Visions and Beliefs in the West of Ireland

The Fighting of the Friends

"One time on Hy, one Brito of Columcille's brotherhood was dying, and Columcille gave him his blessing but would not see him die, and went out into the little court of the house. And he had hardly gone out when the life went from Brito. And Columcille was out in the little court, and one of the monks saw him looking upward, and wonder on him, and he asked what was it he saw. And Columcille said, 'I have seen just at this moment the holy angels fighting in the air against the power of the enemy, and I gave thanks to Christ, the Judge, because the winning angels have carried to heaven the soul of this stranger that is the first to have died among us in this island. And do not tell his secret to any person in my lifetime,' he said."
--"Saints and Wonders."

"With that King Arthur entereth into a great forest adventurous, and rideth the day long until he cometh about evensong into the thick of the forest. And he espied a little house beside a little chapel, and it well seemed to him to be a hermitage... And it seemed to him that there was a strife in the chapel. The ones were weeping so tenderly and sweetly as it were angels, and the others spake so harshly as it were fiends .... The voices ceased as soon as he was within. He marvelleth how it came that this house and hermitage were solitary, and what had become of the hermit that dwelt therein. He drew nigh the altar of the chapel, and beheld in front thereof a coffin all discovered, and he saw the hermit lying therein all clad in his vestments, and his hands crossed upon his breast, and he had life in him yet, but he was nigh his end, being at the point of death ... The King departed and so returned back into the little house, and sate him down on a seat whereon the hermit wont to sit. And he heareth the strife and the noise begin again within the chapel, and the ones he heareth speaking high and the others low, and he knoweth well by the voices that the ones are angels and the others devils. And he heareth that the devils are distraining on the hermit's soul, and that judgment will presently be given in their favour, whereof make they great joy. King Arthur is grieved in his heart when he heareth that the angels' voices are stilled. And while he sitteth thus, stooping his head toward the ground, full of vexation and d'scon tent, he heareth in the chapel the voice of a Lady that spake so sweet and clear that no man in this earthly world, were his grief and heaviness never so sore, but and he had heard the sweet voice of her pleading would again have been in joy... The devils go their way all discomfit and aggrieved; and the sweet Mother of our Lord God taketh the soul of the ....... And the angels take it and begin to sing for joy 'Te Deum Laudamus.' And the Holy Lady leadeth them and goeth her way along with them."
--"The High History of the Holy Grail." Translated by Sebastian Evans.
   Before I had read this old story from "The High History of the Holy Grail" I had heard on our own roads of the fighting at the hour of death, and how the friends of the dying among the dead come and use their strength on his side, and I had been shown here and there a house where such a fight had taken place. In the old days it was a king or saint who saw and heard this unearthly battle; but now it is not those who live in palaces who are aware of it, and it is not around the roof of a fair chapel the hosts of good and evil gather in combat for the parting soul, but around the thatched and broken roof of the poor.

I was told by An Islander:

   There are more of the Sheogue in America than what there are here, and more of other sort of spirits. There was a man from there told me that one night in America he had brought his wife's niece that was sick back from the hospital, and had put her in an upper room. And in the evening they heard a scream from her and she called out "The room is full of them, and my father is with them, and my aunt." And he drove them away and used the devil's name and cursed them. And she was left quiet that night, but the next day she said "I'll be destroyed altogether tonight with them." And he said he'd keep them out, and he locked the door of the house. And towards midnight he heard them coming to the door and trying to get in, but he kept it locked and he called to them by way of the keyhole to keep away out of that. And there was talking among them, and the girl that was upstairs said that she could hear the laugh of her father and of her aunt. And they heard the greatest fighting among them that ever was, and after that they went away, and the girl got well. That's what often happens, crying and fighting for one that's sick or going to die.

