The Young Piper

: Irish Fairy Tales


There lived not long since, on the borders of the county Tipperary, a

decent honest couple, whose names were Mick Flannigan and Judy

Muldoon. These poor people were blessed, as the saying is, with four

children, all boys: three of them were as fine, stout, healthy,

good-looking children as ever the sun shone upon; and it was enough to

make any Irishman proud of the breed of
his countrymen to see them

about one o'clock on a fine summer's day standing at their father's

cabin door, with their beautiful flaxen hair hanging in curls about

their head, and their cheeks like two rosy apples, and a big laughing

potato smoking in their hand. A proud man was Mick of these fine

children, and a proud woman, too, was Judy; and reason enough they had

to be so. But it was far otherwise with the remaining one, which was

the third eldest: he was the most miserable, ugly, ill-conditioned

brat that ever God put life into; he was so ill-thriven that he never

was able to stand alone, or to leave his cradle; he had long, shaggy,

matted, curled hair, as black as the soot; his face was of a

greenish-yellow colour; his eyes were like two burning coals, and were

for ever moving in his head, as if they had the perpetual motion.

Before he was a twelvemonth old he had a mouth full of great teeth;

his hands were like kites' claws, and his legs were no thicker than

the handle of a whip, and about as straight as a reaping-hook: to

make the matter worse, he had the appetite of a cormorant, and the

whinge, and the yelp, and the screech, and the yowl, was never out of

his mouth.

The neighbours all suspected that he was something not right,

particularly as it was observed, when people, as they do in the

country, got about the fire, and began to talk of religion and good

things, the brat, as he lay in the cradle, which his mother generally

put near the fireplace that he might be snug, used to sit up, as they

were in the middle of their talk, and begin to bellow as if the devil

was in him in right earnest; this, as I said, led the neighbours to

think that all was not right, and there was a general consultation

held one day about what would be best to do with him. Some advised to

put him out on the shovel, but Judy's pride was up at that. A pretty

thing indeed, that a child of hers should be put on a shovel and

flung out on the dunghill just like a dead kitten or a poisoned rat;

no, no, she would not hear to that at all. One old woman, who was

considered very skilful and knowing in fairy matters, strongly

recommended her to put the tongs in the fire, and heat them red hot,

and to take his nose in them, and that would beyond all manner of

doubt make him tell what he was and where he came from (for the

general suspicion was, that he had been changed by the good people);

but Judy was too softhearted, and too fond of the imp, so she would

not give in to this plan, though everybody said she was wrong, and

maybe she was, but it's hard to blame a mother. Well, some advised one

thing, and some another; at last one spoke of sending for the priest,

who was a very holy and a very learned man, to see it. To this Judy of

course had no objection; but one thing or other always prevented her

doing so, and the upshot of the business was that the priest never

saw him.

Things went on in the old way for some time longer. The brat continued

yelping and yowling, and eating more than his three brothers put

together, and playing all sorts of unlucky tricks, for he was mighty

mischievously inclined, till it happened one day that Tim Carrol, the

blind piper, going his rounds, called in and sat down by the fire to

have a bit of chat with the woman of the house. So after some time

Tim, who was no churl of his music, yoked on the pipes, and began to

bellows away in high style; when the instant he began, the young

fellow, who had been lying as still as a mouse in his cradle, sat up,

began to grin and twist his ugly face, to swing about his long tawny

arms, and to kick out his crooked legs, and to show signs of great

glee at the music. At last nothing would serve him but he should get

the pipes into his own hands, and to humour him his mother asked Tim

to lend them to the child for a minute. Tim, who was kind to children,

readily consented; and as Tim had not his sight, Judy herself brought

them to the cradle, and went to put them on him; but she had no

occasion, for the youth seemed quite up to the business. He buckled on

the pipes, set the bellows under one arm, and the bag under the other,

worked them both as knowingly as if he had been twenty years at the

business, and lilted up 'Sheela na guira' in the finest style


All were in astonishment: the poor woman crossed herself. Tim, who, as

I said before, was dark, and did not well know who was playing, was

in great delight; and when he heard that it was a little prechan not

five years old, that had never seen a set of pipes in his life, he

wished the mother joy of her son; offered to take him off her hands if

she would part with him, swore he was a born piper, a natural

genus, and declared that in a little time more, with the help of a

little good instruction from himself, there would not be his match in

the whole country. The poor woman was greatly delighted to hear all

this, particularly as what Tim said about natural genus quieted some

misgivings that were rising in her mind, lest what the neighbours said

about his not being right might be too true; and it gratified her

moreover to think that her dear child (for she really loved the whelp)

