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Myths and Folk-lore of Ireland

Jeremiah Curtin

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20 extremely rare translations from Gaelic-speaking peoples, collected from the people of Ireland. A must for any fan of Irish history, culture and mythology. Stories about battles with giants, dead men who come back to life, humans imprisoned in animals' bodies, heroes with incredible strength, and more.

This book has 204 pages in the PDF version, and was originally published in 1890.

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Excerpt from 'Myths and Folk-lore of Ireland'

[Loch Léin, former name of one of the Lakes of Killarney]

ON a time there lived a king and a queen in Erin, and they had an only son. They were very careful and fond of this son; whatever he asked for was granted, and what he wanted he had.

When grown to be almost a young man the son went away one day to the hills to hunt. He could find no game, - saw nothing all day. Towards evening he sat down on a hillside to rest, but soon stood up again and started to go home empty-handed. Then he heard a whistle behind him, and turning, saw a giant hurrying down the hill.

The giant came to him, took his hand, and said:

"Can you play cards?"

"I can indeed," said the king's son.

"Well, if you can," said the giant, " we'll have a game here on this hillside."

So the two sat down, and the giant had out a pack of cards in a twinkling. "What shall we play for? " asked the giant.

"For two estates," answered the king's son.

They played: the young man won, and went home the better for two estates. He was very glad, and hurried to tell his father the luck he had.

Next day he went to the same place, and didn't wait long till the giant came again.

"Welcome, king's son," said the giant. "What shall we play for to-day?"

"I'II leave that to yourself," answered the young man.

"Well," said the giant, "I have five hundred bullocks with golden horns and silver hoofs, and I'll play them against as many cattle belonging to you."

"Agreed," said the king's son.

They played. The giant lost again. He had the cattle brought to the place; and the king's son went home with the five hundred bullocks. The king his father was outside watching, and was more delighted than the day before when he saw the drove of beautiful cattle with horns of gold and hoofs of silver.

When the bullocks were driven in, the king sent for the old blind sage (Sean dall Glic), to know what he would say of the young man's luck.

"My advice," said the old blind sage, "is not to let your son go the way of the giant again, for if he plays with him a third time he'll rue it."

But nothing could keep the king's son from playing the third time. Away he went, in spite of every advice and warning, and sat on the same hillside.

He waited long, but no one came. At last he rose to go home. That moment he heard a whistle behind him, and turning, saw the giant coming.

"Well, will you play with me to-day?" asked the giant.

"I would," said the king's son, "but I have nothing to bet."

"You have indeed."

"I have not," said the king's son.

"Haven't you your head?" asked the giant of Loch Léin, for it was he that was in it.

"I have," answered the king's son.

"So have I my head," said the giant; " and we 'II play for each other's heads."

This third time the giant won the game; and the king's son was to give himself up in a year and a day to the giant in his castle.

The young man went home sad and weary. The king and queen were outside watching, and when they saw him approaching, they knew great trouble was on him. When he came to where they were, he wouldn't speak, but went straight into the castle, and wouldn't eat or drink.

He was sad and lamenting for a good while, till at last he disappeared one day, the king and queen knew not whither. After that they didn't hear of him, - didn't know was he dead or alive.

The young man after he left home was walking along over the kingdom for a long time. One day he saw no house, big or little, till after dark he came in front of a hill, and at the foot of the hill saw a small light. He went to the light, found a small house, and inside an old woman sitting at a warm fire, and every tooth in her head as long as a staff.

She stood up when he entered, took him by the hand, and said, "You are welcome to my house, son of the king of Erin." Then she brought warm water, washed his feet and legs from the knees down, gave him supper, and put him to bed.

When he rose next morning he found breakfast ready before him. The old woman said: "You were with me last night; you 'II be with my sister to-night, and what she tells you to do, do, or your head 'II be in danger. Now take the gift I give you. Here is a ball of thread: do you throw it in front of you before you start, and all day the ball will be rolling ahead of you, and you 'II be following behind winding the thread into another ball."

He obeyed the old woman, threw the ball down, and followed. All the day he was going up hill and down, across valleys and open places, keeping the ball in sight and winding the thread as he went, till evening, when he saw a hill in front, and a small light at the foot of it.

He went to the light and found a house, which he entered. There was no one inside but an old woman with teeth as long as a crutch.

"Oh! then you are welcome to my house, king's son of Erin " said she. "You were with my sister last night; you are with me to-night; and it's glad I am to see you."

She gave him meat and drink and a good bed to lie on.

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