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Lady's face by Irish painter INGHAM (undated)

Once upon a time very long ago, there lived near the city of Cork a most amazing old lady. It was said that there never was a person, stranger or neighbor, who had not felt the kindness of this generous soul. She was a right devout child of Saint Patrick and some even whispered that she had befriended the little people and was treated as a Godmother by the Leprechauns themselves.

Being such a blessed heart, there was no accounting for the sad fate that befell her dear family, bringing her great loss and sorrow.

It was her only son that kept her from going to the dark side after his father’s death on the highway at the hands of bloody English marauders.

Toiling in the fields and taking in laundry, she managed to raise him to become a strapping young lad as handsome as a spring morning and twice as robust. So fine a lad was he that he had all the lasses begging to marry. Well, there began the sweet lady’s tragedy, for it was a spiteful lass from Cork that cast a spell on her boy, luring him into a fate that no mother should wish for her child.

The bride, though a cobbler’s daughter, dreamed of becoming a great lady, the toast of the city, sashaying back and forth to London. Once she had the young man in her lair, she beguiled him into working so hard for her dream of vulgar opulence that he lost the shine of youth.

Whenever his mother made the long journey from Blarney to Cork to look in on her beloved boy and now her two lovely grandchildren, she would be met at the door by the spiteful wife all decked out in High Street silk and lace.

“Your lazy son is out earning bread for the table. You’re not to be seeing him on this occasion, old lady.”

Perhaps I could visit with your little ones a spell until my son returns,” the old lady offered just as sweet as can be.

My children are just fine, thank you. They can manage without the likes of you. Now be gone with you before the neighbors think I’m consorting with country vagabonds,” was all the answer she would get.

On what would become her last attempt to visit the child she so dearly loved, she set forth on the long journey home. Nightfall was upon her as she reached the banks of the River Lee. She sat on a stone at the river’s edge contemplating her misfortune. “’Tis a sad thing,” thought she, “that the love of such a sweet son had been devoured by such a sour wench as she.”

Little did she know what terrible events were unfolding in the mist around her. King Cormac was, that very night, returning from an audience with an envoy of the English Queen. Among the king’s entourage was the old lady’s son. He had offered his services to escort the king back to Blarney Castle hoping to please his aspiring wife with his royal service.

The king had tried again to convince the English to keep their ruffians from terrorizing the good people of Cork. And once again he had failed to find the right words that would move the ambassador to action.

The cost of his failed words followed him from Cork. As he and his small party of men rode into the green clover fields beyond the city, they were themselves accosted by a pack of English highwaymen. In the melee that followed, the bandits were routed, but not before one of the king’s guards was knocked dead from his horse. Lo and behold – the slain servant was none other than the old lady’s cherished son!

The rogues, foiled from their assault on the king, fled in the worst of tempers when, by-and-by they came upon the old lady sitting on a rock. Spying the lonely figure in the twilight, they rode right up to her with a vengeance.

The band’s leader shouted out in his vulgar Cockney trill, “Well now, look at ‘er majesty ‘olding court for the lit’l people, I dare say. Iffin’ yer gonna cross that river m’lady, let us help ya on yer way.”

And with that the lot of them steered their horses so close as to send the old lady flying into the cold, rushing waters.

Well now, if you’re thinking that the Good Lord had forsaken the best of his children, you would be quite mistaken.

Sinking down into the black water the old lady saw her life passing before her.

She heard her son calling to her, “Go back Mother! I’ll be waiting for you on another day.”

Then a dozen grand river trout swam up to her, looked her in the eye, and with a wink, formed a buoy raising her head back to the surface. At that very moment the king and his troop came a tearing across the meadow yelling and hollering “Death to the damned and Glory to the righteous!”

The king himself, ever a stout fellow, lighted from his steed, tore off his boots and plunged head first into the River Lee. His powerful strokes brought him aside the drowning figure in the blink of an eye. He grabbed the woman by the head and steered their human craft straight for the stone pilings of Sunday’s Well Bridge. The king reached out for the stone arch and with a mighty tug, pulled the two of them clean out of the black water.

Coming to her senses surrounded by the king and his men, the old lady recalled the winking fish and knew that her leprechaun friends were about. She closed her eyes, prayed to the Lord and then in a silent voice called out to the little people. Upon hearing their silent reply, she opened her eyes one last time to behold the grateful king. She softly repeated the words of the little ones;

For the Samaritan of Blarney,

One good deed brings a thousand words

Kiss the stone and you’ll be heard.”

With the words of the little people ringing in the night, the dear soul ceased her breathing, the gleam in her eyes faded, and the rhythm of her heart drew silent.  The king and his men swore by the Heavens above that at that very moment the night sky over Blarney lit up with a brilliant glow as the old lady’s soul alighted to once and forever rest aside her dearly beloved son.

Returning to Blarney Castle, the king ran straight up to the very top of the tower. As his men held onto his leggings, he dropped off the parapet head first. Stretching his neck forward toward the ancient stone, he envisioned the old lady’s kind face and kissed the cold surface. The following day King Cormac returned to the city where his new found eloquence charmed the ambassador and brought civil rule to the fair people of Cork.

© Dane Degenhardt, Monde Dane, 2010.