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the legend of knockgrafton

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A retelling by J. Kearns

A curious tale in which a hunchback comes upon some fairies, delights them, and has his hump removed.

he Irish tell of a race of people who came to their island who were called the People of Dana. These became the fairy people.
There also once lived in Ireland, in the fertile glen of Aherlow, at the foot of the gloomy Galtee mountains, a poor man who was said to be ugly and misshapen as he had a great hump on his back. The hump was so large that they say it looked like his body had been rolled up and placed on his shoulders, and the weight of the hump pressed his head down so much that when he was sitting his chin used to rest on his knees for support. Because of his appearance, though he was harmless, people were frightened of meeting him in any lonesome place.
Though this hunchback was harmless, ill-minded people had told strange stories about him, which made others even more frightened of him. It was spread around that the hunchback had a great knowledge of herbs and charms, and this was said in such a way as to suggest he was a cunning, evil creature with deep, dark secrets and unnatural powers.


What anyone really knew for certain about the hunchback was that he was skillful with his hands. He knew more than anyone else about plaiting straw and rushes into baskets and hats and figures and wreaths. This may not seem like much of a useful talent now, but it was then. Plaiting was looked upon as important work, and is still an honored craft.
There were different styles of plaiting, and by the style used one could even tell a story. At harvest time, people used to plait a certain kind of harvest knot for men and a certain kind for women, and for some reason these were called corn dollies even though they were made of wheat. The harvest knots represented the richness of the harvest, which meant a lot to people who grew their own food. If the harvest was bad, you would go hungry during the winter; but if it was good you feasted.
Then for Halloween, which they called Samhain, people plaited what was called a parshell, and they put it on the door to keep evil spirits away. A parshell was a form of cross.
Also, each county had its own style for plaiting what were called St. Brigit Crosses. These crosses were made in honor of Brigit who was a goddess of the people of Dana. She wasn't always called Brigit. She used to be Dana, and the Dana were her people, the very same ones who became the invisible fairies in order to continue living in Ireland when it was invaded by the Celts. So, Ireland was populated by two peoples. The Celts, who were the modern Irish, and those who were there when they arrived and were rarely seen but had never left. When Christianity arrived on the Ireland, Dana became St. Brigit. So, in a way, the goddess Dana never left either. She just changed names.
The hunchback had a nickname. He plaited, as I've said, beautiful hats, and people called him Lusmore because, in his own straw hat, he always wore a sprig of foxglove. The foxglove isn't literally a glove for a fox. Foxes don't have hands and can't wear gloves. The foxglove is a type of snapdragon and is also called lusmore or fairy cap. Some say the name isn't actually foxglove at all but is folk's glove and is named for the fairy folk, which might make more sense as foxes don't wear gloves. It is a poisonous plant which children should never touch and there is a superstition that if you pick it you anger the fairies. But Lusmore wasn't a child, and if he wore a sprig of the plant in his hat, it doens't seem like he was overly concerned about angering the fairy people.
One evening, Lusmore was walking from the town of Cahir towards Cappagh. He had started out later than he would have liked, and as he walked slowly, because of his hump, he was still on the road when the sun went down. Twilight had passed into dark night when he came to the old moate of Knockgrafton, which stood on the right-hand side of the road.


I need to tell you that this is not the kind of moate that surrounds a castle and has water in it. Moate here means an artificial hill, one that has been intentionally built. And the "knock" of Knockgrafton means "hill" as well. In Ireland these moates are also called fairy mounds. They are called fairy mounds because they were built long ago in a time past the memory of many generations, and some think they are where the fairies live.
Lusmore was very tired from his walk. Knowing he had a long way to go yet made him even more tired thinking about it. He also was uncomfortable with having to walk at night. Feeling dejected, he sat down beside the moate to rest, and while he sat there he gazed at the moon, of which a poet says,

"Rising in clouded majesty, at length
Apparent Queen, unveil'd her peerlees light
And o'er tile dark her silver mantle threw."

