I'm trying to get my computer to react properly. It refuses! Today as I write this it is Friday the 13th and I'm not normally a Triskaidekaphobe, but my computer is crashing the browser repeatedly and my Open Office isn't responding either! As for Blogger, it, too, is acting weirdly.
Decided it is time to find a story where the number 13 is important. The folktales collected by Jeremiah Curtin show it can indeed be lucky, depending on who you are.
There are several folk elements in the story, even a bit of Cinderella, and it reminds me of a favorite Scottish tale I tell called "Assipattle and the Mester Stoorworm." Two Irish words appear in the story: Diachbha means "divinity" or "fate." and Urfeist, "great serpent." Don't ask me how to pronounce them. I always need research on Celtic pronunciation. There also are two things in the original that will seem strange: our hero, Sean Ruad, tends the king's cows and is called a "cowboy", but I suggest calling him a "cowherd", also they talk about him wearing a "blue dress", but I'd suggest another word like "outfit" for he clearly isn't cross-dressing!
THE THIRTEENTH SON OF THE KING OF ERIN.
THERE was a king in Erin long ago who had
thirteen sons, and as they grew up he taught
them good learning and every exercise and art
befitting their rank.
One day the king went hunting, and saw a swan
swimming in a lake with thirteen little ones. She
kept driving away the thirteenth, and would not let
it come near the others.
The king wondered greatly at this, and when he
came home he summoned his Sean dall Glic (old
blind sage), and said: "I saw a great wonder
to-day while out hunting,—a swan with thirteen
cygnets, and she driving away the thirteenth continually,
and keeping the twelve with her. Tell
me the cause and reason of this. Why should a
mother hate her thirteenth little one, and guard
the other twelve?"
"I will tell you," said the old blind sage: "all
creatures on earth, whether beast or human, which
have thirteen young, should put the thirteenth
away, and let it wander for itself through the
world and find its fate, so that the will of Heaven
may work upon it, and not come down on the
others. Now you have thirteen sons, and you
must give the thirteenth to the Diachbha."
"Then that is the meaning of the swan on the
lake,—I must give up my thirteenth son to the
"It is," said the old blind sage; "you must give
up one of your thirteen sons."
"But how can I give one of them away when I
am so fond of all; and which one shall it be?"
"I'll tell you what to do. When the thirteen
come home to-night, shut the door against the
last that comes."
Now one of the sons was slow, not so keen nor
so sharp as another; but the eldest, who was
called Sean Ruadh, was the best, the hero of them
all. And it happened that night that he came
home last, and when he came his father shut the
door against him. The boy raised his hands and
said: "Father, what are you going to do with
me; what do you wish?"
"It is my duty," said the father, "to give one
of my sons to the Diachbha; and as you are the
thirteenth, you must go."
"Well, give me my outfit for the road."
The outfit was brought, Sean Ruadh put it on;
then the father gave him a black-haired steed that
could overtake the wind before him, and outstrip
the wind behind.
Sean Ruadh mounted the steed and hurried
away. He went on each day without rest, and
slept in the woods at night.
One morning he put on some old clothes which
he had in a pack on the saddle, and leaving his
horse in the woods, went aside to an opening.
He was not long there when a king rode up and
stopped before him.
"Who are you, and where are you going?"
asked the king.
"Oh!" said Sean Ruadh, "I am astray. I do
not know where to go, nor what I am to do."
"If that is how you are, I'll tell you what to
do,—come with me."
"Why should I go with you?" asked Sean
"Well, I have a great many cows, and I have
no one to go with them, no one to mind them. I
am in great trouble also. My daughter will die a
terrible death very soon."
"How will she die?" asked Sean Ruadh.
"A great serpent of the sea,
a monster which must get a king's daughter to
devour every seven years. Once in seven years
this thing comes up out of the sea for its meat.
The turn has now come to my daughter, and we
don't know what day will the urfeist appear. The
whole castle and all of us are in mourning for my
"Perhaps some one will come to save her," said
"Oh! there is a whole army of kings' sons who
have come, and they all promise to save her; but
I'm in dread none of them will meet the urfeist."
Sean Ruadh agreed with the king to serve for
seven years, and went home with him.
Next morning Sean Ruadh drove out the king's
cows to pasture.
