The Lad With The Goat-skin

: Celtic Folk And Fairy Tales

Long ago a poor widow woman lived down near the iron forge, by

Enniscorth, and she was so poor she had no clothes to put on her son;

so she used to fix him in the ash-hole, near the fire, and pile the

warm ashes about him; and according as he grew up, she sunk the pit

deeper. At last, by hook or by crook, she got a goat-skin, and

fastened it round his waist, and he felt quite grand, and took a walk

down the street. So
ays she to him next morning, "Tom, you thief, you

never done any good yet, and you six foot high, and past

nineteen;--take that rope and bring me a faggot from the wood."

"Never say't twice, mother," says Tom--"here goes."

When he had it gathered and tied, what should come up but a big giant,

nine foot high, and made a lick of a club at him. Well become Tom, he

jumped a-one side, and picked up a ram-pike; and the first crack he

gave the big fellow, he made him kiss the clod.

"If you have e'er a prayer," says Tom, "now's the time to say it,

before I make fragments of you."

"I have no prayers," says the giant; "but if you spare my life I'll

give you that club; and as long as you keep from sin, you'll win every

battle you ever fight with it."

Tom made no bones about letting him off; and as soon as he got the

club in his hands, he sat down on the bresna, and gave it a tap with

the kippeen, and says, "Faggot, I had great trouble gathering you, and

run the risk of my life for you, the least you can do is to carry me

home." And sure enough the wind o' the word was all it wanted. It went

off through the wood, groaning and crackling, till it came to the

widow's door.

Well, when the sticks were all burned, Tom was sent off again to pick

more; and this time he had to fight with a giant that had two heads on

him. Tom had a little more trouble with him--that's all; and the

prayers he said, was to give Tom a fife, that nobody could help

dancing when he was playing it. Begorries, he made the big faggot

dance home, with himself sitting on it. The next giant was a beautiful

boy with three heads on him. He had neither prayers nor catechism no

more nor the others; and so he gave Tom a bottle of green ointment,

that wouldn't let you be burned, nor scalded, nor wounded. "And now,"

says he, "there's no more of us. You may come and gather sticks here

till little Lunacy Day in Harvest, without giant or fairy-man to

disturb you."

Well, now, Tom was prouder nor ten paycock, and used to take a walk

down street in the heel of the evening; but some o' the little boys

had no more manners than if they were Dublin jackeens, and put out

their tongues at Tom's club and Tom's goat-skin. He didn't like that

at all, and it would be mean to give one of them a clout. At last what

should come through the town but a kind of a bell-man, only it's a big

bugle he had, and a huntsman's cap on his head, and a kind of painted

shirt. So this--he wasn't a bell-man, and I don't know what to call

him--bugle-man, maybe, proclaimed that the king of Dublin's daughter

was so melancholy that she didn't give a laugh for seven years, and

that her father would grant her in marriage to whoever could make her

laugh three times.

"That's the very thing for me to try," says Tom; and so, without

burning any more daylight, he kissed his mother, curled his club at

the little boys, and off he set along the yalla highroad to the town

of Dublin.

At last Tom came to one of the city gates, and the guards laughed and

cursed at him instead of letting him in. Tom stood it all for a little

time, but at last one of them--out of fun, as he said,--drove his

bayonet half an inch or so into his side. Tom done nothing but take

the fellow by the scruff o' the neck and the waistband of his

corduroys, and fling him into the canal. Some run to pull the fellow

out, and others to let manners into the vulgarian with their swords

and daggers; but a tap from his club sent them headlong into the moat

or down on the stones, and they were soon begging him to stay his


So at last one of them was glad enough to show Tom the way to the

palace-yard; and there was the king, and the queen, and the princess

in a gallery, looking at all sorts of wrestling, and sword-playing,

and long dances, and mumming, all to please the princess; but not a

smile came over her handsome face.

Well, they all stopped when they seen the young giant, with his boy's

face, and long black hair, and his short curly beard--for his mother

couldn't afford to buy razors--and his great strong arms, and bare

legs, and no covering but the goat-skin that reached from his waist to

his knees. But an envious wizened bit of a fellow, with a red head,

that wished to be married to the princess, and didn't like how she

opened her eyes at Tom, came forward and asked his business very


"My business," said Tom, says he, "is to make the beautiful princess,

God bless her, laugh three times."

