Part 2 out of 4
skill in the arts which marked that most distinctively Irish period,
lasting, as we have seen, more than two thousand years.
Early in this same epoch we find traditions of the clearing of forests,
the sowing of cornfields, the skill of dyers in seven colors, earliest
of which were purple, blue and green. Wells were dug to insure an easily
accessible supply of pure water, so that we begin to think of a settled
population dwelling among fields of golden grain, pasturing their cattle
in rich meadows, and depending less on the deer and wild oxen of the
forest, the salmon of lake and river, and the abundant fish along
Tradition speaks persistently of bards, heralds, poets and poetesses;
of music and song; of cordial and generous social life; and to the
presence of these bards, like the skalds of the Northmen, we owe
pictures, even now full of life and color and movement, of those days
of long ago.
At a period rather more than two thousand years ago, a warrior-queen,
Maca by name, founded a great fort and citadel at Emain, some two miles
west of Armagh, in the undulating country of green hills and meadows to
the south of Lough Neagh. The ramparts and earthworks of that ancient
fortress can still be traced, and we can follow and verify what the
ancient bards told of the greatness of the stronghold of Maca. The plans
of all forts of that time seem to have been much the same--a wide ring
of earthwork, with a deep moat, guarded them, and a stockade of oak
stakes rose above the earthwork, behind which the defenders stood,
firing volleys of arrows at the attacking host. Within this outer circle
of defence there was almost always a central stronghold, raised on a
great mound of earth; and this was the dwelling of the chief, provincial
ruler, or king. Lesser mounds upheld the houses of lesser chiefs, and
all alike seem to have been built of oak, with plank roofs. Safe
storehouses of stone were often sunk underground, beneath the chief's
dwelling. In the fort of Emain, as in the great fort of Tara in the
Boyne Valley, there was a banqueting-hall for the warriors, and the
bards thus describe one of these in the days of its glory: "The
banquet-hall had twelve divisions in each wing, with tables and passages
round them; there were sixteen attendants on each side, eight for the
star-watchers, the historians and the scribes, in the rear of the hall,
and two to each table at the door,--a hundred guests in all; two oxen,
two sheep and two hogs were divided equally on each side at each meal.
Beautiful was the appearance of the king in that assembly--flowing,
slightly curling golden hair upon him; a red buckler with stars and
beasts wrought of gold and fastenings of silver upon him; a crimson
cloak in wide descending folds upon him, fastened at his breast by a
golden brooch set with precious stones; a neck-torque of gold around his
neck; a white shirt with a full collar, and intertwined with threads of
gold, upon him; a girdle of gold inlaid with precious stones around him;
two wonderful shoes of gold with runings of gold upon him; two spears
with golden sockets in his hand."
We are the more disposed to trust the fidelity of the picture, since
the foundations of the Tara banquet-hall are to be clearly traced to
this day--an oblong earthwork over seven hundred feet long by ninety
wide, with the twelve doors still distinctly marked; as for the brooches
and torques of gold, some we have surpass in magnificence anything here
described, and their artistic beauty is eloquent of the refinement of
spirit that conceived and the skill that fashioned them. Spear-heads,
too, are of beautiful bronze-gold, with tracings round the socket of
great excellence and charm.
[Illustration: Powerscourt Waterfall, Co. Wicklow]
For a picture of the life of that age, we cannot do better than return
to Emain of Maca, telling the story of one famous generation of warriors
and fair women who loved and fought there two thousand years ago. The
ideal of beauty was still the golden hair and blue eyes of the De
Danaans, and we cannot doubt that their race persisted side by side with
the Sons of Milid, retaining a certain predominance in the north and
northeast of the island, the first landing-place of the De Danaan
invaders. Of this mingled race was the great Rudraige, from whom the
most famous rulers of Emain descended. Ros was the son of Rudraige, and
from Roeg and Cass, the sons of Ros, came the princes Fergus and
Factna. Factna, son of Cass, wedded the beautiful Nessa, and from their
union sprang Concobar, the great hero and ruler of Ulster--in those days
named Ulad, and the dwellers there the Ulaid. Factna died while Concobar
was yet a boy; and Nessa, left desolate, was yet so beautiful in her
sadness that Fergus became her slave, and sued for her favor, though
himself a king whose favors others sued. Nessa's heart was wholly with
her son, her life wrapt up in his. She answered, therefore, that she
would renounce her mourning and give her widowed hand to Fergus the
king, if the king, on his part, would promise that Nessa's son Concobar
should succeed him, rather than the children of Fergus. Full of longing,
and held in thrall by her beauty, Fergus promised; and this promise was
the beginning of many calamities, for Nessa, the queen, feeling her sway
over Fergus, and full of ambition for her child, won a promise from
Fergus that the youth should sit beside him on the throne, hearing all
pleadings and disputes, and learning the art of ruling. But the spirit
of Concobar was subtle and strong and masterful, and he quickly took the
greater place in the councils of the Ulaid, until Nessa, still confident
in her charm, took a promise from Fergus that Concobar should reign
for one year.
Fergus, great-hearted warrior, but tender and gentle and fond of feasts
and merrymaking, was very willing to lift the cares of rule from his
shoulders to the younger shoulders of Nessa's son, and the one year thus
granted became many years, so that Fergus never again mounted his
throne. Yet for the love he bore to Nessa, Fergus willingly admitted his
stepson's rule, and remained faithfully upholding him, ever merry at the
banquets, and leading the martial sports and exercises of the youths,
the sons of chieftains, at the court. Thus Concobar, son of Nessa, came
to be ruler over the great fort of Emain, with its citadel, its
earthworks and outer forts, its strong stockade and moat; ruler of
these, and of the chiefs of the Ulaid, and chief commander of all the
fighting-men that followed them. To him came the tribute of cattle and
horses, of scarlet cloaks and dyed fabrics, purple and blue and green,
and the beryls and emeralds from the mountains of Mourne where the sea
thunders in the caves, near the great fort of Rudraige. Fergus was lord
only of the banqueting-hall and of the merrymakings of the young chiefs;
but in all else the will of Concobar was supreme and his word was law.
