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The Lady Of Gollerus


Source: Irish Fairy Tales


On the shore of Smerwick harbour, one fine summer's morning, just at
daybreak, stood Dick Fitzgerald 'shoghing the dudeen,' which may be
translated, smoking his pipe. The sun was gradually rising behind the
lofty Brandon, the dark sea was getting green in the light, and the
mists clearing away out of the valleys went rolling and curling like
the smoke from the corner of Dick's mouth.

''Tis just the pattern of a pretty morning,' said Dick, taking the
pipe from between his lips, and looking towards the distant ocean,
which lay as still and tranquil as a tomb of polished marble. 'Well,
to be sure,' continued he, after a pause, ''tis mighty lonesome to be
talking to one's self by way of company, and not to have another soul
to answer one--nothing but the child of one's own voice, the echo! I
know this, that if I had the luck, or may be the misfortune,' said
Dick, with a melancholy smile, 'to have the woman, it would not be
this way with me! and what in the wide world is a man without a wife?
He's no more surely than a bottle without a drop of drink in it, or
dancing without music, or the left leg of a scissors, or a
fishing-line without a hook, or any other matter that is no ways
complete. Is it not so?' said Dick Fitzgerald, casting his eyes
towards a rock upon the strand, which, though it could not speak,
stood up as firm and looked as bold as ever Kerry witness did.

But what was his astonishment at beholding, just at the foot of that
rock, a beautiful young creature combing her hair, which was of a
sea-green colour; and now the salt water shining on it appeared, in
the morning light, like melted butter upon cabbage.

Dick guessed at once that she was a Merrow,[5] although he had never
seen one before, for he spied the cohuleen driuth, or little
enchanted cap, which the sea people use for diving down into the
ocean, lying upon the strand near her; and he had heard that, if once
he could possess himself of the cap she would lose the power of going
away into the water: so he seized it with all speed, and she, hearing
the noise, turned her head about as natural as any Christian.

[Footnote 5: Sea fairy.]

When the Merrow saw that her little diving-cap was gone, the salt
tears--doubly salt, no doubt, from her--came trickling down her
cheeks, and she began a low mournful cry with just the tender voice
of a new-born infant. Dick, although he knew well enough what she was
crying for, determined to keep the cohuleen driuth, let her cry
never so much, to see what luck would come out of it. Yet he could not
help pitying her; and when the dumb thing looked up in his face, with
her cheeks all moist with tears, 'twas enough to make any one feel,
let alone Dick, who had ever and always, like most of his countrymen,
a mighty tender heart of his own.

'Don't cry, my darling,' said Dick Fitzgerald; but the Merrow, like
any bold child, only cried the more for that.

Dick sat himself down by her side, and took hold of her hand by way of
comforting her. 'Twas in no particular an ugly hand, only there was a
small web between the fingers, as there is in a duck's foot; but 'twas
as thin and as white as the skin between egg and shell.

'What's your name, my darling?' says Dick, thinking to make her
conversant with him; but he got no answer; and he was certain sure
now, either that she could not speak, or did not understand him: he
therefore squeezed her hand in his, as the only way he had of talking
to her. It's the universal language; and there's not a woman in the
world, be she fish or lady, that does not understand it.

The Merrow did not seem much displeased at this mode of conversation;
and making an end of her whining all at once, 'Man,' says she, looking
up in Dick Fitzgerald's face; 'man, will you eat me?'

'By all the red petticoats and check aprons between Dingle and
Tralee,' cried Dick, jumping up in amazement, 'I'd as soon eat myself,
my jewel! Is it I eat you, my pet? Now, 'twas some ugly ill-looking
thief of a fish put that notion into your own pretty head, with the
nice green hair down upon it, that is so cleanly combed out this

'Man,' said the Merrow, 'what will you do with me if you won't eat

Dick's thoughts were running on a wife: he saw, at the first glimpse,
that she was handsome; but since she spoke, and spoke too like any
real woman, he was fairly in love with her. 'Twas the neat way she
called him man that settled the matter entirely.

'Fish,' says Dick, trying to speak to her after her own short fashion;
'fish,' says he, 'here's my word, fresh and fasting, for you this
blessed morning, that I'll make you Mistress Fitzgerald before all the
world, and that's what I'll do.'

'Never say the word twice,' says she; 'I'm ready and willing to be
yours, Mister Fitzgerald; but stop, if you please, till I twist up my
hair.' It was some time before she had settled it entirely to her
liking; for she guessed, I suppose, that she was going among
strangers, where she would be looked at. When that was done, the
Merrow put the comb in her pocket, and then bent down her head and
whispered some words to the water that was close to the foot of the

Dick saw the murmur of the words upon the top of the sea, going out
towards the wide ocean, just like a breath of wind rippling along,
and, says he, in the greatest wonder, 'Is it speaking you are, my
darling, to the salt water?'

'It's nothing else,' says she, quite carelessly; 'I'm just sending
word home to my father not to be waiting breakfast for me; just to
keep him from being uneasy in his mind.'

'And who's your father, my duck?' said Dick.

'What!' said the Merrow, 'did you never hear of my father? he's the
king of the waves to be sure!'

'And yourself, then, is a real king's daughter?' said Dick, opening
his two eyes to take a full and true survey of his wife that was to
be. 'Oh, I'm nothing else but a made man with you, and a king your
father; to be sure he has all the money that's down at the bottom of
the sea!'

'Money,' repeated the Merrow, 'what's money?'

