Oisin in the Land of Tír na nÓg
The Long Black Hand
Folk Tales for Little Folk
Cuchulain of Muirthemne
BRIGID (born c 451/Died c 521/28)
Brigid “the poetess” (or ‘the exalted one’) was well-known in pagan Celtic Europe – as a Goddess – also referred to as Dana. She was the greatest of the de Danann goddesses; the mother of the Irish gods. Daughter of the Dagda, and associated with fertility and blessing; one of three sisters of the same name whose purpose and function combined into one over the centuries.
She was associated with the arts and with poetry, with metalwork, with healing, the earth and its cycles. Brigid of Kildare (the church of the Oak), who became Saint Brigit, was similarly eclectic and, most likely, a thorn in the side of the early church. She ‘took the veil’ or entered the religious life on the Hill of Uisnech. According to Thomas Cahill this sacred site was Ireland’s primeval navel and the mythical center of its cosmic mandala (Cahill 1995:173). The site of her monastery was under an oak tree, also considered sacred by the druids.
Her monastery was impressive, ‘a great metropolis, within whose outskirts – which Saint Brigid marked out with a clearly defined boundary – no earthly adversary is feared, nor any incursion of enemies. For the city is the safest place of refuge among all the towns of the whole land of the Irish, with all their fugitives. It is a place where the treasures of kings are looked after, and it is reckoned to be supreme in good order’ (Cahill 1995:178).
Imbolc – the festival of the fertility goddess Brigid – is also dedicated to Saint Brigit.
In Christian tradition the 1st of February is St. Brigid’s Day. The St. Brigid’s cross, a symbol of Ireland, is traditionally made at this time. It is usually made from rushes and hung in the kitchen of homes to protect the house from fire – which was a major concern at a time when houses were predominantly roofed with thatch. In pagan Celtic tradition this day was known as Imbolc. It was one of the four quarter days in the pagan year, marking the beginning of Spring and the lambing season. Im bolc in Irish means ‘in stomach’ referring to the pregnant ewes.
At this time of the year of the year the rising sun illuminates the chamber at the Mound of the Hostages in Tara. The Mound of the Hostages is a Neolithic passage tomb c. 5000 years old (contemporary with Newgrange). The construction of the passage in this fashion is indicative of the importance of Imbolc in the pagan calendar.
Brigid’s tribe, the Tuatha De Danann tribe were defeated by the Milesian invasion of Ireland. Those that survived either returned to Tír na nÓg or to an alternate dimension, becoming the People of the Sidhe later nicknamed the fairies.
Amhairghin, or Amergin as usually spelt in English, was one of the leaders of the “Men of Míl”, the first human arrivals in Ireland who battled the Tuatha De Danann. This is Amergin’s Challenge, the first poem, according to legend, uttered by a mortal in Ireland, with some liberties taken in translation.
Amergin’s Challenge I am a wind across the sea
I am a flood across the plain
I am the roar of the tides
I am a stag* of seven (pair) tines
I am a dewdrop let fall by the sun
I am the fierceness of boars*
I am a hawk, my nest on a cliff
I am a height of poetry (magical skill)
I am the most beautiful among flowers
I am the salmon* of wisdom
Who (but I) is both the tree and the lightning strikes it
Who is the dark secret of the dolmen not yet hewn
I am the queen of every hive
I am the fire on every hill
I am the shield over every head
I am the spear of battle
I am the ninth* wave of eternal return
I am the grave of every vain hope
Who knows the path of the sun, the periods of the moon
Who gathers the divisions, enthralls the sea,
sets in order the mountains. the rivers, the peoples,
The Excellence of Ancient Word: Druid Rhetorics from Ancient Irish Tales by Seán Ó Tuathail © 1993 John Kellnhauser
Oisin in the Land of Tír na nÓg
(an adaptation c. – EO’D)
Bhi Fionn, Oisín agus na Fianna ag Fiach la. Thainig cailín álainn ag marcaíocht ar capall bán.
“Carbh as duit a chailín álainn?” arsa Oisín.
“As Tir na nOg,” a deir sí.
“An dtiocfaidh tu liom ann?”
Translation – Fionn, Oisín and the Fianna were out hunting one day. There came a beautiful girl, riding a white horse. “Where are you from, beautiful girl?” asked Oisín. “From the Land of Youth”, she said. “Will you come with me?”
Tír na nÓg, or The Land of Youth, was a magical island, situated off the West coast of Ireland. It was an Eden, a garden of paradise. A place that knew neither hunger or thirst, or pain, or even the passing of time, for time stood still on Tír na nÓg.
The island was very difficult to locate. It could appear or disappear at will, and even sink beneath the sea, according to the whim of its inhabitants.
These were the Shee, an ancient race whose great beauty was equalled only by their supernatural powers. The Shee often visited Ireland and walked among its people, working or living with them as the humour struck them. It sometimes happened that a member of the Shee fell in love with a mortal and brought them back to Tír na nÓg with them, or at least attempted to. One such spirit, Fand, tried to coax Cúchulainn, the adult Setanta, to her native home but he refused, held captive by the charms of his earthly wife, Emer. Oisín of the Fianna visited Tír na nÓg for one year, against the wishes of his father, Fionn.
The Fianna were an ancient warrior tribe of Ireland, and to become a member of their ranks was no easy task. In order to join them a young man had to learn the histories of its ancient traditions, they had to prove themselves in battle, they had to run through a forest at full speed, leaping branches as high as their forehead, ducking under others as low as their knee, without breaking stride, snapping a twig or bending a leaf. Oisín was, as his father before him, a true leader among their tribe – and handsome too, a fact that was not lost on the young woman of the Shee. This meeting was not by accident.
Fionn could tell she was not mortal. His son, however, was captivated by the woman’s beauty and, from the expression on her face it was clear the attraction was more than reciprocated.
“Carbh as duit a chailín áilinn?” he asked.
“Where are you from, beautiful girl?”
“As Tír na nÓg,” a deir sí.
“From Tír na nÓg,” she replied.
“Will you come with me to my land, Oh Oisín of my heart?”
“No Oisín!”, cried Fionn with terror in his heart.
“Do not listen to her. She is not of us. It will not bode well for you. Stay with those who know you and love you, the foster brothers you played with all through childhood, the men who guided you to adulthood, the Fianna who have taught you the way of the warrior.”
