A long time ago—before St. Patrick’s time—there was an old king in Connacht, and he had three sons. The king had a sore foot for many years, and he could get no cure. One day he sent for the Dall Glic (wise blind man) which he had, and said to him:
“I’m giving you wages this twenty years, and you can’t tell me what will cure my foot.”
“You never asked me that question before,” said the Dall Glic; “but I tell you now that there is nothing in the world to cure you but a bottle of water from the Well of D’yerree-in-Dowan” (i.e., end of the world).
In the morning, the day on the morrow, the king called his three sons, and he said to them:
“My foot will never be better until I get a bottle of water from the Well of D’yerree-in-Dowan, and whichever of you will bring me that, he has my kingdom to get.”
“We will go in pursuit of it to-morrow,” says the three. The names of the three were Art, Nart (i.e., strength), and Cart (i.e., right).
On the morning of the day on the morrow, the king gave to each one of them a purse of gold, and they went on their way. When they came as far as the cross-roads, Art said:
“Each one of us ought to go a road for himself, and if one of us is back before a year and a day, let him wait till the other two come; or else let him set up a stone as a sign that he has come back safe.”
They parted from one another after that, and Art and Nart went to an inn and began drinking; but Cart went on by himself. He walked all that day without knowing where he was going. As the darkness of the night came on he was entering a great wood, and he was going forwards in the wood, until he came to a large house. He went in and looked round him, but he saw nobody, except a large white cat sitting beside the fire. When the cat saw him she rose up and went into another room. He was tired and sat beside the fire. It was not long till the door of the chamber opened, and there came out an old hag.
“One hundred thousand welcomes before you, son of the king of Connacht,” says the hag.
“How did you know me?” says the king’s son.
“Oh, many’s the good day I spent in your father’s castle in Bwee-sounee, and I know you since you were born,” said the hag.
Then she prepared him a fine supper, and gave it to him. When he had eaten and drunk enough, she said to him:
“You made a long journey to-day; come with me until I show you a bed. Then she brought him to a fine chamber, showed him a bed, and the king’s son fell asleep. He did not awake until the sun was coming in on the windows the next morning.
Then he rose up, dressed himself, and was going out, when the hag asked him where he was going.
“I don’t know,” said the king’s son. “I left home to find out the Well of D’yerree-in-Dowan.”
“I’m after walking a good many places,” said the hag, “but I never heard talk of the Well of D’yerree-in-Dowan before.”
The king’s son went out, and he was travelling till he came to a cross-roads between two woods. He did not know which road to take. He saw a seat under the trunk of a great tree. When he went up to it he found it written: “This is the seat of travellers.”
The king’s son sat down, and after a minute he saw the most lovely woman in the world coming towards him, and she dressed in red silk, and she said to him:
“I often heard that it is better to go forward than back.”
Then she went out of his sight as though the ground should swallow her.
The king’s son rose up and went forward. He walked that day till the darkness of the night was coming on, and he did not know where to get lodgings. He saw a light in a wood, and he drew towards it. The light was in a little house. There was not as much as the end of a feather jutting up on the outside nor jutting down on the inside, but only one single feather that was keeping up the house. He knocked at the door, and an old hag opened it.
“God save all here,” says the king’s son.
“A hundred welcomes before you, son of the king of the castle of Bwee-sounee,” said the hag.
“How do you know me?” said the king’s son.
“It was my sister nursed you,” said the hag, “and sit down till I get your supper ready.”
When he ate and drank his enough, she put him to sleep till morning. When he rose up in the morning, he prayed to God to direct him on the road of his luck.
“How far will you go to-day?” said the hag.
“I don’t know,” said the king’s son. “I’m in search of the Well of D’yerree-in-Dowan.”
“I’m three hundred years here,” said the hag, “and I never heard of such a place before; but I have a sister older than myself, and, perhaps, she may know of it. Here is a ball of silver for you, and when you will go out upon the road throw it up before you, and follow it till you come to the house of my sister.”
When he went out on the road he threw down the ball, and he was following it until the sun was going under the shadow of the hills. Then he went into a wood, and came to the door of a little house. When he struck the door, a hag opened it and said:
“A hundred thousand welcomes before you, son of the king of the castle of Bwee-sounee, who were at my sister’s house last night. You made a long journey to-day. Sit down; I have a supper ready for you.”
