Some Celtic Legends


The Mavellous Birth

His mother, Dechtiré, was on the point of being married to an Ulster chieftain called Sualtam, and was sitting at the wedding-feast, when a may-fly flew into her cup of wine and was unwittingly swallowed by her. That same afternoon she fell into a deep sleep, and in her dream the sun-god Lugh appeared to her, and told her that it was he whom she had swallowed, and bore within her. He ordered her and her fifty attendant maidens to come with him at once, and he put upon them the shapes of birds, so that they were not seen to go. Nothing was heard of them again. But one day, months later, a flock of beautiful birds appeared before Emain Macha, and drew out its warriors in their chariots to hunt them.

They followed the birds till nightfall, when they found themselves at the Brugh on the Boyne, where the great gods had their homes. As they looked everywhere for shelter, they suddenly saw a splendid palace. A tall and handsome man, richly dressed, came out and welcomed them and led them in. Within the hall were a beautiful and noble-faced woman and fifty maidens, and on the tables were the richest meats and wines, and everything fit for the needs of warriors. So they rested there the night, and, during the night, they heard the cry of a new-born child. The next morning, the man told them who he was, and that the woman was Conchobar's half-sister Dechtiré, and he ordered them to take the child, and bring it up among the warriors of Ulster. So they brought him back, together with his mother and the maidens, and Dechtiré married Sualtam, and all the chiefs, champions, druids, poets, and lawgivers of Ulster vied with one another in bringing up the mysterious infant.


At first they called him Setanta; and this is how he came to change his name. While still a child, he was the strongest of the boys of Emain Macha, and the champion in their sports. One day he was playing hurley single-handed against all the others, and beating them, when Conchobar the King rode by with his nobles on the way to a banquet given by Culann, the chief smith of the Ultonians. Conchobar called to the boy, inviting him to go with them, and he replied that, when the game was finished, he would follow. As soon as the Ulster champions were in Culann's hall, the smith asked the king's leave to unloose his terrible watch-dog, which was as strong and fierce as a hundred hounds; and Conchobar, forgetting that the boy was to follow them, gave his permission. Immediately the hound saw Setanta coming, it rushed at him, open-mouthed. But the boy flung his playing-ball into its mouth, and then, seizing it by the hind-legs, dashed it against a rock till he had killed it.

The smith Culann was very angry at the death of his dog; for there was no other hound in the world like him for guarding a house and flocks. So Setanta promised to find and train up another one, not less good, for Culann, and, until it was trained, to guard the smith's house as though he were a dog himself. This is why he was called Cuchulainn, that is, "Culann's Hound"; and Cathbad the Druid prophesied that the time would come when the name would be in every man's mouth.

Not long after this, Cuchulainn overheard Cathbad giving druidical instruction, and one of his pupils asking him what that day would be propitious for. Cathbad replied that, if any young man first took arms on that day, his name would be greater than that of any other hero's, but his life would be short. At once, the boy went to King Conchobar, and demanded arms and a chariot. Conchobar asked him who had put such a thought into his head; and he answered that it was Cathbad the Druid. So Conchobar gave him arms and armour, and sent him out with a charioteer. That evening, Cuchulainn brought back the heads of three cham- pions who had killed many of the warriors of Ulster. He was then only seven years old.

The Wooing of Emer

The women of Ulster so loved Cuchulainn after this that the warriors grew jealous, and insisted that a wife should be found for him. But Cuchulainn was very hard to please. He would have only one, Emer, the daughter of Forgall the Wily, the best maiden in Ireland for the six gifts — the gift of beauty, the gift of voice, the gift of sweet speech, the gift of needlework, the gift of wisdom, and the gift of chastity. So he went to woo her, but she laughed at him for a boy. Then Cuchulainn swore by the gods of his people that he would make his name known wherever the deeds of heroes were spoken of, and Emer promised to marry him if he could take her from her warlike kindred.

When Forgall, her father, came to know of this betrothal, he devised a plan to put an end to it. He went to visit King Conchobar at Emain Macha, There he pretended to have heard of Cuchulainn for the first time, and he saw him do all his feats. He said, loud enough to be overheard by all, that if so promising a youth dared to go to the Island of Scathach the Amazon, in the east of Alba, and learn all her warrior-craft, no living man would be able to stand before him. It was hard to reach Scathachs Isle, and still harder to return from it, and Forgall felt certain that, if Cuchulainn went, he would get his death there.

Of course, nothing would now satisfy Cuchulainn but going. His two friends, Laegaire the Battle-winner and Conall the Victorious, said that they would go with him. But, before they had gone far, they lost heart and turned back. Cuchulainn went on alone, crossing the Plain of Ill-Luck, where men's feet stuck fast, while sharp grasses sprang up and cut them, and through the Perilous Glens, full of devouring wild beasts, until he came to the Bridge of the Cliff, which rose on end, till it stood straight up like a ship's mast, as soon as anyone put foot on it. Three times Cuchulainn tried to cross it, and thrice he failed. Then anger came into his heart, and a magic halo shone round his head, and he did his famous feat of the "hero's salmon leap", and landed, in one jump, on the middle of the bridge, and then slid down it as it rose up on end.

Scathach was in the dún, with her two sons. Cuchulainn went to her, and put his sword to her breast, and threatened to kill her if she would not teach him all her own skill in arms. So he became her pupil, and she taught him all her war-craft. In return, Cuchulainn helped her against a rival queen of the Amazons, called Aoife. He conquered Aoife, and compelled her to make peace with Scathach.

Then he returned to Ireland, and went in a scythed chariot to Forgall's palace. He leaped over its triple walls, and slew everyone who came near him. Forgall met his death in trying to escape Cuchulainn's rage. He found Emer, and placed her in his chariot, and drove away; and, every time that Forgalls warriors came up to them, he turned, and slew a hundred, and put the rest to flight. He reached Emain Macha in safety, and he and Emer were married there.

And so great, after this, were the fame of Cuchulainn's prowess and Emer s beauty that the men and women of Ulster yielded them precedence — him among the warriors and her among the women — in evexy feast and banquet at Emain Macha.

The Cattle Raid of Cooley

But all that Cuchulainn had done up to this time was as nothing to the deeds he did in the great war which all the rest of Ireland, headed by Ailill and Medb, King and Queen of Connaught, made upon Ulster, to get the Brown Bull of Cualgne. This Bull was one of two, of fairy descent. They had originally been the swineherds of two of the gods, Bodb, King of the Sidhe of Munster, and Ochall Ochne, King of the Sidhe of Connaught. As swineherds they were in perpetual rivalry; then, the better to carry on their quarrel, they changed themselves into two ravens, and fought for a year; next they turned into water - monsters, which tore one another for a year in the Suir and a year in the Shannon; then they became human again and fought as champions; and ended by changing into eels. One of these eels went into the River Cruind, in Cualgne, in Ulster, where it was swallowed by a cow belonging to Daire of Cualgne, and the other into the spring of Uaran Garad, in Connaught, where it passed into the belly of a cow of Queen Medb's. Thus were born those two famous beasts, the Brown Bull of Ulster and the White-horned Bull of Connaught.

