Once a Week (magazine)/Series 1/Volume 5/How the O'Donnells first went to Spain - Part 2




Phelim O’Neal O’Donnell was greatly astonished, upon awakening the next morning, to discover he was lying on a bed of straw in a little out-house composed of white stones. (That out-house is still standing; I covered it with a new roof last year, and I keep six pigs in it this minute—the real ‘Cannock-and-white’ breed, and well worth six pounds a-piece at any fair or market in the country.) He looked about him, and he could not at first understand what had brought him there, or how he could ever have been carried inside it, for it did not seem to be half large enough or long enough for a man of his size.

‘This is no place for one of the O’Donnells to be stopping in,’ said Phelim to himself, as he stood up, and attempted to walk to the door; when, to his great horror, he discovered that he must stumble and break his neck if he did not fall upon his hands to steady himself.

‘Ah, then, what in the world is the matter with me at all, at all?’ cried Phelim; ‘I do not seem to have the right use of my feet, and I feel it far more convenient to walk on my hands than to have them, as I used to do, dangling in the air. Lord preserve me! I am beginning to be afraid I am bewitched.’

“Phelim’s thoughts were interrupted by the clucking of a hen and the gobbling of a duck.

‘By Gogstie! if it isn’t mad I am becoming,’ said Phelim; ‘I think I can understand every word the fowls outside are speaking to one another. There is no harm in listening, at all events.’

‘There is something strange,’ (so Phelim understood an old duck to say to a hen outside). ‘There is something very strange indeed going on in this place for the last two days, Mrs. Dorking. During all that time I have not once seen the young mistress. I wonder what has become of her. She used to feed us as regular as clock-work, and I feel as hungry as a hawk this morning.’

‘I can tell you all about the young mistress,’ so Phelim understood the old hen to say to the duck. ‘I missed her at feeding-time as well as you, and I fluttered up-stairs to look for her. During the last two days she has been sleeping as sound as a top in her own bed.’

‘Why, then, Mrs. Dorking, isn’t it a burning shame for a young girl like that to be so lazy? Surely she might as well get up and feed us, and then go to bed again, if she chose,’ said the duck, in a very angry manner.

‘But what do you say, Mrs. Muscovy,’ replied the hen, ‘if the poor young lady could not help it?’

‘And why couldn’t she help it, and I starving?’ asked the duck.

‘Because she was bewitched,’ answered the hen.

‘Bewitched! Ah! who could be so cruel as to bewitch such a good young creature as that?’ asked the duck.

‘I cannot say for certain,’ replied the hen; ‘but my belief is, the person who did it was her own grandmother; and I am sorry to say that I fear the young lady is not the only one she has so treated; for, last night, just as I was going to roost, I observed Mother Olliffe carrying a beautiful yellow goat with a red beard in her arms into that out-house there, and that yellow goat, I strongly suspect, is some Christian that is bewitched.’

“Phelim O’Neal O’Donnell trembled with terror when he heard these words pronounced. He looked down at his hands; they were no longer visible; both were covered over with yellow horn-hoofs. His yellow sleeves were changed into yellow hair, and in his agony he shrieked aloud, and terrified himself by the doleful Mah! that issued from his lips.

“The knees of Phelim O’Neal O’Donnell bent beneath him, and he sank upon his side in the midst of the straw, for he felt as if his heart was breaking with grief, horror, and despair.

“When things are at the worst they must mend. So it is with everybody, and so it was with Phelim O’Neal O’Donnell; for at that instant, when he thought that the pleasures of life had for ever departed from him, he heard, and his heart jumped for joy at the sound, the voice of his beloved Aileen calling all the barn-door fowl around her.

“There was a frightful clamour in the farmyard for at least ten minutes. The pigs were grunting, the dogs barking, the geese and the ducks gobbling, the hens cackling, and the little chickens chirping all at once and together. At length they all began feeding, and there was comparative silence amongst them.

“Phelim O’Neal O’Donnell took advantage of this repose, and he gave forth a loud, vehement, and impatient ‘Mah!’

‘What! a goat in the out-house?’ exclaimed Aileen, ‘I must see it.’

“And as she spoke the door was opened by her, and Phelim rushed out and went down on his two front legs before her.

