Rory’s Fortune


(An Irish folktale)

In a long-ago time, near the village of Kincoolee O’Doon, lived a boy named Rory. He lived with his mother in a tiny white cottage at the bottom of a green hill in the Irish countryside. They didn’t have much money. Sometimes they didn’t have as much as one potato between them. Rory knew this worried his mother.

One morning he said, “Mother, I am strong, and I’m tall for my age. Let me go to the city to seek my fortune.”

“And what is it that you’ll be doing to earn your way?” asked his mother. “We have not even a lamb or a chick to sell in the marketplace.”

“I will find work to do. I will make it known that I am hardworking and honest.”

“Very well,” said she. “But as you go, always watch for ways to serve others. And if ’tis gold you seek, Lad, faith and ’tis sure, none will you find more precious than the teaching to love your brother as yourself.”

“I will remember,” promised the boy.

Rory packed a knapsack with bread and cheese, kissed his mother farewell, and started his long walk to the city.

Along the road Rory saw a bird trying to fly. It flapped only one wing. The other hung limply at its side.

Rory said, “Poor bird, you have broken your wing.” He made a nest by cupping his hands and gently lifted the bird. “My good mother taught me, ‘Whatever you wish that men would do to you, so do to them.’” He grinned. “What can a wee bird do for me? No matter. I will carry you with me. Perhaps in some way I will help you.”

Rory walked along until he came to a cottage where he saw an old woman trying to split logs. “Perhaps she will make you well, little bird,” he said.

“Is it not hard for you to chop wood?” he called to the old woman. “I will do it for you if you will care for this bird with a broken wing.”

The woman held out her hands for the bird. “Aye, the poor, wee bird. Sure, and I can make it better. And a fine lad you are to help an old woman who has kinks in her knees and a crick in her back.”

Rory chopped until he had wood stacked almost as high as the cottage.

“So kind you are,” she said. “How can I repay you? So little I have to offer.”

Rory shook his head. “I want no pay. Glad I am that you will nurse the wee bird.”

“You must come inside for some hot soup,” she urged, and led him into her cottage. The old woman brought him a bowl of steaming nettle soup and some soda bread. The walking and wood chopping had made Rory hungry. The food tasted good, just like his mother’s.

While Rory ate, the old woman took a green woolen stocking cap from a cupboard and said, “Wear this cap, lad. You’ll be needing a covering for your head when you are on the open road.” She put the cap on Rory’s head. “I wove it meself. Wondrous powers it has. You will walk twice as fast, and never will you tire.”

Suddenly Rory’s tiredness left him. He believed he could travel the many miles to the city in no time at all. He thanked the old woman and went on his way.

He skipped along and he trotted along, and as the sun climbed high at noonday, Rory came upon an old, old man sitting on a rock. The old man’s face was very red. “Why do you not sit yonder in the shade?” Rory asked. “The sun is too hot on your head.”

“Aye, too hot for me head, but warm for me old bones. And too tired I am to move from here to there.”

Rory put the cap on the old man’s head. “You need a covering for your head. This cap has wondrous powers. You will walk twice as fast, and never will you tire.”

The old man sat up, a look of great surprise on his face. He laughed and clapped his hands. “Sure, and ’tis young again I feel!” He jumped up and danced a jig.

Rory saw a handsome shillelagh (stick cut from an oak or a blackthorn sapling) leaning against the rock. The piece of wood had been polished to such a luster that it shone like gold in the sunlight.

“ ’Tis a fine shillelagh you have,” said Rory.

“Take it,” said the old man. “’Tis a new life you’ve given me. And a lad should carry a strong club to ward off beasties and things that lurk in the forest at night.”

“I cannot take your fine shillelagh.”

“The shillelagh is yours. I’ll hear no more of it,” insisted the old man.

Rory sat beside the old man on the rock and shared his bread and cheese with him. As they ate, the man told Rory how he had made the shillelagh. “I cut the branch from a strong, gnarled oak tree meself. And many’s the hour I sat polishing it. Once I slew a bear with this same shillelagh.”

The sun and the long journey made Rory drowsy. He fell into a deep sleep. Hours later he woke to find the shillelagh beside him, but the old man was not to be seen.

Rory picked up the shillelagh and started up the road. The shillelagh was heavy. As he went, it got heavier and heavier. He thought of the long walk to the city. The heavy club would slow his pace. But he must not throw away such a fine oaken shillelagh. He must try to find the old man and give it back to him.

Rory called, “Old man who gave me this fine shillelagh! Where are you?” He called and called. But he heard only the echo of his voice and the moan of the wind that seemed to cry, “Go-o-ne! Go-o-ne!”

Finally Rory decided to return home with the shillelagh and go another day to seek his fortune. Up hill and down glen he struggled. He carried the club in his arms. He put it across his shoulders. He dragged it behind him. When he came to a hilltop, he rolled it to the bottom.

At last Rory climbed to the top of the hill where he could see the thatched roof of his own cottage. He gave the shillelagh a strong push down the hill. The crooked stick leaped over rocks and patches of heather like a nimble rabbit. Faster and faster it went until it reached the bottom and struck the door of the cottage, thrusting it open wide. With a crash and a clatter the shillelagh burst apart!

Rory could see the glint of gold flying up in the light of the moon. He tore down the hill. Hundreds of gold pieces lay scattered about. They had spilled out of the shillelagh and into the cottage. His frightened mother stood in the midst of the golden coins.

Rory hugged his mother and cried, “Sure, and I did find two fortunes this day—these coins that are soon spent, and gold in the words whatever you wish that men would do to you, so do to them. Such golden words are priceless, and forever will they last.”

[illustrations] Illustrated by Shauna Mooney