The Midwife of Listowel


There was an old woman, a midwife, who lived in a little house by herself between this and Listowel. One evening there was a knock at the door; she opened it, and what should she see but a man who said she was wanted, and to go with him quickly. He begged her to hurry. She made herself ready at once, the man waiting outside. When she was ready the man sprang on a fine, large horse, and put her up behind him. Away raced the horse then. They went a great distance in such a short time that it seemed to her only two or three miles.

They came to a splendid large house and went in. The old woman found a beautiful lady inside. No other woman was to be seen. A child was born soon, and the man brought a vial of ointment, told the old woman to rub it on the child, but to have a great care and not touch her own self with it. She obeyed him and had no intention of touching herself, but on a sudden her left eye itched. She raised her hand, and rubbed the eye with one finger. Some of the ointment was on her finger, and that instant she saw great crowds of people around her, men and women. She knew that she was in a fort among fairies, and was frightened, but had courage enough not to show it, and finished her work.

The man came to her then, and said, “I will take you home now.”

He opened the door, went out, sprang to the saddle, and reached his hand to her, but her eye was opened now and she saw that in place of a horse it was an old plow beam that was before her. She was more in dread then than ever, but took her seat, and away went the plow beam as swiftly as the very best horse in the kingdom. The man left her down at her own door, and she saw no more of him.

Some time after there was a great fair at Listowel. The old midwife went to the fair, and there were big crowds of people on every side of her. The old woman looked around for a while and what did she see but the man who had taken her away on a plow beam. He was hurrying around, going in and out among the people, and no one knowing he was in it but the old woman.

At last the finest young girl at the fair screamed and fell in a faint — the fairy had thrust something into her side. A crowd gathered around the young girl. The old woman, who had seen all, made her way to the girl, examined her side, and drew a pin from it. The girl recovered.

A little later the fairy made his way to the old woman. “Have you ever seen me before?” asked he.

“Oh, maybe I have,” said she.

“Do you remember that I took you to a fort to attend a young woman?”

“I do.”

“When you anointed the child did you touch any part of yourself with the ointment I gave you?”

“I did without knowing it; my eye itched and I rubbed it with my finger.”

“Which eye?”

“The left.”

The moment she said that he struck her left eye and took the sight from it. She went home blind of one eye, and was that way the rest of her life.

  • Source: Jeremiah Curtin, Irish Tales of the Fairies and the Ghost World (London: David Nutt, 1895).
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