CELTIC FAIRY TALES
a poor old fisherman, and one year he was not getting much fish. On a day of
days, while he was fishing, there rose a sea-maiden at the side of his boat, and
she asked him, "Are you getting much fish?" The old man answered and
said, "Not I." "What reward would you give me for sending plenty
of fish to you? "Ach!" said the old man, "I have not much to
spare." "Will you give me the first son you have?" said she.
"I would give ye that, were I to have a son," said he. "Then go
home, and remember me when your son is twenty years of age, and you yourself
will get plenty of fish after this." Everything happened as the sea-maiden
said, and he himself got plenty of fish; but when the end of the twenty years
was nearing, the old man was growing more and more sorrowful and heavy hearted,
while he counted each day as it came.
He had rest neither day nor night. The son asked his father one day, "Is
any one troubling you?" The old man said, "Some one is, but that's nought to do with you nor any one
else." The lad said, "I must know what it is." His father
told him at last how the matter was with him and the sea-maiden. "Let not
that put you in any trouble," said the son; "I will not oppose
you." "You shall not; you shall not go, my son, though I never get
fish any more." "If you will not let me go with you, go to the smithy,
and let the smith make me a great strong sword, and I will go seek my
His father went to the smithy, and the smith made a doughty sword for him.
His father came home with the sword. The lad grasped it and gave it a shake or
two, and it flew into a hundred splinters. He asked his father to go to the
smithy and get him another sword in which there should be twice as much weight;
and so his father did, and so likewise it happened to the next sword--it broke
in two halves. Back went the old man to the smithy; and the smith made a great
sword, its like he never made before. "There's thy sword for thee,"
said the smith, "and the fist must be good that plays this blade." The
old man gave the sword to his son; he gave it a shake or two. "This will
do," said he; "it's high time now to travel on my way."
On the next morning he put a saddle on a black horse that his father had, and
he took the world for his pillow. When he went on a bit, he fell in with the
carcass of a sheep beside the road. And there were a great black dog, a falcon,
and an otter, and they were quarrelling over the spoil. So they asked him to
divide it for them. He came down off the horse, and he divided the carcass
amongst the three. Three shares to the dog, two shares to the otter,
and a share to the falcon. "For this," said the dog, "if
swiftness of foot or sharpness of tooth will give thee aid, mind me, and I will
be at thy side." Said the otter, "If the swimming of foot on the
ground of a pool will loose thee, mind me, and I will be at thy side." Said
the falcon, "If hardship comes on thee, where swiftness of wing or crook of
a claw will do good, mind me, and I will be at thy side."
On this he went onward till he reached a king's house, and he took service to
be a herd, and his wages were to be according to the milk of the cattle. He went
away with the cattle, and the grazing was but bare. In the evening when he took
them home they had not much milk, the place was so bare, and his meat and drink
was but spare that night.
On the next day he went on further with them; and at Last he came to a place
exceedingly grassy, in a green glen, of which he never saw the like.
But about the time when he should drive the cattle homewards, who should he
see coming but a great giant with his sword in his hand? "HI! HO!! HOGARACH!
" says the giant. "Those cattle are mine; they are on my land, and a
dead man art thou."
"I say not that," says the herd; "there is no knowing, but that
may be easier to say than to do."
He drew the great clean-sweeping sword, and he neared the giant. The herd
drew back his sword, and the head was off the giant in a twinkling. He leaped on
the black horse, and he went to look for the giant's house. In went the herd,
and that's the place where there was money in plenty, and dresses of each kind
in the wardrobe with gold and silver, and each thing finer than the other. At the mouth of night he took
himself to the king's house, but he took not a thing from the giant's house. And
when the cattle were milked this night there was milk. He got good
feeding this night, meat and drink without stint, and the king was hugely
pleased that he had caught such a herd. He went on for a time in this way, but
at last the glen grew bare of grass, and the grazing was not so good.
So he thought he would go a little further forward in on the giant's land;
and he sees a great park of grass. He returned for the cattle, and he put them
into the park.
They were but a short time grazing in the park when a great wild giant came
full of rage and madness. "HI! HAW!! HOGARAICH!!!" said the giant.
"It is a drink of thy blood that will quench my thirst this night."
"There is no knowing," said the herd, "but that's easier to say
than to do." And at each other went the men. There was shaking of
blades! At length and at last it seemed as if the giant would get the victory
over the herd. Then he called on the dog, and with one spring the black dog
caught the giant by the neck, and swiftly the herd struck off his head.
