Horse Racing the Fairies (Co. Down)

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fairy horses

In their contacts with mortals, the fairies, on the whole, appear to have been considered friendly; they were sometimes mischievous, but seldom malicious. A good example of their alleged love of pranks is to be found in the story of a jest they had at the expense of brandy smugglers some hundred and fifty years ago. The story came from my great-grandfather.

One frosty night news came that the smugglers’ cutter was lying off Magilligan. A man named Graham saddled his horse and rode down to the shore to await the arrival of the kegs of brandy. As soon as these were brought ashore in a small boat, Graham and a companion slung a keg on either side of their saddles and rode off. They kept up a brisk pace, for they had many kegs to bury between the potato rigs before morning.

As Graham and his companion trotted along, they were startled to hear horses’ hoffs in the distance behind them. They were considerably shaken, for the knew it was unlikely that any well-disposed person would be abroad at such an hour. The whipped up the horses, hoping to leave the unknown riders far behind but no matter how fast they travelled, the horses behind travelled faster. Graham’s companion was obliged to drop out of the race, but Graham kept on, for the mare he was riding had no equal for speed in Co. Derry and he was sure she could outdistance anything on four legs. Yet the pursuers steadily gained on him, and at last, he was obliged to jettison the kegs of brandy. He tried to shake off the pursuit by crossing fields and riding through bogs where he knew the paths, and hoped his pursuers did not. It was in vain, soon the only horses were only a few yards behind, though he could not see them.

He dismounted and prepared to fight for never doubted that it was the Revenue Men who were after him. To his amazement, the horses galloped past with a clatter of hoofs and lound, bellowing laughter from the riders.

‘That was a fine race you gave us the night, Graham!’ they shouted. And Graham realized that it only been the fairies having their joke. Oddly enough, the supernatural aspect of the encounter appears not to have worried him. He was annoyed that he had lost the brandy, but relieved that it was no mortal hourse that had run his mare off her legs. (Foster, Ulster 72-73)

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