In those days Ireland had many Kings and Queens, and was populated by good people. It was not bounded by the sea; all around it was a strange country in which, at rare intervals, arose many-windowed castles inhabited by Giants, Kings, Queens, or beautiful Princesses. On occasions, others are acknowledged; as, when the boy from Ireland fought the dragon, or when his marriage with the Princess was celebrated. The mysterious population which turned up at these times was not whilst he had fared forward on his long and lonely journey, with, at most, a single habitation punctuating each day's progress. Whence, then, this population came, and whither it went, I know not; I never knew; for, no further account is taken of it.
Sometimes the young men of Erin sought adventure in their own land, where were both in plenty. But oftener they went away into the land of mystery, the Country Beyond. They were fearless, these boys, and earned the reward. Some day, long after his kindred had concluded that he was killed or enchanted, the adventurer, maybe, emerged again from the Mysterious Land, with fortune and a beautiful damsel, and with such tales of wonder as set off all the other strapping young fellows who had not yet asked their mother's blessing and gone forth.
Even down to the days of my childhood the Country Beyond still was. Every morning I saw the circle of hills that shut it out. On many, many, bleak and eerie days, when I, herding on our hill, crouched and hugged myself in the cosy shelter of a lone thorn, I watched and watched the rim of those hills, and was filled with wonder, and with longing for the day when I should be able to climb them, and drop into the Land of Adventure. And once in those days, I rememberand the strange sensation is still with mehow, having gone a far journey to the Cormullion uplands after a strayed wether, I saw the tops of the hills of the Country Beyond.
The day came when I did climb, and climb, to the rim, and look over. And lo! the Land of mystery had vanished. I can feel the ache at my heart even yet. That the land I sought had been there when I was young and innocent, I know. But I had not realised that, year by year, it was melting into the unseen; till with painful suddenness I discovered it was no more.
With us, new folk-tales are being enacted every day. Our Irish boys still rise up and go away to a far land and strange to push their fortune. There are fiery dragons in that land, too, and fell giants, with whom our poor boys struggle sore. There cannot be any princesses there, though; or, the cailins at home are better than the princesses abroad; for, when our boys come back with the bags of goldjust as in the storiesthey have not damsels also. Jamie Ruadh MacLaughlin of Meenacalliay came back, the pockets of his shop-clothes filled with the gold, and married Rossha MacDiarmuid of the Alt Beag; Myles Griffin of the Haugh, as grand as a king, and every bit as proud, came, and took handsome Grania MacGroarty. I could name a long list of others who did likewise.
In the old folk-tales only our boys went off. But now our poor girls, too, must go. Their mothers cry; and when we are on our knees at night, saying the Rosary, we always pray for the girls and boys who are in the strange land.
Some of them come back again.
Some of them do not find their fortune. They never come. Their mothers in Ireland still cry. The door is open and the hearth bright. If this book happen into the hands of any of these their tears will moisten its merriest page; for, . . . they shall remember . . . They shall remember.
Mary Mother, smooth their rugged road, strengthen their failing hearts, and soften to them the heart of the stranger.