Fionn grasped the reins of his son’s horse, pulling his child closer to him.
“My son”, he whispered urgently.
“There are many women, mortal women, that will gladly take you as their husband. Please..do not pay her heed ..do not leave us.”
But even as he spoke Fionn knew his words were in vain. His child was bewitched. Oisín, for his part, saw the grief etched on the noble brow of his father and he sought compromise. Oisín offered a geasa, a sacred promise that could never be broken, no matter what. He promised his father that he would return to Ireland in one short year, to visit once more with his family. Such was the power of Oisín‘s geasa his father had no choice but to agree even though it meant losing his son. So it came to pass.
Oisín, son of Fionn, warrior of the Fianna, pledged to the High King Cormac Mac Art, of the line of Conn, from the Royal Residence of Tara, bade farewell to family and friends and mounted the white horse of Tír na nÓg behind the beautiful woman of the Shee.
The white horse of Tír na nÓg reared madly and plunged into the direction from which it had come, into the West. It moved at an amazing speed as it thundered through the forest, leaping over fallen trees and boughs, skirting rivers and dodging the gnarled and twisting roots of the forest floor without pause or hesitation. Familiar places whirled by and great distance was covered without falter or stumble – such was the grace and power of the white horse of Tír na nÓg.
“Ar aghaidh! Ar aghaidh”, “Onward Onward!” cried the beautiful woman of the Shee and Oisín could hear the wild laughter in her voice as she spurred her horse to an even faster pace. The animal obeyed, scarcely breaking a sweat. As for Oisín. All that was real to him now was the beautiful woman in his arms and the wild scent of her perfume in his head.
The landscape became a blur and it was not long before the high rocky coast of Ireland’s Western shore, rose before them. Cliffs as old as time itself, battered and torn for millennia by the wild, foamy waters of the Atlantic. But even then the horse did not pause. Instead, it leaped straight from their summit and hurled downwards toward the jagged rocks below.
Now Oisín was a brave man, and a fearless one. He was Fianna. But our brave young hero instinctively flinched and braced himself for the impact of their bodies on the rocks. But that horse, that marvellous white horse of Tír na nÓg halted mere inches from those blades of granite. In a whirl of spray it danced upon the surface of the foamy waters and turned once more for home.
On they rode, into the heart of the setting sun, upon a path of liquid gold. Creatures, one stranger than the other, rose from the waters of the ocean and watched them pass. Day turned to night and still they travelled, until time was lost to Oisín. The young warrior was intoxicated by the soft, smooth skin of his new love’s cheek against his neck and the sweet warmth of her body in his embrace.
Finally, they reached the shores of Tír na nÓg.
Well, what can one say, or how is it possible to describe perfection? The Celtic land of Tír na nÓg was one such place. Day turned into night and into day again but Oisín was scarcely aware of its passing. That woman, that beautiful woman of the Shee had her prize, her lover and she never failed to express that love constantly.
But, as is the human condition, eventually Oisín began to get restless. The young warrior slowly tired of the beauty that surrounded him and yearned once more for home. He thought of the warm strength of his father, the calm gentle face of his mother, the foster brothers he had left behind. He remembered the wild energetic games on the great bawn outside the palace, the music and parties within, the poets that moved body and soul with the power of their words, the bond, the camaraderie of this people, the Fianna.
That beautiful woman of the Shee sensed his longing and knew the time had come for Oisín to return to Ireland. She did not object to this for she wanted a willing partner, not a captive slave. She even offered him her white horse, to carry her lover safely home. At the same time, she took no risk. She put Oisín under geasa to her and had him make a promise that could not be broken, under any circumstances, that he would not set foot on the soil of Ireland all the while he was there. Oisín willingly promised not to dismount from the white horse of Tír na nÓg. Despite his longing for home and family, his heart was true to this woman.
So it was. Oisín, son of Fionn, warrior of the Fianna, pledge to the High King Cormac Mac Art, of the line of Conn, from the Royal Residence of Tara, mounted the white horse of Tír na nÓg and returned to his native land.
It was not long before he reached the high rocky cliffs of Ireland’s western shore. Oisín felt his heart beat in his breast with joy. He was home!
But that joy was short-lived, for as he travelled it seemed that all around him the country had changed. Huge fields of rolling pasture had taken the place of forest. Walls, wells and bridges littered the countryside. Houses he had played in as a child and visited as a man were in a sorry state of decay. A number looked like they had been abandoned for decades. Strange people walked the land, in stranger clothing. Buildings of a new and peculiar type were set atop hills and sites he knew to be sacred. How was this allowed? How was it possible?
The young man felt panic. “This could not be Ireland, my Ireland,” he muttered. “I will ride to Tara, seat of my King and find out what is happening and…if anyone has usurped our land I will wage war against them.”
Within minutes the Royal Seat of Tara lay before him – and it was a sight that nearly wrenched his strong young heart asunder. Tara was naught but a mound of rubble. Cattle were grazing were the great hall once stood, its roof long gone, its paint, tapestries and canvas washed away by decades of an unrelenting climate.
Ahead of him ar an mbóthar, on the road, Oisín saw a group of men attempting to shift a huge boulder from the ground. He recognised it immediately as the great lintel that hung over the castle entrance. A lintel put in place by one man, many years ago. Yet here before him a group of dozens were unable to move it an inch. The young man came forward and offered to help – they were sure to know what happened to his king.
The men stepped back on his approach, and bowed. “Surely”, they thought, “He must be a prince or nobleman from a foreign shore, come to Ireland to learn in one of her priestly academies”. Oisín rode forward on the white horse of Tír na nÓg but, remembering his geasa, he did not dismount from its back. Instead, he leant from the saddle, grasped a portion of that huge rock and flicked it many yards away. The men were astounded. One felt bold enough to speak.
“Carbh as duit?” he asked.
“Where are you from?”
“I am of Ireland,” came the reply.
“I am Oisín, of the Fianna.”
“The Fianna!” gasped the man. “They’ve been dead these three hundred years or more, if ever they lived.”
Oisín glared at this stranger, disbelieving.
Could it be? Was it possible? Could one short year in Tír na nÓg count for three hundred or more in the land of Ireland? He had to question these men further. Oisín swung urgently on the horse’s back, pulling hard on the reins as he did so. But the effort of lifting that huge rock had taken its toll on the harness. The girth or belly band of the saddle had been damaged. This added stress snapped it completely and both saddle and rider tumbled to the ground at the feet of the men.
