The Feast at Conan's House
A HEAVILY-PRODUCTIVE, truly-pleasant chace and stag-hunt was appointed by Fionn Mac Cumhaill, and lithe, noble, handsome, fair-featured Fenians of the Gael, on the mountain of Torc, which towers over Loch Lene, over the district of Fear More, and Hy Connall Gabhra. The chace was extended by them over the green pleasant mountain of Eachtaidhe, and from thence it spread over other green-capped mountains, through dense impassable woods, over marshy, rugged, reddish hills, and across the smooth extensive plains of the adjacent districts. Every Fenian chief chose the place which his taste suggested, his starting point, and the pass of danger, where he had been accustomed to exercise his power in every chace, in which he had been previously engaged; and the shouts which they raised in the turns and doubles of that hunt, re-echoed throughout the woods around; so that they started the nimblest bucks in the forest, caused the smaller red-furred game to clamber up the summit of the rocks, scared foxes astray, aroused badgers from the mountain clefts, drove birds to the wing, and fawns to their utmost speed. They then unleashed their ravenous, small-headed, angry, nimble hounds, and by a simultaneous movement in concert, set them upon that abundant chace. Nevertheless, the hands of heroes were stained with blood, hounds were mangled and gory, yet the Fenians of Eire met success, and proud they were of their hounds on the occasion of that laborious clamorous hunting match.
It so happened, however, that none remained in attendance upon Fionn that day except Diorraing son of Doghardamadh alone. "Well, Diorraing," said Fionn, "do you assume the post of watch and ward for me while I sleep, for I arose early this day; and it is an early rising when a person cannot see his five fingers against the sky, while reclining, or distinguish the foliage of the hazel from that of the oak." The Fenian king, however, fell into a pleasant slumbering sleep, in which he remained from the rising of the morning until the sun shone in his golden lustre in the evening.
As for the Fenians; they gave over the chace after having left Fionn asleep, on the earn of Ceann-Sleibhe, with Diorraing in charge of him, and they knew not into what unexplored wilds they had been led in course of the pursuit. When Diorraing was tired of Fioun's long sleep he awoke him, and told him that the Fenians must have abandoned the chace, since he could not hear either a cry or whistle from them. "It is the close of day," said he (Fionn), "and therefore we will not follow the Fenians to-night. Go then, Diorraing to the wood, and fetch materials for building a hut and an inclosure, while I will go to seek provisions for the night for us both." Diorraing, accordingly, proceeded on his way, but had not gone far when he discovered a strong, well-lighted Bruighin on the margin of the sheltering wood close at hand. He returned with the intelligence to Fionn. "Let us proceed to it," said Fionn, "for we ought to undertake no labour or building in this place, since strangers dwell near." They then proceeded to the gate of the Dun, and knocked at it. The porter thereupon presented himself, and asked who they were. "We are two of Fionn Mac Cumhaill's men," replied Diorraing. "May poison and a crushing into pulp be your portion," exclaimed the porter, "your visit to this place is unfortunate; because it was Fionn who killed the father, mother, and four brothers of the owner of this place, as also the father and mother of his wife; and he who lives here is Conan of Ceann-Sleibhe, who is also called Conau of Ceaim Sumaire; because it was Fionn that first brought him to Eire from Sumaire of the Red Sea, on the margin of Loch Lurg, when he was in search of Mac-an-loin, i.e. his sword; it is true that all these acts of treachery have been perpetrated by Fionn."
The porter thereupon returned: Conan asked him the quality and description of the parties at the gate. "There is," replied he, "a young, courteous, fair-haired, manly, puissant, truly handsome hero, powerful in action, whose shape and countenance is formed in beauty's mould; he is the largest of heroes, the most powerful of champions, and the most beautiful of the human racej he leads a ferocious, small-headed, white-breasted, sleek-haunched hound, having the eyes of a dragon, the claws of a wolf, the vigor of a lion, the venom of a serpent angered to speedy action, by a massy chain of old silver attached to a collar of brightly-burnished gold around his neck. There is another brown-haired, ruddy-faced, white-toothed man with the former: he is-leading a yellow-spotted hound by a chain of bright brass, which he holds in his hand."
"It is a good description you have given of them," said Conan, "as I thereby know them: for he is Fionn O'Boisgne, the Fenian prince whom you first (described), and it is Brau he leads; the other man is Diorraing son of Domhardamadh, and it is Sceoluing he leads in his hand. Hasten to admit them." They were therefore accordingly admitted, and received witli great respect. Their arms were received out of their hands, and a sumptuous feast was prepared for them, so that they enjoyed themselves pleasantly and happily on the occasion.
Conan was situated as follows:—his wife sat by his shoulder on one side, while his elegantly-moulded, gracefully-mild daughter, named Finn-dealbh, sat on the other. The appearance of the young girl was truly astonishing; for fairer than the pure snow of one night was every limb of her body and her graceful neck; her cheeks glowed with as deep a crimson as dyes the blood of a young heifer; both her brows were dark as the sheen of jet; her long tendrilled hair shone like pure burnished gold; her eyes, blue as the flower of the litgha, glistened like, pearls in their sockets; redder than the berry of the mountain ash were her sweetly-sounding, correctly-speaking lips; and an elegant, fine, four-cornered mantle, bound above her fair breast with a bodkin of bright silver, enveloped her.
At length, Fionn addressing Conan, said, "O Conan, it is very true that the malice you entertain towards me is great indeed; nevertheless, you may remember the time when I saved yourself and your wife from death, and that we then cemented a bond of friendship between us to this effect:—your wife was then with child, and you promised me the gift of the infant, on condition that if it proved to be a boy, he should be enrolled in the Fenian ranks; but if it should be a girl, you were bound to educate her in a befitting manner for me, so that if she proved duly qualified, I should take her to wife; if not, I should bestow her on some Fenian chief among my people. I can now perceive she is quite befitting myself, and, therefore, it is to claim her I am come, and not to seek hospitality from you." "Cease, O Fionn," said Conan, "for you do not esteem your own worth more than does the man to whom that maid is betrothed." "Who is he?" enquired Diorraing. "Fatha Mac Abhric, son of the king of Easroe," replied Conan. "On yourself be the fault of your wounds and danger," cried Diorraing; "that glib, ill-spoken tongue, which has given expression to such uncalled-for words, should be silenced and cut out, and the potion of a guilty death doled out to you; for were all the worth of the Tuatha Dedanans concentrated in the body of one man, Fionn would prove a better man than he." "Be silent, Diorraing," said Fionn, "for we have not come here to commit a carnage, but to get a wife, and we shall have her, no matter whether the Tuatha Dedanans like or dislike it." "I do not mean to hold a contention or quarrel with you," said Conan, "but I bind you under geasa which 'true heroes never would bear', if you do not answer, to the best of your memory, all the questions I will propose." "I will answer them," replied Fionn. "Well then," said Conan, "Tell me the first and second names by which you have been known; also the name of the place where you first swam (bathed), what was the first booty you took, and why you made the leap of Brice Bloighe every year."
