The Emerald Isle

THE WHITSUNTIDE LEGEND OF THE FAIRY HORSES There was once a widow, with one son, who had a profitable farm of her own close to a lake. She took great care, when it came to cultivating her land, and her corn was the finest in the whole country. But every night, when the corn was near ready for cutting, she found it had been trampled down and all but destroyed, yet no one could tell who had done the deed. So the widow set her son to watch. When midnight came, the son heard a great rushing of the water, and up out of the lake came a great herd of horses, which began to graze the corn, all the while trampling it down madly with their hoofs. The son recounted all this to his mother, and she instructed him to watch again the following night, and to take with him several of the farm hands, equipped with bridles which, when the horses rose from the lake, they were to fling over as many as they could catch. The second night, the same great noise and rush of water was heard, and in an instant the field was filled with the fairy horses, grazing the corn and trampling it down. The men pursued the horses, but only succeeded in capturing one, albeit the noblest of them all, while the rest plunged back into the lake. The men brought home the captured horse, stabled it and cared for it, where it grew big and strong. But when a year had passed, and nothing more had been seen or heard, the widow began to think it a shame to keep so fine a horse idle, and she bade her son to take it out on the Whitsuntide hunt that was to be attended by all the local gentry. The horse acquitted itself well on the hunt, and everyone admired the fine young rider as well as his handsome steed. But after the hunt, on the return home and on coming within sight of the lake, from which the fairy steed had risen, the horse began to plunge violently, and finally threw its rider. Tragically, the young man’s foot was left caught in the stirrup, and he was dragged along while the horse continued its mad gallop to the lake, leaving fragments of the unhappy lad behind it on the road. On reaching the margin of the lake, the horse shook off what remained of the dead youth’s body and, plunging into the waves, disappeared from sight. The people reverently gathered up the remains of the dead boy, and erected a monument of stones over him in a field by the edge of the lake; and everyone that passes by still lays a stone and says a prayer that the spirit of the dead boy may rest in peace. The phantom horses were never seen again, but the lake has retained its evil reputation even to this day among the local people. No one would now venture in a boat upon the lake after sundown at Whitsuntide, or during the time of the ripening of the corn, or when the harvest was ready for the sickle, for strange sounds are to be heard at night, like the wild galloping of a horse across the meadow, along with the cries as of a man in his death agony. 144