The Mythology of All Races/Celtic Mythology/Chapter 13

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THE annalists gave a historic aspect and a specific date and ancestry to Fionn and his men, the Féinn, but they exist and are immortal because they sprang from the heroic ideals of the folk; if they were once men, it was in a period of which no written record remains. Their main story possesses a framework and certain outstanding facts, but whatever far distant actuality the epos has is thickly overlaid with fancy, so that we are in a world of exaggerated action, of magic, whenever we approach any story dealing with the Feinn. The annalistic scheme added nothing to the epos; rather is it as if to the vague personalities of folk-tale had been given a date, names, and a line of long descent, which may delight prosaic minds, though it spoils the folk-tale for the imaginative.

Traces of the annalistic scheme occur in the chronological poem of Gilla Caemhain (ob. 1072) and in the Annals of Tighernach (ob. 1088), which regarded the Féinn as a hireling militia defending Ireland, consisting of seven legions or Fianna (also Féinn, literally "troops"), each of three thousand men with a commander. The Féinn of Leinster and Meath comprised those of our epos—the clanna Baoisgne, its later chiefs being Cumhal, Goll (of the clanna Morna), and Fionn. We are told of their arms, dress, and privileges, and of the conditions of admission to their ranks—some almost superhuman;1 and we learn that their exactions became so heavy that king and people rose against them and routed them at Cnucha, where Cumhal, father of Fionn, fell. Later his opponent Goll became head of the Féinn, and then Fionn himself; but as a result of their new pretensions the Féinn were finally destroyed at Gabhra.

Many Féinn stories are coloured by this scheme, which was applied to them at an early period; yet alongside the oldest references to it we find stories or allusions which show that the imaginative aspect was as strong then as it was later, and that at an early date there was much Fionn literature so well known that mere reference to its persons or incidents sufficed.2

A recent writer suggests that Fionn was originally a hero of the subject race of the Galióin in North Leinster,3 who are constantly associated with Firbolgs and Fir Domnann. These appear to be remnants of a pre-Celtic population in Ireland,4 and are usually despised for evil qualities, though they have strong magical powers, just as conquerors often consider aboriginal races to be superior magicians, if inferior human beings. These races furnished military service for the Celtic kings of their district down to the rise of the dominant "Milesian" monarchs in the fifth century; and of these Fianna Fionn (whose name means "white" and has nothing to do with fianna or féinn), whether he really existed or not, was regarded as chief. Mac Firbis, a seventeenth century author, quotes an earlier writer who says that Fionn was of the sept of the Uí Tarsig, part of the tribe of the Galióin. Cumhal, his father, of the clanna Baoisgne, is represented in the Boyish Deeds of Fionn (Macgnímartha Finn)5—a story copied from the tenth century Psalter of Cashel into a later manuscript— as striving at Cnucha with Uirgreann and the clanna Luagni, aided by the clanna Morna, both subject tribes, for the chief Fiannship (Fiannuigeacht). Only in later accounts of the battle is Conn, the High King (Ardrí), introduced, and though the annalistic conception colours the introduction to this otherwise mythical tale, it appears to be based on recollections of clan feuds, especially as Fionn himself was later slain by members of the clanna Uirgreann. With growing popularity, he became a Leinster Irish hero, fighting against other Irish tribes, mainly those of Ulster; but it was not until the middle Irish period that the Fionn story, which had now spread through a great part of Ireland among the Celtic folk, with many local developments, was adopted by the literary class of the dominant tribes, as at an earlier period they had taken over the Cúchulainn saga from the Ulstermen. They were rewriting Irish history in the light of contemporary events and of their own ambitions; and accordingly they transfigured and remoulded the legend of Fionn, which afi^orded them an ever-growing literary structure. The forced service of the Fianna became that of a highly developed militia under imaginary high kings, whence the rise of tales in which Fionn is brought into relation with these rulers—Conn, Cormac, Art, and Cairbre—in the second and third centuries. The Fianna became defenders of Ireland against foreign invasion; they battled with Norsemen; they even went outside Ireland and conquered European or Asiatic kings.

In origin Fionn was the ideal hero of a subject, non-Celtic race, as Cumhal had been, and they were located at Almha— the Hill of Allen. They tended, however, to become historic figures, associated primarily with the forced service of such a race, then with the later mythic national militia; but despite this, a mythic aspect was theirs from first to last, while the cycle of legends was constantly being augmented. To Oisin, son of Fionn, are ascribed many poems about the Féinn: hence he must have been regarded traditionally as the poet of the band, rather than his father, who studied the art and ate the salmon of knowledge. Few excelled in bravery Oisin's son, Oscar. Caoilte mac Ronan, Fionn's nephew, was famed for fleetness; at full speed he appeared as three persons and could overtake the swift March wind, though it could not outstrip him. Diarmaid uí Duibhne, who "never knew weariness of foot, nor shortness of breath, nor, whether in going out or in coming in, ever flagged," possessed a "beauty-spot"

(ball-seirc); and no woman who saw it could resist "the lightsome countenance" of "yellow-haired DIarmaid of the women."

Goll of clanna Morna, Fionn's enemy, and then his friend, but with whom a feud arose which ended In his death, was probably the ideal warrior, prodigiously strong, noble, and brave, of a separate saga. Conan Maol was also of clanna Morna, and his father aided in slaying Cumhal at Cnucha, for which Fionn afterward put an eric, or fine, upon him. Although of the Féinn, he was continually rejoicing at their misfortunes in foul-mouthed language; and this Celtic Thersites, "wrecker and great disturber of the Féinn," was constantly in trouble through his boldness and reckless bravery —"claw for claw, and devil take the shortest nails, as Conan said to the devil." In later accounts he appears rather as a comic character. MacLugach of the Terrible Hand is also prominent; so, too, is Fergus True-Lips, the wise seer, interpreter of dreams, and poet. Others come and go, but round these circles all the breathless interest of this heroic epos. Their occupations were fighting on a vast scale, the records of which, like those of the Cúchulainn saga, are often tiresome and ghastly; mighty huntings, watched from some hill- top by Fionn, and described with zest and not a little romantic beauty as the hunt wends by forests, glens, watercourses, or smiling valleys; lastly, love-making, for these warriors could woo tenderly and with compelling power. Their vast strength and size—one of their skulls held a man seated— tend to remove them from the puny race of mere human beings; yet though of divine descent, they were not immortal, so that Caoilte says of a goddess: "She is of the Tuatha Dé Danann, who are unfading and whose duration is perennial; I am of the sons of Milesius, that are perishable and fade away.6

While the Cuchulainn legend had a definite number of tales and, after a certain date, remained complete, the Fionn cycle received continual additions. New stories were written, new incidents invented or borrowed from existing folk-tale or saga, until comparatively recent times. Again, unlike the Cúchulainn saga, the Fionn cycle contains numerous poems; while the former has fewer folk-tale versions of its literary stories than the latter.