would not be forced to turn out and beg, but might earn decent bread

for himself. So when Mick came home in the evening from his work, she

up and told him all that had happened, and all that Tim Carrol had

said; and Mick, as was natural, was very glad to hear it, for the

helpless condition of the poor creature was a great trouble to him. So

next day he took the pig to the fair, and with what it brought set

off to Clonmel, and bespoke a bran-new set of pipes, of the proper

size for him.

In about a fortnight the pipes came home, and the moment the chap in

his cradle laid eyes on them he squealed with delight and threw up his

pretty legs, and bumped himself in his cradle, and went on with a

great many comical tricks; till at last, to quiet him, they gave him

the pipes, and he immediately set to and pulled away at 'Jig Polthog,'

to the admiration of all who heard him.

The fame of his skill on the pipes soon spread far and near, for there

was not a piper in the six next counties could come at all near him,

in 'Old Moderagh rue,' or 'The Hare in the Corn,' or 'The Fox-hunter's

Jig,' or 'The Rakes of Cashel,' or 'The Piper's Maggot,' or any of the

fine Irish jigs which make people dance whether they will or no: and

it was surprising to hear him rattle away 'The Fox-hunt'; you'd really

think you heard the hounds giving tongue, and the terriers yelping

always behind, and the huntsman and the whippers-in cheering or

correcting the dogs; it was, in short, the very next thing to seeing

the hunt itself.

The best of him was, he was noways stingy of his music, and many a

merry dance the boys and girls of the neighbourhood used to have in

his father's cabin; and he would play up music for them, that they

said used as it were to put quicksilver in their feet; and they all

declared they never moved so light and so airy to any piper's playing

that ever they danced to.

But besides all his fine Irish music, he had one queer tune of his

own, the oddest that ever was heard; for the moment he began to play

it everything in the house seemed disposed to dance; the plates and

porringers used to jingle on the dresser, the pots and pot-hooks used

to rattle in the chimney, and people used even to fancy they felt the

stools moving from under them; but, however it might be with the

stools, it is certain that no one could keep long sitting on them, for

both old and young always fell to capering as hard as ever they could.

The girls complained that when he began this tune it always threw them

out in their dancing, and that they never could handle their feet

rightly, for they felt the floor like ice under them, and themselves

every moment ready to come sprawling on their backs or their faces.

The young bachelors who wished to show off their dancing and their new

pumps, and their bright red or green and yellow garters, swore that it

confused them so that they never could go rightly through the heel

and toe or cover the buckle, or any of their best steps, but felt

themselves always all bedizzied and bewildered, and then old and young

would go jostling and knocking together in a frightful manner; and

when the unlucky brat had them all in this way, whirligigging about

the floor, he'd grin and chuckle and chatter, for all the world like

Jacko the monkey when he has played off some of his roguery.

The older he grew the worse he grew, and by the time he was six years

old there was no standing the house for him; he was always making his

brothers burn or scald themselves, or break their shins over the pots

and stools. One time, in harvest, he was left at home by himself, and

when his mother came in she found the cat a-horseback on the dog, with

her face to the tail, and her legs tied round him, and the urchin

playing his queer tune to them; so that the dog went barking and

jumping about, and puss was mewing for the dear life, and slapping her

tail backwards and forwards, which, as it would hit against the dog's

chaps, he'd snap at and bite, and then there was the philliloo.