"I will tell (all) those, O Conan," said Fionn. "Glasdiog-huin was my first name; I was afterwards known by the name of Giolla-an-chuasain; it was in the fountain of Crithinn, by the side of Sliabh Smoil, that I first swam; a widgeon and her clutch of twelve young birds, which I captured at Dun-Boi, which is now called Dun-da-bhrugha in the south, was the first booty that I took. The reason why I am bound to make the leap of Brice Bloighe every year is this:—The first day I separated from Boghmuin, my foster-mother, when she had been slain by the clan of Moirne, I lost my way, and strayed to Luachar Deghadh in the south. I wore no other clothing at the time, but a garment made of the skins of the deer and roebuck; and I was then called by another name also, that is Giolla-ita-g-Croiceann. I saw two different assemblies met on, two high earns opposite each other: one was an assembly of comely men, and the other was composed of beautiful blooming women: there was a high terrific precipice on each side, and a windy, formidable valley between. I proceeded to the female assembly, and enquired the reason why they assumed that separate position. They informed me that Seadna Mac Cairrioll, son of Criomthann, king of Kerry Luachra, was seized by a current of affection and a torrent of deep love towards Donait, daughter of Daire of Sith Daire; and that the condition she required of him was to leap (over the valley) every year, but hat when he came to the brink of the precipice he baulked the leap. I enquired if she would accept the hand of any other person who would perform the leap; she replied that she never saw a man who wore worse clothing than I did; but she found no fault with my personal appearance; and she said that if I would make the leap, she would accept me. Thereupon, I tucked myself up in the midst of my skins, then proceeding to the steep behind me, I took my race to the margin of the precipice, and sprang over in a truly swift, scientific manner to the opposite side. I then made a second leap back, and could have leaped over it oftener, if I had chosen. Donait, thereupon, came to meet me: she threw her arms around my neck, and thrice kissed me. She stripped me of my skins, gave me fit clothing, and brought me to her own house that night. As I arose early the next morning, she bound me under an obligation to perform that leap every year. So, Conan," said Fionn, "there is your question answered."
"Win victory and blessings," said Conan, "because you are truly an intelligent and learned man, and it contributes much to my satisfaction and amusement to listen to you: but now tell me who among the Fenian heroes is he, who leaps over his own grave-stone and leacht every day, whose own daughter is his mother, and who is demanding eric and reparation from the man who killed him though he is himself alive?"
"I will tell you about that," said Fionn:—"Two Fenian chiefs of my people, namely, Oscur son of Criomthann, and Daolgas son of Cairrill Gas, one day quarrelled about a fight that occurred between two dogs; and I was not at home on that day, nor any other of the Fenians who could have interfered to any purpose; and Daolgas was slain on that occasion. The beautiful, marriageable daughter of Daolgas, came over him, and having stooped down to kiss him, a red spark of fire flew from his mouth into hers, and she became pregnant in consequence, and brought forth a broad-crowned son, in due time; and, since no other name was found for him, he was called by the name of his father. He was nurtured in a fitting manner, until his seventh year; and the first feats of youthful folly that he performed was to leap over his own grave-stone and leacht: he is now demanding eric from Oscur son of Criomthann, so there is your question answered for you, O Conan," said Fionn.
"Win victory and blessings," said Conan, "and tell me now, O Fenian Prince, who are the best and the worst; who the largest and the smallest; who the swiftest and the slowest men in the Fenian ranks."
"I myself," replied Fionn, "am the best man; Deara Dubh from Dubh-Shliabh is the worst man among them; for he never yet spoke a word to any person, except reproach and provocation; and whoever, while fasting, saw him in the morning, could do no good during that day. Liagan Luaimneach (the swift), from Luachair Dheaghaidh, is the swiftest among them; and Life Leisgeamhuil (the slothful), the fire lighter (stoker) of Almhain, is the slowest among them; for it is the longest journey he ever made, during the length of a summer's day, to walk from the fountain at the gate of Almhuin to his own bed in the house! Daolgas son of Dubhgoile is the tallest man; and Mac Minue, the little dwarf, is the smallest man among them. This, then, is the solution of your query, O Conan," replied Fionn; "but let us not continue as we are any longer; if you have musicians, or skilled performers, let them be brought forward, for it is not my habit to pass any one night without music."
"Tell me," said Conan, "which are the sweetest strains you ever enjoyed."
"I will tell you," replied Fionn. "When the seven constant battalions of the Fenians assemble on our plain and raise their standards of chivalry above their heads, then when the howling whistling blast of the dry, cold wind, rushes through them and over them, that is very sweet to me. When the drinking hall is furnished in Almhuin, and the cup-bearers hand the bright cups of chaste workmanship to the chiefs of the Fenians, the ring of the cups, when drained to the last drop, on the tables of the Bruighin, is very sweet to me. Sweet to me is the scream of the seagull, and of the heron, the roar of the waves on Traigh-lidhe (Tralee), the song of the three sons of Meardha, the whistling of Mac Lughaidh, the Dord of Fearsgaradh, the voice of the cuckoo in the first month of summer, the grunting of the hogs on Magh Eitne, and the echo of loud laughter in Derry." And he sung this Lay:—
The Dord of the green-topped woods,
The dashing of the wave against the shore;
Or the force of the waves at Tralee,
When they meet the Lee of the white trout.
Three (men) who joined the Fenians,
One of them was gentle, one was fierce;
Another was contemplating the stars,
They were sweeter than any melody.
The azure wave of the ocean,
When a man cannot distinguish its course,
A swell that sweeps fish upon dry land,
A melody to lull to sleep—sweet its effect.
Feargaill, son of Fionn, a man quick in execution,
Long and smooth the career of his glory,
Never composed a melody which did not reveal his mind,
A lulling repose to me were his strains.