The interest of Fionn's ancestral line begins with Cumhal. The Boyish Deeds shows him engaging in a clan feud with the clanna Luagni, assisted by the clanna of which Morna was chief. Morna's son Aodh took a leading part in the battle and was prominent afterward under the name Goll ("OneEyed "), because he lost an eye there; Cumhal fell at his stroke.7 A different account of the battle is given in the Leabhar na hllidhre. In this, Tadg, a Druid, succeeded to Almha, the castle of his father Nuada, who also was a Druid; and Tadg's daughter Muirne was sought in marriage by Cumhal, but refused, because Tadg foresaw that he would lose Almha through him. Cumhal then abducted her, whereupon Tadg complained to the High King, Conn, who ordered Cumhal to give her up or leave the country. He refused, however, and collecting an army, fought Conn's men, including Uirgreann, Morna, and Goll, the latter of whom slew him, whence there was feud between Cumhal's descendants and Goll.8

Although Tadg and Nuada are called Druids, Nuada is elsewhere one of the Tuatha Dé Danann, and he is probably the god Nuada who fought at Mag-Tured;9 while Tadg is also said to be from the síd of Almha, which is thus regarded both as a divine dwelling and as a fort. Hence Fionn is affiliated to the gods, and another tradition makes his mother's father Bracan, a warrior of the Tuatha Dé Danann.10 Cumhal has been identified with a god Camulos, known from inscriptions in Gaul and Scotland, whose name is also found in Camulodunum (.^Colchester). As Camulos was equated with Mars, he was a warrior-god—a character in keeping with that of Cumhal, though if the latter was a non-Celtic hero, and if his name should be read Umall, the identification is excluded.11

Fionn, a posthumous child, was at first called Deimne. For safety's sake he was taken by Bodhmhall and the Liath Luchra and reared in the wilds, where, while still a child, he strangled a polecat and had other adventures.12 At ten years old he came to a fortress on the Liffey, where the boys were playing hurley, and beat them; and when they described him as "fair" to its owner, he said that his name should be Fionn ("Fair"), but that they must kill him if he returned. Never- theless, next day he slew seven of them and a week later drowned nine more when they challenged him at swimming.13 While this incident resembles one in Cuchulainn's early career, in other, probably later, accounts, the match takes place in the presence of the High King, Conn, who called the boy " Fionn."14 In the Colloquy with the Ancients, however, another incident is found. Goll had been made chief of the Féinn after Cumhal's death; and when ten years old, Fionn came to Conn, announcing that he wished to be reconciled with him and to enter his service. Conn now offered his rightful heritage to him who would save Tara from being burnt by Allien mac Midhna of the Tuatha Dé Danann, who yearly made every one sleep through his fairy music and then set fire to the fortress. Fionn did not succumb to the music, because of the magic power of a weapon given him by one of his father's comrades, and he also warded off with his mantle the flame from Aillen's mouth and succeeded in beheading him, so that he was given Goll's position, while GoU made friends with him rather than go into exile.15 In the account of Cumhal's death as given in the Leahhar na hUidhre, Conn advised Muirne to go to her sister Bodhmhall, at whose house Fionn was born. Later he challenged Tadg to single combat, or to fight him with many, or to pay a fine for Cumhal's death; and Tadg, appealing for a judgement, was forced to surrender Almha to Fionn. Peace was now made between Fionn and Goll.16

The story of Flonn's "thumb of knowledge" belongs in some versions to this period. To learn the art of poetry he went to Finnéces, who for seven years sought to capture a salmon which would impart supernatural knowledge to him —the "salmon of knowledge" —and after he had caught it, he bade Fionn cook it, forbidding him to taste it. When Finnéces inquired whether he had eaten any of it, Fionn replied, "No, but my thumb I burned, and I put it into my mouth after that"; whereupon Finnéces gave him the name Fionn, since prophecy had announced that Fionn should eat the salmon. He ate it in fact, and ever after, on placing his thumb in his mouth, knowledge of things unknown came to him.17 This story, based on the universal idea that supernatural knowledge or acquaintance with the language of beasts comes from eating part of an animal, often a snake, is parallel to the story of Gwion's obtaining inspiration intended for Avagddu18 and to that of the Norse Sigurd, who, roasting the heart of the dragon Fafnir, intended for the dwarf, burned his finger, placed it in his mouth, and so obtained supernatural wisdom. In German tales the animal is a Haselzvurm, a snake found under a hazel, like the Celtic salmon which ate the nuts falling from the hazels of knowledge. As told of Fionn, the story is a folk-tale formula applied to him, but the conception ultimately rests upon the belief in beneficial results from the ritual eating of a sacred animal with knowledge superior to man's. Among American Indians, Maoris, Solomon Islanders, and others there are figured representations of a medicineman with a reptile whose tongue is attached to his own, and it is actually believed by the American Indians that the postulant magician catches a mysterious otter, takes its tongue, and hangs it round his neck in a bag, after which he understands the language of all creatures.19

When Fionn sought supernatural knowledge, he chewed his thumb or laid it on his tooth, to which it had given this clairvoyant gift; or, again, the knowledge is already in his


Altar from Trevès

A deity (Esus) fells a tree in the foliage of which a bull's head appears, while three cranes perch on the branches (Tarvos Trigaranos). The bas-relief thus combines the subjects of two sides of the altar from Notre Dame (Plate XX).