"Do you see all them merry fellows and skilful swordsmen," said the

other, "that could eat you up with a grain of salt, and not a mother's

soul of 'em ever got a laugh from her these seven years?"

So the fellows gathered round Tom, and the bad man aggravated him till

he told them he didn't care a pinch o' snuff for the whole bilin' of

'em; let 'em come on, six at a time, and try what they could do.

The king, who was too far off to hear what they were saying, asked

what did the stranger want.

"He wants," said the red-headed fellow, "to make hares of your best


"Oh!" says the king, "if that's the way, let one of 'em turn out and

try his mettle."

So one stood forward, with sword and pot-lid, and made a cut at Tom.

He struck the fellow's elbow with the club, and up over their heads

flew the sword, and down went the owner of it on the gravel from a

thump he got on the helmet. Another took his place, and another, and

another, and then half a dozen at once, and Tom sent swords, helmets,

shields, and bodies, rolling over and over, and themselves bawling out

that they were kilt, and disabled and damaged, and rubbing their poor

elbows and hips, and limping away. Tom contrived not to kill any one;

and the princess was so amused, that she let a great sweet laugh out

of her that was heard over all the yard.

"King of Dublin," said Tom, "I've quarter of your daughter."

And the king didn't know whether he was glad or sorry, and all the

blood in the princess's heart run into her cheeks.

So there was no more fighting that day, and Tom was invited to dine

with the royal family. Next day, Redhead told Tom of a wolf, the size

of a yearling heifer, that used to be serenading about the walls, and

eating people and cattle; and said what a pleasure it would give the

king to have it killed.

"With all my heart," says Tom; "send a jackeen to show me where he

lives, and we'll see how he behaves to a stranger."

The princess was not well pleased for Tom looked a different person

with fine clothes and a nice green birredh over his long curly hair;

and besides, he'd got one laugh out of her. However, the king gave his

consent; and in an hour and a half the horrible wolf was walking into

the palace-yard, and Tom a step or two behind, with his club on his

shoulder, just as a shepherd would be walking after a pet lamb.

The king and queen and princess were safe up in their gallery, but the

officers and people of the court that wor padrowling about the great

bawn, when they saw the big baste coming in, gave themselves up, and

began to make for doors and gates; and the wolf licked his chops, as

if he was saying, "Wouldn't I enjoy a breakfast off a couple of yez!"

The king shouted out, "O Tom with the Goat-skin, take away that

terrible wolf, and you must have all my daughter."

But Tom didn't mind him a bit. He pulled out his flute and began to

play like vengeance; and dickens a man or boy in the yard but began

shovelling away heel and toe, and the wolf himself was obliged to get

on his hind legs and dance "Tatther Jack Walsh," along with the rest.

A good deal of the people got inside, and shut the doors, the way the

hairy fellow wouldn't pin them; but Tom kept playing, and the

outsiders kept dancing and shouting, and the wolf kept dancing and

roaring with the pain his legs were giving him; and all the time he

had his eyes on Redhead, who was shut out along with the rest.

Wherever Redhead went, the wolf followed, and kept one eye on him and

the other on Tom, to see if he would give him leave to eat him. But

Tom shook his head, and never stopped the tune, and Redhead never

stopped dancing and bawling, and the wolf dancing and roaring one leg

up and the other down, and he ready to drop out of his standing from

fair tiresomeness.

When the princess seen that there was no fear of any one being kilt,

she was so divarted by the stew that Redhead was in, that she gave

another great laugh; and well become Tom, out he cried, "King of

Dublin, I have two halves of your daughter."

"Oh, halves or alls," says the king, "put away that divil of a wolf,

and we'll see about it."

So Tom put his flute in his pocket, and says he to the baste that was

sittin' on his currabingo ready to faint, "Walk off to your mountain,

my fine fellow, and live like a respectable baste; and if ever I find

you within seven miles of any town, I'll----"

He said no more, but spit in his fist, and gave a flourish of his

club. It was all the poor divil of a wolf wanted: he put his tail

between his legs, and took to his pumps without looking at man or

mortal, and neither sun, moon, nor stars ever saw him in sight of

Dublin again.

At dinner every one laughed but the foxy fellow; and sure enough he

was laying out how he'd settle poor Tom next day.

