Celtic Wonder-Tales

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Celtic Wonder-Tales  (1910) 
by Ella Young

The Earth Shapers[edit]

In Tir-na-Moe, the Land of the Living Heart, Brigit was singing. Angus the Ever Young, and Midyir the Red-Maned, and Ogma that is called splendor of the Sun, and the Dagda and all the Lords of the people of Dana drew near to listen. Brigit sang:

New comes the hour foretold, a god-gift bringing
A wonderful sight.
Is it a star new-born and splendid up springing
Out of the night?
Is it a wave from the Fountain of Beauty upflinging
Foam of delight?
Is it a glorious immortal bird that is winging
Hither its flight?
It is a wave high-crested, melodious, triumphant,
Breaking in Light.
It is a star, rose-hearted and joyous, a splendor
Risen from night.
It is a flame from the world of the Gods, and love runs before it,
A quenchless delight.
Let the wave break, let the star rise, let the flame leap.
Ours, if our hearts are wise,
To take and keep.

Brigit ceased to sing, and their was silence for a space in Tir-na-Moe. Then Angus said:

"Strange are the words of your song, and strange the music: it swept me down steeps of air-down-down-always further down. Tir-na-Moe was like a dream half remembered. I felt the breath of strange worlds on my face, and always your song grew louder and louder, but you were not singing it. Who was singing it?"

"The Earth was singing it."

"The Earth," said The Dagda, "Is not the Earth in the Pit of chaos? Who has ever looked into that pit or stayed to listen where there is neither silence or song?"

"O Shepherd of the Star-Flocks, I have stayed to listen. I have shuddered in the darkness that is round the Earth. I have seen the Black hissing of waters and monsters that devour each other-I have looked into the groping writhing adder-pit of hell."

The light that pulsed about the De Danaan lords grew troubled at the thought of that pit, and they cried out: "Tell us no more about the Earth, O Flame of two Eternity's, and let the thought of it slip from yourself as a dream slips from the memory."

"O silver Branches that no Sorrow has shaken," said Brigit, "Hear one thing more! The Earth wails all night because it has dreamed of beauty."

"What dream, O Brigit?"

"The Earth has dreamed of the White stillness of dawn; of the star that goes before the sunrise; and of music , like the music of my song."

"O mourning Star," said Angus, "would I had never heard your song, for now I cannot shake the thought of Earth from me."

"Why should you shake the thought from you, Angus the Subtle-Hearted? You have wrapped yourself in all the colors of the sunlight; are you not fain to look into the darkness and listen to the thunder of abysmal waves; are you not fain to make gladness in the Abyss?"

Angus did not answer: he reached out his hand and gathered a blossom from a branch; he blew upon the blossom and tossed it into the air: it became a wonderful white bird, and circled about him singing.

Midyir the Haughty rose and shook out the bright tresses of his hair till he was clothed with radiance as with a Golden Fleece.

"I am fain to look into the darkness," he said. "I am fain to hear the thunder of the Abyss."

"Then come with me," said Brigit, "I am going to put my mantle round the Earth because it has dreamed of beauty."

"I will make clear a place for your mantle," said Midyir. "I will throw fire amongst the monsters."

"I will go with you too," said the Dagda, who is called the Green Harper.

"And I," said Splendour of the Sun, whose other name is Ogma the Wise. "And I," said Nuada Wielder of the White Light. "And I," said Gobniu the Wonder-Smith, "we will remake the Earth!"

"Good luck to the adventure!" said Angus. "I would go myself if ye had the Sword of Light with you."

"We will take the Sword of Light," said Brigit, "and the Cauldron of Plenty and the Spear of Victory and the Stone of Destiny with us, for we will build power and wisdom and beauty and lavish-heartedness into the Earth."

It is well said," cried all the Shining Ones.

"We will take the Four Jewels."

Ogma brought the Sword of Light from Findrias the cloud-fair city that is in the east of the De Danaan world; Nuada brought the Spear of Victory from Gorias the flame-bright city that is in the south of the De Danaan world; the Dagda brought the Cauldron of Plenty from Murias the city that is builded in the west of the De Danaan world and has the stillness of deep waters; Midyir brought the Stone of Destiny from Falias the city that is builded in the north of the De Danaan world and has the steadfastness of adamant. Then Brigit and her companions set forth.

They fell like a rain of stars till they came to the blackness that surrounded the Earth, and looking down saw below them, as at the bottom of an abyss, the writhing, contorted, hideous life that swarmed and groped and devoured itself ceaselessly.

From the seething turmoil of that abyss all the Shining Ones drew back save Midyir. He grasped the Fiery Spear and descended like a flame.

His comrades looked down and saw him treading out the monstrous life as men tread grapes in a wine-press; they saw the blood and foam of that destruction rise about Midyir till he was crimson with it even to the crown of his head; they saw him whirl the Spear till it became a wheel of fire and shot out sparks and tongues of flame; they saw the flame lick the darkness and turn back on itself and spread and blossom--murk-red--blood-red--rose-red at last!

Midyir drew himself out of the abyss, a Ruby Splendour, and said:

"I have made a place for Brigit's mantle. Throw down your mantle, Brigit, and bless the Earth! "

Brigit threw down her mantle and when it touched the Earth it spread itself, unrolling like silver flame. It took possession of the place Midyir had made as the sea takes possession, and it continued to spread itself because everything that was foul drew back from the little silver flame at the edge of it.

It is likely it would have spread itself over all the earth, only Angus, the youngest of the gods, had not patience to wait: he leaped down and stood with his two feet on the mantle. It ceased to be fire and became a silver mist about him. He ran through the mist laughing and calling on the others to follow. His laughter drew them and they followed. The drifting silver mist closed over them and round them, and through it they saw each other like images in a dream--changed and fantastic. They laughed when they saw each other. The Dagda thrust both his hands into the Cauldron of Plenty.

"O Cauldron," he said, "you give to every one the gift that is meetest, give me now a gift meet for the Earth."

