There was a king in Desmond whose name was Coluath O’Hara, and he had three daughters. On a time when the king was away from home, the eldest daughter took a thought that she’d like to be married. So she went up in the castle, put on the cloak of darkness which her father had, and wished for the most beautiful man under the sun as a husband for herself.
She got her wish; for scarcely had she put off the cloak of darkness, when there came, in a golden coach with four horses, two black and two white, the finest man she had ever laid eyes on, and took her away.
When the second daughter saw what had happened to her sister, she put on the cloak of darkness, and wished for the next best man in the world as a husband.
She put off the cloak; and straightway there came, in a golden coach with four black horses, a man nearly as good as the first, and took her away.
The third sister put on the cloak, and wished for the best white dog in the world.
Presently he came, with one man attending, in a golden coach and four snow-white horses, and took the youngest sister away.
When the king came home, the stable-boy told him what had happened while he was gone. He was enraged beyond measure when he heard that his youngest daughter had wished for a white dog, and gone off with him.
When the first man brought his wife home he asked: “In what form will you have me in the daytime,—as I am now in the daytime, or as I am now at night?”
“As you are now in the daytime.”
So the first sister had her husband as a man in the daytime; but at night he was a seal.
The second man put the same question to the middle sister, and got the same answer; so the second sister had her husband in the same form as the first.
When the third sister came to where the white dog lived, he asked her: “How will you have me to be in the daytime,—as I am now in the day, or as I am now at night?”
“As you are now in the day.”
So the white dog was a dog in the daytime, but the most beautiful of men at night.
After a time the third sister had a son; and one day, when her husband was going out to hunt, he warned her that if anything should happen the child, not to shed a tear on that account.
While he was gone, a great gray crow that used to haunt the place came and carried the child away when it was a week old.
Remembering the warning, she shed not a tear for the loss.
All went on as before till another son was born. The husband used to go hunting every day, and again he said she must not shed a tear if anything happened.
When the child was a week old a great gray crow came and bore him away; but the mother did not cry or drop a tear.
All went well till a daughter was born. When she was a week old a great gray crow came and swept her away. This time the mother dropped one tear on a handkerchief, which she took out of her pocket, and then put back again.
When the husband came home from hunting and heard what the crow had done, he asked the wife, “Have you shed tears this time?”
“I have dropped one tear,” said she.
Then he was very angry; for he knew what harm she had done by dropping that one tear.
Soon after their father invited the three sisters to visit him and be present at a great feast in their honor. They sent messages, each from her own place, that they would come.
The king was very glad at the prospect of seeing his children; but the queen was grieved, and thought it a great disgrace that her youngest daughter had no one to come home with her but a white dog.
The white dog was in dread that the king wouldn’t leave him inside with the company, but would drive him from the castle to the yard, and that the dogs outside wouldn’t leave a patch of skin on his back, but would tear the life out of him.
The youngest daughter comforted him. “There is no danger to you,” said she, “for wherever I am, you’ll be, and wherever you go, I’ll follow and take care of you.”
When all was ready for the feast at the castle, and the company were assembled, the king was for banishing the white dog; but the youngest daughter would not listen to her father,—would not let the white dog out of her sight, but kept him near her at the feast, and divided with him the food that came to herself.
When the feast was over, and all the guests had gone, the three sisters went to their own rooms in the castle.
Late in the evening the queen took the cook with her, and stole in to see what was in her daughters’ rooms. They were all asleep at the time. What should she see by the side of her youngest daughter but the most beautiful man she had ever laid eyes on.
Then she went to where the other two daughters were sleeping; and there, instead of the two men who brought them to the feast, were two seals, fast asleep.
The queen was greatly troubled at the sight of the seals. When she and the cook were returning, they came upon the skin of the white dog. She caught it up as she went, and threw it into the kitchen fire.
The skin was not five minutes in the fire when it gave a crack that woke not only all in the castle, but all in the country for miles around.
The husband of the youngest daughter sprang up. He was very angry and very sorry, and said: “If I had been able to spend three nights with you under your father’s roof, I should have got back my own form again for good, and could have been a man both in the day and the night; but now I must go.”