It happened that before this a child had been born, a girl
golden-haired and with blue eyes, of whom the Druids had foretold many
dark and terrible things. That the evil might not be wrought through
this child of sad destiny, the king had from her earliest childhood kept
her securely hidden in a lonely fort, and there Deirdre grew in
solitude, daily increasing in beauty and winsomeness. She so won the
love of those set in guard over her that they relaxed something of the
strictness of their watch, letting her wander a little in the meadows
and the verges of the woods, gathering flowers, and watching the life of
birds and wild things there.
Among the chieftains of the court of Emain was one Usnac, of whom were
three sons, with Naisi strongest and handsomest of the three. Naisi was
dark, with black locks hanging upon his shoulders and dark, gleaming
eyes; and so strongly is unlike drawn to unlike that golden-haired
Deirdre, seeing him in one of her wanderings, felt her heart go forth to
him utterly. Falling into talk with him, they exchanged promises of
enduring love. Thus the heart of Naisi went to Deirdre, as hers had gone
to him, so that all things were changed for them, growing radiant with
tremulous hope and wistful with longing. Yet the fate that lay upon
Deirdre was heavy, and all men dreaded it but Naisi; so that even his
brothers, the sons of Usnac, feared greatly and would have dissuaded him
from giving his life to the ill-fated one. But Naisi would not be
dissuaded; so they met secretly many times, in the twilight at the verge
of the wood, Deirdre's golden hair catching the last gleam of sunlight
and holding it long into the darkness, while the black locks of Naisi,
even ere sunset, foreshadowed the coming night. In their hearts it was
not otherwise; for Deirdre, full of wonder at the change that had come
over her, at the song of the birds that echoed ever around her even in
her dreams, at the radiance of the flowers and trees, the sunshine on
the waters of the river, the vivid gladness over all,--Deirdre knew
nothing of the dread doom that was upon her, and was all joy and
wonderment at the meetings with her lover, full of fancies and tender
words and shy caresses; but Naisi, who knew well the fate that
overshadowed them like a black cloud above a cliff of the sea, strove to
be glad and show a bold face to his mistress, though his heart many a
time grew cold within him, thinking on what had befallen and what
For the old foretelling of the star-watchers was not the only doom laid
upon Deirdre. Concobar the king, stern and masterful, crafty and secret
in counsel though swift as an eagle to slay,--Concobar the king had
watched Deirdre in her captivity, ever unseen of her, and his heart had
been moved by the fair softness of her skin, the glow of her cheek, the
brightness of her eyes and hair; so that the king had steadfastly
determined in his mind that Deirdre should be his, in scorn of all
prophecies and warnings; that her beauty should be for him alone. This
the king had determined; and it was known to Naisi the son of Usnac. It
was known to him also that what Concobar the king determined, he
steadfastly carried out; for the will of Concobar was strong and
masterful over all around him.
Therefore at their meetings two clouds lay upon the heart of Naisi: the
presentment of the king's power and anger, and his relentless hand
pursuing through the night, and the darker dread of the sightless doom
pronounced of old at the birth of Deirdre, of which the will of Concobar
was but the tool. There was gloom in his eyes and silence on his lips
and a secret dread in his heart. Deirdre wondered at it, her own heart
being so full of gladness, her eyes sparkling, and endearing words ever
ready on her lips. Deirdre wondered, yet found a new delight and
wonderment in the silence of Naisi, and the gloomy lightning in his
eyes, as being the more contrasted with herself, and therefore the more
to be beloved.
Yet the time came when Naisi determined to tell her all and risk the
worst that fate could do against them, finding death with her greatly
better than life without her. Yet death with her was not to be granted
to him. Deirdre heard, wondering and trembling, and Naisi must tell her
the tale many times before she understood,--so utter had been her
solitude and so perfect was yet her ignorance of all things beyond the
fort where she was captive, and of all the doings of men. Concobar was
not even a name to her, and she knew nothing of his power or the
stronghold of Emain, the armies of the Ulaid, or the tributes of gold
and cattle and horses. Spears and swords and those who wielded them were
not even dreams to her until the coming of Naisi, when his gloom blended
with her sunshine.
Talking long through the twilight, until the red gold of the west was
dulled to bronze over the hills, and the bronze tarnished and darkened
with the coming of the eastern stars, they planned together what they
should do; and, the heart of Deirdre at last growing resolute, they made
their way through the night to where the brothers of Naisi were, and all
fled together towards the northern sea. Amongst the fishermen of the
north they found those who were willing to carry them beyond the reach
of Concobar's anger, and with a southerly breeze set sail for the
distant headlands of Scotland, that they had seen from the cliff-top
lying like blue clouds along the horizon. They set forth early in the
morning, as the sun came up out of the east over blue Alban capes, and
when the sun went down it reddened the dark rocks of Islay; so that,
making for the shore, they camped that night under the Islay Hills. On
their setting forth again, the sea was like a wild grey lake between
Jura on the left and the long headland of Cantyre on their right; and
thus they sped forward between long ranks of gloomy hills, growing ever
nearer them on both sides, till they passed through the Sound of Jura
and rounded into Loch Etive.
There they made the land, drawing up under the shadow of dark hills, and
there they dwelt for many a day. Very familiar to Deirdre, though at
first strange and wild and terrible beyond words, grew that vast
amphitheatre of hills in their eternal grayness, with the long Loch
stretching down like a horn through their midst. Very familiar to
inland-bred Deirdre, though at first strange and fearful, grew the gray
surges of the incoming tides, the white foam of the waves seething along
boulders of granite, and the long arms of seaweed waving as she peered
downward into the clear green water. Very familiar to Deirdre, though at
first strange and confusing, grew the arms of Naisi around her in the
darkness and his warm lips on her cheek. Happy were those wild days in
the great glen of Etive, and dear did the sons of Usnac grow to her
heart, loved as brothers by her who never knew a brother, or the
gentleness of a mother's watching, or the solace of dear kindred.
