(I wrote the following story about twelve or thirteen years ago as part of a twenty-four hour short story contest. The way the contest worked was like this – everyone who signed up for the contest received an email at the same time. The email gave the details of the contest; word count and a line of prose that had to be included in the story. Then everyone had twenty-four hours to complete and submit their stories. I did not win the contest, but it was a lot of fun and the writing prompts were a good way to get the creative juices flowing. I present this story in honor of Saint Patrick’s Day…)
The little cottage sat in the middle of the enchanting Glen of Cloongallon, which opened up in the midst of the forest, not far from the town of Thurles, in a picturesque part of County Tipperary. Hawthorn, chestnut, ash and blackthorn hedges surrounded the little cottage and wildflowers grew in abundance in the open meadow.
The two children, a boy of eight years and his six year old sister, raced along the path through the woods which would take them to the little cottage in the glen.
"I hope she is home." said the girl.
"Granny Shannon is always home." replied the boy. They had only recently started calling the old woman who occupied the cottage "granny" for they had only recently gotten to know her. Prior to that, she was always referred to as the "old witch" or the "old hag". In the fertile minds of the young, all old women who live alone in the woods are witches.
The old woman was stooped over in the garden pulling weeds as the children approached.
"Good day granny Shannon." called the two children in unison.
The old woman stood and, placing her hands on the small of her back, stretched the stiffness out. "Good day children. What a nice surprise. I did not expect to see you again so soon." she answered.
"You have to finish your story, granny." said the young boy. The little girl stood there nodding in agreement.
"Is that it?" she said smiling down on them. "All right, let’s have a seat then." She led them to a log which lay along one side of the garden that often served as a place to rest when she was working outside. She took her seat. Spreading her apron out on her lap, she folded her hands as the children took a seat, one on either side of her.
"Now, where did I leave off?" she asked.
"She was following the river toward the place the Leprechaun had told her about." the boy volunteered eagerly.
"Oh yes," said the old woman, "let's see now..."
It was in the fall of the year. The red, orange and yellow leaves floating on top of the river contrasted sharply against the black water. Distant thunder and a bitter wind promised an early winter storm. She shivered and walked faster, ignoring the muffled complaints coming from the burlap sack in her arms. Her bent and misshapen form made slow progress, but she knew it could not be much further.
"That's the leprechaun in the sack, isn't it?" said the little girl.
"That's right, dear." replied granny Shannon. "Remember, she had caught the leprechaun and shoved him into the sack before he could escape."
"And she is going to make him grant her a wish, right granny?" exclaimed the boy.
"That's right." She replied. "Shall I go on?"
The two nodded enthusiastically.
She continued up the river with her burden until she came to a lush green meadow, dominated in the center by a huge old oak. Surrounding the tree was a circle of huge stone pillars about ten feet tall. Capstones lay across several of the pillars, while others had fallen and lay in pieces on the ground. The whole circle was about thirty feet in diameter. She sensed that she was in an ancient, mystical place.
This must be it, she thought. She undid the binding on the sack. Reaching in, she pulled out its occupant.
“Let me go. Let me go.” cried the leprechaun.
“Be still with ye now. I'll not be letting ye go until ye grant me wish.” she said. “Be this the place ye spoke of?”
The leprechaun looked around. “Aye, ‘tis the fairies ring.”
“And I must be standing in the midst of the ring when I make me wish?” she asked.
“Aye,” replied the leprechaun, “’tis the only way the magic works.”
Being careful to keep her grip on the leprechaun, she walked through the stone pillars and into the center of the ring, next to the ancient oak.
“And now, I'll have me wish.” she demanded.
“Aye,” cried the leprechaun. “And I suppose ‘tis me pot of gold ye will be after!”
“Nay, but keep your treasure.” she replied. “‘Tis not filthy gold I seek, but a husband.”
The leprechaun was astonished. He had never heard of a human not wanting gold. “Ye want me to give ye a husband?”
“Nay,” she replied. “I have me own man in mind - Michael O' Shay - but I’ll not be getting him, or any man, through your black arts. Me wish is only this - take away this hump from me back and this gimp from me leg, for what man would be taking a cripple for a wife? And make me young and beautiful again. Do this and I'll be winning Michael O' Shay me own self.”
"Did the leprechaun grant the old woman her wish, granny?" asked the little girl.
"Indeed he did, for leprechauns are bound by fairy law to grant a wish to anyone who is able to capture them."
"What happened next," asked the boy?
Well, as soon as the old woman stepped outside of the fairy ring, there was no longer an old, crippled woman standing there, but a beautiful, young girl - strong and healthy.
The young girl ran all of the way back to her village, giddy with joy and the promise of love to the man of her dreams. She ran up to the home of Michael O' Shay, calling his name. “Michael, Michael.” Several times she called his name.
Finally, an old man came to the door. “What can I be doing for ye lass?” he asked.
"'Tis Michael O' Shay I’d be seeking.” she said.
“‘Tis Michael O' Shay ye have found lass.” he replied.
Perplexed, the young girl replied, “Nay, but surely ‘tis your grandson I seek.”
“I have no grandson,” he replied, “for I am childless.”
At that time, the young girl heard laughter coming from behind a nearby bush. Looking behind the bush, she saw the leprechaun hysterical with laughter, rolling on the ground.
“Ye have tricked me.” she cried out, making a lunge at the leprechaun. He was much too quick for her this time, and she only succeeded in grabbing hold of his cane.
The boy and girl looked at each other with puzzled expressions. "I don't understand, granny. What happened?" asked the boy.
Granny Shannon seemed to stare off into the distance for a moment. Her old eyes moistened over and a tear rolled down her wrinkled, brown face. She wiped it away with a corner of her apron.
"Granny, what happened?" he repeated.
She put her arms around both children and said, "There is something that you must remember about leprechauns. Though they are bound to grant your wish, they never pass up an opportunity to play a practical joke. What he failed to tell the old woman was that time passes very slowly for anyone who enters a fairy ring. The old woman thought that she was only inside for a few minutes, but in reality, almost sixty years had passed on the outside. Though she was now a young girl, Michael O'Shay had become an old man."
"Tell the story again, granny." the children cried.
"Not today," she replied, "it's time you started for home." She led them to the front gate and watched as they headed down the path.
Walking back up to the little cottage, tears filled her eyes again as she glanced above the door. There, for good luck, hung an ancient little cane, too small for any man.