The Mythology of All Races Vol 3 (Celtic and Slavic) 267.jpg

thumb. Cúldub from the síd stole the food of the Féinn on three successive nights, but was caught by Fionn, who also followed a woman who had come from the síd to obtain water. She shut the door on his thumb, which he extricated with difficulty; and then, having sucked it, he found that he knew future events.20 In another account, however, part of his knowledge came from drinking at a well owned by the Tuatha Dé Danann.21

Folk-tale versions of Flonn's youth resemble the literary forms, with differences in detail. Cumhal did not marry, because It was prophesied that if he did he would die In the next battle; yet having fallen In love with the king's daughter, he wedded her secretly, although a Druid had told the monarch that his daughter's son would dethrone him, wherefore he kept her concealed—a common folk-tale incident. As his death was at hand Cumhal begged his mother to rear his child, but it was thrown Into a loch, from which it was rescued by its grandmother, who caused a man to make them a room in a tree and, to preserve the secret, killed him. When the boy was fifteen, she took him to a hurilng-match, and the king, who was present, cried, "Who is that fin cumhal ('white cap')?" The woman called out, "Fin mac Cumhal will be his name," and again fled, this being followed by the thumb incident with the formula of Odysseus and the Cyclops, in which a one-eyed giant is substituted for Finnéces. Later, Fionn fought the beings who threw down a dún which was In course of construction and for this obtained the king's daughter, while the heroes killed by these beings were restored by him and became his followers. 22 Scots ballad and folk-tale versions contain some of these Incidents, but vary much as to Cumhal. In one he goes to Scotland and defeats the Norse, and there sets up as a king; but Irish and Norse kings entice him to Ireland, persuade him to marry, and kill him in his wife's arms. His posthumous son Is carried by his nurse to the wilds, and then follows the naming Incident and that of the thumb of knowledge, though here Black Arcan, Cumhal's murderer, takes the place of Finneces and is slain by Fionn on learning of his guilt from his thumb. Lastly Fionn obtains his rightful due.23 His birth incident and subsequent history is an example of the Aryan "Expulsion and Return" formula, as Nutt pointed out, and is paralleled in other Celtic instances.

In the Boyish Deeds of Fionn Cruithne became Fionn's wife, but in other tales he possesses other wives or mistresses. In the Colloquy with the Ancients his wife Sabia, daughter of the god Bodb Dearg, died of horror at the slaughter when Fionn's men fought Goll and the clanna Morna.24 An Irish ballad also makes Dearg's daughter mother of Oisin, while a second daughter offered herself to Fionn for a year to the exclusion of all others, after which she was to enjoy half of his society; but he refused, whereupon she gave him a potion which caused a frenzy.25 Sabia, Oisin's mother, is the Saar of tradition, whom a Druid changed into a deer. Spells were laid on Fionn to marry the first female creature whom he met, and this was Saar, as a deer, though by his knowledge he recognized her as a woman transformed. He afterward found a child with deer's hair on his temple, for if Saar licked her offspring, he would have a deer's form; if not, that of a human being. She could not resist giving him one lick, however, and hair grew on his brow, whence his name Oisin, or "Little Fawn." Many ballads recount this incident, but in one the deer is Grainne, whose story will be told presently,26 although elsewhere she is called Blai.27 Another divine or fairy mistress of Fionn's could assume many animal shapes, and hence he renounced her. Mair, wife of Bersa, also fell in love with him and formed nine nuts with love-charms, sending them to him that he might eat them; but he refused and buried them, because they were "an enchantment for drinking love."28 Another love-affair turned Fionn's hair grey. Cuailnge, smith to the Tuatha Dé Danann, had two daughters, Miluchradh and Aine, both of whom loved Fionn. Aine, however, said that she would never marry a man with grey hair, whereupon Miluchradh caused the gods to make a lake, on which she breathed a spell that all who bathed there should become grey. One day Fionn was drawn to this lake by a doe and was induced to jump into it to recover the ring of a woman sitting by the shore; but when he emerged, she had vanished, and he was a withered old man. The Féinn dug down toward Miluchradh's sid, when she appeared with a drinking-horn which restored Fionn's youth, but left his hair grey, while Conan jeered at his misfortune.29 One poem offers a partial parallel to the incident of Cúchulainn and Conlaoch, without its tragic ending. Oisin, angry with his father, went away for a year, after which father and son met without recognition. Fionn gave Oisin a blow, and both then reviled each other until the discovery of their relationship, when the dispute was happily settled.30

Fionn's hounds. Bran and Sgeolan, were nephews of his own, for Ulan married Fionn's wife's sister Tuirrean, whom his fairy mistress transformed into a wolf-hound which gave birth to these famous dogs. Afterward, when Ulan promised to renounce Tuirrean, the fairy restored her form.31

Fionn's adventures are mainly of a supernatural kind— combats with gods, giants, phantoms, and other fantastic beings, apart from those in which he fought Norsemen or other foreign powers, an anachronism needing no comment. On one occasion Fionn, Oisin, and Caoilte came to a mysterious house, where a giant seized their horses and bade them enter. In the house were a three-headed hag and a headless man with an eye in his breast; and as they sang at the giant's bidding, nine bodies arose on one side and nine heads on the other, shrieking discordantly. Slaying the horses, he cooked their flesh on rowan spits, and a part, uncooked, was brought to Fionn, but was refused by him. Then a fight began, and Fionn wielded his sword until sunrise, when all three heroes fell into a swoon. When they recovered, the house had vanished, and they realized that the three "phantoms" were the three shapes out of Yew Glen, which had thus taken revenge for injury done to their sister, Culenn Wide-Maw.32

In The Fairy Palace of the Quicken-Trees (Bruighean Caorthuinn) Fionn defeated and killed the King of Lochlann, but spared his son Midac, bringing him up in his household. Midac requited him ill, for he chose land on either side of the Shannon's mouth, where armies could land, and then invited Fionn and his men to the palace of the quicken-trees, while Oisin, Diarmaid, and four others remained outside. Presently Midac left the palace, when all its splendour disappeared, and the Féinn were unable to move. Meanwhile an army arrived, but Diarmaid and the others repulsed it after long fighting; and he released Fionn and the rest with the blood of three kings.33 In a folk- tale version the blood was exhausted before Conan was reached, and he said to Diarmaid, "If I were a pretty woman, you would not have left me to the last," whereupon Diarmaid tore him away, leaving his skin sticking to the seat.34 The house created by glamour in these stories, and vanishing at dawn, has frequently been found in other tales.