The sons of Usnac sped forth before dawn among the hills from their
green dwelling roofed with pine branches and reeds and moss; early they
went forth to track the deer, pursuing them with their arrows, till the
red flank of the buck was laced with brighter red. One of the three ever
stayed behind with Deirdre, whether it was Naisi himself, or Alny, or
Ardan, and the two thus remaining were like children playing together,
whether gathering sticks and dry rushes and long spears of withered
grass for their fire, or wandering by the white curling waves, or
sending flat pebbles skipping over the wavelets; and the sound of their
laughter many a time echoed along the Loch's green waters and up the
hills, till the does peered and wondered from among the heather, and the
heron, startled at his fishing, flew upwards croaking, with flapping
wings. Happy were those days for Deirdre, and with utter sadness she
looked back to them afterwards, when the doom foretold had fallen upon
her. Happy sped the days, till once in the gray of the dawn, while
Deirdre was resting in their green refuge with Naisi, she cried out in
her sleep and waked, telling him, weeping, that she had heard the voice
of the bird of doom in her dreams.
The voice she heard was indeed the voice of their doom; yet it was a
cheerful voice, full of friendly gladness; the voice of Fergus, son of
Roeg, former King of Emain, and now come to Loch Etive as messenger of
Concobar, Fergus came up from the sea-beach towards the answering shout
of the sons of Usnac, and glad greetings passed among them at the door
of their refuge. Fergus looked long in admiration at the blue eyes and
golden locks, the clear skin and gentle breast of Deirdre, nor
wondered, as he looked, that Naisi had dared fate to possess her. Then
Fergus told the story of his coming; how they had discovered the flight
of the sons of Usnac from Emain, and how terrible was the black anger of
Concobar; what passionate fire had gleamed in his eyes as he tossed the
golden locks back from his shoulders and grasped the haft of his spear,
and pledged himself to be avenged on Naisi and all his kin, swearing
that he would have Deirdre back again.
Thus Fergus told the tale, laughingly, as at a danger that was past, a
storm-cloud that had lost its arrows of white hail and was no longer
fearful. For, he said, Concobar had forgotten his anger, had promised a
truce to the sons of Usnac, and most of all to Naisi, and had bidden
them return as his guests to Emain of Maca, where Deirdre should dwell
happy with her beloved. The comrades of Fergus by this time had tied
their boat and come up from the shore, and the sons of Usnac were ready
to depart. Yet Deirdre's heart misgave her as she thought of the days
among those purple hills and granite rocks, by the long green water of
the Loch, and her clear-seeing soul spoke words of doom for them all:
words soon to be fulfilled. Amongst the comrades of Fergus were certain
of the adherents of Concobar, treacherous as he; for he had no thought
of pardoning the sons of Usnac, nor any intent but to draw Deirdre back
within his reach; the image of her bright eyes and the redness of her
lips, and her soft breast and shining hair was ever before him, and his
heart gnawed within him for longing and the bitterness of desire.
Therefore he had designed this embassy; and Fergus, believing all things
and trusting all things, had gladly undertaken to be the messenger of
forgiveness; fated, instead, to be the instrument of betrayal. So they
turned their faces homewards towards Emain, Deirdre full of desponding,
as one whose day of grace is past. They set sail again through the long
Sound of Jura, with the islands now on their right hand and the gray
hills of Cantyre on their left. So they passed Jura, and later Islay,
and came at last under the cliffs of Rathlin and the white Antrim
headlands. Deirdre's heart never lightened, nor did laughter play about
her lips or in her eyes through all the time of her journey, but sadness
lay ever upon her, like the heavy darkness of a winter's night, when a
storm is gathering out of the West. But Fergus made merry, rejoicing at
the reconciling; bidden to a treacherous banquet by the partisans of
Concobar, his heart never misgave him, but giving the charge of Deirdre
and the sons of Usnac to his sons, he went to the banquet, delaying long
in carousing and singing, while Deirdre and the three brothers were
carried southwards to Emain. There the treachery plotted against them
was carried out, as they sat in the banquet-hall; for Concobar's men
brought against them the power of cowardly flames, setting fire to the
hall, and slaying the sons of Usnac as they hurried forth from under the
One of the sons of Fergus shamefully betrayed them, bought by the gold
and promises of Concobar, but the other bravely fell, fighting back to
back with one of the sons of Usnac, when they fell overpowered by the
warriors of Concobar. Thus was the doom of Deirdre consummated, her
lover treacherously done to death, and she herself condemned to bear the
hated caress of Concobar, thinking ever of those other lips, in the days
of her joy among the northern hills. This is the lament of Deirdre for
The lions of the hill are gone,
And I am left alone, alone;
Dig the grave both wide and deep,
For I am sick and fain would sleep!
The falcons of the wood are flown,
And I am left alone, alone;
Dig the grave both deep and wide,
And let us slumber side by side.
Lay their spears and bucklers bright
By the warriors' sides aright;
Many a day the three before me
On their linked bucklers bore me.
Dig the grave both wide and deep,
Sick I am and fain would sleep.
Dig the grave both deep and wide,
And let us slumber side by side.
CUCULAIN THE HERO.
B.C. 50--A.D. 50.
The treacherous death of Naisi and his brothers Ardan and Alny, and her
own bereavement and misery, were not the end of the doom pronounced at
her birth for Deirdre, but rather the beginning. Yet the burden of the
evils that followed fell on Concobar and his lands and his warriors.
For Fergus, son of Roeg, former king over Emain, who had stayed behind
his charges feasting and banqueting, came presently to Emain, fearing
nothing and thinking no evil, but still warm with the reconciliation
that he had accomplished; and, coming to Emain of Maca, found the sons
of Usnac dead, with the sods still soft on their graves, and his own son
also dead, Deirdre in the hands of Concobar, and the plighted word of
Fergus and his generous pledge of safety most traitorously and basely
broken; broken by Concobar, whom he himself had guarded and set upon
Fergus changed from gladness to fierce wrath, and his countenance was
altered with anger, as he uttered his bitter indignation against
Concobar to the warriors and heroes of Emain and the men of Ulad. The
warriors were parted in two by his words, swaying to the right and to
the left, as tall wheat sways before one who passes through it. For some
of them sided with Fergus, saying that he had done great wrong to put
Concobar on the throne, and that even now he should cast him down again,
for the baseness and treachery of his deed; but others took Concobar's
part, saying that the first betraying was Naisi's, who stole away
Deirdre,--the hostage, as it were, of evil doom, so that he drew the
doom upon himself. They further said that Concobar was chief and ruler
among them, the strong and masterful leader, able to uphold their cause
amongst men. So indeed it befell, for the sedition of Fergus and his
fight to avenge his wrong upon Concobar failed, so that he fled defeated
to Meave, Queen of Connacht, at her stronghold amid the lakes whence
issues forth the Shannon.