"Win victory and blessings," said Conan, "and tell me now the names of all those whom you have ever satirised or dispraised—who was the man that, having only one leg, one arm, and one eye, escaped from you in consequence of his swiftness, and outstripped the Fenians of Eire, and why is this proverb used, 'As Roc came to the house of Fionn?'"
"I will tell you that," said Fionn. "One day the chief of the Fenians and I went to Teamhair Luachra, and we took nothing in the chace that same day but one fawn. When it had been cooked, it was fetched to me for the purpose of dividing it. I gave a portion of it. to each of the Fenian chiefs, and there remained none for my own share but a haunch bone. Gobha Gaoithe, son of Ronan, presented himself, and requested me to give him the haunch; I, accordingly, gave it to him: he then declared that I gave him that portion on account of his swiftness of foot: and he went out on the plain, but he had only gone a short distance when Caoilte son of Ronan, his own brother, overtook him, and brought the haunch back again to me, and we had no further dispute about the matter. We had not been long so, when we saw a huge, obnoxious, massy-boned, black, detestable giant, having only one eye, one arm, and one leg, hop forward towards us: he saluted us. I returned the salutation, and asked him whence he came. 'I am come by the powers of the agility of my arm and leg,' responded he, 'having heard there is not one man in the world more liberal in bestowing gifts than you, O Fionn; therefore, I am come to solicit wealth and valuable gifts from you.' I replied, that were all the wealth of the world mine I would give him neither little nor much. He then declared 'they were all liars who asserted that I never gave a refusal to any person.' I replied, that if he were a man, I would not give him a refusal. 'Well, then,' said the giant, 'let me have that haunch you have in your hand, and I will say good bye to the Fenians, provided that you allow me the length of the haunch as a distance, and that I am not seized upon until I make my first hop.' Upon hearing this I gave the haunch into the giant's hand, and he hopped over the lofty stockades of the town: he then made use of the utmost swiftness of his one leg to outstrip all the rest (of the Fenians). When the Fenian chiefs saw that, they started in pursuit of the giant, while I and the baud of minstrels of the town went to the top of the dún to watch their proceedings. When I saw that the giant had outstripped them a considerable distance, I put on my running habiliments, and taking no weapon but Mac an Luin in my hand, I started after the others. I overtook the hindmost division on Sliabh an High, the middle (next) division at Limerick, and the chiefs of the Fenians at Ath Bo, which is called Ath-Luain (Athlone), and those first in the pursuit at Einn-an-Euaigh, to the right hand side of Gruachan of Connacht, where he (the giant) was distant less than a javelin's cast from me. The giant passed on before me, and crossed Eas Roe (now Ballyshannon) of the son of Modhuirn, without wetting his foot: I leaped over it after him. He then directed his course towards the estuary of Binn-Edair, keeping the circuit of Eire to his right hand. The giant leaped over (the estuary), and it was a leap similar to a flight over the sea. I sprang after him, and having caught him by the small of the Lade, laid him prostrate on the earth. 'You have dealt unjustly by me, O Fionn,' cried the giant; 'for it was not with you I arranged the combat, but with the Fenians.' I replied, that the Fenians were not perfect, except I myself were with them. We had not remained long thus, when Liagan Luaimneach from Luachar Deaghaidh came up to us; he was followed by Caoilte Mac Eonan, together with the swiftest of the Fenians. Each of them couched his javelin, intending to drive it through the giaut and kill him in my arms, but I protected him from their attacks. Soon after this the main body of the Fenians arrived; they enquired what was the cause of the delay, that the giant had not yet been slain. 'That is bad counsel,' said the giant, 'for a better man than I am would be slain in my eric.' We bound the giant strongly on that occasion; and soon after Bran Beag O'Buadhchan came to invite me to a feast, and all the Fenians of Eire, who had been present, accompanied him to his house. The banqueting hall had been prepared for our reception at that time, and the giant was dragged into the middle of the house, and was there placed in the sight of all present. They asked him who he was. 'Roc son of Diocan is my name,' replied he, 'that is, I am son to the Legislator of Aengus of the Brugh in the south. My wife poured a current of surprising affection and a torrent of deep love upon Sgiath Breac, son of Dathcaoin yonder, who is your foster son, O Fionn; it hurt my feelings severely to hear her boast of the swiftness and bravery of her lover in particular, and of the Fenians in general, and I declared that I would challenge him and all the Fenians of Eire, to rnn a race with me; but she sneered at me. I then went to my beloved friend, Aengus of the Brugh, to bemoan my fate; and he metamorphosed me thus, and bestowed on me the swiftness of a druidical wind, as you have seen. This is my history for you j and you ought to be well satisfied with all the hurt and injury you have inflicted upon me already.' The giant was thereupon set at liberty, and we could not learn where he betook himself. The proverb, 'As Roc came to the house of Fionn,' has originated from that circumstance; and so that is the answer to your question, O Conan," said Fionn.
"Win victory and blessings," said Conan, "and, as it contributes much to my satisfaction and amusement to listen to you, pray inform me now what are the greatest wonders found among the Fenians."
"I will give you a true account of that" replied Fionn. "There is a deaf man among the Fenians; and there never was a lay or poem composed on Fenian subjects which he has not stored up in his memory. There is another wonder found among us, that is, a woman, who has been my wife during the last seven years, and who is alive by day and dead by night, yet there is no woman I love so well as her. There is another strange wonder, namely, a certain man who is each alternate year a male and female: children are born to him while a male, and he himself bears children while a female. We have another wonder, that is, the spear of Fiachra son of Criointhann, which is in my possession, its point inflicts no injury, yet no person escapes alive against whom it is cast haftwise."
"Win victory and blessings, O Fenian king," said Conan, "it is with clear memory and sweet words you relate these things. Tell me now the meaning of the by-word, 'the hospitality of Fionn in the house of Cuanna.'"