Now a man as young and as proud and as vital as Oisín would scarcely have felt such a fall. Yet, he felt strangely week as he tried to rise. It was as though the soil beneath him was leeching the very strength from his bones.
“Féach! Féach in anam Dé”
“Look! Féach, in the name of God!” cried one of the men, crossing himself as he spoke.
“Féach ar an fear!” “Look at the man!”
He need not have spoken, for all eyes were on Oisín. Each of the years he had missed while in Tír na nÓg had come to revisit him as soon as his body touched the soil of Ireland. Within minutes he was an old, old man.
One of the strangers rushed forward to help the stricken warrior. He cradled him in his arms, and, producing a small flask of water from his side he prayed over him as he spilled the contents across Oisín‘s brow. And as he did, Oisín, son of Fionn, warrior of the Fianna, pledged to the High King Cormac Mac Art, of the line of Conn, from the Royal Residence of Tara, drew his last breath and died. In the arms of a stranger.
The wild white horse of Tír na nÓg screamed madly and spun in the direction from which it had come, into the west. Surefooted and agile it was no longer, but it persevered on its homeward journey until at last the golden sands of Tír na nÓg lay before it on a distant shore. And on that shore stood a woman, a beautiful woman, a princess of the Shee. Gazing into the horizon. Heedless of the cool waves lapping at her ankles and wetting the hem of her dress. And when she saw the white horse of Tír na nÓg cross towards her, wet and exhausted, bearing neither her lover or its harness, she fell to her knees and screamed her anguish to the dark, restless sky.
When Oisín fell from his horse it did not matter – not to the princess of the Shee, for though his mortal body would have died, his soul, still youthful could return safely to the arms of his lover. But once the sacred waters of a Christian culture touched his brow, her lover’s soul was lost to her forever.
So it was. Tír na nÓg sank beneath the waves, never to return. It’s time was past.
Legend has it that on calm days fishermen casting their nets on the waters of the Atlantic can see the houses and buildings of Tír na nÓg far beneath them on the ocean floor, and on stormy nights the manes of the white horse of Tír na nÓg can be seen to breach the waves as they frolic in the ocean beneath while across the wind comes the cry of a woman.
A beautiful woman.
A princess of the Shee.
Still calling for her lover,
Connacht Tribune – 25th February, 1972
The Long Black Hand
by Richard Cronnolly.
Richard Cronnolly was born in Ballinderreen Co Galway in 1828. He joined the Dublin Metropolitan Police and spent his spare time in the Record Office where he studied old documents. Without any assistance, financial or otherwise, he found a publisher willing to give the result of his researches to the world. He was working against time, and died in the moment of success at the age of thirty five. He left behind him a work that is remarkable. The Long Black Hand, a recitative poem, which tells of the slaying of malicious spirit who made life miserable for the people of Ballinderreen a few hundred years ago.
In olden days when Sheamus reigned
And plenty crowned the land,
A spirit was seen in old Killeen,
T’was called the Long Black Hand.
No traveller every passed that way
from setting sun ’til dawn,
But was by this malicious elf
Half murdered on the bawn.
The church wherein he lay was built
By Colman, son of Duagh.
T’was three long miles from old Tyrone
And two short miles from Clough.
Now Clough belonged to Andrew Lynch,
A man of large estate,
But yet he felt dissatisfied
This elf being near his seat.
Ten thousand pounds he would lay down
And fifty hides of land
To any knight on Irish soil
Who’d slay the Long Black Hand.
And with that too his daughter, Kate,
A maid divinely fair
Whose golden tresses loosely hung
Adown her shoulders fair.
A lovelier maid you could not find
If you searched this island o’er,
And she was styled, as records tell,
The “Rose of Ballymore.”
The offer large, the gift was great,
As hero might demand;
To undertake for gold, or love,
To slay the Long Black Hand.
But still the elf was left at ease
For six long years or more,
‘Til Lynch’s friends a visit paid
To him at Ballymore.
And with them too there also came
A bold and valiant knight,
Who vowed to God he’d have revenge
On Killeen’s churchyard sprite.
‘Twas young O’Heyne from InseGuair,
For so the youth was called,
As Annals say he scarcely was
Full twenty summers old.
But yet he did not courage lack,
To face that hellish foe,
Who shed his father’s precious blood
And prove his overthrow.
The guests all round the table sat,
And wine went round and round,
While Andrew Lynch’s health was drunk
To which he did respond.
My gentle sirs and valiant knights,
Why should I life resign,
When each of you has pledged my health
And drank to me in wine.
And yet I feel I cannot live
I know the end is near
This churchyard spirite will surely put
An end to my career
I cannot find a champion bold,
Or knight throughout the land
Who’ll undertake for love or gold
To slay the Long Black Hand.
The old man then resumed his seat,
The tears rolled down his cheeks
They knew the cause for all his grief,
But not a soul would speak.
One would at the other gaze,
But none would raise the strain,
‘Till young O’Heyne at last arose,
And broke the silent chain.
Saying “Now kind sir, for me provide,
A steed both swift and strong,
And I’ll be off to Killeen’s Church
And search the ruins along.
And if the Long Black Hand is there,
I’ll die or revenge take
Upon that murdering hellish elf,
For my dear father’s sake.”
His sword he grasped in his right hand,
And mounted Lynch’s steed
And off to Kileen’s Church he went,
To fall, if fate decreed.
Arriving at the Abbey gate
“Art thou within?” he cried.
“I am and will be soon with you,”
The Long Black Hand replied.
On hearing such unearthly sound,
His gallant steed took fright,
His retrogressing pace to check
He pulled with all his might.
But curb or rein could not prevail
But lo! What makes him stand?
The elf has seized him by the tail,
That hellish Long Black Hand.
Our valiant Knight well knew the cause;
And with one backward stroke
He cut the Long Black Hand across
When thus the demon spoke.
“Another cut my valiant Knight;
If I survive you’ll rue.”
“Oh no” our valiant Knight replied.
“I think that one will do.”
He posted off without delay,
And soon arrived at home
And stabling there his dapple grey,
Whose sides were white with foam.
In haste he joined the festive train,
In Lynch’s genial hall
Where rival wooers were base enough
To pray for his downfall.
Now young O’Heyne and Andrew Lynch
Went out to see the grey
And ordering out his stalwart grooms
To him with oats and hay.