[Illustration: Honeycomb, Giant's Causeway.]
Meave, whose power and genius overtopped her lord Ailill, received the
exiled king gladly, and put many honors upon him, holding him as the
pillar of her army, with the two thousand men of the Ulaid who came
with him;--those who had fought for him against the party of Concobar.
At Cruacan, on the hillside, with the lakes of the Great River all
around them, with the sun setting red behind the Curlew hills, with
green meadows and beech-woods to gladden them, Meave and Ailill kept
their court, and thence they sent many forays against Emain of Maca and
Concobar, with Fergus the fallen king ever raging in the van, and, for
the wrong that was done him, working measureless wrong on his own
kingdom and the kingdom of his fathers.
After many a foray had gone forth against Ulad, crossing the level
plains, it befell that Meave and Ailill her lord disputed between them
as to which had the greatest wealth; nor would either yield until their
most precious possessions had been brought and matched the one against
the other. Their jewels of gold, wonderfully wrought, and set with
emeralds and beryls and red carbuncles, were brought forth, their
crescents for the brow, with hammered tracery upon them, their necklets
and torques, like twisted ribbons of gold, their bracelets and arm-rings
set with gold, their gems of silver and all their adornments, cloaks of
scarlet and blue and purple, were all brought, and no advantage in the
one was found over the other. Their battle-steeds also were brought,
their horses for chariots; and likewise their herds of lowing wealth,
their sheep with soft fleeces. When the cattle were driven up before
them, it was found that among the herds of Ailill was one bull,
matchless, with white horns shining and polished; and equal to this bull
was none among the herds of the queen. She would not admit her lord's
advantage, but sent forthwith to seek where another bull like the bull
of Ailill might be found, and tidings were brought to her of the brown
bull of Cuailgne,--of Cuailgne named after a chief of the Sons of Milid,
fallen ages ago in the pursuit of the De Danaans, when the De Danaans
retreated before the Sons of Milid from the southern headland of Slieve
Mish to the ford at green Tailten by the Boyne, and thence further
northwards to where Cuailgne of the Sons of Milid was killed. At that
same place had grown up a dwelling with a fortress, and there was the
brown bull that Meave heard the report of. She sent, therefore, and her
embassy bore orders to Daire, the owner of the bull, asking that the
bull might be sent to her for a year, and offering fifty heifers in
payment. Daire received her messengers well, and willingly consented to
her request; but the messengers of Meave from feasting fell to
drinking, from drinking to boasting; one of them declaring that it was a
small thing that Daire had granted the request, since they themselves
would have compelled him, even unwillingly, and would have driven off
the brown bull by force. The taunt stung Daire, after his hospitality,
and in wrath he sent them forth empty-handed, and so they came
slighted to Meave.
The queen, conceiving her honor impeached, would by no means suffer the
matter so to rest, but stirred up wrath and dissension, till the armies
of Connacht with their allies set forth to sack and burn in Ulad, and at
all hazards to bring the brown bull. Fergus and the men who fought by
his side went with them, and marching thus eastwards they came, after
three days march through fair lands and fertile, to the river Dee--the
frontier of Ulad, and the scene of many well-fought fights.
The army of Ulad was not yet ready to meet them, but one champion with
his band confronted them at the ford. That champion was Cuculain, whose
true name was Setanta, son of Sualtam, chief at Dundelga, and of Dectira
the sister of Concobar. Cuculain was accounted the greatest and most
skillful warrior of his time, and bards for ages after told how he kept
the ford. For by the laws of honor, amongst them, the host from Connacht
could not pass the ford so long as Cuculain held the ford and offered
single combat to the champions. They must take up his challenge one by
one; and while he stood there challenging, the host could not pass.
Many of their champions fell there by the ford, so that queen Meave's
heart chafed within her, and her army was hot to do battle, but still
Cuculain kept the ford. Last of the western champions came forth
Ferdiad, taught in the famous northern school of arms, a dear friend and
companion of Cuculain, who now must meet him to slay or be slain. This
is the story of their combat, as the traditions tell it:
When they ceased fighting on the first day, they cast their weapons away
from them into the hands of their charioteers. Each of them approached
the other forthwith, and each put his hand round the other's neck, and
gave him three kisses. Their horses were in the same paddock that night,
and their charioteers at the same fire; and their charioteers spread
beds of green rushes for them, with wounded men's pillows to them. The
men of healing came to heal and solace them, applying herbs that should
assuage to every cut or gash upon their bodies, and to all their
wounds. Of every healing herb that was laid on the hurts of Cuculain, he
sent an equal share to Ferdiad, sending it westward over the ford, so
that men might not say that through the healing virtue of the herbs he
was able to overcome him. And of all food and invigorating drink that
was set before Ferdiad, he sent an equal portion northwards over the
ford to Cuculain, for those that prepared food for him were more than
those who made ready food for Cuculain. Thus that night they rested.
They fought with spears on the next day, and so great was the strength
of each, so dire their skill in combat, that both were grievously
wounded, for all the protection of their shields. The men of healing art
could do little for them beyond the staunching of their blood, that it
might not flow from their wounds, laying herbs upon their red wounds.
On the third day they arose early in the morning and came forward to the
place of combat. Cuculain saw that the face of Ferdiad was dark as a
black cloud, and thus addressed him: "Thy face is darkened, Ferdiad, and
thine eye has lost its fire, nor are the form and features thine!" And
Ferdiad answered, "O, Cuculain, it is not from fear or dread that my
face is changed, for I am ready to meet all champions in the fight."
Cuculain reproached him, wondering that, for the persuasions of Meave,
Ferdiad was willing thus to fight against his friend, coming to spoil
his land. But Ferdiad replied that fate compelled him, since every man
is constrained to come unto the sod where shall be his last
resting-place. That day the heroes fought with swords, but such was the
skill of both that neither could break down the other's guard.