The Féinn were sometimes aided by, sometimes at war with, the Tuatha Dé Danann, though in later tales these seem robbed of much of their divinity, one story regarding them almost as demoniac. Conaran, a chief of the Tuatha Dé Danann, bade his three daughters punish Fionn for his hunting. On three holly sticks they hung hasps of yarn in front of a cave and reeled them off withershins, while they sat in the cavern as hideous hags and magically bound Fionn and others who entered it. Now arrived Goll, Fionn's former enemy, and with him the hags fought; but two of them he halved by a clean sword-sweep, and the third, after being vanquished, restored the heroes. Afterward, however, when she reappeared to avenge her sisters' death, Goll slew her and then burned Conaran's síd, giving its wealth to Fionn, who bestowed his daughter on him.35 Goll is here deemed a hero, as in many poems which lament his ultimate lonely death by Fionn, after a brave defence. In these Goll is superior to Fionn, and he was the popular hero of the Féinn in Donegal and Connaught, as if there had been a cycle of tales in these districts in which he was the central figure.36

Fionn also fought the Muireartach, a horrible one-eyed hag whose husband was the ocean-smith, while she was fostermother to the King of Lochlann. She captured from the Féinn their "cup of victory"—a clay vessel the contents of which made them victorious—but after a battle in which the King of Lochlann was slain, the cup was recovered. The hag returned, however, and killed some of the Féinn, but Fionn caused the ground to be cut from under her and then slew her.37 This hag, whose name perhaps means "the eastern sea," has been regarded as an embodiment of the tempestuous waters; and in one version the ocean-smith says that she cannot die until she is drowned in "deep, smooth sea"—as if this were a description of the storm lulled to rest. When she is let down into the ground, the suggestion is that of water confined in a hollow space;38 and if so, the story is a romantic treatment of the Celtic rite of "fighting the waves" with weapons at high tides.39

While the King of Lochlann is associated with this hag, he and the Lochlanners are scarcely discriminated from Norsemen who came across the eastern sea, invading Ireland and capturing Fionn's magic possessions, his dogs, or his wife. Yet there is generally something supernatural about them; hence, probably before Norsemen came to Ireland, Lochlann was a supernatural region with superhuman people. Rhŷs equates it with the Welsh Llychlyn—"a mysterious country in the lochs or the sea"—whence Fionn's strife would be with supernatural beings connected with the sea, an interpretation agreeing with the explanation of the Muireartach.

Once Fionn, having made friends with the giant Seachran, was taken with him to the castle of his mother and brother, who hated him. While dancing, Seachran was seized by a hairy claw from the roof, but escaped, throwing his mother into the cauldron destined for him. He and Fionn fled, pursued by the brother, who slew Seachran, but was killed by Fionn, who learned from his thumb that a ring guarded by warriors would heal him who drank thrice above It. Diarmald obtained the ring, but was pursued by the warriors, whom Seachran's wife slew, after which the giant was restored to life.40

Other stories record the chase of enchanted or monstrous animals. Oisln slew a huge boar of the breed of Balor's swine, which supplied a week's eating for men and hounds; but meanwhile Donn, one of the síde, carried off a hundred maidens from Aodh's síd. Aodh's wife, secretly in love with Donn, changed them into hinds, and when he would not return her love, transformed him into a stag. In this guise he boasted that the Féinn could not take him, but after a mighty encounter, Oisin, with Bran and Sgeolan, slew him.41 In another tale a vast boar, off whom weapons only glanced, killed many hounds; but at last it was brought to bay by Bran, when "a churl of the hill" appeared and carried it away, inviting the Féinn to follow. They reached a síd where the churl changed the boar Into a handsome youth, his son; and in the síd were many splendours, fair women, and noble youths. The churl was Eanna, King of the síd, his wife Manannan's daughter. Fionn offered to wed their daughter, Sgáthach, for a year; and Eanna agreed to give her, saying that the chase had been arranged In order to bring Fionn to the síd. Presents were then given to him and his men, but at night Sgáthach played a sleep-strain on the harp which lulled to slumber Fionn and the others, who in the morning found themselves far from the síd, but with the presents beside them, while It proved that the night had not yet arrived, an Incident which should be compared with a similar one in the story of Nera.42 This overcoming of the Féinn by glamour and enchantment is a common episode in these stories.

Allusion has already been made43 to the Tale of the Gilla Backer and his Horse (Tóruighecht in Ghilla Dhecair). After the horse had disappeared with fifteen of the Féinn, Fionn and his men sought them overseas and reached a cliff up which Diarmaid alone was able to ascend by the magic staves of Manannan. He came to a magic well of whose waters he drank, whereupon a wizard appeared, fought with him, and then vanished into the well. This occurred on several days, but at last Diarmaid clasped him in his arms, and together they leaped into the well. There he found himself in a spacious country where he conquered many opposing hosts; but a giant advised him to come to a finer land, Tír fó Thiunn, or "Land under Waves," a form of the gods' realm, and there he was nobly entertained, the wizard being its King, with whom the giant and his people were at feud, as in other tales of Elysium its dwellers fight each other. Meanwhile Fionn and his men met the King of Sorcha and helped him in battle with other monarchs, among them the King of Greece, whose daughter Taise, in love with Fionn, adored him still more when he slew her brother! She stole away to him, but was intercepted by one of the King's captains; and soon after this, Fionn and the King of Sorcha saw a host approaching them, among whom was Diarmaid. He informed Fionn that the Gilla was Abartach, son of Alchad, King of the Land of Promise, and from him Conan and the others were rescued. Goll and Oscar now brought Taise from Greece to Fionn, and indemnity was levied on Abartach, Conan choosing that it should consist of fourteen women, including Abartach's wife; but Abartach disappeared magically, and Conan was balked of his prize.44 This story, the romantic incidents of which are treated prosaically, jumbles together myth and later history, and while never quite forgetting that Tír fó Thiunn, Sorcha, and the Land of Promise are part of the gods' realm, does its best to do so.

