Since Christianity was introduced by Patrick in the mid to late 5th century, Ireland struggled adapting to its new religion without completely severing the ties with its ancient culture. Even though the Catholic Church demonstrated a no-tolerance for the “Irish faeriës”, individuals within the community had difficulty drawing defining lines between religious fact and what the Church defined as myth. Despite these attempts by the clergy, Irish in the 20th century and even into the 21st continued to harbor a certain belief in the “faeriës” and refrained from desecrating any monuments, which served as relics of their ancient pagan religion.
“Breandan!” The young man shifted his weight from one foot to the other. His paten-leather grey shoes (worn, but the latest model) kicked up the dirt impatiently. It was like this everyday. Cursing under his breath, he watched people leave the schoolhouse and glance at him admiringly as they passed by. When one of the redhead girls stopped longer than the others, he rolled up the sleeves of his white-button up shirt to the elbow. The average but well formed biceps swelled momentarily. A faint smile creased her face and the tall, robust youth winked triumphantly. When the young girl rounded the stone wall out of earshot, he threw his arms down to his side and whirled back around to face the schoolhouse. The yard was deserted. The white picket fence and the brilliant green of the grass shone blatantly in the afternoon sun. Sighing audibly, he adjusted his tweed Mucros cap so that his sandy colored hair curled out at the bottom and pulled a pocket watch out of his vest.
“Och, Breandan Cooney, will yeh hurry it up!” he called again, letting the watch fall from his hand and dangle from its brazen chain.
In response to that final call, a lone figure scurried out of the schoolhouse. Fumbling awkwardly with the latch on the picket gate, the small, lean shadow of a boy flitted to his companion’s side. Scratching his short blonde hair, he peered up through his glasses. His usually white face was flushed: his freckles popping out of his face. “Yeh didn’t have ta wait fer me, Aengus,” he whispered to the taller boy next to him.
“Now, what kind of a’ nonsense is that,” his friend replied. “I’m always willin’ ta wait fer yeh. Just make sure that yeh don’t keep me watin’ long! Cum now!” Taking Breandan firmly by the arm, Aengus punched him warmly in the other arm and took off down the path.
For some time, the two boys jogged down the dirt and gravel streets: stepping out of the way of the occasional automobile and recalling random facts from their grade school days. For anyone passing by on the street, the two friends would have appeared much like any classic pair of teenage southern-Irish boys. “By all the saints in heaven, Breandan,” Aengus blurted out in a peal of laughter. “I ne’re will understand yeh. I declare, them three sisters a yorn are affectin’ yeh! Pray tell, what is it ‘bout them books that interests yeh so? Have yeh not had enough a’ them? God knows, I have.”
“I couldn’t tell yeh,” Breandan replied with his eyes turned down. “I jest always find somethin’ new ta be learned in them, I guess. It’s the 20th century, Aengus! The world’s a’ changin’, and there’ll always be somethin’ new ta learn. I guess, it’s the only way I know a’ getting’ ta know the storm ‘fore it hits us.” Turning his head away, the taller boy shook his head.
“There’s nothin’ they tell yeh that yeh don’t learn from the tales, Breandan,” Aengus said in a darker tone. “Somewhere, deep down in ‘is bones, every good Irishmen knows it. I know, I’ve bin sayin’ it, and I’ll keep on sayin’ it!”
Removing his hat abruptly, the young man lengthened his stride. Quickening his pace to keep up with his friend, Breandan clutched at the small ounce of courage that was in him in order to make a confrontation.
“I don’t think yeh should put so much faith in them stories, Aengus,” he gasped, struggling to keep up with his friend.
“Me Mum named me after the Gaelige god a’ love and youth,” came the proud reply. “It’s in my blood. I can’t help but believe in some a’ them stories. Some folks say that it tisn’t healthy or safe ta disregard them completely. The Church tain’t spoken out ‘gainst directly, so I’m gonna play it safe.”
Hearing his friend’s words, Breandan grew indignant. For the first time, he felt a festering anger in his heart and a disgust at his own inability to express his thoughts. He listened, he read, he thought all the time, and yet, he always seemed to be a step behind Aengus.
“Well, than I’ll prove it to yeh!” Breandan stated, stopping in his tracks. “There’s nothin’ too them legends! I don’t ‘ave the words ta say it, so I’ll prove it!” Picking three large stones up from the small road, he jumped up onto the old stone wall nearby. Some yards away was a large knoll upon which sat some boulders. Being about waist high and covered in faded circular etchings, they formed a deep-set circle in the grass: an ancient place of pagan prayer or allegedly a gathering place for the spirits. In their center was clustered a handful of crows pecking at the ground. With perfect accuracy, Breandan hurled two of the stones. The first one landed right in the middle of the circle, frightening the birds. In a frenzy of squawking and swirling of wings, the crows rose up from the ground and flew away in terror. The second rock knocked against one of the standing stones, chipping off a piece. Before Breandan could throw the last stone, Aengus was on top of him.
