Plate Xxii

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."



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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 Feinn and fought all who opposed him, Oscar, who had pleaded for his forgiveness, accompanying him to Oengus's std. 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 gai 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 De Danann, notwithstanding Oengus's friendship. Nevertheless at daylight he departed, refusing to take, despite Grainne's desire, Manannan's sword and the gai 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 sid 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 sid, 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 Grainne." 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 Oengus.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 Feinn. 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 Feinn 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 long-drawn 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 Mon-gan'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 sid or to Tir na nOg ("the Land of Youth"). The Colloquy with the Ancients, on the other hand, says that he went to the sid 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 Feinn, 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 Tir na nOg, 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 Tir na m-Beo ("the Land of the Living"); and in Tir na nOg 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 Tir na nOg 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 Feinn 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 Feinn than that which I lead in the sid"— 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 Feinn 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 Feinn 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 Feinn 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 Feinn 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 Feinn, for if they attempted to do so, Oscar pursued them with his flail.83

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