The fairies are very desirous to abduct handsome cows and carry them off to time fairy palace under the earth; and if a farmer happens to find one of his stock ailing or diseased, the belief is that the fairies have carried off the real good animal, and sent an old wizened witch to take time form of the farmer's cow. It is therefore to neutralize the fairy spells that the cattle are driven through the fire on St. John's Eve; and other devices are employed--a bunch of primroses is very effective tied on the tail, or a hot coal run down the cow's back to singe the hair.
One evening a boy was driving home his father's cows when a fairy blast arose in the form of a whirlwind of dust, on which the cows took fright, and one of them ran upon a fairy rath. The boy followed to turn her back, when he was met and stopped by an old witch-woman.
"Let her alone, Alanna," she cried, "she is on our ground now, and you can't take her away. So just run home and tell your father that on this day twelve-month the cow will be restored to him, and bring a fine young calf along with her. But the fairies want her badly now, for our beautiful queen down there is fretting her life out for want of some milk that has the scent of the green grass in it and of the fresh upper air. Now don't fret, Alanna, but trust my words. There, take you hazel stick and strike the cow boldly three times on the head, that so the way may be clear we have to travel."
With that the boy struck the animal as he was desired, for the old witch-woman was so nice and civil that he liked to oblige her, timid immediately after she and the cow vanished away as if they had sunk into the earth.
However, the father minded the time, and when that day year came round he sent his son to the fairy rath to see if the witch had kept her promise, and there truly was the cow standing quite patiently, and a fine white calf by her side. So there were great rejoicings when he brought them home, for the fairies had kept their promise and behaved honourably, as indeed they always do when properly treated and trusted.
Not but that the fairies will do wicked things sometimes, and, above all, steal the milk when they get a chance, or skim the cream off the milk crocks.
A farmer had a fine cow that was the pride of his farm and gave splendid milk, but suddenly the animal seemed ailing and queer; for she gave no milk, but went every morning and stood under the old hawthorn-tree quite quietly as if some one were milking her.
So the man watched the place at milking time, and as usual down the field came the cow and took up her position close under the old hawthorn. Then the farmer beheld the trunk of the tree open, and out of the cleft came a little witch-woman all in red, who milked the cow in a vessel she had with her, and then she retreated into the tree again.
Here was devil's work in earnest, so thought the farmer, and he hastened off for the greatest fairy doctor in the country. And when he came the cow was singed all along its back with a live coal; and then an incantation was said over it, but no one heard the words the fairy doctor uttered; after this he gave the animal a strong potion to drink, but no one knew the herbs of which it was made. However, the next day the cow was quite restored, and gave her milk as heretofore, and the spell was broken for ever and ever, after they had drawn a circle round the old hawthorn-tree with a red-hot piece of iron taken from the hearth; for neither witch nor fairy can pass a circle of fire.