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The Good People’s Fair

by Bernadette Weyde

You must know that once in every hundred years the Good People hold a fair on Midsummer Day.  When the gorse was bright as gold on all the Island hedges their King sent out his messengers with invitations.

Crottag the curlew went calling with his sweet sad voice to the Good People that lived by the sea; Lhondhoo, the blackbird, brought the invitation to the ones that lived in the fields; Conning, the rabbit, went scampering up the mountain tracks and Drean, the wren, went fluttering into lonely little glens tucked away among the hills known only to herself.  Foillan the seagull went farthest of them all, across the sea to the Good People of Ireland, for it was the ancient custom that they were always asked to the fair.  They would sail in their little boats to the south of the Island and there the Manx King and his subjects would meet them. 

Before they set out the King said to them all, “Be sure now, whatever you do, you keep the news of the fair a secret from the buggane.”  They all promised to do this for the buggane was no friend to the Good People.  Up in a cave in the mountains he was living with a voice like the Maughold fog horn and glittering eyes the size of dinner plates.  All night long he would be roaming the mountains and if he could scare a timid traveller or steal a lamb from its mother or chase the Good People when they rode out to the hunting he would be saying, “Not a bad night’s work at all.”

Very soon Crottag, Lhondhoo and Conning came back and said the Good People one and all would be delighted to come to the fair.  A little later Foillan came flying over the sea from Ireland to say that the King and the Good People and the leprechauns sent word that it would give them great pleasure to come to the Isle of Man, so it would, and they sent a hundred thousand thanks for the kind invitation, so they did.

At last, when everyone was afraid she was lost, Drean came fluttering back to say all the Good People in the lonely glens would be delighted to come to the fair except the phynoderee – the shy, shaggy, creature, half man and half beast, who only came out in the darkness and who spent all his time looking after the lonely, lost creatures of the Island.  The baby thrushes and blackbirds and lambs would be able to take care of themselves by midsummer, but there was a Manx kitten that he couldn’t possibly leave behind while he went gallivanting off to the fair.

Tell him to bring the Manx kitten with him,” says the King and Drean went fluttering away with the good news.

At long last the great day came.  From far and near the Good People gathered at the place where they were to meet the King and start out to welcome their friends from Ireland.

When it was dusk the phynoderee crept out too, the little Manx kitten with her stripy coat and wise yellow eyes, perched on his shoulder.  They were chatting excitedly when Crottag came flying through the air, his shiny feathers all drooping and dull, his voice hoarse and breathless.

It’s that buggane!” he cried.  “He got to hear about the fair.  He’s down yonder at the Sound and a pile of stones at him as big as a house.  Going to drop them on the Irish boats he is and them coming too.  They’ll all be swamped and drowned.”

This is ruination altogether!” says the King.  “We can’t have the fair unless we can put a stop to that.”

They all began to talk at once when the King said, “Be quiet all you ones unless you’ve a sensible word to say.”

There wasn’t a sound from one of them until a little shaky voice said something no-one could hear.

What’s that?” says the King.

It’s the little Manx kitten that’s in,”  the phynoderee told him.  “She’s wanting to help you.  But she’s mortal shy.

Come here little puss,” says the King and the Manx kitten took heart then and went darting up to him.

Up here,” says the King, and light as a leaf in the wind she climbed on to his knee.  She looked at him and her eyes were wise and clever in the moonlight although she was frightened of the grand company she kept.

Why don’t you tell the Irish ones to change their course and land at Peel in the west instead of in the south?  You could send Foillan out to them this instant minute and tell them the danger they’re in.  Then we could all go down and meet them at Peel.

The very thing!” says the King.  “I declare you’ve saved the fair little puss.”

With a flash of white wings Foillan was away and with a jingle of reins and a clatter of hoofs, the Good People set out for Peel.  The King rode at their head on a milk-white horse and in front of the King in the place of honour sat the Manx kitten herself.  They waited on Peel hill and at last saw the lights no bigger than pinheads drawing nearer from Ireland.  Soon all slipped in under the castle walls and landed safely.