He went home very tired this night, but it's a wonder if the king's cattle
had not milk. The whole family was delighted that they had got such a herd.
Next day he betakes himself to the castle. When he reached the door, a little
flattering carlin met him standing in the door. "All hail and good luck to
thee, fisher's son; 'tis I myself am pleased to see thee; great is the honour
for this kingdom, for thy like to be come into it--thy coming in is
fame for this little bothy; go in first; honour to the gentles; go on,
and take breath."
"In before me, thou crone; I like not flattery out of doors; go in and
let's hear thy speech." In went the crone, and when her back was to him he
drew his sword and whips her head off; but the sword flew out of his hand. And
swift the crone gripped her head with both hands, and puts it on her neck as it
was before. The dog sprung on the crone, and she struck the generous dog with
the club of magic; and there he lay. But the herd struggled for a hold of the
club of magic, and with one blow on the top of the head she was on earth in the
twinkling of an eye. He went forward, up a little, and there was spoil! Gold and
silver, and each thing more precious than another, in the crone's castle. He
went back to the king's house, and then there was rejoicing.
He followed herding in this way for a time; but one night after he came home,
instead of getting "All hail" and "Good luck" from the
dairymaid, all were at crying and woe.
He asked what cause of woe there was that night. The dairymaid said
"There is a great beast with three heads in the loch, and it must get some
one every year, and the lot had come this year on the king's daughter, and at
midday tomorrow she is to meet the Laidly Beast at the upper end of the loch,
but there is a great suitor yonder who is going to rescue her."
"What suitor is that?" said the herd. "Oh, he is a great
General of arms," said the dairymaid, "and when he kills the beast, he
will marry the king's daughter, for the king has said that he who could
save his daughter should get her to marry."
But on the morrow, when the time grew near, the king's daughter and this hero
of arms went to give a meeting to the beast, and they reached the black rock, at
the upper end of the loch. They were but a short time there when the beast
stirred in the midst of the loch but when the General saw this terror of a beast with three heads, he took
fright, and he slunk away, and he hid himself. And the king's daughter was under
fear and under trembling, with no one at all to save her. Suddenly she sees a
doughty handsome youth, riding a black horse, and coming where she was. He was
marvellously arrayed and full armed, and his black dog moved after him.
"There is gloom on your face, girl," said the youth; "what do you
"Oh! that's no matter," said the king's daughter. "It's not
long I'll be here, at all events."
"I say not that," said he.
"A champion fled as likely as you, and not long since," said she.
"He is a champion who stands the war," said the youth. And to meet
the beast he went with his sword and his dog. But there was a spluttering and a
splashing between himself and the beast! The dog kept doing all he might, and
the king's daughter was palsied by fear of the noise of the beast! One of them
would now be under, and now above. But at last he cut one of the heads off it.
It gave one roar, and the son of earth, echo of the rocks, called to its
screech, and it drove the loch in spindrift from end to end, and in a twinkling
it went out of sight.
"Good luck and victory follow you, lad!" said the king's daughter.
"I am safe for one night, but the beast will come again and again, until
the other two heads come off it." He caught the beast's head, and he drew a
knot through it, and he told her to bring it with her there tomorrow. She gave
him a gold ring, and went home with the head on her shoulder, and the herd
betook himself to the cows. But she had not gone far when this great General saw
her, and he said to her, "I will kill you if you do not say that 'twas I
took the head off the beast." "Oh!" says she, " 'tis I will
say it; who else took the head off the beast but you! " They reached the
king's house, and the head was on the General's shoulder. But here was
rejoicing, that she should come home alive and whole, and this great captain
with the beast's head full of blood in his hand. On the morrow they went away,
and there was no question at all but that this hero would save the king's
They reached the same place, and they were not long there when the fearful
Laidly Beast stirred in the midst of the loch, and the hero slunk away as he did
on yesterday, but it was not long after this when the man of the black horse
came, with another dress on. No matter; she knew that it was the very same lad.
"It is I am pleased to see you," said she. "I am in hopes you
will handle your great sword to-day as you did yesterday. Come up and take
breath." But they were not long there when they saw the beast steaming in
the midst of the loch.
At once he went to meet the beast, but there was Cloopersteich and
Claperstich, spluttering, splashing, raving, and roaring on the beast! They kept
at it thus for a long time, and about the mouth of night he cut another head off
the beast. He put it on the knot and gave it to her. She gave him one of her
earrings, and he leaped on the black horse, and he betook himself to the
herding. The king's daughter went home with the heads. The General met her, and
took the heads from her, and he said to her, that she must tell that it was he
who took the head off the beast this time also. "Who else took the head off
the beast but you?" said she. They reached the king's house with the heads.
