There was a bit of bad weather, if that’s what you’d call it. Weather in terms of Cairn-colpagh means relative rainfall—rainfall relative, that is, to the wettest place on the west coast of Ireland. This wasn’t a relative of anyone’s. It was a whole new family of precipitation. It was bucketing down, or rather bucketing sideways with hail that hurt and drops that rivalled a pint at the Harp & Hand. Then Grogan says I’d better get in the lambs.
“Why me?” says I. I was talking to the Almighty, but Grogan thinks he’s on equal terms, so he answered.
“Because you’re the shepherd and I’m needed here for the milking if you not come back.”
“Comforting,” says I. Sure enough I was the shepherd but only part time—only when the lambing was on and then he laid me off ’til spud gathering, stingy auld fart.
So I tuk Pad the sheepdog wi’ me an’ headed for the top lonin, which was the last place I’d seen the flock. Only there was neither scrap nor tail o’ them and the entire hill had been deleted from sight by the downpour. All I could do was follow the sound of bleating and hope I wasn’t swept into a drain or stream, for there were that many gullies. A man could sink to hell without being missed—until it was spud time anyway.
Rain lashed my face and the bleating seemed to be getting farther away and all of a sudden I was standing knee high in water in sparkling sunshine and there, not twelve feet away, was a leprechaun—no, I swear on my mother’s life—it was a real fairy-folk-person-thing dressed all up in green and with a red cap. Luckily I had my blackthorn staff—a genuine shillelagh—and I held it diagonally across me, for the wee folk don’t like the blackthorn, so it’s said.
Now, we’d startled each other, so we had. I don’t think he intended for to be caught out like that with a big salmon in his hand.
“And who might you be?” he pipes up.
Now, I am not stupid. I know the tricks of fairy folk, and I wasn’t telling this wee brat my name.“Well now, let me see,” says I. “I’d be the rightful owner of that fair, big fella of a fish you’ve got in your hand from the Colpagh.”
“And who’s to say it’s your stream?”
“I guess that would be me again. Who’s asking?”
“If I am to have the privilege of introducing myself,” he said, “I’d like to know to whom.”
“We appear to have reached a bit of an impasse, you and me,” I said.
He looked at me blank.
“A stalemate,” says I.
“I’ve an idea. I’ll grant you three wishes for three fishes,” suggested the wee fella, “and then we’ll be free to go our separate ways. What is it you want? Choose careful now, ’cos a man only has three wishes in one lifetime.”
Of course I thought of wealth beyond avarice. I even thought California, but then you see, I’d miss the sheep and the sweeping hills. I’d even miss the rain. It’s all I know. “I only want what I came for—to find my flock, safe and well,” I said.
In an instant I was standing right amongst the sheep and they looked as pleased to see me as I was to see them—if a bit soggy. Pad was wagging his tail. “Pad auld fella,” I said, “I must be mad. I’m sure even as a dog, you think so. But do you know, I wish all this really was mine, you, the sheep, the hill,” and I patted his head. “And I wish this soddin’ rain would stop!”
And it did! It stopped that very moment and the sun came out, and when I got back down to the farmhouse and got the lambs safe, Grogan announced that he was making a few changes and wanted to concentrate on the dairy, and how would I like the high ground and the sheep for my own.
“After all,” he said, “you’ve looked after the flock for years, and you know that hillside better than anyone, and maybe it’s time you settled down and got yourself a wife and a couple of wee lambs of your own.”
So that evening I went back up the cairn. There a spot I love to sit and look at the view out over the ocean, weather coming in from the west. The sunset was magnificent. It had turned the sea to molten gold. “This’ll be a fine spot to build on,” I said to Pad. And up pops the leprechaun.
“Was this your doing?” I asked.
“You had three wishes,” he said, “and you only used one, and it wasn’t gold—so I just kept listening a while.”
I pointed to the view. “Ah, well there’s some things better than gold. The real gold’s out there.”
“Tam,” says he, “you’re a good man, and there’s not many.” And he disappeared.
“How’d you know my name, Mr. Leprechaun?” I shouted, “Am I not to have yours?” But he didn’t reply, and I was content with that. Somehow I thought it wouldn’t be the last time I met him.