Good housewives now may say;
For now foule sluts in dairies
Doe fare as well as they.
And though they swepe their hearths no less
Than mayds were wont to doe;
Yet who of late, for cleanlynesse,
Finds sixpence in her shoe?"
DR. CORBET, 1635.
The following Annals, redolent of the County Donegal, are given, as nearly as possible, in the words of the narrator, an elderly woman, of the Roman Catholic persuasion, born and bred in Innishowen, but settled down in the vicinity of Bushmills, in the Co. Antrim.
As might be expected from her antecedents, she was a sincere professor of the Fairy faith, one who loved and feared the Gentle People, and an honest chronicler of their sayings and doings.
Are there any Fairies about the Giants' Causeway? "Oh no," she replied, "but they say there's some above Bushmills, up the Bush river, at the Ness Rocks, and such like places; but there's far more, aye, plinty of them, in Innishowen, where I came from; and the rayson of that is, there's few churches there. The Gintry don't like to live near churches, or ugly Meetin'-houses; they like a scroggery, where there be's heaps of gentle bushes, and to be about the walls of ould castles that was destroyed at the time of the disolation of Ireland."
"They were the only Gintry in the world at one time, but a bigger people took place, and things changed by degrees; they were put down, and they live underground ever since.e If they are molested in their habitations, and they warn you about it, take the warning, or be sure it will be worse for you. My mother tould us when we were near Gintle bushes, or the green rings that the little Gintry makes, to spake them fair and mannerly, and to say -- 'Come when you will, and go when you will, but your heels to me;' and we never forgot that. The childer used to be far more mannerly and gentler like then nor they are now, because they don't hear about the Gintle People as they did in my time. They were kinder in their behaviour to ould people, and liked to sweep up the floor before they wint to their beds, thinkin' the Gintle People might be on it before mornin': they don't think that way now, move's the pity, for they're far rougher in their ways, and uncivil like.
"My grandfather lived in Innishowen, and took a sore leg, and wrought with the doctors for many a day, and had to sell one of the cows to pay them; but no matter for that, the leg grew the longer the worse: so he got up one night before day-break, for he could'nt lie with the pain of it, and he went a piece along the road on the crutches. It was summer, and the road was dusty, and the times bad, and markets high. All at once he heard a sound as if somebody was batin' the dust off the boots or shoes; and he sees a little Gintleman, dressed in green, with beautiful top-boots, ridin' on somethin', and batin' the dust off his boots with an elegant cuttin' whip he had in his hand. 'Good mornin', good man,' says the little Gintleman. 'God save your Honour,' says my grandfather. 'What's the matter with you?' says the little Gintleman; 'you look but poorly.' 'It's a leg I have, please your Honour, that's killin' me outright.' 'Well,' says the little Gintleman, 'work no more with the doctors these times when money's scarce and markets high, but make a salve of herbs, after my directions, and you'll do.' So he tould my grandfather what herbs he was to gather, and thin he put his hand in his pocket, and gev him the full of it of silver.
'Who am I to thank for this kindness?' says my grandfather. 'I am the Commander of the small Gintry of Ireland,' says the little Gintleman, 'goin to war with the officers of the little Gintry of Scotland, on account of them raisin' the markets in that country, till the meal is seven thirteens a score.'
'God prosper your Honour,' says my grandfather, 'but when you're fightin', how am I to know who wins the battle?'
'I'll tell you what you'll do,' says the Commander, 'go up to the fort to-morrow evenin', and sit down under the Gintle bush that's growin' beside it, and put your car to the ground, and listen, and you'll hear music. It will be loud and bould at first, and as long as you hear that, I'm bate; listen on, and when you hear music sweet and gentle, I'm winnin'.'
"So the Commander disappeared, and my grandfather wint accordin' to direction, the next evenin', to the Gentle bush, beside the fort; and he listened and heard music, loud and impident like, for a long time, and his heart failed, for he knew our side was a batin'; but after a while he hears the sweet, low music beginnin', and it put the other out entirely, and thin my grandfather clapped his hands, and shouted 'We've won!' and, sure enough, the markets fell, and the meal come down to three thirteens the score."
"Was the loud and impudent music the Bagpipes?" said I, "To be sure it was," was the reply, "and the sweet music was the harp all out. -----
"My grandmother used to sweep up the hearth, and put on a fire, and set a creepy beside it for any of the little Gintry, or any friend (God knows) belongin' to her who was under the ground, that might like to come and sit at it in the night time. A little Gintlewoman, dressed in green, used to come, night after night, and sit, mournful like, by the fire; and my grandmother used to watch her goin' to the childer's beds, and happin' them if the clothes went aft' them.
