This story is a lesson for all who do not follow instructions exactly as given by Biddy Early.
Eddie Lenihan tells the story of 'Biddy Early and The Changeling'. He describes a changeling as something or someone who is left behind after someone dies. However, this changeling too dies away in time.
Long ago, when people were out walking at night, they would always carry a knife with them as protection against the changelings. It was no ordinary knife. It had to have a black handle.
The McNamaras lived near Kilkishen in County Clare. The husband got sick and at the time if a poor person got sick, they either got better on their own or died. The whole time Gasty Mac, as he was known, was sick there were magpies sitting on the thatch of his roof picking away at it. Gasty was not improving and the neighbours recommended to Mrs Mac that she pay a visit to Biddy Early.
She’s the only person that can help you now.
Mrs Mac took their advice and made her way to Biddy Early’s house. Biddy had the power to know who you were before she even opened her door. Upon meeting Mrs Mac, Biddy Early informed her that since she left her house her husband had died. She then explains that her husband is not in fact dead, but has been carried by the good people and if she followed her instructions she could get him back.
Biddy Early told Mrs Mac to go home and order all the stuff for the wake, including snuff, drink, food and tobacco. She told her to order the coffin and tell the priest to come and say the prayers that need to be said. She told her to invite people in for the wake. She then instructed Mrs Mac that when all the prayers have been said and the priest has left, to get four strong men to bring in the coffin and place the body inside and seal it. The men should then take the coffin from the house to the crossroads 400 yards from her front door. These instructions came with a warning that while the coffin was being taken to the crossroads, no relation should touch the coffin. Upon arriving at the crossroads, the coffin should be opened and inside the coffin will be the brush Mrs Mac uses to clean the chimney. Biddy Early told her to then return home and her husband would be sitting beside the fire as good and healthy as he ever was.
Delighted with the news that her husband could be saved, she returned home. She told her neighbours and the priest that her husband was dead, ordered the coffin and everything for the wake. That night, when the priest had finished his prayers and the people’s condolences were over, Mrs Mac did as Biddy Early had told her.
Put that man into the coffin and take him out and take him to the crossroads.
Before the men put the body into the coffin, Mrs Mac put four black handled knives into the coffin, with the handles pointing out to the corners of the coffin and the blades into the middle.
As the men carried the coffin to the crossroads, they found the weight inside the coffin growing and growing and for all their strength it slipped from their shoulders. As the coffin slipped, Mrs Mac put her hands up to try to prevent it from falling.
The minute she put her hand on that coffin it got as light as a cork, up it went and those four men were able to walk to the cross as if they had nothing on their shoulders.
Arriving at the crossroads, the men placed the coffin in the middle of the crossroads as instructed by Biddy Early. They unscrewed and removed the lid. Mr Mac was still in there.
When Mrs Mac saw the body, she gave a screech and ran back to the house only to discover the brush in the bed.
If she did what Biddy Early told her, inside in that coffin would be the brush and her husband at home. But when she didn’t, he was gone and gone for good this time.
‘Storyteller’ broadcast on 7 July 1986. The storyteller is Eddie Lenihan.
This was part three in the series ‘Storyteller’ with Eddie Lenihan. The programme was produced by Jeremy Johnston with design by Fidelma De Paor.
Commenting on the programme in the RTÉ Guide (20 June 1986), producer Jeremy Johnston says
Eddie's stories are not for the faint-hearted but then good stories never are. Think of the brothers Grimm, Bluebeard, Beauty and the Beast...
Eddie explains that he came across most of the stories in the programme while studying for a thesis in linguistics at University College Galway (UCG). He became interested in folklore and continued to collect stories from across the West of Ireland.