There lived not long since, on the borders of the county Tipperary, a decent honest couple, whose names were Mick Flanigan andJudy 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 heads, 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 he 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 any raven; 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 gut 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 fire-place 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 he 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 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 soft-hearted, and too fond of the imp, so she would not give into this plan, though every body said she was wrong; and may be 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 mischievous]y 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 imaginable. All was 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 he too true; and it gratified her moreover to think that her dear child (for she really loved the whelp) would not he 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 that 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 Foxhunter 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 no ways 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, every thing 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 that 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 Mick worked with, 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 pigs’ 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 lie 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 atop 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 Flanigan’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 some where else; you’re as good a man as any in the county, 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 [cart] to take his little bit of furniture, and that he should remove on the following Thursday. 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 his 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 ih 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, O how he did bellow and how he did squeal ! -no rat caught in a snap-trap ever sang out equal to him. ” Whisht ! A lanna,” said Judy, ” there’s no fear of you;” sure its 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, clapt 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. ” O 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 borne with the pipes to his own relations, the good people, to make music for them.