‘Oh! what a lovely animal, and so tame, too! On its knees before me—I never saw the like of it!’ cried Aileen. ‘A yellow-haired goat, too, with a red beard. It reminds me of my beloved hero, Phelim O’Neal O’Donnell, in his yellow jacket and red sash. Oh! my charming, darling goat, I must kiss you!’

“And as Aileen said these words, she caught the goat by his red beard, and, raising up its head, kissed it on the mouth.

“She was astonished to see the goat rising on its hind legs, and capering round the yard, to the fear and terror of all the ducks and hens that were the mothers of chickens and ducklings.

‘Oh! you dear and sensible darling!’ cried the delighted Aileen, ‘a person would fancy you could understand every word I say to you.’

“The yellow goat nodded its head.

‘You really can! Is it possible?’ said Aileen to the goat.

“The yellow goat again nodded its head.

‘Very well—if you can, when you mean to say “Yes” nod your head; and when you want to say “No,” shake it.’

“The yellow goat first nodded its head, and then shook it.

‘Oh! grandmother!’ cried Aileen to Moyra Olliffe (who entered the farm-yard at this moment), ‘where did you get this beautiful goat? I never saw anything to equal it.’

“Old Moyra Olliffe had not time to answer the question; for the moment the goat saw the old witch he ran at her, and gave her a puck with his two horns, such as she never had in her life before, for it sent her head over heels three times running, and at last landed her into the pig-trough, where those animals were at that moment feeding, and they, in their rage, all began biting her.

“Aileen, terrified at the danger to which her grandmother was exposed, ran and dragged her out of the pig-trough, and then, looking round, exclaimed, ‘Alas! the beautiful yellow goat has run away from us!’

‘And well for him he did so,’ replied the infuriated Moyra Olliffe, ‘or my knife would on the instant be in his throat. Let him not come next or nigh me again, or I’ll massacre him.


Aileen was equally delighted and astonished upon passing outside the bounds of Rahar on the high road, to find the goat was there, and seemingly waiting for her. It nodded with its head to her to follow, and then trotted off towards the stream of the Blackwater, to the very spot where the young lovers had first seen each other.

‘My heart misgives me about this same yellow goat with the red beard,’ sighed Aileen, when she saw it stop and lie down on the very mound of green grass where Phelim had been standing three days before. ‘Oh! my poor heart is beating with anxiety. I know well—for I feel it in the dizziness of my head—that my grandmother has been playing some of her roguish tricks on me; and I fear—oh! how I do fear!—upon him also. But, God is good! and one thing is certain, the yellow goat has shown such a hatred of the old witch, that it must love truth and goodness for their own sake. Well, my poor goat,’ said Aileen, coming up to it, and putting a snow-white arm around its yellow neck, ‘do you know the bravest, finest, handsomest, and best young man in all Ireland?’

“The goat looked at her, as if it did not comprehend what she meant.

“‘Do you know, in other words,’ said Aileen, ‘my own darling intended husband, the valiant hero, Phelim O’Neal O’Donnell?’

“The goat nodded.

‘Do you know where he is this minute?’

“The goat nodded.

‘Could you show him to me?’

“The goat nodded.

‘Show him to me.’

“The goat walked over the stream, and looked into it.

“Aileen followed, and, gazing into the stream, beheld the yellow face and red beard of the goat.

‘And you mean to say that you, my poor yellow goat, are really, truly, actually and bodily, Phelim O’Neal O’Donnell himself?’

“The goat nodded, and again bent his knees before her.

“‘Oh! wirra strue! Oh! wirra strue!’ exclaimed Aileen, bursting into tears, and seating herself on the grass by the side of the goat, and wiping her dazzling, bright blue eyes with its red beard. ‘And is this the way that our hopeful and happy marriage is to end? Oh! wirra strue! and wirra strue! for ever and ever, amen! What is the use of being young, and brave, and fair, and good, if all can be marred and spoiled by a horrid, old, ugly, and unbelieving witch, who is to have the power of changing a handsome young Christian knight and gentleman into a contemptible yellow goat, with a red beard? Oh! wirra strue! wirra strue! and wirra strue, over and over again! Oh! wirra! wirra!’

“The lamentations of Aileen were interrupted by the angry voice of the parish priest of Park, who exclaimed, as he looked down from the wall of the churchyard:

‘Ah! then will you ever stop with your yowling down there ? How is a poor priest ever to get through with his breviary, if you are to be interrupting him in his prayers with your complaining against the ways of Providence? Hould your whisht! young woman, or tell me, in as few words as you can, what is the matter with you?’

