The Wonderful Tune

: The Lilac Fairy Book

Maurice Connor was the king, and that's no small word, of all the

pipers in Munster. He could play jig and reel without end, and

Ollistrum's March, and the Eagle's Whistle, and the Hen's

Concert, and odd tunes of every sort and kind. But he knew one

far more surprising than the rest, which had in it the power to

set everything dead or alive dancing.

In what way he learned it is beyond my knowledge for he

mighty cautious about telling how he came by so wonderful a tune.

At the very first note of that tune the shoes began shaking upon

the feet of all how heard it--old or young, it mattered not--just

as if the shoes had the ague; then the feet began going, going,

going from under them, and at last up and away with them, dancing

like mad, whisking here, there, and everywhere, like a straw in a

storm-- there was no halting while the music lasted.

Not a fair, nor a wedding, nor a feast in the seven parishes

round, was counted worth the speaking of without 'blind Maurice

and his pipes.' His mother, poor woman, used to lead him about

from one place to another just like a dog.

Down through Iveragh, Maurice Connor and his mother were taking

their rounds. Beyond all other places Iveragh is the place for

stormy coasts and steep mountains, as proper a spot it is as any

in Ireland to get yourself drowned, or your neck broken on the

land, should you prefer that. But, notwithstanding, in

Ballinskellig Bay there is a neat bit of ground, well fitted for

diversion, and down from it, towards the water, is a clean smooth

piece of strand, the dead image of a calm summer's sea on a

moonlight night, with just the curl of the small waves upon it.

Here is was that Maurice's music had brought from all parts a

great gathering of the young men and the young women; for 'twas

not every day the strand of Trafraska was stirred up by the voice

of a bagpipe. The dance began; and as pretty a dance it was as

ever was danced. 'Brave music,' said everybody, 'and well done,'

when Maurice stopped.

'More power to your elbow, Maurice, and a fair wind in the

bellows,' cried Paddy Dorman, a hump-backed dancing master, who

was there to keep order. ''Tis a pity,' said he, 'if we'd let the

piper run dry after such music; 'twould be a disgrace to Iveragh,

that didn't come on it since the week of the three Sundays.' So,

as well became him, for he was always a decent man, says he, 'Did

you drink, piper?'

'I will, sir,' said Maurice, answering the question on the safe

side, for you never yet knew piper or schoolmaster who refused

his drink.

'What will you drink, Maurice?' says Paddy.

'I'm no ways particular,' says Maurice; 'I drink anything,

barring raw water; but if it's all the same to you, Mister

Dorman, may be you wouldn't lend me the loan of a glass of


'I've no glass, Maurice,' said Paddy; 'I've only the bottle.'

'Let that be no hindrance,' answered Maurice; 'my mouth just

holds a glass to the drop; often I've tried it sure.'

So Paddy Dorman trusted him with the bottle--more fool was he;

and, to his cost, he found that though Maurice's mouth might not

hold more than the glass at one time, yet, owing to the hole in

his throat, it took many a filling.

'That was no bad whisky neither,' says Maurice, handing back the

empty bottle.

'By the holy frost, then!' says Paddy, ''tis but cold comfort

there's in that bottle now; and 'tis your word we must take for

the strength of the whisky, for you've left us no sample to judge

by'; and to be sure Maurice had not.

Now I need not tell any gentleman or lady that if he or she was

to drink an honest bottle of whisky at one pull, it is not at all

the same thing as drinking a bottle of water; and in the whole

course of my life I never knew more than five men who could do so

without being the worse. Of these Maurice Connor was not one,

though he had a stiff head enough of his own. Don't think I blame

him for it; but true is the word that says, 'When liquor's in

sense is out'; and puff, at a breath, out he blasted his

wonderful tune.

'Twas really then beyond all belief or telling the dancing.

Maurice himself could not keep quiet; staggering now on one leg,

now on the other, and rolling about like a ship in a cross sea,

trying to humour the tune. There was his mother, too, moving her

old bones as light as the youngest girl of them all; but her

dancing, no, nor the dancing of all the rest, is not worthy the

speaking about to the work that was going on down upon the

strand. Every inch of it covered with all manner of fish jumping

and plunging about to the music, and every moment more and more

would tumble in and out of the water, charmed by the wonderful

tune. Crabs of monstrous size spun round and round on one claw

with the nimbleness of a dancing master, and twirled and tossed

their other claws about like limbs that did not belong to them.

It was a sight surprising to behold. But perhaps you may have

heard of Father Florence Conry, as pleasant a man as one would

wish to drink with of a hot summer's day; and he had rhymed out

all about the dancing fishes so neatly that it would be a

thousand pities not to give you his verses; so here they are in


The big seals in motion,

Like waves of the ocean,

Or gouty feet prancing,

Came heading the gay fish,

Crabs, lobsters, and cray-fish,

Determined on dancing.

The sweet sounds they followed,

The gasping cod swallow'd--

'Twas wonderful, really;

And turbot and flounder,

'Mid fish that were rounder,

Just caper'd as gaily.

John-dories came tripping;

Dull hake, by their skipping,

To frisk it seem'd given;

Bright mackrel went springing,

Like small rainbows winging

Their flight up to heaven.

The whiting and haddock

Left salt water paddock

This dance to be put in;

Where skate with flat faces

Edged out some old plaices;

But soles kept their footing.

Sprats and herrings in powers

Of silvery showers

All number out-numbered;

And great ling so lengthy

Was there in such plenty

The shore was encumber'd.

