It was little Paddy O’Brien who first discovered the fairies’ dandelion secret, but many people didn’t believe the story he told. He was 8 years old and a curious fellow, and usually was in one kind of mischief or another.
“Aye, that Paddy is a handful,” his mother said to the neighbors, to her friends, and to the family. Then she laughed, for Paddy didn’t mean to cause trouble. Sometimes, without thinking, he would stick his finger in the pudding and drip it all over the floor, and sometimes he would spill his marbles on the staircase, and the cats the O’Briens had 10 cats went slipping and sliding as they tried to clamber up the stairs.
Paddy’s mischief was that kind of rollicking mischief that makes people laugh and so none of the grown-ups believed that Paddy actually sneaked out to the meadow in the middle of the night and learned about the fairies and the dandelions.
One night, well past midnight, when he should have been asleep, he lay wide awake in his bed. He cradled his favorite toy, his soft, pink pig, and the three ginger cats lay fast asleep at his feet. Through the window above his bed, Paddy could see the full moon shining brightly and could feel the warm spring wind blowing off the meadows that surrounded his family’s house. He could smell the scent of flowers drifting into his room. Everything seemed peaceful and fine. The only trouble was, Paddy could not fall asleep, and he didn’t know why.
Then he realized that he was hearing sounds that came from the nearby meadows. At first, he heard only a soft rustling in the tall meadow grass, but he sat up when he distinctly heard laughing voices, like tinkling glass, coming from those meadows. Before long he heard a trilling flute, and then a piccolo, and a moment later, when a throb came from what sounded like a kettledrum, even the three ginger cats woke from their deep sleep.
“What’s that?” Paddy said out loud. The cats yawned and cocked their heads and scrambled to the window to listen.
“Do you hear music?” Paddy was certain, absolutely certain, that the cats nodded their heads.
He tiptoed down the stairs, careful not to wake his sisters or brothers, his mother or father. He lifted his legs high, stepping over sleeping cats, and at the front door, he tapped his collie’s head and whispered, “Kelly, wake up.”
Kelly jumped up without a sound for she loved the mischief Paddy made. All together, Paddy and Kelly and the three ginger cats ran out toward the meadow.
You can imagine their amazement when they saw that the meadow, usually filled with wildflowers and dandelions, was filled now with dancing fairies, and off in one corner of the garden, Paddy could see the fairy band playing their flutes and piccolos and one big kettledrum.
Paddy and Kelly and the three cats sat and stared while the fairies went on dancing beneath the light of the moon. Paddy and the animals did not make a sound, for they all knew well that fairies do not like to be seen.
Suddenly a leprechaun leaped out from behind a lilac bush. When Paddy saw him, he ducked, and so did the four animals, but the leprechaun began frantically running from one dandelion to the next, blowing hard on each of them, sending fluffy white down everywhere.
The moment the fairies saw the down drifting among the flowers, they scurried as fast as they could out of the meadow, and within a few moments, they had disappeared.
“Don’t leave!” Paddy cried, and Kelly barked, and all three cats meowed. “We won’t hurt you,” he called, but the leprechaun put his finger to his mouth. “Quiet, lad,” he said softly. “Don’t you know that fairies lose their power when people see them? That’s why whenever people come; I blow the dandelions to warn them.”
“I’m so sorry,” Paddy said. Tears came to his eyes, for though he often caused mischief, he never meant to harm anyone.
The leprechaun could see that Paddy had a kind heart, and that is why he decided to tell him their secret. “You see,” the leprechaun pointed to the dandelion seeds on the ground, “when the fairies blow the seeds, they know the hour, and when they see the down flying around, they know they must run home.”
Now, the next morning Paddy told everyone he met about the fairies’ secret and the dandelions and the leprechaun’s warning, but many people did not believe him. Some people did, though. The children and the animals believed his tale, and that is why, even today, some Irish children count the breaths it takes to blow away all the down on a dandelion. This is how they tell the hour.