In Germanic lore, we see many examples of elfin spirits giving gifts that seem worthless, such as a pile of dead leaves, but if the person has a good heart and values the gift, it will turn into something of great value. Celtic fairies tend to do the opposite, as we will see in the first story below.
The Fairies’ Passage by James Clarence Magnon
Tap, tap, rap, rap! “Get up, gaffer Ferryman.”
“Eh! Who is there?” The clock strikes three.
“Get up, do, gaffer! You are the very man
We have been long, long, longing to see.”
The ferryman rises, growling and grumbling,
And goes fum-fumbling, and stumbling, and tumbling
Over the wares on his way to the door.
But he sees no more
Than he saw before,
Till a voice is heard: “O Ferryman, dear!
Here we are waiting, all of us, here.
We are a wee, wee colony, we;
Some two hundred in all, or three.
Ferry us over the River Lee
Ere dawn of day,
And we will pay
The most we may
In our own wee way!”
“Who are you? Whence came you?
What place are you going to?”
“Oh, we have dwelt over-long in this land:
The people get cross, and are growing so knowing, too!
Nothing at all but they now understand.
We are daily vanishing under the thunder
Of some huge engine or iron wonder;
That iron—ah! it has entered our souls.”
“Your souls? O gholes!
You queer little drolls,
Do you mean ——?” “Good gaffer, do aid us with speed,
For our time, like our stature, is short indeed!
And a very long way we have to go:
Eight or ten thousand miles or so,
Hither and thither, and to and fro,
With our pots and pans
And little gold cans;
But our light caravans
Run swifter than man’s.”
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“Well, well, you may come,” said the ferryman affably;
“Patrick, turn out, and get ready the barge.”
Then again to the little folk: “Tho’ you seem laughably
Small, I don’t mind, if your coppers be large.”
Oh, dear! what a rushing, what pushing, what crushing
(The watermen making vain efforts at hushing
The hubbub the while), there followed these words!
What clapping of boards,
What strapping of cords,
What stowing away of children and wives,
And platters, and mugs, and spoons, and knives!
Till all had safely got into the boat,
And the ferryman, clad in his tip-top coat,
And his wee little fairies were safely afloat;
Then ding, ding, ding,
And kling, kling, kling,
How the coppers did ring
In the tin pitcherling!
Off, then, went the boat, at first very pleasantly,
Smoothly, and so forth; but after a while
It swayed and it swagged this and that way, and presently
Chest after chest, and pile after pile
Of the little folk’s goods began tossing and rolling,
And pitching like fun, beyond fairy controlling.
O Mab! if the hubbub were great before,
It was now some two or three million times more.
Crash! went the wee crocks and the clocks; and the locks
Of each little wee box were stove in by hard knocks;
And then there were oaths, and prayers, and cries:
“Take care!”—“See there!”—“Oh, dear, my eyes!”--
“I am killed!”—“I am drowned!”—with groans and sighs,
Till to land they drew.
“Yeo-ho! Pull to!
Tiller-rope, thro’ and thro’!”
And all’s right anew.
“Now jump upon shore, ye queer little oddities.
(Eh, what is this?... Where are they, at all?
Where are they, and where are their tiny commodities?
Well, as I live!”....) He looks blank as a wall,
Poor ferryman! Round him and round him he gazes,
But only gets deeplier lost in the mazes
Of utter bewilderment. All, all are gone,
And he stands alone,
Like a statue of stone,
In a doldrum of wonder. He turns to steer,
And a tinkling laugh salutes his ear,
With other odd sounds: “Ha, ha, ha, ha!
Fol lol! zidzizzle! quee, quee! bah, bah!
Fizzigigiggidy! pshee! sha, sha!”
“O ye thieves, ye thieves, ye rascally thieves!”
The good man cries. He turns to his pitcher,
And there, alas, to his horror perceives
That the little folk’s mode of making him richer
Has been to pay him with withered leaves!
Our second tale is of a mortal man who falls in love with a fairy maiden and is beckoned to join her in Fairy Land. This story comes from another undated book called “Celtic Folk and Fairy Tales” edited by Joseph Jacobs.
Connla and the Fairy Maiden
Connla of the Fiery Hair was son of Conn of the Hundred Fights. One day as he stood by the side of his father on the height of Usna, he saw a maiden clad in strange attire towards him coming.
"Whence comest thou, maiden?" said Connla.
"I come from the Plains of the Ever Living," she said, "there where is neither death nor sin. There we keep holiday alway, nor need we help from any in our joy. And in all our pleasure we have no strife. And because we have our homes in the round green hills, men call us the Hill Folk."
The king and all with him wondered much to hear a voice when they saw no one. For save Connla alone, none saw the Fairy Maiden.
"To whom art thou talking, my son?" said Conn the king.
The king in fear at what the maiden said, which he heard though he could not see her, called aloud to his Druid, Coran by name.
"O Coran of the many spells," he said, "and of the cunning magic, I call upon thy aid. A task is upon me too great for all my skill and wit, greater than any laid upon me since I seized the kingship. A maiden unseen has met us, and by her power would take from me my dear, my comely son. If thou help not, he will be taken from thy king by woman's wiles and witchery."
Then Coran the Druid stood forth and chanted his spells towards the spot where the maiden's voice had been heard. And none heard her voice again, nor could Connla see her longer. Only as she vanished before the Druid's mighty spell, she threw an apple to Connla.
But when the last day of the month of waiting came, Connla stood by the side of the king his father on the Plain of Arcomin, and again he saw the maiden come towards him, and again she spoke to him.
"'Tis a glorious place, forsooth, that Connla holds among shortlived mortals awaiting the day of death. But now the folk of life, the ever-living ones, beg and bid thee come to Moy Mell, the Plain of Pleasure, for they have learnt to know thee, seeing thee in thy home among thy dear ones."
When Conn the king heard the maiden's voice he called to his men aloud and said:
"Summon swift my Druid Coran, for I see she has again this day the power of speech."
Then the maiden said: "O mighty Conn, Fighter of a Hundred Fights, the Druid's power is little loved; it has little honour in the mighty land, peopled with so many of the upright. When the Law comes, it will do away with the Druid's magic spells that issue from the lips of the false black demon."
Then Conn the king observed that since the coming of the maiden Connla his son spoke to none that spake to him. So Conn of the Hundred Fights said to him, "Is it to thy mind what the woman says, my son?"
"'Tis hard upon me," said Connla; "I love my own folk above all things; but yet a longing seizes me for the maiden."
When the maiden ceased to speak, Connla of the Fiery Hair rushed away from his kinsmen and sprang into the curragh, the gleaming, straight-gliding crystal canoe. And then they all, king and court, saw it glide away over the bright sea towards the setting sun, away and away, till eye could see it no longer. So Connla and the Fairy Maiden went forth on the sea, and were no more seen, nor did any know whither they came.
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My name is Carolyn Emerick, and I write about the history, mythology, and folklore of Northwestern Europe.
I am a regular contributor to Celtic Guide magazine, have been frequently featured on Medievalists.net, and have been published on other websites such as Mysterious Britain and The Freelance History Writer.
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