Now there were three giants not far from the
king's place. They lived in three castles in sight
of each other, and every night each of these giants
shouted just before going to bed. So loud was
the shout that each let out of himself that the
people heard it in all the country around.
Sean Ruadh drove the cattle up to the giant's
land, pushed down the wall, and let them in. The
grass was very high,—three times better than any
on the king's pastures.
As Sean Ruadh sat watching the cattle, a giant
came running towards him and called out: "I
don't know whether to put a pinch of you in my
nose, or a bite of you in my mouth!"
"Bad luck to me," said Sean Ruadh, "if I
came here but to take the life out of you!"
"How would you like to fight,—on the gray
stones, or with sharp swords?" asked the giant.
"I'll fight you," said Sean Ruadh, "on the gray
stones, where your great legs will be going down,
and mine standing high."
They faced one another then, and began to fight.
At the first encounter Sean Ruadh put the giant
down to his knees among the hard gray stones,
at the second he put him to his waist, and at the
third to his shoulders.
"Come, take me out of this," cried the giant,
"and I'll give you my castle and all I've got.
I'll give you my sword of light that never fails to
kill at a blow. I'll give you my black horse that
can overtake the wind before, and outstrip the
wind behind. These are all up there in my
Sean Ruadh killed the giant and went up to
the castle, where the housekeeper said to him:
"Oh! it is you that are welcome. You have
killed the dirty giant that was here. Come with
me now till I show you all the riches and
She opened the door of the giant's store-room
and said: "All these are yours. Here are the
keys of the castle."
"Keep them till I come again, and wake me in
the evening," said Sean Ruadh, lying down on the
He slept till evening; then the housekeeper
roused him, and he drove the king's cattle home.
The cows never gave so much milk as that night.
They gave as much as in a whole week before.
Sean Ruadh met the king, and asked: "What
news from your daughter?"
"The great serpent did not come to-day," said
the king; "but he may come to-morrow."
"Well, to-morrow he may not come till another
day," said Sean Ruadh.
Now the king knew nothing of the strength of
Sean Ruadh, who was bare-footed, ragged, and
The second morning Sean Ruadh put the king's
cows in the second giant's land. Out came the
second giant with the same questions and threats
as the first, and the cowboy spoke as on the day
They fell to fighting; and when the giant was
to his shoulders in the hard gray rocks, he said:
"I'll give you my sword of light and my brown-haired
horse if you'll spare my life."
"Where is your sword of light?" asked Sean
"It is hung up over my bed."
Sean Ruadh ran to the giant's castle, and took
the sword, which screamed out when he seized it;
but he held it fast, hurried back to the giant, and
asked, "How shall I try the edge of this sword?"
"Against a stick," was the reply.
"I see no stick better than your own head," said
Sean Ruadh; and with that he swept the head off
The cowboy now went back to the castle and
hung up the sword. "Blessing to you," said the
housekeeper; "you have killed the giant! Come,
now, and I'll show you his riches and treasures,
which are yours forever."
Sean Ruadh found more treasure in this castle
than in the first one. When he had seen all, he
gave the keys to the housekeeper till he should
need them. He slept as on the day before, then
drove the cows home in the evening.
The king said: "I have the luck since you came
to me. My cows give three times as much milk
to-day as they did yesterday."
"Well," said Sean Ruadh, "have you any account
of the urfeist?"
"He didn't come to-day," said the king; "but
he may come to-morrow."
Sean Ruadh went out with the king's cows on
the third day, and drove them to the third giant's
land, who came out and fought a more desperate
battle than either of the other two; but the cowboy
pushed him down among the gray rocks to
his shoulders and killed him.
At the castle of the third giant he was received
with gladness by the housekeeper, who showed
him the treasures and gave him the keys; but he
left the keys with her till he should need them.
That evening the king's cows had more milk than
On the fourth day Sean Ruadh went out with
the cows, but stopped at the first giant's castle.
The housekeeper at his command brought out the
dress of the giant, which was all black. He put
on the giant's apparel, black as night, and girded
on his sword of light. Then he mounted the black-haired
steed, which overtook the wind before, and
outstripped the wind behind; and rushing on between
earth and sky, he never stopped till he came
to the beach, where he saw hundreds upon hundreds
of kings' sons, and champions, who were
anxious to save the king's daughter, but were so
frightened at the terrible urfeist that they would
not go near her.