The scallop and oyster

Their two shells did roister,

Like castanets flitting;

While limpets moved clearly,

And rocks very nearly

With laughter were splitting.

Never was such a hullabaloo in this world, before or since; 'twas

as if heaven and earth were coming together; and all out of

Maurice Connor's wonderful tune!

In the height of all these doings, what should there be dancing

among the outlandish set of fishes but a beautiful young woman--

as beautiful as the dawn of day! She had a cocked hat upon her

head; from under it her long green hair--just the colour of the

sea-- fell down behind, without hindrance to her dancing. Her

teeth were like rows of pearls; her lips for all the world looked

like red coral; and she had a shining gown pale green as the

hollow of the wave, with little rows of purple and red seaweeds

settled out upon it; for you never yet saw a lady, under the

water or over the water, who had not a good notion of dressing

herself out.

Up she danced at last to Maurice, who was flinging his feet from

under him as fast as hops--for nothing in this world could keep

still while that tune of his was going on--and says she to him,

chanting it out with a voice as sweet as honey:

I'm a lady of honour

Who live in the sea;

Come down, Maurice Connor,

And be married to me.

Silver plates and gold dishes

You shall have, and shall be

The king of the fishes,

When you're married to me.

Drink was strong in Maurice's head, and out he chanted in return

for her great civility. It is not every lady, may be, that would

be after making such an offer to a blind piper; therefore 'twas

only right in him to give her as good as she gave herself, so

says Maurice:

I'm obliged to you, madam:

Off a gold dish or plate,

If a king, and I had 'em,

I could dine in great state.

With your own father's daughter

I'd be sure to agree,

But to drink the salt water

Wouldn't do so with me!

The lady looked at him quite amazed, and swinging her head from

side to side like a great scholar, 'Well,' says she, 'Maurice, if

you're not a poet, where is poetry to be found?'

In this way they kept on at it, framing high compliments; one

answering the other, and their feet going with the music as fast

as their tongues. All the fish kept dancing, too; Maurice heard

the clatter and was afraid to stop playing lest it might be

displeasing to the fish, and not knowing what so many of them may

take it into their heads to do to him if they got vexed.

Well, the lady with the green hair kept on coaxing Maurice with

soft speeches, till at last she over persuaded him to promise to

marry her, and be king over the fishes, great and small. Maurice

was well fitted to be their king, if they wanted one that could

make them dance; and he surely would drink, barring the salt

water, with any fish of them all.

When Maurice's mother saw him with that unnatural thing in the

form of a green-haired lady as his guide, and he and she dancing

down together so lovingly to the water's edge, through the thick

of the fishes, she called out after him to stop and come back.

'Oh, then,' says she, 'as if I was not widow enough before, there

he is going away from me to be married to that scaly woman. And

who knows but 'tis grandmother I may be to a hake or a cod--Lord

help and pity me, but 'tis a mighty unnatural thing! And my be

'tis boiling and eating my own grandchild I'll be, with a bit of

salt butter, and I not knowing it! Oh, Maurice, Maurice, if

there's any love or nature left in you, come back to your own

ould mother, who reared you like a decent Christian!' Then the

poor woman began to cry and sob so finely that it would do anyone

good to hear her.

Maurice was not long getting to the rim of the water. There he

kept playing and dancing on as if nothing was the matter, and a

great thundering wave coming in towards him ready to swallow him

up alive; but as he could not see it, he did not fear it. His

mother it was who saw it plainly through the big tears that were

rolling down her cheeks; and though she saw it, and her heart was

aching as much as ever mother's heart ached for a son, she kept

dancing, dancing all the time for the bare life of her. Certain

it was she could not help it, for Maurice never stopped playing

that wonderful tune of his.

He only turned his ear to the sound of his mother's voice,

fearing it might put him out in his steps, and all the answer he

made back was, 'Whisht with you mother--sure I'm going to be king

over the fishes down in the sea, and for a token of luck, and a

sign that I'm alive and well, I'll send you in, every twelvemonth

on this day, a piece of burned wood to Trafraska.' Maurice had

not the power to say a word more, for the strange lady with the

green hair, seeing the wave just upon them, covered him up with

herself in a thing like a cloak with a big hood to it, and the

wave curling over twice as high as their heads, burst upon the

strand, with a rush and a roar that might be heard as far as Cape


That day twelvemonth the piece of burned wood came ashore in

Trafraska. It was a queer thing for Maurice to think of sending

all the way from the bottom of the sea. A gown or a pair of shoes

would have been something like a present for his poor mother; but

he had said it, and he kept his word. The bit of burned wood

regularly came ashore on the appointed day for as good, ay, and

better than a hundred years. The day is now forgotten, and may be

that is the reason why people say how Maurice Connor has stopped

sending the luck-token to his mother. Poor woman, she did not

live to get as much as one of them; for what through the loss of

Maurice, and the fear of eating her own grandchildren, she died

in three weeks after the dance. Some say it was the fatigue that

killed her, but whichever it was, Mrs. Connor was decently buried

with her own people.

Seafaring people have often heard, off the coast of Kerry, on a

still night, the sound of music coming up from the water; and

some, who have had good ears, could plainly distinguish Maurice

Connor's voice singing these words to his pipes--

Beautiful shore, with thy spreading strand,

Thy crystal water, and diamond sand;

Never would I have parted from thee,

But for the sake of my fair ladie.

From 'Fairy Tales and Traditions of the South of Ireland.'