Now the White-horned was of such proud mind that he scorned to belong to a woman, and he went out of Medb's herds into those of her husband Ailill. So that when Ailill and Medb one day, in their idleness, counted up their possessions, to set them off one against the other, although they were equal in every other thing, in jewels and clothes and household vessels, in sheep and horses and swine and cattle, Medb had no one bull that was worthy to be set beside Ailills White-horned. Refusing to be less in anything than her husband, the proud queen sent heralds, with gifts and compliments, to Daire, asking him to lend her the Brown Bull for a year. Daire would have done so gladly had not one of Medb's messengers been heard boasting in his cups that, if Daire had not lent the Brown Bull of his own free-will, Medb would have taken it. This was reported to Daire, who at once swore that she should never have it. Medb's messenger returned; and the Queen of Connaught, furious at his refusal, vowed that she would take it by force.

She assembled the armies of all the rest of Ireland to go against Ulster, and made Fergus son of Roy, an Ulster champion who had quarrelled with King Conchobar, its leader. They expected to have an easy victory, for the warriors of Ulster were at that time lying under a magic weakness which fell upon them for many days in each year, as the result of a curse laid upon them, long before, by a goddess who had been insulted by one of Conchobar's ancestors. Medb called up a prophetess of her people to fore- tell victory. "How do you see our hosts?" asked the queen of the seeress. "I see crimson on them; I see red," she replied. "But the warriors of Ulster are lying in their sickness. Nay, how do you see our men?" "I see them all crimson; I see them all red," she repeated. And then she added to the astonished queen, who had expected a quite different foretelling: "For I see a small man doing deeds of arms, though there are many wounds on his smooth skin; the hero-light shines round his head, and there is victory on his forehead; he is richly clothed, and young and beautiful and modest, but he is a dragon in battle. His appearance and his valour are those of Cuchulainn of Muirthemne; who that 'Culann's hound' from Muirthemne may be, I do not know; but I know this, that all our army will be reddened by him. He is setting out for battle; he will hew down your hosts; the slaughter he shall make will be long remembered; there will be many women crying over the bodies mangled by the Hound of the Forge whom I see before me now." For Cuchulainn was, for some reason unknown to us, the only man in Ulster who was not subject to the magic weakness, and therefore it fell upon him to defend Ulster single-handed against the whole of Medb's army.

In spite of the injury done him by King Conchobar, Fergus still kept a love for his own country. He had not the heart to march upon the Ultonians without first secretly sending a messenger to warn them. So that, though all the other champions of the Red Branch were helpless, Cuchulainn was watching the marches when the army came.

Now begins the story of the aristeia of the Gaelic hero. It is, after the manner of epics, the record of a series of single combats, in each of which Cuchu- lainn slays his adversary. Man after man comes against him, and not one goes back. In the intervals between these duels, Cuchulainn harasses the army with his sling, slaying a hundred men a day. He kills Medb's pet dog, bird, and squirrel, and creates such terror that no one dares to stir out of the camp. Medb herself has a narrow escape; for one of her serving - women, who puts on her mistress's golden head-dress, is killed by a stone flung from Cuchulainn's sling.

The great queen determines to see with her own eyes this marvellous hero who is holding all her warriors at bay. She sends an envoy, asking him to come and parley with her. Cuchulainn agrees, and, at the meeting, Medb is amazed at his boyish look. She finds it hard to believe that it is this beardless stripling of seventeen who is killing her champions, until the whole army seems as though it were melting away. She offers him her own friendship and great honours and possessions in Connaught if he will forsake Conchobar. He refuses; but she offers it again and again. At last Cuchulainn indignantly declares that the next man who comes with such a message will do so at his peril. One bargain, however, he will make. He is willing to fight one of the men of Ireland every day, and, while the duel lasts, the main army may march on; but, as soon as Cuchulainn has killed his man, it must halt until the next day. Medb agrees to this, thinking it better to lose one man a day than a hundred.

Medb makes the same offer to every famous warrior, to induce him to go against Cuchulainn. The reward for the head of the champion will be the hand of her daughter, Findabair. In spite of this, not one of the aspirants to the princess can stand before Cuchulainn. All perish; and Findabair, when she finds out how she is being promised to a fresh suitor every day, dies of shame. But, while Cuchulainn is engaged in these combats, Medb sends men who scour Ulster for the brown bull, and find him, and drive him, with fifty heifers, into her camp.

Meanwhile the Ǽs Sidhe, the fairy god-clan, are watching the half-divine, half-mortal hero, amazed at his achievements. His exploits kindle love in the fierce heart of the Morrigú, the great war-goddess. Cuchulainn is awakened from sleep by a terrible shout from the north. He orders his driver, Laeg, to yoke the horses to his chariot, so that he may find out who raised it. They go in the direction from which the sound had come, and meet with a woman in a chariot drawn by a red horse. She has red eyebrows, and a red dress, and a long, red cloak, and she carries a great, gray spear. He asks her who she is, and she tells him that she is a king's daughter, and that she has fallen in love with him through hearing of his exploits. Cuchulainn says that he has other things to think of than love. She replies that she has been giving him her help in his battles, and will still do so; and Cuchulainn answers that he does not need any woman's help. "Then," says she, "if you will not have my love and help, you shall have my hatred and enmity. When you are fighting with a warrior as good as yourself, I will come against you in various shapes and hinder you, so that he shall have the advantage." Cuchulainn draws his sword, but all he sees is a hoodie crow sitting on a branch. He knows from this that the red woman in the chariot was the great queen of the gods.

The next day, a warrior named Loch went to meet Cuchulainn. At first he refused to fight one who was beardless; so Cuchulainn smeared his chin with blackberry juice, until it looked as though he had a beard. While Cuchulainn was fighting Loch, the Morrigd came against him three times — first as a heifer which tried to overthrow him, and next as an eel which got beneath his feet as he stood in running water, and then as a wolf which seized hold of his right arm. But Cuchulainn broke the heifer's leg, and trampled upon the eel, and put out one of the wolfs eyes, though, every one of these three times, Loch wounded him. In the end, Cuchulainn slew Loch with his invincible spear, the gae bolg, made of a sea-monster's bones. The Morrigú came back to Cuchulainn, disguised as an old woman, to have her wounds healed by him, for no one could cure them but he who had made them. She became his friend after this, and helped him.

