John the Tailor was a big rake of a man who called about once a year. He was a travelling tailor and a great talker. He stitched up any torn clothes in the house and he talked incessantly as he sewed. He had a fund of ghost stories and told them well, so well that his audience was afraid to go out after dark. The phouca (fairy horse) might get them if they did, or the headless horseman, or the black dog with eyes like coals of fire.
All John’s ghosts had eyes like coals of fire, the headless horseman excepted. Usually flames issued from their mouths and the charms against their powers were a hazel stick cut when the moon was full, and a steel knife. Failing these antidotes, one had to sprint for the nearest stream for ghosts and phoucas, as everyone knew, could not cross running water. ‘They’re not so plentiful now because the clergy has banished most of them,’ said John ruefully, as if he resented their interference.
The fiddler MacDonald was another visitor. He was a tattered man with a fiddle and mad eyes. Everyone believed he played for the fairies when they danced in their magic ballroom, hidden in the secret places of the raths. He knew all about the leprechauns, where they worked and where they had their crocks of gold. But he didn’t lust after their gold, preferring the company of the ‘Good People’ to coveting their wealth. He always went out of his way to please them.
‘Never pluck up a lady finger [foxglove],’ he warned us children. ‘The fairies put them on their fingers when they’re dancing.’
All this happened long ago. Old John Morgan’s dreamy eyes are now closed and John the Tailor’s talkative tongue is long silenced. Old MacDonald the Fiddler has left his beloved leprechauns and fairies behind him and has gone to a better, brighter world. When I often think of them, again I am a boy sitting on lichen-covered rock gazing down the Old Bog Road for my kind, story-rich men of the roads.