Yeats' FAIRY AND FOLK
TALES OF THE IRISH PEASANTRY
THE PRIEST'S SUPPER
T. Crofton Croker
It is said by those who ought to understand such things, that the good
people, or the fairies, are some of the angels who were turned out of heaven,
and who landed on their feet in this world, while the rest of their companions,
who had more sin to sink them, went down farther to a worse place. Be this as it
may, there was a merry troop of the fairies, dancing and playing all manner of
wild pranks, on a bright moonlight evening towards the end of September. The
scene of their merriment was not far distant from Inchegeela, in the west of the
county Cork--a poor village, although it had a barrack for soldiers; but great
mountains and barren rocks, like those round about it, are enough to strike
poverty into any place: however as the fairies can have everything they want for
wishing, poverty does not trouble them much, and all their care is to seek out
unfrequented nooks and places where it is not likely any one will come to spoil
On a nice green sod by the river's side were the little fellows dancing in a
ring as gaily as may be, with their red caps wagging about at every bound in the
moonshine, and so light were these bounds that the lobs of dew, although they
trembled under their feet, were not disturbed by their capering. Thus did they
carry on their gambols, spinning round and round, and twirling and bobbing and
diving, and going through all manner of figures, until one of them chirped
"Cease, cease, with your drumming,
And away every one of
the fairies scampered off as hard as they could, concealing themselves under the
green leaves of the lusmore, where, if their little red caps should happen to
peep out, they would only look like its crimson bells; and more hid themselves
at the shady side of stones and brambles, and others under the bank of the
river, and in holes and crannies of one kind or another.
Here's an end to our mumming;
By my smell
I can tell
A priest this way is coming!"
The fairy speaker was not mistaken; for along the road, which was within view
of the river, came Father Horrigan on his pony, thinking to himself that as it
was so late he would make an end of his journey at the first cabin he came to.
According to his determination, he stopped at the dwelling of Dermod
Leary, lifted the latch, and entered with "My blessing on all here".
I need not say that Father Harrigan was a welcome guest wherever he went, for
no man was more pious or better beloved in the country. Now it was a great
trouble to Dermod that he had nothing to offer his reverence for supper as a
relish to the potatoes, which "the old woman", for so Dermod called his wife,
though she was not much past twenty, had down boiling in a pot over the fire; he
thought of the net which he had set in the river, but as it had been there only
a short time, the chances were against his finding a fish in it. "No matter,"
thought Dermod, "there can be no harm in stepping down to try; and maybe, as I
want fish for the priest's supper, that one will be there before me."
Down to the river-side went Dermod, and he found in the net as fine a salmon
as ever jumped in the bright waters of "the spreading Lee"; but as he was going
to take it out, the net was pulled from him, he could not tell how or by whom,
and away got the salmon, and went swimming along with the current as gaily as if
nothing had happened.
Dermod looked sorrowfully at the wake which the fish had left upon the water,
shining like a line of silver in the moonlight, and then, with an angry motion
of his right hand, and a stamp of his foot, gave vent to his feelings by
muttering, "May bitter bad luck attend you night and day for a blackguard
schemer of a salmon, wherever you go! You ought to be ashamed of yourself, if
there's any shame in you, to give me the slip after this fashion! And I'm clear
in my own mind you'll come to no good, for some kind of evil thing or other
helped you---did I not feel it pull the net against me as strong as the devil
"That's not true for you," said one of the little fairies who had scampered
off at the approach of the priest, coming up to Dermod Leary with a whole throng
of companions at his heels; "there was only a dozen and a half of us pulling
Dermod gazed on the tiny speaker with wonder, who continued, "Make yourself
noways uneasy about the priest's supper; for if you will go back and ask him one
question from us, there will be as fine a supper as ever was put on a table
spread out before him in less than no time."
"I'll have nothing at all to do with you," replied Dermod in a tone of
determination; and after a pause he added, "I'm much obliged to you for your
offer, sir, but I know better than to sell myself to you, or the like of you,
for a supper; and more than that, I know Father Harrigan has more regard for my
soul than to wish me to pledge it for ever, out of regard to anything you could
put before him--so there's an end of the matter."
The little speaker, with a pertinacity not to be repulsed by Dermod's manner,
continued, "Will you ask the priest one civil question for us?"
Dermod considered for some time, and he was right in doing so, but he thought
that no one could come to harm out of asking a civil question. "I see no
objection to do that same, gentlemen," said Dermod; "but I will have nothing in
life to do with your supper--mind that."
"Then," said the little speaking fairy, whilst the rest came crowding after
him from all parts, "go and ask Father Horrigan to tell us whether our souls
will be saved at the last day, like the souls of good Christians; and if you
wish us well, bring back word what he says without delay."
Away went Dermod to his cabin, where he found the potatoes thrown out on the
table, and his good woman handing the biggest of them all, a beautiful laughing
red apple, smoking like a hard-ridden horse on a frosty night, over to Father
"Please your reverence," said Dermod, after some hesitation, "may I make bold
to ask your honour one question?"
"What may that be?" said Father Horrigan.
"Why, then, begging your reverence's pardon for my freedom, it is, If the
souls of the good people are to be saved at the last day?"
"Who bid you ask me that question, Leary?" said the priest, fixing his eyes
upon him very sternly, which Dermod could not stand before at all.
"I tell no lies about the matter, and nothing in life but the truth," said
Dermod. "It was the good people themselves who sent me to ask the question, and
there they are in thousands down on the bank of the river, waiting for me to go
back with the answer."
"Go back by all means," said the priest, "and tell them, if they want to
know, to come here to me themselves, and I'll answer that or any other question
they are pleased to ask with the greatest pleasure in life."
Dermod accordingly returned to the fairies, who came swarming round about him
to hear what the priest had said in reply; and Dermod spoke out among them like
a bold man as he was: but when they heard that they must go to the priest, away
they fled, some here and more there, and some this way and more that, whisking
by poor Dermod so fast and in such numbers that he was quite bewildered.
When he came to himself, which was not for a long time, back he went to his
cabin, and ate his dry potatoes along with Father Horrigan, who made quite light
of the thing; but Dermod could not help thinking it a mighty hard case that his
reverence, whose words had the power to banish the fairies at such a rate,
should have no sort of relish to his supper, and that the fine salmon he had in
the net should have been got away from him in such a manner.