Long ago, a poor widow woman lived down near the iron forge, by Enniscorth, and she was so poor she had no clothes to put on her son; so she used to fix him in the ash-hole, near the fire, and pile the warm ashes about him; and according as he grew up, she sunk the pit deeper. At last, by hook or by crook, she got a goat-skin, and fastened it round his waist, and he felt quite grand, and took a walk down the street. So says she to him next morning, “Tom, you thief, you never done any good yet, and you six foot high, and past nineteen;—take that rope and bring me a faggot from the wood.”
“Never say’t twice, mother,” says Tom—”here goes.”
When he had it gathered and tied, what should come up but a big giant, nine foot high, and made a lick of a club at him. Well become Tom, he jumped a-one side, and picked up a ram-pike; and the first crack he gave the big fellow, he made him kiss the clod.
“If you have e’er a prayer,” says Tom, “now’s the time to say it, before I make fragments of you.”
“I have no prayers,” says the giant; “but if you spare my life I’ll give you that club; and as long as you keep from sin, you’ll win every battle you ever fight with it.”
Tom made no bones about letting him off; and as soon as he got the club in his hands, he sat down on the bresna, and gave it a tap with the kippeen, and says, “Faggot, I had great trouble gathering you, and run the risk of my life for you, the least you can do is to carry me home.” And sure enough, the wind o’ the word was all it wanted. It went off through the wood, groaning and crackling, till it came to the widow’s door.
Well, when the sticks were all burned, Tom was sent off again to pick more; and this time he had to fight with a giant that had two heads on him. Tom had a little more trouble with him—that’s all; and the prayers he said, was to give Tom a fife; that nobody could help dancing when he was playing it. Begonies, he made the big faggot dance home, with himself sitting on it. The next giant was a beautiful boy with three heads on him. He had neither prayers nor catechism no more nor the others; and so he gave Tom a bottle of green ointment, that wouldn’t let you be burned, nor scalded, nor wounded. “And now,” says he, “there’s no more of us. You may come and gather sticks here till little Lunacy Day in Harvest, without giant or fairy-man to disturb you.”
Well, now, Tom was prouder nor ten paycocks, and used to take a walk down street in the heel of the evening; but some o’ the little boys had no more manners than if they were Dublin jackeens, and put out their tongues at Tom’s club and Tom’s goat-skin. He didn’t like that at all, and it would be mean to give one of them a clout. At last, what should come through the town but a kind of a bellman, only it’s a big bugle he had, and a huntsman’s cap on his head, and a kind of a painted shirt. So this—he wasn’t a bellman, and I don’t know what to call him—bugleman, maybe, proclaimed that the King of Dublin’s daughter was so melancholy that she didn’t give a laugh for seven years, and that her father would grant her in marriage to whoever could make her laugh three times.
“That’s the very thing for me to try,” says Tom; and so, without burning any more daylight, he kissed his mother, curled his club at the little boys, and off he set along the yalla highroad to the town of Dublin.
At last Tom came to one of the city gates, and the guards laughed and cursed at him instead of letting him in. Tom stood it all for a little time, but at last one of them—out of fun, as he said—drove his bayonet half an inch or so into his side. Tom done nothing but take the fellow by the scruff o’ the neck and the waistband of his corduroys, and fling him into the canal. Some run to pull the fellow out, and others to let manners into the vulgarian with their swords and daggers; but a tap from his club sent them headlong into the moat or down on the stones, and they were soon begging him to stay his hands.
So at last one of them was glad enough to show Tom the way to the palace-yard; and there was the king, and the queen, and the princess, in a gallery, looking at all sorts of wrestling, and sword-playing, and long-dances, and mumming, all to please the princess; but not a smile came over her handsome face.
Well, they all stopped when they seen the young giant, with his boy’s face, and long black hair, and his short curly beard—for his poor mother couldn’t afford to buy razors—and his great strong arms, and bare legs, and no covering but the goat-skin that reached from his waist to his knees. But an envious wizened bit of a fellow, with a red head, that wished to be married to the princess, and didn’t like how she opened her eyes at Tom, came forward, and asked his business very snappishly.
