A Story From: Ireland
Read Time: 20 to 25 mins.
For Ages: 8 to 14yrs.
There was once a boy in Ireland, and Guleesh was his name. A little way off from his house stood a very old kind of fort, an ancient fort it was called a rath. One night Guleesh watched the beautiful white moon with longing and thought, “If only I could be any other place in the world but here!”
Suddenly he heard a great noise coming toward him like the sound of many people running together, and the sound went by like a huge whirl of wind, and he saw all of it go toward the rath.
It’s then he heard every one of them crying out as loud as he could: “My horse, and bridle, and saddle! My horse, my bridle and saddle!”
“They’re merry enough,” said Guleesh, “I’ll join them!” And he cried out: “My horse, and bridle, and saddle! My horse, and bridle, and saddle!” That moment a fine horse with a bridle of gold and a saddle of silver appeared before him. So Guleesh leaped upon it, and the moment he was on its back he saw clearly that the rath was full of horses and of little people, called sheehogues they were, without a doubt.
Said one of them to him, “Are you coming with us tonight, Guleesh?”
“Well, yes, I suppose I am,” said Guleesh, thinking to himself, “At last I’ll have an adventure!”
“If you are, come along,” said the little man, and out they went all rode together, riding like the wind.
They did not stop until they came to the brink of the sea.
Then every one of them cried out, “Hie over cap! Hie over cap!” That moment they rose up in the air and over the sea, and before Guleesh had time to remember where he was, they had landed on dry land again, and were racing like the wind. At last they stood still, and one of them said to Guleesh, “Guleesh, do you know where you are now?”
“Not a bit,” said Guleesh.
“You’re in France, Guleesh,” said he. “The daughter of the king of France is to be married tonight, she is the most marvelous beauty that the sun ever did see, and we must do our best to bring her back with us. You must put the young girl up behind you on your horse, for it’s not lawful for us to put her sitting behind ourselves. But you’re flesh and blood, and she can take a good grip of you so she won’t fall off the horse. Will you do what we’re telling you to do, Guleesh?”
“Why not?” said Guleesh. “Anything you tell me to do, I’ll do it.”
They got off their horses, and one of them said a word that Guleesh did not understand. Then Guleesh found himself and his companions in a palace. There was a great feast going on there, and the night was as bright as the day with all the lamps and candles that were lit. The musicians were at the two ends of the hall, and they were playing the sweetest music that ever a man’s ear did hear, and there were young women and fine youths in the middle of the hall, dancing and turning, making fun and laughing, for such a feast as that one had not been seen in France for twenty years, because the old king had no children alive but only the one daughter, and she was to be married to the son of another king that very night. Three days the feast was going on, and the third night she was to be married, and that was the night that Guleesh and the sheehogues appeared.
Guleesh and his companions were standing together at the head of the hall, where the girl stood waiting to be married. But nobody could see the sheehogues, for they said a few words as they had come in that had made them all invisible.
“Tell me which of them is the king’s daughter,” said Guleesh.
“Who else could it be?” said one little man. “Don’t you see that it’s Princess Isabel over there?”
Guleesh looked where the little man was pointing with his finger, and there he saw the loveliest woman that ever was, he thought. Guleesh was nearly blinded with all the loveliness and beauty that was in her; but when he looked again, he saw that there was the trace of tears in her eyes.
“It can’t be,” said Guleesh, “that there’s grief on her, when everybody round her is full of merrymaking.”
“She is grieved,” said the little man, “for it’s against her own will she’s marrying, and she has no love for the husband she is to marry. The king was going to give her to him three years ago, when she was only fifteen, but she said she was too young. The king gave her a year’s grace, and when that year was up he gave her another year’s grace, and then another; but a week or a day he would not give her any longer, and she is eighteen years old tonight, and it’s time for her to marry. But indeed,” said he, and he crooked his mouth in an ugly way, “it’s no king’s son she will marry, if I can help it. Yes, indeed! A fine choice bride that lass will make for me!”
When Guleesh heard that, he was heart-broken to think that the lovely Princess Isabel would either have to marry a man she did not like or, what was worse, would have to take a nasty sheehogue for a husband. However, he did not say a word, though he couldn’t help giving many a curse to the ill-luck that brought him to be helping the ones who intended to take her away from her home and father.
He began thinking what he could do to save her, but he could think of nothing.
Just then the king’s son came up to the princess for a kiss, but she turned her head away from him. Gueesh had double pity for her then, when he saw the lad taking her by the soft white hand, and drawing her out to dance. They went round on the dance floor to near where Guleesh was, and he could plainly see tears in her eyes.