But the fighting was so continuous that Cuchulainn got no sleep, except just for a while, from time to time, when he might rest a little, with his head on his hand and his hand on his spear and his spear on his knee. So that his father, Lugh the Longhanded, took pity on him and came to him in the semblance of a tall, handsome man in a green cloak and a gold-embroidered silk shirt, and carrying a black shield and a five-pronged spear. He put him into a sleep of three days and three nights, and, while he rested, he laid druidical herbs on to all his wounds, so that, in the end, he rose up again com- pletely healed and as strong as at the very beginning of the war. While he was asleep, the boy-troop of Emain Macha, Cuchulainns old companions, came and fought instead of him, and slew three times their own number, but were all killed.

It was at this time that Medb asked Fergus to go and fight with Cuchulainn. Fergus answered that he would never fight against his own foster- son. Medb asked him again and again, and at last he went, but without his famous sword. "Fergus, my guardian," said Cuchulainn, "it is not safe for you to come out against me without your sword." "If I had the sword," replied Fergus, "I would not use it on you." Then Fergus asked Cuchulainn, for the sake of all he had done for him in his boyhood, to pretend to fight with him, and then give way before him and run away. Cuchulainn answered that he was very loth to be seen running from any man. But Fergus promised Cuchulainn that, if Cuchulainn would run away from Fergus then, Fergus would run away from Cuchulainn at some future time, whenever Cuchulainn wished. Cuchulainn agreed to this, for he knew that it would be for the profit of Ulster. So they fought a little, and then Cuchulainn turned and fled in the sight of all Medb's army. Fergus went back; and Medb could not reproach him any more.

But she cast about to find some other way of vanquishing Cuchulainn. The agreement made had been that only one man a day should be sent against him. But now Medb sent the wizard Calatin with his twenty-seven sons and his grandson all at once, for she said "they are really only one, for they are all from Calatin's body". They never missed a throw with their poisoned spears, and every man they hit died, either on the spot or within the week. When Fergus heard of this, he was in great grief, and he sent a man called Fiacha, an exile, like himself, from Ulster, to watch the fight and report how it went. Now Fiacha did not mean to join in it. but when he saw Cuchulainn assailed by twenty-nine at a time, and overpowered, he could not restrain himself. So he drew his sword and helped Cuchulainn, and, between them, they killed Calatin and his whole family.

As a last resource, now, Medb sent for Ferdiad, who was the great champion of the Iberian "Men of Domnu", who had thrown in their lot with Medb in the war for the Brown Bull. Ferdiad had been a companion and fellow-pupil of Cuchulainn with Scathach, and he did not wish to fight with him. But Medb told him that, if he refused, her satirists should make such lampoons on him that he would die of shame, and his name would be a reproach for ever. She also offered him great rewards and honours, and bound herself in six sureties to keep her promises. At last, reluctantly, he went.

Cuchulainn saw him coming, and went out to welcome him; but Ferdiad said that he had not come as a friend, but to fight. Now Cuchulainn had been Ferdiad's junior and serving-boy in Scathach's Island, and he begged him by the memory of those old times to go back; but Ferdiad said he could not. They fought all day, and neither had gained any advantage by sunset. So they kissed one another, and each went back to his camp. Ferdiad sent half his food and drink to Cuchulainn, and Cuchulainn sent half his healing herbs and medicines to Ferdiad, and their horses were put in the same stable, and their charioteers slept by the same fire. And so it happened on the second day. But at the end of the third day they parted gloomily, knowing that on the morrow one of them must fall ; and their horses were not put in the same stall that night, neither did their charioteers sleep at the same fire. On the fourth day, Cuchulainn succeeded in killing Ferdiad, by casting the gae bolg at him from underneath. But when he saw that he was dying, the battle-fury passed away, and he took his old companion up in his arms, and carried him across the river on whose banks they had fought, so that he might be with the men of Ulster in his death, and not with the men of Ireland. And he wept over him, and said: "It was all a game and a sport until Ferdiad came ; Oh, Ferdiad ! your death will hang over me like a cloud for ever. Yesterday he was greater than a mountain; to-day he is less than a shadow."

By this time, Cuchulainn was so covered with wounds that he could not bear his clothes to touch his skin, but had to hold them off with hazel-sticks, and fill the spaces in between with grass. There was not a place on him the size of a needle-point that had not a wound on it, except his left hand, which held the shield.

But Sualtam, Cuchulainn's reputed father, had learned what a sore plight his son was in. "Do I hear the heaven bursting, or the sea running away, or the earth breaking open," he cried, "or is it my son's groaning that I hear?" He came to look for him, and found him covered with wounds and blood. But Cuchulainn would not let his father either weep for him or try to avenge him. "Go, rather," he said to him, "to Emain Macha, and tell Conchobar that I can no longer defend Ulster against all the four provinces of Erin without help. Tell him that there is no part of my body on which there is not a wound, and that, if he wishes to save his kingdom, he must make no delay."

Sualtam mounted Cuchulainn's war-horse, the "Gray of Battle", and galloped to Emain Macha. Three times he shouted: "Men are being killed, women carried off, and cattle lifted in Ulster". Twice he met with no response. The third time, Cathbad the Druid roused himself from his lethargy to denounce the man who was disturbing the king's sleep. In his indignation Sualtam turned away so sharply that the gray steed reared, and struck its rider's shield against his neck with such force that he was decapitated. The startled horse then turned back into Conchobar's stronghold, and dashed through it, Sualtam's severed head continuing to cry out: "Men are being killed, women carried off, and cattle lifted in Ulster."Such a portent was enough to rouse the most drowsy. Conchobar, himself again, swore a great oath. "The heavens are over us, the earth is beneath us, and the sea circles us round, and, unless the heavens fall, with all their stars, or the earth gives way beneath us, or the sea bursts over the land, I will restore every cow to her stable, and every woman to her home."

He sent messengers to rally Ulster, and they gathered, and marched on the men of Erin. And then was fought such a battle as had never been before in Ireland. First one side, then the other, gave way and rallied again, until Cuchulainn heard the noise of the fight, and rose up, in spite of all his wounds, and came to it.

He called out to Fergus, reminding him how he had bound himself with an oath to run from him when called upon to do so. So Fergus ran before Cuchulainn, and when Medb's army saw their leader running they broke and fled like one man.

But the Brown Bull of Cualgne went with the army into Connaught, and there he met Ailills bull, the White-horned. And he fought the White- horned, and tore him limb from limb, and carried off pieces of him on his horns, dropping the loins at Athlone and the liver at Trim. Then he went back to Cualgne, and turned mad, killing all who crossed his path, until his heart burst with bellowing, and he fell dead.

This was the end of the great war called Táin Bó Chuailgné, the "Driving of the Cattle of Cooley".

