The Enchanted Cave of Keshcorran.
It was a great and general hunting match that by Finn son of Cumall son of Art son of Trenmor grandson of Baeiscne, with the brave and comely Fianna of the Gael, was convened throughout the Corran’s fair borders; among the beautiful tuatha of Leyny; within the confines of Brefny; in the trackless fastnesses of Glendallan; in the nut- and mast-abundant regions of Carbury; in the strong coverts of Kyleconor’s woods, and over the wide plane expanse of Moyconall.
Then Finn sat upon his hunting mound on the top of high Keshcorran; at which instant there tarried by him none but his two wolf-dogs: Bran and Sceolaing, and Conan Mael mac Morna. Now was it sweet to Finn to look on; to listen to the hounds’ music, to the young men’s clear joyous cheering, to utterance of athletic warriors and deep voices of mighty men, to various whistling of the Fianna, in all the wild and desert forests of the land; for even in the bordering countries those hunting cries which they emitted were freely heard: these being such that deer were roused out of their wilds, brocks banished from their brock-holes, birds driven to take wing; and at this point each wrathful and eagerly fierce wolf-dog was slipped from his leash to course the tulack.
Howbeit the ruler that at such time had sway in Keshcorran was Conaran son of Imidel, a chief of the tuatha dé danann; and so soon as he perceived that the hounds’ cry now sounded deviously, he bade his three daughters (that were full of sorcery) to go and take vengeance of Finn for his hunting. The women sought the entrance of the cave that was in the tzdack, and there sat beside each other. Upon three crooked and wry sticks of holly they hung as many heathenish bewitched hasps of yarn, which they began to reel off left-handwise in front of the cave. They had not been long so when Finn and Conan reached the cavern’s edge, and so perceived the three hideous hags thus busied sit at its entrance: their three coarse heads of hair all dishevelled; their eyes rheumy and redly bleared; their three mouths black and deformed, and in the gums of each evil woman of them a set of sharpest venomous and curved fangs; their three bony-jointed [i.e. scraggy] necks maintaining their heads upon those formidable beldames; their six arms extraordinarily long, while the hideous and brutish nail that garnished every finger of them resembled the thick-butted sharp-tipped ox-horn six bandy legs thickly covered with hair and fluff supported them, and in their hands they had three hard and pointed distaffs.
In order to view the harridans Finn and Conan passed through the hasps; whereupon a deathly tremor occupied them and presently they lost their strength, so that by those valiant hags they were fast bound indissolubly. Another pair of the Fianna came, and with them the Sons of Nemhnann: through the yarn they passed to where Finn and Conan were; they too lost their power, and by the same hags were lashed down in rigid bonds. These warriors then they carried away into the cave.
But a little time they had been thus when Oscar and mac Lugach came upon the ground, having along with them the gentles and chief nobles of clan-Baeiscne; clan-Morna as well was on the spot and, when they had looked upon the hanks, there was not in any one man of them all so much as a newly delivered woman’s strength. The children of Corcran appeared and, when they saw the yarns, their pith and valour likewise was abolished. In short, the children of Smól and the Fianna all, both gentle and simple, were bound; so that as helplessly pinioned and tightly tethered culprit prisoners the hags transported them into black mysterious holes, into dark perplexing labyrinths.
Howbeit at the cave’s mouth was great baying of wolfdogs that, after their lords’ and their owners’ departure and excursion away from them, demanded them there. Many a deer full of hurts, bone-cleft, many a wild pig killed outright, and mortally mangled brocks, with hares that had suffered much, lay on the hill-side after the binding of them that hitherto and thus far had carried them.
Now came those huge daring warrior-women, and they holding in their hands three wide-channelled hard-tempered swords, to the spot in which the Fianna lay tied. Round about them on every side they looked abroad if perchance they might spy any individual or straggler of the Fianna to whom they might administer death and everlasting destruction; and when they failed of this, would have entered into the fort with intent to have unsparingly dismembered and hewn the Fianna all in pieces.
