National Geographic : 1931 Jun
THE TIMELESS ARANS past like falling leaves. Rock pipits and "Willie wagtails" will walk close to your quiet forms, and rotund Old World robins will inspect you with mysterious big eyes from the clinging ivy of the forts. Perhaps, I say, the moment may then come, for in this island world, where won ders yet occur, the birds themselves supply a ready link with states beyond our own. Do not the sandpipers lay their four pointed eggs in the form of a Maltese cross, so that the very nest is held in veneration ? And does not the king of birds, which is not the sea eagle, but the tiny and explo sive wren, exercise a force which colors the life of men as well as that of fowls? At Inishman we heard, indeed, of a man suffering from some malady that could be cured only by the application of a king's blood-a remedy that seemed be yond power of attainment until it was sug gested that the blood of the king of birds might possess the royal healing virtue. Up to the date of our departure the beneficent effect of the wren's sacrifice had not had time to act. THE WREN HAS A REGAL REPUTATION THROUGHOUT EUROPE The regal reputation of the wren is an cient and widespread in Europe. It is based upon the fable that the birds once decided to choose as their sovereign the one that could fly highest. The eagle mounted above all others and was about to be ac claimed, when from still higher came an exultant burst of song from the dimin utive wren, which had risen, unseen and unfelt, upon the eagle's back. To this day, in remote parts of Ireland, the bravely wintering little wren is hunted on the Feast of the Three Kings and ad dressed in song as the king of birds, which hardly compensates it for the taking of its life. But, aside from such merely half-super natural phenomena, the Arans are full of shee, or Good People, in various guises, although in these times there are not so many as there used to be. They are of both sexes and mostly small-about the size of a four- or five-year old child. They lurk in the prehistoric duns, the grottoed well springs, the deep clefts in the limestone. They busy themselves in all sorts of human-seeming affairs. Thus they gather kelp along the shores at night. Sometimes you see them at work, and more often you hear the swish as they jerk the long strands of seaweed out of the water. From the brink of a cliff you may even discern little heaps of kelp, but when you go down to the beach there is nothing there. THE "SHEE" ARE NOT MALIGNANT, BUT CAPRICIOUS In general the shee are not malignant or even unfriendly; often they are helpful, but their disinterestedness is never to be trusted. Their visibility to human beings is quite capricious, and the control some times lies with the fairies themselves and sometimes with a higher power. One per son may see them frequently, another only once in a lifetime, and many not at all. It is the same with every magical thing. The woman of a house at Inishman, for example, asserted that the luck-bringing four-leaved shamrock was as common as the three-leaved kind. The difference lay altogether in the eyes of the seeker; so that one with the gift might quickly gather a double handful of the four-leaved while other mortals scoured the fields in vain. Intimates of the Good People are harder to find nowadays than of old, but at Kil ronan there is a native Rip van Winkle who was taken by them in his youth and kept for 20 years in the Tir n-an-Og, where no time passes. His experiences were of such a nature that he has since been able to think of nothing else. He can be addressed, alas, only in the tongue of the Gael; so when he shuffles past, aged and bent, clad in pampooties and blue-gray homespuns, and tapping the limestone with a crooked cane, you may only gaze upon his wrinkled, serene coun tenance and wish that you might see the visions behind it, "For he on honeydew hath fed. And drunk the milk of Paradise."