Folk Tales of Breffny | Annotated Tale

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Earl's Son of the Sea, The

WHEN the Good People fell from the Heavens above, didn't some of them sink in the sea, and there they are dwelling this day.

               Many and many a story is told of their diversions and how they be wrecking the ships; but the strangest account I ever heard tell was the fisherman's daughter that met the Earl's son of the sea.

               She was travelling the sands by her lone, on the west coast of Ireland, and when she came near to the rocks she heard the notes of a harp. Of course she was curious to know who was out playing in that place and no dwelling near; so over she went towards the sound, and what did she come on only a beautiful yellow-haired man.

               "It's destroyed in a short space you'll be," she calls out, "for the tide is beginning to rise and you'll be dashed dead on the rocks."

               "Do you know who I am?" says he.

               "I do not," she answers. "But you're surely a stranger to these parts or you wouldn't sit there with the waves beginning to rise."

               "Maybe I travelled this bay before you were born," says he.

               With that she let a laugh out of her.

               "I'm thinking the two of us are about the one age," says she. "So quit your old-fashioned talk and come on out of that till I show you the way up the cliff."

               "You're a beautiful girl," says the stranger, "and the wish is on me to please you. Climb up out of reach of the rising sea and I'll play you a tune on the harp."

               Well she travelled back over the sand and up by the path to the cliff, never doubting but the stranger was following on. But when she looked down she seen him below on the rock.

               "It is drownded you'll be," she calls out.

               "Let you not be uneasy," says he.

               With that he began for to play on the harp, and the music enchanted the fisherman's child and the tears ran down from her eyes. When she looked again to the rock wasn't the stranger washed from it and a big white wave curled up from the place.

               "I'm after finding and losing a beautiful boy," says she, and she went away home lamenting his death.

               Not a long after she was travelling the sands, and she heard the music again. There was himself sitting up on the rock as sound as a salmon at play.

               "I doubt you're no right thing," says she.

               "Maybe not," he allows. "But I'll rise your heart with a tune--if it was crying I had you the last time it's laughing I'll see you this day."

               With that he played the cleverest dancing tune on the harp, and he had the fisherman's daughter in the best of humour.

               After a while he says, "I'm thinking you have a poor way of living in your home, for it's hard set to earn a bit and a sup that the fishermen are in this place."

               "We're miserable, surely," she answers.

               "I'll be making you a great advancement," says he. "For I'd have you to know that there's plenty of wealth in my power. Let you quit from your own friends and marry myself. It's a beautiful castle I'll build you, out on a rock in the ocean, and jewels and pearls for your portion to wear."

               "A lonesome life," says she, "to be watching the wild birds fly over the waves, and maybe a ship passing by. Moreover you are no right thing, evenly if you have the appearance of a beautiful gentleman. It's a poor man of these parts will join the world with myself."

               "Sure I'm an Earl's son of the sea," he allows.

               But the grandeur didn't tempt her at all.

               "A sea marriage would be no marriage," she answers, and with that she bid him good-day.

               "Let your man never travel the sea," he answers, "for I'll destroy the ship from under his feet and leave him dead on a wave."

               He lepped down into the water and away with him from out of her sight.

               The fisherman's daughter never heard him out harping again, nor seen a sight of his face. And after a while she forgot the queer lad entirely. Didn't she marry a farmer inland, and it was a comfortable life they enjoyed.

               But a notion took himself that he'd prosper more in the States, for he was greedy for gold. He took passage for the two on a great big ship, and away with them from Ireland.

               Not a long were they at sea before a sudden furl blast met the ship, and a wave twenty times as high as a house stood up over the deck and broke down. Every person was killed dead and smashed into the wood of the ship only the fisherman's daughter. She felt the vessel sink down from under her and she looked up and seen a beautiful castle rise up on a rock on the sea.

               The Earl's son came past on a wave and he lifted her up by the hair of her head for to land her out on the rock.

               The fisherman's daughter lived in that place for fourteen years and she lamenting the lonesome hours of each day. She seen the wild gulls flying and whales and every sort sailing the waves. She took no delight in the jewels nor the dresses were stored in that house, and the Earl's son of the sea allowed she grew ugly and old.

               It happened one day he was travelling in other parts that herself seen a ship coming down, and she waved a white flag out the window.

               A man came out from the ship in a small little boat, and who was it only her own brother Michael.

               "Oh sister dear," says he, "is it sitting on a rock you are for fourteen weary years? Sure we heard tell of the loss of the vessel was bringing you out to the States."

               "It's a fine castle is here," says she. "But it's lonesome I am for my home."

               "I see no more nor a rock and it green with the weed of the sea," says Michael. "It's on your eyes that there's more in it, for I see nothing at all."

               With that she told him the whole story. And he was in dread for to bring her away lest the Earl's son might destroy them.

               "I'll tell you what I'll do," says he. "It's back to Ireland I'll sail, and I'll get an image made the down likeness of yourself. When we set that up on the rock himself will believe you are in it, and we may get away."

               So he rowed his wee boat to the ship and home he sailed to Ireland. He got the finest image made, and it the dead spit of herself. With that in his keeping he travelled the sea till he came to the rock and his sister still sat there lamenting. But she had a red flag hung out and that was the sign they'd agreed for him not to come near. So he be to wait until she put up a white one, and then he knew that the Earl's son was not near.

               He got her safe to the boat, and they left the old image stuck up on the rock.

               "There's two little fellows like sea-monkeys he's left to watch when he's gone," says herself. "But they didn't see me slip out and they'll never think but the statue is me. I haven't the least fear of them bringing him word there is anything wrong, but if he returns we are lost for he won't be that easy deceived."

               They made great sailing to Ireland, and the ship was coming in on the harbour the way they were sure they'd come safe. What did they see only the Earl's son and he riding on a big white wave to catch up to them. The image was with him, and he threw it after the ship the way a hole was cleft in her side and she sank. But the fisherman's daughter, her brother, and the sailors got on shore in a boat before he came at them again.

               They seen him from the shore, and he flittering something with his two hands. What was it only the sea-monkeys, and he threw the bits of them up on the shore. He came in himself, but they pelted him from it with stones for his power was lost on the land.

               But not a one of that family to this present day may venture into the waves, for the Earl's son watches out to destroy them for vengeance and spite.

Bibliographic Information

Tale Title: Earl's Son of the Sea, The
Tale Author/Editor: Hunt, Bampton
Book Title: Folk Tales of Breffny
Book Author/Editor: Hunt, Bampton
Publisher: Macmillan and Co.
Publication City: London
Year of Publication: 1912
Country of Origin: Ireland
Classification: unclassified

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