The Shadowy Town

Yet, wondrous as it was, it was not the most marvellous of Cuchulainn's exploits. Like all the solar gods and heroes of Celtic myth, he carried his conquests into the dark region of Hades. On this occasion the mysterious realm is an island called Dún Scaith, that is, the "Shadowy Town", and though its king is not mentioned by name, it seems likely that he was Mider, and that Dún Scaith is another name for the Isle of Falga, or Man. The story, as a poem relates it, is curiously suggestive of a raid which the powers of light, and especially the sun-gods, are represented as having made upon Hades in kindred British myth. The same loathsome combatants issue out of the underworld to repel its assailants. There was a pit in the centre of Dun Scaith, out of which swarmed a vast throng of serpents. No sooner had Cuchulainn and the heroes of Ulster disposed of these than "a house full of toads" was loosed upon them — "sharp, beaked monsters" (says the poem), which caught them by the noses, and these were in turn replaced by fierce dragons. Yet the heroes prevailed and carried off the spoil — three cows of magic qualities and a marvellous cauldron in which was always found an inexhaustible supply of meat, with treasure of silver and gold to boot. They started back for Ireland in a coracle, the three cows being towed behind, with the treasure in bags around their necks. But the gods of Hades raised a storm which wrecked their ship, and they had to swim home. Here Cuchulainn's more than mortal prowess came in useful. We are told that he floated nine men to shore on each of his hands, and thirty on his head, while eight more, clinging to his sides, used him as a kind of life-belt.

Cuchulainn kills his son

After this, came the tragedy of Cuchulainn's career, the unhappy duel in which he killed his only son, not knowing who he was. The story is one common, apparently, to the Aryan nations, for it is found not only in the Gaelic, but in the Teutonic and Persian mythic traditions. It will be remembered that Cuchulainn defeated a rival of Scathach the Amazon, named Aoife, and compelled her to render submission. The hero had also a son by Aoife, and he asked that the boy should be called Conlaoch, and that, when he was of age to travel, he should be sent to Ireland to find his father. Aoife promised this, but, a little later, news came to her that Cuchulainn had married Emer. Mad with jealousy, she determined to make the son avenge her slight upon the father. She taught him the craft of arms until there was no more that he could learn, and sent him to Ireland. Before he started, she laid three geasa upon him. The first was that he was not to turn back, the second that he was never to refuse a challenge, and the third that he was never to tell his name.

He arrived at Dundealgan, Cuchulainn's home, and the warrior Conall came down to meet him, and asked him his name and lineage. He refused to tell them, and this led to a duel, in which Conall was disarmed and humiliated. Cuchulainn next approached him, asked the same question, and received the same answer. "Yet if I was not under a command," said Conlaoch, who did not know he was speaking to his father, "there is no man in the world to whom I would sooner tell it than to yourself, for I love your face." Even this compliment could not stave off the fight, for Cuchulainn felt it his duty to punish the insolence of this stripling who refused to declare who he was. The fight was a fierce one, and the invincible Cuchulainn found himself so pressed that the "hero-light" shone round him and transfigured his face. When Conlaoch saw this, he knew who his antagonist must be, and purposely flung his spear slantways that it might not hit his father. But before Cuchulainn understood, he had thrown the terrible gae bolg, Conlaoch, dying, declared his name; and so passionate was Cuchulainn's grief that the men of Ulster were afraid that in his madness he might wreak his wrath upon them. They, therefore, called upon Cathbad the Druid to put him under a glamour. Cathbad turned the waves of the sea into the appearance of armed men, and Cuchulainn smote them with his sword until he fell prone from weariness.

The Death of Cuchulainn

It would take too long to relate all the other adventures and exploits of Cuchulainn. Enough has been done if any reader of this chapter should be persuaded by it to study the wonderful saga of ancient Ireland for himself We must pass on quickly to its tragical close — the hero's death.

Medb, Queen of Connaught, had never forgiven him for keeping back her army from raiding Ulster, and for slaying so many of her friends and allies. So she went secretly to all those whose relations Cuchulainn had killed (and they were many), and stirred them up to revenge.

Besides this, she had sent the three daughters of Calatin the Wizard, born after their father's death at the hands of Cuchulainn, to Alba and to Babylon to learn witchcraft. When they came back they were mistresses of every kind of sorcery, and could make the illusion of battle with an incantation.

And, lest she might fail even then, she waited with patience until the Ultonians were again in their magic weakness, and there was no one to help Cuchulainn but himself.

Lugaid, son of the Curoi, King of Munster whom Cuchulainn had killed for the sake of Blathnat, Mider's daughter, gathered the Munster men; Ere, whose father had also fallen at Cuchulainn's hands, called the men of Meath; the King of Leinster brought out his army; and, with Ailill and Medb and all Connaught, they marched into Ulster again, and began to ravage it.

Conchobar called his warriors and druids into council, to see if they could find some means of putting off war until they were ready to meet it. He did not wish Cuchulainn to go out single- handed a second time against all the rest of Ireland, for he knew that, if the champion perished, the prosperity of Ulster would fall with him for ever. So, when Cuchulainn came to Emain Macha, the king set all the ladies, singers, and poets of the court to keep his thoughts from war until the men of Ulster had recovered from their weakness.

But while they sat feasting and talking in the "sunny house", the three daughters of Calatin came fluttering down on to the lawn before it, and began gathering grass and thistles and puff-balls and withered leaves, and turning them into the semblance of armies. And, by the same magic, they caused shouts and shrieks and trumpet-blasts and the clattering of arms to be heard all round the house, as though a battle were being fought.

Cuchulainn leaped up, red with shame to think that fighting should be going on without his help, and seized his sword. But Cathbad's son caught him by the arms. All the druids explained to him that what he saw was only an enchantment raised by the children of Calatin to draw him out to his death. But it was as much as all of them could do to keep him quiet while he saw the phantom armies and heard the magic sounds.

So they decided that it would be well to remove Cuchulainn from Emain Macha to Glean-na-Bodhar, the "Deaf Valley", until all the enchantments of the daughters of Calatin were spent. It was the quality of this valley that, if all the men of Ireland were to shout round it at once, no one within it would hear a sound.

But the daughters of Calatin went there too, and again they took thistles and puff-balls and withered leaves, and put on them the appearance of armed men; so that there seemed to be no place outside the whole valley that was not filled with shouting battalions. And they made the illusion of fires all around and the sound of women shrieking. Everyone who heard that outcry was frightened at it, not only the men and women, but even the dogs.

Though the women and the druids shouted back with all the strength of their voices, to drown it they could not keep Cuchulainn from hearing. "Alas!" he cried, "I hear the men of Ireland shouting as they ravage the province. My triumph is at an end; my fame is gone; Ulster lies low for ever." "Let it pass," said Cathbad; **it is only the idle magic noises made by the children of Calatin, who want to draw you out, to put an end to you. Stay here with us, and take no heed of them."

Cuchulainn obeyed; and the daughters of Calatin went on for a long time filling the air with noises of battle. But they grew tired of it at last; for they saw that the druids and women had outwitted them.

