Three Daughters of King O'Hara
(An Irish Tale)
THERE was a king in Desmond whose name was Coluath
O'Hara, and he had three daughters. On a time when the king was away from
home, the eldest daughter took a thought that she 'd like to be married.
So she went up in the castle, put on the cloak of darkness which her father
had, and wished for the most beautiful man under the sun as a husband
She got her wish; for scarcely had she put off the cloak
of darkness, when there came, in a golden coach with four horses, two
black and two white, the finest man she had ever laid eyes on, and took
When the second daughter saw what had happened to her
sister, she put on the cloak of darkness, and wished for the next best
man in the world as a husband.
She put off the cloak; and straightway there came, in
a golden coach with four black horses, a man nearly as good as the first,
and took her away.
The third sister put on the cloak, and wished for the
best white dog in the world.
Presently he came, with one man attending, in a golden
coach and four snow-white horses, and took the youngest sister away.
When the king came home, the stable-boy told him what
had happened while he was gone. He was enraged beyond measure when he
heard that his youngest daughter had wished for a white dog, and gone
off with him.
When the first man brought his wife home he asked: "In
what form will you have me in the daytime, as I am now in the daytime,
or as I am now at night?"
"As you are now in the daytime."
So the first sister had her husband as a man in the daytime;
but at night he was a seal.
The second man put the same question to the middle sister,
and got the same answer; so the second sister had her husband in the same
form as the first.
When the third sister came to where the white dog lived,
he asked her: " How will you have me to be in the daytime, as I am
now in the day, or as I am now at night?"
"As you are now in the day."
So the white dog was a dog in the daytime, but the most
beautiful of men at night.
After a time the third sister had a son; and one day,
when her husband was going out to hunt, he warned her that if anything
should happen the child, not to shed a tear on that account.
While he was gone, a great gray crow that used to haunt
the place came and carried the child away when it was a week old.
Remembering the warning, she shed not a tear for the
All went on as before till another son was born. The
husband used to go hunting every day, and again he said she must not shed
a tear if anything happened.
When the child was a week old a great gray crow came
and bore him away; but the mother did not cry or drop a tear.
All went well till a daughter was born. When she was
a week old a great gray crow came and swept her away. This time the mother
dropped one tear on a handkerchief, which she took out of her
pocket, and then put back again.
When the husband came home from hunting and heard what
the crow had done, he asked the wife, "Have you shed tears this time?"
"I have dropped one tear," said she.
Then he was very angry; for he knew what harm she had
done by dropping that one tear.
Soon after their father invited the three sisters to
visit him and be present at a great feast in their honor. They sent messages,
each from her own place, that they would come.
The king was very glad at the prospect of seeing his
children; but the queen was grieved, and thought it a great disgrace that
her youngest daughter had no one to come home with her but a
The white dog was in dread that the king wouldn't leave
him inside with the company, but would drive him from the castle to the
yard, and that the dogs outside wouldn't leave a patch of skin on his
back, but would tear the life out of him.
The youngest daughter comforted him. "There is no
danger to you," said she, "for wherever I am, you'll be, and
wherever you go, I'll follow and take care of you."
When all was ready for the feast at the castle, and the
company were assembled, the king was for banishing the white dog; but
the youngest daughter would not listen to her father, - would not let
the white dog out of her sight, but kept him near her at the feast, and
divided with him the food that came to herself.
When the feast was over, and all the guests had gone,
the three sisters went to their own rooms in the castle.
Late in the evening the queen took the cook with her,
and stole in to see what was in her daughters' rooms. They were all asleep
at the time. What should she see by the side of her youngest daughter
but the most beautiful man she had ever laid eyes on.
Then she went to where the other two daughters were sleeping;
and there, instead of the two men who brought them to the feast, were
two seals, fast asleep.
The queen was greatly troubled at the sight of the seals.
When she and the cook were returning, they came upon the skin of the white
dog. She caught it up as she went, and threw it into the kitchen fire.
The skin was not five minutes in the fire when it gave
a crack that woke not only all in the castle, but all in the country for
The husband of the youngest daughter sprang up. He was
very angry and very sorry, and said:
"If I had been able to spend three nights with you
under your father's roof, I should have got back my own form again for
good, and could have been a man both in the day and the night; but now
I must go.