But Paladore was now no more
Old Andrew Lynch’s pride
And some would say that to his tail
The Long Black Hand was tied.
Now Andrew Lynch addressed the guests
Our hero claimed his bride
And by McDunal’s holy curb
The Nuptial knot was tied
In peace they lived, in peace they sleep
Amid tombs of ample space
Within long Killeen’s lonely walls
That lonesome haunted place.
The Capricornian 17th May, 1890
Folk-tales for Little Folk.
By Uncle Will (abridged)
Long ago, out of a hill in Leinster there used to emerge, as far as his middle, a plump, sleek, terrible steed, a Pooka, who spoke in human voice to each person about November day, and he was accustomed to give intelligent and proper answers to such as consulted him concerning all that would befall them, until the November of next year. And the people used to leave gifts and presents at the hill until the coming of Patrick and the holy clergy.’
In some places the Pooka came out in the form of the Neck of Scandinavia, or Water-Kelpie of Scotland. About the Martinmas time the Pooka used to appear near the sea or a fresh water lough in the form of a horse. He went tearing about at a great rate. If any one were bold enough to go between him and the water, be could be caught and bridled, and then made a splendid steed. If at any time, however, he came in sight of water, he made for it. Were any one on his back, then it was all the worse for the rider, for the Pooka would plunge in, and tear him to pieces at the bottom.
As a man riding on a Pooka horse could not go far in Ireland without seeing deep water, not many would use them. A boundary rider out west might: have one for some considerable time without seeing as much water as would drown him.
Here is a story about the Pooka, translated literally from the Irish of the Leabhar Sgeulaiyheachta, by Douglas Hyde.
THE PIPER AND THE PUCA.
In the old times there was a half fool living in Dunmore, in the county Galway, and although he was excessively fond of music, he was unable to learn more than one tune, and that was the ‘Black Rogue.’ He used to get a good deal of money from the gentlemen, for they used to get sport out of him.
One night the piper was coming home from a house where there had been a dance, and he half drunk, when he came to a little bridge that was up by his mother’s house he squeezed the pipes on, and began playing the ‘Black Rogue’ (an rogaire dubh). The Pooka came behind him, and flung him up on his own back. There were long horns on the Pooka, and the piper got a good grip of them, and then he said
‘Destruction on you, you nasty beast, let me home. I have a ten-penny piece in my pocket for my mother, and she wants snuff.’
‘Never mind your mother,’ said the Pooka,‘But keep your hold. If you fall, you will break your neck and your pipes.’ Then the Pooka said to him,’Play up for me the Shan Van Vocht’ (an tsean bhean bhocht).’
‘I don’t know it,’ said the piper.
‘Never mind whether you do or you don’t, said the Pooka.’
‘Play up, and i’ll make you know.’
The piper put wind in his bag, and he played such music as made himself wonder.
‘Upon my word, you’re a fine music master,’ says the piper/
‘But tell me where you’re bringing me.’
‘There’s a great feast in the house of the Banshee, on the top of Croagh Patrick to-night,’ says the Pooka,
‘I’m bringing you there to play music, and, take my word, you’ll get the price of your trouble.’
‘By my word, you’ll save me a journey then,’ says the piper.
‘Father William put a journey to Croagh Patrick on me, because I stole tbe white gander from him last Martinmass.’
The Pooka rushed him across hills and bogs and rough places, till he brought him to the top of Croagh Patrick. Then the Pooka struck three blows with his foot, and a great door opened, and they passed in together, into a fine room. The piper saw a golden table in the middle of the room, and hundreds of old women (cailleacha) sitting round about it. The old women rose up, and. said,
‘A hundred thousand welcomes to you, you Pooka of November (na Samhna). Who is this you have with you ?’’
‘The best piper in Ireland,’ says the Pooka.
One of the old women struck a blow on the ground, and a door opened in the side of the wall, and what should the piper see coming out but the white gander which he had stolen from Father William.
‘Myself and my mother ate every taste of that gander, only one wing, and I gave that to Moy-rua. It was she told the priest I stole his gander.’ The gander cleaned the table, and carried it away, and the Pooka said,
‘Play up music for these ladies.’ The piper flayed up, and the old women began dancing, and they were dancing till they wore tired. Then the Pooka said to pay the piper, and every old woman drew out a gold piece, and gave it to him.
‘By the tooth of Patrick,’ said he,
‘I’m as rich as the son of a lord.
‘Come with me,’ says the Pooka,
‘And I’ll bring you home.’
They went out. then, and just as he was going to ride on the Pooka, the gander came up to him, and gave him a new get of pipes. The Pooka was not long until he brought him to Dunmore, and he threw the piper off at the little bridge, and then be told him to go home, and savs to him,
‘You have two things now that you have never had before, you have sense and music (ciall agus ceol).’
The piper went home and knocked at his mother’s door, saying,
‘Let me in, I’m as rich as a lord, and I’m the best piper in Ireland.’
‘You’re drunk,’ said the mother.
‘No, indeed,’ said the piper,
‘I haven’t drunk a drop.’
The mother let him in and he gave her the the cold pieces.
‘Wait now,’ says he,
’Til you hear the music i’ll play.’
He buckled on the pipes, but instead of music, there came a sound as if all the geese and ganders in Ireland were screeching together. He wakened the neighbours, and they were all mocking him until he put on the old pipes, and then he played melodious music for them. After that he told them all he had gone through that night.
The next morning when his mother went to look at the gold pieces, there was nothing there but the leaves of a plant. The piper went to the priest, and told him his story, but the priest would not believe a word from him, until he put the pipes on him, and then the screeching of the geese and ganders began.
‘Leave my sight, you thief’ says the priest. But nothing would do the piper till he would put the pipes on him to show the priest that bis story was true. He buckled on the old pipes, and he played melodious music, and from that day till the day of his death, there was never a piper in the county Galway as good as he.
CUCHULAIN OF MUIRTHEMNE – Lady Augusta Gregory 1902
THE DREAM OF ANGUS
ANGUS, son of the Dagda, was asleep in his bed one night, and in his dreams came a woman. She was breathtaking. The most beautiful he had ever seen in Ireland. He put out his hand to take hers, but she vanished on the moment, and in the morning when he awoke there were no trace or tidings of her.
He got no rest that day thinking of her.