They did not succeed until one of them took the form of a leman of Cuchulainn s, and came to him, crying out that Dundealgan was burnt, and Muirthemne ruined, and the whole province of Ulster ravaged. Then, at last, he was deceived, and took his arms and armour, and, in spite of all that was said to him, he ordered Laeg to yoke his chariot.

Signs and portents now began to gather as thickly round the doomed hero as they did round the wooers in the hall of Odysseus. His famous war-horse, the Gray of Macha, refused to be bridled, and shed large tears of blood. His mother, Dechtiré, brought him a goblet full of wine, and thrice the wine turned into blood as he put it to his lips. At the first ford he crossed, he saw a maiden of the sidhe washing clothes and armour, and she told him that it was the clothes and arms of Cuchulainn, who was soon to be dead. He met three ancient hags cooking a hound on spits of rowan, and they invited him to partake of it. He refused, for it was taboo to him to eat the flesh of his namesake; but they shamed him into doing so by telling him that he ate at rich men's tables and refused the hospitality of the poor. The forbidden meat paralysed half his body. Then he saw his enemies coming up against him in their chariots.

Cuchulainn had three spears, of which it was prophesied that each should kill a king. Three druids were charged in turn to ask for these spears; for it was not thought lucky to refuse anything to a druid. The first one came up to where Cuchulainn was making the plain red with slaughter. "Give me one of those spears," he said, "or I will lampoon you." "Take it," replied Cuchulainn, "I have never yet been lampooned for refusing anyone a gift." And he threw the spear at the druid, and killed him. But Lugaid, son of Curoi, got the spear, and killed Laeg with it Laeg was the king of all chariot-drivers.

"Give me one of your spears, Cuchulainn," said the second druid. " I need it myself," he replied. "I will lampoon the province of Ulster because of you, if you refuse." " I am not obliged to give more than one gift in a day," said Cuchulainn, "but Ulster shall never be lampooned because of me." He threw the spear at the druid, and it went through his head. But Ere, King of Leinster, got it, and mortally wounded the Gray of Macha, the king of all horses.

"Give me your spear," said the third druid. "I have paid all that is due from myself and Ulster," replied Cuchulainn. "I will satirize your kindred if you do not," said the druid." I shall never go home, but I will be the cause of no lampoons there," answered Cuchulainn, and he threw the spear at the asker, and killed him. But Lugaid threw it back, and it went through Cuchulainn s body, and wounded him to the death.

Then, in his agony, he greatly desired to drink. He asked his enemies to let him go to a lake that lay close by, and quench his thirst, and then come back again. "If I cannot come back to you, come to fetch me," he said; and they let him go.

Cuchulainn drank, and bathed, and came out of the water. But he found that he could not walk; so he called to his enemies to come to him. There was a pillar-stone near; and he bound himself to it with his belt, so that he might die standing up, and not lying down. His dying horse, the Gray of Macha, came back to fight for him, and killed fifty men with his teeth and thirty with each of his hoofs. But the "hero-light" had died out of Cuchulainn's face, leaving it as pale as "a one-night's snow", and a crow came and perched upon his shoulder.

"Truly it was not upon that pillar that birds used to sit," said Ere.

Now that they were certain that Cuchulainn was dead, they all gathered round him, and Lugaid cut off his head to take it to Medb. But vengeance came quickly, for Conall the Victorious was in pursuit, and he made a terrible slaughter of Cuchulainn's enemies.

Thus perished the great hero of the Gaels in the twenty-seventh year of his age. And with him fell the prosperity of Emain Macha and of the Red Branch of Ulster.


The heroic age of Ireland was not, however, the mere orgy of battle which one might assume from the previous chapter. It had room for its Helen and its Andromache as well as for its Achilles and its Hector. Its champions could find time to make love as well as war. More than this, the legends of their courtships often have a romantic beauty found in no other early literature. The women have free scope of choice, and claim the respect of their wooers. Indeed, it has been pointed out that the mythical stories of the Celts must have created the chivalrous romances of mediaeval Europe. In them, and in no other previous literature, do we find such knightly treatment of an enemy as we see in the story of Cuchulainn and Ferdiad, or such poetic delicacy towards a woman as is displayed in the wooing of Emer.

The Wooing of Emer

The talk between man and maid when Cuchulainn comes in his chariot to pay his suit to Emer at Forgall's dún might, save for its strangeness, almost have come out of some quite modern romance.

Emer lifted up her lovely face and recognised Cuchulainn, and she said, "May God make smooth the path before you!"

"And you," he said, "may you be safe from every harm."

She asks him whence he has come, and he tells her. Then he questions her about herself.

"I am a Tara of women," she replies, "the whitest of maidens, one who is gazed at but who gazes not back, a rush too far to be reached, an untrodden way. ... I was brought up in ancient virtues, in lawful behaviour, in the keeping of chastity, in rank equal to a queen, in stateliness of form, so that to me is attributed every noble grace among the hosts of Erin's women." In more boastful strain Cuchulainn tells of his own birth and deeds. Not like the son of a peasant had he been reared at Conchobar's court, but among heroes and champions, jesters and druids. When he is weakest his strength is that of twenty; alone he will fight against forty; a hundred men would feel safe under his protection. One can imagine Emer's smile as she listens to these braggings. "Truly," she says, "they are goodly feats for a tender boy, but they are not yet those of chariot-chiefs." Very modern, too, is the way in which she coyly reminds her wooer that she has an elder sister as yet unwed. But, when at last he drives her to the point, she answers him with gentle, but proud decision. Not by words, but by deeds is she to be won. The man she will marry must have his name mentioned wherever the exploits of heroes are spoken of.

"Even as thou hast commanded, so shall all by me be done," said Cuchulainn.

"And by me your offer is accepted, it is taken, it is granted," replied Emer.

Cúchulainn rebuked by Emer

It seems a pity that, after so fine a wooing, Cuchulainn could not have kept faithful to the bride he won. Yet such is not the way of heroes whom goddesses as well as mortal women conspire to tempt from their loyalty. Fand, the wife of Manannán son of Lêr, deserted by the sea-god, sent her sister Liban to Cuchulainn as an ambassador of love. At first he refused to visit her, but ordered Laeg, his charioteer, to go with Liban to the "Happy Plain " to spy out the land. Laeg returned enraptured. "If all Ireland were mine," he assured his master, "with supreme rule over its fair inhabitants, I would give it up without regret to go and live in the place that I have seen."

So Cuchulainn himself went and stayed a month in the Celtic Paradise with Fand, the fairest woman of the Sidhe. Returning to the land of mortals, he made a tryst with the goddess to meet him again in his own country by the yew-tree at the head of Baile s strand.

But Emer came to hear of it, and went to the meeting-place herself, with fifty of her maidens, each armed with a knife to kill her rival. There she found Cuchulainn, Laeg, and Fand.

"What has led you, Cuchulainn," said Emer, "to shame me before the women of Erin and all honourable people? I came under your shelter, trusting in your faithfulness, and now you seek a cause of quarrel with me."