When the king’s son ate and drank his enough, the hag put him to sleep, and he did not wake up till the morning. Then the hag asked:
“Where are you going?”
“I don’t rightly know,” said the king’s son. “I left home to find out the Well of D’yerree-in-Dowan.”
“I am over five hundred years of age,” said the hag, “and I never heard talk of that place before; but I have a brother, and if there is any such place in the world, he’ll know of it. He is living seven hundred miles from here.”
“It’s a long journey,” said the king’s son.
“You’ll be there to-night,” said the hag.
Then she gave him a little garraun (nag, gelding) about the size of a goat.
“That little beast won’t be able to carry me,” said the king’s son.
“Wait till you go riding on it,” said the hag.
The king’s son got on the garraun, and out for ever with him as fast as lightning.
When the sun was going under, that evening, he came to a little house in a wood. The king’s son got off the garraun, went in, and it was not long till an old grey man came out, and said:
“A hundred thousand welcomes to you, son of the king of the castle of Bwee-sounee. You’re in search of the Well of D’yerree-in-Dowan.”
“I am, indeed,” said the king’s son.
“Many’s the good man went that way before you; but not a man of them came back alive,” said the old man; “however, I’ll do my best for you. Stop here to-night, and we’ll have sport to-morrow.”
Then he dressed a supper and gave it to the king’s son, and when he ate and drank, the old man put him to sleep.
In the morning of the day on the morrow, the old man said:
“I found out where the Well of D’yerree-in-Dowan is; but it is difficult to go as far as it. We must find out if there’s any good in you with the tight loop (bow?).”
Then he brought the king’s son out into the wood, gave him the loop, and put a mark on a tree two score yards from him, and told him to strike it. He drew the loop and struck the mark.
“You’ll do the business,” said the old man.
They then went in, and spent the day telling stories till the darkness of the night was come.
When the darkness of the night was come, the old man gave him a loop (bow?) and a sheaf of sharp stings (darts), and said:
“Come with me now.”
They were going until they came to a great river. Then the old man said:
“Go on my back, and I’ll swim across the river with you; but if you see a great bird coming, kill him, or we shall be lost.”
Then the king’s son got on the old man’s back, and the old man began swimming. When they were in the middle of the river the king’s son saw a great eagle coming, and his gob (beak) open. The king’s son drew the loop and wounded the eagle.
“Did you strike him?” said the old man.
“I struck him,” said the king’s son; “but here he comes again.”
He drew the loop the second time and the eagle fell dead.
When they came to the land, the old man said:
“We are on the island of the Well of D’yerree-in-Dowan. The queen is asleep, and she will not waken for a day and a year. She never goes to sleep but once in seven years. There is a lion and a monster (uillphéist) watching at the gate of the well, but they go to sleep at the same time with the queen, and you will have no difficulty in going to the well. Here are two bottles for you; fill one of them for yourself, and the other for me, and it will make a young man of me.”
The king’s son went off, and when he came as far as the castle he saw the lion and the monster sleeping on each side of the gate. Then he saw a great wheel throwing up water out of the well, and he went and filled the two bottles, and he was coming back when he saw a shining light in the castle. He looked in through the window and saw a great table. There was a loaf of bread, with a knife, a bottle, and a glass on it. He filled the glass, but he did not diminish the bottle. He observed that there was a writing on the bottle and on the loaf; and he read on the bottle: “Water For the World,” and on the loaf: “Bread For the World.” He cut a piece off the loaf, but it only grew bigger.
“My grief! that we haven’t that loaf and that bottle at home,” said the king’s son, “and there’d be neither hunger nor thirst on the poor people.”
Then he went into a great chamber, and he saw the queen and eleven waiting-maids asleep, and a sword of light hung above the head of the queen. It was it that was giving light to the whole castle.
When he saw the queen, he said to himself: “It’s a pity to leave that pretty mouth without kissing it. He kissed the queen, and she never awoke; and after that he did the same to the eleven maidens. Then he got the sword, the bottle, and the loaf, and came to the old man, but he never told him that he had those things.
“How did you get on?” said the old man.
“I got the thing I was in search of,” said the king’s son.
“Did you see any marvel since you left me?” said the old man.
The king’s son told him that he had seen a wonderful loaf, bottle, and sword.