When the dancing was over, the old king, her father, came up and said that this was the right time to marry her, and it was time to put the wedding-ring on her finger.
Then the little sheehogue stretched out his foot before the girl, and she fell. Before she was able to rise again he threw something that was in his hand upon her, said a couple of magic words, and at that moment the maiden seemed to vanish. Nobody could see her, for his words had made her invisible. Then, the little man seized her and raised her up behind Guleesh.
O! It’s there the pity was, and the trouble, and the crying, and the wonder, and the searching, when that lady disappeared from before their very eyes, and without their seeing what did it. Out through the door of the palace went Guleesh, the princess, and the sheehogues, without being stopped or hindered for nobody saw them go.
Every one of the sheehogues called out, “My horse, my bridle, my saddle!” and Guleesh called also, “My horse, my bridle, my saddle!” At that moment the horse was standing ready before him. “Now jump up, Guleesh,” said the little man, “and put the lady behind you, and we will be going; the morning is not far off from us now!”
Guleesh raised her up onto the horse’s back, and leaped up himself in front of her, and said, “Rise, horse!” His horse, and the other horses with him, went in a full race until they came to the sea.
“Hie over cap!” said every last one of them.
“Hie over cap!” said Guleesh. At that moment the horse rose, leaped over the sea, and came down on dry land in Ireland, to be sure.
They did not stop there, but raced to the place near Guleesh’s house where the rath stood. And when they came as far as the rath, Guleesh suddenly turned, caught the young girl in his two arms, and leaped off the horse.
The sheehogues called out when they saw what Guleesh had done. “Oh! Guleesh, you clown, you thief, that no good may happen to you! Why did you play such a trick on us?”
But they had no power at all to carry off the girl, after Guleesh had leaped off the horse with her.
“Oh! Guleesh, you clown! What good have we now out of our journey to France? Never mind, you’ll pay us back another time for this!”
“He’ll have no good to get out of that young girl,” said the sheehogue that had talked to him before in the French palace. He moved over to the princess, said a few magic words, and slapped her on the side of the head.
“She’ll be without talk from now on,” said he. “What good will she be to you now?”
When he said that he stretched out his two hands, and before Guleesh could answer, he and the rest of the sheehogues had disappeared into the rath out of sight.
He turned to Princess Isabel and said, “Thank goodness, they’re gone. Would you not rather stay with me than with them?” She hung her head and gave no answer. “There’s trouble and grief on her mind yet,” thought Guleesh, and this time he spoke more gently. “I am afraid that you must spend this night in my father’s house, lady, and if there is anything that I can do for you, why you just tell me, and I’ll be your servant.”
The beautiful girl remained silent, but there were tears in her eyes, and her face was white.
“Lady,” urged Guleesh, “tell me what you would like me to do! I never belonged to that lot of sheehogues who carried you away. I am the son of an honest farmer, and I went with them without knowing what they were planning to do. If I could send you back to your father this very moment, I’d do it.”
He looked into her face, and he saw her mouth moving as if she wanted to speak, but no words did she speak.
“Did I not hear you speaking to the king’s son in the palace tonight?” said Guleesh, “Or has that nasty sheehogue made you really without speech, when he struck his nasty hand on your jaw?”
The girl raised her white smooth hand, and laid her finger on her tongue, to show him that she had lost her voice, and the tears ran forth, and Guleesh’s own eyes were not dry either, for he could not stand the sight of the young girl, and she in that unhappy plight.
He began to wonder what he ought to do. He did not want to bring her home to his father’s house, for despite her fine clothes, he knew very well that they would not believe that he had been to France and had brought back with him the daughter of the king. He feared they would tease the young lady, perhaps even insult her.
“I know what I’ll do,” he said finally, “I’ll bring her to my grandmother’s house. She won’t refuse to keep the lady and care for her.” He turned to the princess again and explained that his grandmother would take good care of her, but that if there was any other place she would rather go, he said he would bring her to it.
She bent her head, to show him she was willing, and ready to follow him. They walked together to his grandmother’s hut, and the sun was just rising when they arrived at her door. Guleesh knocked on the door, and as early as it was, the grandmother was already awake.
“Guleesh, Guleesh, aren’t you the nice boy to visit me, but that you must be coming at this hour?” The grandmother looked at the young girl in all her finery. “Now what have you here? Who is this fine maiden, or how did you come by her?”
