Guest Author - Mary Ellen Sweeney
One evening Aodh Dubh O’Donnell was giving a party, a feast, and the people were marveling at the hospitality.
Then a jester came toward them, streaming with water, wearing old stripey clothes, and just a mess. His sword stuck out behind him and he had three spears made of holly wood that were burned.
He wished O’Donnell good health, and O’Donnell returned the salutation, asking from whence he came. The clown said, "It is where I am,I slept last night at Dun Monaidhe, of the King of Alban; I am a day in Ile, a day in Cionn-tire, a day in Rachlainn, a day in the Watchman’s Seat in Slieve Fuad; a pleasant rambling wandering man I am, and it is with yourself I am now, O’Donnell." "Let the gate-keeper be brought to me," said O’Donnell. And when the gate-keeper came, he asked was it he let in this man, and the gate-keeper said he did not, and that he never saw him before. "Let him off, O’Donnell" said the stranger, "for it was as easy for me to come in, as it will be to me to go out again." The company was all astounded, as no one came into the house of the O'Donnell without passing the gate-keeper.
Then the music started, nothing but the best, harps even. Then the clown started: "By my word, O’Donnell, there was never a noise of hammers beating on iron in any bad place was so bad to listen to as this noise your people are making."
Then the clown took a harp, and he made music so sweet that it would have put laboring women or wounded soldiers into a sweet sleep. O’Donnell said: "Since I first heard talk of the music of the Sidhe that is played in the hills and under the earth below us, I never heard better music than your own. And it is a very sweet player you are," he said. "One day I am sweet, another day I am sour," said the clown.
O’Donnell asked that the clown sit near him. "I have no mind to do that," said the clown. "I would sooner be as I am, an ugly clown, making sport for high-up people." Then O’Donnell sent him a fine outfit of hat, shirt, coat, but the clown refused them. "I have no mind," he said, "to let high-up people be making a boast of giving them to me."
So much did the company enjoy the clown that they tried to keep him, employing twenty archers on horses and twenty foot-soldiers to keep him there. "What are these men for?" said he. "They are to keep you here," said O’Donnell "By my word, it is not with you I will be eating my supper tomorrow," he said, "but at Cnoc Aine, where Seaghan, Son of the Earl is, in Desmumain." "If I find you giving one stir out of yourself, between this and morning, I will knock you into a round lump there on the ground," said O’Donnell.
Then the clown picked up the harp and began to play. He called out to the men outside: "Here I am coming, and watch me well now or you will lose me." The guards all readied their weapons, but in the confusion that followed, they all stuck one another, and before long, the guards were lying bloodied and wounded. Then the clown said to the gate-keeper: "Let us ask twenty cows and a hundred of free land of O’Donnell as a fee for bringing his people back to life. And take this herb," he said, "and rub it in the mouth of each man of them, and he will rise up whole and well again." So the gate-keeper did that, and he got the cows and the land from O’Donnell, and he brought all the people to life again.
And with that the man of tricks vanished, and no one saw where was he gone.
That is the way Manannan used to be going round Ireland, doing tricks and wonders. And no one could keep him in any place, and if he was put on a gallows itself, he would be found safe in the house after, and some other man on the gallows in his place. But he did no harm, and those that would be put to death by him, he would bring them to life again with a herb out of his bag.
And all the food he would use would be a vessel of sour milk and a few crab-apples. And there never was any music sweeter than the music he used to be playing.