Yeats' FAIRY AND FOLK
TALES OF THE IRISH PEASANTRY
LOUGHLEAGH (LAKE OF
"Do you see that bit of lake," said
my companion, turning his eyes towards
the acclivity that overhung Loughleagh. "Troth, and as little as you think of
it, and as ugly as it looks with its weeds and its flags, it is the most famous
one in all Ireland. Young and ould, rich and poor, far and near, have come to
that lake to get cured of all kinds of scurvy and sores. The Lord keep us our
limbs whole and sound, for it's a sorrowful thing not to have the use o' them.
'Twas but last week we had a great grand Frenchman here; and, though he came
upon crutches, faith he went home sound as a bell; and well he paid Billy Reily
for curing him?"
"And, pray, how did Billy Reily cure him?"
"Oh, well enough. He took his long pole, dipped it down to the bottom of the
lake, and brought up on the top of it as much plaster as would do for a thousand
"What kind of plaster?"
"What kind of plaster? why black plaster to be sure; for isn't the bottom of
the lake filled with a kind of black mud which cures all the world?"
"Then it ought to be a famous lake indeed."
"Famous, and so it is," replied my companion, "but it isn't for its cures
neather that it is famous; for, sure, doesn't all the world know there is a fine
beautiful city at the bottom of it, where the good people live just like
Christians. Troth, it is the truth I tell you; for Shemus-a-sneidh saw it
all when he followed his dun cow that was stolen."
"Who stole her?"
"I'll tell you about it:--Shemus was a poor gossoon, who lived on the brow of
the hill, in a cabin with his ould mother. They lived by hook and by crook, one
way and another, in the best way they could. They had a bit of ground that gave
'em the preaty, and a little dun cow that gave 'em the drop o' milk; and,
considering how times go, they weren't badly off, for Shemus was a handy gossoon
to boot; and, while minden the cow, cut heath and made brooms, which his mother
sould on a market-day, and brought home the bit o' tobaccy, the grain of salt,
and other nic-nackeness, which a poor body can't well do widout. Once upon a
time, however, Shemus went farther than usual up the mountain, looken for long
heath, for townspeople don't like to stoop and so like long handles to their
brooms. The little dun cow was a'most as cunning as a Christian sinner, and
followed Shemus like a lap-dog everywhere he'd go, so that she required little
or no herden. On this day she found nice picken on a round spot as green as a
leek; and, as poor Shemus was weary, as a body would be on a fine summer's day,
he lay down on the grass to rest himself, just as we're resten ourselves on the
cairn here. Begad, he hadn't long lain there, sure enough, when, what should he
see but whole loads of ganconers2 dancing about the place. Some o' them were hurlen, some kicking a football, and others
leaping a kick-step-and-a-lep. They were so soople and so active that Shemus was
highly delighted with the sport, and a little tanned-skinned chap in a red cap
pleased him better than any o' them, bekase he used to tumble the other fellows
like mushrooms. At one time he had kept the ball up for as good as half-an-hour,
when Shemus cried out, 'Well done, my hurler! 'The word wasn't well out of his
mouth when whap went the ball on his eye, and flash went the fire. Poor Shemus
thought he was blind, and roared out, 'Mille murdher!'3 but the only thing he heard was a loud laugh. 'Cross o'
Christ about us,' says he to himself, 'what is this for?' and afther rubbing his
eyes they came to a little, and he could see the sun and the sky, and,
by-and-by, he could see everything but his cow and the mischievous ganconers.
They were gone to their rath or mote; but where was the little dun cow? He
looked and he looked, and he might have looked from that day to this, bekase she
wasn't to be found, and good reason why--the ganconers took her away with
"Shemus-a-sneidh, however, didn't think so, but ran home to his mother.
"'Where is the cow, Shemus?' axed the ould woman.
"'Och, musha, bad luck to her,' said Shemus, 'I donna where she is!'
"'Is that an answer, you big blaggard, for the likes o' you to give your poor
ould mother?' said she.
"'Och, musha,' said Shemus, 'don't kick up saich a bollhous about
nothing. The ould cow is safe enough, I'll be bail, some place or other, though
I could find her if I put my eyes upon kippeens,4 and, speaking of eyes, faith, I had very good luck o' my
side, or I had naver a one to look after her.'
"'Why, what happened your eyes, agrah?' axed the ould woman.
"'Oh! didn't the ganconers--the Lord save us from all
hurt and harm!--drive their hurlen ball into them both! and sure I was stone
blind for an hour.'
"'And may be,' said the mother, 'the good people took our cow?'
"'No, nor the devil a one of them,' said Shemus, 'for, by the powers, that
same cow is as knowen as a lawyer, and wouldn't be such a fool as to go with the
ganconers while she could get such grass as I found for her today.'
In this way, continued my informant, they talked about the cow all that
night, and next mornen both o' them set off to look for her. After searching
every place, high and low, what should Shemus see sticking out of a bog-hole but
something very like the horns of his little beast!