He drew forth his hands full of green fire and he scattered the greenness everywhere as a sower scatters seed. Angus stooped and lifted the greenness of the earth; he scooped hollows in it; he piled it in heaps; he played with it as a child plays with sand, and when it slipped through his fingers it changed colour and shone like star-dust--blue and purple and yellow and white and red.

Now, while the Dagda sowed emerald fire and Angus played with it, Mananaun was aware that the exiled monstrous life had lifted itself and was looking over the edge of Brigit's mantle. He saw the iron eyes of strange creatures jeering in the blackness and he drew the Sword of Light from its scabbard and advanced its gleaming edge against that chaos. The strange life fled in hissing spume, but the sea rose to greet the Sword in a great foaming thunderous wave.

Mananaun swung the Sword a second time, and the sea rose again in a wave that was green as a crysolite, murmurous, sweet-sounding, flecked at the edges with amythest and purple and blue-white foam.

A third time Mananaun swung the Sword, and the sea rose to greet it in a wave white as crystal, unbroken, continuous, silent as dawn.

The slow wave fell back into the sea, and Brigit lifted her mantle like a silver mist. The De Danaans saw everything clearly. They saw that they were in an island covered with green grass and full of heights and strange scooped-out hollows and winding ways. They saw too that the grass was full of flowers--blue and purple and yellow and white and red.

"Let us stay here," they said to each other, "and make beautiful things so that the Earth may be glad."

Brigit took the Stone of Destiny in her hands: it shone white like a crystal between her hands.

"I will lay the Stone in this place," she said, "that ye may have empire."

She laid the Stone on the green grass and it sank into the earth: a music rose about it as it sank, and suddenly all the scooped-out hollows and deep winding ways were filled with water--rivers of water that leaped and shone; lakes and deep pools of water trembling into stillness.

"It is the laughter of the Earth!" said Ogma the Wise.

Angus dipped his fingers in the water.

"I would like to see the blue and silver fishes that swim in Connla's Well swimming here," he said, "and trees growing in this land like those trees with blossomed branches that grow in the Land of the Silver Fleece."

"It is an idle wish, Angus the Young," said Ogma. "The fishes in Connla's Well are too bright for these waters and the blossoms that grow on silver branches would wither here. We must wait and learn the secret of the Earth, and slowly fashion dark strange trees, and fishes that are not like the fishes in Connla's Well."

"Yea," said Nuada, "we will fashion other trees, and under their branches shall go hounds that are not like the hound Failinis and deer that have not horns of gold. We will make ourselves the smiths and artificers of the world and beat the strange life out yonder into other shapes. We will make for ourselves islands to the north of this and islands to the west, and round them shall go also the three waves of Mananaun for we will fashion and re-fashion all things till there is nothing unbeautiful left in the whole earth."

"It is good work," cried all the De Danaans, "we will stay and do it, but Brigit must go to Moy Mel and Tir-na-Moe and Tir-nan-Oge and Tir-fo-Tonn, and all the other worlds, for she is the Flame of Delight in every one of them."

"Yes, I must go," said Brigit.

"O Brigit!" said Ogma, "before you go, tie a knot of remembrance in the fringe of your mantle so that you may always remember this place--and tell us, too, by what name we shall call this place."

"Ye shall call it the White Island," said Brigit, "and its other name shall be the Island of Destiny; and its other name shall be Ireland."

Then Ogma tied a knot of remembrance in the fringe of Brigit's mantle.

The Spear of Victory[edit]

Nuada, Wielder of the White Light, set up the Spear of Victory in the centre of Ireland. It was like a great fiery fountain. It was like a singing flame. It burned continually, and from it every fire in Ireland was kindled. The glow of it reached up to the mountain tops. The glow of it reached under the forest trees. The glow of it shot into the darkness and made a halo of light far beyond the three waves of Mananaun. The mis-shapen things of the darkness came to the edge of the halo. They sunned themselves in it. They got strength from it. They began to build a habitation for themselves in the dark waters. They took shapes to themselves, and dark cunning wisdom. Balor the One-Eyed was their king. They were minded to get the Spear of Victory.

They compassed Ireland. They made a harsh screeching. The De Danaans said to each other:

"It is only the Fomor, the people from under the sea, who are screeching; they will tire of it!"

They did not tire of it: they kept up the screeching. The De Danaans tired of it. Nuada took up the Spear of Victory. He whirled it. He threw it into the blackness that it might destroy the Fomor. It went through them like lightning through storm-clouds. It made a great destruction. Balor grasped it. He had the grip! The Spear stayed with him. It was like a fiery serpent twisting every way. He brought it into his own country. There was a lake in the middle of his own country full of black water. Whoever tasted that water would forget everything he knew. Balor put the fiery head of the Spear in that lake. It became a column of red-hot iron. He could not draw it out of the lake.

The Spear was in the lake then. Great clouds of steam rose about it from the black water. Out of the hissing steam Demons of the Air were born. The Demons were great and terrible. There was an icy wind about them. They found their way into Ireland. They took prey there in spite of the De Danaans. They made broad tracks for themselves. The Fomor followed in their tracks. It was then that the misfortune came to the De Danaans. The people of the Fomor got the better of the De Danaans. They took the Cauldron of Plenty and the Magic Harp from the Dagda. They made themselves lords and hard rulers over the De Danaans, and they laid Ireland under tribute. They were taking tribute out of it ever and again till Lugh Lauve Fauda came. 'Twas he that broke the power of the Fomor and sent the three sons of Dana for the Spear. They had power to draw it out of the lake. They gave it to Lugh, and it is with him it is now, and 'tis he will set it up again in the middle of Ireland before the end of the world.

A Good Deed[edit]

The Dagda sat with his back to an oak tree. He looked like a workman, and his hands were as hard as the hands of a mason, but his hair was braided like the hair of a king. He had on a green cloak with nine capes, and along the border of every cape there was a running pattern embroidered in gold and silver and purple thread. Opposite the Dagda sat his son, Angus Og, with his hands clasped about his knees. He was in rags, and his hair was matted like the hair of a beggar: a bramble had scratched his nose, but his eyes were smiling.

