The Trial by Fire

The ordeal by fire is the great test adopted by the peasants to try if a child or any one is fairy-struck. There was a man in Mayo who was bedridden for months and months, and though ha ate up all the food they brought him, he never grew a bit stronger, and on Sundays when they went to mass, they locked him up and left him alone in the place with plenty of food. Now there was a fine field close by, and one Sunday, coming home from mass earlier than usual, they saw a great company of people bowling in the field, and the sick man amongst them, but at that moment he vanished away; and when the family reached home, there was the sick man lying fast asleep in his bed.

"Get up," they said, "for we have seen you bowling with the fairies, and you sha'n't eat or drink any more at our expense."

But he refused, and said he was too ill to move. Then they made down a large fire of turf and said; "Get up, or we'll lay you on the fire and break the fairy spell." And they took hold of him to burn him. Then he was frightened, and rose up and went out at the door, and they watched him till he stopped in the field where the hurlers played, and lay down there in the grass; but when they went up to him he was dead.

A man going to his work one morning early saw two women going up to a house, and one said, "There is a beautiful boy in this house, go in and hand it out to me, and we'll leave the dead child in its place." And the other went in at the window as she was told, and handed out a sleeping child, and took the dead child and laid it in the bed within. Now the man saw it was fairy work, and he went over and made the sign of the cross on the sleeping child, whereupon the two women shrieked as if they had been struck, and fled away, dropping the child on the grass. Then the man took it up gently, and put it under his coat, and went away to his wife.

"Here," he said, "take care of this child till I come back, and burn a turf beside the cradle to keep off the fairies."

When he passed by the house again, where he had seen the two women, he heard a great crying and lamentation; and he entered in and asked what ailed them.

"See here," said the mother, "my child is dead in its cradle. It died in the night, and no one near." And she wept bitterly.

"Be comforted," said the man; "this is a fairy changeling, your child is safe!" and he told her the story. "Now," he said,."if you don't believe me, just lay this dead child on the fire, and we'll see what will happen."

So she made down a good fire, and took the dead child in her arms, and laid it on the hot turf, saying, "Burn, burn, burn—if of the devil, burn; but if of God and the Saints, be safe from harm." And the child no sooner felt the fire than it sprang up the chimney with a cry and disappeared.