Story Power author Kate Farrell has written a new blog post on the Irish legend of “The Fairy Child and the Tailor”, check it out.
My birthday is this week, and I’m thinking of my own birth so very long ago. There were times in my childhood that I imagined I was adopted, kidnapped from another family, or maybe changed at birth by the fairies. I’d read stories of changelings—they were told throughout Europe, often as true tales or legends, passed down for generations. Thankfully, as I grew older, I did accept my birth family as mine, and most of the frightening changeling tales ended happily, though not without a trick or two.
There was one time a woman named Colloo in Close-ny-Lheiy, near Glen Meay, and she had a child that had fallen sick in a strange way. Nothing seemed wrong with him yet crosser and crosser he grew, nying-nyanging night and day. The woman was in great distress. Charms had failed, and she didn’t know rightly what to do.
It seems that, about a fortnight after birth, the child, as fine a child for his age as you would see in a day’s walk, was left asleep while the mother went to the well for water. Now Herself forgot to put the tongs on the cradle, and, when she came back, the child was crying pitiful, and no quatin’ for him.
And from that very hour the flesh seemed to melt off his bones, till he became as ugly and as wizened a child as you would see between the Point of Ayre and the Calf. He was that way, his whining howl filling the house, lying in the cradle without a motion on him to put his feet under him.
Not a day’s res’ nor a night’s sleep was there at the woman with him. She was fair scourged with him, until there came a fine day in the spring that Hom beg Bridson, the tailor, was in the house sewing. Hom is dead now, but there’s many alive as remember him. He was wise tremenjus, for he was going from house to house sewing, and gathering wisdom as he was going.
Well, before that day the tailor was seeing lots of wickedness at the child. When the woman would be out feeding the pigs and sarvin’ the craythurs, he would be hoisting his head up out of the cradle and making faces at the tailor, winking, and slicking, and shaking his head, and saying “What a lad I am!”
That day the woman wanted to go to the shop in Glen Meay to sell some eggs that she had, and says she to the tailor: “Hom man, keep your eye on the chile that the bogh [poor dear] won’t fall out of the cradle and hurt himself while I slip down to the shop.”
When she was gone the tailor began to whistle aisy to himsef, as he stitched, the tune on a lil hymn.
“Drop that, Hom beg,” said a lil harsh voice.
The tailor, scandalized, looked round to see if it was the child that had spoken, and it was.
“Whush, whush, now, lie quate,” says the tailor, rocking the cradle with his foot, and as he rocked he whistled the hymn tune louder.
“Drop that, Hom beg, I tell ye, an’ give us something light an’ handy,” says the lil fella back to him, middling sharp.
“Aw, anything at all to plaze thee,” says the tailor, whistling a jig.
“Hom,” says my lad, “can thou dance anything to that?”
“I can,” says the tailor, “can thou?”
“I can that,” says my lad, “would thou like to see me dance?”
“I would, says the tailor.
“Take that oul’ fiddle down then, Hom man,” he said, “and put ‘Tune y wheeyl vooar’ [Tune of the big wheel] on it.”
“Aw, I’ll do that for thee, an’ welcome,” says the tailor.
The fiddle quits its hook on the wall, and the tailor tunes up.
“Hom,” says the lil fella, “before thou begin to play, clear the kitchen for me—cheers an’ stools, everything away. Make a place for me to step out to the music, man.”
“Aw, I’ll do that for thee, too,” says the tailor.
He cleared the kitchen floor, and then he struck up “Tune y wheeyl vooar.”
In a crack the lil fella bounced from his cradle onto the floor with a “Chu!” and began flying round the kitchen. “Go it Hom—face your partner—heel and toe does it. Well done, Hom—jog your elbow, man.”
Hom plays faster and faster, till me lad was jumping as high as the table.
With a “Chu!” up goes his foot on top of the dresser, and “Chu!” then on top of the chimlee piece, and “Chu!” bang against the partition, then he was half flying, half footing it round the kitchen, turning and going round that quick that it put a reel in Hom’s head to be looking at him.
