Years ago there lived in Crossbrig a
smith of the name of MacEachern. This man had an only child, a boy of
about thirteen or fourteen years of age, cheerful, strong, and healthy.
All of a sudden he fell ill, took to his bed, and moped whole days away.
No one could tell what was the matter with him, and the boy himself could
not, or would not, tell how he felt. He was wasting away fast; getting
thin, old, and yellow; and his father and all his friends were afraid that
he would die.
At last one day, after the boy had
been lying in this condition for a long time, getting neither better nor
worse, always confined to bed, but with an extraordinary appetite, —one
day, while sadly revolving these things, and standing idly at his forge,
with no heart to work, the smith was agreeably surprised to see an old
man, well known to him for his sagacity and knowledge of out-of-the-way
things, walk into his workshop. Forthwith he told him the Occurrence which
had clouded his life.
The old man looked grave as he
listened; and after sitting a long time pondering over all he had heard,
gave his opinion thus—"It is not your son you have got. The boy has been
carried away by the ‘Daoine Sith,’ and they have left a Sibhreach
in his place." "Alas! and what then am I to do?" said the smith.
"How am I ever to see my own son again?" "I will tell you how," answered
the old man. "But, first, to make sure that it is not your own son you
have got, take as many empty egg-shells as you can get, go with them into
the room, spread them out carefully before his sight, then proceed to draw
water with them, carrying them two and two in your hands as if they were a
great weight, and arrange when full, with every sort of earnestness, round
the fire." The smith accordingly gathered as many broken egg-shells as he
could get, went into the room, and proceeded to carry out all his
He had not been long at work before
there arose from the bed a shout of laughter, and the voice of the seeming
sick boy exclaimed, "I am now 800 years of age, and I have never seen the
like of that before."
The smith returned and told the old
man. "Well, now," said the sage to him, "did I not tell you that it was
not your son you had: your son is in Brorra-cheill in a digh there (that
is, a round green hill frequented by fairies). Get rid as soon as possible
of this intruder, and I think I may promise you your son.
"You must light a very large and
bright fire before the bed on which this stranger is lying. He will ask
you, ‘What is the use of such a fire as that?’ Answer him at once, ‘You
will see that presently!’ and then seize him, and throw him into the
middle of it. If it is your own son you have got, he will call out to save
him; but if not, this thing will fly through the roof."
The smith again followed the old
man’s advice; kindled a large fire, answered the question put to him as he
had been directed to do, and seizing the child flung him in without
hesitation. The "Sibhreach" gave an awful yell, and sprung through the
roof, where a hole was left to let the smoke out.
On a certain night the old man told
him the green round hill, where the fairies kept the boy, would be open.
And on that night the smith, having provided himself with a Bible, a dirk,
and a crowing cock, was to proceed to the hill. He would hear singing and
dancing and much merriment going on, but he was to advance boldly; the
Bible he carried would be a certain safeguard to him against any danger
from the fairies. On entering the hill he was to stick the dirk in the
threshold, to prevent the hill from closing upon him; "and then,"
continued the old man, "on entering you will see a spacious apartment
before you, beautifully clean, and there, standing far within, working at
a forge, you will also see your own son. When you are questioned, say you
come to seek him, and will not go without him."
Not long after this the time came
round, and the smith sallied forth, prepared as instructed. Sure enough,
as he approached the hill, there was a light where light was seldom seen
before. Soon after a sound of piping, dancing, and joyous merriment
reached the anxious father on the night wind.
Overcoming every impulse to fear,
the smith approached the threshold steadily, stuck the dirk into it as
directed, and entered. Protected by the Bible he carried on his breast,
the fairies could not touch him; but they asked him with a good deal of
displeasure, what he wanted there. He answered, "I want my son, whom I see
down there, and will not go without him."
Upon hearing this the whole company
before him gave a loud laugh, which wakened up the cock he carried dozing
in his arms, who at once leaped up on his shoulders, clapped his wings
lustily, and crowed loud and long.
The fairies, incensed, seized the
smith and his son, and, throwing them out of the hill, flung the dirk
after them, and in an instant all was dark.
For a year and a day the boy never
did a turn of work, and hardly ever spoke a word; but at last one day,
sitting by his father and watching him finishing a sword he was making for
some chief, and which he was very particular about, he suddenly exclaimed,
"That is not the way to do it;" and, taking the tools from his father’s
hands, he set to work himself in his place, and soon fashioned a sword the
like of which was never seen in the country before.