Yeats' FAIRY AND FOLK
TALES OF THE IRISH PEASANTRY
FRANK MARTIN AND THE FAIRIES
Martin was a thin, pale man, when I saw him,
of a sickly look, and a
constitution naturally feeble. His hair was a light auburn, his beard mostly
unshaven, and his hands of a singular delicacy and whiteness, owing, I dare say,
as much to the soft and easy nature of his employment as to his infirm health.
In everything else he was as sensible, sober, and rational as any other man; but
on the topic of fairies, the man's mania was peculiarly strong and immovable.
Indeed, I remember that the expression of his eyes was singularly wild and
hollow, and his long narrow temples sallow and emaciated.
Now, this man did not lead an unhappy life, nor did the malady he laboured
under seem to be productive of either pain or terror to him, although one might
be apt to imagine otherwise. On the contrary, he and the fairies maintained the
most friendly intimacy, and their dialogues--which I fear were woefully one-sided
ones--must have been a source of great pleasure
to him, for they were conducted with much mirth and laughter, on his part at
"Well, Frank, when did you see the fairies?"
"Whist! there's two dozen of them in the shop (the weaving shop) this minute.
There's a little ould fellow sittin' on the top of the sleys, an' all to be
rocked while I'm weavin'. The sorrow's in them, but they're the greatest little
skamers alive, so they are. See, there's another of them at my dressin'
noggin.1 Go out o' that, you shingawn; or, bad cess to me, if
you don't, but I'll lave you a mark. Ha! cut, you thief you!"
"Frank, am't you afeard o' them?"
"Is it me! Arra, what ud' I be afeard o' them for? Sure they have no power
"And why haven't they, Frank?"
"Because I was baptised against them."
"What do you mean by that?"
"Why, the priest that christened me was tould by my father, to put in the
proper prayer against the fairies--an' a priest can't refuse it when he's
asked--an' he did so. Begorra, it's well for me that he did--(let the tallow
alone, you little glutton--see, theres a weeny thief o' them aitin' my
tallow)--becaise, you see, it was their intention to make me king o' the
"Is it possible?"
"Devil a lie in it. Sure you may ax them, an' they'll tell you."
"What size are they, Frank?"
"Oh, little wee fellows, with green coats, an' the purtiest little shoes ever
you seen. There's two of them--both ould acquaintances o' mine--runnin' along
the yarn-beam. That ould fellow with the bob-wig is called Jim jam, an' the
other chap, with the three-cocked hat, is called Nickey Nick. Nickey plays the
pipes. Nickey, give us a tune, or I'll malivogue you--come now, 'Lough Erne Shore'.
The poor fellow, though weaving as fast as he could all the time, yet
bestowed every possible mark of attention to the music, and seemed to enjoy it
as much as if it had been real.
But who can tell whether that which we look upon as a privation may not after
all be a fountain of increased happiness, greater, perhaps, than any which we
ourselves enjoy? I forget who the poet is who says--
"Mysterious are thy laws;
Many a time, when a mere child, not more than six or seven years of age, have
I gone as far as Frank's weaving-shop, in order, with a heart divided between
curiosity and fear, to listen to his conversation with the good people. From
morning till night his tongue was going almost as incessantly as his shuttle;
and it was well known that at night, whenever he awoke out of his sleep, the
first thing he did was to put out his hand, and push them, as it were, off his
The vision's finer
than the view;
Her landscape Nature never drew
So fair as
"Go out o' this, you thieves, you--go out o' this now, an' let me alone.
Nickey, is this any time to be playing the pipes, and me wants to sleep? Go off,
now--troth if yez do, you'll see what I'll give yez tomorrow. Sure I'll be makin' new
dressin's; and if yez behave decently, maybe I'll lave yez the scrapin' o' the pot. There now.
Och! poor things, they're dacent crathurs. Sure
they're all gone, barrin' poor Red-cap, that doesn't like to lave me." And then
the harmless monomaniac would fall back into what we trust was an innocent
About this time there was said to have occurred a very remarkable
circumstance, which gave poor Frank a vast deal of importance among the
neighbours. A man named Frank Thomas, the same in whose house Mickey M'Rorey
held the first dance at which I ever saw him, as detailed in a former sketch;
this man, I say, had a child sick, but of what complaint I
cannot now remember, nor is it of any importance. One of the gables of Thomas's
house was built against, or rather into, a Forth or Rath, called Towny, or
properly Tonagh Forth. It was said to be haunted by the fairies, and what gave
it a character peculiarly wild in my eyes was, that there were on the southern
side of it two or three little green mounds, which were said to be the graves of
unchristened children, over which it was considered dangerous and unlucky to
pass. At all events, the season was mid-summer; and one evening about dusk,
during the illness of the child, the noise of a hand-saw was heard upon the
Forth. This was considered rather strange, and, after a little time, a few of
those who were assembled at Frank Thomas's went to see who it could be that was
sawing in such a place, or what they could be sawing at so late an hour, for
every one knew that nobody in the whole country about them would dare to cut
down the few white-thorns that grew upon the Forth. On going to examine,
however, judge of their surprise, when, after surrounding and searching the
whole place, they could discover no trace of either saw or sawyer. In fact, with
the exception of themselves, there was no one, either natural or supernatural,
visible. They then returned to the house, and had scarcely sat down, when it was
heard again within ten yards of them. Another examination of the premises took
place, but with equal success. Now, however, while standing on the Forth, they
heard the sawing in a little hollow, about a hundred and fifty yards below them,
which was completely exposed to their view. but they could see nobody. A party
of them immediately went down to ascertain, if possible, what this singular
noise and invisible labour could mean; but on arriving at the spot, they heard
the sawing, to which were now added hammering, and the driving of nails upon the
Forth above, whilst those who stood on the Forth continued to hear it in the
hollow. On comparing notes, they resolved to send down to Billy Nelson's for
Frank Martin a distance of only about eighty or ninety yards. He was soon on the
spot, and without a moment's
hesitation solved the enigma.
"'Tis the fairies," said he. 'I see them, and busy crathurs they are."
"But what are they sawing, Frank?"
"They are makin' a child's coffin," he replied; "they have the body already
made, an' they're now nailin' the lid together."
That night the child died, and the story goes that on the second evening
afterwards, the carpenter who was called upon to make the coffin brought a table
out from Thomas's house to the Forth, as a temporary bench; and, it is said,
that the sawing and hammering necessary for the completion of his task were
precisely the same which had been heard the evening but one before--neither more
nor less. I remember the death of the child myself, and the making of its
coffin, but I think the story of the supernatural carpenter was not heard in the
village for some months after its interment.
Frank had every appearance of a hypochondriac about him. At the time I saw
him, he might be about thirty-four years of age, but I do not think, from the
debility of his frame and infirm health, that he has been alive for several
years. He was an object of considerable interest and curiosity, and often have I
been present when he was pointed out to strangers as "the man that could see the
dressings are a species of sizy flummery, which is brushed into the yam to keep
the thread round and even, and to prevent it from being frayed by the friction
of the reed.