"I will tell you the truth concerning that, O Conan," said Fionn. "Oisin, Caoilte, Mac Lughaidh, Diarmuid O'Duibhne, and I myself liappened one day, above all other days, to be on the summit of Cairn Feargall: we were accompanied by our five hounds, namely, Bran, Sceoluing, Sear Dubh, Luath Luachar, and Anuaill. We had not been long there when we perceived a rough, tall, huge giant approaching us. He carried an iron fork upon his back, and a grunting hog was placed between the prongs of the fork; a young girl of mature age followed and forced the giant on his way before her. Let some one go forward, and accost those (people), said I. Diarmuid O'Duibhne followed, but did not overtake them. The other three and I started up, and followed Diarinuid and the giant. We overtook Diarmuid, but did not come up with the giant or the girl; for a dark, gloomy, druidical mist showered down between us and them, so that we could not discern what road they took. When the mist cleared away, we looked around us, and discovered a light-roofed comfortable-looking house, at the edge of the ford, near at hand. We proceeded to the house,
me a drink from the other fountain. Caoilte obeyed, and brought me the iron vessel brimful. I never underwent so much hardship in battle or conflict as I then suffered, while drinking, in consequence of the bitterness of the draught; but as soon as I put the vessel from my lips, I recovered my own colour and appearance, and that gave joy and happiness to my people."
"The man of the house then asked if the hog which was in the boiler was yet cooked. 'It is cooked,' replied the giant, 'and allow me to divide it.' 'How will you divide it?' said the man of the house. 'I will give one hind quarter to Fionn and his hounds; the other hind quarter to Fionn's four men; the fore part to myself; the chine and rump to the old man, who sits at the opposite side of the fire, and to the hag in yonder corner; and the giblets to you, and the young woman who is opposite to you.' 'I pledge my word,' said the man of the house, 'you have divided it very fairly.' 'I pledge my word,' exclaimed the ram,' that the division is very unfair, so far as I am concerned, for I have been altogether forgotten.' And so saying, he immediately snatched the quarter that lay before my four men, and carried it away into a corner, where he began to devour it. The four men instantly attacked the ram all at once with their swords, but, though they laid on violently, it did not affect him in the least, and the blows fell away as from a stone or rock, so that they were forced to resume their seats. 'Upon my veracity, he is doomed for evil who owns as companions such four fellows as you are, who tamely suffer one single sheep to carry away your food, and devour it before your faces,' exclaimed the man with the twelve eyes; and at the same time going up to the ram, he caught him by the feet, and gave him a violent pitch out of the door, so that he fell on his back oh the ground; and from that time we saw him no more. Soon after this the hag started up, and having thrown her ashy-grey coverlet over my four men, metamorphosed them into four withered drooping-headed old men! When I saw that I was seized with great fear and alarm; and when the man of the door-post perceived this, he desired me to come over to him, place my head on his bosom, and sleep. I did so; and the hag got up, and took her coverlet off my four men; and, when I awoke, I found them restored to their own shape, and that was a great happiness to me.' 'O Fionn! asked the man of the door-post, 'do you feel surprised at the appearance and arrangements of this house?' I assured him that I never saw anything which surprised me more. 'Well then I will explain the meaning of all these things to you,' said the man. 'The giant carrying the grunting hog between the prongs of the iron fork, whom you first saw, is he who is yonder, and his name is SLOTH: she who is close to me, is the young woman who had been forcing him along, that is ENERGY; and ENERGY compels SLOTH forward with her; for ENERGY moves in the twinkling of the eye, a greater distance than the foot can travel in a year. The old man of the bright eyes yonder, signifies the WORLD; and he is more powerful than any one which has been proved by his rendering the ram powerless. That ram, which you saw, signifies the CRIMES of the man. That hag there beyond is withering OLD AGE, and her clothing has withered your four men: the two wells, from which you drank the two draughts, mean FALSEHOOD and TRUTH; for while telling a lie one finds it sweet, but it becomes bitter at the last. Cuanna from Innistuil is my own name; I do not reside here, but having conceived a wonderful love for you, O Fionn, on account of your superiority in wisdom and general celebrity, 1 therefore put those things into the way before you, in order that I might see you. And this story shall be called, to the end of the world, the Hospitality of Cuanna's House to Fionn. Let you and your men come together, and do ye five sleep until morning.' Accordingly we did so, and, when we awoke in the morning, we found ourselves on the summit of Cairn Feargaill, with our hounds and arms by us. So there is the answer to your question, O Conan," said Fionn; "and what is the reason you remain as you are, and go not to sleep?"
"Cease, O Fionn," replied Conan, "for it seems but a short time as yet that we have been engaged in pleasant conversation; so now tell me, where the Dord Fian was first made in Erin, and how many men were employed in making it."
"I will tell you the truth about that matter," said Fionn. "Eathoir, Ceathoir, and Teathoir, the three sons of Cearmad Milbheoil, son of Deaghadh [the Dagda --MJ], were those who first made it in Erin; and nine men were accustomed to play upon it. Patha son of Couan made it after that, and nine men were wont to perform upon it, until it reached my time, and I employ fifty men to play it: so this is the solution of your question, O Conan," said Fionn.
"Win victory and blessings," said Conan, "and inform me what kindred have Bran and Sceoluing to you, where it was you found them, and who were the three half brothers by the mother's side, that they had in the Fenian ranks?"
"I will tell you about that," said Fionn. "Muirrionn Mongcaemh, daughter of Tadhg son of Nuaghat, my mother, once paid me a visit, on which occasion she was accompanied by her sister Tuirreann, daughter of Tadhg: there were at that same time with me two princes, chiefs of the Fenians of Ulster, Iollann Eachtach and Feargus Fionn-mór, sons of Cas Cuailgne. Iollann Eachtach was paying his addresses to Tuirreann, and was deeply in love with her, and I gave her to him in marriage upon certain conditions, namely, that she should be restored safe to me, whenever I demanded her, and that the Fenian chiefs should become sureties for her safe return. The reason I demanded that was, lollann was attended by a familiar female spirit named Uchtdealbh (Fair-bosom) daughter of the king of Coillen Feidhlim, and being apprehensive she might destroy Tuirreann, I therefore gave her from my hand into that of Oisin; Oisin gave her into the hand of Caoilte; Caoilte gave her into the hand of Mac Luigheach Mac Luigheach gave her into the hand of Diarmuid O'Duibhne; Diarmuid gave her into the hand of Goll son of Moirne; Goll gave her into the hand of Lughadh Lamha, son of Eoghan Taileach; and Lughaidh gave her into the hand of Iollann Eachtach, saying:—'I deliver to you this young woman upon the condition that when Fionn thinks proper to demand her, you shall restore her safe, as in duty bound.' After that mutual engagement, Iollann conducted her to his own house, and she remained with him until she became pregnant. That familiar spirit of lollann paid Tuirreann a visit, under a disguised appearance, and said, 'O princess, Fionn wishes you-long life and health, and desires you to exercise hospitality on a large scale; come out with me until I speak a few words with you, as I am in a hurry.' The young woman accompanied her out, and when they were some distance from the house, she took her dark druidical wand from under her garment, and having struck the young woman with it, metamorphosed her into a greyhound, the handsomest that the human eye ever beheld, and brought her along with her to the house of Feargus Fionnliath, king of Ath-cliath Meaghraith. Now, this was the character of Fergus: he was the most unsociable individual in the world, and he would not permit a hound to remain in the same house along with him. Nevertheless, the courier said to him, 'Fionn sends to greet you, wishing you long life and health, O Fergus, and requests you will take good care of this hound against his coming here; she is heavy with young, therefore take particular care of her, and do not suffer her to hunt (after her foetus grows heavier); if you do otherwise Fionn will not thank you.' 'I am much surprised at this, order,' replied Fergus, 'since Fionn well knows that there is not in the world a more unsociable being than myself, yet I will not refuse Fionn's request respecting the first hound he ever sent me.'"