“My business,” says Tom, says he, “is to make the beautiful princess, God bless her, laugh three times.” “Do you see all them merry fellows and skilful swordsmen,” says the other, “that could eat you up with a grain of salt, and not a mother’s soul of ’em ever got a laugh from her these seven years?”
So the fellows gathered round Tom, and the bad man aggravated him till he told them he didn’t care a pinch o’ snuff for the whole bilin’ of ’em; let ’em come on, six at a time, and try what they could do.
The king, who was too far off to hear what they were saying, asked what did the stranger want.
“He wants,” says the red-headed fellow, “to make hares of your best men.”
“Oh!” says the king, “if that’s the way, let one of ’em turn out and try his mettle.”
So one stood forward, with sword and pot-lid, and made a cut at Tom. He struck the fellow’s elbow with the club, and up over their heads flew the sword, and down went the owner of it on the gravel from a thump he got on the helmet. Another took his place, and another, and another, and then half a dozen at once, and Tom sent swords, helmets, shields, and bodies, rolling over and over, and themselves bawling out that they were kilt, and disabled, and damaged, and rubbing their poor elbows and hips, and limping away. Tom contrived not to kill any one; and the princess was so amused, that she let a great sweet laugh out of her that was heard over all the yard.
“King of Dublin,” says Tom, “I’ve quarter your daughter.”
And the king didn’t know whether he was glad or sorry, and all the blood in the princess’s heart run into her cheeks.
So there was no more fighting that day, and Tom was invited to dine with the royal family. Next day, Redhead told Tom of a wolf, the size of a yearling heifer, that used to be serenading about the walls, and eating people and cattle; and said what a pleasure it would give the king to have it killed.
“With all my heart,” says Tom; “send a jackeen to show me where he lives, and we’ll see how he behaves to a stranger.”
The princess was not well pleased, for Tom looked a different person with fine clothes and a nice green birredh over his long curly hair; and besides, he’d got one laugh out of her. However, the king gave his consent; and in an hour and a half the horrible wolf was walking into the palace-yard, and Tom a step or two behind, with his club on his shoulder, just as a shepherd would be walking after a pet lamb.
The king and queen and princess were safe up in their gallery, but the officers and people of the court that wor padrowling about the great bawn, when they saw the big baste coming in, gave themselves up, and began to make for doors and gates; and the wolf licked his chops, as if he was saying, “Wouldn’t I enjoy a breakfast off a couple of yez!”
The king shouted out, “O Tom with the Goat-skin, take away that terrible wolf, and you must have all my daughter.”
But Tom didn’t mind him a bit. He pulled out his flute and began to play like vengeance; and dickens a man or boy in the yard but began shovelling away heel and toe, and the wolf himself was obliged to get on his hind legs and dance “Tatther Jack Walsh,” along with the rest. A good deal of the people got inside, and shut the doors, the way the hairy fellow wouldn’t pin them; but Tom kept playing, and the outsiders kept dancing and shouting, and the wolf kept dancing and roaring with the pain his legs were giving him; and all the time he had his eyes on Redhead, who was shut out along with the rest. Wherever Redhead went, the wolf followed, and kept one eye on him and the other on Tom, to see if he would give him leave to eat him. But Tom shook his head, and never stopped the tune, and Redhead never stopped dancing and bawling, and the wolf dancing and roaring, one leg up and the other down, and he ready to drop out of his standing from fair tiresomeness.
When the princess seen that there was no fear of any one being kilt, she was so divarted by the stew that Redhead was in, that she gave another great laugh; and well become Tom, out he cried, “King of Dublin, I have two halves of your daughter.”
“Oh, halves or alls,” says the king, “put away that divel of a wolf, and we’ll see about it.”
So Tom put his flute in his pocket, and says he to the baste that was sittin’ on his currabingo ready to faint, “Walk off to your mountain, my fine fellow, and live like a respectable baste; and if ever I find you come within seven miles of any town, I’ll—”
He said no more, but spit in his fist, and gave a flourish of his club. It was all the poor divel of a wolf wanted: he put his tail between his legs, and took to his pumps without looking at man or mortal, and neither sun, moon, or stars ever saw him in sight of Dublin again.
At dinner every one laughed but the foxy fellow; and sure enough he was laying out how he’d settle poor Tom next day.