Mrs. Meagher:

   There was an old woman the other day was telling me of a little girl that was put to bake a cake, for her mother was sick in the room. And when she turned away her head for a minute the cake was gone. And that happened the second day and the third, and the mother was vexed when she heard it, thinking some of the neighbours had come and taken it away.
   But the next day an old man appeared, and she knew he was the grandfather, and he said "It's by me the cake was taken, for I was watching the house these three nights when I knew there was some one sick in it. And you never heard such a fight as there was for her last night, and they would have brought her away but for me that had my shoulder to the door." And the woman began to recover from that time.

Tom Smith:

   There does often be fighting when a person is dying. John Madden's wife that lived in this house before I came to it, the night she died there was a noise heard, that all the village thought that every wall of every garden round about was falling down. But in the morning there was no sign of any of them being fallen.
   And Hannay that lived at Caliir, the bonesetter, when I went to him one time told me that one night late he was walking the road near Ardrahan. And they heard a great noise of fighting in the castle he was passing by, and no one living in it and it open to the sky. And he turned in and was going up the stairs, and a lady in a white dress stopped him and wouldn't let him pass up. But the next day he went to look and he found the floor all covered with blood.
   And before John Casey's death, John Leeson asked me one day were we fighting down at our place, for he heard a great noise of fighting the night before.

A Farmer:

   As to fighting for those that are dying, I'd believe in that. There was a girl died not far from here, and the night of her death there was heard in the air the sound of an army marching, and the drurns beating, and it stopped over the house where she was lying sick. And they could see no one, but could hear the drums and the marching plain enough, and there were like little flames of lightning playing about it.
   Did they fight for Johnny Casey? No, believe me it's not among the faeries Johnny Casey is. Too old he is for them to want him among them, and too cranky.
   I would hardly believe they'd take the old, but we can't know what they might want of them. And it's well to have a friend among them, and it's always said you have no right to fret if your children die, for it's well to have them there before you. And when a person is dying the friends and the others will often come about the house and will give a great challenge for him. They don't want cross people, and they won't take you if you say so much as one cross word. It's only the good and the pious they want. Now isn't that very good of them?

Another:

   There was a young man I knew died, a fine young man, twenty-five years of age. He was seven or eight days ill, and the night he died they could hear fighting around the house, and they heard voices but they couldn't know what they were saying. And in the morning the ground was all covered with blood.
   When Connors the young policeman died, sure the mother said she never heard such fighting as went on within the house. And there was blood splashed high up on the walls. They never let on how he got the touch, but I suppose they knew it them-selves.

A Gatekeeper:

   There was a girl near Westport was away, and the way it came on her was, she was on the road one day and two men passed her, and one of them said, "That's a fine girl," and the other said, "She belongs to my town," and there and then she got a pain in her knee, and couldn't walk home but had to be brought in a car. And she used to be away at night, and thorns in her feet in the morning, but she never said where she went. But one time the sister brought her to Kilfenora, and when they were crossing a bog near to there, she pointed out a house in the bog, and she said "It's there I was last night." And the sister asked did she know any one she saw in it, and she said "There was one I know, that is my mother's cousin," and she told her name. And she said "But for her they'd have me ill-treated, but she fought for me and saved me." She was thought to be dying one time and given over, and my mother sent me to see her, and how was she. And she was lying on the bed and her eyes turned back, and she speechless, and I told my mother when I came home she hadn't an hour to live. And the next day she was up and about and not a thing on her. It might be the mother's cousin that fought for her again there. She went to America after.

An Aran Woman:

   There's often fighting heard about the house where one is sick, that is what we call "the fighting of the friends" for we believe it is the friends and the enemies of the sick person fighting for him.
   I knew a house where there were a good many sleeping one night, and in the morning there was blood on the threshold, and the clothes of those that slept on the floor had blood on them. And it wasn't long after that the woman of the house took sick and died.
   One night there was one of the boys very sick within, and in the morning the grandmother said she heard a great noise of fighting in the night about the door. And she said: "If it hadn't been for Michael and John being drowned, you'd have lost Martin last night. For they were there fighting for him; I heard them, and I saw the shadow of Michael, but when I turned to take hold of him he was gone."