In the dusk they cast away their weapons, ceasing from the fight; and
though the meeting of the two had been full of vigor and friendship in
the morning, yet was their parting at night mournful and full of sorrow.
That night their horses were not in the same enclosure, nor did their
charioteers rest at the same fire.
Then Ferdiad arose early in the morning and went forth to the place of
contest, knowing well that that day would decide whether he should fall
or Cuculain; knowing that the sun would set on one of them dead that
night. Cuculain, seeing him come forth, spoke thus to his charioteer: "I
see the might and skill of Ferdiad, coming forth to the combat. If it be
I that shall begin to yield to-day, do thou stir my valor, uttering
reproaches and words of condemnation against me, so that my wrath shall
grow upon me, enkindling me again for the battle." And the charioteer
assented and promised.
Great was the deed that was performed that day at the ford by the two
heroes, the two warriors, the two champions of western lands, the two
gift-bestowing hands of the northwest of the world, the two beloved
pillars of the valor of the Gael, the two keys of the bravery of the
Gael, brought to fight from afar through the schemes of Meave the queen.
They began to shoot with their missiles from the dawn of the day, from
early morning till noon. And when midday came the ire of the men waxed
more furious, and they drew nearer together. Then Cuculain sprang from
the river-bank against the boss of the shield of Ferdiad, son of Daman,
to strike at his head over the rim of the shield from above. But Ferdiad
gave the shield so strong a turn with his left arm that he cast Cuculain
from him like a bird. Cuculain sprang again upon him, to strike him from
above. But the son of Daman so struck the shield with his left knee that
he cast Cuculain from him like a child.
Then the charioteer of Cuculain spoke to chide him: "Woe for thee, whom
the warrior thus casts aside as an evil mother casts away her offspring.
He throws thee as foam is thrown by the river. He grinds thee as a mill
would grind fresh grain. He pierces thee as the ax of the woodman
cleaves the oak. He binds thee as the woodbine binds the tree. He darts
on thee as the hawk darts on finches, so that henceforth thou hast no
claim or name or fame for valor, until thy life's end, thou
Then Cuculain sprang up fleet as the wind and swift as the swallow,
fierce as a dragon, strong as a lion, advancing against Ferdiad through
clouds of dust, and forcing himself upon his shield, to strike at him
from above. Yet even then Ferdiad shook him off, driving him backwards
into the ford.
Then Cuculain's countenance was changed, and his heart swelled and grew
great within him till he towered demoniac and gigantic, rising like one
of the Fomor upon Ferdiad. So fierce was the fight they now fought that
their heads met above and their feet below and their arms in the midst,
past the rims of the shields. So fierce was the fight they fought that
they cleft the shields to their centers. So fierce was the fight they
fought that their spears were shivered from socket to haft. So fierce
was the fight they fought that the demons of the air screamed along the
rims of the shields, and from the hilts of their swords and from the
hafts of their spears. So fierce was the fight they fought that they
cast the river out of its bed, so that not a drop of water lay there
unless from the fierceness of the champion heroes hewing each other in
the midst of the ford. So fierce was the fight they fought that the
horses of the Gael fled away in fright, breaking their chains and their
yokes, and the women and youths and camp-followers broke from the camp,
flying forth southwards and westwards.
They were fighting with the edges of their swords, and Ferdiad, finding
a break in the guard of Cuculain, gave him a stroke of the
straight-edged sword, burying it in his body until the blood fell into
his girdle, until the ford was red with the blood of the hero's body.
Then Cuculain thrust an unerring spear over the rim of the shield, and
through the breast of Ferdiad's armor, so that the point of the spear
pierced his heart and showed through his body.
"That is enough, now," said Ferdiad: "I fall for that!" Then Cuculain
ran towards him, and clasped his two arms about him, and bore him with
his arms and armor across the ford northwards. Cuculain laid Ferdiad
down there, bowing over his body in faintness and weakness. But the
charioteer cried to him, "Rise up, Cuculain, for the host is coming upon
us, and it is not single combat they will give thee, since Ferdiad, son
of Daman, son of Daire, has fallen before thee!"
"Friend," Cuculain made answer, "what avails it for me to rise after him
that has fallen by me?"
Thus did Cuculain keep the ford, still known as the ford of Ferdiad,
Ath-Fhirdia on the Dee, in the midst of the green plain of Louth. And
while he fought at the ford of Ferdiad the army of Ulad assembled, and
coming southwards over the hills before Emain, turned back the host of
Meave the queen and pursued them. The army of Meave fled westwards and
southwards towards Connacht, passing the Yellow Ford of Athboy and the
Hill of Ward, the place of sacrifice, where the fires on the Day of
Spirits summoned the priests and Druids to the offering. Fleeing still
westwards from the Yellow Ford, they passed between the lakes of Owel
and Ennel, with the men of Ulad still hot in their rear. Thus came
pursued and pursuers to Gairec, close by Athlone--the Ford of Luan--and
the wooded shore of the great Lough Ree. There was fought a battle
hardly less fatal to victors than to vanquished, for though the hosts of
Meave were routed, yet Concobar's men could not continue the pursuit.
Thus Meave escaped and Fergus with her, and came to their great fort on
the green hillside of Cruacan amid the headwaters of the Shannon.
The victory of Concobar's men was like a defeat. There was not food that
pleased him, nor did sleep come to him by flight, so that the Ulad
wondered, and Catbad the right-wonderful Druid, himself a warrior who
had taught Concobar and reared him, went to Concobar to learn the secret
of his trouble. Therefore Catbad asked of Concobar what wound had
wounded him, what obstinate sickness had come upon him, making him faint
and pale, day after day.
"Great reason have I for it," answered Concobar, "for the four great
provinces of Erin have come against me, bringing with them their bards
and singers, that their ravages and devastations might be recorded, and
they have burned our fortresses and dwellings, and Ailill and Meave have
gained a battle against me. Therefore I would be avenged upon Meave
"Thou hast already avenged it sternly, O Red-handed Concobar," Catbad
made answer, "by winning the battle over the four provinces of Erin."