A hundred thousand welcomes,” says the Manx King to the Irish King and then back they all rode, singing and laughing and talking over the mountain roads.  There in the glen, tables had been set out in the moonlight and the banquet was ready; gold cups and silver cups for jough, the Good People’s ale; pats of yellow butter and green leaves for plates; cream from the fairy cows; soda cake and slab cake, crisp yellow bonnags and flaky apple cakes all made by the Good People’s cooks.

And need you ask who was chief guest in all of this?  None other than the Manx kitten herself.  They all knew her story now and there she sat between the Irish King and the Manx King and with their own hands they poured out cream for her into a dish of gold.

Sure I’ve heard tell before now,” says the Irish King, “that the cats in the Isle of Man had no tails but I never knew they were wise and clever as this little puss.  I tell you she’s the walking wonder of the world.

So she is,” echoed all the Good People from Ireland, “and only for her the buggane would have drowned us all in the depths of the sea.

Then the Manx King told them about the fair the next day and how everything would be bought and sold for good people’s money – round, white pebbles gathered beside the river an hour before sunrise.

You can imagine there wasn’t much sleep that night for any of them but up early they were to fill their purses with little round pebbles no bigger than wrens’ eggs.

How lovely the glen looked that day!  The hawthorn bushes were still a fresh green and the honeysuckle twined in scented wreaths among all the trees.  The foxgloves stood tall and stiff like sentries in their purple and green coats all along the path to the fair.  In the trees of the glen the birds made music all day.

Under the trees the stalls were set up; cows and horses and sheep and cattle galore for the fairy farmers to buy; jewelled saddles and bridles and whips and reins for the ones that rode out to the hunting; fishing nets and lobster pots and sail canvas and sea chests and lanterns, for the Good People are great fishermen – you can see the lights of their fleet any night in the summer off the Calf; thick carpets made of deep green moss; and cups and saucers and plates and dishes made of periwinkle shells for the housewives.  And of course there were fairings for everyone; little brooches made of pink and white hawthorn, silver cups the size of bluebells, scarves of silk woven by the magpie spinners shot with all the colours of the rainbow and flutes made out of a single reed.

All day the leprechauns were busy in the glen tap-tap-tapping – making the neatest little black shoes with silver buckles that had magic in them to be sure, because long before night everyone wanted to be dancing.

At last the pipers and fiddlers tuned up and the Manx King and the Irish King led off the dance.  And what dancing there was that night!  Even the phynoderee joined in and the little Manx kitten was skipping around with the best.  Merry Irish jigs and reels, the stately Manx dirk dance, and the Manx waltz – they danced them all till the moon grew pale and the morning light began to shiver down the glen. 

Then the Irish King said very sadly that they must say goodbye.  “But I will tell you this,” said he, “there never has been a fair the like of this in the earthly world.  Singing and talking and laughing and dancing and buying and selling galore, and never a cross world spoken.  Ah!  ’tis sorry we are to leave you!

And it’s sorry we are you must go,” says the Manx King.  “But is there any favour we can grant?  You only have to say the word.”

You’re very kind so you are,” says the Irish King, “and there’s one thing that would bring me pleasure far more than any other and that would be to take the little Manx kitten back to our court in Ireland the way the Good People there can all hear her story and see the wonderful cats without tails from the Isle of Man.

Indeed she can go and welcome you are,” says the Manx King, “if you promise to send her back in a year and a day.

The Irish King promised and the Manx kitten went across the water to Ireland with the Good People the next day.

So…if you’re walking down a boreen in Donegal or Connemara or Mayo and you meet a grey pussy with black stripes, wise yellow eyes, and no tail, be sure to put the time of day on her – ‘Kynys ta shiu’ it is in Manx.  She’ll understand what you mean that way – and you’ll know it’s the little Manx pussy that saved the Good People’s Fair because I don’t know for sure whether she’s come home yet or not.

(source: by Kathleen Killip from ‘Saint Bridget’s Night, Stories from the Isle of Man (1975))

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