"One night my grandmother took it into her head, that may-be the little Gintlewoman might be hungry, and she got ready some tay, and put it on the dresser, to be waitin' for her: so, when the little Gintlewoman went down to the room, as usual, to see the childer, when she came up, my grandmother asked her, might she make so free as to requist her to take some refrishment. The Gintlewoman never spoke a word, but laid her hand on my grandmother's shoulder, and looked in her face, not angry, but stedfast, and grieved like, and went out, and never came back. It affronts the Gintry if you offer them meat, as if it was for the sake of that, or any lucre, that they do you a good turn; they have plinty of victuals in their own habitations underground, and they dont like any of ours to be evened to them.
"If any of their Gintle bushes happens to be cut down, the Gintry is sure to revinge it some way or an other. There was a boy in Innishowen that wanted a stick to mend his boat, and he set himself to cut a bush belonging to the Gintry. My grandfather warned him not to do it, but the boy was rash, and needed the stick, so he cut the bush, and repaired his boat. He went out in it to fish, and got three other boys to go with him, and my grandfather was in his own boat, fishin', not far from them. The day was fine, and the sea as smooth as a pan of milk; but he saw the boat with the boys in it tossin' and swayin', and pitchin' at a fearful rate, and them pullin' for the bare life to get her ashore; and they did, with enough to do, for they were within an ace of being drownded. After some time, the boy took out his boat again to the fishin', and got another buy to go with him; but, as true as we have all to meet death, they were both drownded, and the boat drifted ashore, and lay for years on the strand, nobody touchin' her.
"At last, when the matter was mostly out of people's minds, a bad year of firin' came on, and one of the neighbours thought he might make use of the ould boat; so he broke it up, and carried part of it home to help the fire. When it was put on, it crackled, and spit, and flashed, and flamed up to the roof-tree, and it was as much as they could do to prev hit the house being burnt to the ground; so the neighbours gathered, and buried the rest of the boat, and thin there was pace with it."
[e] "Our Celtic and Gothic ancestors, whether Germans, Scandinavians, or Gauls, imagining there was something magical and beyond the reach of man in "mechanic" skill and industry, could scarcely believe that an able artist was one of their own species, or descended from the same common origin. This, it must be granted, was a very foolish conceit. These conceit, but let us consider what might facilitate the entrance of it into their minds. There was, perhaps, some neighbouring people which bordered upon some Celtic or Gothic tribe, which, though less warlike than themselves, and much inferior in strength and stature, might yet excel them in dexterity, and, addicting themselves to manful arts, might carry on a commerce with them sufficiently extensive to have the fame of it spread pretty far.
"These circumstances agree with the Laplanders, who are still as famous for their magic as remarkable for the [--?--] of their stature; pacific, even to a degree of cowardice, but of a mechanic industry which must have appeared very considerable. The stories that were invented of this people, passing through the mouths of so many ignorant relators, would soon acquire all the degrees of the marvellous of which they were susceptible.
"As the dwarfs were feeble and of small courage, they were supposed to be crafty, full of artifice and fancies, having received the seal of time and universal consent, it was the business of the poets to assign a fit origin for such ungracious beings; this was done in their pretended rise from the dead carcase of a great giant. Maggots at first, afterwards God bestowed upon them understanding and cunning, By this fiction, the Northern warriors justified their contempt of them, and, at the same time, accounted for their small stature, their industry, and their supposed propensity for inhabiting caves and clefts of the rocks.
"After all, the notion is not every where exploded, that there are, in the bowels of the earth, "Fairies,* or a kind of dwarfish and tiny beings, of human shape, remarkable for their riches, their activity, and malevolence. In many countries of the North, the people are still firmly persuaded of their existence. In Iceland, at this day, the good folks shew the very rocks and hills in which they maintain that there are swarms of these subterraneous men, of the most tiny size, hut most delicate figures." Mallet's Northern Antiquities.
* "I have, in this one place of the translation, applied the word "Fairies" in our common English notion of it; but our author generally uses the French word Fees (or fairies) to signify, not the little imaginary dwarfish beings to which we appropriate the to the words, but to express the Fates or Destinies, or these inferior female Divinities who are supposed to watch over the lives and fortunes of individuals. In this, he seems to have had an eye Oriental fables, rather than to those of genuine Gothic origin: the dut vol' translator requiring me to follow him, I beg to apprize the reader of our author's application of the word." -- Translator.
The above article is reproduced from the Ulster Journal of Archaeology, vol. 6, 1858.