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A Great Dive

Once on a farm there was a little child that could hardly learn. He remembered too little of what was taught him. Often he stood by the knee of his mother and she told him the names of the days, the seasons of the year, and what to call the sun, the moon and the stars. She also let him know that the wheat was sown in one time and reaped in another. Several other things the mother taught him too.

The child listened well but forgot. His mom at times wailed over it. Then the child used to steal away to the dim, green orchard and weep inside it.

After a time, the mother gave up trying, and the boy lost much respect by men-servants and maids and in his home town.

One day a very wise woman visited the place. She was called to try to heal a sick cow by natural means. She the farm boy, his fair head hanging in shame. "What is wrong with this fair-headed lad?" she said.

"It is hard for him to learn things," answered the mother.

The wise woman muttered, "Go and get him the good bladders that know," she said.

"I have heard of them," said the mother, "but they're beyond my reach, too hard to get."

The brothers and the sister of the child that could not learn stood round about and were told by the visiting wise woman: "The bladders that know, grow on the bladder wrack that knows, over a hidden well in the sea. If you really desire wisdom for your boy, good woman, you must send someone to bring him the bladders."

The second son, Earl, offered to go: "Let me do it," he said.

The wise woman fingered her long lip and said: "If you would go, go very quickly. It is nearly Midsummer Eve. Between the rising and the setting of the moon that night, the Irish sea can open like a window pane of glass to let through any person who seeks air underneath. Do you think you can go there and do these things, young lad?"

He thought so, and his mother allowed him to go.

The wise woman went on: "When the gates of glass are shut behind him, he must tarry in the sea until the bladders on the bladder wrack ripen to deep brownish red late in autumn. It does not happen every year. And when autumn finally comes, he has to draw near the magic well and wait for the bladders to drop off. He must be swift to stretch the hand and snatch them as they drop. For the salmon that knows is waiting in that well, and he eager to eat the bladders as they fall. When that happens, a rosy surge rises on the water, and the salmon eats and swims away with good knowledge of so many things under-seas and in hidden places. But if this youth should let the bladders slip through his fingers by that well, he will have to live on beneath the sea."

"My fingers seem able to catch and hold," said Earl.

The wise woman went away to the hills then, after curing the ailing cow.

Then Midsummer's Eve came. The lad said farewell and went out alone under the moon. He came to the shore and saw the water as gates of glass. He jumped in and swam neatly along one crystal roadway until he came to the deep somewhere he had never been before.

There was not plain sunlight. He missed it, and fresh air even more. "This is hardly a better country than my mother's country," he gasped.

As luck would have it, at that moment he came to a ship-wreck full of tiny oxygen tanks. Sometimes things come easy; most often not. He learnt to mount a little flask on him and then he learnt to walk about and wait for the bladder wrack to ripen.

One morning dolphins were passing to and fro about. They looked bald as they came came in a troop to meet Earl and impress him, "A hundred welcomes to you!' they seemed to say.

The lad greeted them back. The warm dolphins took him to a palace beneath the sea. The time went pleasantly by with mirth and whale song.

Soon the lad inquired where the magic well could be in sea.

A dolphin said: "It is more than a day's journey from this spot." "I have to go there, so I can help my brother," said the lad. The dolphins handed him a fair-woven napkin for a parting-gift.

"When you want air to breathe, spread this napkin in the sea in front of your mouth, and breathe in. It should produce air if you turn it this way. It also produces sweet water if you turn it the other way. As for food, try some seaweed and shrimps - you may like it."

The boy followed his underwater route in search of red bladder wrack, and at last came to the shore of the sea. Among sweet-smelling flowers there was a ruin among the rocks. He remained there and waited for Midsummer to come.

After some time he thought it was about time, and managed to climb back into the Irish Sea and go on living, thanks to the napkin. He swam and strolled in the deep sea while the meadows ripened in his father's country and maids tossed the hay, the apples reddened and the vegetables could be taken indoors and stored.

The youth was walking to and fro in the sea, for he was seeking the secret well. Then of a sudden until he came upon it. and saw bladders on a bladder wrack turned crimson, and bladder-clusters starting to droop over the secret well.

"You have a chance to get the bladders tonight. It's Midsummer's Eve," said the friendly dolphin, swimming up to him. "Try to get them soon."

Right before midnight the right moment had come. He plunged to the well. It was shining with the magic cluster swaying in front. There at last were the red bladders and the shimmering salmon within the well. Earl watched the swaying bladder wrack and its crimson, clustered bladders. He saw the salmon waiting with upturned eyes, waiting for the crimson bladders to float down to him.

The red bladders started to float downwards towards the bottom, but they did not reach the salmon's mouth, for Earl seized them. The moment they were in his hand he felt a slight, burning sensation and knew more than before.

A little while later the salmon that knows swam out and into the open sea. Earl very soon got out of the water and was on his way home with a good amount of bladders, a handkerchief that turned salt water into sweet water for him when he got thirsty when he walked along sandy beaches and over moors. Great was the welcome when he reached home. The brother that could not learn, had a little of the dried bladders to eat along with supper for a long time, and things started to go well with him.

[McGarry, Mary, compiler: Great Fairy Tales of Ireland. Muller, Blond and White. London, 1979:63-76. Adapted.]


Fairy tales, folk-tales, folk tales, Literature  

Handy tips for learning and studying are in these books:


Buzan, Tony. Use Your Head. Harlow: BBC Active / Pearson, 2010.

Gross, Ronald. Peak Learning: A Master Course in Learning How to Learn. Rev. ed. New York: J. Tarcher/Putnam, 1999.

Marshall, Brian. The Secrets of Getting Better Grades. 2nd ed. Indianapolis, IN: Park Avenue, 2002.

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