SAINT COMGALL AND THE MICE
T the place where the Irish Sea is
narrowest is the town of Bangor.
There the green hills of Saint Patrick's island
smile over at the purple cliffs
of Scotland across the lane of water where
the ships pass to and fro, just as neighbors
nod across a narrow street above the heads
of the passers-by. And here at Bangor
Saint Comgall built a monastery, thirteen
hundred long years ago.
This does not sound very interesting, but
it was interesting to many people in those
days, and I think it will be interesting to
you. For Comgall is an Irish word which
means "the goodly pledge." And the man
who bore this name was a goodly pledge of
friendship between man and beast. Comgall
had many pupils in his monastery, and
many friends living near who loved and
honored him. They did splendid things
together, and tales of their doings were put
into great books. But the most interesting
stories of all are about certain friends of
 Saint Comgall who could not speak Irish
and who did not wear clothes. Some of
these friends wore feathers and some wore
fur; the strangest story of all is about his
friends with long tails and very sharp teeth.
But you must wait for that till I have told
about the swans.
One day Comgall was walking with some
friends on the bank of a pond. All of a
sudden, through the rushes and the tall grass
some one spied six beautiful white swans
floating on the water, preening their fine
feathers and arching their necks proudly.
For they could see in the water, just as if it
were a mirror, how handsome they were, and
it made them vain.
"Oh, Father," cried Comgall's pupils (they
always called their teacher "Father" in those
days), "see the lovely swans! May we not
coax them ashore? We want to play with
Comgall chuckled inside, for he felt sure
that the swans would not come to them, because
they were strangers. But he said with
a twinkle in his eye,—
"Oh, yes, boys. Call them here if you
 can. But you must give them something
to tempt them, or I fear they will hardly
Then the boys tried to find a crust of
bread or some crumbs in their pockets, to
throw to the swans. But no one had anything,
not even a peanut; for peanuts were
not invented in those days. They stood on
the bank whistling and calling, trying in
every way to make the swans swim ashore.
But the birds only cocked their red-rimmed
eyes at the boys and fluttered their wings
"We don't know you," they squawked
with their harsh voices. "The like of you
are no friends of ours. Hurrooh! Go away
and leave our pond in peace."
All this time Comgall had been standing
behind them on the bank laughing at the
vain attempts of his pupils. But now he
walked quietly down to the pond. Making
a little croony sound in his throat, he put
out his hand towards the swans, but with no
crumbs to tempt them.
The swans had never before seen him.
But as soon as they heard his voice you
 should have seen the commotion! How
the water did wrinkle and spatter as those
dignified birds scurried headlong towards
Comgall! Each one seemed trying to be
the first to reach his side; and each one
flapped his wings and went almost into a fit
for fear another should get ahead of him.
So finally they reached the bank and gathered
around Comgall, talking to him all at
once and telling him how much they liked
the look of him. And one great white swan
fluttered into the old man's lap and sat there
letting himself be stroked and patted, stretching
his long neck up to Comgall's face and
trying to kiss him with beaky lips.
You can imagine how the pupils stared
at this strange sight. For they knew that
the swans were as truly strangers to Saint
Comgall as to the rest of them. But the
swans had guessed in some way that this
was a man who loved all animals, and that
is why they were not afraid, but loved him
as soon as they saw him.
But this next is the stranger story. Mice
are harder even than swans for most people
to get acquainted with. But Comgall had
 also made the mice his friends, as you shall
There came a time of famine in Ireland,
and there was not food enough to go around,
as has often happened there from the earliest
days until even now. Comgall and his
household at Bangor were very hungry.
But what made it hardest to bear was that
they knew where there was plenty of food
close by, if only they could get it. For
Croadh was a great Prince who lived in the
neighborhood, and Croadh had barns and
storehouses full of grain which could be
made into bread. But he was a selfish,
stingy man and would not give away or
even sell his stores, for he would rather see
the people starve. Now Croadh had a
wicked old mother living in his palace, who
was even more cruel than himself: Her
name was Luch, and Luch means in Irish
"the Mouse." And it was her name which
put an idea into Comgall's head.
After sending all sorts of messengers to
beg Croadh to give them some of his grain;
after trying all sorts of ways to make him
sell it, Comgall went himself to the Prince's
 palace to see what he could do. He carried
with him a beautiful silver goblet which had
been given him by some one as a present,
and it was worth many bushels of grain.
Comgall strode into the Prince's hall and
stood before Croadh holding out the goblet
in his hand. And he said,—
"Here, O Prince, is a valuable thing.
We are starving in the monastery, and silver
we cannot eat. Give me and my monks
some of your golden grain and I will exchange
for it the silver cup. Be merciful,
O Croadh, and hear me."
But the Chief only laughed and said mockingly,
"Not so. You keep your silver goblet and
I will keep my golden grain. Your
beggarly pupils shall not eat of my stores.
I want all, every grain, for my old Mouse."
And by that word he meant his mother, the
black-eyed, wrinkled, gray old Luch, whose
name meant "the Mouse." For she was the
most miserly, wicked, old woman in the
world, and she had made him promise not
to give up any of the grain. Then Comgall
was angry, because he saw that the
Prince meant to see the people starve.
 "Very well," he said, fixing his eyes
sternly upon Croadh, "as you have said, so
shall it be. The mouse shall have your
grain." And drawing his robe about him
he strode home with the useless silver goblet.
As I have said, the mice were Comgall's
friends. He had only to call them and explain
what the hard-hearted Prince had done;
he had only to tell the mice what he wished
them to do, and the matter was settled.
The word spread through the kingdom of
the mice, carried by the quickest messenger
with the shortest tail. All the mice became
enemies of Croadh. And there were many
mice in Bangor in those days.
That very night when every one was asleep,
out of every hole and corner came peeping
little pointed noses and quivering whiskers.
And a great procession of long-tailed tiny
things formed into line and crept along, and
along, up the hill, and up the walls, and into
the barns of Croadh. A legion of mice,
thousands upon thousands of them in a gray-uniformed
army, pounced upon the Prince's
precious grain and ate up every kernel.
So the next morning when Croadh went
 to his barns he found them empty. There
was not so much as a single yellow dot of
grain left anywhere. But out of every crack
and crevice peeped a pair of twinkling black
eyes which watched him saucily. Then
Croadh began to bellow and roar with anger,
and the wicked old woman Luch, his mother,
came hobbling in to see what was the
matter. But when the mice saw her they
gave a chorus of fierce squeaks as if crying
"Mouse! Mouse! Mouse!"
Then Croadh remembered what Comgall
had said, that the mouse should have his
grain after all. And he guessed what the
Saint had meant, and knew that Comgall
had taken this way to punish a selfish and