These are two folklore stories from Rathlin Island, translated into English from the Island’s now almost extinct native Gaelic dialect. The translation style employed is mostly a direct one, designed to facilitate comprehension of the original Irish.
Re-edited versions of the Irish tales in Rathlin Irish, together with translations / transliterations into Standard Irish and into Scottish Gaelic are to be found in Dhá Scéal Reachlann agus Eile (Dunbar : 2008) published by Coiscéim.
The first story Mac na Baintreabhraí agus Níon an Rí, translated here as ‘The Widow’s Son and the Kings Daughter’ was first published in Foghraidheacht Ghaedhilge an Tuaiscirt (Séamus Ó Searcaigh : 1926) published by Browne and Nolan.
Ó Searcaigh collected the story from Domhnall Mac Mhuireachtaigh (Daniel McCurdy), Kinramer, Upper End, Rathlin around the year 1915.
The second of the two stories An Sionnach agus Cailleach na gCearc, translated here as ‘The Fox and the Old Hag or the Hens’ was first published in the Irish Independent in 1908.
It was recorded by Aoidhmín Mac Gréagóir of Belfast but it is not clear who the source was in this instance.
The Widow’s Son and the Kings Daughter
There was once a king and he had a daughter; and she would only marry a person who would make her laugh three times; and plenty were courting her; and not one of them could make her laugh. There was a widow and she had one son; and he said to his mother that it would be better for him to go and see if he could get the king’s daughter to laugh.
‘Well,’ says his mother to him, ‘many an honourable person went to her and none of them made her laugh.’ ‘Well,’ says her son to her,’ Make you a bannach for me and kill a hen.’ ‘Well son,’ says she, ‘I’ll do that for you. Which would you prefer a big bannach and my curse or a wee bananch and my blessing?’ ‘Well,’ says he, ‘I would prefer a small bannach and your blessing.’
When he got the bannach and the hen, off he went and when the hunger came on him, he sat down and made his dinner.
Then he made ready to go to the house of the king. He was wondering what he would do to get three laughs from the king’s daughter.
Then as he was going, he fell in with a goat at the side of the road; and he went and jumped up riding on the goat and he turned his back to the goats head. He grabbed the stump of the goat’s tail with his two hands; and then he was close to the house of the king.
The king’s daughter had a room in the loft; and the widow’s son sent the goat mad; and when she saw the idiot of a person riding a goat and the goat going mad, she clapped her two hands together and let a great laugh out of her.
The widow’s son went to the king. ‘Now,’ says the widow’s son, ‘I have your daughter.’ ‘Indeed you have not got her yet. You have to make her laugh twice more.’
He came home to his mother; and his mother asked what happened to him. He told her that he got one laugh from her.
He made ready then and he went the next day but he did not know what he would do to make her laugh a second time.
He was walking for a time, and what did he then find but a cow’s skin. He walked on another wee bit along the road and he fell in with a horse; and he wondered, when he found the horse what would be the best thing for him to do to make the king’s daughter laugh for the second time.
He was walking for a spell and what did he find but a cow’s hide. He walked on for a bit at the side of the road and he fell in with a horse, and he thought, when he got the horse, of the best thing to do to get the king’s daughter to laugh a second time.
He went off and brought with him the horse and spread the cow’s hide out on the forehead of the horse. He went and he pulled down the cow’s hide on the horse’s feet and up he jumped riding on the horse and off he galloped towards the king’s house.
The kings’ daughter was sitting in her own room looking out the window, when she saw the fool of person riding a cow, she let another laugh out of her.
The widow’s son went to the king. ‘I have your daughter now,’ ‘Indeed you do not,’ said the king. You do not have her yet. You have to made her laugh one more time.
He came home then, his mother inquired what had happened to him. He told her that he made her laugh twice.
On the third day he prepared to make her laugh a third time. When the widow’s son came in within sight of the king’s house, he knew that the king’s daughter would still be looking out of the window.
The widow’s son went and put his two hands down on the ground, and he threw his two legs up into the air and he was walking on his hands, and when she saw the fool walking on his hands and the legs in the air, she laughed for the third time.
The widow’s son went to the king. ‘I have your daughter now,’ ‘Indeed you do not,’ said the king to the widow’s son. ‘There is a great giant there,’ said the king, ‘unless you bring me his head, you will not get my daughter.’
The widow’s son went off until he was at the giant’s house. When he heard the widow’s son at the house, he said to him, ‘is it a fight you want?’ The widow’s son said that he would prefer to wrestle than to fight.
The first throw or two that he did, he put the giant up to his two knees into the hard ground. ‘Spare my soul and I will give you a sword and a pot of gold.’ ‘Tell me where they are and I will spare your soul for you.’
The giant told the widow’s son where he would find it.
Then he put the giant down through the hard ground. The giant asked him to spare him and that he what do anything for him.
The widow’s son went and put him down through the ground. There was not a bit above but his head and neck. The widow’s son found the sword which would cut rock or anything.
‘Now,’ said the widow’s son, ‘on what would he strike the sword first?’ The giant told him to strike it on a tree stump which was by his side. If the widow’s son had have struck it on the tree there would not be any worth left in it.
The widow’s son said to him, ‘the best stump to strike it on – your neck.’
He struck a blow of the sword on the giant’s neck and his head went up between them and the skies.
Went the head came back down again, it went on the neck and it was as sound as it ever was.
He stuck it again and it came down onto the neck as well as it was the first time. The widow’s son did not know what he would do to put an end to the giant.
The thug blow he delivered to him the head went up between them and the skies. And when the head came back the widow’s son stuck the head with the top of his right foot and the hair side turned towards the ground, and it lay there. There was no more life in it.
The widow’s son took with him the head and gave it to the king. The widow’s son said to the king : iI have your daughter now.’
They married then and the wedding lasting the whole of seven years and the last day was as good as the first. They married and I left them then.
The Fox and the Old Hag of the Hens.
It was Christmas night and terribly cold. The peaks and glens where hidden with snow. The fox was away at that time to the Old Hag of the Hens little house and he was very hungry. He and the Old Hag of the Hens’ cock happened upon each other and they began to converse.
‘How many tricks have you?’ said the fox.
‘Well, I have only the one trick,’ said the cock, ‘how many do you have yourself?’.
‘I can do fifteen tricks,’ said the cock.
‘What are those you speak of?’ said the cock. ‘Well,’ said the fox, my grandfather used to close one eye and let out a great screech.’
‘I can do that one,’ said the cock.
‘Try and see if you can,’ said the fox. The cock closed the eye closest to the fox and the fox caught a bite on him away he went but the Old Hag of the Hens saw him and she shouted loudly, ‘let go of that cock, it is mine.’ ‘Say you,’ said the cock to the fox, ‘he is my cock.’
The fox opened his mouth to say these words and when he opened his mouth the cock went off, going and going until he was at the top of the Old Hag of the Hens’ house. He winked his eye to the fox and he let a great crow from himself and because of that the fox did not play a trick on him again.