“I’m not telling a word of lie, nor making a joke of you,” said Guleesh, “but she is the daughter of the king of France!”
Then Guleesh told the whole story to his grandmother, about how he had gone off in the night with the sheehogues and how before he knew it they had kidnapped the daughter of the king of France, and how he had started to feel sorry for her, taken off like that from her home to a strange land, and how he had finally gotten her away from the nasty sheehogues but then they had clapped their hands so she couldn’t speak anymore and now what to do with her? The grandmother was so much surprised that she could not help calling out at times, or clapping her hands together.
When Guleesh said that he would be very thankful to his grandmother if she would just keep the girl for awhile, the kind old lady said she would be happy to do that as long as Guleesh wanted, but that she did not know how long that should be, or how they would be able to send her back to her father again.
Guleesh answered that he felt uneasy about the same thing, and that he saw nothing else to do but to keep quiet until they should find some way to return her to France. They decided then that the grandmother should let on that the girl was the daughter of an old friend she had, who was coming on a visit to her from another county, and that she should tell everybody that the girl couldn’t speak, and do her best to keep everyone away from her. Of course, they would change her clothes to the simple frocks worn in Guleesh’s town. They told the young girl what it was they intended to do, and she showed by her eyes that she was grateful to them.
Guleesh went home, and when his people asked him where he had been, he said that he had been asleep at the foot of the ditch, and had passed the night there.
There was great wonderment on the grandmother’s neighbors at the strange girl who came so suddenly to her house without anyone knowing where she was from, or what business she had there. Some of the people said that Guleesh was not like the same man who he had been before, and that it was a great story, how he was forever visiting at his grandmother’s house.
That was true, indeed, for as often as he could Guleesh would steal away to his grandmother’s house and have a talk with her lovely guest. Since the maiden had no other means of talking, she carried on a sort of conversation between herself and him, by moving her hand and fingers, winking her eyes, opening and shutting her mouth, laughing or smiling, and a thousand other signs, so that it was not long until they understood each other very well.
Guleesh was always thinking how he should send her back to her father, but there was no one to go with her and he himself did not know what road to go, for he had never been out of his own country before the night he brought her away with him. Nor had his grandmother any better ideas than he. Nevertheless Guleesh wrote a number of letters to the king of France, and gave them to traveling merchants who said they were headed across the sea, perhaps to France, but all letters went astray, and never a one came to the king’s hand.
So it went for many months, and Guleesh was falling deeper and deeper in love with her every day, and it was plain to himself and his grandmother that the girl liked him, too. The boy feared greatly at last, lest the king should indeed receive one of his letters after all, and then find out where his daughter really was, and order her back to France. Still, he continued to write letters headed to France, though he did so less and less often.
So they passed the time for a year, until there came a day when Guleesh was lying by himself on the grass, on the last day of the last month in autumn. Suddenly, he remembered that it had been a certain November night that he had been standing at the gable of the house when the whirlwind had come, and the sheehogues in it. And he said to himself, “We will have that same November night again today! I’ll stand in the same place I was last year, until I see if the little men come again. Perhaps I might see or hear something that would be useful to me, and might bring back Princess Isabel’s voice.”
Guleesh went to the old rath when the night was darkening, and waited for the middle of the night to arrive. The night was as calm as is a lake when there is not a breath of wind to move a wave on it.
He stood there for an hour, for two hours, for three hours. He was thinking, at last, that the sheehogues would not come that night, and that he might as well return home, when he heard a sound far away from him, coming towards him, and he recognized what it was the first moment. At first it was like the beating of waves on a stony shore, and then it was like the falling of a great waterfall, and at last it was like a loud storm in the tops of the trees, and then the whirlwind burst into the rath, and the sheehogues were in it.
It all went by him so suddenly that he lost his breath, but he came to himself on the spot, and listened carefully to what they would say.
Scarcely had they gathered into the rath that they all began shouting, and screaming amongst themselves; and then each one of them cried out, “My horse, my bridle and saddle! My horse, my bridle, and saddle!” But before the word was well out of his mouth, another little man cried out, “Guleesh! My boy, is it you again? How are you getting on with your woman? There’s no use in you calling for your horse tonight. You won’t play such a trick on us again!”
“Isn’t he a prime lad!” said another man. “To take care of a woman since this time last year who has never said as much to him as, ‘How do you do?'”
“Perhaps he likes to be looking at her,” said the voice of a third man. “And if he only knew that there’s an herb growing up by his own door, and if he were to boil it and give it to her, she’d be well.”