"If you only knew how ridiculous you look in that cloak," he was saying to the Dagda, "you would not wear it."

"My son," said the Dagda, with dignity, "it is the only cloak the people of the Fomor have left me, and the evening is cold."

"Why don't you keep yourself warm by working?" said Angus. "It's what I would do myself if you had brought me up to a trade."

"Angus," said his father, "remember I am one of the gods: it is not necessary to talk sense to me."

"O dear! " said Angus, "a bramble scratched me on the nose this morning--it's all because you have lost your Magic Harp and the Cauldron of Plenty! Soon even the snails will make faces at me. I can't go wandering round Ireland in comfort any more. I'll change myself into a salmon and swim in the sea."

"The salmon must come up the rivers once a year, and when you come the Fomorians will take you in their net, and it is likely Balor, their king, will eat you."

"'Ochone a rie! ' I must be something else! I'll be an eagle."

"You will shiver in the icy grip of the wind that goes before the Fomor--the black bitter wind that blows them hither to darken the sun for us."

"'Ochone, Ochone, my Grief and my Trouble!' I must think of something else. I'll be a good action. The Fomor never meddle with a good action."

While Angus was talking a Pooka came out from between the trees. It looked like a little snow-white kid with golden horns and silver hoofs, but it could take any shape it had a fancy for. When it saw Angus it smiled and made one jump on to his shoulder.

Look at this " said Angus. " I never can say anything important without being interrupted!"

"What do you want?" he said to the Pooka, pretending to be cross.

"O nothing at all, only to listen to your wise talk; it does me good," said the Pooka, prancing on Angus' shoulder.

"Well, keep quiet if you want to listen!" said Angus. "I was saying," he continued to the Dagda, "I will be a good action."

Just at that moment an ugly deformed animal, with a head like the head of a pig and a hound's body, came tearing through the wood; behind it was a young boy of the Fomor. He was ugly and deformed, but he had a rich cloak and a gold circle on his head. The moment he saw the Pooka he threw a fire-ball at it. The Pooka jumped behind Angus, and Angus caught the fire-ball. It went out in his hand.

"I am a Prince of the Fomor," said the boy, trying to look big.

"I was thinking as much," said Angus; "you have princely manners."

"I am Balor's own son. I have come out to look for treasure, and if you have anything I command you to give it to me at once."

"What would you like?" said Angus.

"I would like the white horse of Mananaun; or three golden apples; or a hound out of Tir-nan-Oge."

"They say it's lucky to be good to poor folk," said Angus. "If you are good to us, perhaps you may find a treasure."

"If you do not get up at once and hunt about for a treasure for me I will tell my father, Balor, and he will wither you off the face of the earth!"

"O give me a little time," said Angus, "and I'll look for something."

The Pooka, who had been listening to everything, now skipped out from his hiding-place with a turnip in his mouth--he was holding it by the green leaves.

"The very thing!" said Angus. "Here is a treasure!" He took the turnip in his hands and passed his fingers over it. The turnip became a great white egg, and the leaves turned into gold and crimson spots and spread themselves over the egg.

"Now, look at this!" said Angus. "It is an enchanted egg. You have only to keep it till you do three Good Actions, and then it will hatch out into something splendid."

"Will it hatch into Mananaun's white horse? said the boy.

"It depends on the Good Actions you do; everything depends on that."

"What is a Good Action?"

"Well, if you were to go quietly away, and never tell any one you had seen us, it would be a Good Action."

"I'll go," said the boy. He took the egg in his hands, kicked up a toe-full of earth at the Pooka, and went.

He hadn't gone far when he heard a bird singing. He looked and saw a little bird on a furze-bush.

"Stop that noise! " he said.

The bird went on singing. The boy flung the egg at it. The egg turned into a turnip and struck a hare. The hare jumped out of the furze-bush.

"My curse on you," said the boy, "for a brittle egg! What came over you to hatch into nothing better than a hare! My Grief and my Trouble! what came over you to hatch out at all when this is only my second Good Action?"

He set his hound after the hare, but the hare had touched the enchanted turnip and got some of the magic, so the hound could not chase it. He came back with the turnip. The boy hit him over the head with it many times and the dog howled. His howling soothed Balor's son, and after a while he left off beating the dog and turned to go back to his own country. At first he walked with big steps puffing his cheeks vaingloriously, but little by little a sense of loss overcame him, and as he thought how nearly he had earned the white horse of Mananaun, or three golden apples, or some greater treasure, two tears slowly rolled down his snub nose: they were the first tears he had shed in his life.

Angus and the Dagda and the Pooka were still in the little clearing when Balor's son passed back through it. The moment he came in sight the Pooka changed himself into a squirrel and ran up the oak tree; Angus changed himself into a turnip and lay at the Dagda's feet; but the Dagda, who had not time to think of a suitable transformation, sat quite still and looked at the young Fomorian.

"Sshh! Sshh! Hii! Tear him, dog!" said Balor's son.

The pig-headed creature rushed at the Dagda, but when he came to the turnip he ran back howling. The Dagda smiled and picked up the turnip. He pressed his hands over it and it became a great golden egg with green and purple spots on it.

"Give it to me! Give it to me! " yelled Balor's son, "it's better than the first egg, and the first egg is broken. Give it to me."

"This egg is too precious for you," said the Dagda. "I must keep it in my own hands."

"Then I will blast you and all the forest and every living thing! I have only to roar three times, and three armies of my people will come to help me. Give me the egg or I will roar."

"I will keep this egg in my own hands," said the Dagda.

Balor's son shut his eyes tight and opened his mouth very wide to let out a great roar, and it is likely he would have been heard at the other end of the world if the Pooka hadn't dropped a handful of acorns into his mouth. The roar never came out. Balor's son choked and spluttered, and the Dagda patted him on the back and shook him. He shook him very hard, and while he shook him Angus turned into a good action and slipped into the boy's mind. Balor's son got his breath then, he said: -

"I will not blast you this time; I will do a Good Action. I will let you carry the egg, and you can be my slave and treasure-finder."

