[Photo of old stone house on the coast of Ireland. Text says: “Hundred of years ago when Ireland was still under the rule of its old laws, a plague of changelings struck the country’s northern shore.”]
Hundreds of years ago, when Ireland was still under the rule of its old laws, a plague of changelings struck the peninsula of Fanad in County Donegal on the country’s northern shore. It seemed a newborn couldn’t be around longer than a few months before the fairies switched it with one of their own elderly people who, though aged and decrepit, could not at first be distinguished from the human babe it replaced. Only after several weeks would the switch become apparent as the changeling’s deceptive magic wore off and its body, though still in the form of a child, would begin to reveal its age, its skin turning gray and withering to wrinkles, and its flesh wasting away until it seemed a mere skeleton.
So when cholera turned the widowed Bridget Carr’s baby into a bag of bones, it was natural for her to think he was no longer truly her baby but a changeling, with the real fruit of her womb kidnapped to some fairy mound far away.
When the fairies took a child, there was only one way to get it back: put the changeling on the fire as if it were a log, letting the flames lick until it cried out and swooped up the chimney to escape the pain. With the spell broken, the fairies had no choice but to immediately return the family’s rightful child to its cradle.
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