The next night he saw her again. This time she brought a harp in her hand and played upon it the sweetest music he ever heard. She sang to him, so his dreams were sweet. Deep was his sleep thereafter. The same thing happened every, night for a year. She came to his bedside and played but she would be gone before he could speak with her. And at the end of that year she came no more.
Angus began to pine away with love of her. He would take no food, but lay upon the bed. No one knew what it was ailed him. All the physicians of Ireland came together, but they could not put a name on his sickness or find a cure.
But at last Fergne, the physician of Conn, was brought to him and as soon as he looked at Angus he knew it was not on his body the sickness was, but on his mind. Fergne sent every one away out of the room, and spoke to the young man:
“I think it is for the love of some woman that you are wasting away like this.”
“Yes,” said Angus. And he told him of the woman with the most beautiful appearance of any woman in Ireland. He described how she came and played the harp to him through the night, and how she vanished away.
Fergne went and spoke with Boann, Angus’s mother. He bade her to search all through Ireland to find the woman Angus had seen in his sleep. This she did, but no woman of that appearance could be found.
At the end of the year, Boann sent for Fergne to come again, and said: “We have not got any help from our search up to this.”
“Send for the Dagda, that he may come and speak to his son,” said Fergne. This she did. When the Dagda arrived, he said:
“What have I been called for?”
“To give an advice to your son,” said Fergne, “and to help him, for he is lying sick on account of a woman that appeared to him in his sleep, and she cannot be found. It would be a pity for him to die.”
“What use will it be, I to speak to him?” said the Dagda, ”
My knowledge is no higher than your own.”
“You are the king of all the Sidhe of Ireland,” replied Fergne.
“Go to Bodb, the king of the Sidhe of Munster. Ask his help. He has a name for knowledge all through Ireland.”
And so it came to pass. Messengers were sent to Bodb, at his house in Sidhe Femain. His help was sought.
“The search will be made,” said Bodb, “if it lasts me a year.”
At the end of a year he sent this message to the Dagda.
“I have searched all Ireland and found a woman of the same form and appearance you describe. She rests at Loch Beul Draguin, the Harp of Cliach. Send Angus to come with us, till he sees if it is the same woman that appeared to him in his dream.”
Angus set out in his chariot to Sidhe Femain, and Bodb bade him welcome, and made a great feast for him, that lasted three days and three nights. And at the end of that time he said: “Come out now with me, and see if this is the same woman that came to you.”
So they set out together till they came to the sea, and there they saw three times fifty young women. The one they were looking for was among them. She was far beyond them all. There was a silver chain between every two of them, but about her was a necklace of shining gold. And Bodb said, “Do you see that woman you were looking for?” “I see her, indeed,” said Angus.
“Who is she?”
“She is Caer Ormaith, daughter of Ethal Anbual, from Sidhe Uaman, in the province of Connaught. But you cannot bring her away with you this time,” said Bodb. “We must talk with your parents.”
And so they went to his father, the Dagda, and his mother, Boann, at Brugh na Boinne, and they told how they had seen the girl, and had heard her name, and her father’s name. And Boab said; “The best thing to do is to go to Ailell and Maeve, for it is in their district she lives, and ask their help.”
So the Dagda set out until he came into the province of Connaught, and sixty chariots with him; and Ailell and Maeve made a great feast for him. And after they had been feasting and drinking for the length of a week, Ailell asked the reason of their journey. And the Dagda said: “It is by reason of a young girl in your district, for my son has sickness upon him on account of her, and I am come to ask if you will give her to him.”
“Who is she?” said Ailell.
“She is Caer Ormaith, daughter of Ethal Anbual.”
“We have no power over her that we could give her to him,” said Ailell and Maeve.
“Then” said the Dagda,
“Call her father here to you.”
So Ailell sent his steward to Ethal Anbual to bid him speak with Ailell and with Maeve.”
“I will not go,” said Ethal; “I will not give my daughter to the son of the Dagda.”
The steward went back and told this to Ailell. “He will not come,” he said, “he knows the reason you want him for.”
Then there was anger on Ailell and on the Dagda, and they went out, and their armed men with them, and they destroyed the whole place of Ethal Anbual, and he was brought before them. And Ailell said to him: “Give your daughter now to the son of the Dagda.” “That is what I cannot do,” he said, “for there is a power over her that is greater than mine.” “What power is that?” said Ailell. “It is an enchantment,” he said, “She is the shape of a bird for one year, and in her own shape the next year. She will be in the shape of a swan next month at Loch Beul Draguin, and three fifties of beautiful birds will be along with her. If you will go there, you will see her.”
Ethal was set free, and he made friends again with Ailell and Maeve; and the Dagda went home and told Angus all that had happened, and he said: “Go to Loch Beul Draguin, and call her to you there.”
So when the time came, Angus Og went to the loch, and he saw the three times fifty white birds there, with their silver chains about their necks. And Angus stood in a man’s shape at the edge of the loch, and he called: “Come and speak with me, O Caer!”
“Who is calling me?” said Caer. “Angus calls you,” he said “and if you come, I swear by my word, I will not hinder you from going into the loch again.” “I will come,” she said. So she came to him, and he laid his two hands on her, and then, to hold to his word, he took the shape of a swan on himself, and they went into the loch together, and they went around it three times. And then they spread their wings and rose up from the loch, and went in that shape till they were at Brugh na Boinne. And as they were going, the music they made was so sweet that all the people that heard it fell asleep for three days and three nights.
And Caer stopped there with him ever afterwards, and from that time there was friendship between Angus Og and Ailell and Maeve. And it was on account of that friendship, Angus gave them his help at the time of the war for the Brown Bull of Cuailgne.
Fairy and Folk Tales of the Irish Peasantry
Edited and Selected by W.B.Yeats (1888) London/New York
Walter Scott. (abridged)
The Trooping Fairies The Irish word for fairy is sheehogue [sidheóg], a diminutive of “shee” in banshee. Fairies are daoine sidhe (fairy people). They are fallen angels – not good enough to be saved, nor bad enough to be lost. “The Book of Armagh calls them Gods of the Earth.
They are the Tuatha De Danān, who, when no longer worshipped and fed with offerings, dwindled away. They went by other names also – the slooa-shee [sheagh sidhe] (the fairy host), or Marcra shee (the fairy cavalcade). Their chiefs were old Danā
n heroes, and the places they gathered were Danan burying-places.