"Thank you," said the Dagda; but the words were scarcely out of his mouth when a terrible icy wind swept through the wood. The earth shook and the trees bent and twisted with terror. The Pooka instantly turned himself into a dead leaf and dropped into a fold of the Dagda's cloak; the Dagda hid the leaf in his bosom and turned his cloak so that the nine capes were inside. He did it all in a moment, and the next moment the wood was full of Fomorians--ugly mis-shapen beings with twisted mouths and squinting eyes. They shouted with joy when they saw Balor's son, but they knew the Dagda was one of the De Danaans and rushed at him with their weapons.

"Stop! " roared Balor's son. " Keep back from my Treasure-Finder! He must follow me wherever I go."

The Fomor stood back from the Dagda, and their captain bowed himself before Balor's son.

"O Prince," he said, "whose mouth drops honey and wisdom, the thing shall be as you command, and, O Light of our Countenance, come with us now, for the Harp-feast is beginning and Balor has sent us into the four quarters of the world to find you."

"What feast are you talking about? "

"O Pearl of Goodness, the feast your father is giving so that all his lords may see the great harp that was taken from the Dagda."

"I know all about that harp! I have seen it; no one can play on it--I will not go with you!"

"O Fount of Generosity, we are all as good as dead if we return without you."

Balor's son turned away and took two steps into the wood; then he stopped and balanced himself, first on one foot then on the other; then he turned round and gave a great sigh.

"I will go with you," he said, "it is my twenty-first Good Action!"

The terrible icy wind swept through the wood again and the Fomorians rose into it as dust rises in a whirlwind; the Dagda rose too, and the wind swept the whole company into Balor's country.

It was a country as hard as iron with never a flower or a blade of grass to be seen and a sky over it where the sun and moon never showed themselves. The place of feasting was a great plain and the hosts of the Fomor were gathered thick upon it. Balor of the Evil Eye was in the midst and beside him the great harp. Every string of the harp shone with the colours of the rainbow and a golden flame moved about it. No one of the Fomor had power to play on it.

As soon as the Dagda saw the harp he turned his cloak in the twinkling of an eye so that the nine capes were outmost and he stretched his hands and cried:

The great harp gave a leap to him. It went through the hosts of the Fomor like lightning through clouds, and they perished before it like stubble before flame. The Dagda struck one note on it, and all the Fomor lost the power to move or speak. Then he began to play, and through that iron country grass and flowers came up, slender apple-trees grew and blossomed, and over them the sky was blue without a cloud. The Pooka turned himself into a spotted fawn and danced between the trees. Angus drew himself out of the mind of Balor's son and stood beside the Dagda. He did not look like a beggar-man. He had a golden light round his head and a purple cloak like a purple cloud, and all about him circled beautiful white birds. The wind from the birds' wings blew the blossoms from the apple trees and the petals drifted with sleepy magic into the minds of the Fomorians, so that each one bowed his head and slept. When the Dagda saw that, he changed the tune he was playing, and the grass and flowers became a dust of stars and vanished. The apple trees vanished one by one till there was only one left. It was covered over with big yellow apples--sweeter than the sweetest apples any one ever ate. It moved, and Angus saw it was going to vanish. He put his hand on the Dagda's wrist to stop the music and said:

"Do not play away that apple tree. Leave it for Balor's son when he wakens--after all, he did one Good Action."

The Dagda smiled and stopped playing.

How the Son of The Gobhaun Saor Sold the Sheepskin[edit]

The Gobhaun Saor was a great person in the old days, and he looked to his son to be a credit to him. He had only one son, and thought the world and all of him, but that was nothing to what the son thought of himself. He was growing up every day, and the more he grew up the more he thought of himself, till at last the Gobhaun Saor's house was too small to hold him, and the Gobhaun said it was time for him to go out and seek his fortune. He gave him a sheepskin and his blessing, and said:

"Take this sheepskin and go into the fair and let me see what cleverness you have in selling it."

"I'll do that," said the son, "and bring you the best price to be got in the fair."

"That's little," said the Gobhaun Saor, "but if you were to bring me the skin and the price of it, I'd say you had cleverness."

"Then that's what I'll bring you!" said the son, and he set off on his travels.

"What do you want for that sheepskin you have?" said the first man he met in the fair. He named his price.

"'Tis a good price," said the man, "but the skin is good, and I have no time for bargaining; here is the money; give me the skin."

"I can't agree to that," said the son of the Gobhaun Saor. "I must have the skin and the price of it too."

"I hope you may get it!" said the man, and he went away laughing. That was the way with all the men that tried to buy the skin, and at last the son of the Gobhaun Saor was tired of trying to sell it, and when he saw a crowd of people standing around a beggar man he went and stood with the rest. The beggar man was doing tricks and every one was watching him. After a while he called out:

"Lend me that sheepskin of yours and I'll show you a trick with it! "

"You needn't ask for the loan of that skin," said one of the men standing by, "for the owner of it wants to keep it and sell it at the same time, there's so much cleverness in him!"

The son of the Gobhaun Saor was angry when that was said, and he flung down the skin to the juggler-man.

"Do a trick with it if you can," said he.

The beggar man spread out the skin and blew between the wool of it, and a great wood sprang up--miles and miles of a dark wood--and there were trees in it with golden apples. The people were frightened when they saw it, but the beggar man walked into the wood till the trees hid him. There was sorrow on the son of the Gobhaun Saor at that.

"Now I'll never give my father either the skin or the price of it," he said to himself, "but the least I may do is to take him an apple off the trees." He put out his hand to an apple, and when he touched it he had only a bit of wool in his hand. The sheepskin was before him. He took it up and went out of the fair.

He was walking along the roads then and it was growing dark and he was feeling sorry for himself, when he saw the light of a house. He went toward it, and when he came to it the door was open, and in the little room inside he saw the beggar man of the fair and another man stirring a big pot.

"Come in," said the beggar man; "this is the house of the Dagda Mor, the World Builder. It isn't much, as you see, but you may rest here and welcome, and maybe the Dagda will give us supper."

