KING Aedh Cœrucha lived in Tir Conal,
and he had three daughters, whose names were Fair, Brown, and Trembling.
Fair and Brown had new dresses, and went
to church every Sunday. Trembling was kept at home to do the cooking and
work. They would not let her go out of the house at all; for she was more
beautiful than the other two, and they were in dread she might marry before
They carried on in this way for seven years.
At the end of seven years the son of the king of Omanya fell in love with
the eldest sister.
One Sunday morning, after the other two had
gone to church, the old henwife came into the kitchen to Trembling, and
said, "It's at church you ought to be this day, instead of working here
"How could I go?" said Trembling. "I have
no clothes good enough to wear at church; and if my sisters were to see
me there, they'd kill me for going out of the house."
"I'll give you," said the henwife, "a finer
dress than either of them has ever seen. And now tell me what dress will
"I'll have," said Trembling, "a dress as
white as snow, and green shoes for my feet."
The henwife put on the cloak of darkness,
clipped a piece from the old clothes the young woman had on, and asked
for the whitest robes in the world and the most beautiful that could be
found, and a pair of green shoes.
That moment she had the robe and the shoes,
and she brought them to Trembling, who put them on. When Trembling was
dressed and ready, the henwife said, "I have a honey-bird here to sit
on your right shoulder, and a honey-finger to put on your left. At the
door stands a milk-white mare, with a golden saddle for you to sit on,
and a golden bridle to hold in your hand."
Trembling sat on the golden saddle; and when
she was ready to start, the henwife said, "You must not go inside the
door of the church, and the minute the people rise up at the end of mass,
do you make off, and ride home as fast as the mare will carry you."
When Trembling came to the door of the church
there was no one inside who could get a glimpse of her but was striving
to know who she was; and when they saw her hurrying away at the end of
mass, they ran out to overtake her. But no use in their running; she was
away before any man could come near her. From the minute she left the
church till she got home, she overtook the wind before her, and outstripped
the wind behind.
She came down at the door, went in, and found
the henwife had dinner ready. She put off the white robes, and had on
her old dress in a twinkling.
When the two sisters came home the henwife
asked, "Have you any news today from the church?"
"We have great news," said they. "We saw
a wonderful, grand lady at the church door. The like of the robes she
had we have never seen on woman before. It's little that was thought of
our dresses beside what she had on; and there wasn't a man at the church,
from the king to the beggar, but was trying to look at her and know who
The sisters would give no peace till they
had two dresses like the robes of the strange lady; but honey-birds and
honey-fingers were not to be found.
Next Sunday the two sisters went to church
again, and left the youngest at home to cook the dinner.
After they had gone, the henwife came in
and asked, "Will you go to church today?"
"I would go," said Trembling, "if I could
get the going."
"What robe will you wear?" asked the henwife.
"The finest black satin that can be found,
and red shoes for my feet."
"What color do you want the mare to be?"
"I want her to be so black and so glossy
that I can see myself in her body."
The henwife put on the cloak of darkness,
and asked for the robes and the mare. That moment she had them. When Trembling
was dressed, the henwife put the honey-bird on her right shoulder and
the honey-finger on her left. The saddle on the mare was silver, and so
was the bridle.
When Trembling sat in the saddle and was
going away, the henwife ordered her strictly not to go inside the door
of the church, but to rush away as soon as the people rose at the end
of mass, and hurry home on the mare before any man could stop her.
That Sunday the people were more astonished
than ever, and gazed at her more than the first time; and all they were
thinking of was to know who she was. But they had no chance; for the moment
the people rose at the end of mass she slipped from the church, was in
the silver saddle, and home before a man could stop her or talk to her.
The henwife had the dinner ready. Trembling
took off her satin robe, and had on her old clothes before her sisters
"What news have you today?" asked the henwife
of the sisters when they came from the church.
"Oh, we saw the grand strange lady again!
And it's little that any man could think of our dresses after looking
at the robes of satin that she had on! And all at church, from high to
low, had their mouths open, gazing at her, and no man was looking at us."
The two sisters gave neither rest nor peace
till they got dresses as nearly like the strange lady's robes as they
could find. Of course they were not so good; for the like of those robes
could not be found in Erin.
When the third Sunday came, Fair and Brown
went to church dressed in black satin. They left Trembling at home to
work in the kitchen, and told her to be sure and have dinner ready when
they came back.
After they had gone and were out of sight,
the henwife came to the kitchen and said, "Well, my dear, are you for
"I would go if I had a new dress to wear."
"I'll get you any dress you ask for. What
dress would you like?" asked the henwife.
"A dress red as a rose from the waist down,
and white as snow from the waist up; a cape of green on my shoulders;
and a hat on my head with a red, a white, and a green feather in it; and
shoes for my feet with the toes red, the middle white, and the backs and
The henwife put on the cloak of darkness,
wished for all these things, and had them. When Trembling was dressed,
the henwife put the honey-bird on her right shoulder and the honey-finger
on her left, and placing the hat on her head, clipped a few hairs from
one lock and a few from another with her scissors, and that moment the
most beautiful golden hair was flowing down over the girl's shoulders.