He rose from the bed, ran out of the castle, and away he went as fast as ever his two legs could carry him, overtaking the one before him, and leaving the one behind. He was this way all that night and the next day; but he couldn’t leave the wife, for she followed from the castle, was after him in the night and the day too, and never lost sight of him. In the afternoon he turned, and told her to go back to her father; but she would not listen to him. At nightfall they came to the first house they had seen since leaving the castle. He turned and said: “Do you go inside and stay in this house till morning; I’ll pass the night outside where I am.”
The wife went in. The woman of the house rose up, gave her a pleasant welcome, and put a good supper before her. She was not long in the house when a little boy came to her knee and called her “Mother.”
The woman of the house told the child to go back to his place, and not to come out again.
“Here are a pair of scissors,” said the woman of the house to the king’s daughter, “and they will serve you well. Whatever ragged people you see, if you cut a piece off their rags, that moment they will have new clothes of cloth of gold.”
She stayed that night, for she had good welcome. Next morning when she went out, her husband said: “You’d better go home now to your father.”
“I’ll not go to my father if I have to leave you,” said she.
So he went on, and she followed. It was that way all the day till night came; and at nightfall they saw another house at the foot of a hill, and again the husband stopped and said: “You go in; I’ll stop outside till morning.”
The woman of the house gave her a good welcome. After she had eaten and drunk, a little boy came out of another room, ran to her knee, and said, “Mother.” The woman of the house sent the boy back to where he had come from, and told him to stay there.
Next morning, when the princess was going out to her husband, the woman of the house gave her a comb, and said: “If you meet any person with a diseased and a sore head, and draw this comb over it three times, the head will be well, and covered with the most beautiful golden hair ever seen.”
She took the comb, and went out to her husband.
“Leave me now,” said he, “and go back to your own father.”
“I will not,” said she, “but I will follow you while I have the power.” So they went forward that day, as on the other two.
At nightfall they came to a third house, at the foot of a hill, where the princess received a good welcome. After she had eaten supper, a little girl with only one eye came to her knee and said, “Mother.”
The princess began to cry at sight of the child, thinking that she herself was the cause that it had but one eye. Then she put her hand into her pocket where she kept the handkerchief on which she had dropped the tear when the gray crow carried her infant away. She had never used the handkerchief since that day, for there was an eye on it.
She opened the handkerchief, and put the eye in the girl’s head. It grew into the socket that minute, and the child saw out of it as well as out of the other eye; and then the woman of the house sent the little one to bed.
Next morning, as the king’s daughter was going out, the woman of the house gave her a whistle, and said: “Whenever you put this whistle to your mouth and blow on it, all the birds of the air will come to you from every quarter under the sun. Be careful of the whistle, as it may serve you greatly.”
“Go back to your father’s castle,” said the husband when she came to him, “for I must leave you to-day.”
They went on together a few hundred yards, and then sat on a green hillock, and he told the wife: “Your mother has come between us; but for her we might have lived together all our days. If I had been allowed to pass three nights with you in your father’s house, I should have got back my form of a man both in the daytime and the night. The Queen of Tir na n-Og [the land of youth] enchanted and put on me a spell, that unless I could spend three nights with a wife under her father’s roof in Erin, I should bear the form of a white dog one half of my time; but if the skin of the dog should be burned before the three nights were over, I must go down to her kingdom and marry the queen herself. And ’tis to her I am going to-day. I have no power to stay, and I must leave you; so farewell, you’ll never see me again on the upper earth.”
He left her sitting on the mound, went a few steps forward to some bulrushes, pulled up one, and disappeared in the opening where the rush had been.
She stopped there, sitting on the mound lamenting, till evening, not knowing what to do. At last she bethought herself, and going to the rushes, pulled up a stalk, went down, followed her husband, and never stopped till she came to the lower land.
After a while she reached a small house near a splendid castle. She went into the house and asked, could she stay there till morning. “You can,” said the woman of the house, “and welcome.”
Next day the woman of the house was washing clothes, for that was how she made a living. The princess fell to and helped her with the work. In the course of that day the Queen of Tir na n-Og and the husband of the princess were married.
