From Book 1 – Patrick (1779)
In Meenahinnis on the lane to Lismullyduff, there is a turf cabin where an old hag by the name of Nora lives alone raising pigs. The pigs in her yard were once children that she stole from her neighbours. She has the magic to turn children into pigs which she sells at the Castlefin fairs. I ask my oldest brother, Seamus, if he believes this. He tells me that he heard that a number of children were missing in Sallywood. They went to the well for water but never came back home. The people of the townland searched high and low but couldn’t find them. Someone in Meenahinnis noticed that the hag had more pigs in her care shortly after the children were missing. Seamus dares myself and my other brother, John, to see her for ourselves. John and I decide to catch a glimpse of this woman.
On a dismal grey day, we walk up the lane until her cabin is in sight. We are close enough to hear the snorting of her pigs. We stop to spy on the cabin long enough until Nora appears. From the distance I see that she is an ugly old witch with no teeth. She looks in our direction and starts to walk toward us on the lane. John and I run as fast as we can toward home. We never stop until we reach our cottage.
We tell Seamus about our adventure. He laughs and tells us that he is brave enough to walk past Nora’s cabin and even speak to her if she is outside. We warn him not to do such a foolish thing. He says that he will carry a wee crucifix in his hand, and that will protect him from the hag’s magic. John and I join Seamus as he walks up the path to Meenahinnis. We stop and wait in the lane as Seamus continues walking toward Nora’s filthy mud cabin. As he strolls past, he looks at us and smiles. He is feeling both brave and safe.
All at once, Nora runs out of her doorway with a switch. She rushes into the lane and grabs Seamus by his collar. As we watch in horror, the hag drags Seamus into her cabin. Several minutes go by, and there is no sign of any activity from the cabin. What shall we do?
Finally I say, “We must go to the cabin and rescue our brother.”
John is not so sure. “Ach. We warned him. He knew the danger there. I don’t fancy spending the rest of my life eating rubbish.”
“We can’t leave. If you don’t go, I’ll go by myself. I’ll go just as far as the door.”
John does join me, and we walk up the path and gaze at the cabin door. The bottom half is shut, and we stare into the darkness within. We see nothing, and we hear nothing. Then we get the shock of our lives. The hag appears at the doorway, which quickly opens, and instantly she is standing before us with her switch. John almost trips over me as we run as fast as we can down the path toward home. When we are far enough away, we look back, but Nora is nowhere to be seen.
“She could be in the hedges over there,” John says. “She seems to have the power to move through the air in the blink of an eye.”
We bless ourselves with the sign of the cross and run away again home, not passing near any bush where the hag could hide. We know that Seamus is gone forever now. He is the new pig in Nora’s pen. What will we tell Uncle Jimmy?
Uncle Jimmy is at the cottage when we arrive.
I ask, “Do you know the oul’ one, Nora of Meenahinnis?”
He says, “Aye, you better stay away from her. She has some magic in her.”
I tell him about our visit to Nora. He looks shocked.
“I better get some lads together,” he says as he heads out the door.
We wait nearly an hour before someone struts through the door. It is Seamus and he is grinning.
“Wha’?” both John and I say together.
Seamus walks over to the fire. He must be enchanted, still under Nora’s power. I go up to him and stare him in the eyes. No, he is still Seamus, as sure of himself as always.
“Nora’s not a bad sort,” he finally says. “She invited me in for some scone and buttermilk. I stayed and chatted with her.”
“She dragged you in,” I tell him. “We thought that you were being turned into a pig.”
“I don’t think so.”
Then, he snorts like a pig. I look at John.
“Sorry. It must have been the buttermilk,” Seamus says.
I can see that Seamus is having fun with us. He will never tell us what went on inside the hag’s cabin. I’m sure that it had nothing to do with scones and buttermilk.
Uncle Jimmy shows up at the door with four neighbours. All are holding hayforks. He sees Seamus standing there with his mischievous grin, and turns to dismiss the rescue party.
Copyright © 2011 by Thomas Gallen