"That is no battle," Concobar answered, "where a strong king falls not
by hard fighting and by fury. That an army should escape from a goodly
battle! Unless Ailill should fall, and Meave, by me in this encounter
with valorous hosts, I tell you that my heart will break, O Catbad!"
"This is my counsel for thee," replied Catbad, "to stay for the present.
For the winds are rough, and the roads are foul, and the streams and the
rivers are in flood, and the hands of the warriors are busy making forts
and strongholds among strangers. So wait till the summer days come upon
us, till every grassy sod is a pillow, till our horses are full of
spirit and our colts are strong, till our men are whole of their wounds
and hurts, till the nights are short to watch and to ward and to guard
in the land of enemies and in the territories of strangers. Spring is
not the time for an invasion. But meanwhile let tidings be sent to thy
friends in absence, in the islands and throughout the northern seas."
Therefore messengers were sent with the tidings, and the friends in
absence of Concobar were summoned. They set forth with ships from the
islands of the northern seas, and came forward with the tide to the
Cantyre headland. The green surges of the tremendous sea rose about
them, and a mighty storm rose against them. Such was the strength of the
storm that the fleet was parted in three. A third of them, with the son
of Amargin, came under the cliffs of Fair Head, to the Bay of Murbolg,
where huge columns tower upward on the face of the cliff, high as the
nests of the eagles; cliffs ruddy and mighty, frowning tremendous across
the channel to Cantyre and Islay and far-away Jura. A third of the ships
came to the safer harbor of Larne, where bands of white seam the cliff's
redness, where the great headland is thrust forth northwards, sheltering
the bay from the eastern waves. A third of the fleet came to the strand
beside Dundelga, hard by the great hill of earth where was reared the
stronghold of Cuculain.
At that same time came Concobar with a thousand men to the fort of
Cuculain, and feasting was prepared for him at the House of Delga. Nor
was Concobar long there till he saw the bent spars of sails and the
full-crewed ships, and the scarlet pavilions, and the many-colored
banners, and the blue bright lances, and the weapons of war. Then
Concobar called on the chiefs that were about him, for the territory
and land he had bestowed upon them, and for the jewels he had given
them, to stand firm and faithful. For he knew not whether the ships were
ships of his foes, of the Galian of Lagin, now called Leinster, or the
Munstermen of great Muma, or the men of Olnemact, called afterwards
Connacht; for the estuary of the river and the strand were full of men.
Then Senca son of Ailill answered for the chieftains: "I give my word,
indeed, that Erin holds not a soldier who lays his hand in the hand of a
chieftain that is not known to me. If they be the men of Erin thy foes
that are there, I shall ask a truce of battle from them; but if they be
thy friends and allies, thou shalt the more rejoice."
Then Senca son of Ailill went forward to the place where the ships were,
and learned that they were the friends in absence of Concobar, come to
be his allies against the four provinces of Erin. Then Concobar spoke
"Well, O Cuculain, let the horses of the plain of Murtemni be caught by
thee; let four-wheeled chariots be harnessed for them; bring with them
hither my friends from the ships in chariots and four-wheeled cars,
that feasting and enjoyment may be prepared for them."
[Illustration: Gray Man's Path, Fair Head.]
They were brought in chariots to the feast, and carvers carved for them,
and serving-men carried the cups of mead. Songs were sung to them, and
they tarried there till sunrise on the morrow. Then Concobar spoke again
"It is well, Cuculain. Let messengers now be sent through the lands of
the Ulaid to the warriors of the Ulaid, that the foreign friends may be
ministered to by them also, while I make my camp here by the river. And
bid the thrice fifty veteran champions come hither to me, that I may
have their aid and counsel in battle."
But Cuculain would not. Therefore Concobar went himself to summon the
veterans. When they asked the cause of his coming, Concobar answered,
"Have you not heard how the four provinces of Erin came against us,
bringing with them their bards and singers, that their ravages and
devastations might the better be recorded, and burning and plundering
our fortresses and dwellings? Therefore I would make an expedition of
hostility against them, and with your guidance and counsel would I make
"Let our old steeds be caught by thee," they answered, "and let our old
chariots be yoked by thee, so that we may go on this journey and
expedition with thee." Then their old chargers were caught, and their
old chariots yoked, so that they too came to the camp at the Water
This was told to the four provinces. The Three Waves of Erin thundered
in the night; the Wave of Clidna at Glandore in the South; the Wave of
Rudraige along the bent-carpeted sandhills of Dundrum, under the
Mountains of Mourne; and the Wave of Tuag Inbir, at the bar of northern
Bann. For these are the Three Waves of Fate in Erin. Then the four
provinces hosted their men. The son of Lucta, the north Munster king,
assembled his tribes at the Hill of Luchra, between the Shannon mouth
and the Summit of Prospects. Ailill and Meave hosted the men of the west
at Cruacan. Find, son of Ros, king over the Galian of Leinster, gathered
his army at Dinn-Rig by the Barrow. Cairpre Nia Fer assembled his host
about him at Tara, in the valley of the Boyne.
This was the proposal of Eocu, son of Lucta, king of north Munster by
the Shannon: That everything should have its payment, and that
reparation should be made to Concobar for the invasion; that a fort
should be paid for every fort, for every house a house, for every cow a
cow, for every bull a bull; that the great brown bull should be sent
back, that the breadth of the face of the bull in red gold should be
given to Concobar, and that there should be no more hostility among the
men of Erin.
This was reported to Meave, but the queen answered, "A false hand was
his who gave this counsel. For so long as there shall be among us one
who can hold a sword, who can wear the shield-strap about his neck, that
proposal shall not go to him."
"Thy counsel is not mine," replied Ailill, "for not greater shall be our
part of that payment than the part of all the four provinces who went on
that raid for the bull." Therefore Meave consented, and messengers were
sent, and came to Tara by the Boyne, where were Find, son of Ros, king
of Leinster, and his brother Cairpre Nia Fer, king of Tara. Thence they
sent messengers to treat with Concobar, but Concobar rejected the terms.
"I give my word, indeed," answered Concobar, "that I will not take terms
from you till my tent has been pitched in every province of Erin."