“Well, to be sure!” says he, “King of Dublin, you are in luck. There’s the Danes moidhering us to no end. Deuce run to Lusk wid ’em! and if any one can save us from ’em, it is this gentleman with the goat-skin. There is a flail hangin’ on the collar-beam, in hell, and neither Dane nor devil can stand before it.”
“So,” says Tom to the king, “will you let me have the other half of the princess if I bring you the flail?”
“No, no,” says the princess; “I’d rather never be your wife than see you in that danger.”
But Redhead whispered and nudged Tom about how shabby it would look to reneague the adventure. So he asked which way he was to go, and Redhead directed him.
Well, he travelled and travelled, till he came in sight of the walls of hell; and, bedad, before he knocked at the gates, he rubbed himself over with the greenish ointment. When he knocked, a hundred little imps popped their heads out through the bars, and axed him what he wanted.
“I want to speak to the big divel of all,” says Tom: “open the gate.”
It wasn’t long till the gate was thrune open, and the Ould Boy received Tom with bows and scrapes, and axed his business. “My business isn’t much,” says Tom. “I only came for the loan of that flail that I see hanging on the collar-beam, for the king of Dublin to give a thrashing to the Danes.”
“Well,” says the other, “the Danes is much better customers to me; but since you walked so far I won’t refuse. Hand that flail,” says he to a young imp; and he winked the far-off eye at the same time. So, while some were barring the gates, the young devil climbed up, and took down the flail that had the handstaff and booltheen both made out of red-hot iron. The little vagabond was grinning to think how it would burn the hands o’ Tom, but the dickens a burn it made on him, no more nor if it was a good oak sapling.
“Thankee,” says Tom. “Now would you open the gate for a body, and I’ll give you no more trouble.”
“Oh, tramp!” says Ould Nick; “is that the way? It is easier getting inside them gates than getting out again. Take that tool from him, and give him a dose of the oil of stirrup.”
So one fellow put out his claws to seize on the flail, but Tom gave him such a welt of it on the side of the head that he broke off one of his horns, and made him roar like a devil as he was. Well, they rushed at Tom, but he gave them, little and big, such a thrashing as they didn’t forget for a while. At last says the ould thief of all, rubbing his elbow, “Let the fool out; and woe to whoever lets him in again, great or small.”
So out marched Tom, and away with him, without minding the shouting and cursing they kept up at him from the tops of the walls; and when he got home to the big bawn of the palace, there never was such running and racing as to see himself and the flail. When he had his story told, he laid down the flail on the stone steps, and bid no one for their lives to touch it. If the king, and queen, and princess, made much of him before, they made ten times more of him now; but Redhead, the mean scruff-hound, stole over, and thought to catch hold of the flail to make an end of him. His fingers hardly touched it, when he let a roar out of him as if heaven and earth were coming together, and kept flinging his arms about and dancing, that it was pitiful to look at him. Tom run at him as soon as he could rise, caught his hands in his own two, and rubbed them this way and that, and the burning pain left them before you could reckon one. Well the poor fellow, between the pain that was only just gone, and the comfort he was in, had the comicalest face that you ever see, it was such a mixtherum-gatherum of laughing and crying. Everybody burst out a laughing—the princess could not stop no more than the rest; and then says Tom, “Now, ma’am, if there were fifty halves of you, I hope you’ll give me them all.”
Well, the princess looked at her father, and by my word, she came over to Tom, and put her two delicate hands into his two rough ones, and I wish it was myself was in his shoes that day!
Tom would not bring the flail into the palace. You may be sure no other body went near it; and when the early risers were passing next morning, they found two long clefts in the stone, where it was after burning itself an opening downwards, nobody could tell how far. But a messenger came in at noon, and said that the Danes were so frightened when they heard of the flail coming into Dublin, that they got into their ships, and sailed away.
Well, I suppose, before they were married, Tom got some man, like Pat Mara of Tomenine, to learn him the “principles of politeness,” fluxions, gunnery, and fortification, decimal fractions, practice, and the rule of three direct, the way he’d be able to keep up a conversation with the royal family. Whether he ever lost his time learning them sciences, I’m not sure, but it’s as sure as fate that his mother never more saw any want till the end of her days.
The Lad with the Goat-skin – Celtic Fairy Tales