in a corner, and thought he'd never be tired looking at the fine little people figuring, and cutting capers, and singing. But at last he began to find the singing and music a little tedious.
It was nothing but two short bars and four words, and this was the style :-
"Yae Luan, yae Morth -
Yae Luan, yae Morth.
The longer he looked on, the bolder he grew, and at last he shouted at the end of the verse -
"Agus Dha Haed-yeen."
Oh, such cries of delight as rose up among the merry little gentry ! They began the improved song, and shouted it till the vault rang :-
"Yae Luan, Yae Morth -
Yae Luan, yae Morth -
Yae Luan, yae Morth,
Agus Dha Haed-yeen." [b]
After a few minutes, they all left off the dance, and gathered round the boss maker, and thanked him for improving their tune. "Now," said the chief, "if you wish for anything, only say the word, and, if it is in our power, it must be done." "I thank you, ladies and gentlemen," says he; "and if you would only remove this hump from my back, I'd be the happiest man in the Duffrey." "Oh, easy done, easy done !" said they. "Go on again with the dance, and you come along with us." So on they went with -
"Monday, Tuesday -
Monday, Tuesday -
And Wednesday too."
One fairy taking their new friend by the heel, shot him in a curve to the very roof, and down he came the other side of the hall. Another gave him a shove, and up he flew back again, He felt as if he had wings; and one time when his back touched the roof, he found a sudden delightful change in himself; and just as he touched the ground, he lost all memory of everything around him.
Next morning he was awakened by the sun shining on his face from over Slieve Buie, and he had a delightful feel down along his body instead of the disagreeable cruith he was accustomed to. He felt as if he could go from that to the other side of the stream at one step; and he burned little daylight till he reached Glanarnoin. He had some trouble to persuade the neighbours of the truth of what had happened; but the wonder held only nine days; and he had like to lose his health along with his hump, for if he only made his appearance in Ballycarney, Castle-Dockrell, Ballindaggin, Kilmeashil, or Bunclody, ten people would be inviting him to a share of a tumbler of punch, or a quart of mulled beer.
The news of the wonderful cure was talked of high and low, and even went as far as Ballynocrish, in Bantry, where another poor angashore of a humpback lived. But he was very unlike the Duffrey man in his disposition: he was as cross as a brier, and almost begrudged his right hand to help his left. His poor old aunt and a neighbour of hers set out one day, along with him, along the Bunclody road, passing by Killanne and the old place of the Colcloughs at Duffrey Hall, till they reached Temple-shambo. Then they kept along the hilly by-road till they reached the little man's house near the pass.
So they up and told their business, and he gave them a kind welcome, and explained all the ins and outs of his adventure; and the end was, the four went together in the heel of the evening to the rath, and left the little lord in his glory in the dry, brown grass of the round dyke, where the other met his good fortune. The little ounkran never once thanked them for all the trouble they were taking for him. He only whimpered about being left in that lonesome place, and bade them to be sure to be with him at the flight of night, because he did not know what way to take from it.
At last, the poor cross creature fell asleep; and after dreaming about falling down from rocks, and being held over the sea by his hump, and then that a lion had him by the same hump, and was running away with him, and then that it was put up for a target for soldiers to shoot at, the first volley they gave awoke him, and what was it but the music of the fairies in full career. The melody was the same as it was left them by the hivemaker, and the tune and dancing was twice as good as it was at first. This is the way it went :-
"Yae Luan, yae Morth -
Yae Luan, yae Morth -
Yae Luan, yae Morth,
Agus Dha Haed-yeen."
But the new visitor had neither taste nor discretion; so when they came about the third time to the last line, he croaked out :-
"Agus Dha Yaerd-yeen,
Agus Dha Haen-ya." [c]
It was the same as a cross fiddler that finds nobody going to give him anything, and makes a harsh back-screak of his bow along one of the strings. A thousand voices cried out, "Who stops our dance ? - who stops our dance ?" and all gathered round the poor fellow. He could do nothing but stare at them with his poor, cross, frightened face; and they screamed and laughed till he thought it was all over with him.
But it was not over with him -
"Bring down that hump," says the king; and before you could kiss your hand it was clapped on, as fast as the knocker of Newgate, over the other hump. The music was over now, the lights went out, and the poor creature lay till morning in a nightmare; and there the two women found him, at daybreak, more dead than alive. It was a dismal return they had to Ballynocrish; and the moral of my story is, that you should never drive till you first try the virtue of leading.
This fairy legend is certainly one of the most ancient of its kind. Dancing to the tiresome melody was a punishment inflicted on the fairies for their pristine crimes. No wonder that they should have felt grateful for the improvement effected.
[a] A small circular meadow surrounded by a mound overgrown with furze-bushes, the remains of the earthen fort of one of the small chiefs of old days. They are erroneously called "Danes' forts."
[b] Correctly Dia Luain, Dia Mairt, Dia Ceadoin; - Moon's Day, Mar's Day, Woden's Day (First Fast).
[c] Correctly Diar Daoin, Dia Aaine, Dies Jovis, Dies Veneris, - Thursday, Friday.