Two Hunchbacks, The

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  • Teideal (Title): Two Hunchbacks, The.
  • Uimhir Chatalóige Ollscoil Washington (University of Washington Catalogue Number): 855203.
  • Uimhir Chnuasach Bhéaloideas Éireann (National Folklore of Ireland Number): none.
  • Uimhir Roud (Roud Number): none.
  • Uimhir Laws (Laws Number): none.
  • Uimhir Child (Child Number): none.
  • Cnuasach (Collection): Joe Heaney Collection, University of Washington, Seattle.
  • Teanga na Croímhíre (Core-Item Language): English.
  • Catagóir (Category): story.
  • Ainm an té a thug (Name of Informant): Joe Heaney.
  • Ainm an té a thóg (Name of Collector): Warren Fahey.
  • Dáta an taifeadta (Recording Date): 1976.
  • Suíomh an taifeadta (Recording Location): Sydney Opera House, Australia.
  • Ocáid an taifeadta (Recording Occasion): concert.
  • Daoine eile a bhí i láthair (Others present): unavailable.
  • Stádas chóipcheart an taifeadta (Recording copyright status): unavailable.

Two hunchbacks live in a village. They are miserable. In addition to the humps on their backs, they have long crooked noses; and when they encounter an obstacle in their paths they have to turn around and go backwards in order to avoid banging their noses against whatever is in their way.

One day, one of the hunchbacks is returning from a fair, blind drunk, and he sits down next to a huge rock to sleep it off. Unthinking, he sits on some mushrooms, whereupon a half-dozen fairies – for whom the mushrooms serve as umbrellas – come out and yell at him. Apologizing profusely, he then leans against the rock and composes himself for a nap.

Around midnight he wakes up to the sound of music, which seems to be coming from inside the rock. Unbeknownst to him, the rock is actually a fairy dwelling, and the fairies inside are singing one line of a song, over and over (sings):

Dé Luain, Dé Máirt, Dé Luain, Dé Máirt — Monday, Tuesday, Monday, Tuesday

Listening carefully, the man feels that he could make a useful addition to this song, so he sings out:

Dé Luain, Dé Máirt, Dé Luain, Dé Máirt, Dé Luain, Dé Máirt, Dé Chéadaoin — Monday, Tuesday, Monday, Tuesday, Monday, Tuesday, Wednesday1

After a long silence, the rock opens and a throng of fairies pour out. Their leader demands to know who managed to find an ending for a song they’ve been working on for thousands of years. They take the man inside and treat him like an honoured guest, eventually offering to do anything they can for him. ‘That’s easy,’ he says. ‘Take this hunch off my back.’ The fairies do so, throwing the hump into the corner and putting an old sack over it. Then they open the rock and let him go home, walking straighter than he ever did in his life.

When he hears the story, the second hunchback – who thinks he’s cleverer than the first man – determines to get his hump removed as well. Unfortunately, he doesn’t show the same consideration of the fairies that the first man showed, and instead of removing his hump, the fairies retrieve the first man’s hump from the corner of their dwelling and add it to the second man’s burden. As a result, the first man cannot possibly keep his nose out of the ground as he walks home, even by walking backwards.

As he’s going along, people see him churning up the earth with his nose, and that’s how the first plough came to be invented2.


1. The tune to which this rhyme is sung is ‘Beidh ríl againn, beidh ríl againn, beidh ríl againn Dé Domhnaigh’:
Beidh ríl againn, beidh ríl againn, beidh ríl againn Dé Domhnaigh / Beidh ríl againn cois taobh an chnoic, is cailín deas im’ theannta. [‘We’ll have a reel, we’ll have a reel, we’ll have a reel on Sunday / We’ll have a reel by the side of the hill and a pretty girl will be with me!’]

2. Joe told Jim Cowdery (UW 850118) that he himself added this element to the story. As many stories are told as explanations for various phenomena, this addition, grotesque as it is, falls into a traditional pattern.

‘The Two Hunchbacks’ is an international folk-tale corresponding to AT 503, ‘The gifts of the little people’.

This song was recorded while Joe was Artist in Residence at University of Washington.