Then there was joy and gladness.
About the same time on the morrow, the two went away. The officer hid himself
as he usually did. The king's daughter betook herself to the bank of the loch.
The hero of the black horse came, and if roaring and raving were on the beast on
the days that were passed, this day it was horrible. But no matter, he
took the third head off the beast, and drew it
through the knot, and gave it to her. She gave him her other earring, and then
she went home with the heads. When they reached the king's house, all were full
of smiles, and the General was to marry the king's daughter the next day. The
wedding was going on, and every one about the castle longing till the priest should come. But when
the priest came, she would marry only the one who could take the heads off the
knot without cutting it. "Who should take the heads off the knot but the
man that put the heads on?" said the king.
The General tried them, but he could not loose them and at last there was no
one about the house but had tried to take the heads off the knot, but they could
not. The king asked if there were any one else about the house that
would try to take the heads off the knot. They said that the herd had not
tried them yet. Word went for the herd; and he was not long throwing them hither
and thither. "But stop a bit, my lad," said the king's daughter;
"the man that took the heads off the beast, he has my ring and my two
earrings." The herd put his hand in his pocket, and he threw them on the
board. "Thou art my man," said the king's daughter. The king was not
so pleased when he saw that it was a herd who was to marry his daughter, but he
ordered that he should be put in a better dress; but his daughter spoke, and she
said that he had a dress as fine as any that ever was in his castle; and thus it
happened. The herd put on the giant's golden dress, and they married that same
They were now married, and everything went on well. But one day, and it was
the namesake of the day when his father had promised him to the sea-maiden, they
were sauntering by the side of the loch, and lo and behold! she came and took
him away to the loch without leave or asking. The king's daughter was now
mournful, tearful, blind-sorrowful for her married man; she was always with her
eye on the loch. An old soothsayer met her, and she told how it had befallen her
married mate. Then he told her the thing to do to save her mate, and that she
She took her harp to the sea-shore, and sat and played; and the sea-maiden
came up to listen, for sea-maidens are fonder of music than all other creatures.
But when the wife saw the sea-maiden she stopped. The sea-maiden said,
"Play on!" but the princess said, "No, not till I see my man
again." So the sea-maiden put up his head out of the loch. Then the
princess played again, and stopped till the sea-maiden put him up to
the waist. Then the princess played and stopped
again, and this time the sea-maiden put him all out of the loch, and he called
on the falcon and became one and flew on shore. But the sea-maiden took the
princess, his wife.
Sorrowful was each one that was in the town on this night. Her man was
mournful, tearful, wandering down and up about the banks of the loch, by day and
night. The old soothsayer met him. The soothsayer told him that there was
no way of killing the sea-maiden but the one way, and this is it--"In the
island that is in the midst of the loch is the white-footed hind of the
slenderest legs and the swiftest step, and though she he caught, there
will spring a hoodie out of her, and though the hoodie should be caught, there
will spring a trout out of her, but there is an egg in the mouth of the trout,
and the soul of the sea-maiden is in the egg, and if the egg breaks, she is
Now, there was no way of getting to this island, for the sea-maiden would
sink each boat and raft that would go on the loch. He thought he would try to
leap the strait with the black horse, and even so he did. The black horse leaped
the strait. He saw the hind, and he let the black dog after her, but when he was
on one side of the island, the hind would he on the other side. "Oh! would
the black dog of the carcass of flesh were here!" No sooner spoke he the
word than the grateful dog was at his side; and after the hind he went, and they
were not long in bringing her to earth. But he no sooner caught her than a
hoodie sprang out of her. "Would that the falcon grey, of sharpest eye and
swiftest wing, were here!" No sooner said he this than the falcon was after
the hoodie, and she was not long putting her to earth; and as the hoodie fell on the bank of the loch,
out of her jumps the trout. "Oh! that thou wert by me now, oh otter!"
No sooner said than the otter was at his side, and out on the loch she leaped,
and brings the trout from the midst of the loch; but no sooner was the otter on
shore with the trout than the egg came from his mouth. He sprang and he put his
foot on it. 'Twas then the sea-maiden appeared, and she said, "Break not
the egg, and you shall get all you ask." "Deliver to me my wife!"
In the wink of an eye she was by his side. When he got hold of her hand in both
his hands, he let his foot down on the egg, and the sea-maiden died.