Several other instances of aid given by the Féinn to the folk of Elysium occur In the Colloquy with the Ancients. The Féinn pursued a hind into a síd whose people were Donn and other children of Midir. When their uncle Bodb Dearg was lord of the Tuatha Dé Danann, he required hostages from MIdir's children, but these they refused, and to prevent Bodb's vengeance on Midir, they sought a secluded síd. Here, however, the Tuatha Dé Danann came yearly and slew their men until only twenty-eight were left, when, to obtain Fionn's help, one of their women as a fawn had lured him to the síd, as the boar led Pryderl into the enchanted castle.45 The Féinn assisted Midir's sons in next day's fight against a host of the gods, including Bodb, Dagda, Oengus, Ler, and Morrígan's children, when many of the host were slain; and three other battles were fought during that year, the Féinn remaining to assist. Oscar and Diarmaid were wounded, and by Donn's advice, Fionn captured the gods' physician and caused him to heal their wounds, after which hostages were taken of the Tuatha De Danann, so that MIdir's sons might live in peace.46 Caoilte told this to St. Patrick centuries after, and he had scarce finished, when Donn himself appeared and did homage to the saint. The old gods were still a mysterious people to the compilers or transmitters of such tales, but they were capable of being beaten by heroes and might be on good terms with saints. Even In St. Patrick's time the síde or Tuatha Dé Danann were harassed by mortal foes; but old and worn as he was, Caoilte assisted them and for reward was cured of his ailments.47 Long before, moreover, he had killed the supernatural bird of the god Ler, which wrought nightly destruction on the'síd, and when Ler came to avenge this, he was slain by Caollte.48 Thus were the gods envisaged in Christian times as capable of being killed, not only by each other but by heroes.

Sometimes, however, they helped the Féinn, nor Is this unnatural, considering Fionn's divine descent. Diarmaid was a pupil and protégé of Manannan and Oengus and was aided by the latter.49 Oengus helped Fionn in a quarrel with Cormac mac Art, who taunted him with Conn's victory over Cumhal; whereupon Fionn and the rest forsook their strife with Oengus (the cause of this is unknown), and he guided them in a foray against Tara, aiding in the fight and alone driving the spoil.50 Again when the Féinn were in straits, a giant-like being assisted them and proved to be a chief of the síde, and in a tale from the Dindsenchas Sideng, daughter of Mongan of the síd, brought Fionn a flat stone with a golden chain, by means of which he slew three adversaries.51 Other magic things belonging to the Feinn were once the property of the gods. Manannan had a "crane-bag" made of a crane's skin, the bird being the goddess Aoife, transformed by a jealous rival; and in it he kept his treasures, though these were visible only when the tide was full. This bag became Cumhal's.52 Manannan's magic shield has already been described, and it also was later the property of Cumhal and Fionn.53 In the story of The Battle of Ventry (Cath Finntrága), at which the Tuatha Dé Danann helped the Féinn, weapons were sent to Fionn through Druidic sorcery from the síd of Tadg, son of Nuada, by Labraid Lamfhada, "the brother of thine own mother"; and these weapons shot forth balls of fire.54 Others were forged by a smith and his two brothers. Roc and the ocean-smith, who had only one leg and one eye.5 Whether these beings are borrowings from the Norse or supernatural creations of earlier Celtic myth is uncertain. Fionn had also a magic hood made in the Land of Promise, and of this hood it was said, "You will be hound, man, or deer, as you turn it, as you change it."56

We now approach the most moving episode of the whole cycle—The Pursuit of Diarmaid and Grainne (Tóruigheacht Dhiarmada agus Ghráinne), the subject of a long tale with many mythical allusions, of several ballads and folk-tales, and of numerous references in earlier Celtic literature. Only the briefest outline can be given here, but all who would know that literature at its best should read the story itself. Early accounts tell how Fionn, seeking to wed Gralnne, had to perform tasks; but when he had accomplished these and married her, she eloped with Diarmaid.57 In the longer narrative, when Fionn and his friends came to ask Grainne's hand, she administered a sleeping-potion to all of them save Oisin and Diarmaid, both of whom she asked in succession to elope with her. They refused; but, madly in love with Diarmaid's beauty, she put geasa on him to flee with her. Thus he was forced to elope against his will, and when the disappointed suitor Fionn discovered this, he pursued them and came upon them in a wood, while in his sight Diarmaid kissed Grainne. At this point the god Oengus came to carry them off unseen, and when Diarmaid refused his help, Oengus took Grainne away, the hero himself escaping through his own cleverness. Having reached Oengus and Grainne, "whose heart all but fled out of her mouth with joy at meeting Diarmaid," he received advice from the god, who then left them. They still fled, with Fionn on their track, while the forces sent after them were overpowered by Diarmaid. For long he would not consent to treat Grainne as his wife, and only when he overheard her utter a curious reproach would he do so.58 From two warriors, whose fathers had helped in the battle against Cumhal, Fionn demanded as eric, or fine, either Diarmaid's head or a handful of berries from the quicken-tree of Dubhros; but when the warriors came to Diarmaid, he parleyed long with them and at last, as they were determined to fight him, he bound them both. Grainne, who was now with child, asked for these wonderful berries, whereupon Diarmaid slew their giant guardian and sent the warriors with the berries to Fionn. He and Grainne then climbed the tree; and when Fionn arrived, he offered great rewards to the man who would bring down Diarmaid's head. Oengus again appeared, and when nine of the Féinn climbed the tree and were slain, he gave each one Diarmaid's form and threw the bodies down, their true shape returning only when their heads were cut off. Oengus now


Page of an Irish Manuscript

Rawlinson B 512, 119 a (in the Bodleian Library, Oxford), containing part of the story of "The Voyage of Bran, Son of Febal."

