Friday 17 October 2014

Fairy Annals of Ulster -- No 2

"There is in all literature, nothing that can be produced which shall represent the essential spirit of a man or of a people so completely as a legend or a fairy tale." -- Household Words.

"I confess I have but a limited interest in the discoveries of antiquarians; for the best mines of antiquities are not the ruins of buried cities, but the minds of living populations." -- Ibid.


The following Annals, which terminate those collected at the Giant's Causeway, were communicated by an old man and woman, descendants of "Adam Morning," whose melancholy story is told by Hamilton in his Letters concerning the Northern Coast of Co. Antrim. To judge by outward appearance, the family circumstances are not in a more flourishing condition than they were when first noticed by Hamilton in 1784. But the realities of life, adverse as they may have been, have left the romantic element unsubdued in those ancient Mornings of the Causeway, who smiled scorn fully at the legends of the guides, as gigantic fictions, but whose faith in "Grogans" and "Fairies" was firm and undoubting.


"In troth we all know there's plenty of Fairies, as you call them, but not just about the Causeway; but there's great haunts of them between this and Knocklayde, and Carrick-a-rede. There was a man of the name of Jack McBurney that lived at the foot of Knocklayde some years ago, and one of the Gintry sent him word to change the door of his barn that faced the south to the other side, as the noise and the stour perplexed him at times. Jack changed the door; and from that out, every thing prospered with him, and there was no end to the property he left when he died.a

"There was a strange ould woman, low set, with a red cloak round her head, kem into my grandmother's one day, and says she, 'Molly, will you lind me the loan of three quarts of meal?' 'I can badly spare it,' says my grandmother, 'but here it's for you.' 'I can set no time,' says the ould woman, 'but I'll pay you when I can.' ' Very well,' says my grandmother, 'you're intirely welcome.' There was a scarcity of meal a while after that, and it was hard enough for the neighbours to get what they wanted; when in kem the little ancient woman one ev'nin', and says she, 'I'm come to pay the meal you lint me.' 'Troth an' I was'nt thinkin' about it,' says my grandmother. 'I know that,' says the little woman, 'but here its back to you, lucky.' 'There's too much, intirely,' says my grandmother, 'and far over what I gev you.' 'No matter for that,' says the ancient woman, 'I did'nt intind you to want meal till the harvest, and mind, Molly, what I'm telUn' you, its made of our top pickle, and it wont fail you;' and no more it did, we had neither to by nor borrow from that day till long after the harvest was settled.

"The top pickle of all grain belongs to the Gintry; sometimes they claim it, and sometimes not, accordin' as it's required. When it falls of itself, or in a shako by the wind, it's never left on the ground to go to loss. People should give or lind when they have it; a stingy man or woman never thrives with what they keep, and nobody knows who they're refusin' -- God save us from harm.

"I had an aunt that was taken away by the Gintry different times whin she was an infant, but they always brought her back before day-break; when she was just born, they wanted to take both mother and child, but were privinted. The husband happened to be late out in the fields one evenin', and was sittin' restin' himself, and he hears some talk near him, and what was it but a small troop of Gintry plannin' what they were goin' to do. He listened, and heard them sayin', 'We'll go to such a house (his own), and carry off the woman, and lave a black stick in her place;' thin they began to prepare double horses, two to every rag-weed, and off they wint. 'I'll go there too,' says the man to himself, 'and may-be be there before you.' He mounted his horse, that was grazin' beside him with the halter on, and takin' a near cut, was at the house first, and the wife was safe for that time. My aunt grew up very good lookin', and married a boy that was a weaver by trade; the father and mother did'nt like the match too well, for they thought him hard and selfish; and sure enough, before ever she wint home to him, he asked her to spin him a web's yarn. The mother thought he was early settin' her to work; but the girl wished to plaze him, and comminced spinnin' early and late, but there was hardly a day that something did'nt go wrong with the wheel, and nobody could mend it right. This vexed my aunt sorely, for she wished to have the yarn ready at the time her husband mentioned. One day, the spool having gone to smash, she was sittin' sorrowful, while her father was tryin' to mend it, when something that she could'nt see whispered to her to look in the blind window beside the fire place; so she wint to the window, and under some chaff that happened to be in it, she found a heap of silver. She called to her father never to mind botherin' himself mendin' the broken spool any more, as she had found as much money as would buy all the yarn she wanted. 'Let it stand till I see it,' says her father; but as true as the sun is shinin', not a fraction of the silver was in the blind window when he came.b My aunt was wrong intirely to let on about the silver; it was a gift from the Gintle people, and she should'nt have mentioned it to man or mortial."