“You did not touch them?” said the old man; “shun them, for they would bring trouble on you. Come on my back now till I bring you across the river.”
When they went to the house of the old man, he put water out of the bottle on himself, and made a young man of himself. Then he said to the king’s son:
“My sisters and myself are now free from enchantment, and they are young women again.”
The king’s son remained there until most part of the year and day were gone. Then he began the journey home; but, my grief, he had not the little nag with him. He walked the first day until the darkness of the night was coming on. He saw a large house. He went to the door, struck it, and the man of the house came out to him.
“Can you give me lodgings?” said he.
“I can,” said the man of the house, “only I have no light to light you.”
“I have a light myself,” said the king’s son.
He went in then, drew the sword, and gave a fine light to them all, and to everybody that was in the island. They then gave him a good supper, and he went to sleep. When he was going away in the morning, the man of the house asked him for the honour of God, to leave the sword with them.
“Since you asked for it in the honour of God, you must have it,” said the king’s son.
He walked the second day till the darkness was coming. He went to another great house, beat the door, and it was not long till the woman of the house came to him, and he asked lodgings of her. The man of the house came and said:
“I can give you that; but I have not a drop of water to dress food for you.”
“I have plenty of water myself,” said the king’s son.
He went in, drew out the bottle, and there was not a vessel in the house he did not fill, and still the bottle was full. Then a supper was dressed for him, and when he ate and drank his enough, he went to sleep. In the morning, when he was going, the woman asked of him, in the honour of God, to leave them the bottle.
“Since it has chanced that you ask it for the honour of God,” said the king’s son, “I cannot refuse you, for my mother put me under gassa (mystic obligations), before she died, never, if I could, to refuse anything that a person would ask of me for the honour of God.”
Then he left the bottle to them.
He walked the third day until darkness was coming, and he reached a great house on the side of the road. He struck the door; the man of the house came out, and he asked lodgings of him.
“I can give you that, and welcome,” said the man; “but I’m grieved that I have not a morsel of bread for you.”
“I have plenty of bread myself,” said the king’s son.
He went in, got a knife, and began cutting the loaf, until the table was filled with pieces of bread, and yet the loaf was as big as it was when he began. Then they prepared a supper for him, and when he ate his enough, he went to sleep. When he was departing in the morning, they asked of him, for the honour of God, to leave the loaf with them, and he left it with them.
The three things were now gone from him.
He walked the fourth day until he came to a great river, and he had no way to get across it. He went upon his knees, and asked of God to send him help. After half a minute, he saw the beautiful woman he saw the day he left the house of the first hag. When she came near him, she said: “Son of the king of the castle of Bwee-sounnee, has it succeeded with you?”
“I got the thing I went in search of,” said the king’s son; “but I do not know how I shall pass over this river.”
She drew out a thimble and said: “Bad is the day I would see your father’s son without a boat.”
Then she threw the thimble into the river, and made a splendid boat of it.
“Get into that boat now,” said she; “and when you will come to the other side, there will be a steed before you to bring you as far as the cross-road, where you left your brothers.”
The king’s son stepped into the boat, and it was not long until he was at the other side, and there he found a white steed before him. He went riding on it, and it went off as swiftly as the wind. At about twelve o’clock on that day, he was at the cross-roads. The king’s son looked round him, and he did not see his brothers, nor any stone set up, and he said to himself, “perhaps they are at the inn.” He went there, and found Art and Nart, and they two-thirds drunk.
They asked him how he went on since he left them.
“I have found out the Well of D’yerree-in-Dowan, and I have the bottle of water,” said Cart.
Nart and Art were filled with jealousy, and they said one to the other: “It’s a great shame that the youngest son should have the kingdom.”
“We’ll kill him, and bring the bottle of water to my father,” said Nart; “and we’ll say that it was ourselves who went to the Well of D’yerree-in-Dowan.”
“I’m not with you there,” said Art; “but we’ll set him drunk, and we’ll take the bottle of (from) him. My father will believe me and you, before he’ll believe our brother, because he has an idea that there’s nothing in him but a half omadawn.”
“Then,” he said to Cart, “since it has happened that we have come home safe and sound we’ll have a drink before we go home.”