"Good, O Concobar," they replied; "where wilt thou now make thy
"In the Headland of the Kings, by the clear bright Boyne," answered
Concobar, for Concobar concealed not ever from his enemy the place in
which he would take station or camp, that they might not say that it was
fear or dread that caused him not to say it. Concobar, therefore,
marched toward the Headland of the Kings, across the Boyne to the
southward, and facing the northern bank where are the pyramids of the
Dagda Mor and the De Danaans. But the southern armies were there
already, so Concobar halted before the river. Then were their positions
fixed and their pavilions pitched, their huts and their tents were made.
Their fires were kindled, cooking and food and drink were prepared;
baths of clean bathing were made by them, and their hair was
smooth-combed; their bodies were minutely cleansed, supper and food were
eaten by them; and tunes and merry songs and eulogies were sung by them.
Then Concobar sent men to reconnoitre the southern and western armies.
Two went and returned not, falling indeed into the hands of the foe. It
seemed long to Concobar that the two were gone. He spoke, therefore, to
his kinsman: "Good indeed, Irgalac, son of Macclac, son of Congal, son
of Rudraige, sayest thou who is proper to go to estimate and to
reconnoitre the army?"
"Who should go there," answered Irgalac, "but Iriel good at arms,
great-kneed son of Conall Cernac. He is a Conall for havoc, a Cuculain
for dexterity of feats. He is a Catbad, a right-wonderful Druid, for
intelligence and counsel, he is a Senca son of Ailill for peace and for
good speech, he is a Celtcair son of Utecar for valor, he is a Concobar
son of Factna Fatac for kingliness and wide-eyed-ness, for giving of
treasures and of wealth and of riches. Who but Iriel should go?"
Therefore Iriel went forward: standing on the pyramid of the Dagda, he
began measuring and reconnoitering the army. His spirit, or his mind, or
his thoughts did not fret over them at all. He brought their description
with him to the place in which Concobar was.
"How, my life, Iriel?" said Concobar. "I give my word truly," said
Iriel; "it seems to me that there is not ford on river, or stone on
hill, nor highway nor road in the territory of Breg or Mide, that is not
full of their horse-teams and of their servants. It seems to me that
their apparel and their gear and their garments are the blaze of a royal
house from the plain."
"Good, O Ulaid," said Concobar, "what is your advice to us for the
battle?" "Our advice is," said the Ulaid, "to wait till our strong men
and our leaders and our commanders and our supporters of battle come."
Not long was their waiting, and not great was their stay, till they saw
three chariot-warriors approaching them, and a band of twelve hundred
along with each rider of them. It is these that were there--three of the
goodly men of science of the Ulaid, to wit, Catbad the right-wonderful
Druid, and Aiterni the Importunate, and Amargin the man of science and
art. After them came other valiant leaders with troops. Then Concobar
arose and took his gear of battle and of conflict and of combat about
him, saying, "Why should we not give battle?"
A third of the army of the Ulaid rose with him, too. And they went over
the river Boyne. And the other armies arose against them as they were
crossing the river. And each of them took to hacking and to cutting down
the other, destroying and wounding till there was no similitude of the
Ulaid at that point of time, unless it were a huge sturdy oakwood in
the middle of the plain, and a great army were to go close to it, and
the slender and the small of the wood were cut off, but its huge sturdy
oaks were left behind. Thus their young were cut off, and none but their
champions and their battle-warriors and their good heroes of valor
The shield of Concobar was struck so that it moaned, and the three Waves
of Erin, the Wave of Clidna, the Wave of Rudraige, and the Wave of Tuag
Inbir echoed that moan, and all the shields of the Ulaid resounded,
every one of them that was on their shoulders and in their chariots. As
the Ulaid were retreating, fresh troops came up for them under Conall
Cernac. A tree of shelter and a wreath of laurel and a hand above them
was Conall to them. So their flight was stayed. Then Conall drew the
sharp long sword out of its sheath of war and played the music of his
sword on the armies. The ring of Conall's sword was heard through the
battalions on both sides. And when they heard the music of Conall's
sword their hearts quaked and their eyes fluttered and their faces
whitened, and each of them withdrew back into his place of battle and of
combat. But so fierce was the onset of the southern armies that the
fight of the Ulaid against them was as a breast against a great flood,
or an arrow against the rock, or the striking of a head against cliffs.
Yet through the great might of Cuculain the Ulaid prevailed, and Cairpre
the King of Tara was slain. After the battle, Concobar spoke thus:
"There were three sons of Ros Ruad the king--Find in Alend, Ailill in
Cruac, Cairpre in Tara; together they performed their deeds of valor,
the three brothers in every strife; together they used to give their
battle. They were three pillars of gold about their hills, abiding in
strength; great is their loss since the third son has fallen."
FIND AND OSSIN.
Seventeen centuries ago, two hundred summers after the death of Cuculain
the hero, came the great and wonderful time of Find the son of Cumal,
Ossin the son of Find, and Find's grandson Oscur. It was a period of
growth and efflorescence; the spirit and imaginative powers of the
people burst forth with the freshness of the prime. The life of the land
was more united, coming to a national consciousness.
The five kingdoms were now clearly defined, with Meath, in the central
plain, predominant over the others, and in a certain sense ruling all
Ireland from the Hill of Tara. The code of honor was fixed; justice had
taken well-defined forms; social life had ripened to genial urbanity.
The warriors were gathered together into something like a regular army,
a power rivaling the kings. Of this army, Find, son of Cumal, was the
most renowned leader--a warrior and a poet, who embodied in himself the
very genius of the time, its fresh naturalness, its ripeness, its
imagination. No better symbol of the spirit of his age could be found
than Find's own "Ode to Spring":
"May-day! delightful time! How beautiful the color! The blackbirds sing
their full lay. Would that Laigay were here! The cuckoos call in
constant strains. How welcome is ever the noble brightness of the
season. On the margin of the leafy pools the summer swallows skim the
stream. Swift horses seek the pools. The heath spreads out its long
hair. The white, gentle cotton-grass grows. The sea is lulled to rest.
Flowers cover the earth."
Find's large and imaginative personality is well drawn in one of the
poems of his golden-tongued son Ossin, though much of the beauty of
Ossin's form is lost in the change of tongue:
"Six thousand gallant men of war
We sought the rath o'er Badamar;
To the king's palace home we bent
Our way. His bidden guests we went.