Cúchulainn rebuked by Emer (1905 illustration by H. R. Millar).
Cúchulainn rebuked by Emer (1905 illustration by H. R. Millar).
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But Cuchulainn, hero-like, could not understand why his wife should not be content to take her turn with this other woman — surely no unworthy rival, for she was beautiful, and came of the lofty race of gods. We see Emer yield at last, with queenly pathos.

"I will not refuse this woman to you, if you long for her," she said, "for I know that everything that is new seems fair, and everything that is common seems bitter, and everything we have not seems desirable to us, and everything we have we think little of And yet, Cuchulainn, I was once pleasing to you, and I would wish to be so again."

Her grief touched him. "By my word," he said, "you are pleasing to me, and will be as long as I live."

"Then let me be given up," said Fand. "It is better that I should be," replied Emer.

"No," said Fand;
"it is I who must be given up in the end.
"It is I who will go, though I go with great sorrow. I would rather stay with Cuchulainn than live in the sunny home of the gods.
"O Emer, he is yours, and you are worthy of him! What my hand cannot have, my heart may yet wish well to.
"A sorrowful thing it is to love without return. Better to renounce than not to receive a love equal to one's own.
"It was not well of you, O fair-haired Emer, to come to kill Fand in her misery."

It was while the goddess and the human woman were contending with one another in self-sacrifice that Manannán, Son of the Sea, heard of Fand's trouble, and was sorry that he had forsaken her. So he came, invisible to all but her alone. He asked her pardon, and she herself could not forget that she had once been happy with the "horseman of the crested waves ", and still might be happy with him again. The god asked her to make her choice between them, and, when she went to him, he shook his mantle between her and Cuchulainn. It was one of the magic properties of Manannán's mantle that those between whom it was shaken could never meet again. Then Fand returned with her divine husband to the country of the immortals; and the druids of Emain Macha gave Cuchulainn and Emer each a drink of oblivion, so that Cuchulainn forgot his love and Emer her jealousy.
Manannán shakes his cloak between Cú Chulainn and Fand, ensuring the two will never meet again.
Manannán shakes his cloak between Cú Chulainn and Fand, ensuring the two will never meet again.

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The scene of this story takes its name from another, and hardly less beautiful love-tale. The "yew-tree at the head of Baile's strand. "

Baile and Ailinn - The yew-tree at the head of Baile's strand

The "yew-tree at the head of Baile's strand" had grown out of the grave of Baile of the Honeyed Speech, and it bore the appearance of Baile's love, Ailinn. This Gaelic Romeo and Juliet were of royal birth: Baile was heir to Ulster, and Ailinn was daughter of the King of Leinster's son. Not by any feud of Montague and Capulet were they parted, however, but by the craft of a ghostly enemy. They had appointed to meet one another at Dundealgan, and Baile, who arrived there first, was greeted by a stranger. "What news do you bring?" asked Baile. "None," replied the stranger, "except that Ailinn of Leinster was setting out to meet her lover, but the men of Leinster kept her back, and her heart broke then and there from grief." When Baile heard this, his own heart broke, and he fell dead on the strand, while the messenger went on the wings of the wind to the home of Ailinn, who had not yet started. "Whence come you?" she asked him. "From Ulster, by the shore of Dundealgan, where I saw men raising a stone over one who had just died, and on the stone I read the name of Baile. He had come to meet some woman he was in love with, but it was destined that they should never see one another again in life." At this news Ailinn, too, fell dead, and was buried; and we are told that an apple-tree grew out of her grave, the apples of which bore the likeness of the face of Baile, while a yew- tree sprung from Baile's grave, and took the appearance of Ailinn. This legend, which is probably a part of the common heritage of the Aryans, is found in folk-lore over an area which stretches from Ireland to India. The Gaelic version has, however, an ending unknown to the others. The two trees, it relates, were cut down, and made into wands upon which the poets of Ulster and of Leinster cut the songs of the love-tragedies of their two provinces, in ogam. But even these mute memorials of Baile and Ailinn were destined not to be divided. After two hundred years, Art the "Lonely", High-King of Ireland, ordered them to be brought to the hall of Tara, and, as soon as the wands found themselves under the same roof, they all sprang together, and no force or skill could part them again. So the king commanded them to be "kept, like any other jewel, in the treasury of Tara."

Twisted yew trees
Twisted yew trees.
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Deirdre - The Fate of the Sons of Usnech

Neither of these stories, however, has as yet attained the fame of one now to be retold. To many, no doubt, Gaelic romance is summed up in the one word Deirdre. It is the legend of this Gaelic Helen that the poets of the modern Celtic school most love to elaborate, while old men still tell it round the peat-fires of Ireland and the Highlands. Scholar and peasant alike combine to preserve a tradition no one knows how many hundred years old, for it was written down in the twelfth-century Book of Leinster as one of the "prime stories" which every bard was bound to be able to recite It takes rank with the "Fate of the Sons of Tuirenn", and with the "Fate of the Children of Lêr", as one of the "Three Sorrowful Stories of Erin ".
Read the details of the story: Deirdre and The Fate of the Sons of Usnech



The Fenian epic begins, before the birth of its hero, with the struggle of two rival clans, each of whom claimed to be the real and only Fianna Eirinn. They were called the Clann Morna, of which Goll mac Morna was head, and the Clann Baoisgne, commanded by Finn's father, Cumhal. A battle was fought at Cnucha, in which Goll killed Cumhal, and the Clann Baoisgne was scattered. Cumhal's wife, however, bore a posthumous son, who was brought up among the Slieve Bloom Mountains secretly, for fear his father's enemies should find and kill him. The boy, who was at first called Deimne, grew up to be an expert hurler, swimmer, runner, and hunter. Later, like Cuchulainn, and indeed many modern savages, he took a second, more personal name. Those who saw him asked who was the "fair" youth. He accepted the omen, and called himself Deimne Finn.

At length, he wandered to the banks of the Boyne, where he found a soothsayer called Finn the Seer living beside a deep pool near Slane, named "Fee's Pool", in hope of catching one of the "salmons of knowledge", and, by eating it, obtaining universal wisdom. He had been there seven years without result, though success had been prophesied to one named "Finn". When the wandering son of Cumhal appeared, Finn the Seer engaged him as his servant. Shortly afterwards, he caught the coveted fish, and handed it over to our Finn to cook, warning him to eat no portion of it. "Have you eaten any of it?" he asked the boy, as he brought it up ready boiled. "No indeed," replied Finn; "but, while I was cooking it, a blister rose upon the skin, and, laying my thumb down upon the blister, I scalded it, and so I put it into my mouth to ease the pain." The man was perplexed. "You told me your name was Deimne," he said; "but have you any other name?" "Yes, I am also called Finn." "It is enough," replied his disappointed master. "Eat the salmon yourself, for you must be the one of whom the prophecy told." Finn ate the "salmon of knowledge", and thereafter he had only to put his thumb under his tooth, as he had done when he scalded it, to receive fore-knowledge and magic counsel.

