And washed the staff in south-run water,2 And swore the witches she would burn,
But she would have the tailor's butter. When sable Night her curtain spread.
Then she got on a flaming fire ; The tailor stood at the cow's head.
With his turn'd waistcoat3 in the byre.
1 In the shorter version of the poem this line runs— " He cured the kye for Nanny Barton," which makes better sense. Huie Mertin was evidently a rival of Mary Butters.
2 South-running water possessed great healing qualities. See Daly ell, Darker Superstitions of Scotland, and C. K. Sharpe, op. cit., p. 94.
3 When a child the writer often heard that if a man were led astray at night by Jacky-the-Lantern (or John Barleycorn, or any other potent sprite !), the best way to get home safely was to turn one's coat inside out and wear it in that condition.
The chimney covered with a scraw.
An' every crevice where it smoak'd, But long before the cock did craw.
The people in the house were choak'd. The muckle pot hung on all night,
As Mary Butters had been brewing In hopes to fetch some witch or wight,
Whas entrails by her art were stewing. In this her magic a' did fail ;
Nae witch nor wizard was detected. Now Mary Butters lies in jail.
For the base part that she has acted. The tailor lost his son and wife,
For Mary Butters did them smother ; But as he hates a single life.
In four weeks' time he got another. He is a crouse auld canty chiel,
An' cares nae what the witches mutter ; He'll never mair employ the Deil,
Nor his auld agent Mary Butters. At day the tailor left his post.
Though he had seen no apparition, Nae wizard grim, nae witch, nor ghost,
Though still he had a stray suspicion That some auld wizard wrinkled wife.
Had cast her cantrips o'er poor brawney Cause she and he did live in strife,
An' whar's the man can blame poor Sawney. Wae sucks for our young lasses now,
For who can read their mystic matters, Or tell if their sweethearts be true,
The folks a' run to Mary Butters. To tell what thief a horse did steal,
In this she was a mere pretender, An' has nae art to raise the Deil.
Like that auld wife, the Witch of Endor. If Mary Butters be a witch.
Why but the people all should know it, An' if she can the muses touch.
I'm sure she'll soon descry the poet. Her ain familiar aff she'll sen'.
Or paughlet wi' a tu' commission To pour her vengeance on the man.
That tantalizes her condition".
There also exists a shorter version of the ballad, which seems to be a rather clumsy adaptation of what we have given above ; in it the witch is incorrectly termed Butlers. That the heroine did not evolve the procedure she had adopted out of her own fervent imagination, but that she followed a method generally recognised and practised in the country-side is shown by a case that occurred at Newtownards in January 1871.1 A farm-hand had brought an action against his employer for wages alleged to be due to him. It transpired in the course of the evidence that on one occasion he had been set to banish witches that were troubling the cows. His method of working illustrates the Carnmoney case. All left the house except the plaintiff, who locked himself in, closed the windows, stopped all keyholes and apertures, and put sods on top of the chimneys. He then placed a large pot of sweet milk on the fire, into which he threw three rows of pins that had never been used, and three packages of needles ; all were allowed to boil together for half an hour, and, as there was no outlet for the smoke, the plaintiff narrowly escaped being suffocated.
1 Notes and Queries, 4th series, vol. vii.
It is strange to find use made in Ireland of that potent magical instrument, the Hand of Glory, and that too in the nineteenth century. On the night of the 3rd of January 1831, some Irish thieves attempted to commit a robbery on the estate of Mr. Naper, of Loughcrew, co. Meath. They entered the house, armed with a dead man's hand with a lighted candle in it, believing in the superstitious notion that if such a hand be procured, and a candle placed within its grasp, the latter cannot be seen by anyone except him by whom it is used ; also that if the candle and hand be introduced into a house it will prevent those who may be asleep from awaking. The inhabitants, however, were alarmed, and the robbers fled, leaving the hand behind them.1 No doubt the absolute failure of this gruesome dark lantern on this occasion was due to the fact that neither candle nor candlestick had been properly prepared ! The orthodox recipe for its preparation and consequent effectual working may be found in full in Mr. Baring Gould's essay on Schamir in his Curious Myths of the Middle Ages.
The following tale comes from an article in the Dublin University Magazine, vol. lxiv. ; it has rather a Cross-Channel appearance, but may have been picked up locally in Ireland. A man named Shamus Rua (Red James) was awakened one night by a noise in the kitchen. He stole down, and found his old housekeeper, Madge, with half a dozen of her kidney, sitting by the fire drinking his whisky. When the bottle was finished one of them cried, " It's time to be off," and at the same moment she put on a peculiar red cap, and added :—
" By yarrow and rue, And my red cap, too, Hie over to England ! "
1 Henderson, Folklore of Northern Counties of England, (Folklore Society).
And seizing a twig she soared up the chimney, whither she was followed by all save Madge. As the latter was making her preparations Shamus rushed into the kitchen, snatched the cap from her, and placing himself astride of her twig uttered the magic formula. He speedily found himself high in the air over the Irish Sea, and swooping through the empyrean at a rate unequalled by the fastest aeroplane. They rapidly neared the Welsh coast, and espied a castle afar off, towards the door of which they rushed with frightful velocity ; Shamus closed his eyes and awaited the shock, but found to his delight that he had slipped through the keyhole without hurt. The party made their way to the cellar, where they caroused heartily, but the wine proved too heady, and somehow Shamus was captured and dragged before the lord of the castle, who sentenced him to be hanged. On his way to the gallows an old woman in the crowd called out in Irish " Ah, Shamus alanna! Is it going to die you are in a strange place without your little red cap ? " He craved, and obtained, permission to put it on. On reaching the place of execution he was allowed to address the spectators, and did so in the usual ready-made speech, beginning,
" Good people all, a warning take by me." But when he reached the last line,
" My parents reared me tenderly " instead of stopping he unexpectedly added,
" By yarrow and rue," etc, with the result that he shot up through the air, to the great dismay of all beholders. Our readers will at once recall Grandpapa's Tale of the Witches' Frolic in the Ingoldsby Legends. Similar tales appear in Scotland, for which see Sharpe, pp. 56, 207 ; the same writer (p. 212) makes mention of a red cap being worn by a witch.