1678: Dr. Moore and the Fairies

The Legend:

In 1678, a pamphlet was published in London titled Strange and Wonderful News from the county of Wicklow in Ireland, or, a Full and True Relation of what happened to one Dr. Moore... and here is what the pamphlet claims happened.

        Earlier in 1678, a schoolmaster from London named Dr. Moore was sitting at an inn by Dromgreah (near Baltinglass), in the county of Wicklow, Ireland, with his friends Richard Uniack, and Laughlin Moore. They had traveled to Wicklow together because Dr. Moore had bought an estate in said county, and wanted to check on it. As they sat and chatted, Dr. Moore talked about how he had been a child in the very area they were in now, though it had been around thirty-four years since he had last visited. Dr. Moore stated that he had often been told by his mother and other relations that spirits known as Fairies use to frequently carry him away. On these occasions, he said, they would ask an old woman of the area to call him back from the Fairies by use of some spells she knew. Mr. Uniack argued with Dr. Moore that he should put aside any beliefs he had in such an improbable story, but Dr. Moore would not be swayed from what he felt was truth.

        The dispute ended suddenly as Dr. Moore stood up and told him he must leave their company, for he was being called away. This was when Mr. Uniack discovered, most disturbingly, that Dr. Moore was slowly raising off the ground... and Uniack immediately grabbed the doctor by the arm and shoulder. Laughlin Moore quickly took a similar grip of Dr. Moore's other arm, but the doctor was still lifted up completely into the air; Laughlin let go out of fear, but Uniack held on until he himself was lifted a full yard above the ground and an unseen power forced him to let go also. The doctor then vanished from the room, but in the confusion caused by the situation no one noticed exactly how.

         Uniack and Laughlin called for the innkeeper immediately; but when they told him the story he acted as if it was nothing unusual. He told them that a quarter of a mile away was a wise woman who helped people find things that had been lost, such as when their cattle strayed... and the innkeeper was sure she could help find their friend. A messenger was sent, and when she arrived Mr. Uniack demanded to know if she could tell them anything of the fate of their friend Dr. Moore. She said that she could, and that Moore was currently in a wood about a mile away, preparing to ride a horse; he also currently had a glass of wine and a piece of bread he planned to consume, but that if he did he would never be free from consumption and pine away to death. Uniack paid the woman a 'cobb' [?], and asked her to stop Moore from having the food, if she could. She said she could, and then struck down her hand as if she was grabbing something. After this odd action, she repeated a spell in Irish multiple times to call him back to his friends. She then told Uniack and Laughlin that Dr. Moore would, that night, travel from the wood to a Danes Fort about seven miles away where there would be "great revelling and dancing," and plenty of tempting food and drink which she would prevent him from having. After the fort, he would travel another twenty miles to another such festivity, and then to the "Seven Churches," and finally, towards daybreak, he would be returned safe and sound to his friends. Having stated such, the woman left Uniack and Laughlin to await the dawn.

        Sure enough, around six the next morning Dr. Moore knocked at the door to the inn. First, he had breakfast... for he'd been rushed back and forth all night with nothing to eat. Feeling better after that, he then described to his friends where and what he felt he'd done that night. He described how he had seen about twenty men, some on horseback, entered the room they were in the night before, and had taken hold of the doctor. Dr. Moore was aware that Uniack and Laughlin had tried to hold him, but no matter what their strength they would not have been able to resist the host that had come to take him away.

        Next Dr. Moore had been carried to the wood about a mile away where he found a fine horse prepared for him, and was generously given wine and bread; but when he tried to have some, they were both inexplicably struck from his hands. He had spent the night traveling with the company that had taken him from the inn, riding a white horse whose motion was "exceedingly swift." They first visited a Danes Fort about seven miles distant, and the twenty or so men multiplied to a company of three hundred men and women, with one on a sorrel horse who seemed to be the chief. Everyone dismounted and began dancing, which the doctor had a turn to lead and remembered well the tune they had danced to. After the dance a great feast appeared, and he was led by the hand to the food... but still all food and drink was struck invisibly from his hands before he could have any. From there his adventures continued, in exactly the fashion the old wise woman had predicted, and Dr. Moore found himself alone again at daybreak standing in sight of the inn.

        Mr. Uniack asked Dr. Moore to show him the Danes Fort, and the doctor traced the entire path he had traveled the night before to the place. At the fort, Moore and Uniack found the grass trodden down and ground beaten as if hundreds of people had been there recently. Mr. Uniack was so impressed by the whole strange affair, that he made a statement of it before Dr. Moore, Dr. Murphy (a civilian), and Mr. Ludlow, one of the six clerks of the high court of chancery, on November 18, 1678, and it was from this statement that the facts were ascertained for the pamphlet.

My Source

        The above account is currently labeled "The Legend" simply because I myself have not seen the original manuscript of it. I got the account from a book on Shakespeare's Midsummer Night's Dream written in 1845 by J.O. Halliwell, who reprints the entirety of the story from a pamphlet in the British Museum at the time.

        J.O. Halliwell, for those of you who don't know, is often nicknamed "Father Goose," because it was his two ground breaking collections and studies of the nursery rhymes being sung throughout Europe that became the foundation for our modern collections of "Mother Goose" rhymes... so let me be clear: I like this guy. Still, I want to confirm the pamphlet exists before I assume this to be a witness account as opposed to a legend.

        Either way, it should be noted that this may be one of the earliest collected tales that features both the idea of fairy abduction and the idea that eating food offered by fairies can be fatal, so proved influential on later collections -- and fictional tales -- about fairies.

        And no... I don't know what a 'cobb' is. By inference, it may be an Irish coin of the time, but that's just a guess. Any experts on Irish coinage of the 17th century out there?

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