A LONG time ago, in the County Mayo, there lived a rich man of the name of McAndrew. He owned cows and horses without number, not to mention ducks and geese and pigs; and his land extended as far as the eye could reach on the four sides of you.
McAndrew was a lucky man, the neighbours all said; but as for himself, when he looked on his seven big sons growing up like weeds and with scarcely any more sense, he felt sore enough, for of all the stupid omadhauns the seven McAndrew brothers were the stupidest.
When the youngest grew to be a man, the father built a house for each of them, and gave every one a piece of land and a few cows, hoping to make men of them before he died, for, as the old man said:
"While God spares my life, I'll be able to have an eye to them, and maybe they will learn from experience."
The seven young McAndrews were happy enough. Their fields were green, their cows were fat and sleek, and they thought they would never see a poor day.
All went well for a time, and the day of the Fair of Killalla was as fine a day as ever shone in Ireland, when the whole seven got ready to be off, bright and early, in the morning.
Each one of them drove before him three fine cows, and a finer herd, when they were all together, was never seen in the country far or near.
Now, there was a smart farmer, named O'Toole, whose fields were nearing on the McAndrews', and he had many a time set his heart on the fine cattle belonging to his easy-going neighbours; so when he saw them passing with their twenty-one cows he went out and hailed them.
"Where are ye going to, this fine morning?"
"It's to the Fair of Killalla we're going, to sell these fine cows our father gave us," they all answered together.
"And are ye going to sell cows that the Evil Eye has long been set on? Oh, Con and Shamus, I would never belave it of ye, even if that spalpeen of a Pat would do such a thing; any one would think that the spirit of the good mother that bore ye would stretch out a hand and kape ye from committing such a mortal sin."
This O'Toole said to the three eldest, who stood trembling, while the four younger ones stuck their knuckles into their eyes and began to cry.
"Oh, indade, Mr. O'Toole, we never knew that the cows were under the Evil Eye. How did ye find it out? Oh, sorra the day when such a fine lot of cattle should go to the bad," answered Con.
"Indade ye may well ask it, whin it's meself that was always a good neighbour and kept watch on auld Judy, the witch, when she used to stand over there laughing at the ravens flying over the cows. Do ye mind the time yer father spoke ugly to her down by the cross-roads? She never forgot it, and now yer twenty-one fine cows will never be worth the hides on their backs."
"Worra, worra, worra," roared the seven McAndrews, so loud that pretty Katie O'Toole bobbed her head out of the window, and the hindermost cows began to caper like mad.
"The spell has come upon them!" cried Shamus. "Oh! what'll we do? What'll we do?"
"Hould yer whist, man alive," said O'Toole. "I'm a good neighbour, as I said before, so to give ye a lift in the world I'll take the risk on meself and buy the cows from ye for the price of their hides. Sure no harm can be done to the hides for making leather, so I'll give ye a shilling apiece, and that's better than nothing. Twenty-one bright shillings going to the fair may make yer fortune."
It seemed neck or nothing with the McAndrews, and they accepted the offer, thanking O'Toole for his generosity, and helped him drive the cows into his field. Then they set off for the fair.
They had never been in a fair before, and when they saw the fine sights they forgot all about the cows, and only remembered that they had each a shilling to spend.
Every one knew the McAndrews, and soon a crowd gathered round them, praising their fine looks and telling them what a fine father they had to give them so much money, so that the seven omadhauns lost their heads entirely, and treated right and left until there wasn't a farthing left of the twenty-one shillings. Then they staggered home a little the worse for the fine whisky they drank with the boys.
It was a sorry day for old McAndrew when his seven sons came home without a penny of the price of their twenty-one fine cows, and he vowed he'd never give them any more.
So one day passed with another, and the seven young McAndrews were as happy as could be until the fine old father fell sick and died.
The eldest son came in for all the father had, so he felt like a lord. To see him strut and swagger was a sight to make a grum growdy laugh.
One day, to show how fine he could be, he dressed in his best, and with a purse filled with gold pieces started off for the market town.
When he got there, in he walked to a public-house, and called for the best of everything, and to make a fine fellow of himself he tripled the price of everything to the landlord. As soon as he got through his eye suddenly caught sight of a little keg, all gilded over to look like gold, that hung outside the door for a sign. Con had never heeded it before, and he asked the landlord what it was.
Now the landlord, like many another, had it in mind that he might as well get all he could out of a McAndrew, and he answered quickly:
"You stupid omadhaun, don't you know what that is? It's a mare's egg."
"And will a foal come out of it?"
"Of course; what a question to ask a dacent man!"
"I niver saw one before," said the amazed McAndrew.
"Well, ye see one now, Con, and take a good look at it."
"Will ye sell it?"
"Och, Con McAndrew, do ye think I want to sell that fine egg afther kaping it so long hung up there before the sun--when it is ready to hatch out a foal that will be worth twenty good guineas to me?"
