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A Plate at Howth
by Grainne Rowland
Grannuaile knocked at the door of the castle. It was noon and she and her men were hungry. They had sailed from London and were low on supplies.
The great wooden door opened quickly. A servant frowned as she looked at Grannuaile. Who are these country bumpkins, she wondered.
"What do you want?" the servant asked rudely.
"We ask hospitality," replied Grannuaile. "We are hungry."
"Well," said the servant girl, "you may not come in now. My master is at his dinner. He left orders that he is not to be bothered. You can go to the servants' entrance and see if there are leftovers. Or you can leave!"
"You can tell your master that Grannuaile will not forget this!" And down the granite-lined walk stormed Grannuaile, followed by her men.
As they neared the gate, a young man approached.
"Hello," said the man. "Were you with my father? Why did you not stay for dinner?"
"I am Grannuaile. Your father could not be bothered to give hospitality to strangers," replied Grannuaile. "But I will offer you the hospitality of my ship!"
With that, Grannuaile and her men escorted the youth to her ship. She set sail for her island home off the coast of Galway.
Grannuaile treated the young man with respect. She gave him the most beautiful clothing and gave him the best of her food. She furnished the best rooms in her castle for him so he could be confortable. She took him on hunting and fishing trips. She treated him as she did her own son. But she would not let him return to Dublin.
In due time, Grannuaile received a note from the boy's father. He offered to pay her a huge ransom. He wanted his son back!
But Grannuaile would not let the boy go. She wanted the father to come visit her in person. After a long trip, the Lord of Howth arrived at Grannuaile's castle. He came with big bags of gold. Grannuaile ordered her men to take the gold back to Howth Castle, 300 miles away. The father was worried. What did this madwoman want, he wondered. He began to beg Grannuaile for his son's safety.
Grannuaile was getting tired of the father's begging. She called for the man's son. He soon appeared before Granuaile and his father.
"Son, are you alright?" the father asked anxiously, peering at his son. "Has this woman hurt you? If she has, I swear I'll..."
"Father," interrupted the boy, "do I look like I've been hurt? I have never been so well treated. Granuaile has given me the best of everything. She gave me the first portion of food every time, even before she herself ate, and she is the chieftainess of all this area. She has ordered her men to be at my beck and call. She has offered me only kindness, and I was a stranger to her the day we first met."
"But you, father, treated her with the greatest disrespect! You told the servant that you could not be bothered at your dinner. Is this hospitality?"
The boy's father was ashamed. He hung his head for a moment, then looked Grannuaile straight in the eye. He stood tall and began to speak.
"My lady," he began, "I must offer you an apology. I was very rude to you. Now I see how well you have treated my son and I am ashamed. You do not want ransom for my son. What is it you do want? Why did you take my son if not for ransom? Why did you insist that I come to see you here? I do not understand."
"I see that you are not a bad man. But you were very rude. Do you not know that the old law of Ireland demands that anyone in need must be helped? All my men and I needed was a bit of dinner. Now, my ransom is this. From now on, an extra plate must be set at your table for every meal. If ever a stranger comes to your door, you must ask him in and give him a meal. It must be a real meal, not leftovers from the servants' table. You must treat all strangers with respect. And that is what is required for the release of your son."
The father and son returned to Dublin. And from that day on, an extra plate was set at the table at Howth Castle. If you go to Dublin today, you will still find an extra plate set on the table for strangers!
Grainne was born in Columbus, Ohio, and was totally ignorant of her Irish heritage until the age of 14. One day, in the course of conversation, her Dad casually said, "Well, you know we're Irish. Your great-grandparents came from Co. Donegal." That was IT! Starting with Clancy Brothers records, she studied everything about Ireland she could get her hands on. Finally, in 1980, her dream was fulfilled. She spent two months in Ireland and completely fell in love with it. She also cried all the way back to the U.S.
In the teaching profession for over 21 years, Grainne has taught on two Indian reservations and is nearly as intrigued with the Navajo and Pueblo cultures as she is with the Irish. A few years ago, she also learned that she is part Cherokee Indian. As she puts it, "There are many similarities between the Indian cultures and the Irish, such as the oral storytelling tradition and the emphasis on family."
Since 1994, Grainne has written Irish folktales for children and adults, as well as stories of famous Irish people. Her favorite Irish person is Grace O'Malley, or Grainnauile, for whom she has re-named herself.
If you would like to contact her, Grainne would be delighted to hear from you. Her email address is: firstname.lastname@example.org
Index of All Children's Stories
Fri, Nov 3, 2017
Instructions of King Cormac, King of Cashel
Be not too wise, nor too foolish
Be not too conceited, nor diffident
Be not too haughty, nor too humble
Be not too talkative, nor too silent
Be not too hard, nor too feeble.
If you be too wise, men will expect too much of you
If you be too foolish, you will be deceived
If you be conceited, you will be thought difficult
If you be too humble, you will be without honour
If you be too talkative, you will not be heeded
If you be silent, you will not be regarded
If you be too hard, you will be broken
If you be too feeble, you will be crushed.
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"No man ever wore a cravat as nice, as his own child's arm around his neck."
- Irish Proverb