"Oh, mother, mother," said he, "I've found her!"
"Where, alanna?" axed the ould woman.
"In the bog-hole, mother," answered Shemus.
At this the poor ould creathure set up such a pullallue that she
brought the seven parishes about her; and the neighbours soon pulled the cow out
of the bog-hole. You'd swear it was the same, and yet it wasn't, as you shall
Shemus and his mother brought the dead beast home with them; and, after
skinnen her, hung the meat up in the chimney. The loss of the drop o' milk was a
sorrowful thing, and though they had a good deal of meat, that couldn't last
always; besides, the whole parish faughed upon them for eating the flesh
of a beast that died without bleeden. But the pretty thing was, they couldn't
eat the meat after all, for when it was boiled it was as tough as carrion, and
as black as a turf. You might as well think of sinking your teeth in an oak
plank as into a piece of it, and then you'd want to sit a great piece from the
wall for fear of knocking your head against it when pulling it through your
teeth. At last and at long run they were forced to throw it to the dogs, but the
dogs wouldn't smell to it, and so it was thrown into the ditch, where it rotted.
This misfortune cost poor Shemus many a salt tear, for he was now obliged to
work twice as hard as before, and be out cutten heath on the mountain late and early. One day he was passing by this cairn
with a load of brooms on his back, when what should he see but the little dun
cow and two redheaded fellows herding her.
"That's my mother cow," said Shemus-a-sneidh.
"No, it is not," said one of the chaps.
"But I say it is," said Shemus, throwing the brooms on the ground, and
seizing the cow by the horns. At that the red fellows drove her as fast as they
could to this steep place, and with one leap she bounced over, with Shemus stuck
fast to her horns. They made only one splash in the lough when the waters closed
over 'em, and they sunk to the bottom. Just as Shemus-a-sneidh thought that all
was over with him, he found himself before a most elegant palace built with
jewels and all manner of fine stones. Though his eyes were dazzled with the
splendour of the place, faith he had gomsh5 enough not to let go his holt, but in spite of all they
could do he held his little cow by the horns, He was axed into the palace, but
The hubbub at last grew so great that the door flew open and out walked a
hundred ladies and gentlemen, as fine as any in the land.
"What does this boy want?" axed one o' them, who seemed to be the
"I want my mother's cow," said Shemus.
"That's not your mother's cow," said the gentleman.
"Bethershin!"6 cried Shemus-a-sneidh; "don't I know hex as well as I know
my right hand?"
"Where did you lose her?" axed the gentleman. And so Shemus up and tould him
all about it how he was on the mountain--how he saw the good people hurlen--how
the ball was knocked in his eye, and his cow was lost.
"I believe you are right," said the gentleman, pulling out his purse, "and
here is the price of twenty cows for you."
"No, no," said Shemus, "you'll not catch ould birds wid chaff. I'll have my
cow and nothen else.'
"You're a funny fellow," said the gentleman; "stop here and live in a
"I'd rather live with my mother."
"Foolish boy!" said the gentleman; "stop here and live in a palace."
"I'd rather live in my mother's cabin."
"Here you can walk through gardens loaded with fruit and flowers."
"I'd rather," said Shemus, "be cutting heath on the mountain."
"Here you can eat and drink of the best."
"Since I've got my cow, I can have milk once more with the praties."
"Oh!" cried the ladies, gathering round him, "sure you wouldn't take away the
cow that gives us milk for our tea?"
"Oh!" said Shemus, "my mother wants milk as bad as anyone, and she must have
it; so there is no use in your palaver--I must have my cow."
At this they all gathered about him and offered him bushels of gould, but he
wouldn't have anything but his cow. Seeing him as obstinate as a mule, they
began to thump and beat him; but still he held fast by the horns, till at length
a great blast of wind blew him out of the place, and in a moment he found
himself and the cow standing on the side of the lake, the water of which looked
as if it hadn't been disturbed since Adam was a boy--and that's a long time
Well, Shemus-a-sneidh drove home his cow, and right glad his mother was to
see her; but the moment she said 'God bless the beast', she sunk down like the
breesha7 of a turf rick. That was the end of Shemus-a-sneidh's dun
"And, sure," continued my companion, standing up, "it is now time for me to
look after my brown cow, and God send the ganconers haven't taken her!"
Of this I assured him there could be no fear; and so we parted.
1. Dublin and London Magazine, 1825.
gean-canach--i.e., love-talker, a kind of fairy appearing in
lonesome valleys, a dudeen (tobacco-pipe) in his mouth, making love to
cipin--i.e., a stick, a twig.
5. Otherwise "gumshun--" i.e., sense, cuteness.
B'Ã©dir sin--i.e., "that is possible."
THE GANCONER OR GANCANAGH [GEAN-CANACH]
O'Kearney, a Louthman, deeply versed in Irish lore, writes of the