Near the cliff of Carrigmahon on the Irish coast are huge rocks piled up one above another which are known as the Giant’s Stairs, because that is what they look like.
The story runs that the giant Mahon MacMahon lived in a cave somewhere hidden among the rocks, that he had climbed up there when the Giants were banished from the country, and had remained hidden there ever since.
Many years ago there lived in that district a man called Maurice Ronayne. He and his wife had a fine house and plenty of money. Their dearest treasure, though, was their young son Philip. But when he was just seven years old Philip Ronayne disappeared quite suddenly.
No one knew what had befallen him and no trace of him was to be found anywhere, though his parents searched the whole country-side.
Weeks, months, years went by, but nothing was heard of his fate, and at last his mother and father gave up all hope.
They thought the boy must have wandered away, and perhaps fallen off the cliffs into the sea. They had offered such big rewards that they felt certain if he had been stolen away they would have heard something from his captors. It was a terrible grief to them, for he was their only child, and a clever, lively and affectionate boy.
Not far from their house there lived a blacksmith called Robin Kelly.
He was a very clever man at his trade and made excellent plough shares, but he was clever in another way too. He was very good at telling people what their dreams meant, and when any person had a queer dream he or she would say, “I must go and see what Robin says to that.” Robin was always ready with an explanation; and people said his explanations were always quite satisfactory.
One night, just seven years after Philip Ronayne had disappeared, Robin himself had a queer dream. He dreamt he saw the boy riding a white horse, and that the boy told him he had been spirited away to the home of the Giant Mahon MacMahon in the rocks, and had served him as a page ever since. He said that his seven years of service were now over, and that Robin could release him if he were bold and determined.
Then Robin, still in his sleep, asked the boy how he was to know that all this was not merely a dream.
“Take this for a sign,” said the boy. And as he said these words his white horse struck out with one of his legs and gave Robin a kick on the forehead. Such a hard kick it was that Robin, thinking his head must be split open, woke up yelling with pain and fright.
And then he knew that it had not been a mere dream, for on his forehead was the red mark of a horse’s hoof. He was very much disturbed and puzzled by this strange thing, and found it much harder to tell what his own dream meant than he had ever found it to tell other folk about theirs.
Like everyone else in that part of the country, Robin knew the tale of the giant Mahon MacMahon, and many a time had he rowed round the foot of the great rocks and wondered whether it was indeed true that the old giant still lived in the cave hidden away up there. He told no one of his dream, but the more he thought about it the more anxious he became to try and do something to test the truth of it. If indeed Philip Ronayne had been spirited away to the giant’s cave and had been able to tell him of it in a dream, he felt he must make some sort of attempt to get him back.
So one evening he set off on the adventure. But he decided to take a ploughshare with him, for he was a strong man, and a ploughshare might be useful as a weapon if there should be any difficulty about getting the boy away.
He borrowed a boat from a friend, Tom Clancy, and Tom, whom he now told about his dream, offered to go with him and help row the boat to the bottom of the Giant’s Stairs.
It was said that the entrance to the cave could be seen only at midnight, but Robin was so anxious to be there in plenty of time that he and Tom were at the foot of the rocks long before that hour.
He looked carefully up and down the cliff trying to see if he could spy anything that looked in the least like an entrance to a passage in the rocks, but no such thing could he see.
He began to think he had come on a foolish errand and his friend seemed to think so too, for he suggested that they should row back home.
But Robin was determined to wait till midnight. And, sure enough, as that hour drew near they saw a faint light coming from the rocks at a spot almost level with the water. The light grew brighter, and then they saw a great porch big enough for a horse and cart to go through.
They rowed to the place, and Robin, grasping his ploughshare firmly, stepped out of the boat on to the rocky stairs which led up to the porch.
Fear gripped his heart when he stood within it, for it was a most extraordinary place. The rocks all round him had the queerest shapes. Some of them were like strange animals which appeared to be about to clutch him, others were like monstrous heads with wild eyes and grinning mouths, grimacing and leering. And they seemed to change from one thing to another as he looked at them.
He was pretty well frightened, I can tell you. But he was determined to go forward with his adventure, though it took all the courage he possessed to go on through the passage which opened out of the porch. As he started along the passage there was a mighty noise behind him and he felt that the mouth of the cave had closed again. He did not look back, but pressed onward as fast as he could, for the passage was narrow and winding, and there was so little light that he had to feel his way.