“Aileen told her story.

‘Here,’ said the parish priest, leaning over the churchyard wall, ‘here are the beads blessed by myself. Tie them round your true lover’s neck, like a collar, and neither witch nor wizzard can do him any personal harm. Let him be off to sea at once, if he wishes to be restored to his former face and figure. They can never be recovered until he is two hundred miles away from the coast of Ireland. The sooner he is far from the country the better for the two of you; as that old woman will never forgive him the fine puck he had out of her. Away! children, and my blessing be upon you! but never come to this spot again, either to be moithering me with your moans, or distracting me in my devotions, by your amorous ditties.’

“With these words the parish priest disappeared behind the wall of his churchyard.

‘What that saintly man says is the truth,’ observed Aileen. ‘My old, vicious grandmother is, I am sure, plotting to do you or me, and perhaps both, a new mischief. You have not a minute to spare to get out of the country. Run, my darling, now, as if there was a process-server at your heels; and never cry “Stop,” until you are on board the Granvaile. Hurry, hurry from my sight. If I had to wait twenty long years for you, you will find me as true as steel to my first and only love. One kiss more, and be off with yourself.’

“Again she kissed the goat; it kicked up its hind heels with delight, and ran as fast as if it was at a fox-chace along this road, and when it was hurrying by the spot at which we are now sitting, it was observed by Moyra Olliffe, who was looking out of her bed-room window at Rahar up there, whilst she was putting a plaister on her nose, where one of her own pigs had bitten her when she was struggling in the trough.

‘That is Phelim O’Neal O’Donnell running away to get on board the ship in Waterford!’ said she to herself. ‘Oh! by the invincible hammer of the immortal Thor, he shall not get out of my clutches so easy as he thinks. I will be hot foot after him, as fast as a broomstick can fly with me, so soon as I have rubbed in a few ointments and changed my face and figure into the likeness of a Mother-Abbess.’

“Poor Phelim O’Neal O’Donnell ran so hard that he was hardly able to draw a breath as he crossed the plank that led from the Quay at Waterford on board the Granvaile. As he stepped on deck he heard the heavy tramp of the witch’s foot at the other end of the plank, following him. He instantly ran and hid behind the captain, who was astonished to see a strange goat making so free with him.

‘That yellow goat is mine, and I call upon you, Captain Joseph O’Leary, to deliver him up to me,’ said Moyra Olliffe.

‘And who may you be yourself, that knows my name so well?’ asked the captain.

‘You see what I am—by the way I am clothed,’ answered Moyra.

‘I see that you appear to be a Mother-Abbess, but few in this world are as good as they appear to be,’ observed the captain, who was a very wise and devout old man. ‘I asked you before, what is your name, and you never answered me. I now ask you the same question a second time. What is your name? What Order do you belong to? And where are you established in community?’

‘My name,’ replied Moyra, ‘is Mother Olivia, my Order is that of the Fly-by-nights, and my community is established at the White House of Rahar, in the county of Kilkenny.’

‘I have never heard of you nor your Order before,’ answered the captain.

‘That is no reason why you should refuse to restore to me my property,’ replied Moyra.

‘That’s the truth, sure enough,’ remarked the captain. ‘If the goat is your property, you ought to have it. But how am I to know it is yours. Tell us every particular about it.’

‘To be sure I can,’ replied Moyra, quite confidently, and certain now she was on the point of succeeding. ‘It is a yellow goat—as yellow as flax, and it has a red beard.’

‘Everyone can see that as well as yourself,’ said the captain, looking down at the goat, and observing what was on his neck. ‘Is there nothing else strange and outlandish about it, such as is never seen with a common goat?’

‘Yes—there is,’ replied Moyra, ‘it is a very sensible goat—it knows every word you say to it—and if I was not on the watch with a long knife, it would puck the life out of me.’

‘Oh! ho!’ said the captain, ‘a very sensible goat that would puck the life out of you. By Dad! Mother Olivia, there is some mystery here I cannot as yet understand. I now ask you again if there is not something particular about your goat, which ought to distinguish it from every other? Think twice before you answer me.’

‘No,’ answered Moyra, ‘there is nothing else that I know of.’

