The Smith and The Faeries
Years ago there lived in Crossbrig a smith of the name of MacEachern. This man had an only child, a boy of about thirteen or fourteen years…..
By Rev. Thomas Pattison, Islay
Years ago there lived in Crossbrig a smith of the name of MacEachern. This man had an only child, a boy of about thirteen or fourteen years of age, cheerful, strong, and healthy. All of a sudden he fell ill, took to his bed, and moped whole days away. No one could tell what was the matter with him, and the boy himself could not, or would not, tell how he felt. He was wasting away fast; getting thin, old, and yellow; and his father and all his friends were afraid that he would die.
At last one day, after the boy had been lying in this condition for a long time, getting neither better nor worse, always confined to bed, but with an extraordinary appetite,–one day,–while sadly revolving these things, and standing idly at his forge, with no heart to work, the smith was agreeably surprised to see an old man, well known to him for his sagacity and knowledge of out-of-the-way things, walk into his workshop. Forthwith he told him the occurrence which had clouded his life.
The old man looked grave as he listened; and after sitting a long time pondering over all he had heard, gave his opinion thus–“It is not your son you have got. The boy has been carried away by the ‘Daoine Sith,’ and they have left a Sibhreach in his place.” “Alas! and what then am I to do?” said the smith. “How am I ever to see my own son again?” “I will tell you how,” answered the old man. “But first, to make sure that it is not your own son you have got, take as many empty egg-shells as you can get, go with them into the room, spread them out carefully before his sight, then proceed to draw water with them, carrying them two and two in your hands as if they were a great weight, and arrange when full, with every sort of earnestness, round the fire.” The smith accordingly gathered as many broken eggshells as he could get, went into the room, and proceeded to carry out all his instructions.
He had not been long at work before there arose from the bed a shout of laughter, and the voice of the seeming sick boy exclaimed, “I am now 800 years of age, and I have never seen the like of that before.”
The smith returned and told the old man. “Well, now,” said the sage to him, “did I not tell you that it was not your son you had: your son is in Brorracheill in a digh there (that is, a round green hill frequented by fairies). Get, rid as soon as possible of this intruder, and I think I may promise you your son.
“You must light a very large and bright fire before the bed on which this stranger is lying. He will ask you, ‘What is the use of such a fire as that?’ Answer him at once, ‘You will see that presently!’ and then seize him, and throw him into the middle of it. If it is your own son you have got, he will call out to save him; but if not, this thing will fly through the roof.”
The smith again followed the old man’s advice; kindled a large fire, answered the question put to him as he had been directed to do, and seizing the child flung him in without hesitation. The “Sibhreach” gave an awful yell, and sprung through the roof, where a hole was left to let the smoke out.
On a certain night the old man told him the green round hill, where the fairies kept the boy, would be open. And on that night the smith, having provided himself with a Bible, a dirk, and a crowing cock, was to proceed to the hill. He would hear singing and dancing and much merriment going on, but he was to advance boldly; the Bible he carried would be a certain safeguard to him against any danger from the fairies. On entering the bill he was to stick the dirk in the threshold, to prevent the hill from closing upon him; “and then,” continued the old man, “on entering you will see a spacious apartment before you, beautifully clean, and there, standing far within, working at a forge, you will also see your own son. When you are questioned, say you come to seek him, and will not go without him.”
Not long after this the time came round, and the smith sallied forth, prepared as instructed. Sure enough, as he approached the hill, there was a light where light was seldom seen before. Soon after a sound of piping, dancing, and joyous merriment reached the anxious father on the night wind.
Overcoming every impulse to fear, the smith approached the threshold steadily, stuck the dirk into it as directed, and entered. Protected by the Bible he carried on his breast, the fairies could not touch him; but they asked him, with a good deal of displeasure, what he wanted there. He answered, “I want my son, whom I see down there, and I will not go without him.”
Upon hearing this the whole company before him gave a loud laugh, which wakened up the cock he carried dozing in his arms, who at once leaped up on his shoulders, clapped his wings lustily, and crowed loud and long.
The fairies, incensed, seized the smith and his son, and, throwing them out of the hill, flung the dirk after them, and in an instant all was dark.
For a year and a day the boy never did a turn of work, and hardly ever spoke a word; but at last one day, sitting by his father and watching him finishing a sword he was making for some chief, and which he was very particular about, he, suddenly exclaimed, “That is not the way to do it;” and, taking the tools from his father’s hands, he set to work himself in his place, and soon fashioned a sword the like of which was never seen in the country before.
From that day the young man wrought constantly with his father, and became the inventor of a peculiarly fine and well-tempered weapon, the making of which kept the two smiths, father and son, in constant employment, spread their fame far and wide, and gave them the means in abundance, as they before had the disposition, to live content with all the world and very happily with one another.
The walls of the house where this celebrated smith, the artificer of the ‘Claidheamh Ceann-Ileach,” lived and wrought, are standing to this day, not far from the parish church of Kilchoman, Islay, in a place called Caonis gall.