There is much evidence to prove them fallen angels, including their nature, their caprice, their way of being good to the good and evil to the evil, having every charm but conscience–consistency . They were beings so quickly offended one could not speak much about them at all, and never call them anything but the “gentry”, or daoine maithe, which in English means good people. Their needs were not great and they were generous, keeping misfortune away if you left a little milk for them on the window-sill over night. Folklore tells most about them, how they fell, and yet were not lost, because their evil was wholly without malice.
Poets, mystic and occult writers, in all ages and countries, have declared that behind the visible are chains on chains of conscious beings, who are not of heaven but of the earth, who have no inherent form but change according to their whim, or the mind that sees them. You cannot lift your hand without influencing and being influenced by them. The visible world is merely their skin. It is in dreams we go amongst them, and play with them, and combat with them. They are, perhaps, human souls in the crucible – these creatures of whim.
Do not think the shee are always little. Everything is capricious about them, even their size. They seem to take what size or shape pleases them. Their chief occupations are feasting, fighting, and making love, and playing the most beautiful music. Near the village of Ballisodare is a little woman who lived amongst them seven years. When she came home she had no toes–she had danced them off.
They have three great festivals in the year–May Eve, Midsummer Eve, November Eve. On May Eve, every seventh year, they fight all round, but mostly on the “Plain-a-Bawn” (wherever that is), for the harvest, for the best ears of grain belong to them. An old man told me he saw them fight once; they tore the thatch off a house in the midst of it all. Had anyone else been near they would merely have seen a great wind whirling everything into the air as it passed. When the wind makes the straws and leaves whirl as it passes, that is the shee.
On Midsummer Eve, when the bonfires are lighted on every hill in honour of St. John, they are at their gayest, and sometimes steal away beautiful mortals to be their brides.
On November Eve they are at their gloomiest, for according to the old reckoning, this is the first night of winter. It is on this night they dance with the ghosts, and the pooka is abroad. After November Eve the blackberries are no longer wholesome, for the pooka has spoiled them. It is on this night the witches make their spells, and girls set a table with food in the name of the devil, that the fetch of their future lover may come through the window and eat of it.
When they are angry they paralyse men and cattle with their darts.
When they are gay they sing. Many a poor girl has heard them, and pined away and died, for love of that singing. Plenty of the old beautiful tunes of Ireland are only their music, caught up by eavesdroppers. No wise peasant would hum “The Pretty Girl milking the Cow” near a fairy rath, for the shee are jealous, and do not like to hear their songs on clumsy mortal lips. Carolan, the last of the Irish bards, slept on a rath, and ever after the fairy tunes ran in his head, and made him the great man he was.
Do they die? Blake saw a fairy’s funeral; but in Ireland we say they are immortal.
Celtic Wonder Tales
Ella Young (1910) – abridged
Dublin, Maunsel and Company
The Milesians reached Ireland on the first of May. They came in boats, with their wives and their children and all their treasures. There were many. It is said by some that they came from a land beyond the blueness of the sky and their ships left tracks among the stars that can still be seen on winter nights.
Their druid Amergin was the first to set foot on the Land and he chanted
I am The Wind That Blows, I am The Wave 0f The Sea,
I am The Sound its waters.
And then he spoke.
“We will go forward now, and when we reach the place where it seems good to rest we will light a fire and put Three Names of Power on the Land so that it may belong to us for ever.”
They went forward then and saw no one. But Brigit of Ireland was watching. She would allow no claim to the name of the land by the Milesians. It was hers to share, not to part with. So she took the shape of a woman that has known hardship and wrapping herself in a cloak of Sorrow she came to try them. Amergin saw her approach.
“O woman,” said Amergin, “why is there such heavy sorrow on you, and why do you make such a shrill keening?”
“I am keening lost possessions, and lost queen-ship, and a name cried down the wind of change and forgotten,” she replied.
“Whose name is cried down the wind?” asked Amergin.
“The name of Banba that was queen of this land,” said Brigit. Amergin was moved by her grief.
“Her name shall not be whirled into forgetfulness. I will put it on this land: it shall be called Banba.”
And so it was. Amergin gave away the First Name of Power on the Land.
And so the Milesians went on from that place, leaving the woman, and memory of her behind them. But as they moved, so did she. Brigit took the shape of a fierce beautiful queen that has lost a battle, and came again to try them. Amergin saw her approach.
“O Queen,” said Amergin, “may all the roads of the world be pleasant to you!”
“O King,” she replied, “all the roads of the world are hard when those who were wont to go in chariots walk barefoot on them.”
“O Queen,” said Amergin, “I would fain better your fortune.”
“Grant me then a queen’s asking.”
“Name your asking,” replied Amergin.
Brigit bowed and answered, “I am Eriu, wife of Mac Grian, Son of the Sun, and I would have my name fastened on this land for ever.”
Amergin could not refuse her request.”I will put your name on this land: it shall be called Eriu,” he replied, saluting her honour.
So Amergin gave away the Second Name of Power.
Again the Milesians went on from that place, as did Brigit. She took the form of an old wrinkled crone bent double with age, and came again to try them. She was gathering sticks, and the bundle was heavy.
“O woman,” said Amergin, “it is hard to see you lifting a bundle when age has bent you so low already. I would fain better your fortune.”
Brigit raised herself, and said:–
“Though I am an old crone now, bent and withered, I was once a great queen, and I will take nothing less than a queen’s asking from you.”
“What is your asking? ” said Amergin.
“Let my name be on this land: I am Fiola,” she replied.
Moved with pity at her current state, Amergin promised thus;
“I will put your name on this land: it shall be called Fiola.”
So Amergin gave away the Third Name Name of Power – and Brigit finally left them to themselves. That night the Milesians made a fire for themselves, and when the smoke of it rose against the sky, Ogma, Nuada, and the Dagda, ancient Gods of Brigit’s realm, came to try them. Nuada spoke first – to a small group at the edge of the camp.
“What people are you? ” he asked, “and from what country have you come?”
“We are the sons of Milesius,” they answered. Gesturing to Amergin they said “he himself is the son of a god – of Beltu, the Haughty Father. We are come from Moy More, the Great Plain that is beyond the horizon of the world.” Amergin saw and heard, and moved forward to greet the strangers.
“How got you knowledge of Ireland?” asked Ogma.