Near the castle, and not far from the washerwoman’s, lived a henwife with two ragged little daughters. One of them came around the washerwoman’s house to play. The child looked so poor and her clothes were so torn and dirty that the princess took pity on her, and cut the clothes with the scissors which she had.
That moment the most beautiful dress of cloth of gold ever seen on woman or child in that kingdom was on the henwife’s daughter.
When she saw what she had on, the child ran home to her mother as fast as ever she could go.
“Who gave you that dress?” asked the henwife.
“A strange woman that is in that house beyond,” said the little girl, pointing to the washerwoman’s house.
The henwife went straight to the Queen of Tir na n-Og and said: “There is a strange woman in the place, who will be likely to take your husband from you, unless you banish her away or do something to her; for she has a pair of scissors different from anything ever seen or heard of in this country.”
When the queen heard this she sent word to the princess that, unless the scissors were given up to her without delay, she would have the head off her.
The princess said she would give up the scissors if the queen would let her pass one night with her husband.
The queen answered that she was willing to give her the one night. The princess came and gave up the scissors, and went to her own husband; but the queen had given him a drink, and he fell asleep, and never woke till after the princess had gone in the morning.
Next day another daughter of the henwife went to the washerwoman’s house to play. She was wretched-looking, her head being covered with scabs and sores.
The princess drew the comb three times over the child’s head, cured it, and covered it with beautiful golden hair. The little girl ran home and told her mother how the strange woman had drawn the comb over her head, cured it, and given her beautiful golden hair.
The henwife hurried off to the queen and said: “That strange woman has a comb with wonderful power to cure, and give golden hair; and she’ll take your husband from you unless you banish her or take her life.”
The queen sent word to the princess that unless she gave up the comb, she would have her life.
The princess returned as answer that she would give up the comb if she might pass one night with the queen’s husband.
The queen was willing, and gave her husband a draught as before. When the princess came, he was fast asleep, and did not waken till after she had gone in the morning.
On the third day the washerwoman and the princess went out to walk, and the first daughter of the henwife with them. When they were outside the town, the princess put the whistle to her mouth and blew. That moment the birds of the air flew to her from every direction in flocks. Among them was a bird of song and new tales. The princess went to one side with the bird. “What means can I take,” asked she, “against the queen to get back my husband? Is it best to kill her, and can I do it?”
“It is very hard,” said the bird, “to kill her. There is no one in all Tir na n-Og who is able to take her life but her own husband. Inside a holly-tree in front of the castle is a wether, in the wether a duck, in the duck an egg, and in that egg is her heart and life. No man in Tir na n-Og can cut that holly-tree but her husband.”
The princess blew the whistle again. A fox and a hawk came to her. She caught and put them into two boxes, which the washerwoman had with her, and took them to her new home.
When the henwife’s daughter went home, she told her mother about the whistle. Away ran the henwife to the queen, and said: “That strange woman has a whistle that brings together all the birds of the air, and she’ll have your husband yet, unless you take her head.”
“I’ll take the whistle from her, anyhow,” said the queen. So she sent for the whistle.
The princess gave answer that she would give up the whistle if she might pass one night with the queen’s husband.
The queen agreed, and gave him a draught as on the other nights. He was asleep when the princess came and when she went away.
Before going, the princess left a letter with his servant for the queen’s husband, in which she told how she had followed him to Tir na n-Og, and had given the scissors, the comb, and the whistle, to pass three nights in his company, but had not spoken to him because the queen had given him sleeping draughts; that the life of the queen was in an egg, the egg in a duck, the duck in a wether, the wether in a holly-tree in front of the castle, and that no man could split the tree but himself.
As soon as he got the letter the husband took an axe, and went to the holly-tree. When he came to the tree he found the princess there before him, having the two boxes with the fox and the hawk in them.
He struck the tree a few blows; it split open, and out sprang the wether. He ran scarce twenty perches before the fox caught him. The fox tore him open; then the duck flew out. The duck had not flown fifteen perches when the hawk caught and killed her, smashing the egg. That instant the Queen of Tir na n-Og died.
The husband kissed and embraced his faithful wife. He gave a great feast; and when the feast was over, he burned the henwife with her house, built a palace for the washerwoman, and made his servant secretary.
They never left Tir na n-Og, and are living there happily now; and so may we live here.