This folktale from Cork tells the story of a wonderful spring, and of the king who jealously guarded it.
A little way beyond the Gallows Green of Cork, just outside the town, there is a great lake. In the winter people went to skate there for the sake of diversion. Few of them knew that at the very bottom of the lake there lay buildings and gardens far more beautiful than any that exist today.
You see, there was a great king called Corc, whose palace stood in a round green valley upon the very spot where the lake is now. In the middle of the courtyard stood a spring of water, so pure, so clear, that it was the wonder of all the world.
People came in crowds from far and near to draw the precious water of this spring, and the king became afraid that it would run dry. He had a high wall built around the spring and would allow nobody to come near. Whenever he wanted water himself he would send his daughter to get it, since he did not trust even his most loyal servants with the key of the well-door.
One night the king gave a grand feast; many great princes were present, and lords and nobles without end. There were wonderful spectacles throughout the palace; there were bonfires whose blaze reached up to the very sky; there was dancing to such sweet music that it ought to have woken up the dead; and there was feasting in the greatest of plenty for all who came.
Now it happened at this grand entertainment there was one young prince above all the rest mighty comely to behold. He danced that night with the old king’s daughter, wheeling here, and wheeling there, as light as a feather, to the admiration of all. The musicians played better for seeing their dancing, and they danced as if their lives depended upon it.
At supper the young prince was seated at the side of his beautiful partner, who smiled at him whenever he spoke to her; which was by no means so often as he wished, for a constant stream of company came to compliment their dance.
In the midst of this banquet, one of the great lords said to King Corc, “Your feast has everything in abundance, both to eat and drink, except water.”
“Water!” said the king, mightily pleased, “Water you shall have, of such a delicious kind that I challenge all the world to equal it. Daughter, go fetch some in the golden vessel which I had made for the purpose.”
The king’s daughter, who was called Fior Usga, or Spring Water, did not like to perform so menial a service before so many people. Although she did not dare to refuse the commands of her father, she hesitated to obey and looked down upon the ground.
The king, who loved his daughter very much, regretted his words. But he was never known to recall his word. He, therefore, thought of a way to make his daughter go willingly, and proposed that the prince should go with her.
The prince was not displeased at hearing this, and taking the golden vessel in one hand, with the other led Fior Usga out of the hall so gracefully that all present gazed after them with delight.
When they came to the spring of water in the courtyard of the palace, Usga unlocked the door with the greatest care, but stooping down with the golden vessel to take some of the water out of the well, she lost her balance and fell in.
The young prince tried in vain to save her, for the water rose and rose so fast that the entire courtyard was soon covered with it. He hastened back to the king, leaving the door of the well open.
The water, which had been so long confined, rushed forth, rising higher and higher, reaching the great hall sooner than the young prince himself. When he attempted to speak to the king he was already up to his neck in water.
At length, the water rose to such a height that it filled the entire valley in which the king’s palace stood, and so the present lough of Cork was formed.
Yet the king and his guests were not drowned. Neither was his daughter, the fair Usga, who returned to the banquet hall the very next night after this dreadful event. Every night since, the same entertainment and dancing goes on in the palace at the bottom of the lake, which will last until someone has the luck to recover the golden vessel.
So ends this folktale from Cork, Ireland. If you enjoyed reading it, then please consider keeping it alive by sharing it with your friends. You can find many more Irish folktales by visiting our dedicated collection.