“In the name a’ all things sacred, what do yeh think yeh be doin’!” he cried, pushing his friend off the wall. “Don’t yeh know, that be a faerië mound?”
“Why’d yeh think I threw rocks at it!” Breandan stated indignantly, his green eyes flashing. “It’s naught but an old bunch a’ rocks.”
“An old bunch a’ rocks!” Aengus exclaimed. “May yer tongue cleave ta the roof a’ yer mouth fer sayin’ such a thing! Them circular ruins were a place in ages past where ancient druids used ta make offerings ta the gods and maybe even bury their dead. Now, it’s said that the faeriës live ‘round ‘em.”
Giving Breandan a shove, Aengus turned around to gaze at the rapidly retreating black birds in the distance. “Them crows be an ill-omen fer sure,” Aengus said in a low voice. “I bet yeh, they’re some sign from Morrigan, the spirit a’ war and death. Yeh know, crows be a symbol for her.”
“Yer talkin’ rubbish!” Breandan replied. “Those birds were nothin’ but some old crows, takin’ advantage a’ this rainy weather ta gather worms.”
“I’ll wager yeh!” Aengus replied, his tone growing dark. “The fairiës are surely angered by yer foolish prank. Yeh’ll get it tonight, Mr. Cooney, I’d bet me soul on it!”
“I wouldn’t do that, Mr. Mac Carthy,” Breandan replied. “If yeh do, tomorrow yeh’ll be wi’ the devil!”
That night, Breandan was late coming home from the pub. He’d spent all day watching the occupants, as was his strange custom on Friday nights. Breandan knew he was far too young to order anything, but he loved to sit and watch the strange assortment of people that wandered in. Sitting alone in his particular corner, he’d watch silently, observing the scene and relishing the environment’s oddities. Now walking down the narrow forest road, his mind was everywhere but focused. He had long since overcome his anger at Aengus. Breandan was not one to hold grudges. In fact, although he was more than unwilling to admit it, he was currently trying to keep his friends words out of his mind: “Yeh’ll get it tonight, Mr. Cooney, I’d bet me soul on it!” The words echoed through his consciousness with a realism that frightened him.
“God help Aengus,” he prayed, hastily crossing himself. “If anybody will be needin’ it tonight, it’ll be him. Yeh’d think a Wicklow boy’d know better.” Picking up his pace, Breandan allowed his eyes to wander from the road to the gnarled branches overhead. They were already bare. The leaves were dropping far too quickly for mid-October: far too quickly. A shiver went up and down Breandan’s spine, but he shook it away and continued at an even brisker pace. The words of his friend rang piercingly in his ear: “Yeh’ll get it tonight, Yeh’ll get it tonight…”
All at once, images began to crowd, unlooked for, into Breandan’s mind: frightful stories of Aengus’, tales about banshees and púca goblins. “They’ll frighten yeh right off the path,” his friend’s voice taunted in his mind. “By the time yeh get on ta their tricks, it’s already too late. Yeh’ve either bin filched or worse.” Breaking into a run, Breandan fled blindly past the numerous dark trees that stood like sentinels on the sides of the road. They were a wall of security between him and the unknown darkness beyond. Breandan seemed to hear voices in the air, accompanying the wind. Placing his hands over his ears, he cursed his active imagination.
“The faerië mound,” it wailed mournfully. “The faerië mound,…the faerië folk…” The voice was literally present. He could not doubt his own senses. It was there, piercing through the darkness like a knife searching for its target. “Yeh’ve desecrated our sacred grounds, and yeh will pay dearly,” it cried. In an explosion of senses, Breandan felt a cold drop of water land on his hand, and then another on his neck. Soon, the clouds that had been gathering overhead unleashed their torrents, and Breandan found himself in a terrible predicament. Just when he believed that his situation could not possibly get any worse, he heard a strange, muffled sound. It took him some time to identify it, but when he did, his heart leapt up into his throat.
“They’re hoof beats,” he whispered trembling. “That’s what they be. It’s the Dulahan: the headless faerië horseman! The spirits ‘ave sent him ta punish me! Och, Blessed Virgin Mary protect me or I won’t survive this night.” Turning on his heels, Breandan dashed through the pouring rain. He did not stop until he passed safely through the door of his mother’s cottage. Had the drumming of the rain been mellowed, Breandan might have picked up the sound of a pair of paten-leather shoes scuffling behind a nearby tree or caught the glitter of lightening as it flashed off the highly reflective surface of a certain pocket watch. But, as it were, the storm covered every trace, and Breandan would ever after blame the mysterious curse of the legendary mounds on the Gaelige faeriës.
I hope you all enjoyed it! Have a blessed day and to God be the glory!
Ad Jesum per Mariam,