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Donegal Fairy Stories
TALES as old as the curlew’s call are today listened to around the hearths of
Donegal with the same keen and credulous eagerness with which they were hearkened to hundreds of years
ago. Of a people whose only wealth is mental and spiritual, the thousand such tales are not the
least significant heritage. Of those tales, the ten following are but the lightest.
The man who brings his shaggy pony to the forge ‘reharses a rale oul’ tale’
for the boys, whilst he lazily works the bellows for Dan.
As she spins in the glow of the fir-blaze on the long winter nights, the
old white-capped woman, with hair like a streak of lint, holds the fireside circle spellbound with such
tales as these.
When at Taig, the tailor’s, on a Saturday night, an exasperated man clamours
angrily for the long-promised coat, Taig says, ‘Arrah, Conal, man, have sense, and be quate, and sit
down till ye hear a wondherful story of anshint happenin’s.’ And the magic of the tale restores Conal
to a Christian frame of mind, and sends him home forgetful of a great procrastinator’s deceit.
When the beggarman, coming in at dayli’gone, drops his staff and sheds
his bags in token that he deigns to honour the good people with his presence for that night, among
young and old there is anticipative joy for the grand stories with which he will certainly enchant
them till (too soon) an bhean-an-tighe shakes her beads and says it is rosary time.
The professional shanachy recites them to a charmed audience
in the wake house, in the potato field, on the green hillside on summer Sundays, and
at the crossroads in blissful autumn gloamings, whilst the green marge rests his hearers’ aching limbs.
Like generations of his people, one particular barefoot boy,
being himself enchanted with them, longed to transmit their charm to others, and spent many,
many delightful hours acquiring fresh ones, and recounting old ones to groups the most
sceptical of whom more than half believed, like himself, in their literal truth. To a
wider world and more cultured, he would fain tell them now. He would wish that this world
might hear of the wonderful happenings with our ears, and see them with our eyes, and consent
to experience for a few hours the charmed delight with which our simple, kindly people,
at the feet of their own shanachies, hearken to them. He would wish that this world might,
for a few hours, give him their credence on trust, consent to forget temporarily that life is
hard and joyless, be foolish, simple children once more, and bring to the entertainment the
fresh and fun loving hearts they possessed ‘ere the world’s wisdom came to them.
And if they return to the world’s wise ways with a
lurking delight in their hearts, the shanachy will again feel rejoiced and proud for
the triumph of our grand old tales.
Donegal, Old Lammas Day 1 (The first day of August) ,1900
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