The Fisherman's Ring
At the time of this story, there was a fisher lad who fell hopelessly in love with the most beautiful girl in his village. She was blond with blue eyes, a peaches and cream complexion and a figure that defied description. She dressed in the latest fashions and never had to soil her hands with work.
At last the lad plucked up enough courage to ask her to marry him. She just laughed, looked at him disparagingly and told him he was too late. She had just become engaged to someone else. Unable to face everyone’s pity, the lad crept back to his home and without saying anything to his family, packed his gear, went to his boat and sailed away.
He finally made landfall on a deserted island. Not minding the loneliness the lad determined to stay. Fetching out his tools he set to and built himself a cabin. He then discovered there was a village on a mainland just a day’s sailing away and the people there were crying out for fresh fish. Supplying the demand was easy and he made a fair living for himself, but whatever he did, he could not get his lost love out of his mind.
The Surprise Catch.
One day, however, everything was to change. His fishing net seemed heavy with what he thought would be a big catch. It wasn’t. In his net was a beautiful young woman with a fish’s tail where legs should be. A mermaid!
She demanded to be let loose on the grounds that she was Neptune’s only daughter. The lad refused, telling her that in exchange for her freedom he wanted a reward. She told him to name it- Gold? Diamonds? Pearls? The lad shook his head, “What I want, is to marry my heart’s desire.!”
“You mean that blond girl in your village?” said the all-knowing mermaid. “Very well, I will arrange for you to marry your heart’s desire, but only if you are prepared to wait for a year and a day and never take off this ring!”
The lad was only too happy to agree, so he took the ring from the mermaid’s finger, put it one of his own, freed her from the net and watched her swim back into the depths of the sea. With that he returned to his island cabin with every hope for a happy future and cut the first of 366 notches on his mantelpiece.
The Bundle of Rags
A week later, there was a terrible storm. Next morning as the lad looked out of his door he saw the beach strewn with all manner of washed up materials, including what he took to be a large bundle of rags. Seeing it move, he went to investigate and found it was a black-haired brown girl. She was clearly exhausted and very frightened. She begged the lad to let her stay on his island as a refuge. At first he refused but when she offered to pay her way by becoming his servant he reluctantly agreed.
Not wishing to share the cabin , he built an annexe at the back for her. On his next return from the sea, and after cutting his daily notch above the fireplace, he sat down at the table. The girl silently brought him in a beautifully cooked meal. She laid the plates on the table and left as silently as she had entered to eat her meal alone in the annexe.
And so it continued for another seven days, until at last the lad invited her to eat with him. She did and after a couple of days, they even started to talk. The girl explained what had brought her to the island. Her father was a king who had ordered her to marry a prince of his choosing. She refused, so her angry parents banished her far over the sea from her homeland. It was during this voyage that her ship was hit by the storm and capsized, leaving her the sole survivor.
The lad sympathised instantly so when the girl asked about his ring and the daily notchings, he told her his story. She listened attentively before taking out the dishes.
On his next trip while hauling his nets, the lad slipped and badly hurt his arm. Sailing his boat as best he could, he hit the beach but there was no way he could land boat and catch with only one arm. Watching from the door, the girl saw the emergency. She promptly ran to the shoreline and shouted to the lad to throw her a rope. Catching it, she held the boat steady while the lad tumbled ashore to join her on the sand. Pulling and struggling together they managed to haul boat and catch up the beach. The girl took the lad into the cabin and attended to his injured arm. Fortunately nothing was broken so next day the lad prepared to put out for the mainland market to sell his catch. Before casting off, however, he smiled at the girl and asked her if he could bring her anything back. To his surprise she asked for some paint and panes of glass. He duly returned with her request and after his next trip was taken aback to find the cabin fully decorated in and out with glazed, windproof windows. Thereafter, every time he returned from market he brought her what she wanted. She cultivated both a flower and a vegetable garden from seeds, she sewed curtains for the windows and with the new brooms and brushes kept the cabin scrupulously clean. She helped him with the cleaning of the catches and kept his accounts. The only thing she ever wanted was a comb for her black, waist-length hair.
Gradually the two young people grew closer but still the lad cut his notches on the mantelpiece …
…Until the 365th day when he apparently forgot. The brown girl reminded him but in reply he took her by the hand, , smiled at her, told her how much he had come to love her and begged her to marry him. She accepted but on condition that they would return to her homeland together for their honeymoon.
So off they sailed.
The First Return
Her conscience-stricken parents had given her up for dead so her appearance was greeted with joy, forgiveness and a state wedding. As a wedding present the young couple were offered half the kingdom. Without having to consult each other they both politely refused and as soon as possible set sail back to their island.
The Second Return
En route they had to pass by the lad’s village, so they put in for him to introduce his bride to the family. The first person they saw on landing was the lad’s first love… blond, blue-eyed, the same beautiful face and the same athletic figure.
“What did I ever see in her?” the lad asked himself, smiling at his brown-skinned, black haired wife before leading her by the hand to his wife.
It was a week after the couple had returned to their island when the lad found himself in the same waters where he had met the mermaid a year before. There she was, swimming with the ease of a dolphin to greet him.
“So did you marry your heart’s desire?” she smilingly asked him.
“I surely did!” the lad replied, “and by the way, you can have this back. I ‘ll not need it ever again” And with that he slipped off the ring and threw it to her. Catching it, with a flick of her tail she was off, never to be seen again.
Many 1950’s rural Irish pubs had their own Seanchai or story teller….trilby hat, eternally burning fag and glasses of Guinness. One was once asked why stories? His reply? They stop you from being selfish and stupid. He had a point. Are there many adolescent who would not benefit from the above story?