‘Well then the goat cannot be yours, or you would know there are holy beads tied about its neck,’ answered the captain.

‘And who put such horrid things about my goat’s neck?’ asked Moyra, trembling with rage and fear when she heard the name of ‘the beads’ mentioned.

‘And so, you shocking, inhuman old woman, you come on board my ship, dressed up as a Mother-Abbess, and yet in the hearing of all my Christian crew you have the audacity to call the blessed beads “horrid things.” Seize her, boys, tie her two hands and legs together, until my mate, Peter Devine, examines her in her theology. If she cannot answer the few learned questions he will put to her, she must have sold herself to the devil, and as sure as my name is Joseph O’Leary, over she goes, into the river Suir, to sink as a Mother-Abbess, or to swim as a witch. Come here, Peter Devine, this minute, and examine this old dame who says she is a Mother-Abbess.’

‘I will be with you the moment I have mixed my third tumbler of punch,’ answered Peter Devine, from the cabin below.

“The orders of the captain were obeyed. The witch’s hands and legs were tied together, and she was placed at the ship’s side in such a position that she might, by a single push, be dashed into the river below, in case she failed in her examination by the mate, Peter Devine.

“Whilst the crew were arranging Moyra Olliffe, the yellow goat was seen skipping around the deck on its hind legs, and every time it came in front of the captain, bowing down its head before him. It was engaged in these antics when Peter Devine, a man with a face as red as scarlet, and who seemed to be heated with punch-drinking, ascended upon deck, carrying a fowling piece in his hand. He watched the goat for a few minutes, and then said:

‘That is no goat, but a Christian gentleman, and as such he has been recognised before now by some clergyman, who has put his beads round its neck. Is it not the truth I am telling?’ said Peter Devine, directly addressing himself to the goat.

“The goat nodded its head.

‘And yet that old woman, who says she is a Mother Abbess, claimed the goat as her property,’ observed the captain.

‘I am as much a Mother Abbess as that worn-out remnant of an ill-spent life,’ remarked Peter Devine; ‘and I am sure I am a better Christian, for she does not look to me, as if she had ever been inside a place of worship in all her born-days.’

‘Examine her in her theology,’ said the captain.

‘To be sure I will. Come now, old lady!’ said Peter Devine. ‘Understand what I am about. I am going to ask you three questions—three of the easiest questions in Ecclesiastical History I can think of; and if you can answer any one of them, you may return to the shore in safety. If not, the first failure will be followed by a little push, the second failure by the same, and the third by a ducking, such as you never had before, and never will again. Are you ready?’

‘Go on, you Irish thieves and murderers, replied Moyra, as stout as a lion. ‘You have made up your minds to steal away my goat, and to secure it you think nothing of robbing me of my life.

‘I am a holy and pious Christian,’ meekly answered Peter Devine, ‘and I don’t care three jack-straws about being abused by a woman, and I mind it the less, when the woman that is scolding me happens to be both old and ugly. Now, then, my good lady—here is a question for you, that almost every child in Ireland can answer. My first question is—What was the name of Saint Patrick’s grandfather’s male gossip?

The old woman remained silent.

‘Give her a tiny push, boys,’ said Peter Devine. ‘Well, now then, my old lady, for a second and easier question:—What was the roof of the house made of, in which Saint Bridget took shelter when she was a child, and was flying with all her family from the pursuit of the pagans?

“The old woman remained silent.

‘Give her another little push, boys!’ said Peter Devine. ‘And, now, for the third and last question, which is so simple I am almost ashamed to ask it:—What was the name of the creek in Brittany at which Saint Ronan landed when he fled out of Ireland, for fear the people would make a bishop of him?

“The old woman remained silent.

‘O, you old besom of destruction!’ exclaimed the disgusted Peter Devine. ‘Even supposing you were not a witch, you deserve to be drowned for your ignorance. Drive her neck and crop into the river! Away with her! There she goes! What a splash! That I may never swallow another hot tumbler, but the water is fizzing and bubbling about her as if instead of a woman, you had thrown a bar of red hot iron into the Suir.’

‘My curse!’ shrieked Moyra Olliffe, as she rose to the surface, and was carried away by the rapid tide. ‘My curse! and the curse of the Valkyries! and the curse of the Crows! on Phelim O’Neal O’Donnell, and his intended wife, Aileen, and on Captain Joseph O’Leary, the scheming robber; and on punch-drinking Peter Devine, the hypocrite; and on all belonging to them!’