Then he was whirling everything round for a clear space, even Hom himself, who by degrees gets up on the table in the corner and plays wilder and wilder, as the whirling jig grew madder and madder.
“M’ Yee!” says the tailor, throwing down the fiddle, “I mus’ run, thou’re not the chile that was in the cradle. Are thou?”
“Houl’ man! thou’re right enough,” says the lil fella. “Strike up for me, make has’e, make has’e man—more power to you elbow.”
“Whush!” said the tailor, “here’s Herself coming.”
The dancing ceased. The child gave a hop, skip, and jump into the cradle.
“Get on with thee sewing, Hom; don’t say a word,” says the lil fella, covering himself up in the clothes till nothing was left of him to be seen except his eyes which keeked out like a ferret’s.
When Herself came in the house, the tailor, all of a tremble, was sitting cross-legged on the round table and his specs on his nose and letting on that he was busy sewing; the child in the cradle was shouting and sweeling [squealing] as usual.
“What in all the earthly worl’…! But it’s quare stitching, altogether, there’s been goin’ on her, an’ me out. An’ how thou can see thee needle in that dark corner, Hom Bridson, let alone sew, it beats me,” says she, siding the place. “Well, well then, well, well, on the boghee veg [poor little thing]. Did he think Mammy had gone an’ lef’ him then, the chree [loving] Mammy is goin’ to feed him, though.”
The tailor had been thinking mighty with himself what he ought to do, so he says, “Look here, woman, give him nothing at all, but go out and get a creelful of good turf.”
She brought in the turf, and throws a big bart [bundle] of fern on it. The tailor give a leap off the table down to the floor, and it wasn’t long till he had the fine fire.
“Thou’ll have the house put on fire for me, Hom,” says Herself.
“No fear, but I’ll fire some of them,” says the tailor.
The child, with his two eyes going out of his head watching to see what the tailor would do then, was slowly turning his whining howl into a kind of call, to his own sort to come and fetch him, as like.
“I’ll send thee home,” says the tailor, drawing near the cradle, and he stretches out his two hands to take the child and put him on the big red turf fire.
Before he was able to lay a hand on him, the lil fella leaped out of the cradle and took for the door. “The back of me han’ an the sole of me fut to you!” says he, “if I would only ha’ had only another night I could have showed thee a trick or two more than that yet.”
Then the door flew open with a bang, as though someone had thrown it open, and he took off with himself like a shot. A hullabaloo of laughing and merry making was heard outside, and the noise of many running little feet.
Out on the door of the house goes Herself, she saw no one, but she caught sight of a flock of low-lying clouds shaped like gulls chasing each other away up Glen Rushen, and then comes to her ears, as if afar off from the clouds, sharp whistles and wicked little laughs as if making mock of her.
Then, as she was turning round and searching, she suddenly sees her own sweet rosy smiling child with thumb in mouth lying on the bink [stone bench] right before her. And she took all the joy in the worl’ of the child that he was home again safe and sound.
Source: Folk-Lore: A Quarterly Review of Myth, Tradition, Institution, and Custom, vol. 21 (1910), pp. 472-475.
Note: Retold by Sophia Morrison, Isle of Man. The following story was told to me by Joe Moore, who lives in the parish of Patrick, some mile from Close-ny-Lheiy. I wrote the story down from notes made at the time, the dialogue being taken down, word for word, as it fell from his lips. He told me that this father got the story from old Hom Bridson himself, ninety years ago and more; he never repeated the story while any of the Colloo family lived, but the last descendant died many years ago, and the old farmhouse is in ruins. It was a curious coincidence that, in the week following that in which I had the story from Joe Moore, I received it also from Logan, Utah, from Miss Quirk, who had it from an old Manxman who had lived there for fifty years and had emigrated from Glen Meay.
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