The Celtic Literature Collective

The Hiding of the Hill of Howth

Once Diarmuid son of Donn grandson of Duibne, was in the cave of the Hill of Howth (Ben Etair), after having carried off Grainne the daughter of Cormac in elopement from Finn. An old woman was with Diarmuid at that time, watching over him wherever he would be. The old woman went out of the cave, and when she was on the top of the Hill of Howth, she saw an armed man coming towards her alone. It was Finn, the warrior-king. The old woman asked tidings of him. “To woo thee I have come,” said Finn, “and the cause I will tell thee afterwards, and what I desire is that thou shouldst live with me as my only wife.”

The old woman believed the words of Finn, and promised him to do his will. But what Finn desired of her was to betray Diarmuid to him. The old bag consented to this. She dipped her cloak into the salt water and then went into the cave. Diarmuid asked why she was so wet. “I confess,” said she, “I never saw or heard the like of it for cold and storms. For the frost has spread over the hillocks, and there is not a smooth plain in all Elga, in which there is not a long rushing river between every two ridges,” said she. “And no deer or raven in Erin finds shelter in a cave or in any other place, or on an island, or in a bay of Falmag.” Craftily she shook her raiment across the cave, and sang these staves:

Cold, cold!
Cold to-night is the broad plain of Lurg,
Higher the snow than the mountain-range,
The deer cannot get at their food.
Cold till Doom!
The storm has spread over all:
A river is each furrow upon the slope,
Each ford a full pool.
A great sea is each loch, which is full,
A full loch is each pooi.
Horses do not get over Ross-ford,
No more do two feet get there.
The fishes of mis Fail are a-roaming,
There is no marge nor well of waves,
In the lands there is no land,
Not a bell is heard, no crane talks.
The hounds of Cuan-wood find not
Rest nor sleep in the dwelling of hounds,
The little wren cannot find
Shelter in her nest on Lon-slope.
On the little company of the birds has broken forth
Keen wind and cold ice,
The blackbird cannot get a lee to her liking,
Shelter at the side in Cuan-woods.
Cozy our pot on the hook,
Crazy the hut on Lon-slope:
The snow has smoothed the wood here,
Toilsome to climb by kine-horned staves.
Glenn Rigi’s ancient bird
From the bitter wind gets grief,
Great her misery and her pain,
The ice will get into her mouth. 
From flock and from down to rise
—Take it to heart!—were folly for thee:
Ice in heaps on every ford, 
That is why I keep saying “cold”!

Then the old woman went out. As for Grainne, when she noticed that the old woman had gone, she put out her hand on the garment that was about her, and put it on her tongue, and found the taste of salt on her cloak. “Woe, oh Diarmuid!” she cried, “the old woman has betrayed thee. And arise quickly and take thy warrior’s dress about thee!” Diarmuid did so, and went out, and Grainne with him. Then they beheld the warrior-king with the fian around him coming towards them. Diarmuid glanced across at the sea around Erin, and saw a skiff in the shelter of the harbor near him. He and Grainne entered it. A man was awaiting them in the little boat with a beautiful raiment about him, with a broad-braided golden-yellow mantle over his shoulder behind. That was Angus of the Brug, the foster-father of Diarmuid, who had come to rescue him from the danger he was in from Finn and the fian of Erin.