He rose from the bed, ran out of the castle, and away
he went as fast as ever his two legs could carry him, overtaking the one
before him, and leaving the one behind. He was this way all that night
and the next day; but he couldn't leave the wife, for she followed from
the castle, was after him in the night and the day too, and never lost
sight of him.
In the afternoon he turned, and told her to go back to
her father; but she would not listen to him. At nightfall they came to
the first house they had seen since leaving the castle. He turned and
"Do you go inside and stay in this house till morning;
I'll pass the night outside where I am."
The wife went in. The woman of the house rose up, gave
her a pleasant welcome, and put a good supper before her. She was not
long in the house when a little boy came to her knee and called her
The woman of the house told the child to go back to his
place, and not to come out again.
Here are a pair of scissors," said the woman of
the house to the king's daughter, " and they will serve you well.
Whatever ragged people you see, if you cut a piece off their rags, that
will have new clothes of cloth of gold."
She stayed that night, for she had good welcome. Next
morning when she went out, her husband said: " You 'd better go home
now to your father."
"I'll not go to my father if I have to leave you,"
So he went on, and she followed. It was that way all
the day till night came; and at nightfall they saw another house at the
foot of a hill, and again the husband stopped and said: "You go in;
I'll stop outside till morning."
The woman of the house gave her a good welcome. After
she had eaten and drunk, a little boy came out of another room, ran to
her knee, and said," Mother." The woman of the house sent the
boy back to where he had come from, and told him to stay there.
Next morning, when the princess was going out to her
husband, the woman of the house gave her a comb, and said: "If you
meet any person with a diseased and a sore head, and draw this comb over
it three times, the head will be well, and covered with the most beautiful
golden hair ever seen."
She took the comb, and went out to her husband.
"Leave me now," said he, "and go back
to your own father."
"I will not," said she, " but I will follow
you while I have the power." So they went forward that day, as on
the other two.
At nightfall they came to a third house, at the foot
of a hill, where the princess received a good welcome. After she had eaten
supper, a little girl with only one eye came to her knee and said,
The princess began to cry at sight of the child, thinking
that she herself was the cause that it had but one eye. Then she put her
hand into her pocket where she kept the handkerchief on which she had
dropped the tear when the gray crow carried her infant away. She had never
used the handkerchief since that day, for there was an eye on it.
She opened the handkerchief, and put the eye in the girl's
head. It grew into the socket that minute, and the child saw out of it
as well as out of the other eye; and then the woman of the house sent
the little one to bed.
Next morning, as the king's daughter was going out, the
woman of the house gave her a whistle, and said: "Whenever you put
this whistle to your mouth and blow on it, all the birds of the air will
come to you from every quarter under the sun. Be careful of the whistle,
as it may serve you greatly."
Go back to your father's castle," said the husband
when she came to him, "for I must leave you to-day."
They went on together a few hundred yards, and then sat
on a green hillock, and he told the wife: "Your
mother has come between us; but for her we might have lived together all
our days. If I had been allowed to pass three nights with you in your
father's house, I should have got back my form of a man both in the daytime
and the night. The Queen ofTir na n-Og [the land of youth] enchanted and
put on me a spell, that unless I could spend three nights with a wife
under her father's roof in Erin, I should bear the form of a white dog
one half of my time; but if the skin of the dog should be burned before
the three nights were over, I must go down to her kingdom and marry the
queen herself. And 't is to her I am going to-day. I have no power to
stay, and I must leave you; so farewell, you'll never see me again on
the upper earth."
He left her sitting on the mound, went a few steps forward
to some bulrushes, pulled up one, and disappeared in the opening where
the rush had been.
She stopped there, sitting on the mound lamenting, till
evening, not knowing what to do. At last she bethought herself, and going
to the rushes, pulled up a stalk, went down, followed her husband, and
never stopped till she came to the lower land.
After a while she reached a small house near a splendid
castle. She went into the house and asked, could she stay there till morning.
"You can," said the woman of the house, " and welcome."
Next day the woman of the house was washing clothes,
for that was how she made a living. The princess fell to and helped her
with the work. In the course of that day the Queen of Tir na n-Og and
the husband of the princess were married.
Near the castle, and not far from the washer-woman's,
lived a henwife with two ragged little daughters. One of them came around
the washer-woman's house to play. The child looked so poor and her clothes
were so torn and dirty that the princess took pity on her, and cut the
clothes with the scissors which she had.
