The Legend of Ballar the Dane

The most ancient of the kings of Torry was Ballar the Dane. If tradition does him no injustice, a worse specimen of royalty could not be found among the Holy Alliance. His manners were anything but amiable; his temper violent; his disposition sanguinary and revengeful; while, in his notions regarding the doctrines of "meum and tuum," there was not a looser gentleman of his day.

In personal appearance Ballar was dark, stern, and gigantic; and, in an excess of her bounty, Nature had been graciously pleased to gift him with a third eye. This extra optic was placed in the back of his head; and such was the malignity of its influence that one glance extinguished animal life, a forest was withered by a look, and all those bare and herbless hills upon the mainland which lie in scattered groups beneath the scathed pinnacles of Arygle, may—if tradition can be trusted—date their barrenness to an optical visitation they underwent from their dangerous neighbour the king of Torry. As, even in the darkest character some lighter shading may be found, Ballar,—to give the devil his due,—perfectly aware of the destructive properties of his third eye, kept it carefully concealed by a curtain.

Ballar had "one fair daughter, and no more," and an oracle had foretold that, unless killed by his grandson, he should exist for ever. Determined to outlive Methuselah, Ballar resolved on leaving his native country, and seeking out some abiding place where the celibacy of the young lady might be secured. Accordingly he set out upon his travels, and, after an extensive tour, visited Donegal, and chose Torry for his residence; and, faith! a nater spot for a gentleman who wished retirement could not have been selected. There he built a castle for himself, and a prison for his daughter. To "make all right," the young lady was placed under the surveillance of twelve virgins; whence the latter were obtained, history doth not say.

Ballar's nearest neighbours on the main were called Gabshegonal, and Kien Mac Caunthca. The latter was possessed of two brave boys, while the former was owner of a white heifer: Glassdhablecana, or "the grey-flanked cow," was the envy of the country. Nothing from Dingle to Donegal could match her; she was a dairy in herself; and Ballar, regardless of justice, and not having the fear of the going judge of assize before him, determined to abstract her if he could. Like other autocrats, he found no difficulty in trumping up a title, for he asserted that those resident on the mainland were his vassals, and claimed and exacted certain seignorial rights, which, much to the satisfaction of persons entering into matrimony, have been allowed to sink into desuetude.

Like those of all bad monarchs, his ministers were no better than himself; and the chiefs of his household, Mool and Mullock, were worthy agents of their three-eyed master. As his demand upon Gab's cow had been peremptorily rejected, the tyrant of Torry determined to obtain by fraud, what force could not effect; and Mool and Mullock received instructions accordingly.

Ballar's intentions having transpired, Gabshegonal assumed the defensive, and called to his assistance the sons of Kien Mac Caunthca. Gab, it appears, was the most celebrated sword-cutler of his day, and he promised to forge a weapon for each of the young men; they undertaking, in return, to watch the grey-flanked cow for a given time.

The elder of the Mac Caunthcas performed his part of the contract with the smith, and obtained the promised sword; and the younger commenced watch and ward in turn. For some time his vigilance secured the white cow; but, unhappily, it occurred to the youth that it would be desirable to have his name engraved on the sword-blade which Gab was then polishing. He ran to the forge to make his wishes known; and, short as his absence was, alas! upon his return the cow was gone! The spoilers were discovered from the top of Arygle; the younger Mac Caunthca observed Mool and Mullock driving Glassdhablecana along the beach; and, without his being able to overtake them, they embarked for Torry with their prey. Enraged at the occurrence, the smith retained the elder brother as a hostage, and swore that, if the cow were not recovered, he would behead him, to avenge her loss.

The unhappy watchman, overwhelmed with grief and shame, fled from his home, and wandered recklessly along the rock-bound coast. To reach Torry was impossible, and he abandoned himself to sorrow and despair.

Suddenly, a little red-haired man appeared unexpectedly at his elbow, and with sympathetic civility inquired the cause of his lamentations. Mac Caunthca informed him of the misfortune, and the red dwarf offered his condolence, and volunteered to assist him to reach the island. Mac embraced the little gentleman and his offer; and, having ascended the summit of Cruicknaneabth, he placed his foot upon the dwarf's hand, who rose with him into the air, and, passing over the small islands between Torry and the main, fast as the wind itself, landed in safety beneath the castle walls of Ballar. Both the youth and his conductor were "the nonce" rendered invisible. With little difficulty the cow was found; and the dwarf engaged that, ere morning, she should be safely returned to her lawful owner, the honest sword-cutler, Gabshegonal.