"I don't know much about the Fairies, or 'Gintle people,' as we call them, barrin' that if they don't do us any good these times, they niver did us any harm that ever I heard tell of.

"The Grogans used to give great help to them they took a fancy to. They are little men, about two feet high or so, stout built, broad-shouldered, and as strong as any twelve men. One of them gev great help to my grandfather, time after time, at the harvest, and would have left a rood of oats cut and stooked neater than any man livin' could do. But the Grogan gev the most help in the winter at the thrashin'; many a sack of oats he thrashed for my grandfather, leavin' the straw bottled, and the corn neatly sorted up in the corner of the barn; he always took the flail away with him, not wishin' any one to handle it after him.

"There was something past common in the way of meat at one time in the house during the winter, and my grandfather thought he would give the Grogan share, so he left it in the barn ready for him; but from that out, he forsook the place intirely, takin' affront because my grandfather thought he wanted meat, or would work for the like. They are no ways rivingeful; but it is best not to cross them, but let them take their own way in every respect, and to offer them nothin'. They are often heard in the night, workin' for themselves, or the owner of the place, if they like him. They have no fancy for a man that's stingy in his ways or ill-tempered; but they work hard for a man that has a spirit and is good-humoured.c It is easy knowing when a Grogan is at work by the noise he makes in the night-time. They are greatly out of date by what they were in my grandfather's time; but there's plenty of them to the fore, both in this country and in Scotland, no doubt, if they were inquired after."

To be continued...

[a] The Scottish fairies sometimes reside in subterranean abodes, in the vicinity of human habitations -- or, according to the popular phrase, under the "door stane," or thresh hold, in which situation they sometimes establish an intercourse with men by borrowing and lending, and other kindly offices. In this capacity they are termed "good neighbours," from supplying privately the wants of their friends, and assisting them in all their transactions, while their favours are concealed. Of this the traditionary story of Sir Godfrey Maculloch forms a curious example. As this Gallovidian gentleman was taking the air on horseback, near his own house, he was suddenly accosted by a little old man, arrayed in green, and mounted on a white palfrey. After mutual salutation, the old man gave Sir Godfrey to understand that he resided under his habitation, and that he had great reason to complain of the direction of a drain, or common sewer, which emptied itself directly into his chamber of dais.* Sir Godfrey Maculloch was a good deal startled at this extraordinary complaint; but, guessing the nature of the being he had to deal with, he assured the old man, with the greatest courtesy, that the direction of the drain should be altered, which was done accordingly. Many years afterwards, Sir Godfrey had the misfortune to kill, in a fray, a gentleman of the neighbourhood. He was apprehended, tried, and condemned: † the scaffold upon which his head was to have been struck off was erected on the Castle-hill of Edinburgh; but hardly had he reached the fatal spot, when the old man, upon his white palfrey, pressed through the crowd with the rapidity of lightning. Sir Godfrey, at his command, sprang on behind him; the "good neighbour" spurred his horse down the steep bank, and neither he nor the criminal was ever again seen.
Minstrelsy of the Scottish Border, vol. 2.

* The best chamber was thus currently denominated in Scotland, from the French dais, signifying that part of the ancient halls elevated above the rest, covered with a canopy. The turf seats which occupy the sunny side of a cottage wall are also termed the dais.
† In this particular the tradition coincides with the real fact -- the trial took place in 1697.

[b] "Like fairy gifts, fading away." -- Moore.

[c] If it be true "that primitive fairy traditions are modified both by the character of the people and the romance peculiar to each district in which they are received," his country confers on the Irish Grogan or Goblin a moral superiority which his English relative, immortalized in Milton's L'Allegro, might envy, could he be supposed capable of appreciating it.
The Saxon Goblin drudges and sweats, and plies his shadowy flail solely for the sake of the "cream-bowl duly set," and flings out of doors, crop full, before cock-crow, leaving his character of a selfish, sensual, lubbar-fiend, behind him.
The Irish Goblin works for love, and for those who deserve his love; and is mortally offended at the bare idea of a recompense in any shape. It is true he takes the flail away; but, used by him, it had become the implement of a gentleman, never afterwards to be soiled by vulgar handling.

The above article is reproduced from the Ulster Journal of Archaeology, vol. 7, 1859.

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