The hare was a symbol of evil in many country areas. This may be attributed to its pagan significance; it was the symbol of the Celtic moon-goddess and was closely allied with the witchcraft and wonder-working which was traditionally carried out by moonlight. The memory of that tradition may well have lingered on in the minds of rural people. As early as the twelfth century, Giraldus Cambrensis wrote about certain old Irish women who could transform themselves into the guise of hares for the purposes of working evil.
The following tale uses the hare motif to symbolise evil, with the figure of the tailor representing good. Tailors, like blacksmiths, were important individuals in any rural community, and were often credited with special powers against evil. Although this version of the story comes from County Sligo, the tale is well-known in many parts of Ireland.
There was a tailor one time, travelled all over Ireland as tailors used to do in the days long ago. He would come into a place and would set up in a local house and the people all around would bring him things to mend. That was always the way of it in country areas.
Now, this tailor was coming through County Sligo and he had always taken lodgings with a farmer and his wife that lived near Coole. He slept in a small back room at the gable end of the house, just above the kitchen, and used a back scullery to do his tailoring, paying the couple a little bit of rent for the space. The farmer was a very old man but the wife was young and wicked looking and the tailor was wary of her. However, she was always very civil to him and he thought that he was wrong to doubt her.
One day, he arrived at the house to find that the farmer had died a good number of months before but that the wife was still living there. She made him very welcome and told him that he could continue to lodge there for as long as he wanted and at the same rent. The tailor was now very sure that he had misjudged the woman and that she was decent enough. Indeed, she was so good to him that she told him to lie as long as he wanted in the morning and that she would bring him his breakfast. He thought that this was very fair and thanked the woman kindly. All the same, he noticed that, when she spoke, her tone was gentle but her eyes were as hard as metal. Still, he had been travelling for some time and resolved to take her at her word and have a lie-in for the first few days of his lodging there.
The next morning, however, he was awake with the first sun of the day. So as not to disturb the woman of the house he lay in bed for a while. He could hear her moving about in the kitchen below and, for a moment, he thought that he heard water splashing but he couldn't be sure. After a long while she came up and brought him his breakfast and told him to lie a little while longer. So he did, and got up feeling very refreshed.
The following morning he was awake at the same time and, this time, he was sure that he heard movement and the sound of water in the kitchen below him. Wondering what was going on, he got up and crept quietly down the stairs so as not to disturb the woman. Looking round the kitchen door, he saw her filling a big wooden tub with water. She looked like she might be going to take a bath, so the tailor made to turn on his heel and creep back to bed. Suddenly, she peeled off all her clothes and leapt into the water. There was a flash and a puff of smoke and a great big hare jumped out of the tub and through the open kitchen door, out into the morning.
The tailor was dumbstruck and very frightened for he knew what had happened and what his hostess was about so early in the morning. The woman was a witch and she had turned herself into a hare in order to go out into the morning and do mischief to her neighbours. In some places, witches went about in the guise of small animals, sucking milk from the teats of grazing cattle so that they were dry and would give nothing when they came to be milked. Sometimes the witch in her animal form would jump into a baby's cradle when it was sleeping and smother the infant. Witches were always getting up to terrible evil like that in the countryside.
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From Beasts, Banshees and Brides from the Sea by Bob Curran