“O Champion,” answered Amergin, “from the centre of the Great Plain there rises a tower of crystal. Its top pierces the heavens, and from the ramparts of it the wisest one among us got sight of this land. When he saw it his heart was filled with longing, and when he told us of it our hearts too were filled with longing. Therefore we set out to seek that land, and behold we have come to it. We have come to Inisfail, the Island of Destiny.”
“And ye have come to it,” said the Dagda, scarcely able to contain his anger. “And ye have come – like thieves in the night; without proclamation; without weapon-challenge. Ye have lighted a fire here, as if this were a no-man’s land. Judge ye if this be hero conduct.”
“Your words have the bitterness of truth in them,” said Amergin. “Say now what you would have us do.”
“You are a druid and a leader among your people,” said Nuada. “Give judgment, therefore, between yourselves and us.”
“I will give judgment,” said Amergin “I judge it right that we should return to our ships and go out the distance of nine waves from the land. Use all your power against us, and we will use all our power against you. We will take the Island of Destiny by the strength of our hands, or die fighting for it!”
“It is a good judgment,” said Ogma, “Get back to your ships! We will gather our battle-chiefs for the fight.”
Ogma, Nuada, and the Dagda, went away then from the Milesians.
The Milesians began to put out the fire they. had kindled, and as they were quenching the embers, Brigit returned. She threw her mantle of power about her and came to the Milesians in her own shape. When Amergin saw her he knew that she was the Mighty Mother, and he cried out:
“O Ashless Flame, put a blessing on us now, that our luck may not be extinguished with these embers.”
“O Druid,” said Brigit, “if you had wisdom you would know that before the First Fire is extinguished the name-blessing should be pronounced over it.”
“O Mother of All Wisdom, I know it, but the name-blessing is gone from me. I met three queens as I came hither, and each one asked the name-gift of me. They were queens discrowned: I could not put refusal on them.”
Brigit began to laugh then, and she cried:
“O Amergin, you are not counted a fool, yet it seems to me that if you had much wit you would know the eyes of Brigit under any cloak in the world. It was I, myself, who asked the name-gift from you three times, and got it. Do not ask a fourth blessing from me now, for I have blessed you three times already.”
She stooped and lifted a half-quenched ember from the fire. She blew on it till it became a golden flame–till it became a star. She tossed it from one hand to the other as a child tosses a ball. She went away laughing.
The Milesians went back to their ships. They put the distance of nine waves between themselves and the land. The Tuatha De Danaan loosed the Fomor on them, and a mighty tempest broke about their ships. Great waves leaped over them and huge abysses of water engulfed them. The utmost power of the Milesians could not bring the ships a hair’s breadth nearer to the shore. A terrible wind beat on them. Ireland disappeared. Then Amergin cried out:
“O Land, that has drawn us hither, help us! Show us the noble fellowship of thy trees: we will be comrades to them. Show us the shining companies of thy rivers: we will put a blessing on every fish that swims in them. Show us thy hero-hearted mountains: we will light fires of rejoicing for them. O Land, help us! help us! help us!”
Ireland heard him, and sent help. The darkness cleared away and the wind was stilled.
Then Amergin said:
“O Sea, help us! O mighty fruitful Sea! I call on every wave that ever touched the land. O Sea, help us!”
The sea heard him, and the three waves that go round Ireland–the wave of Thoth, the wave of Rury and the long slow white foaming wave of Cleena. The three waves came and lifted the ships to the shore. The Milesians landed.
The Tuatha De Danaan came down to make trial of their battle-strength. Hard was the contest between them. The Milesians held their own against the gods. When they saw that the Milesians could hold their own, the Tuatha De Danaan drew themselves out of the fight. They laughed and cried to the Milesians:
“Good heroes are ye, and worthy to win the earth: we put our blessing on you.”
Nuada shook the bell-branch, and the glory that the Tuatha De Danaan had in Tir-na-nOg before they ever set themselves to the shaping of the earth – came back to them. Such was their beauty that the Milesians veiled their eyes before them.
“Do not veil your eyes!” said Nuada, “we will draw the Cloak of invisibility about us. We give you Ireland: but, since our hands have fashioned it, we will not utterly leave the country. We will be in the white mist that clings to the mountains; we will be the quiet that broods on the lakes; we will be the joy-shout of the rivers; we will be the secret wisdom of the woods. Long after your descendants have forgotten us, they will hear our music on sunny raths and see our great white horses lift their heads from the mountain-tarns and shake the night-dew from their crested manes: in the end they will know that all the beauty in the world comes back to us, and their battles are only echoes of ours. Lift up your faces, Children of Milesius, Children of Beltu the Haughty Father, and greet the land that belongs to you!”
The Milesians lifted up their heads. No glory blinded them, for the Tuatha De Danaan had drawn the cloak of invisibility about themselves. They saw the sunlight on the grass like emerald fire; they saw the blueness of the sky and the solemn darkness of the pine trees; they heard the myriad sound of shaken branches and running water, and behind it echoed the laughter of Brigit.
FREEMAN’S JOURNAL 18TH OCTOBER 1917 P6
In Ireland the position of women, even from the earliest times, seems to have been comparatively good. They were never the drudges or mere chattels of their lord and master. True, what was considered the lowest work and task or grinding corn was performed by the women slaves, or bond women; but then, on the other hand, they took part in the government and the learned professions.
Women took an active part in warfare – the schools of the Amazons Aoife and Scathach in Scotland were famous, and those champions who wished to excel all others went to study under these female warriors. The mother of King Conor Mac Nessa was a woman warrior, and wandered through Ireland executing deeds of valour, and queens frequently went into battle beside their husbands.
This practice lasted down even as late as the seventh century, when St. Adamnan put an end to compulsory military service for women.
In all families except those of the very poor the best part of the house was set apart for the women. It was called the ‘Grianán’ which means ‘Sunny Chamber’, Grian being the Irish for sun. Here the women lived, worked, or studied, and here the men came to visit the ladies when they were weary of their stiff rooms and here they played chess and enjoyed music.
The Grianáns were made as pretty and bright as possible; they were frequently thatched with bird’s feathers, sometimes entirely white, but that was according to individual taste. In the description of the beautiful Grianán built by Cairbre, King of Kerry, for his daughter Crede, it had green door-posts and a carved silver lintel. The thatch was brown and crimson, and the porch was thatched with birds’ feathers, beautifully arranged in strips of blue and yellow.