"I'll give ye twenty guineas for it," answered Con.
"Thin it's a bargain," said the landlord; and he took down the keg and handed it to Con, who handed out the twenty guineas, all the money he had.
"Be careful of it, and carry it as aisy as ye can, and when ye get home hang it up in the sun."
Con promised, and set off home with his prize.
Near the rise of a hill he met his brothers.
"What have ye, Con?"
"The most wonderful thing in the world--a mare's egg."
"Faith, what is it like?" asked Pat, taking it from Con.
"Go aisy, can't ye? It's very careful ye have to be."
But the brothers took no heed to Con, and before one could say, "whist," away rolled the keg down the hill, while all seven ran after it; but before any one could catch it, it rolled into a clump of bushes, and in an instant out hopped a hare.
"Bedad, there's the foal," cried Con, and all seven gave chase; but there was no use trying to catch a hare.
"That's the foinest foal that ever was, if he was five year old the devil himself could not catch him," Con said; and with that the seven omadhauns gave up the chase and went quietly home.
As I said before, every one had it in mind to get all he could get out of the McAndrews.
Every one said, "One man might as well have it as another, for they're bound to spend every penny they have."
So their money dwindled away; then a fine horse would go for a few bits of glass they took for precious stones, and by-and-by a couple of pigs or a pair of fine geese for a bit of ribbon to tie on a hat; and at last their land began to go.
One day Shamus was sitting by his fireplace warming himself, and to make a good fire he threw on a big heap of turf so that by-and-by it got roaring hot, and instead of feeling chilly as he had before, Shamus got as hot as a spare-rib on a spit. Just then in came his youngest brother.
"That's a great fire ye have here, Shamus."
"It is, indade, and too near it is to me; run like a good boy to Giblin, the mason, and see if he can't move the chimney to the other side of the room."
The youngest McAndrew did as he was bid, and soon in came Giblin, the mason.
"Ye're in a sad plight, Shamus, roasting alive; what can I do for ye?"
"Can ye move the chimney over beyant?"
"Faith, I can, but ye will have to move a bit; just go out for a walk with yer brother, and the job will be done when ye come back."
Shamus did as he was bid, and Giblin took the chair the omadhaun was sitting on and moved it away from the fire, and then sat down for a quiet laugh for himself and to consider on the price he'd charge for the job.
When Shamus came back, Giblin led him to the chair, saying:
"Now, isn't that a great deal better?"
"Ye're a fine man, Giblin, and ye did it without making a bit of dirt; what'll I give ye for so fine a job?"
"If ye wouldn't mind, I'd like the meadow field nearing on mine. It's little enough for a job like that."
"It's yours and welcome, Giblin"; and without another word the deed was drawn.
That was the finest of the McAndrew fields, and the only pasture land left to Shamus.
It was not long before it came about that first one and then another lost the house he lived in, until all had to live together in the father's old place.
O'Toole and Giblin had encroached field by field, and there was nothing left but the old house and a strip of garden that none of them knew how to till.
It was hard times for the seven McAndrews, but they were happy and contented as long as they had enough to eat, and that they had surely, for the wives of the men who got away all their fine lands and cattle, had sore hearts when they saw their men enriched at the expense of the omadhauns, and every day, unbeknown to their husbands, they carried them meat and drink.
O'Toole and Giblin now had their avaricious eyes set on the house and garden, and they were on the watch for a chance to clutch them, when luck, or something worse, threw the chance in the way of O'Toole.
He was returning from town one day just in the cool of the afternoon, when he spied the seven brothers by the roadside, sitting in a circle facing each other.
"What may ye be doing here instead of earning yer salt, ye seven big sturks?"
"We're in a bad fix, Mr. O'Toole," answered Pat. "We can't get up."
"What's to hinder ye from getting up? I'd like to know."
"Don't ye see our feet are all here together in the middle, and not for the life of us can we each tell our own. You see if one of us gets up he don't know what pair of feet to take with him."
O'Toole was never so ready to laugh before in his life, but he thought:
"Now's me chance to get the house and garden before Giblin, the mason, comes round"; so he looked very grave and said: "I suppose it is hard to tell one man's feet from another's when they're all there in a heap, but I think I can help you as I have many a time before. It would be a sorry day for ye if ye did not have me for a neighbour. What will ye give me if I help you find yer feet?"
"Anything, anything we have, so that we can get up from here," answered the whole seven together.
"Will ye give me the house and garden?"
"Indade we will; what good is a house and garden, if we have to sit here all the rest of our lives?"
"Then it's a bargain," said O'Toole; and with that he went over to the side of the road and pulled a good stout rod. Then he commenced to belabour the poor McAndrews over the heads, feet, shoulders, and any place he could get in a stroke, until with screeches of pain they all jumped up, every one finding his own feet, and away they ran.
So O'Toole got the last of the property of the McAndrews, and there was nothing left for them but to go and beg.