The Mythology of All Races Vol 3 (Celtic and Slavic) 281.jpg

carried Grainne in his magic mantle to the Brug na Boinne, while Diarmaid alighted like a bird on the shafts of his spears far outside the ring of the Féinn and fought all who opposed him, Oscar, who had pleaded for his forgiveness, accompanying him to Oengus's síd. Meanwhile Fionn sought the help of his nurse from the Land of Promise, and she enveloped the Feinn in a mist, herself flying on the leaf of a water-lily, through a hole in which she dropped darts on Diarmaid. He flung his invincible spear, the gaí dearg, through the hole and killed the witch, whereupon Oengus made peace between Fionn and Diarmaid, who was allowed to keep Grainne.

Fionn, however, still sought revenge against Diarmaid, who one night heard in his sleep the baying of a hound. He would have gone after it, for it was one of his geasa always to follow when he heard that sound,59 but Grainne detained him, saying that this was the craft of the Tuatha Dé Danann, notwithstanding Oengus's friendship. Nevertheless at daylight he departed, refusing to take, despite Grainne's desire, Manannan's sword and the gaí dearg; and at Ben Gulban Fionn told him that the wild boar of Gulban was being hunted, as always, in vain. Now Diarmaid was under geasa never to hunt a boar, for his father had killed Roc's son in the síd of Oengus, and Roc had transformed the body into a boar which would have the same length of life as Diarmaid, whom Oengus now conjured never to hunt a boar. Diarmaid, however, resolved to slay the boar of Gulban, viz. the transformed child, though he understood that he had been brought to this by Fionn's wiles; and in the great hunt which followed "the old fierce magic boar" was killed, though not before it had mortally wounded the hero. In other versions Diarmaid was unhurt, but Fionn bade him pace the boar to find out its length, whereupon a bristle entered his heel and made a deadly wound.60 Diarmaid now lay dying, while Fionn taunted him. He begged water, for whoever drank from Fionn's hands would recover from any injury; and he recalled all he had ever done for him, while Oscar, too, pleaded for him. Fionn went to a well and brought water in his hands, but let it slowly trickle away. Again Diarmaid besought him, and again and yet again Fionn brought water, but each time let it drop away, as inexorable with the hero as Lug was with Bran. So Diarmaid died, lamented by all. Oengus, too, mourned him, singing sadly of his death; and since he could not restore him to life, he took the body to his síd, where he breathed a soul into it so that Diarmaid might speak to him for a little while each day.61 Fionn, who knew that Grainne intended her sons to avenge Diarmaid, was afterward afraid and went secretly to her, only to be greeted with evil words. As a result of his gentle, loving discourse, however, "he brought her to his own will, and he had the desire of his heart and soul of her." She became his wife and made peace between him and her sons, who were received into the Féinn.62

So ends this tragic tale, the cynical conclusion of which resembles a scene in Richard III. A ballad of the Pursuit, however, relates that Diarmaid's daughter Eachtach summoned her brothers and made war with Fionn, wounding him severely, so that for four years he got no healing.63 In a Scots Gaelic folk-tale Grainne, while with Diarmaid, plotted with an old man to kill him, but was forgiven. Diarmaid was discovered by Fionn through wood-shavings floating down-stream from cups which he had made, and Fionn then raised the hunting-cry which the hero must answer, his death by the boar following.64 In the Dindsenchas this "shavings" incident is told of Oisin, who was captured by Fionn's enemies and hidden in a cave, his presence there being revealed in the same way to Fionn, who rescued him.65 Ballad versions do not admit that Diarmaid ever treated Grainne as his wife, in spite of her reproaches or the spells put upon him; and it was only after his death that Fionn discovered his innocence and constancy, notwithstanding appearances.66 In tradition the pursuit lasted many years, and sepulchral monuments in Ireland are still known as "the beds of Diarmaid and Gralnne." Some incidents of the pursuit are also told separately, as when one story relates that after an old woman had betrayed the pair to Fionn, they escaped in a boat in which was a man with beautiful garments, viz. the god Ocngus.67

Various reasons for the final quarrel between Fionn and Goll are given, but in the end Goll was driven to bay on a sea-crag with none beside him but his faithful wife, where, though overcome by hunger and thirst, he yet refused the offer of the milk of her breasts. Noble in his loneliness, he is represented in several poems as recounting his earlier deeds. Then for the last time he faced Fionn, and fighting manfully, he fell, covered with wounds.68

The accounts of Fionn's death vary, some placing it before, some after, the battle of Gabhra, which, in the annalistic scheme, was the result of the exactions of the Féinn. Cairbre, High King of Ireland, summoned his nobles, and they resolved on their destruction, whereupon huge forces gathered on both sides, and "the greatest battle ever fought in Ireland" followed. Few Féinn survived it, and the most mournful event was the slaying of Oisin's son Oscar by Cairbre—the subject of numerous laments, purporting to be written by Oisin,69 full of pathos and of a wild hunger for the brave days long past. In Fionn's old age he always drank from a quaigh, for his wife Smirgat had foretold that to drink from a horn would be followed by his death; but one day he forgot this and then, through his thumb of knowledge, he learned that the end was near. Long before, Uirgreann had fallen by his hand, and now Uirgreann's sons came against him and slew him.70 In another version, however, Goll's grandson plotted to kill him with Uirgreann's sons and others, and succeeded.71 There is no mention of the High King here, and it suggests the longdrawn clan vendetta and nothing more. Thus perished the great hero, brave, generous, courteous, of whom many noble things are spoken in later literature, but none nobler than Caoilte's eulogy to St. Patrick—"He was a king, a seer, a poet, a bard, a lord with a manifold and great train, our magician, our man of knowledge, our soothsayer; all whatsoever he said was sweet with him. Excessive perchance as ye deem my testimony of Fionn, nevertheless, by the King that is above me, he was three times better still."72 Yet he had undesirable traits—craft and vindictiveness, while his final unforgiving vengeance on Diarmaid is a blot upon his character. One tradition alleged that, like Arthur, Fionn was still living secretly somewhere, within a hill or on an island, ready to come with his men in the hour of his country's need; and daring persons have penetrated to his hiding-place and have spoken to the resting hero.73 Noteworthy in this connexion is the story which makes the seventh century King Mongan, who represents an earlier mythic Mongan, a rebirth of Fionn, this being shown by Caoilte's reappearance to prove to Mongan's poet the truth of the King's statement regarding the death of Fothad Airglech. "We were with thee, with Fionn," said Caoilte. "Hush," said Mongan, "that is not fair." "We were with Fionn then"; but the narrator adds, "Mongan, however, was Fionn, though he would not let it be said."74 Other stories, as we have seen, make Mongan the son of Manannan.

