THE KING WITH THE HORSE'S EARS

From Legendary Fictions of the Irish Celts by Patrick Kennedy

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Our authority for the following legend was Owen Jourdan, already mentioned. Poor Jourdan was a genuine story-telling genius. He was not the mere talented Scealuidhe; he not only had a sense of what pleased and interested, but he could invent, if needful--i.e. he could form a good narrative out of two or three independent ones. With all his native powers of deceiving his auditors while relating extraordinary things; as if they had happened to himself, he was suspected of believing in the existence of fairies, and their dwelling in peculiar localities, such as the Rath of Cromogue. As for raths in general, he would as soon think of planting a ridge of potatoes in the ancient cemeteries of Kilmeashill or Templeshambo as of ploughing up the green area of one of these circular remains. We have endeavoured to retain his style of narrative; but alas! it is more than thirty years since we sat near his throne, viz., the big kitchen griddle in Tombrick.

THE KING WITH THE HORSE'S EARS

The story I'm going to tell yous is not to be met every day. I heard little Tom Kennedy, the great schoolmaster of Rossard, say that he read it in the history of Ireland, and that it happened before the people wor Christians. It is about a king that never let himself be docked only once a year. He lived in some ould city on the borders of Carlow and Kilkenny, and his name was a queer one--Lora Lonshach it was. So, as I said, he got his hair cut once a year; and tale or tidings was never after hard of the barber that done it. About seven unlucky fellows got the honour, and after that, dickens a barber would come for love or money within a hen's race of the castle. So the king made an Act of Parlement, that all the shavers through the country was to cast lots; and if any one that got the short straw daared say boo, down went his house.[1]

So the first lot came to the son of a poor widow woman, and the bellman proclaimed it through the town; and when the poor mother heard it she had like to fall out of her stanin'; but as that wouldn't save the poor fellow's life, she thought betther of it, and run up the street like wildfire, till she came to the palace gates. She broke through the guards (I don't think the old kings in Ireland took any trouble about mindin' the gates; for if they did, how could such crowds be always at the fastes withinside?)--She broke in, as I said, and came into the big stone hall, where the king was takin' his tay--if it's tay they used in them days.

"What brings this mad woman here?" says he, flying into a passion. "Go," says he to the butler, "and put the guards into the dungeon, for lettin' me be disturbed at my break'ast, and bid the drummer give 'em thirty lashes apiece wud the cat-o'-noine-tails. What brings you here, you unfortunate ould sinner?" says he to the poor woman, that was sitten' an her heels, and pulliluin' fit to blow the roof off o' the house.

"Oh, plase your noble majesty," says she, "don't take Thigueen from me. If you do, who'll I have to wake and bury me dacent?" "An' who is Thigueen?" says he; "an' what have I to say to him?" "Oh, an' isn't he the unfortunate disciple that's to clip your majesty to-morrow, an' sure after that I'll never see him again." "Call the butler here," says the king to the little page. "Plaze your majesty, he's gone to see the floggin'." "It doesn't plaze my majesty, I tell you, for him to take the liberty. Call the footman." "Sir, he's gone to mind the butler." "Well, then, tundher and turf! call the coachman." "Sir, he said he'd go have an eye on the other two, for fraid they'd go look at any one dhrinkin'." "Well, then, call in the guards." "Oh, sure, they're all gettin' the floggin'." "Cead millia mollaghart--Oh, tattheration to yez all; isn't this the purty way I'm circumvented! Begone, you oul' thief," says he to the poor woman, "since I can't give you the chastisement you desarve. You'll get your paustha (boy) back safe an' sound; but if ever I lay eyes on you again, I'll have you hung as high as Balffe or Gildheroy." [2] "Oh, may heavens be your bed! May all the sowls that ever left you------" "Out o' my sight, you torment! My break'ast is spiled, an' I'll be all through other the whole day."

You may be sure the guards kep' an eye about 'em next day, till the king was done his break'ast; and then the poor barber came in, like a dog with a kittle under his tail. He stood, bowin', bowin', and all the blood in his body down in his brogues. So the king looked at him, an' says he, "My good fellow, you'll be at liberty to go where you please after cutting my hair; but you must first take your Bible oath ------ "Ah, that's true, they didn't know anything about the Bible; the oath he made him swear was, Dar lamh an Righ (by the king's hand), that he'd never tell anything that had ears and tongue what he'd see that day.

So he sat down on his throne, took off his green birredh, with his eyes fixed on the barber; and when the cap was off, up flew two brown horse's ears (but they were as long as if they belonged to an ass), and bid Thigue fall on with his scissors.

The poor lad never could rightly tell how he got through the job. He had like once to cut the edge of one ear; but such a roar as the king let at him, while he put down one ear and cocked up the other, almost terrified him to death. He'd give the world to be away some place where he could faint, and be done with the business, head and pluck.

When he was over the job, the page handed him five guineas--if it's guineas they had; and says the king, "Now, my lad, if I ever hear the wind o' the word of this after you, if I don't hang you, or thransport you to Bottomy Bay, I'll do worse; I'll get you married to a tay-dhrinking bawrshuch (scold) of a woman, that'll make you wish you never was born before you're three months man and wife. I will do that, by this scepthre, an' there's both wood and stick in it [3]--so mind yourself."

The poor mother was there, looking over the half-door, seeing if her son 'ud ever come back to her; an' at last, bedad, there he was, comin' down the street, pullin' one leg after the other; and when he came in, he tumbled head and heels into his bed, without so much as blessing himself. Ovoch, I'm always forgetting it's a hathen story I'm telling. The poor mother begged and beseecht him to tell her what ailded him, but dickens a word he let on about it. At last, after two days and nights, the doctor came; and as sure as he did, he bid Thigue put out his tongue, and let him feel his pulse. "Docthor," says the poor fellow, "there's no use in sthrivin' to blindfold the divel in the dark: I have a saycret. If I can't tell it, I'll die; and if I do tell it, I'll not be allowed to live." "Sha gu dheine" says the doctor, "is that the way the wind blows?" When he heard that the people the secret was not to be told to were to have tongues and ears on 'em, says he to Thigue, "Go into the wood there below; make a split in the bark of one of the trees, tell your secret into the cut, and try how you'll feel after it."

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NOTES

[1] Idiomatic for "being put to death."

[2] The biography of these unlucky heroes was to be found in the once familiar school-book--"The Adventures of the Irish Rogues and Rapparees." It has been a desideratum in our little collection these thirty years. We cannot bear the sight of the modern edition.

[3] The editor has not ventured to print this bizarre pleonasm without legitimate authority.



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