The Tobinstown Sheeoge
In the pleasant valley of the Duffrey, sheltered from the north-west winds by the huge pile of Mount Leinster, lie two villages separated by a turf bog. The western cluster is called Kennystown, and the eastern, Tobinstown. [a] The extensive Rath of Cromogue commands the bog on the north, and the over-abounding moisture in the holes and drains finds its way to the noisy Glasha on the south. The elder inhabitants of these villages spoke the Irish tongue at the close of the last century and the beginning of this. About the year 1809, the inhabitants of the whole valley spent a Sunday afternoon on the dry tussocks of the bog, sounding the dark pools with long poles and fishing spears, to stir up a descendant of the serpent that had laid the country waste in the days of Brian Boroimhe. Some intelligent person had seen it lying on the surface of Lough na Piastha about half a mile off, a day or two before, and a still more intelligent person had seen it tearing across the intermediate fields on Saturday night, with sparks of fire flashing from its tail. If the young piast was at the bottom of a bog-hole he remained there quietly enough. The enthusiastic crowd was obliged to separate at nightfall, no incident having rewarded their expectations beyond the fall of a little boy into a turf-pool, his rescue and consequent punishment by a loving but irritable parent. This, however, is no better than a digression.
Katty Clarke of Tobinstown was once happy in the possession of a fine boy, the delight of her eyes and heart, till one unlucky day, when she happened to sleep too long in the morning, and, consequently, had not time to say her prayers. Mr. Clarke, coming in from the fields, was annoyed at not finding the stirabout ready, and opened his mind on the subject. Katty was vexed with him and herself, and cursed a little, as was customary sixty years since among men and women in remote districts of our country. All these annoyances prevented her from remembering the holy water, and from sprinkling some drops on her little son, and making the sign of the cross on his innocent forehead. When the men and boys left the house for their out-door work after breakfast, Katty took a pailful of soiled linen to the spot where the stream formed a little pool, and where the villagers had fixed a broad and flat "beetling" stone. While she was employed in cleaning the clothes, she let her child sit or roll about on the grassy slope behind her.
All at once she heard a scream from the boy, and when she turned, and ran to him, she found him in convulsions. She ran home with him, administered salt and water, and the other specifics popular in the country. The fit passed away, but she was grieved to perceive that the weazened, pained expression still remained on his face, and that his whimpering and whining did not abate - in fact, to use a well-worn Irish expression, "the cry was never out of his mouth." He ate as much as would suffice a full-grown man, and was always ready for food both at regular meal-times and between them.
After a week of this state of things, the neighbours came to the conclusion that it was a sheeoge that Katty was slaving her life out for. Katty's family came next into the same persuasion, and lastly, but with some doubts, Katty herself.
At a family and neighbourly council, held round the fire, after the children had been sent to bed, they proceeded to get rid of the little wretch, and this was the order of the ceremonial :-
A neighbour took the shovel, rubbed it clean, laid it on the floor, and his wife, seizing on the supposed fairy, placed it sitting on the broad iron blade. She held it there stoutly, notwithstanding its howls, while her husband, raising it gently, proceeded to the bawn, accompanied by the assembly, and, despite all opposition on its part, placed it on a wisp of straw which crowned the manure heap. The luxury of the seat did not succeed in arresting his outcries, but his audience not taking much notice, joined hands, and in their own parlance serenaded the crowned heap three times, while the fairy-man, who had been summoned from Bawnard (high court), recited an incantation in Irish, of which we give a literal version -
"Come at our call, O Sighe mother
Come and remove your offspring.
Food and drink he has received,
And kindness from the Ben-a-teagh. [b]
Here he no longer shall stay,
But depart to the Duine Matha.
Restore the lost child, O Bean-Sighe ! [c]
And food shall be left for thy people
When the cloth is spread on the harvest-field,
On the short grass newly mown.
Food shall be left on the dresser-shelf,
And the hearthstone shall be clean,
When the Clann Sighe come in crowds,
And sweep in rings round the floor,
And hold their feast at the fire.
Restore the mortal child, O Bean-Sighe!
And receive thine own at our hands.
The charm and the third round ending at the same time, all re-entered the house, and closed the door. They soon felt the air around them sweep this way and that, as if it was stirred by the motion of wings, but they remained quiet and silent for about ten minutes. Opening the door, they then looked out, and saw the bundle of straw on the heap, but neither child nor fairy. "Go into your bedroom, Katty," said the fairy-man, "and see if there's anything left on the bed." She did so, and they soon heard a cry of joy, and Katty was among them in a moment, kissing and hugging her own healthy-looking child, who was waking and rubbing his eyes, and wondering at the lights and all the eager faces.
Whatever hurry Katty might be in of a morning after that, she never left her bedside till she had finished, as devoutly as she could, her five Paters and five Ayes, and her Apostles' Creed and her Confiteor. And she never cursed or swore except when she was surprised by a sudden fit of passion.