As regards Fergus: he soon after brought out his hound to the chace to test her value: and made a great havoc in the hunt that day, and every other day, during a mouth; for the hound never saw a wild animal that she would not run down. At the expiration of that time she grew heavy with young, so that she was afterwards led to the chace no more; and Feargus was filled with love and a strong passion for hounds ever after. The wife of Fergus happened to be confined about that time; and she gave birth to an infant the same night that the hound whelped two puppies, a male and female. It so happened during the previous seven years, that whenever Fergus's wife was confined, a Fomorach used to come that same night, and carry away the infant. However, Eithleann met Fionn at the end of a year, and having arranged a hospitable meeting at the house of Feargus Fionnliath, they delivered Fergus from the plague of the Fomorach.
As regards Fionn; when he learned that his mother's sister was not living with lollanu Eachtach, he insisted on the fulfilment of the pledge by which the Fenians were bound to restore her safely; the pledge passed (from one to the other) to Lughaidh Lamha the last. Lughaidh pledged his word that he would bring the head of lollann to Fionn, unless he (lollann) would deliver to him Tuirreann alive and safe, that he might restore her to redeem his own pledge. lollann requested time to go in quest of Tuirreann, having pledged his word that if he was unable to find her, he would surrender himself, in order to free Lughaidh from his obligation. Lughaidh granted him that request; and lollann immediately proceeded to the Sighe of Coillean Feidhlim where Uchtdealbh, his Leannan Sighe, then was: he told her the purport of his visit. 'Well then,' said Uohtdealbh, 'if you will consent to give me a pledge and bond that you are willing to have me as your spouse to the termination of your life, I will free you from your difficulty.' lollann gave what she required: and she went to the house of Feargus Fionnliath, to fetch the young woman, and restored her to her natural shape, at a short distance from the house. Uchtdealbh brought the yonng woman to me, and informed me that she had been pregnant before her metamorphosis into a hound, and had given birth to two puppies, a male and female. She told me also that whichever I chose them to be, either human beings or dogs, they should accordingly be such. I replied, that if they were to be given to me, I would prefer that they should remain hounds. In the meantime, Lughaidh Lamha requested that I should reward him for his guardianship by giving him Tuirreann to wife. I gave her; and she remained with him, until she gave birth to three sons, namely, Sgiath Breac, Aodhgan Ruadh, and Gael Crodha, and these are the three sons born of the same mother who gave birth to Bran and Sceolaing. Hence, this is the solution of your question, O Conan," said Fionn.
"Win victory and blessings, O Fenian king," said Conan, "for good is the information you have given us. Pray, tell me now what was the cause of your becoming grey—why a wonderful blemish was inflicted ori your countenance—the weakness of death upon your frame—and a lifeless chill on your skin, and how long you continued in that state?"
"I will tell you the truth about that," said Fionn, "One day, as I chanced to be engaged in carouse and pleasure in the great extensive Almhuin of Leinster, and the nobles of the Fenians with me, there came two Tuatha Dedanan women to offer me their joint love: they were sisters, and their names were Miluchradh and Aine, daughters of Cuailgne. Ainc boasted that her own husband should never grow hoary; but when Miluchradh heard this, she summoned all the Tuatha Dedanans into one place, and caused them to make her a druidical lake on the declivity of Sliabh Cuilleann; if all the men in the world bathed in this lake they would become hoary. She (Miluchradh) came in the' shape of a grey fawn upon the plain of Almhuin, when I chanced to be alone on the plain. I whistled to my hounds, but neither hound nor man heard me, except Bran and Sceoluing alone. When they came to me, I set them after the fawn, and they pursued her thence, without the knowledge of the people of the place, until they came to Sliabh Guillinn, in the district of Cuailgne of the north, in Ulster; and though the distance of the hounds from the fawn was short, it was not shorter than the distance between me and the hounds. Nevertheless, when they readied the rriountain, she made a double on the hounds, so that they could not find which way she went; and I was exceedingly astonished to find, that any deer in the world should hold out before the hounds, in a course of such great length. I did not long remain so, when I discovered a fair, lovely, beautiful girl on the margin of the delightful lake; she appeared sorrowful and disheartened; so I went up to her, and asked her the cause of her sorrow. 'A ring of red gold that I dropped in the lake while bathing,' replied she> 'and I put you, O Fionn, under geasa, which no true hero would suffer himself to be bound by, if you do not fetch me the ring out of the lake.' Though I felt unwilling to go to swim, yet I did not suffer myself to be long under the geasa: I went into the lake in search of the ring, and, having found it, restored it to the young girl. She took the ring, and, with a nimble leap, she herself sprang into the lake, so that I could not see where she betook herself. I landed, and, though my clothes were but a short distance from me, I was quite unable to reach them, for I was changed into a weather-beaten, decrepid, old man. My hounds dame up to me, but they did not recognise me; they took the circuit of the lake in every direction, leaving me alone. Caoilte arrived soon after, accompanied by the leading Fenians, and they did not recognise me, though they stood over me. 'Inform us, old man,' said Caoilte, 'if thou hast seen a fawn pursued by two hounds, and a man of large frame and warlike appearance, and how long thou hast been a fisherman on this lake?' 'I inform you that I have seen them, and that it is not long since they left me,' replied I. Still, however, I felt greatly depressed, on account of the condition in which I then was, and because I dare not tell them that it was I myself that was there. The main body of the Fenians arrived soon after, and I informed them of my adventure from the beginning to the end; and they, believing the whole of my story, gave utterance to three loud cries. Hence the lake is called Loch Doghra, ever since that time. They constructed a narrow chariot for me, and conveyed me to the Sighe of Cuilleau of Cuailgne. The seven battalions of the Fenians mustered around the Sighe, and continued to dig it away, during three nights and three days. At the end of that time, Cuillean of Cuailgne came out of the Sighe: he held a vessel of red gold in his hand, and presented the vessel to me. Upon drinking from it, I immediately assumed my natural appearance and colour, and the extraordinary appearances I had assumed departed entirely from me, except only the hoariness; for one half of my hair retained still a bright silvery hue. Cuillean proposed to restore it to the natural colour, but I did not wish to have it done, because it pleased both myself and the Fenians that it should retain that hue. The vessel was passed into the hand of Mac Keith, and he took a drink from it; he gave it into Diorraing's hand, and he too drank out of it. While Diorraing was in the act of handing the vessel to the man who was next to him, it gave a turn to one side, and sprang out of his hand into the loose earth that had been dug up; in which it sank deep before our eyes; and, though we all hastened to recover it, the earth swallowed it up. This was a cause of great affliction both to me and to the Fenians; because, if they all had drank from it, they would have become gifted with foreknowledge aud true wisdom. Twigs of wood sprang up in the spot where it sank into the earth, and whosoever beheld them in the morning, while fasting, would have the gift of foreknowledge of all the events of that day. So, it was in this manner that I became hoary, O Conan," said Fionn.