After a while, Lusmore began to hear music. That would have been unusual enough, but this was unlike any music he'd ever heard, wild to his ear, and its melody unearthly and eerie. There was nothing unpleasant about it, or frightening. Indeed, Lusmore thought he had never heard any music that was more beautiful, or captivating. It was like the sound of many voices, each mingling and blending with the other so strangely that they seemed to be one, though all singing different strains. The words of the song were these:

Dé Luain, Dé Máirt
Dé Luain, Dé Máirt
Dé Luain, Dé Máirt

The music stopped, and Lusmore was a little sad about that, but then the song began again, the same words sung, the same pause to follow, and the same round of melody picked up again after the moment of silence.
Dé Luain means Monday, and Dé Máirt means Tuesday. That is what was being sung, not very exciting lyrics, but Lusmore listened, captivated by those few beautiful lines which were repeated again and again. Realizing the singing came from within the moate Knockgrafton, he scarcely breathed as he feared losing the slightest note. However, after Lusmore had listened for a while, no matter how beautiful he thought the music or how captivated by it he'd been, he began to feel that it was wanting to go somewhere new. And he thought he might perhaps help it along.


The voices sang:

Dé Luain, Dé Máirt
Dé Luain, Dé Máirt
Dé Luain, Dé Máirt

"Agus Dé Céadaoin," Lusmore added, picking up the tune.
"Agus Dé Céadaoin" means, "and Wednesday."
Lusmore thought this a fine and fitting contribution, as Wednesday naturally followed Monday and Tuesday. It seemed just the perfect contribution to make, however ordinary.
But this was something new to the fairies within the moate Knockgrafton, for the song to which Lusmore had added a line was a traditional fairy melody that had been sung just that way since they had disappeared into the moates, before modern time began. Were they angry? No, they were delighted by the novelty, and instantly resolved to bring this mortal into their midst who possessed such clever lyrical skill.
Immediately, Lusmore found himself grasped up as if by a whirlwind and transported into the company of the fairies. Twirling round and round with the lightness of a straw, to the sweetest music which kept time with his motion, he went through the wall of the moate as if it was made of something less than even fog. The fairies weren't at all afraid of Lusmore and his hunched back. Rather than mocking him, they welcomed him and paid him the greatest honor by dignifying him above all the fairy musicians. Servents tended to him, and he had everything to his heart's content. He was treated as if he was the most important person in the land, or so poor Lusmore felt, whose mortal peers belabored him with suspicion, derision and dread. Lusmore even forgot, for the moment, the heavy burden of the knot on his back.
Presently, Lusmore saw the fairies carrying on a great consultation amongst themselves. Though they had been more than civil to him--far more than civil considering the honor they'd paid him--he began to feel anxious and frightened as he had no idea what they were talking about. Then, a fairy stepped out from the rest, came up to him and said,

"Lusmore! Lusmore!
Doubt not, nor deplore,
For the hump which you bore
On your back is no more! -
Look down on the floor,
And view it, Lusmore!"


In amazement, Lusmore watched as the great weight he'd born on his shoulders all his life tumbled down to the ground.
Was he free? Really? A little afraid (for his head had so long been weighted down that he was afraid to be too hopeful) he timidly lifted his head a tiny bit from his knee. And it felt so grand, it felt so light. His head was so light, in fact, that it felt it could lift him straight up into the sky, and as he continued to raise it he did so hesitantly, afraid he might knock it against the ceiling of the grand fairy hall, because he had no experience with how tall he really was. Then, sitting straight as any man, Lusmore, who had all his life had his eyes fixed on the ground by necessity of his burden, looked round and round in absolute wonder of what had just transpired and the beauty and splendor surrounding him, which he'd been unable to fully see and appreciate before. Overwhelmed, his head grew dizzy and his eyesight became dim.
Lusmore fell asleep. When he next opened his eyes it was to the bright sun of broad daylight, and the singing of birds. He saw he was lying at the foot of the moate of Knockgrafton. As he gazed, bewildered, at the cows and sheep grazing around him, Lusmore suddenly remembered the events of the night before.
Oh! Had it all only been a dream? Hesitant, Lusmore reached a hand back to feel for his hump, if it was still there. But, no! The hump was gone. Lusmore leapt up. He looked at his hands, his arms, his chest, his legs, and oh what pride he felt for he saw he was well-shaped. Not only that, he was wearing a very nice new suit of clothes, another gift from the fairies.
Towards Cappagh, carefree Lusmore went, his step light as a dancer's.
No one who met Lusmore recognized him without his hump.
"It's me," he would say. "It's me, Lusmore!"
"Oh, but you couldn't be Lusmore," would come the reply. "You don't look at all like Lusmore. Lusmore had a great hump on his back that weighed his head down to his knees."
"I know, and look how well-shaped I am now. Isn't it wonderful?" he would answer.
"Impossible!" people scoffed.
"But it really is me, the same Lusmore who plaits baskets and hats and wreathes. I am the Lusmore of whom you have all been afraid."
In truth, he was not the same Lusmore, as outward appearance went.