That moment the most beautiful dress of cloth of gold
ever seen on woman or child in that kingdom was on the henwife's daughter.
When she saw what she had on, the child ran home to her
mother as fast as ever she could go.
"Who gave you that dress?" asked the henwife.
"A strange woman that is in that house beyond,"
said the little girl, pointing to the washer-woman's house.
The henwife went straight to the Queen of Tir na n-Og
and said: " There is a strange woman in the place, who will be likely
to take your husband from you, unless you banish her away or do something
to her; for she has a pair of scissors different from anything ever seen
or heard of in this country."
When the queen heard this she sent word to the princess
that, unless the scissors were given up to her without delay, she would
have the head off her.
The princess said she would give up the scissors if the
queen would let her pass one night with her husband.
The queen answered that she was willing to give her the
one night. The princess came and gave up the scissors, and went to her
own husband; but the queen had given him a drink, and he fell asleep,
and never woke till after the princess had gone in the morning.
Next day another daughter of the henwife went to the
washer-woman's house to play. She was wretched-looking, her head being
covered with scabs and sores.
The princess drew the comb three times over the child's
head, cured it, and covered it with beautiful golden hair. The little
girl ran home and told her mother how the strange woman had drawn the
comb over her head, cured it, and given her beautiful golden hair.
The henwife hurried off to the queen and said: "That
strange woman has a comb with wonderful power to cure, and give golden
hair; and she'll take your husband from you unless you banish her or take
The queen sent word to the princess that unless she gave
up the comb, she would have her life.
The princess returned as answer that she would give up
the comb if she might pass one night with the queen's husband.
The queen was willing, and gave her husband a draught
as before. When the princess came, he was fast asleep, and did not waken
till after she had gone in the morning.
On the third day the washerwoman and the princess went
out to walk, and the first daughter of the henwife with them. When they
were outside the town, the princess put the whistle to her mouth and blew.
That moment the birds of the air flew to her from every direction in flocks.
Among them was a bird of song and new tales.
The princess went to one side with the bird. " What
means can I take," asked she, " against the queen to get back
my husband? Is it best to kill her, and can I do it?
"It is very hard," said the bird, "to
kill her. There is no one in all Tir na n-Og who is able to take her life
but her own husband. Inside a holly-tree in front of the castle is a wether,
in the wether a duck, in the duck an egg. and in that egg is her heart
and life. No man in Tir na n-Og can cut that holly-tree but her husband."
The princess blew the whistle again. A fox and a hawk
came to her. She caught and put them into two boxes, which the washerwoman
had with her, and took them to her new home.
When the henwife's daughter went home, she told her mother
about the whistle. Away ran the henwife to the queen, and said: "That
strange woman has a whistle that brings together all the birds of the
air, and she'll have your husband yet, unless you take her head."
"I'll take the whistle from her, anyhow,'' said
the queen. So she sent for the whistle.
The princess gave answer that she would give up the whistle
if she might pass one night with the queen's husband.
The queen agreed, and gave him a draught as on the other
nights. He was asleep when the princess came and when she went away.
Before going, the princess left a letter with his servant
for the queen's husband, in which she told how she had followed him to
Tir na n-Og, and had given the scissors, the comb, and the whistle, to
pass three nights in his company, but had not spoken to him because the
queen had given him sleeping draughts; that the life of the queen was
in an egg, the egg in a duck, the duck in a wether, the wether in a holly-tree
in front of the castle, and that no man could split the tree but himself
As soon as he got the letter the husband took an axe,
and went to the holly-tree. When he came to the tree he found the princess
there before him, having the two boxes with the fox and the hawk in them.
He struck the tree a few blows; it split open, and out
sprang the wether. He ran scarce twenty perches before the fox caught
him. The fox tore him open; then the duck flew out. The duck had not flown
fifteen perches when the hawk caught and killed her, smashing the egg.
That instant the Queen of Tir na n-Og died.
The husband kissed and embraced his faithful wife. He
gave a great feast; and when the feast was over, he burned the henwife
with her house, built a palace for the asherwoman, and made his servant
They never left Tir na n-Og, and are living there happily
now; and so may we live here.
Curtin, Jeremiah, ed. Myths and Folk Tales of Ireland.
New York: Dover, 1975. (Appeared in 1890 originally as Myths and Folk-Lore
of Ireland. Boston: Little, Brown and Company.)
Amazon.com: Buy the book in paperback.