Woman Who Caught a Husband, The

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  • Teideal (Title): Woman Who Caught a Husband, The.
  • Uimhir Chatalóige Ollscoil Washington (University of Washington Catalogue Number): 840119.
  • 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): 24/01/1984.
  • 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 is a man whose wife has died. She gave birth shortly before she died, so there is a young baby in the house. The night of the woman’s burial, a neighbour stays with the husband overnight, and this man is awake in the middle of the night when he sees the door open and the dead woman come into the house, feed the baby, and leave again. He tells the husband what he saw, and the husband makes him promise to waken him if she comes again that night.

The woman does come at midnight the second night; but the husband is so fast asleep that the neighbour is unable to rouse him. The next morning, the husband tells his neighbour to gather a bunch of nettles — stinging nettles — and put them on his back if she turns up again, as they will be sure to waken him.

The neighbour does as he is asked; and just as the woman is leaving the house on the third night, her husband speaks to her. ‘I can’t stay,’ she says, ‘this is my last night visiting.’ But she tells him what he must do to get her back.

The woman has been abducted by the fairies — as Joe explains, women who have just given birth are in demand among the fairies to nurse their own infants. To reclaim her and restore her to the mortal world, the husband is instructed to get a drop of water from the local weaver that he has used to put over the cloth, along with a string from the cloth he’s making. Put these items in a saucepan and boil them, and then add some cow dung. Take the mixture out to the stile, and throw it over the last person he feels crossing the stile at midnight.

The man follows these instructions, and his wife is restored to him. Joe says that his own mother knew the woman in question.


A number of Joe’s songs and stories relate to the belief in people being stolen by fairies. See Tháinig Bean Cois Leasa, The Fairy Boy, The Fairy Frog, The Fairy Greyhound, Why children are stolen by the fairies, The Changeling, and the lullabies Seoithín, Seo-hó and Dún do Shúil.