FINN FINDS THE SALMON OF KNOWLEDGE. From the Draivinsr by H. R. Milla
FINN FINDS THE SALMON OF KNOWLEDGE. From the Draivinsr by H. R. Millar
Image sources: Charles Squire p.210  
Thus armed, Finn was more than a match for the Clann Morna. Curious legends tell how he discovered himself to his father's old followers, confounded his enemies with his magic, and turned them into faithful servants. Even Goll of the Blows had to submit to his sway. Gradually he welded the two opposing clans into one Fianna, over which he ruled, taking tribute from the kings of Ireland, warring against the Fomorian "Lochlannach", destroying every kind of giant, serpent, or monster that infested the land, and at last carrying his mythical conquests over all Europe.

Out of the numberless stories of the Fenian exploits it is hard to choose examples. All are heroic, romantic, wild, fantastic. In many of them the Tuatha Dé Danann play prominent parts. One such story connects itself with an earlier mythological episode already related. The reader will remember how, when the Dagda gave up the kingship of the immortals, five aspirants appeared to claim it; how of these five — Angus, Mider, Lêr, Ilbhreach son of Manannán, and Bodb the Red — the latter was chosen; how Lêr refused to acknowledge him, but was reconciled later; how Mider, equally rebellious, fled to "desert country round Mount Leinster" in County Carlow; and how a yearly war was waged upon him and his people by the rest of the gods to bring them to subjection. This war was still raging in the time of Finn, and Mider was not too proud to seek his help. One day that Finn was hunting in Donegal, with Ossian, Oscar, Caoilte, and Diarmait, their hounds roused a beautiful fawn, which, although at every moment apparently nearly overtaken, led them in full chase as far as Mount Leinster. Here it suddenly disappeared into a cleft in the hillside. Heavy snow, "making the forests branches as it were a withe-twist", now fell, forcing the Fenians to seek for some shelter, and they therefore explored the place into which the fawn had vanished. It led to a splendid sidh in the hollow of the hill. Entering it, they were greeted by a beautiful goddess- maiden, who told them that it was she, Mider's daughter, who had been the fawn, and that she had taken that shape purposely to lead them there, in the hope of getting their help against the army that was coming to attack the sidh. Finn asked who the assailants would be, and was told that they were Bodb the Red with his seven sons, Angus "Son of the Young" with his seven sons, Lêr of Sidh Fionnechaidh with his twenty-seven sons, and Fionnbharr of Sidh Meadha with his seventeen sons, as well as numberless gods of lesser fame drawn from sidhe not only over all Ireland, but from Scotland and the islands as well. Finn promised his aid, and, with the twilight of that same day, the attacking forces appeared, and made their annual assault. They were beaten off, after a battle that lasted all night, with the loss of "ten men, ten score, and ten hundred". Finn, Oscar, and Diarmait, as well as most of Mider s many sons, were sorely- wounded, but the leech Labhra healed all their wounds.

Sooth to say, the Fenians did not always require the excuse of fairy alliance to start them making war on the race of the hills. One of the so-called "Ossianic ballads" is entitled "The Chase of the Enchanted Pigs of Angus of the Brugh". This Angus is, of course, the "Son of the Young", and the Brugh that famous sidh beside the Boyne out of which he cheated his father, the Dagda. After the friendly manner of gods towards heroes, he invited Finn and a picked thousand of his followers to a banquet at the Brugh. They came to it in their finest clothes, "goblets went from hand to hand, and waiters were kept in motion". At last conversation fell upon the comparative merits of the pleasures of the table and of the chase, Angus stoutly contending that "the gods' life of perpetual feasting" was better than all the Fenian huntings, and Finn as stoutly denying it. Finn boasted of his hounds, and Angus said that the best of them could not kill one of his pigs. Finn angrily replied that his two hounds, Bran and Sgeolan, would kill any pig that trod on dry land. Angus answered that he could show Finn a pig that none of his hounds or huntsmen could catch or kill. Here were the makings of a pretty quarrel among such inflammable creatures as gods and heroes, but the steward of the feast interposed and sent everyone to bed. The next morning, Finn left the Brugh, for he did not want to fight all Angus's fairies with his handful of a thousand men. A year passed before he heard more of it; then came a messenger from Angus, reminding Finn of his promise to pit his men and hounds against Angus's pigs. The Fenians seated themselves on the tops of the hills, each with his favourite hound in leash, and they had not been there long before there appeared on the eastern plain a hundred and one such pigs as no Fenian had ever seen before. Each was as tall as a deer, and blacker than a smith's coals, having hair like a thicket and bristles like ships' masts. Yet such was the prowess of the Fenians that they killed them all, though each of the pigs slew ten men and many hounds. Then Angus complained that the Fenians had murdered his son and many others of the Tuatha Dé Danann, who, indeed, were none other than the pigs whose forms they had taken. There were mighty recriminations on both sides, and, in the end, the enraged Fenians prepared to attack the Brugh on the Boyne. Then only did Angus begin to yield, and, by the advice of Ossian, Finn made peace with him and his fairy folk.

Such are specimens of the tales which go to make up the Fenian cycle of sagas. Hunting is the most prominent feature of them, for the Fenians were essentially a race of mighty hunters. But the creatures of their chase were not always flesh and blood. Enchanters who wished the Fenians ill could always lure them into danger by taking the shape of boar or deer, and many a story begins with an innocent chase and ends with a murderous battle. But out of such struggles the Fenians always emerge successfully, as Ossian is represented proudly boasting, "through truthfulness and the might of their hands".


The champions of the Fenian - First comes Finn himself, not the strongest in body of the Fenians, but the truest, wisest, and kindest, gentle to women, generous to men, and trusted by all. If he could help it, he would never let anyone be in trouble or poverty. "If the dead leaves of the forest had been gold, and the white foam of the water silver, Finn would have given it all away."

