This folktale from Fermoy tells the story of Barry of Cairn Thierna, who, at the expense of a trickster, showed great hospitality to a weary soldier.
Fermoy was once as poor and as dirty a village as any in Ireland. Two-storied houses were few; its street — for it had only one — was chiefly formed of miserable mud cabins; and travellers never tarried in its paltry inn any longer than required.
In those days it happened that a regiment of infantry was proceeding from Dublin to Cork. One company, which left Caher in the morning, had passed through Mitchelstown, tramped across the Kilworth mountains, and, late of an October evening, tired and hungry, reached Fermoy. No barracks were then built to receive them; and every voice was raised, calling to the gaping villagers for the name and residence of the billet-master.
Mr. Consadine, the billet-master, was, as may be supposed, a person of some consideration in Fermoy. He was of a portly build, and of a grave and slow movement, suited at once to his importance and his size. His breeches-pockets were never buttoned; and, scorning to conceal the bull-like proportions of his chest and neck, his collar was generally open, as he wore no cravat. A flaxen bob-wig commonly sat fairly on his head and squarely on his forehead, and a pen was stuck behind his ear.
Such was Mr. Consadine, billet-master-general, barony sub-constable, and deputy-clerk of the sessions, who was now just getting near the end of his eighth tumbler, when the knock on the door came.
“It’s the sogers, sir!” cried Nelly, the servant-girl, running back into the room without opening the door; “I hear the jinketing of their swords.”
Mr. Consadine’s own pen and that of his son Tom were soon in full employment. The officers were sent to the inn; the sergeants and corporals were billeted on those who were on indifferent terms with Mr. Consadine; for he leaned as light as he could on his friends.
The soldiers had nearly all departed for their quarters, when one poor fellow, who had fallen asleep leaning on his musket, was awakened by the silence, and starting up, went over to Mr. Consadine, hoping for a good billet.
“A good billet you shall have,” said the billet-master-general, barony sub-constable and deputy-clerk of the sessions, “on the biggest house around. Tom, I’ll make out a billet for this man upon Mr. Barry of Cairn Thierna.”
“Mr. Barry of Cairn Thierna!” said Tom with surprise.
“Yes, the great Barry!” replied his father, closing his right eye slowly, with a semi-drunken wink. “Does he not keep the grandest house in this part of the country?”
The billet was made out accordingly; the sand glittered on the signature and broad flourishes of Mr. Consadine, and the weary grenadier took up his knapsack and firelock, and left the office.
Mr. Consadine chuckled over the trick that he played the soldier, and laughed at the idea of his search for Barry of Cairn Thierna’s house.
Barry of Cairn Thierna was a legend; an old chieftain of the barony of Barrymore, who for some reason had become enchanted on the mountain of Cairn Thierna, where he was known to live in great state, and was often seen by the belated peasant.
Mr. Consadine had informed the soldier that Mr. Barry lived a little way outside of town, on the Cork road; so the poor fellow trudged for some time, looking for the great house; but nothing could he see, except the dark mountain of Cairn Thierna before him. At last he met a man, of whom he asked the way to Mr. Barry’s.
“Surely you don’t mean Barry of Cairn Thierna?”
“That’s the very place! Can you tell me where to find it?”
“Cairn Thierna,” repeated the man, “I’ll show you the way, but it’s the first time I heard of a soldier being billeted on Barry of Cairn Thierna. See that big mountain before you — that’s Cairn Thierna. Anyone will show you Mr. Barry’s when you get to the top of it, up to the big heap of stones.”
The weary soldier gave a sigh as he walked toward the mountain; but he had not proceeded far when he heard the clatter of a horse coming along the road after him. Turning his head, he saw a dark figure rapidly approaching. A tall gentleman, richly dressed, and mounted on a noble grey horse, pulled up, and the soldier repeated his inquiry after Mr. Barry’s of Cairn Thierna.
“I’m Barry of Cairn Thierna. What is your business with me, friend?”
“I’ve got a billet on your house from the billet-master of Fermoy, sir.”
“Have you, indeed?” said Mr. Barry, “well, follow me, and you shall be well taken care of.”
He turned off the road, and led his horse up the steep side of the mountain, followed by the soldier, who was astonished at seeing the horse proceed with so little difficulty, where he was obliged to scramble up, and could hardly find or keep his footing.
When they got to the top, there was a house far beyond any house in Fermoy. It was three stories high, with fine windows, and all lighted up within as if it was full of grand company. Mr. Barry, as he stood at the door, gestured the soldier to enter. Instead of sending him down to the kitchen, as any other gentleman would have done, he brought him into the parlour, and desired to see his billet.
“I know Dick Consadine well,” said Mr. Barry, looking at it and smiling, “he’s a merry fellow, and has got some excellent cows on the Inch field of Carrickabrick; a sirloin of good beef is no bad thing for supper.”
Mr. Barry then called out to some of his attendants, and asked them to lay the cloth. Soon a smoking sirloin of beef was placed before them.
“You must be hungry after your long day’s march,” said Mr. Barry.
The soldier, with a profusion of thanks for such hospitality, made excellent use of such supper; Mr. Barry never letting his jaws rest for want of helping until he was fairly done. They sat together a long time afterward, talking over a glass of whiskey.
At last Mr. Barry stood up, stating that everyone in his house should be in bed by twelve o’clock. Pointing to a bundle which lay in one corner of the room, he added: “Take the hide of the cow which I had killed for your supper. Give it to the billet-master in the morning, and tell him that Barry of Cairn Thierna sent it to him. He will understand.”
The soldier went off to the room which was shown him, without claiming, as everyone knows he had a right to do, the second-best bed in the house.
Next morning the sun awoke him. He was lying on the broad of his back, beneath a beautiful blue sky. He rubbed his eyes; Mr. Barry’s fine house and soft feather-bed had melted into air, and he found himself stretched on the side of Cairn Thierna with the cow-hide rolled up under his head for a pillow.
He stood up. Not a vestige of a house or anything like one, but the rude heap of stones on the top of the mountain, could he see, and ever so far off lay the Blackwater, glittering with the morning sun, and the little quiet village of Fermoy on its banks, from whose chimneys white wreaths of smoke were beginning to rise upwards into the sky.
Throwing the cow-hide over his shoulder, he descended the steep side of the mountain up which Mr. Barry had led his horse the preceding night with so much ease, and he proceeded along the road, pondering on what had befallen him. When he reached Fermoy, he went straight to Mr. Consadine’s, and asked to see him.
“What sort of entertainment did you meet with from Barry of Cairn Thierna?” said Mr. Consadine, recognizing the soldier.
“The best treatment, sir,” replied the soldier, “and he speaks well of you, and desired me to give you this cow-hide as a token to remember him by.”
“Many thanks to Mr. Barry for his generosity,” said the billet-master, making a bow in mock solemnity, “many thanks, indeed, a wonderful skin it is, wherever he got it.”
Mr. Consadine had scarcely finished the sentence when he saw his cow-boy running up the street, shouting and crying aloud that the best cow in the Inch field was gone, and nobody knew what had become of her.
The soldier had flung the skin on the ground, and the cow-boy looking at it exclaimed:
“That is her hide, wherever she is!”
“There is no doubt,” said Mr. Consadine, “Barry killed my best cow, and all he has left me is the hide of the poor beast. A warning to never again play tricks on travellers.”
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