CELTIC FAIRY TALES
The Shee an Gannon and the Gruagach Gaire
Shee an Gannon was born in the morning, named at noon, and went in the evening to ask his daughter
of the king of Erin.
"I will give you my daughter in marriage," said the king of Erin;
"you won't get her, though, unless you go and bring me back the tidings
that I want, and tell me what it is that put a stop to the laughing of the
Gruagach Gaire, who before this laughed always, and laughed so loud that the
whole world heard him. There are twelve iron spikes out here in the garden
behind my castle. On eleven of the spikes are the heads of kings' sons who came
seeking my daughter in marriage, and all of them went away to get the knowledge
I wanted. Not one was able to get it and tell me what stopped the Gruagach Gaire
from laughing. I took the heads off them all when they came back without the
tidings for which they went, and I'm greatly in dread that your head'll be on
the twelfth spike, for I'll do the same to you that I did to the eleven
kings' sons unless you tell what put a stop to the
laughing of the Gruagach."
The Shee an Gannon made no answer, but left the king and pushed away to know
could he find why the Gruagach was silent.
He took a glen at a step, a hill at a leap, and travelled all day till
evening. Then he came to a house. The master of the house asked him what sort
was he, and he said: "A young man looking for hire."
"Well," said the master of the house, "I was going to-morrow
to look for a man to mind my cows. If you'll work for me, you'll have a good
place, the best food a man could have to eat in this world, and a soft bed to
The Shee an Gannon took service, and ate his supper. Then the master of the
house said "I am the Gruagach Gaire; now that you are my man and have eaten
your supper, you'll have a bed of silk to sleep on."
Next morning after breakfast the Gruagach said to the Shee an Gannon:
"Go out now and loosen my five golden cows and my bull without horns, and
drive them to pasture; but when you have them out on the grass, be careful you
don't let them go near the land of the giant."
The new cowboy drove the cattle to pasture, and when near the land of the
giant, he saw it was covered with woods and surrounded by a high wall. He went
up, put his back against the wall, and threw in a great stretch of it; then he
went inside and threw out another great stretch of the wall, and put the five
golden cows and the bull without horns on the land of the giant.
Then he climbed a tree, ate the sweet apples himself,
and threw the sour ones down to the cattle of the Gruagach Gaire.
Soon a great crashing was heard in the woods,--the noise of young trees
bending, and old trees breaking. The cowboy looked around, and saw a five-headed
giant pushing through the trees; and soon he was before him.
Poor miserable creature!" said the giant; "but weren't you impudent
to come to my land and trouble me in this way? You're too big for one bite, and
too small for two. I don't know what to do but tear you to pieces."
"You nasty brute," said the cowboy, coming down to him from the
tree, " 'tis little I care for you;" and then they went at each other.
So great was the noise between them that there was nothing in the world but what
was looking on and listening to the combat.
They fought till late in the afternoon, when the giant was getting the upper
hand; and then the cowboy thought that if the giant should kill him, his father
and mother would never find him or set eyes on him again, and he would never get
the daughter of the king of Erin. The heart in his body grew strong at this
thought. He sprang on the giant, and with the first squeeze and thrust he put
him to his knees in the hard ground, with the second thrust to his waist, and
with the third to his shoulders.
"I have you at last; you're done for now!" said the cowboy. Then he
took out his knife, cut the five heads off the giant, and when he had them off
he cut out the tongues and threw the heads over the wall.
Then he put the tongues in his pocket and drove home the cattle. That evening
the Gruagach couldn't find vessels enough in all his place to hold the milk of the five golden cows.
But when the cowboy was on the way home with the cattle, the son of the king
of Tisean came and took the giant's heads and claimed the princess in marriage
when the Gruagach Gaire should laugh.
After supper the cowboy would give no talk to his master, but kept his mind
to himself, and went to the bed of silk to sleep.
On the morning the cowboy rose before his master, and the first words he said
to the Gruagach were:
"What keeps you from laughing, you who used to laugh so loud that the
whole world heard you?"
"I'm sorry," said the Gruagach, "that the daughter of the king
of Erin sent you here."
"If you don't tell me of your own will, I'll make you tell me,"
said the cowboy; and he put a face on himself that was terrible to look at, and
running through the house like a madman, could find nothing that would give pain
enough to the Gruagach but some ropes made of untanned sheepskin hanging on the
He took these down, caught the Gruagach, fastened him by the three smalls,
and tied him so that his little toes were whispering to his ears. When he was in
this state the Gruagach said: "I'll tell you what stopped my laughing if
you set me free."
So the cowboy unbound him, the two sat down together, and the Gruagach said:
"I lived in this castle here with my twelve sons. We ate, drank, played
cards, and enjoyed ourselves, till one day when my sons and I were playing, a
slender brown hare came rushing in, jumped on to the hearth, tossed up the ashes to
the rafters and ran away.
"On another day he came again; but if he did, we were ready for him, my
twelve sons and myself. As soon as he tossed up the ashes and ran off; we made
after him, and followed him till nightfall, when he went into a glen. We saw a
light before us. I ran on, and came to a house with a great apartment, where
there was a man named Yellow Face with twelve daughters, and the hare was tied
to the side of the room near the women.
"There was a large pot over the fire in the room, and a great stork
boiling in the pot. The man of the house said to me: 'There are bundles of
rushes at the end of the roon'., go there and sit down with your men!'