Lusmore returned to his former life, plaiting as he always had done. One morning, as he sat contentedly plaiting at his door, an old woman approached him.
"Kind sir, could you direct me to Cappagh?" she asked.
"No need to give you directions, my good woman," Lusmore replied, "for this is Cappagh. Who do you want here?"
The old woman told him, "I have come out of Decie's country, in the county of Waterford.. I'm looking for one called Lusmore, who, I have heard tell--for everyone far and wide is talking about it--had his hump taken off by the fairies. There is the son of a gossip of mine who's got a hump on him that will be his death, but maybe, if he could use the same charm as this fellow Lusmore employed, the hump may be taken off him."
"I am that Lusmore," Lusmore said, and since he was always a good-natured fellow he told the woman all about how he had sung with the fairies at Knockgrafton, and how he had delighted them so much by adding a new line to their song that they removed his hump from his shoulders and gave him a new suit of clothes as well.
The woman thanked him very much, and went to her gossip's house. After she told her everything Lusmore had said, they took the gossip's humpbacked son, put him on a cart, and ported him all the way across the country to Knockgrafton. It was a long journey and he complained all the way as he had been peevish from his birth, but the women didn't seem to mind his complaints for they were so hopeful that he would soon be cured of his hump.
Night was already falling when they arrived at Knockgrafton and the women left him there beside the moate.
Jack Madden, for that was the humped back man's name, had not been sitting there long when he heard a tune that seemed to be coming from within the moate, and it was much sweeter than the one Lusmore had heard for it was sung with Lusmore's addition to it. Jack Madden heard,

Dé Luain, Dé Máirt
Dé Luain, Dé Máirt
Dé Luain, Dé Máirt
Agus Dia Céadaoin …

In a great hurry to get rid of his hump, Jack Madden, unlike Lusmore, didn't wait for the fairies to pause or watch for an opportunity to "raise the tune higher again" as had Lusmore. When the fairies had sung their song seven times without stopping, out he bawled, never minding the time or the humor of the tune,


"Agus Déardaoin, Agus Dé haoine"

Which means, "And Thursday, and Friday."
You see, Madden, they say, had been not only peevish since birth, he'd also been cunning, and impatient and greedy, and Madden thought that if Lusmore had added one day and gotten his hump removed and a new suit of clothes to boot, then for him to add two days would not only get his hump removed but earn him certainly two new suits of clothes in the bargain.
This made perfect sense to Jack Madden who had no idea he was peevish and cunning and impatient and greedy. And, had he known, he wouldn't have cared, because it only made perfect sense to be so.
No sooner had the words passed Madden's lips than he found himself taken up and whisked into the moate with prodigious force. It was a terrible thing. The fairies, rather than full of praise for his addition, fearfully crowded about him, screeching and screaming and roaring, "Who spoiled our tune? Who spoiled our tune?" As they raged, one stepped out from among them, and announced,

"Jack Madden! Jack Madden
Your words came so bad in
the tune we feel glad in;
This castle you're had in,
That your life we may sadden:
Here's two humps for Jack Madden!"

With that, twenty of the strongest fairies brought Lusmore's great hump (can you believe, they had kept Lusmore's hump) and brutally rammed it down on Jack Madden's back over his own hump, grafting Lusmore's knock to Madden's own at moate Knockgrafton.
Then the fairies kicked him out of their castle.
In the morning, when Jack Madden's mother and her gossip came to look after him, expecting a humpless man in a new suit of clothes, they instead found him half-dead, lying at the foot of moate Knockgrafton, his hump now rivaling Knockgrafton in size. Horrified, and afraid to complain lest a hump be put upon their own shoulders, they carried poor Jack Madden home with them, as downcast in their hearts and their looks as ever two gossips were.
This tells you a little bit about the unpredictability of fairies.

Retelling by j. Kearns based on the Irish tale found in W. B. Yeat's "Fairy and Folk Tales of the Irish Peasantry".

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