When he had seen the princess and the trembling
champions, Sean Ruadh turned his black
steed to the castle. Presently the king saw, riding
between earth and sky, a splendid stranger, who
stopped before him.
"What is that I see on the shore?" asked the
stranger. "Is it a fair, or some great meeting?"
"Haven't you heard," asked the king, "that
a monster is coming to destroy my daughter
"No, I haven't heard anything," answered the
stranger, who turned away and disappeared.
Soon the black horseman was before the princess,
who was sitting alone on a rock near the sea.
As she looked at the stranger, she thought he
was the finest man on earth, and her heart was
"Have you no one to save you?" he asked.
"Will you let me lay my head on your lap till
the urfeist comes? Then rouse me."
He put his head on her lap and fell asleep.
While he slept, the princess took three hairs from
his head and hid them in her bosom. As soon
as she had hidden the hairs, she saw the urfeist
coming on the sea, great as an island, and throwing
up water to the sky as he moved. She roused the
stranger, who sprang up to defend her.
The urfeist came upon shore, and was advancing
on the princess with mouth open and wide
as a bridge, when the stranger stood before him
and said: "This woman is mine, not yours!"
Then drawing his sword of light, he swept off
the monster's head with a blow; but the head
rushed back to its place, and grew on again.
In a twinkle the urfeist turned and went back
to the sea; but as he went, he said: "I'll be
here again to-morrow, and swallow the whole world
before me as I come."
"Well," answered the stranger, "maybe another
will come to meet you."
Sean Ruadh mounted his black steed, and was
gone before the princess could stop him. Sad
was her heart when she saw him rush off between
the earth and sky more swiftly than any wind.
Sean Ruadh went to the first giant's castle and
put away his horse, clothes, and sword. Then he
slept on the giant's bed till evening, when the
housekeeper woke him, and he drove home the
cows. Meeting the king, he asked: "Well, how
has your daughter fared to-day?"
"Oh! the urfeist came out of the sea to carry
her away; but a wonderful black champion came
riding between earth and sky and saved her."
"Who was he?"
"Oh! there is many a man who says he did it.
But my daughter isn't saved yet, for the urfeist
said he'd come to-morrow."
"Well, never fear; perhaps another champion
will come to-morrow."
Next morning Sean Ruadh drove the king's
cows to the land of the second giant, where he
left them feeding, and then went to the castle,
where the housekeeper met him and said: "You
are welcome. I'm here before you, and all is
"Let the brown horse be brought; let the giant's
apparel and sword be ready for me," said Sean
The apparel was brought, the beautiful blue
dress of the second giant, and his sword of light.
Sean Ruadh put on the apparel, took the sword,
mounted the brown steed, and sped away between
earth and air three times more swiftly than the
He rode first to the seashore, saw the king's
daughter sitting on the rock alone, and the princes
and champions far away, trembling in dread of the
urfeist. Then he rode to the king, enquired about
the crowd on the seashore, and received the same
answer as before. "But is there no man to save
her?" asked Sean Ruadh.
"Oh! there are men enough," said the king,
"who promise to save her, and say they are brave;
but there is no man of them who will stand to his
word and face the urfeist when he rises from
Sean Ruadh was away before the king knew it,
and rode to the princess in his suit of blue, bearing
his sword of light. "Is there no one to save
you?" asked he.
"Let me lay my head on your lap, and when
the urfeist comes, rouse me."
He put his head on her lap, and while he slept
she took out the three hairs, compared them with
his hair, and said to herself: "You are the man
who was here yesterday."
When the urfeist appeared, coming over the sea,
the princess roused the stranger, who sprang up
and hurried to the beach.
The monster, moving at a greater speed, and
raising more water than on the day before, came
with open mouth to land. Again Sean Ruadh stood
in his way, and with one blow of the giant's sword
made two halves of the urfeist. But the two
halves rushed together, and were one as before.
Then the urfeist turned to the sea again, and
said as he went: "All the champions on earth
won't save her from me to-morrow!"
Sean Ruadh sprang to his steed and back to the
castle. He went, leaving the princess in despair at
his going. She tore her hair and wept for the loss
of the blue champion,—the one man who had
dared to save her.
Sean Ruadh put on his old clothes, and drove
home the cows as usual. The king said: "A
strange champion, all dressed in blue, saved my
daughter to-day; but she is grieving her life away
because he is gone."