"Well, to be sure!" says he, "King of Dublin, you are in luck. There's

the Danes moidhering us to no end. Deuce run to Lusk wid 'em! and if

any one can save us from 'em, it is this gentleman with the goat-skin.

There is a flail hangin' on the collar-beam in hell, and neither Dane

nor devil can stand before it."

"So," says Tom to the king, "will you let me have the other half of

the princess if I bring you the flail?"

"No, no," says the princess; "I'd rather never be your wife than see

you in that danger."

But Redhead whispered and nudged Tom about how shabby it would look to

reneague the adventure. So he asked which way he was to go, and

Redhead directed him.

Well, he travelled and travelled, till he came in sight of the walls

of hell; and, bedad, before he knocked at the gates, he rubbed himself

over with the greenish ointment. When he knocked, a hundred little

imps popped their heads out through the bars, and axed him what he


"I want to speak to the big divil of all," says Tom; "open the gate."

It wasn't long till the gate was thrune open, and the Ould Boy

received Tom with bows and scrapes, and axed his business.

"My business isn't much," says Tom. "I only came for the loan of that

flail that I see hanging on the collar-beam, for the king of Dublin to

give a thrashing to the Danes."

"Well," says the other, "the Danes is much better customers to me; but

since you walked so far I won't refuse. Hand that flail," says he to a

young imp; and he winked the far-off eye at the same time. So, while

some were barring the gates, the young devil climbed up, and took down

the flail that had the hand-staff and booltheen both made out of

red-hot iron. The little vagabond was grinning to think how it would

burn the hands o' Tom, but the dickens a burn it made on him, no more

nor if it was a good oak sapling.

"Thankee," says Tom. "Now would you open the gate for a body, and I'll

give you no more trouble."

"Oh, tramp!" says Ould Nick; "is that the way? It is easier getting

inside them gates than getting out again. Take that tool from him, and

give him a dose of the oil of stirrup."

So one fellow put out his claws to seize on the flail, but Tom give

him such a welt of it on the side of the head that he broke off one of

his horns, and made him roar like a devil as he was. Well, they rushed

at Tom, but he gave them, little and big, such a thrashing as they

didn't forget for a while. At last says the ould thief of all, rubbing

his elbow, "Let the fool out; and woe to whoever lets him in again,

great or small."

So out marched Tom, and away with him, without minding the shouting

and cursing they kept up at him from the tops of the walls; and when

he got home to the big bawn of the palace, there never was such

running and racing as to see himself and the flail. When he had his

story told, he laid down the flail on the stone steps, and bid no one

for their lives to touch it. If the king, and queen, and princess,

made much of him before, they made ten times more of him now; but

Redhead, the mean scruff-hound, stole over, and thought to catch hold

of the flail to make an end of him. His fingers hardly touched it,

when he let a roar out of him as if heaven and earth were coming

together, and kept flinging his arms about and dancing, that it was

pitiful to look at him. Tom ran at him as soon as he could rise,

caught his hands in his own two, and rubbed them this way and that,

and the burning pain left them before you could reckon one. Well, the

poor fellow between the pain that was only just gone, and the comfort

he was in, had the comicalest face that you ever see, it was such a

mixtherum-gatherum of laughing and crying. Everybody burst out a

laughing--the princess could not stop no more than the rest; and then

says Tom, "Now, ma'am, if there were fifty halves of you, I hope

you'll give me them all."

Well, the princess looked at her father, and by my word, she came over

to Tom, and put her two delicate hands into his two rough ones, and I

wish it was myself was in his shoes that day!

Tom would not bring the flail into the palace. You may be sure no

other body went near it; and when the early-risers were passing next

morning, they found two long clefts in the stone, where it was after

burning itself an opening downwards, nobody could tell how far. But a

messenger came in at noon, and said that the Danes were so frightened

when they heard of the flail coming into Dublin that they got into

their ships and sailed away.

Well, I suppose, before they were married, Tom got some man, like Pat

Mara of Tomenine, to learn him the "principles of politeness,"

fluxions, gunnery and fortification, decimal fractions, practice, and

the rule of three direct, the way he'd be able to keep up a

conversation with the royal family. Whether he ever lost his time

learning them sciences, I'm not sure, but it's as sure as fate that

his mother never more saw any want till the end of her days.