Finn had two sons, Fergus and his more famous brother Ossian. Fergus of the sweet speech was the Fenian's bard, and, also, because of his honeyed words, their diplomatist and ambassador. Yet, by the irony of fate, it is to Ossian, who is not mentioned as a poet in the earliest texts, that the poems concerning the Fenians which are current in Scotland under the name of "Ossianic Ballads" are attributed. Ossian's mother was Sadb, a daughter of Bodb the Red. A rival goddess changed her into a deer — which explains how Ossian got his name, which means "fawn". With such advantages of birth, naturally he was speedy enough to run down a red deer hind and catch her by the ear, though far less swift-footed than his cousin Caoilte, the "Thin Man". Neither was he so strong as his own son Oscar, the mightiest of all the Fenians, yet, in his youth, so clumsy that the rest of the band refused to take him with them on their warlike expeditions. They changed their minds, however, when, one day, he followed them unawares, found them giving way before an enemy, and, rushing to their help, armed only with a great log of wood which lay handy on the ground, turned the fortunes of the fight. After this, Oscar was hailed the best warrior of all the Fianna; he was given command of a battalion, and its banner, called the "Terrible Broom", was regarded as the centre of every battle, for it was never known to retreat a foot. Other prominent Fenians were GolP, son of Morna, at first Finn s enemy but afterwards his follower, a man skilled alike in war and learning. Even though he was one-eyed, we are told that he was much loved by women, but not so much as Finns cousin, Diarmait O'Duibhne, whose fatal beauty ensnared even Finn's betrothed bride, Grainne. Their comic character was Conan, who is represented as an old, bald, vain, irritable man, as great a braggart as ancient Pistol and as foul-mouthed as Thersites, and yet, after he had once been shamed into activity, a true man of his hands. These are the prime Fenian heroes, the chief actors in its stories.

Ossian's cave
Ossian's caves
Image sources: Charles Squire p.208  

The Birth of Oisín

One day as Finn and his companions and dogs were returning from the chase to their Dún on the Hill of Allen, a beautiful fawn started up on their path and the chase swept after her, she taking the way which led to their home. Soon, all the pursuers were left far behind save only Finn himself and his two hounds Bran and Sceolaun. Now these hounds were of strange breed, for Tyren, sister to Murna, the mother of Finn, had been changed into a hound by the enchantment of a woman of the Fairy Folk, who loved Tyren's husband Ullan; and the two hounds of Finn were the children of Tyren, born to her in that shape. Of all hounds in Ireland they were the best, and Finn loved them much, so that it was said he wept but twice in his life, and once was for the death of Bran.

At last, as the chase went on down a valley side, Finn saw the fawn stop and lie down, while the two hounds began to play round her and to lick her face and limbs. So he gave commandment that none should hurt her, and she followed them to the Dún of Allen, playing with the hounds as she went.

The same night Finn awoke and saw standing by his bed the fairest woman his eyes had ever beheld.

"I am Saba, O Finn," she said, "and I was the fawn ye chased to-day. Because I would not give my love to the Druid of the Fairy Folk, who is named the Dark, he put that shape upon me by his sorceries, and I have borne it these three years. But a slave of his, pitying me, once revealed to me that if I could win to thy great Dún of Allen, O Finn, I should be safe from all enchantments and my natural shape would come to me again. But I feared to be torn in pieces by thy dogs, or wounded by thy hunters, till at last I let myself be overtaken by thee alone and by Bran and Sceolaun, who have the nature of man and would do me no hurt." "Have no fear, maiden," said Finn, "we the Fianna, are free and our guest-friends are free; there is none who shall put compulsion on you here."

So Saba dwelt with Finn, and he made her his wife; and so deep was his love for her that neither the battle nor the chase had any delight for him, and for months he never left her side. She also loved him as deeply, and their joy in each other was like that of the Immortals in the Land of Youth. But at last word came to Finn that the warships of the Northmen were in the bay of Dublin, and he summoned his heroes to the fight, "for," said he to Saba, "the men of Erinn give us tribute and hospitality to defend them from the foreigner, and it were shame to take it from them and not to give that to which we, on our side, are pledged." And he called to mind that great saying of Goll mac Morna when they were once sore bested by a mighty host—"a man," said Goll, "lives after his life but not after his honour."

Seven days was Finn absent, and he drove the Northmen from the shores of Erinn. But on the eighth day he returned, and when he entered his Dún he saw trouble in the eyes of his men and of their fair womenfolk, and Saba was not on the rampart expecting his return. So he bade them tell him what had chanced, and they said—

"Whilst thou, our father and lord, wert afar off smiting the foreigner, and Saba looking ever down the pass for thy return, we saw one day as it were the likeness of thee approaching, and Bran and Sceolaun at thy heels. And we seemed also to hear the notes of the Fian hunting call blown on the wind. Then Saba hastened to the great gate, and we could not stay her, so eager was she to rush to the phantom. But when she came near, she halted and gave a loud and bitter cry, and the shape of thee smote her with a hazel wand, and lo, there was no woman there any more, but a deer. Then those hounds chased it, and ever as it strove to reach again the gate of the Dún they turned it back. We all now seized what arms we could and ran out to drive away the enchanter, but when we reached the place there was nothing to be seen, only still we heard the rushing of flying feet and the baying of dogs, and one thought it came from here, and another from there, till at last the uproar died away and all was still. What we could do, O Finn, we did; Saba is gone."

Finn then struck his hand on his breast but spoke no word, and he went to his own chamber. No man saw him for the rest of that day, nor for the day after. Then he came forth, and ordered the matters of the Fianna as of old, but for seven years thereafter he went searching for Saba through every remote glen and dark forest and cavern of Ireland, and he would take no hounds with him save Bran and Sceolaun. But at last he renounced all hope of finding her again, and went hunting as of old. One day as he was following the chase on Ben Gulban in Sligo, he heard the musical bay of the dogs change of a sudden to a fierce growling and yelping as though they were in combat with some beast, and running hastily up he and his men beheld, under a great tree, a naked boy with long hair, and around him the hounds struggling to seize him, but Bran and Sceolaun fighting with them and keeping them off. And the lad was tall and shapely, and as the heroes gathered round he gazed undauntedly on them, never heeding the rout of dogs at his feet. The Fians beat off the dogs and brought the lad home with them, and Finn was very silent and continually searched the lad's countenance with his eyes. In time, the use of speech came to him, and the story that he told was this:—

He had known no father, and no mother save a gentle hind with whom he lived in a most green and pleasant valley shut in on every side by towering cliffs that could not be scaled, or by deep chasms in the earth. In the summer he lived on fruits and such-like, and in the winter, store of provisions was laid for him in a cave. And there came to them sometimes a tall dark-visaged man, who spoke to his mother, now tenderly, and now in loud menace, but she always shrunk away in fear, and the man departed in anger. At last there came a day when the Dark Man spoke very long with his mother in all tones of entreaty and of tenderness and of rage, but she would still keep aloof and give no sign save of fear and abhorrence. Then at length the Dark Man drew near and smote her with a hazel wand; and with that he turned and went his way, but she, this time, followed him, still looking back at her son and piteously complaining. And he, when he strove to follow, found himself unable to move a limb; and crying out with rage and desolation he fell to the earth and his senses left him. When he came to himself he was on the mountain side, on Ben Gulban, where he remained some days, searching for that green and hidden valley, which he never found again. And after a while the dogs found him; but of the hind his mother and of the Dark Druid, there is no man knows the end.

Finn called his name Oisín, and he became a warrior of fame, but far more famous for the songs and tales that he made; so that of all things to this day that are told of the Fianna of Erinn, men are wont to say, "So sang the bard, Oisín, son of Finn."