Then the henwife asked what kind of a mare she would ride. She said white,
with blue and gold-colored diamond-shaped spots all over her body, on
her back a saddle of gold, and on her head a golden bridle.
The mare stood there before the door, and
a bird sitting between her ears, which began to sing as soon as Trembling
was in the saddle, and never stopped till she came home from the church.
The fame of the beautiful strange lady had
gone out through the world, and all the princes and great men that were
in it came to church that Sunday, each one hoping that it was himself
would have her home with him after mass.
The son of the king of Omanya forgot all
about the eldest sister, and remained outside the church, so as to catch
the strange lady before she could hurry away.
The church was more crowded than ever before,
and there were three times as many outside. There was such a throng before
the church that Trembling could only come inside the gate.
As soon as the people were rising at the
end of mass, the lady slipped out through the gate, was in the golden
saddle in an instant, and sweeping away ahead of the wind. But if she
was, the prince of Omanya was at her side, and, seizing her by the foot,
he ran with the mare for thirty perches, and never let go of the beautiful
lady till the shoe was pulled from her foot, and he was left behind with
it in his had. She came home as fast as the mare could carry her, and
was thinking all the time that the henwife would kill her for losing the
Seeing her so vexed and so changed in the
face, the old woman asked, "What's the trouble that's on you now?"
"Oh! I've lost one of the shoes off my feet,"
"Don't mind that; don't be vexed," said the
henwife; "maybe it's the best thing that ever happened to you."
Then Trembling gave up all the things she
had to the henwife, put on her old clothes, and went to work in the kitchen.
When the sisters came home, the henwife asked, "Have you any news from
"We have indeed," said they; "for we saw
the grandest sight today. The strange lady came again, in grander array
than before. On herself and the horse she rode were the finest colors
of the world, and between the ears of the horse was a bird which never
stopped singing from the time she came till she went away. The lady herself
is the most beautiful woman ever seen by man in Erin."
After Trembling had disappeared from the
church, the son of the king of Omanya said to the other kings' sons, "I
will have that lady for my own."
They all said, "You didn't win her just by
taking the shoe off her foot, you'll have to win her by the point of the
sword; you'll have to fight for her with us before you can call her your
"Well," said the son of the king of Omanya,
"when I find the lady that shoe will fit, I'll fight for her, never fear,
before I leave her to any of you."
Then all the kings' sons were uneasy, and
anxious to know who was she that lost the shoe; and they began to travel
all over Erin to know could they find her. The prince of Omanya and all
the others went in a great company together, and made the round of Erin;
they went everywhere -- north, south, east, and west. They visited every
place where a woman was to be found, and left not a house in the kingdom
they did not search, to know could they find the woman the shoe would
fit, not caring whether she was rich or poor, of high or low degree.
The prince of Omanya always kept the shoe;
and when the young women saw it, they had great hopes, for it was of proper
size, neither large nor small, and it would beat any man to know of what
material it was made. One thought it would fit her if she cut a little
from her great toe; and another, with too short a foot, put something
in the tip of her stocking. But no use, they only spoiled their feet,
and were curing them for months afterwards.
The two sisters, Fair and Brown, heard that
the princes of the world were looking all over Erin for the woman that
could wear the shoe, and every day they were talking of trying it on;
and one day Trembling spoke up and said, "Maybe it's my foot that the
shoe will fit."
"Oh, the breaking of the dog's foot on you!
Why say so when you were at home every Sunday?"
They were that way waiting, and scolding
the younger sister, till the princes were near the place. The day they
were to come, the sisters put Trembling in a closet, and locked the door
on her. When the company came to the house, the prince of Omanya gave
the shoe to the sisters. But though they tried and tried, it would fit
neither of them.
"Is there any other young woman in the house?"
asked the prince.
"There is," said Trembling, speaking up in
the closet; "I'm here."
"Oh! we have her for nothing but to put out
the ashes," said the sisters.
But the prince and the others wouldn't leave
the house till they had seen her; so the two sisters had to open the door.
When Trembling came out, the shoe was given to her, and it fitted exactly.
The prince of Omanya looked at her and said,
"You are the woman the shoe fits, and you are the woman I took the shoe
Then Trembling spoke up, and said, "Do stay
here till I return."
Then she went to the henwife's house. The
old woman put on the cloak of darkness, got everything for her she had
the first Sunday at church, and put her on the white mare in the same
fashion. Then Trembling rode along the highway to the front of the house.
All who saw her the first time said, "This is the lady we saw at church."
Then she went away a second time, and a second
time came back on the black mare in the second dress which the henwife
gave her. All who saw her the second Sunday said, "That is the lady we
saw at church."
