It is remarkable that the Irish national airs--plaintive, beautiful, and unutterably pathetic--should so perfectly express the spirit of the Ceol-Sidhe (the fairy music), as it haunts the fancy of the people and mingles with all their traditions of the spirit world. Wild and capricious as the fairy nature, these delicate harmonies, with their mystic, mournful rhythm, seem to touch the deepest chords of feeling, or to fill the sunshine with laughter, according to the mood of the players; but, above all things, Irish music is the utterance of a Divine sorrow; not stormy or passionate, but like that of an exiled spirit, yearning and wistful, vague and unresting; ever seeking the unattainable, ever shadowed, as it were, with memories of some lost good, or some dim foreboding of a coming fate--emotions that seem to find their truest expression in the sweet, sad, lingering wail of the pathetic minor of a genuine Irish air. There is a beautiful phrase in one of the ancient manuscripts descriptive of the wonderful power of Irish music over the sensitive human organization: "wounded men were soothed when they heard it, and slept; and women in travail forgot their pains." There are legends concerning the subtle charm of the fairy music and dance, when the mortal under their influence seems to move through the air with "the naked, fleshless feet of the spirit", and is lulled by the ecstasy of the cadence into forgetfulness of all things, and sometimes into the sleep of death.
Now he had read in the old books how the Leprehauns knew all the secret places where gold lay hid, and day by day he watched for a sight of the little cobbler, and listened for the click, click of his hammer, as he sat under the hedge mending the shoes.
At last, one evening just as the sun set, he saw a little fellow under a dock leaf, working away, dressed all in green, with a cocked hat on his head. So the boy jumped down from the cart and seized him by the neck.
"Now, you don't stir from this," he cried, "till you tell me where to find the hidden gold."
"Easy now," said the Leprehaun, "don't hurt me, and I will tell you all about it. But mind you, I could hurt you if I chose, for I have the power; but I won't do it, for we are cousins once removed. So as we are near relations I'll just be good, and show you the place of the secret gold that none can have or keep except those of fairy blood and race. Come along with me, then, to the old fort of Lipenshaw, for there it lies. But make haste, for when the last red glow of the sun vanishes the gold will disappear also, and you will never find it again."
"Come off, then," said the boy, and he carried the Leprehaun into the turf cart, and drove off. In a second they were at the old fort, and went in through a door made in the stone wall.
"Now, look round," said the Leprehaun; and the boy saw the whole ground covered with gold pieces, and there were vessels of silver lying about in such plenty that all the riches of all the world seemed gathered there.
"Now take what you want," said the Leprehaun, "but hasten, for if that door shuts you will never leave this place as long as you live."
So the boy gathered up his arms full of gold and silver, and flung them into the cart, and was on his way back for more when the door shut with a clap like thunder, and all the place became dark as night. And he saw no more of the Leprehaun, and had not time even to thank him.
So he thought it best to drive home at once with his treasure, and when he arrived and was all alone by himself he counted his riches, and all the bright yellow gold pieces, enough for a king's ransom.
And he was very wise and told no one; but went off next day to Dublin and put all his treasures into the bank, and found that he was now indeed as rich as a lord.
he ordered a fine house to be build with spacious gardens, and he had servants
and carriages and books to his heart's content. And he gathered all the
wise men round him to give him the learning of a gentleman; and he became
a great and powerful man in the country, where his memory is still held
in high honour, and his descendants are living to this day rich and prosperous;
for their wealth has never decreased though they have ever given largely
to the poor, and are noted above all things for the friendly heart and
the liberal hand.
On hearing this the fairy chief fell into a profound melancholy, and he and all his court sailed away from Ireland, and went back to their native country of Armenia, there to await the coming of the terrible judgment-day, which is fated to bring the fairy race certain death on earth, without any hope of regaining heaven.
The West of Ireland is peculiarly sacred to ancient superstitions of the Sidhe race. There is a poetry in the scenery that touches the heart of the people; they love the beautiful glens, the mountains rising like towers from the sea, the islands sanctified by the memory of a saint, and the green hills where Finvarra holds his court. Every lake and mountain has its legend of the spirit-land, some holy traditions of a saint, or some historic memory of a national hero who flourished in the old great days when Ireland had native chiefs and native swords to guard her; and amongst the Western Irish, especially, the old superstitions of their forefathers are reverenced with a solemn faith and fervour that is almost a religion. Finvarra the king is still believed to rule over all the fairies of the west, and Onagh is the fairy queen. Her golden hair sweeps the ground, and she is robed in silver gossamer all glittering as if with diamonds, but they are dew-drops that sparkle over it.
queen is more beautiful than any woman of earth, yet Finvarra loves the
mortal woman best, and wiles them down to his fairy palace by the subtle
charm of the fairy music, for no one who has yet heard it can resist its
power, and they are fated to belong to the fairies ever after. Their friends
mourn for them as dead with much lamentation, but in reality they are leading
a joyous life down in the heart of the hill, in the fairy palace with the
silver columns and the crystal walls.
Yet sometimes they are not drawn down beneath the earth, but remain as usual in the daily life, though the fairy spell is still on them; and the young men who have once heard the fairy harp become possessed by the spirit of music which haunts them to their death, and gives them strange power over the souls of men. This was the case with Carolan, the celebrated bard. He acquired all the magic melody of his notes by sleeping out on a fairy rath at night, when he fairy music came to him in his dreams; and on awaking he played the airs from memory. Thus it was that he had power to madden men to mirth, or to set them weeping as if for the dead, and no one ever before or since played the enchanting fairy music like Carolan, the sweet musician of Ireland.
There was another man also who heard the fairy music when sleeping on a rath, and ever after he was haunted by the melody day and night, till he grew mad and had no pleasure in life, for he longed to be with the fairies again that he might hear them sing. So one day, driven to despair by the madness of longing, he threw himself from the cliff into the mountain lake near the fairy rath, and so died and was seen no more.
the Western Islands they believe that the magic of fairy music is so strong
that whoever hears it cannot choose but follow the sound, and the young
girls are drawn away by the enchantment, and dance all night with Finvarra
the king, though in the morning they are found fast asleep in bed, yet
with a memory of all they heard and seen; and some say that, while with
the fairies, the young women learn strange secrets of love potions, by
which they can work spells and dangerous charms over those whose love they
desire, or upon any one who has offended and spoken ill of them.
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