"Son Angus," said the Dagda to the beggar man, "you talk as if I had the Cauldron of Plenty, and you know well that it is gone from me. The Fomorians have it now and I have only this pot. Hard enough it is to fill it, and when it is filled I never get a good meal out of it, for a great, hulking, splay-footed churl of a Fomorian comes in when he smells the meat and takes all the best of it from me, and I have only what remains when he has gorged himself; so I am always hungry, son Angus."

"Your case is hard," said Angus, "but I know how you can help yourself."

"Tell me how," said the Dagda.

"Well," said Angus, "get a piece of gold and put it into the best part of the meat, and when the Fomorian has eaten it up tell him he has swallowed the gold; his heart will burst when he hears that, and you'll be rid of him."

"Your plan is good," said the Dagda, "but where am I to get the gold? The Fomorians keep me building all day for them, but they give me nothing."

"I wish I had a piece of gold to give you myself," said Angus. " 'Tis a bad thing to be a beggar man! The next time I disguise myself I'll be a prince." He laughed at that, but the Dagda stirred the pot and looked gloomy. The son of the Gobhaun Saor felt sorry for him and remembered that he had a gold ring his father had given him. He pulled it off his finger and gave it to the Dagda.

"Here," said he, "is a piece of gold and you can be rid of the Fomorian."

The Dagda thanked him and gave him his blessing and they spent the night in peace and happiness till morning reddened the sky.

When the son of the Gobhaun Saor started to go, Angus set him a bit on the way.

"You are free-handed," he said to him, "and a credit to your father, and now I'll give you a bit of advice--Say 'Good morrow kindly' to the first woman you can meet on the road, and good luck be with you."

It wasn't long till the son of the Gobhaun Saor saw a woman at a little stream washing clothes. "Good luck to the work," he said, "and good morrow kindly."

"Good morrow to yourself," said she, "and may your load be light."

"It would need to be light," said he, "for I'll have far enough to carry it."

"Why so? " said she.

"I must carry it till I meet some one to give me the price of it and the skin as well."

"You need travel no further for that," said she; "give me the sheepskin."

"With a heart and a half," said he, and he gave her the skin. She paid the price, and she plucked the wool from the skin and threw him the skin.

"Now you can go home to your father," she said.

He wasn't long going, and he was proud when he gave the Gobhaun the skin and the price of it.

"What man showed you the wise way out of it?" said the Gobhaun Saor.

"No man at all," said the son, "but a woman."

"And you met a woman like that, and hadn't the wit to bring her with you!" said the Gobhaun Saor. "Away with you now, and don't let the wind that is behind you come up with you. till you ask her to marry you!"

The son didn't need the second word, and the wind didn't overtake him till he asked the woman to marry him. They came back together, and the Gobhaun made a wedding feast for them that was remembered year in and year out for a hundred years.

How the Son of The Gobhaun Saor Shortened the Road[edit]

One day the Son of the Gobhaun Saor was sitting outside in the sunshine, cutting a little reed into a pipe to make music with. He was so busy that he never saw three stranger-men coming till they were close to him. He looked up then and saw three thrawn-faced churls wrapped in long cloaks. "Good morrow to you," said the Son of the Gobhaun Saor. "Good morrow," said they. "We have come to say a word to the Son of the Gobhaun Saor." "He is before you," said the Son. "We have come," said the most thrawn-faced of the three, "from the King of the Land Under Wave to ask you to help him; he has a piece of work that none of his own people can do, and you have the cleverness of the Three Worlds in your fingers." "'Tis my father has that," said the Son of the Gobhaun Saor. "Well," said the other, "bring your father with you to the Land Under Wave and your fortune's made."

The Son of the Gobhaun Saor set off at that to find his father. "I have the news of the world for you and your share of fortune out of it," he said. "What news? " said the Gobhaun. "The King of the Land Under Wave has sent for me; if you come with me your fortune is made." "Did he send you a token?" "No token at all, but do you think I would not know his messengers? " "O, 'tis you has the cleverness!" said the Gobhaun Saor.

They set out next morning, and as they were going along, the Gobhaun Saor said: "Son, shorten the way for me." "How could I do that? " said the Son, "if your own two feet can't shorten it." "Now, do you think," said the father, "that you'll make my fortune and your own too when you can't do a little thing like that!" and he went back to the house.

The Son sat down on a stone with his head on his hands to think how he could shorten the road, but the more he thought of it the harder it seemed, and after a while he gave up thinking and began to look round him. He saw a wide stretch of green grass and an old man spreading out locks of wool on it. The old man was frail and bent, and he moved slowly spreading out the wool. The Son of the Gobhaun Saor thought it hard to see the old man working, and went to help him, but when he came nearer a little wind caught the wool and it lifted and drifted, and he saw it wasn't wool at all but white foam of the sea. The old man straightened himself, and the Son of the Gobhaun Saor knew it was Mananaun the Sea-God, and he stood with his eyes on the sea-foam and had nothing to say. "You came to help me," said Mananaun. "I did," said the Son of the Gobhaun Saor, "but you need no help from me." "The outstretched hand," said Mananaun, "is the hand that is filled the fullest; stoop now and take a lock of my wool, it will help you when you need help." The Son of the Gobhaun Saor stooped to the sea-foam; the wind was blowing it, and under the foam he saw the blue of the sea clear as crystal, and under that a field of red flowers bending with the wind. He took a handful of foam. It became a lock of wool, and when he raised himself Mananaun was gone, and there was nothing before him but the greenness of grass and the sun shining on it.

He went home then and showed the lock of wool to his wife and told her the sorrow he was in because he couldn't shorten the road for his father. " Don't be in sorrow for that," said she, "sure every one knows that storytelling is the way to shorten a road." "May wisdom grow with you like the tree that has the nuts of knowledge! " said he. "I'll take your advice, and maybe to-morrow my father won't turn back on the road."

They set out next day and the Gobhaun Saor said--" Son, be shortening the road." At that the Son began the story of Angus Oge and how he won a house for himself from the Dagda Mor: it was a long story, and he made it last till they came to the White Strand.