“Don’t bother your head with him,” said another voice. “We’ll be going.”
“We’ll leave him as he is.”
With that they rose up into the air, and out with them the way they came. Guleesh stood there for awhile, thinking in his own mind on all he saw and heard, and wondering whether there was really an herb at his own door that would bring back the talk to the king’s daughter. “It couldn’t be,” he thought, “that they would tell it to me, if there was any truth in it; but perhaps the sheehogue wasn’t watching himself when he let the word slip out of his mouth. I’ll search well as soon as the sun rises, and see if there’s any plant growing beside the house except the usual weeds.”
At daybreak, he got up, and it was the first thing he did to go out and search well through the grass round about the house, trying to find any herb that he did not recognize. And indeed, he was not long searching till he discovered a large strange herb growing up just by the edge of the house.
He went over to it, and observed it closely, and saw that there were seven little branches coming out of the stalk, and seven leaves growing on each little branch, and that there was a white sap in the leaves. “It’s very strange,” said he to himself, “that I never noticed this herb before. If there’s any power in an herb at all, it ought to be in such a strange one as this.”
He drew out his knife, cut the plant, and carried it into his own house, stripped the leaves off it and cut up the stalk. There came a thick, white juice out of it.
He put the stalk and the leaves in a little pot and a little water in it, and laid it on the fire until the tea was boiling. Then he filled a cup half up with the juice, and put it to his own mouth. Just then, it came into his head that perhaps it was poison that was in it, and that the little people were only tempting him that he might drink the poison tea, or even put the girl to death without meaning to. He put down the cup, raised a couple of drops on the top of his finger, and put the drops to his mouth. The tea was not bitter and, indeed, had a sweet, agreeable taste. He grew bolder then, and drank a small swallow of it, and then as much again, and he never stopped till he had drunk the half a cup. He fell asleep after that, and did not wake till the next morning.
When dawn broke, he went over to his grandmother’s house with the drink in his hand. He never felt himself so bold and strong, and spirited and light, as he was that day, and he was quite certain that it was the drink he drank that made him feel so hearty.
When he came to the house, he found his grandmother and the young lady inside. They were wondering greatly why he had not visited them at all the day before.
He told them all his news, and said that he was certain that there was great power in the herb, and that it would do the lady no harm, for he had tried it himself and only got good from it. Then Guleesh handed her the cup. The lady drank half of it, and then she fell back on her bed and a heavy sleep came upon her.
Both Guleesh and his grandmother sat up the entire night with her, waiting till she should awake, and they between hope and unhope, between expectation of saving her and fear of hurting her.
She slept for the entire next day, and awoke at last when the sun had set. She rubbed her eyes and looked like a person who did not know where she was.
Both were in great anxiety waiting to see whether she would speak, or not speak. Guleesh finally said, “Did you sleep well, Princess?”
And she answered him, “I slept, thank you.”
No sooner did Guleesh hear her talking than he put a shout of joy and ran over to her and fell on his two knees. “Lady of my heart, speak again to me!”
The lady answered that she understood that it was he who had boiled the drink for her and gave it to her, that she was greatly obliged to him for all the kindnesses he had shown her since the day she first landed in Ireland, and that he should be certain that she never would forget it.
Guleesh was ready to die with satisfaction and delight. Then they brought her food, and she ate with a good appetite, and they were all merry and joyous.
After that, Guleesh would visit the several times a day. Soon it became apparent that the lady felt the same way toward Guleesh that he felt about her.
So they married one another, and that was the fine wedding they had. It so happened that one of the letters Guleesh had sent to the king had actually reached him and a messenger arrived in Guleesh’s county to locate the king’s daughter. The messenger found her happily married and returned word of this event to the king. The king, who had been grieving ever since his daughter had so mysteriously disappeared, was delighted to find out that she was not only discovered alive and well but was happily married as well. He immediately dispatched a grand, royal wedding gift along with his best wishes for her future happiness, and many promises to visit her frequently in the years ahead.
Though you might search the wide world over, they say, you will never find another happier pair than Guleesh and his bride.
The story is adapted from Guleesh from Celtic Fairy Tales by Jacob Josephs, 1892.
Adapted by Elaine Lindy. © 1998. All rights reserved.
The story of "Guleesh" is found with a number of variations in Irish folklore. In one version, "Gilly" from Tales for the Telling: Irish Folk & Fairy Stories (Athenaeum, New York, 1986), our hero has the name Gilly Blackfoot, and he rides off with a group of fairies.