More Celtic Fairy Tales: The Story of the McAndrew Family

This story is part of the Celtic Fairy Tales (2) unit. Story source: More Celtic Fairy Tales by Joseph Jacobs with illustrations by John D. Batten (1895).

The Story of the McAndrew Family

A LONG time ago, in the County Mayo, there lived a rich man of the name of McAndrew. He owned cows and horses without number, not to mention ducks and geese and pigs, and his land extended as far as the eve could reach on the four sides of you.

McAndrew was a lucky man the neighbours all said, but as for himself — when he looked on his seven big sons growing up like weeds and with scarcely any more sense, he felt sore enough for, of all the stupid omadhauns, the seven McAndrew brothers were the stupidest.

When the youngest grew to be a man, the father built a house for each of them and gave every one a piece of land and a few cows, hoping to make men of them before he died, for, as the old man said: "While God spares my life, I'll be able to have an eye to them, and maybe they will learn from experience."

The seven young McAndrews were happy enough. Their fields were green, their cows were fat and sleek, and they thought they would never see a poor day. All went well for a time, and the day of the Fair of Killalla was as fine a day as ever shone in Ireland, when the whole seven got ready to be off, bright and early, in the morning.

Each one of them drove before him three fine cows, and a finer herd, when they were all together, was never seen in the county far or near.

Now, there was a smart farmer, named O'Toole, whose fields were nearing on the McAndrews', and he had many a time set his heart on the fine cattle belonging to his easy-going neighbours, so when he saw them passing with their twenty-one cows, he went out and hailed them.

"Where are ye going to, this fine morning?"

"It's to the Fair of Killalla we're going, to sell these fine cows our father gave us," they all answered together.

"And are ye going to sell cows that the Evil Eye has long been set on? Oh, Con and Shamus, I would never belave it of ye, even if that spalpeen of a Pat would do such a thing; anyone would think that the spirit of the good mother that bore ye would stretch out a hand and kape ye from committing such a mortal sin."

This O'Toole said to the three eldest, who stood trembling, while the four younger ones stuck their knuckles into their eyes and began to cry.

"Oh, indade, Mr. O'Toole, we never knew that the cows were under the Evil Eye. Now did ye find it out ? Oh, sorra the day when such a fine lot of cattle should go to the bad," answered Con.

"Indade ye may well ask it, whin it's meself that was always a good neighbour and kept watch on auld Judy, the witch, when she used to stand over there laughing at the ravens flying over the cows. Do ye mind the time yer father spoke ugly to her down by the cross-roads? She never forgot it, and now yer twenty-one fine cows will never be worth the hides on their hacks."

"Worra, worra, worra," roared the seven McAndrews, so loud that pretty Katie O'Toole bobbed her head out of the window, and the hindermost cows began to caper like mad.

"The spell has come upon them!" cried Shamus. "Oh, what'll we do? What'll we do?"

"Hould yer whist, man alive," said O'Toole. "I'm a good neighbour, as I said before, so to give ye a lift in the world I'll take the risk on meself and buy the cows from ye for the price of their hides. Sure no harm can be done to the hides for making leather, so I'll give ye a shilling apiece, and that's better than nothing. Twenty-one bright shillings going to the fair may make yer fortune."

It seemed neck or nothing with the McAndrews, and they accepted the offer, thanking O'Toole for his generosity, and helped him drive the cows into his field Then they set off for the fair.

They had never been in a fair before, and when they saw the fine sights they forgot all about the cows and only remembered that they had each three shillings to spend.

Every one knew the McAndrews, and soon a crowd gathered round them, praising their fine looks and telling them what a fine father they had to give them so much money, so that the seven omadhauns lost their heads entirely, and treated right and left until there wasn't a farthing left of the twenty-one shillings. Then they staggered home a little the worse for the fine whisky they drank with the boys.

It was a sorry day for old McAndrew when his seven sons came home without a penny of the price of their twenty-one fine cows, and he vowed he'd never give them any more.

So one day passed with another, and the seven young McAndrews were as happy as could be until the fine old father fell sick and died. The eldest son came in for all the father had, so he felt like a lord. To see him strut and swagger was a sight to make a grum growdy laugh.

One day, to show how fine he could be, he dressed in his best and, with a purse filled with gold pieces, started off for the market town.

When he got there, in he walked to a public-house and called for the best of everything, and to make a fine fellow of himself he tripled the price of everything to the landlord. As soon as he got through, his eye suddenly caught sight of a little keg, all gilded over to look like gold, that hung outside the door for a sign. Con had never heeded it before, and he asked the landlord what it was.

Now the landlord, like many another, had it in mind that he might as well get all he could out of a McAndrew, and he answered quickly: "You stupid omadhaun, don't you know what that is? It's a mare's egg."

"And will a foal come out of it?"

"Of course; what a question to ask a dacent man."

"I niver saw one before," said the amazed McAndrew.

"Well, ye see one now, Con, and take a good look at it."

"Will ye sell it?"

"Och, Con McAndrew, do ye think I want to sell that fine egg afther kaping it so long hung up there before the sun — when it is ready to hatch out a foal that will be worth twenty good guineas to me?"

"I'll give ye twenty guineas for it," answered Con.

"Thin it's a bargain," said the landlord, and he took down the keg and handed it to Con, who handed out the twenty guineas, all the money he had.

"Be careful of it, and carry it as aisy as ye can, and when ye get home hang it up in the sun."

Con promised, and set off home with his prize.

Near the rise of a hill he met his brothers.

"What have ye, Con?"

"The most wonderful thing in the world — a mare's egg."

"Faith, what is it like?" asked Pat, taking it from Con.

"Go aisy, can't ye? It's very careful ye have to be."

(1300 words)

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