"Well, that is a small matter, since her life is
safe," said Sean Ruadh.
There was a feast for the whole world that night
at the king's castle, and gladness was on every face
that the king's daughter was safe again.
Next day Sean Ruadh drove the cows to the
third giant's pasture, went to the castle, and told
the housekeeper to bring the giant's sword and
apparel, and have the red steed led to the door.
The third giant's dress had as many colors as there
are in the sky, and his boots were of blue glass.
Sean Ruadh, dressed and mounted on his red
steed, was the most beautiful man in the world.
When ready to start, the housekeeper said to him:
"The beast will be so enraged this time that no
arms can stop him; he will rise from the sea
with three great swords coming out of his mouth,
and he could cut to pieces and swallow the whole
world if it stood before him in battle. There is
only one way to conquer the urfeist, and I will
show it to you. Take this brown apple, put it in
your bosom, and when he comes rushing from the
sea with open mouth, do you throw the apple
down his throat, and the great urfeist will melt
away and die on the strand."
Sean Ruadh went on the red steed between
earth and sky, with thrice the speed of the day
before. He saw the maiden sitting on the rock
alone, saw the trembling kings' sons in the distance
watching to know what would happen, and
saw the king hoping for some one to save his
daughter; then he went to the princess, and put
his head on her lap; when he had fallen asleep,
she took the three hairs from her bosom, and looking
at them, said: "You are the man who saved
The urfeist was not long in coming. The princess
roused Sean Ruadh, who sprang to his feet
and went to the sea. The urfeist came up enormous,
terrible to look at, with a mouth big enough
to swallow the world, and three sharp swords coming
out of it. When he saw Sean Ruadh, he
sprang at him with a roar; but Sean Ruadh threw
the apple into his mouth, and the beast fell helpless
on the strand, flattened out and melted away
to a dirty jelly on the shore.
Then Sean Ruadh went towards the princess and
said: "That urfeist will never trouble man or
The princess ran and tried to cling to him; but
he was on the red steed, rushing away between
earth and sky, before she could stop him. She
held, however, so firmly to one of the blue glass
boots that Sean Ruadh had to leave it in her
When he drove home the cows that night, the
king came out, and Sean Ruadh asked: "What
news from the urfeist?"
"Oh!" said the king, "I've had the luck since
you came to me. A champion wearing all the
colors of the sky, and riding a red steed between
earth and air, destroyed the urfeist to-day. My
daughter is safe forever; but she is ready to kill herself
because she hasn't the man that saved her."
That night there was a feast in the king's
castle such as no one had ever seen before. The
halls were filled with princes and champions, and
each one said: "I am the man that saved the
The king sent for the old blind sage, and asked,
what should he do to find the man who saved his
daughter. The old blind sage said,—
"Send out word to all the world that the man
whose foot the blue glass boot will fit is the champion
who killed the urfeist, and you'll give him
your daughter in marriage."
The king sent out word to the world to come
to try on the boot. It was too large for some, too
small for others. When all had failed, the old
"All have tried the boot but the cowboy."
"Oh! he is always out with the cows; what use
in his trying," said the king.
"No matter," answered the old blind sage; "let
twenty men go and bring down the cowboy."
The king sent up twenty men, who found the
cowboy sleeping in the shadow of a stone wall.
They began to make a hay rope to bind him; but
he woke up, and had twenty ropes ready before
they had one. Then he jumped at them, tied the
twenty in a bundle, and fastened the bundle to
They waited and waited at the castle for the
twenty men and the cowboy, till at last the king
sent twenty men more, with swords, to know what
was the delay.
When they came, this twenty began to make a
hay rope to tie the cowboy; but he had twenty
ropes made before their one, and no matter how
they fought, the cowboy tied the twenty in a
bundle, and the bundle to the other twenty men.
When neither party came back, the old blind
sage said to the king: "Go up now, and throw
yourself down before the cowboy, for he has tied
the forty men in two bundles, and the bundles to
The king went and threw himself down before
the cowboy, who raised him up and said: "What
is this for?"
"Come down now and try on the glass boot,"
said the king.
"How can I go, when I have work to do here?"
"Oh! never mind; you'll come back soon
enough to do the work."