Of the survivors of the Feinn, the main interest centres in Oisin and Caoilte, the latter of whom lingered on with some of his warriors until the coming of St. Patrick. In tales and poems of later date, notably in Michael Comyn's eighteenth century poem, Oisin went into a síd or to Tír na nÓg ("the Land of Youth"). The Colloquy with the Ancients, on the other hand, says that he went to the síd of Ucht Cleitich, where was his mother Blai, although later he is found in St. Patrick's company without any explanation of his return; and now Caoilte rejoins him.75 This agrees with the Scots tradition that a pretty woman met Oisin in his old age and said, "Will you not go with your mother?" Thereupon she opened a door in the rock, and Oisin remained with her for centuries, although it seemed only a week; but when he wished to return to the Féinn, she told him that none of them was left.76 In an Irish version Oisin entered a cave and there saw a woman with whom he lived for what seemed a few days, although it was really three hundred years. When he went to revisit the Feinn, he was warned not to dismount from his white steed; but in helping to raise a cart he alighted and became an old man.77 The tales of his visit to the Land of Youth vary. Some refer it to his more youthful days, but Michael Comyn was probably on truer ground in placing it after the battle of Gabhra. In these, however, it is not his mother, but Niamh, the exquisitely beautiful daughter of the King of Tír na nÓg, who takes him there, laying upon him geasa whose fulfilment would give him Immortal life. Crossing the sea with her, he killed a giant who had abducted the daughter of the King of Tír na m-Beo ("the Land of the Living"); and in Tír na nÓg he married Niamh, with whom he remained three centuries. In one tale he actually became King because he outraced Niamh's father, who held the throne until his son-in-law should do this; and to prevent It he had given his daughter a pig's head, but Oisin, after hearing Niamh's story, accepted her, and her true form was then restored.78 In the poem the radiant beauty and joy of Tír na nÓg are described in traditional terms; but, in spite of these, Oisin longed for Erin, although he thought that his absence from it had been brief. Niamh sought to dissuade him from going, but In vain, and now she bade him not descend from his horse. When he reached Erin, the Féinn were forgotten; the old forts were in ruins; a new faith had arisen. In a glen men trying to lift a marble flagstone appealed to him for aid, and stooping from his horse, he raised the stone; but as he did so, his foot touched ground, whereupon his horse vanished, and he found himself a worn, blind old man. In this guise he met St. Patrick and became dependent on his bounty.79

These stories illustrate what Is found In all Celtic tales of divine or fairy mistresses—they are the wooers, and mortals tire of them and their divine land sooner than they weary of their lovers. Mortals were apt to find that land tedious, for, as one of them said, "I had rather lead the life of the Féinn than that which I lead in the síd"—it is the plaint of Achilles, who would liefer serve for hire on earth than rule the dead in Hades, or of the African proverb, "One day in this world is worth a year in Srahmandazi."

The meeting of the saint with the survivors of the Féinn is an interesting if impossible situation, and it is freely developed both in the Colloquy with the Ancients and in many poems. While a kindly relationship between clerics and Feinn is found in the Colloquy, even there Caoilte and Oisin regret the past. Both here and in the poems St. Patrick shows much curiosity regarding the old days, but in some of the latter he is not too tender to Oisin's obstinate heathendom. Oisin, it is true, is "almost persuaded" at times to accept the faith, but his paganism constantly breaks forth, and he utters daring blasphemies and curses the new order and its annoyances—shaven priests instead of warriors, bell-ringing and psalm-singing instead of the music and merriment of the past. Yet in these poems there is tragic pathos and wild regret for the Féinn and their valorous deeds, for the joys never now to be recalled, for shrunken muscles and dimmed eyes and tired feet and shaking hands, for Oisin's long silent harp, above all for his noble son Oscar.

"Fionn wept not for his own son,
Nor did he even weep for his brother;
But he wept on seeing my son lie dead,
While all the rest wept for Oscar.

From that day of the battle of Gabhra
We did not speak boldly;
And we passed not either night or day
That we did not breathe heavy sighs."80

One fine ballad tells how Oisin fought hopelessly against the new order, scorning Christian rites and beliefs, but at last craved forgiveness of God, and then, weak and weary, passed away.

"Thus it was that death carried off
Oisin, whose strength and vigours had been mighty;
As it will every warrior
Who shall come after him upon the earth."81

In others the Féinn are shown to be in hell, and St, Patrick rejoices in their fate. Sometimes Oisin cries on Fionn to let no devil in hell conquer him; sometimes, weak old man as he is, his cursing of St. Patrick mingles with confession of sin and prayers for Fionn's welfare and regrets that he cannot be saved.

"Oh, how lamentable the news
Thou relatest to me, O cleric;
That though I am performing pious acts,
The Feinn have not gained heaven."82

Tradition maintains that Oisin was baptized, and a curious story from Roscommon tells how, at St. Patrick's prayer for solace to the Féinn in hell, though they cannot be released, Oscar received a flail and a handful of sand to spread on the ground. The demons could not cross this to torment the Féinn, for if they attempted to do so, Oscar pursued them with his flail.83