And now he suddenly became aware of a tiny glimmer of light ahead of him, growing brighter and brighter as he drew nearer to it. And very soon he found himself standing at the entrance to an immense room in the rock, with a great table, also of rock, in the middle of it. And over the table hung a single lamp, from which had come the light he had seen. Sitting round the table was a company of giants, who seemed to be made of rock, too, so stiff and stony and silent were they.
At the head of the table sat the biggest of them all, with his long white beard grown right into the rocky table.
When he saw this huge old giant Robin knew at once that here was indeed Mahon MacMahon himself, and his knees shook under him. But he grasped his ploughshare tightly and stood his ground.
And when Mahon MacMahon’s glance fell upon Robin he instantly jumped up from his seat, and so sudden and strong was the jerk with which he did this that he tore his beard out of the rock table, so that the table was broken into fragments.
“What are you seeking here?” he asked, and his voice was like thunder in the mountains.
“I have come to seek young Philip Ronayne,” said Robin. “He has been in your service for seven years, and his time is up.”
“And who sent you on this errand?” asked Mahon MacMahon.
“No one sent me,” said Robin cautiously. “I have come of my own accord.”
“So be it,” said the giant. “You can have him if you can pick him out from my company of pages. But if you fail to do so, the penalty will be death. Do you still wish to seek him? There is yet time for you to return home in safety.”
But Robin was a brave man and he felt that there was no turning back now that he had gone so far; so he told the giant that he was willing to accept his conditions.
MacMahon then bade Robin follow him, and led the way into an even greater room, brilliantly lighted up. And in this room there were hundreds of handsome boys, all apparently of the same age, dressed in green, and all their clothes exactly alike.
“Here you see all my pages,” said the giant, “and among them is Philip Ronayne. If you can pick him out from among the rest you may take him away with you, but if you do not choose aright you will never leave this place alive.”
Poor Robin knew not what to do. He did not remember young Philip very well, for you will remember it was seven years since the boy had been stolen away, and among all the hundreds of other boys it seemed impossible that he should find him.
He walked through the great hall trying to appear unconcerned, and beside him stalked Mahon MacMahon, towering high above him, his great beard sweeping over his huge chest.
When they had walked almost to the end of the hall, Robin thought that perhaps it would be as well to try and put his companion into a good humour by making polite conversation. So he remarked that it was quite wonderful to see how well the boys looked, considering that they had been shut up for so long a time away from fresh air and sun. They must be very well looked after, he thought.
The giant smiled a grim smile and thanked Robin for his very kind remarks. Indeed, he was so pleased, he said, at such a very flattering opinion of his treatment of the boys that he would like to shake hands with his visitor.
But when Robin saw the enormous hand which the giant held out, he felt nervous at the idea of shaking it, so he held out his ploughshare instead. MacMahon seized it and twisted the iron round and round in his fingers just as if it had been a piece of twine. And when the boys saw him do this they burst into a loud shout of laughter.
But Robin, who was watching everything with the closest attention, noticed that there was one among them who did not shout with the rest, but stood staring in front of him, silent and motionless.
Instantly Robin stepped forward and put his hand on this boy’s shoulder.
“Let me live or die for it,” he said, “but this and no other is Philip Ronayne.”
Then a great shout rose from all the others.
“Philip Ronayne it is,” they cried. “Farewell, Philip, happy Philip Ronayne.”
There was a terrific crashing noise and the place was plunged into utter darkness. But Robin kept his grasp on the boy’s shoulder, and the next thing he knew was that he was lying on the top of the cliff with Philip in his arms, while the sun was just rising over the edge of the horizon.
You may guess what excitement and what rejoicing there was at Ronayne’s Court when Robin arrived there with the heir, safe and sound. For Tom Clancy, after waiting anxiously at the foot of the cliff for an hour and more, had at last decided it was useless to wait longer and so had rowed back home and had reported that the quest had been a failure, and that Robin was assuredly lost for ever.
The odd thing was that Philip looked not a day older than he did at the time of is disappearance, in spite of his seven years’ absence.
Equally odd was it that he could remember nothing at all about those seven years and of what had befallen him during that long time; it seemed to him as though it was but yesterday that he had left his father and mother, and it was very strange to him that everyone should look older, and that many of his old playmates were now almost grown up.
Robin was handsomely rewarded for his courage and cleverness and never wanted for anything to the end of his days.
Philip Ronayne grew up to be a fine man and lived to a great age. It is said that he was very clever at working in brass and iron, and this was held to be due to the seven years he had served with Mahon MacMahon in his dwelling behind the Giant’s Stairs.