Thursday’s Tale: The Prince of Ireland and the Three Magic Stallions

Prince of Ireland

I promised Irish stories this month and today’s has some of the familiar fairy tale motifs, including an evil stepmother, a quest and a talking animal. Bryce Milligan, who retells The Prince of Ireland and the Three Magic Stallions, explains in his note that while the story is based on one he was told as a child, this version includes details from other variations on the tale and his version is probably closest to “The Black Thief.”

Once upon a time, the King and Queen of Ireland had a son and were quite happy, but then the Queen fell ill and died. Three years later, the King married again and had twin boys with his second wife. For a while, all was good, bu when all the boys were old enough to hunt, the Queen decided that her sons should inherit the throne, not the oldest prince. She gives the Prince of Ireland a geis, a curse or magic spell, telling him that he is not to sleep two nights under the same roof until he brings here the three magic stallions of the giant Sean O’Donal,  or he will die. A geis is rarely given without it being returned, so the young man her a geis – she must stand at the cross by the hermit’s chapel with a sheaf of oats and a needle and eat only what she can pass through the needle’s eye until he returns.

The queen goes to the cross and stand, miserable. In the meantime, her two sons, who are friends of the prince and sad to see the trick their mother played on him, head west with him. Eventually they do find the three stallions, but the white one tells the prince that it is under a spell. No one may take him from the stable unless Sean O’Donal gives him freely.

When the young giant, Sean O’Donal catches the prince and his step-brothers, he hangs them over a fire, but the prince offers to tell a story, and since the giant loved stories, he let them down to tell it. The prince tells of a time when he saved a baby giant from being killed and served as a stew. After the story, the giant’s washerwoman says that it was all true and that Sean O’Donal himself was the baby that was saved. Sean O’Donal being understandably grateful, gives the three magic stallions to the prince, and the three ride home as quick as a snap. You see, in addition to talking the horses can run faster than any other. They immediately rode to where the queen was still standing. The prince presented the horses and released her from the geis.

“Then all was well and naught was ill.” The queen had learned humility during her ordeal and was no longer jealous of the king’s love for his oldest son. The younger sons were both given large estates and everyone was happy.

“As for the eldest prince of Ireland, well, his adventures were hardly at an end. But those are tales for other tellings, each one well worth the waiting for.”

This really is a perfect read aloud for pre-school and elementary kids. It’s got adventure, giants, magic horse. It has a distinctive Irish flair and the illustrations, pencil and watercolor, are simply lovely.

You can purchased The Prince of Ireland and the Three Magic Stallions on Amazon.

The geis is an interesting concept, one I don’t think I’ve run into before. According to Wikipedia, “A geis can be compared with a curse or, paradoxically, a gift. If someone under a geis violates the associated taboo, the infractor will suffer dishonor or even death. On the other hand, the observing of one’s geasa is believed to bring power. Often it is women who place geasa upon men. In some cases the woman turns out to be a goddess or other sovereignty figure.” Of course, this definition ignore the pair nature that the storyteller explains. I think I like it better when the geis is returned. It gives it kind of a “you screwed me, so I’ll screw you” aspect.

Thursday’s Tales is a weekly event here at Carol’s Notebook. Fairy tales, folktales, tall tales, even re-tellings, I love them all.

2 Comments

    • I think part of her punishment was standing out there, hungry, a spectacle for all the peasants to see. One of the illustrations in the book had her surrounded by farm animals. I can only imagine it would be torture for the queen.

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