The cowboy untied the forty men and went
down with the king. When he stood in front of
the castle, he saw the princess sitting in her upper
chamber, and the glass boot on the window-sill
That moment the boot sprang from the window
through the air to him, and went on his foot of
itself. The princess was downstairs in a twinkle,
and in the arms of Sean Ruadh.
The whole place was crowded with kings' sons
and champions, who claimed that they had saved
"What are these men here for?" asked Sean
Ruadh. "Oh! they have been trying to put on the boot,"
said the king.
With that Sean Ruadh drew his sword of light,
swept the heads off every man of them, and threw
heads and bodies on the dirt-heap behind the
Then the king sent ships with messengers to all
the kings and queens of the world,—to the kings of
Spain, France, Greece, and Lochlin, and to Diarmuid,
son of the monarch of light,—to come to
the wedding of his daughter and Sean Ruadh.
Sean Ruadh, after the wedding, went with his
wife to live in the kingdom of the giants, and left
his father-in-law on his own land.
May the 13th be lucky for you. After all, it moved me to pass along this story.
is part of a series of postings of stories under the category,
"Keeping the Public in Public Domain." The idea
behind Public Domain was to preserve our cultural heritage after the
authors and their immediate heirs were compensated. I feel
strongly current copyright law delays this intent on works of the
20th century. My
own library of folklore includes so many books within the Public
Domain I decided to share stories from them. I hope you enjoy
discovering new stories.
the same time, my own involvement in storytelling regularly creates
projects requiring research as part of my sharing stories with an
audience. Whenever that research needs to be shown here, the publishing
of Public Domain stories will not occur that week. This is a return to
my regular posting of a research project here. (Don't worry, this
isn't dry research, my research is always geared towards future
storytelling to an audience.) Response has convinced me that "Keeping
the Public in Public Domain" should continue along with my other
postings as often as I can manage it.
Public Domain story resources I recommend-
are many online resources for Public Domain stories, maybe none for
folklore is as ambitious as fellow storyteller, Yoel Perez's
the International Folktales Collection. I have long
recommended it and continue to do so. He has loaded
Stith Thompson's Motif Index into his server as a database so
you can search the whole 6 volumes for whatever word or expression
you like by pressing one key. http://folkmasa.org/motiv/motif.htm
You may have noticed I'm no
longer certain Dr. Perez has the largest database, although his
offering the Motif Index certainly qualifies for those of us seeking
specific types of stories. There's another site, FairyTalez
claiming to be the largest, with "over 2000 fairy tales,
folktales, and fables" and they are "fully optimized for
phones, tablets, and PCs", free and presented without ads.
Between those two sites, there
is much for story-lovers, but as they say in infomercials, "Wait,
email list for storytellers, Storytell,
discussed Online Story Sources and came up with these additional
Story-Lovers - http://www.story-lovers.com/ is now only accessible
through the Wayback Machine, described below, but the late Jackie Baldwin's
wonderful site lives on there, fully searchable manually (the Google
search doesn't work), at https://archive.org/ . It's not easy, but go to Story-lovers.com snapshot for October 22 2016 and you can click on SOS: Searching Out Stories to scroll down through the many story topics and click on the story topic that interests you.
- Zalka Csenge Virag - http://multicoloreddiary.blogspot.com
doesn't give the actual stories, but her recommendations, working her
way through each country on a continent, give excellent ideas for
finding new books and stories to love and tell.
going to find many of the links on these sites have gone down, BUT
go to the Internet Archive
Wayback Machine to find some of these old links. Tim's
site, for example, is so huge probably updating it would be a
full-time job. In the case of Story-Lovers, it's great that
Jackie Baldwin set it up to stay online as long as it did after she
could no longer maintain it. Possibly searches maintained it.
Unfortunately Storytell list member, Papa Joe is on both Tim
Sheppard's site and Story-Lovers, but he no longer maintains his old
Papa Joe's Traveling Storytelling Show website and his Library
(something you want to see!) is now only on the Wayback Machine. It
took some patience working back through claims of snapshots but finally
in December of 2006 it appears!
as of this writing whose stories can still be found by his website
is the late Chuck Larkin - http://chucklarkin.com/stories.html.
I prefer to list these sites by their complete address so they can
be found by the Wayback Machine, a.k.a. Archive.org, when that
becomes the only way to find them.
can see why I recommend these to you.
discovering even more stories