"Long may you live!" exclaimed Conan, "and tell me now by what means you became possessed of the true and infallible foreknowledge with which you are gifted: it is not the foreknowledge acquired at Cuauna's house nor that of the salmon (I mean)."
"I will tell you that," said Fionn, "There is a fountain of the Moon belonging to Beag son of Buan, a Tuatha Dedanan: every one who drinks a vessel of the water, will be gifted with foreknowledge, and true wisdom; and, if he drink the contents of a secotd vessel, he will become a true prophet, and also his son after Mm. Three hundred ungas of red gold is the price paid for a vessel full of it. Teisionn, Teithcheanu, and Armhach, the three djughters of Beag Buan, are the names of those in charge of it, and it is Teisionn who gives the water from the fountain to t'tose who purchase it. One day I happened to be hunting iu the adjacent sedge, accompanied Only by two men, namely, Diorraing and Mac Keith, and we approached the fountain, and the three females rushed forth together to oppose our progress; and Teisionn splashed us with the full of a vessel of the water of the fountain, in order to stop us. A portion of the water passed into our mouths, hence, have we been ever since that time possessed of true prescience. This, then, is the solution of your question, O Conan!" said Fioim. "Win victory and blessings," said Conan, "and tell me now the memories of love which cling to you, and which you do not fear to lose; and the hospitality which you received at the house of Neoid."
"You shall be informed about that, O Conan!" said Fionn. "Neoid was the most niggardly and inhospitable man who lived in his time in Eire; but, for all that, his affluence was great, and his house was immense. There were three doors to his dun, and there were seven Ath-cJtmnaircs at each door. Though his hospitality was on an immense scale, yet no person ever went out of one of his doors filled or satisfied. I happened to come one day to the bruighin of Neoid: I was alone, and there were no people there before me, but Neoid himself, and his wife, and daughter. I sat down in the house, but Neoid asked me why I sat down. I replied that I came to claim hospitality. 'I presume,' said Neoid, 'that you have not heard the report about this house, since you have come hither in quest of hospitality; the reason I have been called Neoid is, because Neoid is the name tor penury, and I am the most penurious man in the world.' 'I pledge my word,' said I,f that if you do not afford me hospitality with your free will, you shall against your will:1 Neoid, thereupon, started up to turn me out. I attacked him in the middle of the floor, and having thrown him across a table, laid him helplessly prostrate on the ground. I bound him hard and fast before the eyes of his wife and daughter.
* * * * * * * * * * * * *
I will enter into friendship with you,' said Neoid, 'and bestow on you my daughter; for she is well deserving of a good husband. I saw that that was a good proposition.
* * *
I then unbound him, and we at once became friendly and sociable. A banquet and feast was prepared for us, and Aoife, the daughter of Neoid, was given me to wife.
* * *
When we arose the next morning Aoife requested me to grant her a pledge instead of wealth, namely, to run after the blackbird that was in the shrubbery outside of the house, and fetch it to her alive. I did as she required, and, when Aoife took the bird in her hand, she let it fly away, and bound me under a heavy geasa to catch it every year, or otherwise that my own death should occur in the year that I did not catch it. "We were not long thus, when the chiefs of the Fenians assembled to attend the wedding of Aoife, daughter of Neoid; and when Neoid savy the great profusion of food and drink that had been given to the hounds and servants, the vein of penury which was in his heart burst, and, thenceforward, he became the third most hospitable man that was in Erin. This is one of my deaths, O Conan" said Fionn. "There is another of my deaths, namely; one day, as I happened to be on Magh Ceidhte in the south, I met a beautiful, well-shaped young maiden: I asked her why she strayed alone; 'I am in search of a husband,' she replied. 'What description of a husband?' asked I. 'I seek no particular man, but one who will grant me certain conditions.' 'What conditions do you require,' asked I. 'To leap over that stone just before you,' answered she. I cast my arms of war on the ground, and leaped over the stone without delay. 'It is not proper to perform it in that manner,' said she, 'but place this stone, equal to yourself in height, upon the palm of your hand, and then leap over it.' I did so, and I never felt greater difficulty in making a leap than on that occasion. I asked her what was her name. 'Eadaoin of Sliabh Caein is my name,' said she; 'and come home to my house with me to-night.' I went with her * * *
and she told me that the year in which I should neglect to make that leap, I should die a sudden death. Therefore, O Conan! that is the second death of mine, namely, (to the neglect) to leap over the stone on Ceidhte every year. Another of my deaths (i.e., another duty the neglect of which would be a cause of death to me) is to kill one of the hogs of Slanaidhe every year, and preserve its geasa, namely, not to wound it, and to take care it should not grunt while being killed; and that he who kills it should carry it to the place of cooking; that the north wind should not be allowed to blow over it, lest it (the carcase) might be scorched; and that every door to which it may be carried should be closed against it, and that no person in one town should be forgotten in the course of the visit on that night. So you now have the answer to your question, O Conan!" said Fionn.
