Well at the End of the World, The

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  • Teideal (Title): Well at the End of the World, The.
  • Uimhir Chatalóige Ollscoil Washington (University of Washington Catalogue Number): 840114.
  • 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): unavailable.
  • Dáta an taifeadta (Recording Date): 22/11/1983.
  • Suíomh an taifeadta (Recording Location): University of Washington, United States of America.
  • Ocáid an taifeadta (Recording Occasion): evening class.
  • Daoine eile a bhí i láthair (Others present): unavailable.
  • Stádas chóipcheart an taifeadta (Recording copyright status): unavailable.

There was an old king who lived in Galway long ago. He had three sons, and he didn’t know which of them to leave his kingdom to. The king had a bad leg, and when he consulted a wise man, he was told that he would have to get a bottle of water from the well at deireadh an domhain – the end of the world. That’s the only thing that would cure him.

So he gives each of his sons some money, and they set out to fetch the water. Two of the sons go into a pub and get drunk. The third one – undergoing lots of unspecified adventures on the way – eventually fetches up outside a house which is guarded by terrifying beasts. He goes to seek advice from a wise old man, who tells him, ‘I know your father, and because of that I’ll tell you.’ He tells him that the following night all of the inhabitants of the house will go to sleep for a year and a day – even the queen. The well is inside the house. ‘But’ says the old man, ‘don’t jump on top of anything when you’re in there, and don’t take anything that you find there away with you.’

He goes in, avoiding the sleeping animals, and eventually gets into a room where the most beautiful girl in the world lies sleeping. He kisses her. He passes through eleven more rooms, each of them with beautiful girls sleeping in them. He kisses them, too. He sees a sword hanging on a wall, a sword that gives off a bright light. He helps himself to it – despite the old man’s warning; and he likewise takes with him a loaf of bread that he finds in the kitchen. Then he takes off and heads for home.

On his way home, he stops at a house. The house is in darkness when he goes in; but he takes out his sword, and it gives great light. The old couple who live in the house ask if he will give them the sword, that they need it for light; and he agrees. A month later, he stops in a house where the people have no food to offer him, so he takes out the loaf he has removed from the castle – and the more he cuts off the loaf, the larger it grows. The people who live in that house, seeing what the loaf is capable of, ask him to leave it behind; and he agrees.

Some time later he comes to the crossroads where he is supposed to meet his brothers. When they see that he has obtained the bottle of water, they attack him and leave him for dead in a gully, and take the bottle home to their father. The father asks where the youngest son is, and they tell him they don’t know – but ‘he was never any good anyway.’ The water cures the father’s ailments.

Meanwhile, a year and a day after the son’s visit to her house, the queen wakes up, and finds a ‘big lump of a baby’ beside her in the bed. All the other maidens awake to find that they have had babies, too. The women vow that they won’t rest until they find out who the father of these children is. So they set out; and when they stop for the night at a house, the queen recognises the sword of light. ‘Where did you get that?’ she asks; and the people tell her. She tells them it belongs to her, and she takes it with her. Similarly, when they come to the house with the magic loaf, she likewise takes it with her.

Eventually they reach Galway, and the queen goes to see the old king. She asks him if he has any sons. He replies that he had three, but that he only has two now. He sends for them, and when they come she plucks a rib (strand) of hair out of her head, throws it on the ground, and immediately a ladder appears, the height of the castle. She tells one of the sons, ‘Climb up that.’ He only climbs up three steps when he falls and breaks his back. ‘You were never at the well of deireadh an domhain,’ she says. The second son fares no better. Exasperated, she asks the king if he doesn’t have another son. The father says, ‘I do, but he’s no good.’ ‘Go send for him,’ the queen insists. So the king sends a servant for the son, who of course is able to climb the ladder no bother. ‘This is the man who came to my castle, and who fathered all these children,’ she says. ‘He’s coming home with me.’

Meanwhile she leaves the other women and their babies behind in Galway. This story explains the origin of the Twelve Tribes of Galway.