THE FRIENDS OF THE PEOPLE OF FAERY ~ Yeats’ The Celtic Twilight
Those that see the people of faery most often, and so have the most of their wisdom, are often very poor, but often, too, they are thought to have a strength beyond that of man, as though one came, when one has passed the threshold of trance, to those sweet waters where Maeldun saw the dishevelled eagles bathe and become young again.
There was an old Martin Roland, who lived near a bog a little out of Gort, who saw them often from his young days, and always towards the end of his life, though I would hardly call him their friend. He told me a few months before his death that ‘they’ would not let him sleep at night with crying things at him in Irish, and with playing their pipes. He had asked a friend of his what he should do, and the friend had told him to buy a flute, and play on it when they began to shout or to play on their pipes, and maybe they would give up annoying him; and he did, and they always went out into the field when he began to play. He showed me the pipe, and blew through it, and made a noise, but he did not know how to play; and then he showed me where he had pulled his chimney down, because one of them used to sit up on it and play on the pipes. A friend of his and mine went to see him a little time ago, for she heard that ‘three of them’ had told him he was to die. He said they had gone away after warning him, and that the children (children they had ‘taken,’ I suppose) who used to come with them, and play about the house with them, had ‘gone to some other place,’ because ‘they found the house too cold for them, maybe’; and he died a week after he had said these things.
His neighbours were not certain that he really saw anything in his old age, but they were all certain that he saw things when he was a young man. His brother said, ‘Old he is, and it’s all in his brain the things he sees. If he was a young man we might believe in him.’ But he was improvident, and never got on with his brothers. A neighbour said, ‘The poor man, they say they are mostly in his head now, but sure he was a fine fresh man twenty years ago the night he saw them linked in two lots, like young slips of girls walking together. It was the night they took away Fallon’s little girl.’ And she told how Fallon’s little girl had met a woman ‘with red hair that was as bright as silver,’ who took her away. Another neighbour, who was herself ‘clouted over the ear’ by one of them for going into a fort where they were, said, ‘I believe it’s mostly in his head they are; and when he stood in the door last night I said, “The wind does be always in my ears, and the sound of it never stops,” to make him think it was the same with him; but he says, “I hear them singing and making music all the time, and one of them is after bringing out a little flute, and it’s on it he’s playing to them.” And this I know, that when he pulled down the chimney where he said the piper used to be sitting and playing, he lifted up stones, and he an old man, that I could not have lifted when I was young and strong.’
A friend has sent me from Ulster an account of one who was on terms of true friendship with the people of faery. It has been taken down accurately, for my friend, who had heard the old woman’s story some time before I heard of it, got her to tell it over again, and wrote it out at once. She began by telling the old woman that she did not like being in the house alone because of the ghosts and fairies; and the old woman said, ‘There’s nothing to be frightened about in faeries, miss. Many’s the time I talked to a woman myself that was a faery, or something of the sort, and no less and more than mortal anyhow. She used to come about your grandfather’s house–your mother’s grandfather, that is–in my young days. But you’ll have heard all about her.’ My friend said that she had heard about her, but a long time before, and she wanted to hear about her again; and the old woman went on, ‘Well dear, the very first time ever I heard word of her coming about was when your uncle–that is, your mother’s uncle–Joseph married, and building a house for his wife, for he brought her first to his father’s, up at the house by the Lough. My father and us were living nigh hand to where the new house was to be built, to overlook the men at their work. My father was a weaver, and brought his looms and all there into a cottage that was close by. The foundations were marked out, and the building stones lying about, but the masons had not come yet; and one day I was standing with my mother foment the house, when we sees a smart wee woman coming up the field over the burn to us. I was a bit of a girl at the time, playing about and sporting myself, but I mind her as well as if I saw her there now!’ My friend asked how the woman was dressed, and the old woman said, ‘It was a gray cloak she had on, with a green cashmere skirt and a black silk handkercher tied round her head, like the country women did use to wear in them times.’ My friend asked, ‘How wee was she?’ And the old woman said, ‘Well now, she wasn’t wee at all when I think of it, for all we called her the Wee Woman. She was bigger than many a one, and yet not tall as you would say. She was like a woman about thirty, brown-haired and round in the face. She was like Miss Betty, your grandmother’s sister, and Betty was like none of the rest, not like your grandmother, nor any of them. She was round and fresh in the face, and she never was married, and she never would take any man; and we used to say that the Wee Woman–her being like Betty–was, maybe, one of their own people that had been took off before she grew to her full height, and for that she was always following us and warning and foretelling. This time she walks straight over to where my mother was standing. “Go over to the Lough this minute!”