Another time, the farmer with whom Mick worked, a very decent,

respectable man, happened to call in, and Judy wiped a stool with her

apron, and invited him to sit down and rest himself after his walk. He

was sitting with his back to the cradle, and behind him was a pan of

blood, for Judy was making pig's puddings. The lad lay quite still in

his nest, and watched his opportunity till he got ready a hook at the

end of a piece of twine, which he contrived to fling so handily that

it caught in the bob of the man's nice new wig, and soused it in the

pan of blood. Another time his mother was coming in from milking the

cow, with the pail on her head: the minute he saw her he lilted up his

infernal tune, and the poor woman, letting go the pail, clapped her

hands aside, and began to dance a jig, and tumbled the milk all a-top

of her husband, who was bringing in some turf to boil the supper. In

short, there would be no end to telling all his pranks, and all the

mischievous tricks he played.

Soon after, some mischances began to happen to the farmer's cattle. A

horse took the staggers, a fine veal calf died of the black-leg, and

some of his sheep of the red-water; the cows began to grow vicious,

and to kick down the milk-pails, and the roof of one end of the barn

fell in; and the farmer took it into his head that Mick Flannigan's

unlucky child was the cause of all the mischief. So one day he called

Mick aside, and said to him, 'Mick, you see things are not going on

with me as they ought, and to be plain with you, Mick, I think that

child of yours is the cause of it. I am really falling away to nothing

with fretting, and I can hardly sleep on my bed at night for thinking

of what may happen before the morning. So I'd be glad if you'd look

out for work somewhere else; you're as good a man as any in the

country, and there's no fear but you'll have your choice of work.' To

this Mick replied, 'that he was sorry for his losses, and still

sorrier that he or his should be thought to be the cause of them; that

for his own part he was not quite easy in his mind about that child,

but he had him and so must keep him'; and he promised to look out for

another place immediately.

Accordingly, next Sunday at chapel Mick gave out that he was about

leaving the work at John Riordan's, and immediately a farmer who lived

a couple of miles off, and who wanted a ploughman (the last one having

just left him), came up to Mick, and offered him a house and garden,

and work all the year round. Mick, who knew him to be a good employer,

immediately closed with him; so it was agreed that the farmer should

send a car[2] to take his little bit of furniture, and that he should

remove on the following Thursday.

[Footnote 2: Car, a cart.]

When Thursday came, the car came according to promise, and Mick loaded

it, and put the cradle with the child and his pipes on the top, and

Judy sat beside it to take care of him, lest he should tumble out and

be killed. They drove the cow before them, the dog followed, but the

cat was of course left behind; and the other three children went along

the road picking skeehories (haws) and blackberries, for it was a fine

day towards the latter end of harvest.

They had to cross a river, but as it ran through a bottom between two

high banks, you did not see it till you were close on it. The young

fellow was lying pretty quiet in the bottom of the cradle, till they

came to the head of the bridge, when hearing the roaring of the water

(for there was a great flood in the river, as it had rained heavily

for the last two or three days), he sat up in his cradle and looked

about him; and the instant he got a sight of the water, and found they

were going to take him across it, oh, how he did bellow and how he did

squeal! no rat caught in a snap-trap ever sang out equal to him.

'Whist! A lanna,' said Judy, 'there's no fear of you; sure it's only

over the stone bridge we're going.'--'Bad luck to you, you old rip!'

cried he, 'what a pretty trick you've played me to bring me here!' and

still went on yelling, and the farther they got on the bridge the

louder he yelled; till at last Mick could hold out no longer, so

giving him a great skelp of the whip he had in his hand, 'Devil choke

you, you brat!' said he, 'will you never stop bawling? a body can't

hear their ears for you.' The moment he felt the thong of the whip he

leaped up in the cradle, clapped the pipes under his arm, gave a most

wicked grin at Mick, and jumped clean over the battlements of the

bridge down into the water. 'Oh, my child, my child!' shouted Judy,

'he's gone for ever from me.' Mick and the rest of the children ran to

the other side of the bridge, and looking over, they saw him coming

out from under the arch of the bridge, sitting cross-legged on the top

of a white-headed wave, and playing away on the pipes as merrily as if

nothing had happened. The river was running very rapidly, so he was

whirled away at a great rate; but he played as fast, ay, and faster,

than the river ran; and though they set off as hard as they could

along the bank, yet, as the river made a sudden turn round the hill,

about a hundred yards below the bridge, by the time they got there he

was out of sight, and no one ever laid eyes on him more; but the

general opinion was that he went home with the pipes to his own

relations, the good people, to make music for them.