“It was old money was in the Treasury idle, and the King and Queen getting old wanted to distribute it in the country it was taken from. But some say it was money belonging to captains and big men that died in the war and left no will after them. Anyway it is likely it will not hold; and it is known that a great many of those that get it die very soon.”
“It is likely there will be a war at the end of the two thousand, that was always foretold. And I hear the English are making ships that will dive the same as diving ducks under the water. But as to the Irish Americans, they would sweep the entire world; and England is afraid of America, it being a neighbour.”
I have given this book its name because it is at my own door, in the Barony of Kiltartan, I have heard a great number of the stories from beggars, pipers, travelling men, and such pleasant company. But others I have heard in the Workhouse, or to the north of Galway Bay, in Connemara, or on its southern coast, in Burren. I might, perhaps, better have called the little book Myths in the Making.
A sociable people given to conversation and belief; no books in the house, no history taught in the schools; it is likely that must have been the way of it in old Greece, when the king of highly civilised Crete was turned by tradition into a murderous tyrant owning a monster and a labyrinth. It was the way of it in old France too, one thinks, when Charlemagne’s height grew to eight feet, and his years were counted by centuries: “He is three hundred years old, and when will he weary of war?” Anyhow, it has been the way of modern Ireland—the Ireland I know—and when I hear myth turned into history, or history into myth, I see in our stonebreakers and cattle drivers Greek husbandmen or ancient vinedressers of the Loire.
I noticed some time ago, when listening to many legends of the Fianna, that is about Finn, their leader, the most exaggerated of the tales have gathered; and I believe the reason is that he, being the greatest of the “Big Men,” the heroic race, has been most often in the mouths of the people. They have talked of him by their fire-sides for two thousand years or so; at first earlier myths gathered around