Chapter XIII

  1. N. O'Keamey, in TOS i. 32 f. (1853).
  2. Maclnness and Nutt, p. 407; MacNeill, i., p. xxvi (ITS).
  3. MacNeill, i., p. xxxii (ITS).
  4. LU 16 b; LL 4 b, 127 a; W. Stokes, in RCel' xv. 300 (1894).
  5. Ed. and tr. D. Comyn, Dublin, 1902, and J. O'Donovan, in TOS iv. 281 ff. (1859).
  6. S. H. O'Grady, ii. 203.
  7. Comyn, p. 18 f.
  8. LU 41 b M. Hennessy, in RCel ii. 86 f. (1873).
  9. See supra, p. 25.
  10. S. H. O'Grady, ii. 131, 225, 245.
  11. D'Arbois [b], p. 53; Holder, s. v. "Camulos"; K. Meyer, in RCel xxii. 390 (1911).
  12. MacNeill, i. 33, 133 (ITS).
  13. Comyn, p. 23 f.
  14. MacNeill, i. 134 (ITS).
  15. S. H. O'Grady, ii. 142 f.
  16. LU 41 b.
  17. Comyn, p. 41 f.; cf. K. Meyer, in RCel v. 201 (1882); N. O'Kearney, in TOS ii. 174 (1855).
  18. See supra, pp. 109–10.
  19. J. Grimm, Teutonic Mythology, London, 1879–89, p. 690; J. G. Frazer, in AR i. 172 f. (1888); M. R. Cox, Cinderella, London, 1893; Miss Buckland, in JAI xxii. 29 (1893); W. H. Dall, Third Annual Report of the Bureau of American Ethnology (1884).
  20. K. Meyer, in RCel xxv. 345 (1904).
  21. Comyn, p. 50.
  22. Curtin [a], p. 204.
  23. J.F.Campbell [b],i.33 f., [a], iii. 348 f.; J.G.Campbell [c],p. 16 f.
  24. S. H. O'Grady, ii. 172.
  25. N. O'Kearney, in TOS i. 13 (1853); S. H. O'Grady, ii. 221.
  26. J. F. Campbell [b], i. 198.
  27. S. H. O'Grady, ii. 163.
  28. W. Stokes, in RCel xv. 333 (1894).
  29. N. O'Kearney, in TOS ii. 167 f. (1855).
  30. K. Meyer, in RIA.TLS xvi. 22 f. (1910); cf. supra, p. 145.
  31. N. O'Kearney, in TOS ii. 161 (1855).
  32. Text and translation by W. Stokes, in RCel vii. 289 (1886);cf. MacNeill, i. 28, 127 (ITS).
  33. Joyce [a], p. 177.
  34. J. G. Campbell [c], p. 74.
  35. O'Curry [b], ii. 345; MacNeill, i. 207 (ITS).
  36. MacNeill, i. p. xxxvii (ITS).
  37. J. G. Campbell, in SCR i. 115, 241 (1881); J. F. Campbell [b], i. 68; J. G. Campbell [c], p. 131.
  38. J. G. Campbell, in SCR loc. cit.; A. MacBain, in CM ix. 130 (1884).
  39. Aristotle, Nicom. Ethics, iii. 77, Eud. Ethics, IIL i. 25; Stobaeus, Eclogae, vii. 40; Ælian, Varia Historia, xii. 22.
  40. A. Kelleher and G. Schoepperle, in RCel xxxii. 184 f. (1911).
  41. MacNeill, i. 30, 130 (ITS).
  42. ib. i. 38, 140; see supra, pp. 68–69.
  43. See supra, p. 128.
  44. S. H. O'Grady, ii. 292 f.; Joyce [a], p. 253 f.
  45. See supra, p. 102.
  46. S. H. O'Grady, ii. 222–31.
  47. ib. ii. 247 f.
  48. S. H. O'Grady, ii. 141, 146.
  49. ib. ii. 300; O. Connellan, in TOS v. 69 (1860).
  50. MacNeill, ii. 5, 101 (ITS).
  51. S. H. O'Grady, ii. 331; W. Stokes, in RCel xvi. 147 (1895).
  52. MacNeill, i. 21, 118 (ITS); Comyn, p. 20.
  53. See supra, p. 29; MacNeill, ii. 34, 134 (ITS).
  54. Cath Finntrága, ed. and tr. K. Meyer, Oxford, 1885, pp. 13, 32.
  55. J. F. Campbell [b], i. 65; MacDougall, p. 268.
  56. K. Meyer, in RIA:TLS xvi. 51 (1910).
  57. ib. p. xxiii.
  58. J. H. Lloyd, O. J. Bergin, and G. Schoepperle, in RCel xxxiii. 40 f. (1912).
  59. J. H. Lloyd, O. J. Bergin, and G. Schoepperle, ib. p. 160,
  60. ib. p. 157.
  61. According to Keating, the Tuatha Dé Danann, when in Greece, quickened dead Athenians by their lore, sending demons into them.
  62. Text and translation by S. H. O'Grady, in TOS iii (1857).
  63. MacNeill, i. 45, 149 (ITS).
  64. J. F. Campbell [a], iii. 49.
  65. W. Stokes, in RCel xv. 448 (1894).
  66. J. G. Campbell [c], p. 53 f.
  67. K. Meyer, in RCel xi. 131 (1890).
  68. MacNeill, i. 120, 121, 165, 200 (ITS);J. F. Campbell [b], i. 164.
  69. N. O'Kearney, in TOS i. 68 f. (1853); J. F. Campbell [b], i. 182.
  70. S. H. O'Grady, ii. 98.
  71. K. Meyer, in RIA:TLS xvi. 69 (1910); of. introd., p. xxv.
  72. S. H. O'Grady, ii. 167.
  73. J. F. Campbell [a], iv. 242, [b], i. 195; MacDougall, pp. 73, 283.
  74. Nutt [c], i. 51.
  75. S. H. O'Grady, ii. ro2, 158–59.
  76. J. F. Campbell [b], i. 198.
  77. J. O'Daly, in TOS iv. 233 (1859).
  78. Curtin [a], p. 327 f.
  79. N. O'Kearney, in TOS i. 20 f. (1853); J. O'Daly, ib. iv. 243 f. (1859).
  80. N. O'Kearney, ib. i. 131 f. (1853).
  81. S. H. O'Grady, ib. iii. 230! (1857).
  82. N. O'Kearney, ib. i. 93 (1853); S. H. O'Grady, ib. iii. 257, 291 (1857); for other poems see the other volumes of this series, as well as K. Meyer, in RIA:TLS xvi (1910); Dean of Lismore^s Book, ed. and tr. T. McLauchlan, Edinburgh, 1862.
  83. D. Hyde, in RCel xiii. 417 f. (1892).