A third time she asked for a short absence,
and soon came back on the third mare and in the third dress. All who saw
her the third time said, "That is the lady we saw at church." Every man
was satisfied, and knew that she was the woman.
Then all the princes and great men spoke
up, and said to the son of the king of Omanya, "You'll have to fight now
for her before we let her go with you."
"I'm here before you, ready for combat,"
answered the prince.
Then the son of the king of Lochlin stepped
forth. The struggle began, and a terrible struggle it was. They fought
for nine hours; and then the son of the king of Lochlin stopped, gave
up his claim, and left the field. Next day the son of the king of Spain
fought six hours, and yielded his claim. On the third day the son of the
king of Nyerf— fought eight hours, and stopped. The fourth day the son
of the king of Greece fought six hours, and stopped. On the fifth day
no more strange princes wanted to fight; and all the sons of kings in
Erin said they would not fight with a man of their own land, that the
strangers had had their chance, and as no others came to claim the woman,
she belonged of right to the son of the king of Omanya.
The marriage day was fixed, and the invitations
were sent out. The wedding lasted for a year and a day. When the wedding
was over, the king's son brought home the bride, and when the time came
a son was born. The young woman sent for her eldest sister, Fair, to be
with her and care for her.
One day, when trembling was well, and when
her husband was away hunting, the two sisters went out to walk; and when
they came to the seaside, the eldest pushed the youngest sister in. A
great whale came and swallowed her.
The eldest sister came home alone, and the
husband asked, "Where is your sister?"
"She has gone home to her father in Ballyshannon;
now that I am well, I don't need her."
"Well," said the husband, looking at her,
"I'm in dread it's my wife that has gone."
"Oh! no," said she; "it's my sister Fair
Since the sisters were very much alike, the
prince was in doubt. That night he put his sword between them, and said,
"If you are my wife, this sword will get warm; if not, it will stay cold."
In the morning when he rose up, the sword
was as cold as when he put it there.
It happened when the two sisters were walking
by the seashore, that a little cowboy was down by the water minding cattle,
and saw Fair push Trembling into the sea; and next day, when the tide
came in, he saw the whale swim up and throw her out on the sand.
When she was on the sand she said to the
cowboy, "When you go home in the evening with the cows, tell the master
that my sister Fair pushed me into the sea yesterday; that a whale swallowed
me, and then threw me out, but will come again and swallow me with the
coming of the next tide; then he'll go out with the tide, and come again
with tomorrow's tide, and throw me again on the strand. The whale will
cast me out thee times. I'm under the enchantment of this whale, and cannot
leave the beach or escape myself. Unless my husband saves me before I'm
swallowed the fourth time, I shall be lost. He must come and shoot the
whale with a silver bullet when he turns on the broad of his back. Under
the breast fin of the whale is a reddish-brown spot. My husband must hit
him in that spot, for it is the only place in which he can be killed."
When the cowboy got home, the eldest sister
gave him a draught of oblivion, and he did not tell.
Next day he went again to the sea. The whale
came and cast Trembling on shore again. She asked the boy, "Did you tell
the master what I told you to tell him?"
"I did not," said he; "I forgot."
"How did you forget?" asked she.
"The woman of the house gave me a drink that
made me forget."
"Well, don't forget telling him this night;
and if she gives you a drink, don't take it from her."
As soon as the cowboy came home, the eldest
sister offered him a drink. He refused to take it till he had delivered
his message and told all to the master.
The third day the prince went down with his
gun and a silver bullet in it. He was not long down when the whale came
and threw Trembling upon the beach as the two days before. She had no
power to speak to her husband till he had killed the whale. Then the whale
went out, turned over once on the broad of his back, and showed the spot
for a moment only. That moment the prince fired. He had but the one chance,
and a short one at that; but he took it, and hit the spot, and the whale,
mad with pain, made the sea all around red with blood, and died.
That minute Trembling was able to speak,
and went home with her husband, who sent word to her father what the eldest
sister had done. The father came, and told him any death he chose to give
her to give it. The prince told the father he would leave her life and
death with himself. The father had her put out then on the sea in a barrel,
with provisions in it for seven years.
In time Trembling had a second child, a daughter.
The prince and she sent the cowboy to school, and trained him up as one
of their own children, and said, "If the little girl that is born to us
now lives, no other man in the world will get her but him."
The cowboy and the prince's daughter lived
on till they were married. The mother said to her husband, "You could
not have saved me from the whale but for the little cowboy; on that account
I don't grudge him my daughter."
The son of the king of Omanya and Trembling
had fourteen children, and they lived happily till the two died of old
Curtin, Jeremiah, ed. Myths and Folk
Tales of Ireland. New York: Dover, 1975. (Appeared in 1890 originally
as Myths and Folk-Lore of Ireland. Boston: Little, Brown and Company.) Amazon.com: Buy the book in paperback.