Whether the little gentleman with the red beard preferred daylight for his aërial trips, does not appear; but, certain it is, that his protegé remained that night upon the island, and was introduced by the obliging dwarfs to the prison of the princess, where he remained until dawn broke. Safely was he then conducted to the place he had left on the preceding evening. The red man took an affectionate leave. The grey-flanked cow was before him at the owner's. His brother was released; the promised sword honestly delivered by the maker; and the whole adventure ended prosperously.

Time rolled on. Nine months had elapsed since his visit to the island, when the young Mac Caunthca was honoured by a call from the little red gentleman, who requested his company to make a morning call upon the imprisoned princess. They crossed the arm of the sea with the same rapidity that marked their former flight; and, on entering the well-remembered tower, what was Mac Caunthca's delight and surprise on finding that he was the father of a large and healthy family! The princess had just given birth to a son; and the twelve young ladies, following, as in duty bound, the example of their mistress, had each produced "a chopping boy."

But, alas! the pleasures of paternity were speedily ended. Ballar detested children. Twins would drive a Malthusian distracted; and what apology could be offered for thirteen? Nothing remained but to remove the young Mac Caunthcas in double-quick; and the dwarf, with his usual good nature, proposed the means. A curragh was procured; the tender pledges of the maids of honour were placed in a blanket, and fastened by skewers upon the back of their papa, while the heir to the throne was accommodated in a separate cloth; and with this precious freight the curragh was launched upon the ocean.

Presently the wind freshened, the sea rose, and the frail bark was tossed upon the surface of an angry sea. In the fury of the gale the skewers that secured the blanket gave way; overboard went the progeny of the virgin body-guard; and the young Mac Caunthca reached the mainland with a single son, the heir-presumptive to the throne of Torry.

It may be imagined that the care of an infant would have become a very troublesome charge upon the lover of the island princess; but here, too, the red man stood his friend. The dwarf volunteered to educate the child seven years, then hand him over to his father for seven more, when he, Red-beard, would again receive him for other seven; and thus the grandson of the three-eyed monarch would be disposed of, during nonage. It was done. The boy grew apace; and, indoctrinated at the feet of a gifted Gamaliel like little Red-beard, it is not surprising that the heir of Torry became a finished gentleman.

His first appearance in public is stated to have been at a country wedding; and there Ballar, attended by Mool and Mullock, and his customary suite, was punctual to claim his prerogative. Shocked at the immorality of his grandfather, the dwarf's protegé remonstrated with the old gentleman in vain; and, to strengthen his arguments, imprudently confessed the degree of relationship in which they stood. Furious at the discovery, the ancient sinner determined on the youth's destruction; he raised his hand to uncurtain the third eye, but his grandson burst from the house, and ran for shelter to the forge of his relative, Gabshegonal. A hot pursuit took place. Ballar and his "tail" pressed the fugitive closely; and the youth had only time to arm himself with a heated bar, when his truculent relation, with his train, rushed in. Before the eye could be uncovered, by one lucky thrust the heir of Torry annihilated its evil influence, and thus proved satisfactorily that the worst of eyes is no match for red-hot iron.

But, even in death, Ballar evinced no feelings of Christian forgiveness. Calling his grandson to his side, he requested that he would abridge his sufferings by cutting off his head; and then, by placing it upon his own, he assured him that all the knowledge he, Ballar, possessed, should directly be transferred to his grandson, and descend like an heir-loom in the family. With the first part of the request the young gentleman freely complied; but, being awake to the trickery of his grandsire, he prudently resolved to see what effect the head would have upon stone before he tried the experiment. The result proved that his suspicions were well-founded. A drop of poisonous matter fell from the head upon the rock; and a broken cliff is pointed out upon the island, said to have been disrupted by the head of Ballar resting on it.

The remainder of the legend is happy, as it should be. The princess in due time became a wife; her son danced at the wedding; and the maids of honour were provided with husbands, and, though rather tardily, were "made honest women of" at last. No longer necessitated to commit their offspring to the ocean by the dozen, their progeny increased and multiplied; and from the Danish princess, and the virgin train who "bore her company," the present inhabitants of Torry believe themselves to be immediately descended.