THE HIGH DEEDS OF FINN AND OTHER BARDIC ROMANCES
OF ANCIENT IRELAND
T. W. ROLLESTON, Crowell and Company, New York –
How Ethne Quitted Tir na nÓg (abridged)
By the banks of the River Boyne, where rises the great Fairy Mound of Newgrange, there once the shining Palace of a prince of the Danaan, named Angus. Of him it is that the lines are written—
“By the dark rolling waters of the Boyne Where Angus Óg magnificently dwells.”
When the Milesians invaded Ireland, and subdued the Danaans, the Danaans wrought magic by which rendered all their possessions invisible to mortals. Under their enchantments their palaces, dancing-places and folk-motes looked like green mounds or raths, lonely hillsides, or ruined shrines with nettles and foxgloves growing up among its broken masonry. In this way they were safe from humans.
After Angus, King of the Dananns and his folk had retreated behind this veil of invisibility, his steward’s wife had a daughter. She was named Ethne. On the same day Fand, the wife of Mananan the Sea God, also bore a daughter. Since Angus and Mananan were friends, Mananan sent his child to Brugh na Boyna, the noble dwelling-place of Angus, to be fostered and brought up. In turn Ethne, was fostered to Mananan.
In time Ethne grew into a fair and stately maiden at Mananan’s residence. As she was not of the mortal world there was always a store of food of the faery at her foster home. It was charged with magical spells, by eating of which one could never grow old or die. Curiously, after Ethne had grown up she rarely ate or drank of the fairy food, or of any other, yet she continued to seem healthy and well-nourished. Nonetheless a concerned Mananan reported this to Angus, and Angus visited to meet with Ethne.
A lord of the Danaans, who accompanied him was bewitched by Ethne’s beauty. He became quickly obsessed until he laid hands upon her and strove to carry her away to his own dwelling. Ethne escaped from him. However, the blaze of resentment at his behaviour towards her lit up Ethne’s soul. It burned to a point where it consumed her fairy nature. The nature of the children of Adam – the mortal – took its place. From then on she ate none of the fairy food, which is prohibited to man. Sensing Ethne’s transformation and her anger, Mananan and his Fand sought to protect her. They gave her a charm to wear around her neck, to keep her safe within the faery realm.
One very hot day not long after Ethne and her maidens went to bathe in the River Boyne. After they had refreshed themselves in the cool, amber-coloured water, they arrayed themselves in their silken robes and trooped back to the Brugh again; but ere they entered it, the maidens discovered that Ethne was not among them. So they went back, scattering themselves along the bank and searching in every quiet pool of the river and in every dark recess among the great trees that bordered it, for Ethne was dearly loved by all of them; but neither trace nor tidings of her could they find. Eventually they went sorrowfully home without her, to tell the tale to Angus and to her father.
What had befallen Ethne was this. In taking off her garments by the riverside she had mislaid her fairy charm, and finally became a mortal maid. Because of this she could no longer see her companions. Everything became immediately strange to her. The fairy track that had led to the riverside was overgrown with briars, the palace of Angus was gone, replaced by a wooded hill. Ethne did not know where she was, and pierced with sudden terror she fled wildly away, seeking for the familiar places that she had known in the fairy life, but which were now behind the Veil.
At length she came to a high wall wherein was a wicket gate, and through it she saw a garden full of sweet herbs and flowers, which surrounded a steep-roofed building of stone. In the garden she saw a man in a long brown robe tied about his waist with a cord. He smiled at her and beckoned her to come in without fear. He was a monk of Patrick, and the house was a convent church. When the monk had heard her tale, he marvelled greatly and brought her to St Patrick, who baptised her.
The following day Ethne went for a walk within the garden of herbs. She was lonely, thinking of her home. As she did, the sky darkened and she heard a sound like the rushing of a great wind. Mingled in it were cries and lamentations. She heard her name called again and again in a multitude of voices, thin and faint as the crying of curlews upon the moor. Ethne sprang up and gazed around, calling in return, but nothing could she see. Eventually the storm of cries died away, and everything was still again except the singing voice of Boyne and the humming of the garden bees.
Ethne sank down swooning. In that hour she fell into a sickness from which she never recovered. She was buried in the church where she had first been received by the monk; and the church was called Killethne, or the Church of Ethne, from that day forward until now.