This folktale from Knockgrafton tells the tale of Lusmore, who was rewarded by fairies for his musical creativity.
There was once a poor man who lived in the fertile glen of Aherlow, at the foot of the gloomy Galtee mountains. He had a great hump on his back, which made it look as if his body had been rolled up and placed upon his shoulders; his head was pressed down with the weight so much, that his chin, when he was sitting, used to rest upon his knees for support.
The country people were rather shy of meeting him in, for though he was as harmless and as inoffensive as a newborn infant, his deformity was so great that he scarcely appeared to be human, and some ill-minded persons had set strange stories about him afloat.
He was said to have a great knowledge of herbs and charms; but certain it was that he had a mighty skilful hand in plaiting straw and rushes into hats and baskets, which was the way he made his livelihood.
Lusmore, for that was the nickname put upon him for always wearing a sprig of the fairy cap, or lusmore, in his little straw hat, was very skilful at plaiting straw into hats and baskets. He earned more for his plaited work than anyone else, and perhaps that was the reason why someone, out of envy, had circulated the strange stories about him.
As Lusmore was returning one evening from the pretty town of Cahir, walking very slowly on account of his hump, it was already quite dark when he reached the old moat of Knockgrafton. He was tired, and noways comfortable when thinking about walking all night. So he sat down under the moat to rest, looking mournfully upon the moon.
There rose a wild strain of unearthly melody upon the ear of little Lusmore; he listened attentively, for he had never heard such ravishing music before. 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: —
Da Luan, Da Mort, Da Luan, Da Mort, Da Luan, Da Mort, when there would be a moment’s pause, and then the round of melody went on again.
Lusmore scarcely drew breath, so that he would not lose the slightest note. He plainly perceived that the singing came from within the moat, and, though at first it had charmed him so much, he began to get tired of hearing the same round sung over and over so often without any change.
So, availing himself of the pause when the Da Luan, Da Mort, had been sung three times, he took up the tune and raised it with the words augus Da Cadine, and then went on singing with the voices inside of the moat, Da Luan, Da Mort, finishing the melody, when the pause again came, with augus Da Cadine.
The fairies within Knockgrafton, for the song was a fairy melody, heard this addition to their tune and were delighted. They decided to fetch the mortal, whose musical skill so far exceeded theirs. Lusmore was brought before them with the speed of a whirlwind.
Glorious to behold was the sight that burst upon him as he came down through the moat, twirling round and round and round with the lightness of a straw, to the sweetest music that kept time to his motion. The greatest honour was then paid him, for he was put up above all the musicians, and he had servants tending upon him, and everything to his heart’s content.
Lusmore saw a great consultation going forward among the fairies, and, notwithstanding all their civility, he felt very much frightened, until one, stepping out from the rest, came up to him, and said, —
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!”
When these words were said, poor little Lusmore felt himself so light, and so happy, that he thought he could have bounded at one jump over the moon, like the cow in the history of the cat and the fiddle; and he saw his hump tumble down upon the ground.
Lusmore tried to lift up his head, and he did so with caution, fearing that he might knock it against the ceiling of the grand hall, where he was; he looked round and round again with the greatest wonder and delight. Everything appeared more and more beautiful; and, overpowered at beholding such a resplendent scene, his head grew dizzy, and his eyesight became dim, until he fell into a sound sleep.
When he awoke, Lusmore found that it was broad daylight, the sun shining brightly, the birds singing sweet, and himself lying at the foot of the moat of Knockgrafton, with the cows and sheep grazing peacefully around him.
The first thing Lusmore did was feel for his hump. It was not to be found. He then looked at himself with great pride; he had become a well-shaped little fellow, dressed in a full suit of new clothes, which he concluded the fairies had made for him.
Towards Cappagh he went, stepping out as lightly, and springing up at every step as if he was a dancing-master. Nobody who met Lusmore recognised him without his hump, and he had a hard time persuading everyone that he was the same man — in truth he was not, so far as outward appearance went.
Of course it was not long before the story of Lusmore’s hump spread throughout the country. For miles around, it was all anyone talked about.
One morning as Lusmore was sitting at his cabin-door, an old woman came up to him, and asked him to direct her to Cappagh.
“This is Cappagh, my good woman,” said Lusmore.
The woman explained that she had come from Decie’s country, in the county of Waterford. The son of her friend was dying because of his hump, and she hoped to cure him as Lusmore himself was cured.
Lusmore, who was a good-natured little fellow, told the woman how he had raised the tune for the fairies at Knockgrafton, how his hump had been removed from his shoulders, and how he had received a new suit of clothes in the bargain.
The woman went away quite happy. When she came back to her friend’s house, she told her everything that Lusmore had said. They put the little hump-backed man, who was a peevish and cunning creature from his birth, upon a cart, and took him all the way across the country. They brought and left him under the old moat of Knockgrafton.
Jack Madden, for that was the humpy man’s name, had not been sitting there long when he heard the tune going on within the moat much sweeter than before; for the fairies were singing it the way Lusmore had altered it: Da Luan, Da Mort, Da Luan, Da Mort, Da Luan, Da Mort, augus Da Cadine.
Jack Madden was in a great hurry to get rid of his hump. He never thought of waiting until the fairies were done, or watching for a fit opportunity to raise the tune higher. Never minding the time, or the humour of the tune, out he bawls: augus Da Cadine, augus Da Hena. He felt mighty pleased with himself, thinking that if one day was good, two were better; and that, if Lusmore had received one new suit of clothes, he should have two.
No sooner had the words passed his lips than he was taken up and whisked into the moat with prodigious force; and the fairies came crowding round about him with great anger, screeching and screaming, and roaring out, “who spoiled our tune? who spoiled our tune?” and one stepped up to him above all the rest, and said —
“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!”
And twenty of the strongest fairies brought Lusmore’s hump and put it down upon poor Jack’s back, over his own, where it became firmly fixed.
In the morning when Jack Madden’s mother and her friend came to look after their little man, they found him half dead, lying at the foot of the moat, with the other hump upon his back. They brought him home, where he died shortly after, leaving, they say, his heavy curse to anyone who would go to listen to fairy tunes again.
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