They called for a quart of whiskey, and they made Cart drink the most of it, and he fell drunk. Then they took the bottle of water from him, went home themselves, and gave it to the king. He put a drop of the water on his foot, and it made him as well as ever he was.
Then they told him that they had great trouble to get the bottle of water; that they had to fight giants, and to go through great dangers.
“Did ye see Cart on your road?” said the king.
“He never went farther than the inn, since he left us,” said they; “and he’s in it now, blind drunk.”
“There never was any good in him,” said the king; “but I cannot leave him there.”
Then he sent six men to the inn, and they carried Cart home. When he came to himself, the king made him into a servant to do all the dirty jobs about the castle.*******
When a year and a day had gone by, the queen of the Well of D’yerree-in-Dowan and her waiting-maidens woke up and the queen found a young son by her side, and the eleven maidens the same.
There was great anger on the queen, and she sent for the lion and the monster, and asked them what was become of the eagle that she left in charge of the castle.
“He must be dead, or he’d be here now, when you woke up,” said they.
“I’m destroyed, myself, and the waiting-maidens ruined,” said the queen; “and I never will stop till I find out the father of my son.”
Then she got ready her enchanted coach, and two fawns under it. She was going till she came to the first house where the king’s son got lodging, and she asked was there any stranger there lately. The man of the house said there was.
“Yes!” said the queen, “and he left the sword of light behind him; it is mine, and if you do not give it to me quickly I will throw your house upside down.”
They gave her the sword, and she went on till she came to the second house, in which he had got lodging, and she asked was there any stranger there lately. They said that there was. “Yes,” said she, “and he left a bottle after him. Give it to me quickly, or I’ll throw the house on ye.”
They gave her the bottle, and she went till she came to the third house, and she asked was there any stranger there lately. They said there was.
“Yes!” said she, “and he left the loaf of lasting bread after him. That belongs to me, and if ye don’t give it to me quickly I will kill ye all.”
She got the loaf, and she was going, and never stopped till she came to the castle of Bwee-Sounee. She pulled the cooalya-coric, pole of combat, and the king came out.
“Have you any son?” said the queen.
“I have,” said the king.
“Send him out here till I see him,” said she.
The king sent out Art, and she asked him: “Were you at the Well of D’yerree-an-Dowan?”
“I was,” said Art.
“And are you the father of my son?” said she.
“I believe I am,” said Art.
“I will know that soon,” said she.
Then she drew two hairs out of her head, flung them against the wall, and they were made into a ladder that went up to the top of the castle. Then she said to Art: “If you were at the Well of D’yerree-in-Dowan, you can go up to the top of that ladder.”
Art went up half way, then he fell, and his thigh was broken.
“You were never at the Well of D’yerree-in-Dowan,” said the queen.
Then she asked the king: “Have you any other son?”
“I have,” said the king.
“Bring him out,” said the queen.
Nart came out, and she asked him: “Were you ever at the Well of D’yerree-in-Dowan?”
“I was,” said Nart.
“If you were, go up to the top of that ladder,” said the queen.
He began going up, but he had not gone far till he fell and broke his foot.
“You were not at the Well of D’yerree-in-Dowan,” said the queen.
Then she asked the king if he had any other son, and the king said he had. “But,” said he, “it’s a half fool he is, that never left home.”
“Bring him here,” said the queen.
When Cart came, she asked him: “Were you at the Well of D’yerree-in-Dowan?”
“I was,” said Cart, “and I saw you there.”
“Go up to the top of that ladder,” said the queen.
Cart went up like a cat, and when he came down she said: “You are the man who was at the Well of D’yerree-in-Dowan, and you are the father of my son.”
Then Cart told the trick his brothers played on him, and the queen was going to slay them, until Cart asked pardon for them. Then the king said that Cart must get the kingdom.
Then the father dressed him out and put a chain of gold beneath his neck, and he got into the coach along with the queen, and they departed to the Well of D’yerree-in-Dowan.
The waiting-maidens gave a great welcome to the king’s son, and they all of them came to him, each one asking him to marry herself.
He remained there for one-and-twenty years, until the queen died, and then he brought back with him his twelve sons, and came home to Galway. Each of them married a wife, and it is from them that the twelve tribes of Galway are descended.
- ↑ These names are not exactly pronounced as written. To pronounce them properly say yart first, and then yart with an n and a c before it, n’yart and c’yart.