When they got there they saw a clumsy ill-made boat waiting for them, with ugly dark-looking men to row it.

"Since when," said the Gobhaun Saor, "did the King of the Land Under Wave get Fomorians to be his rowers, and when did he borrow a boat from them?" The Son had no word to answer him, but the ugliest of the ill-made lot came up to them with two cloaks in his hand that shone like the sea when the Sun strikes lights out of it. "These cloaks," said he, "are from the Land Under Wave; put one about your head, Gobhaun Saor, and you won't think the boat ugly or the journey long." "What did I tell you? " said the Son when he saw the cloaks. "You have your own asking of a token, and if you turn back now in spite of the way I shortened the road for you, I'll go myself and I'll have luck with me." "I'll go with you," said the Gobhaun Saor; he took the cloaks and they stepped into the boat. He put one round his head the way he wouldn't see the ugly oarsmen, and the Son took the other.

As they were coming near land the Gobhaun Saor looked out from the cloak, and when he saw the place he pulled the cloak from his Son's head and said: "Look at the land we are coming to." It was a dark, dreary, death-looking country without grass or trees or sun in the sky. "I'm thinking it won't take long to spend the fortune you'll make here," said the Gobhaun Saor, "for this is not the Land Under Wave but the country of Balor of the Evil Eye, the King of the Fomorians." He stood up then and called to the chief of the oarsmen: "You trapped us with lies and with cloaks stolen from the Land Under Wave, but you'll trap no one else with the cloaks," and he flung them into the sea. They sank at once as if hands pulled them down. "Let them go back to their owners," said the Gobhaun Saor.

The Fomorians ground their teeth and cursed with rage, but they were afraid to touch the Gobhaun or his Son because Balor wanted them; so they guarded them carefully and brought them to the King. He was a big mis-shapen giant with a terrible eye that blasted everything, and he lived in a great dun made of glass as smooth and cold as ice. "You are a fire-smith and a wonder-smith, and your Son is a wise man," he said to the Gobhaun. "I have brought the two of you here to put fire under a pot for me." "That is no hard task," said the Gobhaun. "Show me the pot." "I will," said Balor, and he brought them to a walled-in place that was guarded all round by warriors. Inside was the largest pot the Gobhaun Saor had ever laid eyes on; it was made of red bronze riveted together, and it shone like the Sun. "I want you to light a fire under that pot," said Balor." "None of my own people can light a fire under it, and every fire over which it is hung goes out. Your choice of good fortune to you if you put fire under the pot, and clouds of misfortune to you if you fail, for then neither yourself nor your Son will leave the place alive."

"Let every one go out of the enclosure but my Son and myself," said the Gobhaun Saor, "until we see what power we have." They went Out, and when the Gobhaun Saor got the place to himself he said to the Son: "Go round the pot from East to West, and I will go round from West to East, and see what wisdom comes to us." They went round nine times, and then the Gobhaun Saor said: "Son, what wisdom came to you? " "I think," said the Son, "this pot belongs to the Dagda Mor." "There is truth on your tongue," said the Gobhaun, "for it is the Cauldron of Plenty that used to feed all the men of Ireland at one time, when the Dagda had it, and every one got out of it the food he liked best. It was by stealth and treachery the Fomorians got it, and that is why they cannot put fire under it." With that he let a shout to the Fomorians: "Come in now, for I have wisdom on me." "Are you going to light the fire," said the Son, "for the robbers that have destroyed Ireland?" "Whist," said the Gobhaun Saor; "who said I was going to light the fire? " "Tell Balor," he said to the Fomorians that came running in, "that I must have nine kinds of wood freshly gathered to put under the pot and two stones to strike fire from. Get me boughs of the oak, boughs of the ash, boughs of the pine tree, boughs of the quicken, boughs of the blackthorn, boughs of the hazel, boughs of the yew, boughs of the whitethorn, and a branch of bog myrtle; and bring me a white stone from the door step of a Brugh-fer, and a black stone from the door step of a poet that has the nine golden songs, and I will put fire under the pot."

They ran to Balor with the news, and he grew black with rage when he heard it. "Where am I to get boughs of the oak, boughs of the ash, boughs of the pine tree, boughs of the quicken, boughs of the blackthorn, boughs of the hazel, boughs of the yew, boughs of the white-thorn and a branch of bog myrtle in a country as barren as the grave? " said he. "What poet of mine knows any songs that are not satires or maledictions, and what Brugh-fer have I who never gave a meal's meat to a stranger all my life? Let him tell us," said Balor, "how the things are to be got?" They went back to the Gobhaun Saor then and asked how the things were to be got. " It is hard," said the Gobhaun, "to do anything in a country like this, but since you have none of the things, you must go to the Land of the De Danaans for them. Let Balor's Son and his Sister's Son go to my house in Ireland and ask the woman of the house for the things."

Balor's Son set out and the Son of Balor's Sister with him. Balor's Druids sent a wind behind them that swept them into the country of the De Danaans like a blast of winter. They came to the house of the Gobhaun Saor, and the wife of the Son came out to them. "O Woman of the House," said they, "we have a message from the Gobhaun Saor." He is to light a fire for Balor, and he sent us to ask you for boughs of the oak, boughs of the ash, boughs of the pine tree, boughs of the quicken, boughs of the blackthorn, boughs of the hazel, boughs of the yew, boughs of the whitethorn and a branch ot bog myrtle. "You are to give us," he said, "a white stone from the door step of a Brugh-fer, and a black stone from the door step of a poet that has the nine golden songs."

"A good asking," said the woman, "and welcome before you!" "Let the Son of Balor come into the secret chamber of the house." He came in, and she said: "Show me the token my man gave you." Now, Balor's Son had no token, but he wouldn't own to that, so he brought out a ring and said: "Here is the token." The woman took it in her hand, and when she touched it she knew that it belonged to Balor's Son, and she went out of the room from him and locked the door on him with seven locks that no one could open but herself.

She went to the other Fomorian then and said: " Go to Balor and tell him I have his Son, and he will not get him back till I get back the two that went from me, and if he wants the things you ask for he must send a token from my own people before I give them."

