Illustration by John D. Batten
Illustration by John D. Batten

Happy St. Patrick’s Day! I’ve got an Irish tale today, of course, “The Sprightly Tailor.” The version I read was collected in Joseph Jacobs’ Celtic Fairy Tales, 1892.

Macdonald, in his castle at Saddell, hired a tailor to make him a pair of trews. According to the story, trews were the vest and breeches united in one piece and ornamented with fringes, apparently very comfortable. Macdonald promised the tailor an extra reward if he would make the trews by night in the church. The old ruined church was supposed to haunted.

The tailor was well aware of the stories, but he was a sprightly man, and when MacDonald dared him to make the trews by night in the church, the tailor was determined to win the prize. So, when night came, he went up the glen about a half mile to the old church. He chose him a nice gravestone for a seat, lit a candle, put on his thimble, and set to work at the trews, thinking about the money the lord would give him.

For a while it was all fine, then he felt the floor tremble. Looking about him, but keeping his fingers at work, he saw a great human head rising up through the stone pavement of the church. When the head had risen above the surface, there came from it a great, great voice saying, “Do you see this great head of mine?”

“I see that, but I’ll sew this!” replied the sprightly tailor, and he stitched away at the trews.

The being rose higher, and his neck appeared then its shoulders and chest and arms. As each part appeared, the voice asked if the tailor saw it and each time the replied, “I see that, but I’ll sew this!,” and kept working away.

It lifted out a great leg and roared, “Do you see this great leg of mine?”

“Aye, aye, I see that, but I’ll sew this!” cried the tailor, and his fingers flew with the needle, making such long stitches that he had just come to the end of the trews when it was taking up its other leg. But before it could pull it out of the pavement, the sprightly tailor had finished his task, and, blowing out his candle, he sprang off the gravestone and ran out of the church with the trews under his arm. The fearsome thing gave a loud roar, stamped his feet on the pavement, and went after the sprightly tailor.

Down the glen they ran, but the tailor had a head start and nimble legs. So he held his trews tight and kept going until he reached Saddell Castle. He had no sooner got inside the gate and shut it than the apparition came up to it. Enraged at losing the tailor, it struck the wall above the gate and left the mark of his five great fingers, which can still be seen today.

But the sprightly tailor gained his reward. Macdonald paid him handsomely for the trews, and never discovered that a few of the stitches were somewhat long.

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


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