"Win victory and blessings, and tell me now about the three random shots that trouble you most of all that you have ever cast," asked Conan.
"I will tell you about that," said Fionn. "One day, as I had been hunting in the neighbourhood of Carn Cromghlinne, a hog was started for me from the unfavorable hunting ground in which I then was, and the hounds and the heroes of the Fenians were hot in pursuit after it. I made a cast of my javelin at it, but the weapon pierced the bowels of a worthy chief of my people, and he immediately expired. It is from this (incident) that Ath-Bolg or Dun-Bolg, near Cork; in Munster, is so called. I gave another cast which pierced Eadbho, son of Muinchin, and he was slain; and I made a third cast, and . killed Jomais, son of Bachar, so that it is after his name Sliabh Jomais is named. I perceived that I had committed ruinous acts by means of those three throws j so I caused fearts (graves) to be made for the three heroes, and their names to be inscribed thereon. Therefore these are the three casts, of all I ever gave, that most grieve me," said Fionn. "Prepare a bed immediately for us, because you should be satisfied with the length of time you have been questioning me, O Conan! during which I have informed you about very many of my own and the Fenians' difficulties: I think it is now the latter end of the night." And so it was done.
In the mean time a frightful vision and hobgoblin appeared to Fionn in his sleep, so that he sprang thrice from the bed through terror. "Why do you start from the bed, O Fenian king?'' asked Finndeilbh. "I saw the Tuatha Dedanans; they were raising a quarrel against me, and making a bloody carnage of the Fenians."
As for the Fenians, they pitched their camp at Fotharladh of Moghna that night, and felt sorrowful, because they had heard no tidings of Fionn. Bran Beg O'Buadhchan, and Bran Mor, son of Feargus, arose early next morning, and proceeded to Mac an Reith, and enquired of him where Fionn had been that night (for Mac an Reith possessed the gift of foreknowledge and true wisdom). Mac an Eeith said; "Though I well know (where he has been), I do not wish to forebode evil, lest women and children should persecute me on that account, or ask me for foreknowledge; yet I say, that it is in the house of Conan of Ceann Sleibhe, that Fionn and Diorraing spent last night."
The two Brans, thereupon, proceeded to the house of Conan: Fionn welcomed them, but they upbraided him, because he had attended the wedding-feast of his wife unattended by the Fenians. "The banquet shall be prepared in a month," said Conan, "and do ye invite the Fenians to partake of it." Fionn agreed to that arrangement. In the meantime Fionn, Diorraing, and the two Brans proceeded to the encampment of the Fenians. "We have got a banquet prepared and ready in Almhuin;—let us go and partake of it," said Bran. They proceeded forward to Almhuin; and the chiefs of the Fenians were intent on enjoying the pleasures of the banqueting hall that night. They had not, however, been long there when they saw Cairbre Lifeachair, son of Cormac, son of Conn of the Hundred Battles, shape his way directly to the place where they were. "This is no good thing that has come to us," said Fionn; "since our geasa prohibit us to break up our jovial assembly, until we ourselves think proper to separate in jollity and mirth, yet the son of the king of Eire will consider it a privilege due to him to assume the regulation of the banqueting hall." "We will not let it be so, but we will give up one half of the hall for the accommodation of the son of the king of Eire, and retain the other half for ourselves," said Oisin. They accordingly did so: but it happened that, in the portion of the house that had been appropriated to the use of the son of the king of Eire, two Tuatha Dedanans, Failbhe Mdr, son of Domhnall, and Failbhe Beag, son of Domhnall, were then seated. These declared that that portion of the house had been given up, merely because they themselves happened to have been seated there. "How grievous it is," exclaimed Failbhe Beag, "that we are made to bear so deep an insult and mark of disrespect this night; but it is the wish of Fionn to deal more severely with us, while the same Fionn possesses the woman who had been espoused to the third best man of all the Tuatha "Dedanans, even against the will of her father and of her mother." These two men, however, took their departure by the early dawn of the next morning, and went to Fionnbharr of Magh Feabhail, and informed him of all the insults and indignities which Fionn and the Fenians of Eire intended to offer to the Tuatha Dedanans.
As for Fionnbharr of Magh Feabhail; he despatched messengers to the different parts of Eire, to summon the Tuatha Dedanans from all quarters, for Fionnbharr was king over them. Six large well appointed battalions, from all parts, assembled on the margin of Loch Dearg-dheirc within the space of a month. This muster took place upon the very day that Conan had the wedding feast ready for Fionn and the Fenians. He (Conan) sent Soistreach, his own female courier, to Teamhair Luachra, to invite Fionn and the Fenians. When she had delivered her message to Fionn, she returned back by Loch Dearg-dheirc, and the Tuatha Dedanans having seen her pass, Failbhe Beag followed her, to ask her the news. She informed him that she had been before Fionn Mac Cumhaill. Failbhe Beag asked her where Fionn then was, and how many men he had with him. "I left him at Teamhair Luachra, and ten hundred is the number of his companions," answered she. She also told him that Fionn was to spend that night with Conan of Ceann Sleibhe. When Failbhe heard that, he struck the female courier with his sword, and cut her in two: he then dragged her remains, and cast them into the (adjoining) river. Hence that stream is called Dubhghearthach from that time to the present.
As regards Fionn; he followed the female courier, and the Clanna-Moirne composed the majority of the force that accompanied him on the occasion; for there were none left to supply their place, except Fionn son of Caoilte, Mac Eeithe, Eochadh Mor son of Lughaidh, Sgolb Sgeine son of Oisin, and Gaol Crodha from Neainhainn. Fionn, addressing Goll, said,—"O Goll, I never felt misgiving or fear on the occasion of attending any wedding-feast before this; my forces being few in number; for I have a foreknowledge that evil broods over rne, namely, that the Tuatha Dedanans are about to raise a li uighean (quarrel) against me, and slaughter my people." "I will defend you against their attacks on this occasion," said Goll. They, thereupon, proceeded forward on their way to the house of Conan. Conan gave them a cordial welcome, and they were introduced into the banqueting hall. Fionn occupied the couch next to the door, Goll sat on his right, and Finndealbh on his left hand, while all the others assumed the places they were accustomed to occupy, without any further distinction being made.