‘Look at her! look at her!’ exclaimed the excited Peter Devine, ‘she is floating on the stream as light, tight, and airy as a cork, and cursing like a Dublin Jackeen, as she swims away from us. And, see! the ravens are gathering in the air over her, and wheeling round her, and ready the moment she gets to the bend of the river, out of the sight of Christians, to help her on to the land again. Isn’t it lucky when I heard there was a suspicion of a witch being on board that I brought up on deck with me my gun, loaded with a blessed silver bullet. Here is to have one crack at her. If she escapes this, there is no killing her.’

“As Peter Devine thus spoke, he took aim at the old witch as she floated away, with her mouth full of curses. He fired, and the ball hit the old woman in the very centre of her leathern magic girdle, and the moment it did so, she blew up into a thousand pieces, as if she was a barrel and her inside all filled with nothing but gunpowder! As the smoke cleared away, the ravens were seen descending, and carrying off in their beaks fragments of what appeared to be the clothing of the wicked witch, Moyra Olliffe!

“I am very near the end of my story. The ship Granvaile at once sailed down the Suir, and out to sea, and when it got two hundred miles and a quarter from the land, Phelim O’Neal O’Donnell stood upon the deck in his yellow velvet cap, with the black plumes, in his tight-fitting yellow dress, and with his red sash around his waist. In obedience to his orders the ship returned to the port of Waterford; and in an hour afterwards, Phelim O’Neal O’Donnell was riding up on his black horse to the white house yonder. In two hours afterwards, he and the beautiful Aileen were riding down the hill of Rahar on the same black horse; he in the saddle, and she on a pillion behind him; and in three hours afterwards they were married in the church at Park; and in four hours afterwards they were dining together as man and wife in the white house, and they had for their dinner a ham, two young chickens, boiled; and two young ducks, roasted; and the chickens belonged to the brood of Mrs. Dorking, and the ducks to Mrs. Muscovy—the same hen and the same duck, from whose conversation together Phelim O’Neal O’Donnell first learned the sad tidings that he had been, by the wicked witch’s enchantments changed from a handsome young man into a yellow-haired goat.

“The young bride and bridegroom kept open house for all comers, gentle and simple, rich and poor, for a whole month together. No one was sent away empty-handed; all had rich presents given to them; and at the end of that time, the bride’s fortune in diamonds, gold and silver, was carried off to Waterford, and from Waterford conveyed by the Granvaile to Cadiz. And it’s little wonder that the descendants of one who brought such wealth to Spain should in our days be made a grandee. The surprise ought to be, that when the O’Donnells had such riches they were not saluted as ‘grandees’ on their landing.

“And yet the general belief in this part of Ireland, and it has been the same for centuries, is that much as was the wealth that O’Donnell and his young wife took to Spain with them, it was next to nothing to the riches that they left behind in the caves of Rahar, but that still remain hidden by enchantment. This I do know, that one of my reasons for taking—and I did so fifty years ago—a long lease of the white house at Rahar was the certainty that there was untold gold hidden in its caves. With that conviction on my mind, I began looking for it; but instead of seeking after the magic treasure in the darkness of night, I went, like a fool, searching for it by day-light,—and, what was the consequence? One day I struck my pick-axe against a stone. Oh! how my heart beat, for I knew well what I was going to find—a chest of stone, shaped like a coffin. Just the very thing in which Moyra Olliffe hid the treasures of the Danes. I removed the stone—and there—instead of diamonds, gold and silver, there was nothing but a heap of old bones and ashes! Ah! if I had found the same things after night-fall, instead of being, as I am now, a hard-working humble farmer, I would be the richest squire in the county.

“There, sir, is my story. I am much obliged to you for listening to it. And now that you have heard it, you cannot be surprised at my taking a strong, and I may say personal interest in the history that has lately been circulating throughout Ireland, as to one of the Irish O’Donnells having been elevated to the dignity of a grandee of Spain.

“If you come up to Rahar any day, I will show you over all the caves that were made under the white house by the Danes. I wish I could also point out to you the places in which the murdering scoundrels hid their plunder, and then covered it over with charms, incantations and witchcraft, so that the eyes of a Christian are not able to recognise it.”