"He went into the next room and brought out two pikes, one of wood, the
other of iron, and asked me which of the pikes would I take. I said, ' I'll take
the iron one; ' for I thought in my heart that if an attack should come on me, I
could defend myself better with the iron than the wooden pike.
"Yellow Face gave me the iron pike, and the first chance of taking what
I could out of the pot on the point of the pike. I got but a small piece of the
stork, and the man of the house took all the rest on his wooden pike. We had to
fast that night; and when the man and his twelve daughters ate the flesh of the
stork, they hurled the bare bones in the faces of my sons and myself.
"We had to stop all night that way, beaten on the faces by the bones of
"Next morning, when we were going away, the man of the house asked me to
stay a while; and going into the next room, he brought out twelve loops of
iron and one of wood, and said to me:
'Put the heads of your twelve sons into the iron loops, or your own head into
the wooden one;' and I said: 'I'll put the twelve heads of my sons in the iron
loops, and keep my own out of the wooden one.'
"He put the iron loops on the necks of my twelve sons, and put the
wooden one on his own neck. Then he snapped the loops one after another, till he
took the heads off my twelve sons and threw the heads and bodies out of the
house; but he did nothing to hurt his own neck.
"When he had killed my sons he took hold of me and stripped the skin and
flesh from the small of my back down, and when he had done that he took the skin
of a black sheep that had been hanging on the wall for seven years and clapped
it on my body in place of my own flesh and skin; and the sheepskin grew on me,
and every year since then I shear myself, and every bit of wool I use for the
stockings that I wear I clip off my own back."
When he had said this, the Gruagach showed the cowboy his back covered with
thick black wool.
After what he had seen and heard, the cowboy said:
"I know now why you don't laugh, and small blame to you. But does that
hare come here still?"
"He does indeed," said the Gruagach.
Both went to the table to play, and they were not long playing cards when the
hare ran in; and before they could stop him he was out again.
But the cowboy made after the hare, and the Gruagach after the cowboy, and
they ran as fast as ever their legs could carry them till nightfall; and when
the hare was entering the castle where the twelve sons of the Gruagach were
killed, the cowboy caught him by the two hind legs and dashed out his brains
against the wall; and the skull of the hare was knocked into the chief room of
the castle, and fell at the feet of the master of the place.
"Who has dared to interfere with my fighting pet?" screamed Yellow
"I," said the cowboy; "and if your pet had had manners, he
might be alive now.
The cowboy and the Gruagach stood by the fire. A stork was boiling in the
pot, as when the Gruagach came the first time. The master of the house went into
the next room and brought out an iron and a wooden pike, and asked the cowboy
which would he choose.
"I'll take the wooden one," said the cowboy; "and you may keep
the iron one for yourself."
So he took the wooden one; and going to the pot, brought out on the pike all
the stork except a small bite, and he and the Gruagach fell to eating, and they
were eating the flesh of the stork all night. The cowboy and the Gruagach were
at home in the place that time.
In the morning the master of the house went into the next room, took down the
twelve iron loops with a wooden one, brought them out, and asked the cowboy
which would he take, the twelve iron or the one wooden loop.
"What could I do with the twelve iron ones for myself or my master? I'll
take the wooden one."
He put it on, and taking the twelve iron loops, put them on the necks of the
twelve daughters of the house, then snapped the twelve heads off them, and
turning to their father, said "I'll do the same thing to you unless you
bring the twelve sons of my master to life, and make them as well and strong
as when you took their heads."
The master of the house went out and brought the twelve to life again; and
when the Gruagach saw all his sons alive and as well as ever, he let a laugh out
of himself, and all the Eastern world heard the laugh.
Then the cowboy said to the Gruagach: "It's a bad thing you have done to
me, for the daughter of the king of Erin will be married the day after your
laugh is heard."
"Oh! then we must he there in time," said the Gruagach; and they
all made away from the place as fast as ever they could, the cowboy, the
Gruagach, and his twelve sons.
They hurried on; and when within three miles of the king's castle there was
such a throng of people that no one could go a step ahead. "We must clear a
road through this," said the cowboy.
"We must indeed," said the Gruagach; and at it they went, threw the
people some on one side and some on the other, and soon they had an opening for
themselves to the king's castle.
As they went in, the daughter of the king of Erin and the son of the king of
Tisean were on their knees just going to be married. The cowboy drew his hand on
the bridegroom, and gave a blow that sent him spinning till he stopped under a
table at the other side of the room.
"What scoundrel struck that blow?" asked the king of Erin.
"It was I," said the cowboy.
"What reason had you to strike the man who won my daughter?"
"It was I who won your daughter, not he; and if you don't believe me,
the Gruagach Gaire is here himself. He'll tell you the whole story from
beginning to end, and show you the tongues of the giant."
So the Gruagach came up and told the king the whole story, how the Shee an
Gannon had become his cowboy, had guarded the five golden cows and the bull
without horns, cut off the heads of the five-headed giant, killed the wizard
hare, and brought his own twelve sons to life. "And then," said the
Gruagach, "he is the only man in the whole world I have ever told why I
stopped laughing, and the only one who has ever seen my fleece of wool."
When the king of Erin heard what the Gruagach said,
and saw the tongues of the giant fitted in the head, he made the Shee an
Gannon kneel down by his daughter, and they were married on the spot.
Then the son of the king of Tisean was thrown into prison, and the next day
they put down a great fire, and the deceiver was burned to ashes.
The wedding lasted nine days, and the last day was better than the first.