Balor was neither to hold nor to bind when he got this news. "Man for man," he said; "she kept one and she'll get back one, but I'll have my will of the other. The Gobhaun Saor will pay dear for sending my Son on a fool's errand." He called to his warriors and said:

"Shut the Gobhaun Saor and his Son in my strongest dun and guard it well through the night. To-morrow I'll send the Son to Ireland and get back my own Son, and to-morrow I'll have the blood of the Gobhaun Saor."

The Gobhaun Saor and his Son were left in the dun without light, without food, and without companions. Outside they could hear the heavy-footed Fomorians, and the night seemed long to them. "My sorrow," said the Son, "that ever I brought you here to seek a fortune, but put a good thought on me now, father, for we have come to the end of it all." " I needn't blame your wit," said the father, "that had as little myself. Why did I send only two messengers? Why didn't I send a lucky number like three? Then she could have kept two and send one back. Troth, from this out every fool will know there's luck in odd numbers!"

"If we had light itself," said the Son, "it wouldn't be so hard, or if I had a little pipe to play a tune on." He thought of the little reed pipe he was making the day the three Fomorians came to him, and he began to search in the folds of his belt for it. His hand came on the lock of wool he got from Mananaun, arid he drew it out. "O the fool that I was," he said, "not to think of this sooner! " "What have you there? "said the Gobhaun. "I have a lock of wool from the Sea-God, and it will help me now when I need help." He drew it through his fingers and said: "Give me light!" and all the dun was full of light. He divided the wool into two parts and said: "Be cloaks of darkness and invisibility!" and he had two cloaks in his hand coloured like the sea where the shadow is deepest. "Put one about you," he said to the Gobhaun, and he drew the other round himself. They went to the door, it flew open before them, a sleep of enchantment came on the guards and they went out free. "Now," said the Son of the Gobhaun Saor, "let a small light go before us; and a small light went before them on the road, for there were no stars in Balor's sky. When they came to the Dark Strand the Son struck the waters with his cloak and a boat came to him. It had neither oars nor sails; it was pure crystal, and it was shining like the big white star that is in the sky before sunrise. "It is the Ocean-Sweeper," said the Gobhaun. "Mananaun has sent us his own boat! " " My thousand welcomes before it," said the Son, "and good fortune and honour to Mananaun while there is one wave to run after another in the sea! "

They stepped into the boat, and no sooner had they stepped into it than they were at the White Strand, for the Ocean-Sweeper goes as fast as a thought goes, and takes the people she carries at once to the place they have their hearts on.

It is a good sight our own land is! " said the Gobhaun when his feet touched Ireland. "It is," said the Son, "and may we live long to see it!" There was no stopping after that till they reached the house of the Gobhaun, and right glad was the Woman of the House to see them. They told her all their story, and she told them how she had seven locks on Balor's Son. "Let him out now," said the Gobhaun, "and ask the men of Ireland to a feast and let the Fomorian take back a good account of the treatment he got."

Well, there was the feast of the world that night. The biggest pot in the Gobhaun's house was hung up, and the Gobhaun himself put fire under it. He took boughs of the oak, boughs of the ash, boughs of the pine tree, boughs of the quicken, boughs of the blackthorn, boughs of the hazel, boughs of the yew, boughs of the whitethorn, and a branch of bog-myrtle. He got a white stone from the door-step of a Brugh-fer, and a black stone from the door-step of a poet that had nine golden songs. He struck fire from the stones and the flames leaped up under the pot, red blue and scarlet and every colour of the rainbow.

It is not dark or silent Gobhaun's house was that night, and if all the champions on the golden crested ridge of the world had come into it with the hunger of seven years on them they could have lost it without trouble at Gobhaun's feast.

The Cow of Plenty[edit]

Gobniu, the Smith, had the Cow of Plenty. She walked all over Ireland in a day's grazing and gave milk to every one that came to her: there was no one hungry or sorrowful in Ireland in those days!

Balor of the Evil Eye set his heart on the Cow. He had the grasping hand that is never filled, and there was nothing good in his country. He sent the best man he had to steal the Cow of Plenty.

The man stole her, but as he was taking her away Gobniu saw him and let out a battle-roar that shook stars from the sky. The man made a leap into the darkness and got off. Gobniu had the Cow, but the Fomorian had the halter. Now, the luck of the world was in the halter, and wherever the halter was the Cow would follow it. Gobniu got little good of the Cow after that! He had to keep his eyes on her, morning, noon, and night, for fear she would go into Balor's country. He had to tramp behind her when she took her day's grazing all over Ireland, and the days seemed long to Gobniu the Wonder-Smith.

One day a young champion in a red clock fringed with gold came to him and stood outside his door and saluted him:

"O Wonder-Smith, O Gobniu! will you make a sword for me? It must be long, and keen-edged, and a death-biter--a sword for a champion. Will you make it, Gobniu? No Smith in Ireland can make a sword for champion-feats but yourself!"

"It's little trouble I would have with the sword, young champion, but I must follow my Cow from morning till night. If once I took my eyes off her, she would go to Balor in the land of the Fomor."

"If you make the sword for me I will follow the Cow from morning till night and never take my eyes off her once."

"If you do that, Cian, son of Dian-Cecht, I will make the sword."

It was agreed between them, and the Smith set to the making of the sword while Cian followed the Cow. She walked all over Ireland that day, and Cian was not sorry when she came at night to the house of Gobniu. There was light within, and some men stood at the door. They said to Cian:

"The Wonder-Smith has made the sword for you, and waits to put the tempering on it: he can't do that till you go within and hold the sword hilt."

It was a joy to Cian to hear this, and he ran in quickly.

"Where is the Cow? " said the Smith.

"She is without," said Cian; "my head to you if she is not!"

"She is not without," said the Smith, "she is with Balor!" and he ran to the door. The Cow was gone!

"I have only my head to give you now, O Gobniu!"

