The bird alighted near the door, and in less than a minute changed, she saw not how, into a horribly deformed and dwarfish hag, who, with yellow skin hanging about her face, and cavernous eyes, swung herself on crutches towards the lady, her mouth foaming with fury, and her grimaces and contortions becoming more and more hideous every moment, till she rolled with a fearful yell on the floor in a horrible convulsion at the lady's feet, and then changed into a huge serpent, which came sweeping and arching towards her with crest erect and quivering tongue.
Suddenly, as it seemed on the point of darting at her, she saw her husband in its stead, standing pale before her, and with his finger on his lips enforcing the continued necessity of silence. He then placed himself at full length on the floor and began to stretch himself out, longer and longer, until his head nearly reached to one end of the vast room and his feet to the other. This utterly unnerved her. She gave a wild scream of horror, whereupon the castle and all in it sank to the bottom of the lake.
Once in seven years the great Earl rises, and rides by night on his white horse round Lough Gur. The steed is shod with silver shoes, and when these are worn out the spell that holds the Earl will be broken, and he will regain possession of his vast estates and semi-regal power. In the opening years of the nineteenth century there was living a man named Teigue O'Neill, who claimed to have seen him on the occasion of one of his septennial appearances under the following curious conditions. O'Neill was a blacksmith, and his forge stood on the brow of a hill overlooking the lake, on a lonely part of the road to Cahirconlish. One night, when there was a bright moon, he was working very late and quite alone. In one of the pauses of his work he heard the ring of many hoofs ascending the steep road that passed his forge, and, standing in his doorway, he saw a gentleman on a white horse, who was dressed in a fashion the like of which he had never seen before. This man was accompanied by a mounted retinue, in similar dress. They seemed to be riding up the hill at a gallop, but the pace slackened as they drew near, and the rider of the white horse, who seemed from his haughty air to be a man of rank, drew bridle, and came to a halt before the smith's door. He did not speak, and all his train were silent, but he beckoned to the smith, and pointed down at one of the horse's hoofs. Teigue stooped and raised it, and held it just long enough to see that it was shod with a silver shoe, which in one place was worn as thin as a shilling. Instantly his situation was made apparent to him by this sign, and he recoiled with a terrified prayer. The lordly rider, with a look of pain and fury, struck at him suddenly with something that whistled in the air like a whip ; an icy streak seemed to traverse his body, and at the same time he saw the whole cavalcade break into a gallop, and disappear down the hill. It is generally supposed that for the purpose of putting an end to his period of enchantment the Earl endeavours to lead someone on to first break the silence and speak to him ; but what, in the event of his succeeding, would be the result, or would befall the person thus ensnared, no one knows.
In a letter1 written in the year 1640, the Earl assumes a different appearance. We learn from it that as a countryman was on his way to the ancient and celebrated fair of Knockaney, situated a few miles from Lough Gur, he met " a gentleman standing in the waye, demanding if he would sell his horse. He answered, yea, for £5. The gentleman would give him but £4, 10 s., saying he would not get so much at the ffaire. The fellow went to the ffaire, could not get so much money, and found the gentleman on his return in the same place, who proffered the same money. The fellow accepting of it, the other bid him come in and receive his money. He carried him into a fine spacious castle, payed him his money every penny, and showed him the fairest black horse that ever was seene, and told him that that horse was the Earl of Desmond, and that he had three shoes alreadye, when he hath the fourthe shoe, which should be very shortlie, then should the Earl be as he was before, thus guarded with many armed men conveying him out of the gates. The fellow came home, but never was any castle in that place either before or since." The local variant of the legend states that the seller of the horse was a Clare man, and that he went home after having been paid in gold the full amount of a satisfactory bargain, but on the following morning found to his great mortification, that instead of the gold coins he had only a pocketful of ivy leaves. Readers of Victor Hugo's Notre Dame will recall the incident of the ecu that (apparently) was transformed by magic into a withered leaf. Similar tales of horse-dealing with mysterious strangers are told in Scotland in connection with the celebrated Thomas the Rhymer, of Erceldoune.
1 Lenihan, History of Limerick, p. 147.