But anon they did see a single tall warrior, martial and valiant of aspect, white-toothed, that bore him as one skilled in arms; none other indeed than the raging lion, the ‘rabies of battle,’ the torch that flamed in the day of onset: the great-sou led Goll son of Morna son of Cormac son of Mahon son of Garadh Black-knee son of Aedh of the Poems son of Aedh of cenn claire son of Conall son of . . . son of Cet son of Magach son of Cairbre king of Connacht. Whom when the three sable uncanny misbegotten witches perceived, incontinently they went to meet him and the two sides [he and they] fought a fight of extremity, keen and cruel. At all events the hero’s wrath kindled exceedingly, and upon those rude, raging, utterly hideous dames he rained mortal blows and ungentle strokes, until at last he raised the straight sword and to the brace of monstrosities that happened to be right in front of him: Caemhóg to wit, and Cullenn Redhead, dealt one mighty cut whereby of either one he made two accurately even and equal-sized portions. Which cut was one of the three greatest that ever was delivered in ireland, as: the stroke stricken by Fergus son of Ros Rua in the final battle of the great raid for the kine of Cuailgne, with which at a sweep he shore off ‘the three Maels of Meath’; that which by Conall Cernach was given to Cet mac Magach; and this stroke of Goll mac Morna’s, with which he slew Caemog and Cuillenn Redhead, two daughters of Conaran mac Imidel.
Then from behind him the senior one of Conaran’s children: Iaran ní Chonaráin, clasped her arms round Goll as he beheaded the other twain; but in her despite Goll forced himself round to face her, and in his turn locked his long arms about her. Thus they wrestled: bravely, with strength of grip and with savage effort, until Goll gave the hag one mighty twist and so hurled her to earth. With the straps of a shield he bound her fast, and he bared his sword to cut her in pieces, but she spoke:
“warrior that never wast worsted, man of might that whether in battle or in single fight never hast blenched, my body and life I commit to the safeguard of thy generosity and valour! surely it were better for thee to have the Fianna whole, without blood drawn on any one of them; and by the gods that I adore I swear that all that which I hold forth I will fulfil to thee.”
Then the kingly hero loosed her bonds; and they both went on, to the hill in which the Fianna (Finn with them) lay tied hard and fast. Here Goll said: “be their fastenings cast off from Fergus Truelips and from the Fianna’s men of science first of all; after which, be the same done in order for Finn, for Ossian, for the nine-and~twenty sons of Morna, and for the Fianna generally.” In this wise then the witch freed them; the Fianna promptly rising emerged from the cave and sat down beside the tulach; then Fergus Truelips, poet of the Fianna, looked upon Goll and fell to laud him for the deed which he had done.
Soon they saw towards them yet another weird evil-fashioned creature and irrational-looking deformity, in the shape of a gnarled hag full of knotted veins and sinews, upon every hair’s point of whose shaggy grey eye-brows and -lashes that garnished her either a small apple or a large sloe would have stuck fast. A pair of serous eyes nevertheless blazed in her head; a huge blueish flattened nose surmounted the precinct of her black and distorted wrinkled mouth, while in that gaping orifice a hideous ragged set of masticators stood; arms she had thin, but tough of muscle, nails long and formidable as a wolfdog’s; a strong and infrangible armature clothed her; at her thigh was a wide- channelled straight-bladed sword, and a great shield of the warrior s pattern hung on her back’s upper part [i.e. on her shoulders].
In this semblance she came into Finn’s presence, and she laid him under bonds to provide her from among his men with her fill of single combat. Said Finn to Ossian; “go, my son, and rid us of yon prodigious hag.” But Ossian answered: “after all that from the others I have had of ill-treatment and of contumely, I am not able; and this is Conaran’s daughter Iarnan, coming to avenge her sisters.” Thus then Ossian, and Oscar, and Conan, mac Lugach and Dermot, Caeilte mac Ronan and Cairell, with the remaining chief men of the Fianna, declined to encounter with the witch; so that Finn said he would himself tackle her. Here however Goll mac Mama said: “Finn, combat with a crone beseems thee not; I therefore will fight with her, for: ‘when the need is greatest, ‘tis then the friend is proven.’”
Promptly now Goll went to meet her; and between them was fought a brave bout, a desperate fight, during which neither discerned in the other any note of weakness or of fainting. At all events Goll passed his right band to the strap of his shield and thence drew his deadly blade, with which he made a cast free of all swerve or deviation, and drove it through the boss of the hag’s shield and so through her heart, that it shewed out on her far side. In this wise then she perished presently.
Next, after the slaughter of Conaran mac Imidel’s three daughters Goll proceeded to Keshcorran, and of the bruiden or ‘fort’ made a red glowing pile of flame; while all the wealth that he found within it he turned over to the Fianna. Which done, Finn bestowed on Goll his own daughter: Caemh or ‘the slender,’ called cneisghel or ‘the white-skinned.’ She it was that bore him a famous son: Fed son of Goll mac Morna, who at his seventeen years completed was by the Fianna killed upon that same rath.
So far then the Enchanted Cave of Keshcorran.