"I will not take your head, Cian, son of DianCecht, but I will take another eric from you. Go now in search of the halter; it is with Balor in the land of the Fomorians. The road is hard to find that leads there and the dark waters are ill to cross, but do not turn back or leave off seeking till you get the halter of the Cow."

I will not come back to Ireland," said Cian, "without the halter of the Cow."

Cian set out and he travelled and travelled till he came to the dark waters, and when he came to them he could find no boat to cross. He waited there for three days and nights searching for a boat, and then he saw a small poor-looking boat with an old man in it. Cian looked at the boat, but, although he was a good champion and had cleverness, he did not know that he was looking at the Ocean-Sweeper, the boat that could carry any one in a moment to whatever place they wished to be; and he did not know that the old man was the Tawny Mananaun, the Son of Lear, who rules all the oceans of the world.

"Old man," said Cian, "will you row me across the waters to the land of Balor? "

"I will row you, young champion, if you swear to give me half of what you gain there."

"I will share everything with you but the halter of Gobniu's Cow."

I will not ask for that," said the boatman.

"Be it so," said the other. They stepped into the boat, and in a moment they touched the land of the Fomor.

"You have helped me in need, old man," said Cian. "I have a gold ring, and my cloak is rich--I pray you keep them both."

"I will change cloaks," said the old man, "but I will not take the ring." He put his hand on Cian's fingers. "I leave you a gift," he said, "whatever lock you touch will open before you. He put his cloak on Cian's shoulders. "It covers you as night covers the earth--beneath it you are safe, for no one can see you."

The cloak fell about Cian in long folds; he knew there was magic in it and turned to look closely at the old man, but he could not see him and the boat was gone.

Cian was in a strange country, all cold, and desolate, and death-looking; he saw fierce warriors of the Fomor, but the cloak sheltered him and he reached the court of Balor without mishap.

"What seek you of me? " said Balor.

"I would take service with you," said Cian.

"What can you do?"

"Whatever the De Danaans can do," said Cian. "I could make grass grow in this land, where grass never grew."

Balor looked pleased when he heard that, for he had the greatest desire in the world for a garth of apple trees like the apple trees Mananaun had in the Island of Avilion, that were so beautiful people made songs about them.

"Can you make apple trees grow? " said he to Cian.

"I can," said Cian.

"Well," said Balor, "make me a garth of apple trees like the garth Mananaun has; and when I see apples on the trees I will give you your own asking of reward."

"I have only one reward to ask," said Cian, "and I will ask for it at the beginning; it is the halter of Gobniu's Cow."

"I will give you that," said Balor, "without deceit."

Cian was glad when he made the bargain, and he began to work; he had his sufficiency of trouble over the grass, for every blade that grew for him in the morning was withered by Balor's breath at night. After a while he had apple trees, and as he used to be minding them he often looked at a great white dun that was near. Warriors of the Fomorians were always guarding it, and one day he asked who it was lived there.

"Ethlinn, Balor's daughter, lives there," said the man he asked. "She is the most beautiful woman in the world, but no one may see her, and she is shut in the dun lest she should marry, for it is said that a son born of her will slay Balor."

Cian kept thinking of this, and there was a wish on him to see the beautiful woman. He put the magic cloak on him and went to the dun. When he laid his hand on the door it opened, because of the enchantment on his fingers. He went in and found Balor's daughter. She was sitting at a loom, weaving a cloth that had every colour in it, and singing as she wove. Cian stood awhile looking at her till she said:

"Who is here that I cannot see?"

Then he dropped the cloak. Balor's daughter loved him when she saw him, and chose him for her man. He came to her many times after that, and they took oaths of faithfulness to one another. There was a child born to them, and he was so beautiful that whatever place he was in seemed to be full of sunshine. Ethlinn, his mother, called him Lugh, which means Light, but Cian, his father, used to call him the Sun-God; and both names stuck to him, but Lugh was the name he was best known by.

Now Balor was watching the apple trees, and when he saw apples on them he brought the halter of Gobniu's Cow to his daughter, and said:

"Hide this, and when I am asked for it, it will be gone from me."

Balor's daughter took the halter, and a little afterwards Cian came to her with a branch of apples.

"The first apples for you!" he said.

She gave him the halter.

"Take it--and the child, and go away to the land you came from."

"That is a hard saying!" said Cian.

"There is nothing else to do," said she.

Cian took the child and the halter, and wrapped his cloak about him. He said farewell to Balor's daughter and went till he came to the dark waters. A boat was there before him and the old man in it. Cian thought they were a short time in crossing.

"Do you remember our bargain? "said the old man.

"I do," said Cian, "but I have nothing but the halter and this child--I will not make two halves of him."

"I had your word on it!" said the old man.

"I will give you the child," said Cian.

"You will never be sorry for it," said the old man, "for I will foster him and bring him up like my own son."

The boat touched the land of Ireland.

"Here is your cloak," said Cian, "and take the child."

Mananaun took the little child in his arms, and Cian put the cloak about him, and when he shook it out it had every colour of the sea in it and a sound like the waves when they break on a shore with the music of bells. The old man was beautiful and wonderful to look at, and Cian cried out to him:

"I know you now, Mananaun Mac Lear, and it was in a lucky hour I gave my son to you, for he will be brought up in Tir-nan-Oge, and will never know sorrow or defeat!"

Mananaun laughed and lifted the little Sun-God high up in his two hands.

"When you see him again, Cian, son of Dian-Cecht, he will be riding on my own white horse and no one will bar his way on land or sea. Now, take farewell of him, and may gladness and victory be with you!"

Mananaun stepped into the boat; it was shining with every colour of the rainbow as clear as crystal, and it went without oars or sails with the water curling round the sides of it and the little fishes of the sea swimming before and behind it.

Cian set his face towards the house of Gobniu, the Smith. He came to it, and he had the halter in his hand, and when he came the Cow was there before him and Gobniu came out to meet him.

"A welcome before you, young champion, and may everything you undertake have a happy ending!"

"The same wish to yourself!" said Cian, and gave him the halter. The Smith gave Cian the sword then, and there was gladness and friendship between them ever after.