A Cure for a Cow in the Fairies: Folklore from Co. Mayo

Cow ireland milking old photo
Miss Mannix milking a cow at Charleville, Co. Cork in 1920 (National Library of Ireland)

This early 20th century Irish folklore account details the belief that cows could be enchanted by the fairies.  It is based on information supplied by pupils at Skerdagh National School, Newport, Co. Mayo in c. 1938.

When a cow gets sick it often happens that the fairies are taking her. If such is the case the owner must get nine elf stones. These stones are found in the ground but it is pretty hard to get them. They are small and round like marbles with the tracks of fairy fingers on them. These elf stones should be put into a jug, with three half –pence and some chicken weed and the jug should then be filled with soft water. It should be left for a few hours and the liquid should be given to the cow. It has been known to cure many cows.

If a cow was sick and if there was a doubt that she was ill-shot she was measured. Her tail was straightened out for measurement. The unit of measurement was the distance between the elbow and the tips of the fingers. She was measured three times and if she made the same measurement each time it was just some ordinary sickness that had attacked her, but if she measured different she was ill-shot.

The old people say that the fairies fire these little stones at each other in the night time when they are out playing and if they desire to bring any animal with them they hit it with one of the elf stones.

Driving cattle, Achill Island, Co. Mayo (National Library of Ireland)

One day a man was out mowing his hay and there was ‘nother man along with him. They sat down to rest and suddenly the man heard a dart or an elf stone buzzing by him. They searched round everywhere but they could not find the stone. Suddenly another one whizzed by them but they could not find it either. In times gone by there was a bag of these elf stones in every house to use as necessary.

A woman was one day going through the fields with a child on her back. After a time she noticed the child chewing something. She took it and saw that it was an elf stone which the fairies had thrown at the child.’ 

This account forms part of the Schools’ Folklore Collection, a large and important corpus of material, whose compilation occurred between 1937 and 1939.  This far-sighted scheme, run by the Irish Folklore Commission, saw over 100,000 schoolchildren collecting local folklore from their parents, grandparents and older members of the community.


The Schools’ Collection, Volume 0086, Page 91

The Schools’ Collection, Volume 0086, Page 94

2 thoughts on “A Cure for a Cow in the Fairies: Folklore from Co. Mayo

  1. My grandmother was brought up in Co. Mayo in the 1930s, she called the fairies ‘pookies’ and said we should always draw our curtains at night in case they looked in..

  2. Fascinating. More sinister here in this Orkney island where it was the witches that’took the butter’ by tying a thread of wool to the cow’s tail. They could also put the ‘black sight’ on a cow or a child, or stop the ale from Barmng. Certain people had the eye. Or the sjøn and had to be treaed woth great politeness.

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