The Grianáns were not only artistic outside, but inside they were hung with beautifully embroidered hangings, and there were couches inlaid with silver and gold, and cushions with beautiful covers. Such were the surroundings in which the women of ancient Ireland lived and moved.
In the absence of alarm clocks the girls of that period were awakened in the mornings by a woman servant playing sweet music; similarly at night she was lulled sleep by the music of slumber.
They took great care of their personal appearance, and were renowned for their beautiful hair, which they usually wore in two or more long plaits. These plaits were not confined by a ribbon, but by a flexible gold ornament, many examples of which may be seen in the Dublin Museum. Women also wore a gold ornament on their head, gold collars, bracelets, waist ornaments etc. There were at least fifteen different types of brooch, worn by both men and women to keep their cloak in place.
Even in those days Ireland was famous for fine linen, and it was largely employed for wearing apparel. The women wore a loose overdress of fine wool or silk, richly embroidered and fastened on the left side by eyelet holes and a lace. The dress was held at the waist by a hoop of twisted gold or a belt of leather, often richly chased and studded with stones. Over this was worn a cloak, richly embroidered or trimmed with fur, or made entirely of skins. On their feet they wore sandals or shoes of fine leather. A king is described as wearing ‘two shoes of a network of gold with golden buckles.’
Even the men deemed it a disgrace to have red hands and unkempt nails, and there were skilled manicurists among the women servants. Deirdre, lamenting for her dead husband, said;
“I sleep no more, no more do I crimson my nails, no more shall joy come into my mind.”
Much of this information comes from old manuscripts. The bards were often very exact in their details, and when they were describing a feast or a meeting between two chiefs they would describe what the king wore and what the queen wore as if they were writing for a society paper. It is thanks to them that we can construct for ourselves an accurate picture of those times. The following, for example, is a description from an old Tale of Princess Etain:
“She stood on the edge of the well combing her hair with a bright comb of silver adorned with gold. The hue of her hair was like the red gold after burnishing. It was plaited in two locks and a bead at the point of each lock. She wore a mantle folded and purple, and in the mantle silver fringes arranged and a brooch of the finest gold. A kirtle long and hooded of green silk with red embroidery of gold was seen beneath it. Marvellous clasps of gold and silver in the kirle on the breast and her shoulders on every side.
The sun kept shining on her so that the glistening of the gold against the sun from the green silk was seen of all. There she was undoing her hair to wash it. White as the snow of one night were her two hands, and red as the foxglove her two clear fair cheeks. Blue as a hyacinthe her eyes. Red as a rowanberry her lips, the bright radiance of the moon was in her noble face, soft womanly dignity in her voice, her step was stately and slow as the gait of a queen. Verily of the world’s women she was the dearest, and the most perfect that the eyes of man had every beheld.”
While taking care of their appearance they were far from being animated ‘fashion plates’. They strove to excel in baking, cooking and weaving. Often girls were sent for a while to the house of a chief who entertained largely, or whose wife was a noted housekeeper.
They were also famous for their skill in embroidering and many manuscripts note this. Emer, wife of Cuchulainn was ‘beautiful, with a noble beauty; she was wise in learning, skilled in the arts of home and embroidered better than any of the women in Ireland.”
When the Misses Yeats, sisters of the poet, started their school of needlework and embroidery (which has since won prizes in the great exhibitions of Europe and attracted universal admiration in Madison Square Garden, New York) they called their school Dun Emer.
The girls of ancient Ireland were independent; they not only adorned their home and fireside, but they entered the professions. There were women doctors held in high esteem, and learned in the knowledge of herbs and healing plants and the bandaging of wounds. For rheumatism, for example, they prescribed vapor baths, the remains of some are to be found in Ireland still.
There were also women lawyers and women learned in Druidical lore and many women studied not to practice but merely because it interested them. Emer was very highly educated and when Cuchulainn came to woo her they spoke together in a mysterious language understood by the learned in order that the other girls sitting near might not understand.
RULES CONCERNING MARRIAGE
There was a strict rule regarding marriage that the elder sister was always married before the younger, and even a king was not allowed to take the younger girl off if he preferred her. The King of Leinster wanted the marry the younger daughter of Tuathal, the High King (c 130 B.C.). He was not allowed to do so and out of the dispute a war arose. He lost and was forced to pay a heavy tribute to the High King at Tara. The tribute was called the Boru. After some years the kings neglected to levy it. Brian, who fought at Clontarf, revived the custom and it is from that he gets his name – Brian Boru or Brian of the Tributes.
Even after marriage the women enjoyed a large share of independence and had the right to own their own separate property.
THE WOOING OF EMER
Cuchulainn was the hero and champion of the Red Branch Knights. He often said he would wed no one who was not his equal in age, race and feature, who was wise and gentle, and skilled in embroidery. For these reasons he wanted to marry Emer, daughter of Forgael – for she possessed the six womanly gifts;
1. The gift of modest behaviour
2. The gift of singing
3. The gift of sweet speech
4. The gift of beauty
5. The gift of wisdom
6. The gift of needlework.
Cuchulain called his charioteer to prepare his chariot with his two famous steeds, one grey and the other jet black, and off he went courting.
Emer and her sister were sitting on the grassy mound in front of the house and around them were their foster sisters, the daughters of farmers to whom Emer was teaching embroidery. Cuchulain came over to them and talked to Emer a long time. She said she was not anxious to marry, and advised him to take her sister. He was not to be put off. Then she told him that it was by great deeds of daring he could hope to win her love and that if he came back in a year a fully taught warrior she would marry him.
Cuchulain went away for a year to Scotland to seek glory under the tuition of the great warrior queen, Sathach, but the thought of Emer was strong in his heart, and after a year he returned to Ireland. Meanwhile Emer’s father had made a match for her with Lughaidh, a king of Munster. A great feast was prepared, and Emer and Lughaidh were seated side by side. Then Emer told him that she loved Cuchulain and that no honourable man would force her to be his wife, and so Lughaidh withdrew.
Nevertheless, the path was still not made smooth for Cuchalain. Forail did not desire him for a son-in-law, and when he heard that he had returned to Ireland he and his sons fortified their dwelling, so that for a whole year Cuchulain did not get a glimpse of Emer.
Then at last he jumped his famous hero-leap over three walls of the dun and after a tremendous fight succeeded in carrying her off. He brought her to his home at Emain Macha.