A touch of faerie from Ireland
There was a young man in Clare, a miller’s son, whose name was Padraig. He worked hard for his father, for they hadn’t much, but every day he went to the mill he would have to shout and shuffle the lazy labourers out there to get them to do even a tap of work. One of the days, when they had a big order on, he couldn’t even get them to raise a toe, never mind a finger, and when he went to check at end of day, didn’t he find them all fast asleep – and not a bit of the corn was ground for the order.
Frustrated and furious, he walked out along the stream for a bit, and was sitting head in hands when he heard a fierce snorting behind him. Turning, he met a large black bull, pawing the ground and about to charge. Now, Padraig knew there was no such bull with his family nor with the neighbours, and his own mother was a fairy woman, who’d been telling him old tales since he was born – so he could well recognise a Pouca no matter what form it was taking. He stood and said that if the Pouca would help his family that night, he’d give him his own thick coat to wear, for it was fierce cold. He laid the coat over the shoulders of the bull, and it rested down meek as a lamb, then lumbered off back up to the mill. Padraig sat for a while by the stream, his head much quieter, and waited, for the fairies don’t like to be disturbed in their work. After a time, he saw an old man leave, away into the scrubland behind. The poor thing was skin and bones, and cold even with the heavy coat draped over him, for he was dressed only in rags beneath. When Padraig went into the mill though, he saw the corn all ground; a week’s work had been done in a single night and it certainly wasn’t the labourers who’d done it, for they were still snoring.
The next night, Padraig was back by the mill at the same time, with a drop of whiskey and a bit of a cake his mam had made, and left them by the door. Sure enough, it wasn’t long before he heard the mill working away, and he knew again it wasn’t the labourers, for they were all still down at the pub. He went and dismissed the lot of them, and was back in time to see the Pouca leave the same as the last night. This happened every night, and the family grew very rich, for the miller was getting a week’s work done in a night, and he never had to pay a wage other than the whiskey and a bit of cake of an evening. But Padraig grew tired of seeing the Pouca heading off through all kinds of weather with not even a shoe on his foot, nor trousers to keep his skinny old legs a bit warm. So he got a superb suit of clothes made up, and left them out one night in place of the usual whiskey and cake.
He watched the Pouca find them, try them on, and preen as he examined himself looking like a fine gentleman. Indeed, he must have thought himself such, and fine gentlemen don’t labour each night in a mill. So he took himself off to see the countryside, and laboured no more. But Padraig didn’t mind, for they were wealthy by then, and sold the mill for good profit. He made a match after with a lord’s daughter, and had a fine wedding party with all the trimmings. At the feast, he found a grand golden cup laid up at the top table, and knew it to be a gift from the Pouca, so he insisted that only himself and his bride drink from it that day, and every day thereafter. The couple never had a day’s bad luck in their lives from then on, and their descendants went to many adventures with the fairies. But sure, they are all stories for another day.
Lora O’Brien is an Irish journalist, author and freelance writer, with a professional and academic background in psychology, spirituality and Irish heritage.
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