–ordering her like that–“Go over to the Lough, and tell Joseph that he must change the foundation of this house to where I’ll show you fornent the thornbush. That is where it is to be built, if he is to have luck and prosperity, so do what I’m telling ye this minute.” The house was being built on “the path” I suppose–the path used by the people of faery in their journeys, and my mother brings Joseph down and shows him, and he changes the foundations, the way he was bid, but didn’t bring it exactly to where was pointed, and the end of that was, when he come to the house, his own wife lost her life with an accident that come to a horse that hadn’t room to turn right with a harrow between the bush and the wall. The Wee Woman was queer and angry when next she come, and says to us, “He didn’t do as I bid him, but he’ll see what he’ll see.”‘ My friend asked where the woman came from this time, and if she was dressed as before, and the woman said, ‘Always the same way, up the field beyant the burn. It was a thin sort of shawl she had about her in summer, and a cloak about her in winter; and many and many a time she came, and always it was good advice she was giving to my mother, and warning her what not to do if she would have good luck. There was none of the other children of us ever seen her unless me; but I used to be glad when I seen her coming up the burn, and would run out and catch her by the hand and the cloak, and call to my mother, “Here’s the Wee Woman!” No man body ever seen her. My father used to be wanting to, and was angry with my mother and me, thinking we were telling lies and talking foolish like. And so one day when she had come, and was sitting by the fireside talking to my mother, I slips out to the field where he was digging. “Come up,” says I, “if ye want to see her. She’s sitting at the fireside now, talking to mother.” So in he comes with me and looks round angry like and sees nothing, and he up with a broom that was near hand and hits me a crig with it. “Take that now!” says he, “for making a fool of me!” and away with him as fast as he could, and queer and angry with me. The Wee Woman says to me then, “Ye got that now for bringing people to see me. No man body ever seen me, and none ever will.”
‘There was one day, though, she gave him a queer fright anyway, whether he had seen her or not. He was in among the cattle when it happened, and he comes up to the house all trembling like. “Don’t let me hear you say another word of your Wee Woman. I have got enough of her this time.” Another time, all the same, he was up Gortin to sell horses, and before he went off, in steps the Wee Woman and says she to my mother, holding out a sort of a weed, “Your man is gone up by Gortin, and there’s a bad fright waiting him coming home, but take this and sew it in his coat, and he’ll get no harm by it.” My mother takes the herb, but thinks to herself, “Sure there’s nothing in it,” and throws it on the floor, and lo and behold, and sure enough! coming home from Gortin, my father got as bad a fright as ever he got in his life. What it was I don’t right mind, but anyway he was badly damaged by it. My mother was in a queer way, frightened of the Wee Woman, after what she done, and sure enough the next time she was angry. “Ye didn’t believe me,” she said, “and ye threw the herb I gave ye in the fire, and I went far enough for it.” There was another time she came and told how William Hearne was dead in America. “Go over,” she says, “to the Lough, and say that William is dead, and he died happy, and this was the last Bible chapter ever he read,” and with that she gave the verse and chapter. “Go,” she says, “and tell them to read them at the next class meeting, and that I held his head while he died.” And sure enough word came after that how William had died on the day she named. And, doing as she did about the chapter and hymn, they never had such a prayer-meeting as that. One day she and me and my mother was standing talking, and she was warning her about something, when she says of a sudden, “Here comes Miss Letty in all her finery, and it’s time for me to be off.” And with that she gave a swirl round on her feet, and raises up in the air, and round and round she goes, and up and up, as if it was a winding stairs she went up, only far swifter. She went up and up, till she was no bigger than a bird up against the clouds, singing and singing the whole time the loveliest music I ever heard in my life from that day to this. It wasn’t a hymn she was singing, but poetry, lovely poetry, and me and my mother stands gaping up, and all of a tremble. “What is she at all, mother?” says I. “Is it an angel she is, or a faery woman, or what?” With that up come Miss Letty, that was your grandmother, dear, but Miss Letty she was then, and no word of her being anything else, and she wondered to see us gaping up that way, till me and my mother told her of it. She went on gay-dressed then, and was lovely looking. She was up the lane where none of us could see her coming forward when the Wee Woman rose up in that queer way, saying, “Here comes Miss Letty in all her finery.” Who knows to what far country she went, or to see whom dying?
‘It was never after dark she came, but daylight always, as far as I mind, but wanst, and that was on a Hallow Eve night. My mother was by the fire, making ready the supper; she had a duck down and some apples. In slips the Wee Woman, “I’m come to pass my Hallow Eve with you,” says she. “That’s right,” says my mother, and thinks to herself, “I can give her her supper nicely.” Down she sits by the fire a while. “Now I’ll tell you where you’ll bring my supper,” says she. “In the room beyond there beside the loom–set a chair in and a plate.” “When ye’re spending the night, mayn’t ye as well sit by the table and eat with the rest of us?” “Do what you’re bid, and set whatever you give me in the room beyant. I’ll eat there and nowhere else.” So my mother sets her a plate of duck and some apples, whatever was going, in where she bid, and we got to our supper and she to hers; and when we rose I went in, and there, lo and behold ye, was her supper-plate a bit ate of each portion, and she clean gone!’