''Tis no bad thing to have when one wants it,' replied Dick; 'and may
be now the fishes have the understanding to bring up whatever you bid

'Oh yes,' said the Merrow, 'they bring me what I want.'

'To speak the truth then,' said Dick, ''tis a straw bed I have at home
before you, and that, I'm thinking, is no ways fitting for a king's
daughter; so if 'twould not be displeasing to you, just to mention a
nice feather bed, with a pair of new blankets--but what am I talking
about? may be you have not such things as beds down under the water?'

'By all means,' said she, 'Mr. Fitzgerald--plenty of beds at your
service. I've fourteen oyster-beds of my own, not to mention one just
planting for the rearing of young ones.'

'You have?' says Dick, scratching his head and looking a little
puzzled. ''Tis a feather bed I was speaking of; but, clearly, yours is
the very cut of a decent plan to have bed and supper so handy to each
other, that a person when they'd have the one need never ask for the

However, bed or no bed, money or no money, Dick Fitzgerald determined
to marry the Merrow, and the Merrow had given her consent. Away they
went, therefore, across the strand, from Gollerus to Ballinrunnig,
where Father Fitzgibbon happened to be that morning.

'There are two words to this bargain, Dick Fitzgerald,' said his
Reverence, looking mighty glum. 'And is it a fishy woman you'd marry?
The Lord preserve us! Send the scaly creature home to her own people;
that's my advice to you, wherever she came from.'

Dick had the cohuleen driuth in his hand, and was about to give it
back to the Merrow, who looked covetously at it, but he thought for a
moment, and then says he, 'Please your Reverence, she's a king's

'If she was the daughter of fifty kings,' said Father Fitzgibbon, 'I
tell you, you can't marry her, she being a fish.'

'Please your Reverence,' said Dick again, in an undertone, 'she is as
mild and as beautiful as the moon.'

'If she was as mild and as beautiful as the sun, moon, and stars, all
put together, I tell you, Dick Fitzgerald,' said the Priest, stamping
his right foot, 'you can't marry her, she being a fish.'

'But she has all the gold that's down in the sea only for the asking,
and I'm a made man if I marry her; and,' said Dick, looking up slily,
'I can make it worth any one's while to do the job.'

'Oh! that alters the case entirely,' replied the Priest; 'why there's
some reason now in what you say: why didn't you tell me this before?
marry her by all means, if she was ten times a fish. Money, you know,
is not to be refused in these bad times, and I may as well have the
hansel of it as another, that may be would not take half the pains in
counselling you that I have done.'

So Father Fitzgibbon married Dick Fitzgerald to the Merrow, and like
any loving couple, they returned to Gollerus well pleased with each
other. Everything prospered with Dick--he was at the sunny side of the
world; the Merrow made the best of wives, and they lived together in
the greatest contentment.

It was wonderful to see, considering where she had been brought up,
how she would busy herself about the house, and how well she nursed
the children; for, at the end of three years there were as many young
Fitzgeralds--two boys and a girl.

In short, Dick was a happy man, and so he might have been to the end
of his days if he had only had the sense to take care of what he had
got; many another man, however, beside Dick, has not had wit enough to
do that.

One day, when Dick was obliged to go to Tralee, he left the wife
minding the children at home after him, and thinking she had plenty to
do without disturbing his fishing-tackle.

Dick was no sooner gone than Mrs. Fitzgerald set about cleaning up the
house, and chancing to pull down a fishing-net, what should she find
behind it in a hole in the wall but her own cohuleen driuth. She
took it out and looked at it, and then she thought of her father the
king, and her mother the queen, and her brothers and sisters, and she
felt a longing to go back to them.

She sat down on a little stool and thought over the happy days she had
spent under the sea; then she looked at her children, and thought on
the love and affection of poor Dick, and how it would break his heart
to lose her. 'But,' says she, 'he won't lose me entirely, for I'll
come back to him again, and who can blame me for going to see my
father and my mother after being so long away from them?'

She got up and went towards the door, but came back again to look once
more at the child that was sleeping in the cradle. She kissed it
gently, and as she kissed it a tear trembled for an instant in her eye
and then fell on its rosy cheek. She wiped away the tear, and turning
to the eldest little girl, told her to take good care of her brothers,
and to be a good child herself until she came back. The Merrow then
went down to the strand. The sea was lying calm and smooth, just
heaving and glittering in the sun, and she thought she heard a faint
sweet singing, inviting her to come down. All her old ideas and
feelings came flooding over her mind, Dick and her children were at
the instant forgotten, and placing the cohuleen driuth on her head
she plunged in.

Dick came home in the evening, and missing his wife he asked Kathleen,
his little girl, what had become of her mother, but she could not tell
him. He then inquired of the neighbours, and he learned that she was
seen going towards the strand with a strange-looking thing like a
cocked hat in her hand. He returned to his cabin to search for the
cohuleen driuth. It was gone, and the truth now flashed upon him.

Year after year did Dick Fitzgerald wait expecting the return of his
wife, but he never saw her more. Dick never married again, always
thinking that the Merrow would sooner or later return to him, and
nothing could ever persuade him but that her father the king kept her
below by main force; 'for,' said Dick, 'she surely would not of
herself give up her husband and her children.'

While she was with him she was so good a wife in every respect that to
this day she is spoken of in the tradition of the country as the
pattern for one, under the name of THE LADY OF GOLLERUS.

Next: The Devil's Mill

Previous: The Fairy Greyhound

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