With respect to Fionnbharr of Magh Feabhail and the Tuatha Dedanans; they enveloped themselves in the Feigh Fiadha, and marched forward invisibly, powerfully, with steadiness, and without delay — none contending for precedence — in sixteen armed, well-appointed, well- marshalled battalions, to the plain opposite the house of Couan of Ceann-Sluibhe. "It is little use for us to be here," said they, "since the service of the sword of Goll is engaged in the defence of Fionn against us." "Goll shall not protect him on this occasion," said Eithne the druidess, "for I will beguile Fionn out of the house, despite of the vigilant care that is kept over him."
She proceeded on to the town (house), and stood opposite to Fionn on the outside. "Who is he that is before my face?" asked she. "It is I myself," responded Fionn. "The geasa by which a true hero never suffered himself to be bound be upon you, unless you come outside without delay," said she. Fionn did not suffer the geasa to hang over him, but walked out without delay; and, though there were many persons inside, none of them noticed Fionn leaving the house, except Caoilte alone. He walked up to Eithne the druidess. At that same time the Tuatha Dedanans let fly a flock of dark birds with fiery beaks to the Dun (of Conan); and these (birds) perched on the chests and bosoms of all the people (within), and scorched and tormented them to such a degree, that the young lads, the women and the children belonging to the place betook themselves to flight from the Dun in all directions, and the wife of Conan, whose name was Canana, was drowned in the river outside the town. Eithne, the druidess, then challenged Fionn to run a race with her, "for," said she, "it was for the purpose of running a race with you I called you out." "What shall be the distance?" asked Fioun. "From Doire-da-thorc in the west, to Ath-mor in the east," said she. They arranged the matter so; but Fionn got across the Ath (ford) before her, while, in the meantime, Caoilte was following him. Fionn began to urge on Caoilte, saying, "you ought to be ashamed of your running and of your (small) amount of swiftness; since a woman is able to leave you behind." Caoilte, thereupon sprang forward, and, making a very distressing bound, struck his shoulders against the hag's chest, at Doire-an-t-Seanaich in the south; and then, having turned about, he made a slash of his sword at her in the waist, so that he divided her into two equal parts.
"Win victory arid blessings, O Caoilte," exclaimed Fionn, "for, though many is the good blow you have struck in your time, you never dealt a better one than that." They then returned back to the green before the town, where they found the Tuatha Dedanans, drawn up in martial order before them, after having thrown off their Feigh Fiadha. "It seems to me, O Caoilte," said Fionn, "that we have fallen into the thick of our enemies in this Dun." They, thereupon, turned back to back, and every warrior on all sides attacked them, so that groans of weakness from the unequal contest were wrung from Fionn. Goll, having heard them, exclaimed, "It is a sorrowful case, for the Tuatha Dedanaus have enticed Fionn and Caoilte away from us; let us arise with speed to their help." They, thereupon, rushed out upon the green in a dense body, determined upon the performance of great feats and carnage, supported by Conan of Ceann Sleibhe and his sons. But now that proud, aggressive, chieftain of champions, the body-mangling fiery hero, the terrible loud thuuderer, and the fresh blooming branch invincible in battle, Goll son of Moirne, son of Garraidh Glutidubh, son of Aodh Dúnaidh, son of Aodh Ceannchlair,son of Conall,son of Saidhbhre, son of Ceat mac Maghach, son of Cairbre Ceanndearg, son of the king of Connacht, became enraged; like a towering mountain under his grey shield was he in battle! He laid prostrate the bravest of their leaders, he mangled the bodies of their nobles, and burst through the ranks of their chieftains; he shortened limbs and delved into skulls, until he reached their pillar of support, Fionnbharr of Magh Feabhail himself. They commenced to attack one another, until both the royal champions were mangled and disfigured, in consequence of the hard struggle which they maintained. The result of the combat was, that Fionnbliarr of Magh Feabhail fell by the heavy, hard-dealt strokes of Goll. Failbhe fell by the hand of Caoilte. Eochadh Mor son of Lughaidh, the nimble hero of the quickly-dealt strokes, sprang into the midst of the enemy, and commenced to hew down and carve the troops, until he met the furious and valorous man, Donn Uatha: they engaged one another; and the end of the conflict was that both fell foot to foot and face to face on the spot. Eachta Dearg was slain in the conflict by Sgolb Sgeine, son of Oisin. Eochan was slain by Garraidh Glundubh, and the two Sgails fell by the hands of each other. The three Domhnalls were slain by the hand of Conan the Bald, son of Moirne, without any assistance whatever. The two Cairbres were slain by Conan of Ceann Sleibhe and his son. But few of the battles of Erin were ever fought with such dreadful determination as was that battle; for no individual on either side wished, or was guilty of the dishonour, to yield or retreat a single step, from the spot on which he engaged, his opponent; for they were the two most hard-fighting bodies of men to be found in any of the four parts of the globe, namely, the manly, bloody, robust Fenians of Fionn, and the white-toothed, handsome Tuatha Dedanans; and they both were nearly annihilated in that battle.
Soon after, all the Fians of Erin who had not been present were seen approaching: but when the Tuatha Dedanaus saw them, having enveloped themselves in the Feigh Fiadh, they made a precipitate retreat. Fionn himself fell into fainting fits, as well as all those who had joined him in the battle, in consequence of the severity of the conflict, and their extraordinary exertions in it. Oisin wondered greatly at the large number of Fenians who fell in that battle: for ten hundred heroes accompanied Fionn to the house of Conan of Ceann Sleibhe, and they were all slain by the Tuatha Dedanans, with the exception of only one hundred! and even these were maimed, wounded, or weak from the loss of blood; not enumerating the loss of the people of Conan of Ceann Sleibhe. With regard to Fionn; he was carried to the house of Conan, where he remained a month, and a fortnight over, under cure. When he was able to remove he, and the few Fenians who survived, went to the great, extensive Altnhuin of Leinster; and they remained a long time in Almhuin before their wounds were perfectly healed.
O'Kearney, Nicholas. Feis Tighe Chonain Chinn-Shleibhe, or The Festivities at the House of Conan of Ceann-Sleibhe, in the County of Clare. Dublin: Ossianic Society, 1855. p. 118-199.