Before Terry Pratchett’s Wee Free Men, there were the Wee Men of Ballywooden, a band of charming Irish fairies described in stories by Arthur Mason, and beautifully illustrated by Robert Lawson. This was Lawson’s first illustrated book, and the illustrations are not only full of their own charm, but also replete with detail and very accurate to the stories.

There are two long stories in this book, first issued in 1930 (I have the 1952 reprint). In “The Night of the Big Wind,” a hurricane of sorts hits the Wee Men’s seaside Irish town and causes havoc, not the least of which is blowing the Wee Men out over the ocean to a place they’ve never seen and know nothing about. Each of the Wee Men has a name indicating his craft or specialty. In this story, the Paver leads the band, but his magic has been blown away by the wind, and he must depend on others in the band for help in finding a safe place to regroup and figure out a way home. Willie the Wisp has his light to help them, and the Meadow Sniffer uses his nose to lead them, but a large dog in their way is a problem. The Midsummer Mower volunteers to lead the dog on a merry chase away from the band, and soon they find an abandoned cottage to rest in. But how will they ever get home?

In “Coggelty-Curry,” a Jackdaw has stolen one of the Wee Men’s most valued possessions, their bagpipe, and flown away over the ocean with it. This time it’s the Pilot who takes charge, ordering a fleet of fairy ships pulled by curlews in pursuit. The Wee Men follow the trail of the Jackdaw to a tropical island, where the naughty bird is charming all the wild animals with his bagpipe music. How can they catch him and get their treasure back?

These are engaging stories and full of Irish folk wisdom and inventive characters. The illustrations make them even better. Recommended if you can find it.

The Wee Men of Ballywooden by Arthur Mason

2 thoughts on “Rereading: THE WEE MEN OF BALLYWOODEN by ARTHUR MASON

  1. Jason Grimm

    The illustrations are a real treasure find! I love Irish folktales… as well as Irish Red Heads… but that’s another story hah! (Pun intended har har!)

    I got a couple of those Barnes & Noble Irish Story compilations as well as some others long out of print but available in ebook format. Sometimes I’ve gotten lucky to find an old used book for a fair price and they are indeed a real treasure to sit and marvel at. I’m a fan of old illustrated books featuring decorative lettering and spot illustrations with elements all over at introductions, chapter breaks with banners, large headings, acanthus leaf, scrolls, drop caps, ect. Most well known examples being works by Denslow and Rackham.

    Reading ebooks might not be as satisfying but for those unable to get it in print; “The wee men of Ballywooden” 1937 version is available online via ebook borrowing on loan at the internet archive. A quick search will get you there. I’d post a direct link but unsure of the link-posting policy here.

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