COLLECTORS of folk-tales are, I think, not generally aware that there is a field as yet ungleaned within easy reach, and one which the rapid advance of education will soon leave bare. For some years past I have taken much interest in the Irish inhabitants of the place in which I live; but it is only lately that I have become aware of the number of folk-tales which are to be found among them. I am making a collection of these, which may ultimately find its way into print. Meanwhile it may be interesting to some of the readers of the Folk-Lore Journal if I give an example or two from those which I have already obtained.
My amanuensis is a lad named Patrick Weathers, aged 13, a native of Newcastle, county Cork, who came over here with his parents about seven years ago. I am sending the stories exactly as he wrote them down at the dictation of the narrators, who in some cases can neither read nor write, a fact which is much in favour of the genuineness of their stories. These tales are handed down from father or mother to children in true traditional style; and it is amusing to gather together a crowd of boys from eleven to fourteen years old, and set them story-telling. They like nothing better; and the variety and number of the stories they tell is astonishing. But if the collection is to be of real value it must be made now; these lads as they grow up will mix in the stories that they read with those handed down to them—my leading raconteur the other night began telling "The Golden Fleece" from Hawthorne's "Wonder-book," to which I had directed his attention—so that there is no time to be lost.
Without further preface I will give three short examples. The first was related by Mary Weathers, mother of the writer: Pat assures me that "this is a true story; it was a relation of my mother's that it happened to."
Once upon a time there was a man who had to mind a sheriff's house in Ireland; so one night as he was sitting down reading a knock came to the door; he went to see who was there, but no one was to be seen. After he went in a second knock came to the door; he went to see who it was, but no one could he see, then he went in again. A third knock came and the man said he would not mind that. The knocking was continued, and he went at last to see who it was. When he opened the door he saw an old woman, dripping with water, who said, "My good man, would you be so kind as to give me a night's lodging?" "By all means," said he, "I would give any one a help if I saw them hard up." Then he took her in and made a bed for her upstairs; then she went to bed.
In the middle of the night he heard the door upstairs squeaking, and all the clothes were hanging on the door. He jumped out of bed and rushed upstairs and made a grab at the old woman, and she disappeared. Soon afterwards two great big cold hands were laid upon his face, and a voice said "Don't mind her, she's one of your own good people, and you shall be rewarded for your kindness," and every day afterwards he had good luck.
The narrator of No. II. is James Collins, aged 14, native of Kildorrery, county Cork, who came over with his family two years ago. His father told him this story, and it also, I am assured, is true.
II. The Miller and the Cat.
A few years ago there was a miller, and nearly every bit of his flour was destroyed and he couldn't make out what was doing it. One night a great deal of damage was done, so next night he said he would stop up and mind the mill; and about midnight he heard a great noise in the above apartment, so he went to see, and there was a lot of cats on the flour tearing it about all over the room. The miller ran and threw a knife at one and cut its leg off; then he found what was doing all the damage. In the morning when he went home and was going into bed he saw his daughter lying in bed with one of her hands cut off. He then called his wife to know what did it, and she said she did not know. Then he thought it might be himself that cut it off. And every night after he stopped up and could not find any more of the cats.
The next story comes from Tralee, Tipperary. The narrator was one John O'Connell, who was lodging in Pat Weather's house, and dictated it to him. It is unnecessary to point out the many points of interest which it presents. I have a variant or expansion which I may send later: meanwhile I may point out as evidence of its antiquity the occupation of "Jack"—the usual name of Irish folk-tale heroes—in "minding cows for a king in Ireland." I think the "blue glass shoes" worn by Jack are noteworthy, as Mr. Ralston says, "The well-known substitution of verre for vair in the French description of Cinderella's slipper enables us to detect the French origin of some variants of the history: wherever she is found wearing a slipper of glass we may be sure that her story has at least been subjected to a French influence, and that at a comparatively recent period."
There was once a lad whose name was Jack, and he was minding cows for a king in Ireland. It happened one day that he drove his cows rather farther than usual, and it was fine rich grass for the cows to feed on. Jack had not been there very long when a giant came and asked him what he and his cows were doing in the field. Jack asked him what business that was of his. The giant said he would fight him and see. Jack consented, and they fought. The giant at first was getting the best of Jack, but he was soon the best man, and the giant was a dead man. That night when Jack went home the king noticed how good the milk was, but Jack never told what happened. The second day Jack killed a second giant, and the third day he killed another.
It happened that there was a great sea serpent came out of the sea every year to eat one of the king's daughters. Jack heard of this, and he said ho would go and defend her. At last the day came round when it was to happen, and Jack went off to the giant's place and got a black horse and a black suit of clothes. When he was coming away he saw a bottle labelled "Whoever would take one drop of this stuff would have three times as much strength." So he took a drop and gave his horse a drop, and galloped away to the place where the princess was. Soon the serpent came, and Jack killed it. This was done three times, and the last time Jack wore a pair of blue glass shoes. And when he was riding away the princess caught hold of one of them, but Jack did not mind that. The king was so glad that his daughter was saved that he ordered a ball party in memory of it. Every one, rich and poor, was invited to go to it, and in the middle of the enjoyments the king brought the glass shoe to see who it would fit, but no one could get it on. Jack, who was in the kitchen, asked whether he might not try, and the king said he could, and it fitted him nicely, and it ended that Jack married the princess, and if they did not live happy that we may.
- Folk-Lore Record, vol. i. p. 75.