Last Updated on May 5, 2015, by eNotes Editorial. Word Count: 1020
In the center of a very dark pinewood lives the two old Philosophers and their wives, the Grey Woman of Dun Gortin and the Thin Woman of Inis Magrath. One couple has a little boy named Seumas, the other a little girl named Brigid. Both are born on the same day. When the children are ten years old, one of the old Philosophers decides that he learned all that he was capable of learning. This conclusion depresses him so much that he decides to die. It is unfortunate, as he points out, that at the time he is in the best of health; however, if the time comes for him to die, then die he must. He takes off his shoes and spins around in the center of the room for fifteen minutes until he falls over dead. So grieved is the Grey Woman that she, too, kills herself, but since she is much tougher than her husband, she spins for forty-five minutes before she dies. The Thin Woman calmly buries the two bodies under the hearthstone.
The people who live on the edge of the pinewood often come to see the Thin Woman’s husband when they need advice. One day, Meehawl MacMurrachu comes to the Philosopher to learn who stole his wife’s scrubbing board. The Philosopher, after much questioning, finally decides that the fairies took it. He advises Meehawl to go to a certain spot and steal the Crock of Gold that the Leprechauns of Gort na Gloca Mora buried there. For years, the Leprechauns were filling their Crock of Gold by clipping the edges of gold coins that they found in people’s houses at night. They need the gold to ransom any of the little people caught by human beings.
Losing their gold to Meehawl makes the Leprechauns angry, and they try to make Meehawl bring it back by giving him and his wife all kinds of aches and pains. Next, they come stealthily and lure Brigid and Seumas down into a little house in the roots of a tree. However, fear of the Thin Woman is on them, and they set the children free. Then the Great God Pan, the god of the beast that is in every human, lures away Caitilin, Meehawl’s daughter, with the music of his pipes. When Meehawl comes with his tale of sorrow, the Philosopher sends Brigid and Seumas to tell Pan to release the girl. Pan, however, refuses to answer their questions. When they tell the Philosopher, he becomes so angry that he orders his wife to bake him some cakes to eat on the way, and he starts off by himself to visit Pan. None of the Philosopher’s arguments, however, persuade Pan to free Caitilin, and the Philosopher goes off to get the help of Angus Og of the old gods.
Angus Og goes to see Pan and the girl in their cave and forces the girl to choose between them. Caitilin, who learns the true meaning of hunger and desire with Pan, does not know how to choose. Angus Og explains to her that he is Divine Inspiration, and that if she will come and live with him and be his wife, he will show her peace and happiness. He proves by several signs that he is the favorite of the gods of the earth and has more power than Pan. Caitilin senses that true happiness will be found with Angus Og and that only hunger will be found with Pan; she chooses to leave Pan and go with Angus Og and is saved from the beast in humanity.
The Philosopher, on his way back home, delivers several messages from the god. He gives one message to a young boy, a promise from Angus Og that in time the old gods will return and that before they do, the boy will write a beautiful poem in their praise. Cheered by the news that the gods will soon come back, the Philosopher finally arrives home and greets his wife with such affection that she decides always to be kind to him and never again to say a cross word. Unknown to them, the Leprechauns inform the police in the village that there are two bodies buried under the hearthstone in the Philosopher’s house. One day the police break into the house, find the bodies, and accuse the Philosopher of murder. Meanwhile, Brigid and Seumas are playing in the woods, and, quite by chance, they happen to dig a hole and find the Crock of Gold where Meehawl buried it. They give it back to the Leprechauns, but the return of the gold is not enough to set matters right. The police keep the Philosopher in jail. Then the Thin Woman bakes some cakes and sets out to find Angus Og, dragging the children behind her and saying the worst curses there are against the police. The first gods she meets are the Three Absolutes: the Most Beautiful Man, the Strongest Man, and the Ugliest Man. By her wisdom, the Thin Woman is able to answer their questions and save herself and the children from their frightful powers. When they pass these gods, they find the house of Angus Og. He is waiting for someone to come and ask him to aid the Philosopher, for it is impossible for the gods to help anyone unasked.
Calling all the old gods together, Angus Og and his wife lead a great dance across the fields, and then they go down into the town with all the gods following. In the town, their merry laughter brings happiness to all who see them except the most evil of men. The charges against the Philosopher are forgotten, and he is free to go back to his house in the pinewood and dispense wisdom once more. Then the gods return singing to their own country to await the birth of Caitilin and Angus Og’s child and the day when the old Irish gods can again leave their hidden caves and hollows and rule over the land with laughter and song.
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