'Twas Clocar Fair,
And Find was there,
The Fians from the hills around
Had gathered to the race-course ground.
From valley deep and wooded glen
Fair Munster sent its mighty men;
And Fiaca, Owen's son, the king,
Was there the contest witnessing.
'Twas gallant sport! With what delight
Leaped thousand pulses at the sight.
How all hearts bound
As to the ground
First are brought forth the Fian steeds,
Then those from Luimnea's sunny meads.
Three heats on Mac Mareda's green
They run; and foremost still is seen
Dill Mac Decreca's coal-black steed.
At Crag-Lochgur he takes the lead.
"His is the day--and, lo! the king
The coal-black steed soliciting
From Dill the Druid!--'Take for it
A hundred beeves; for it is fit
The black horse should be mine to pay
Find for his deeds of many a day.'
"Then spoke the Druid, answering
His grandson, Fiaca the king:
'Take my blessing; take the steed,
For the hero's fitting meed:
Give it for thy honor's sake.'
And to Find the King thus spake
"'Hero, take the swift black steed,
Of thy valor fitting meed;
And my car, in battle-raid
Gazed on by the foe with fear;
And a seemly steed for thy charioteer.
Chieftain, be this good sword thine,
Purchased with a hundred kine,
In thine hand be it our aid.
Take this spear, whose point the breath
Of venomed words has armed with death,
And the silver-orbed shield,
Sunbeam of the battlefield!
And take with thee
My grayhounds three,
Slender and tall,
Take them with thee, chieftain bold,
With their chainlets light
Of the silver white,
And their neck-rings of the tawny gold.
Slight not thou our offering,
Son of Cumal, mighty king!"
"Uprose Find our chieftain bold,
Stood before the Fian ranks,
To the king spoke gracious thanks,
Took the gifts the monarch gave;
Then each to each these champions brave
Glorious sight to see and tell,
Spoke their soldier-like farewell!
"The way before us Find led then;
We followed him, six thousand men,
From out the Fair, six thousand brave,
To Caicer's house of Cloon-na-Dave.
"Three nights, three days, did all of us
Keep joyous feast in Caicer's house;
Fifty rings of the yellow gold
To Caicer Mac Caroll our chieftain told;
As many cows and horses gave
To Caicer Mac Caroll our chieftain brave.
Well did Find of Innisfail
Pay the price of his food and ale.
"Find rode o'er the Luacra, joyous man,
Till he reached the strand at Barriman;
At the lake where the foam on the billow's top
Leaps white, did Find and the Fians stop.
"'Twas then that our chieftain rode and ran
Along the strand of Barriman;
Trying the speed
Of his swift black steed,--
Who now but Find was a happy man?
"Myself and Cailte at each side,
In wantonness of youthful pride,
Would ride with him where he might ride.
Fast and furious rode he,
Urging his steed to far Tralee.
On from Tralee by Lerg duv-glass,
And o'er Fraegmoy, o'er Finnass,
O'er Moydeo, o'er Monaken,
On to Shan-iber, o'er Shan-glen,
Till the clear stream of Flesk we win,
And reach the pillar of Crofinn;
O'er Sru-Muny, o'er Moneket,
And where the fisher spreads his net
To snare the salmon of Lemain,
And thence to where our coursers' feet
Wake the glad echoes of Loch Leane;
And thus fled he,
Nor slow were we;
Through rough and smooth our course we strain.
"Long and swift our stride,--more fleet
Than the deer of the mountain our coursers' feet!
Away to Flesk by Carnwood dun;
And past Mac Scalve's Mangerton,
Till Find reached Barnec Hill at last;
There rested he, and then we passed
Up the high hill before him, and:
'Is there no hunting hut at hand?'
He thus addressed us; 'The daylight
Is gone, and shelter for the night
We lack.' He scarce had ended, when
Gazing adown the rocky glen,
On the left hand, just opposite,
He saw a house with its fire lit;
'That house till now I've never seen,
Though many a time and oft I've been
In this wild glen. Come, look at it!'
"Yes, there are things that our poor wit
Knows little of,' said Cailte; 'thus
This may be some miraculous
Hostel we see, whose generous blaze
Thy hospitality repays,
Large-handed son of Cumal!'--So
On to the house all three we go...."
Of their entry to the mysterious house, of the ogre and the witch they
found there, of the horrors that gathered on all sides, when
"From iron benches on the right
Nine headless bodies rose to sight,
And on the left, from grim repose,
Nine heads that had no bodies rose,..."
Ossin likewise tells, and how, overcome, they fell at last into a
deathlike trance and stupor, till the sunlight woke them lying on the
heathery hillside, the house utterly vanished away.
The scenes of all the happenings in the story are well known: the rath
of Badamar is near Caher on the Suir, in the midst of the Golden Vale, a
plain of wonderful richness and beauty, walled in by the red precipices
of the Galtee Mountains, and the Knock-Mealdown Hills. From the rath of
Badamar Find could watch the western mountains reddening and glowing in
front of the dawn, as the sun-rays shot level over the burnished plain.
Clocar is thirty miles westward over the Golden Vale, near where Croom
now stands; and here were run the races; here Find gained the gift of
the coal-black steed. It is some forty miles still westwards to the
Strand of Tralee; the last half of the way among hills carpeted with
heather; and the Strand itself, with the tide out, leaves a splendid
level of white sand as far as the eye can reach, tempting Find to try
his famous courser. The race carried them southwards some fifteen miles
to the beautiful waters of Lough Leane, with its overhanging wooded
hills, the Lake of Killarney, southward of which rises the huge red
mass of Mangerton, in the midst of a country everywhere rich in beauty.
The Hill of Barnec is close by, but the site of the magic dwelling, who
can tell? Perhaps Find; or Cailte, or golden-tongued Ossin himself.
There was abundant fighting in those days, for well within memory was
the time of Conn of the Five-score Fights, against whom Cumal had warred
because Conn lord of Connacht had raised Crimtan of the Yellow Hair to
the kingship of Leinster. Cumal fought at the Rath that bears his name,
now softened to Rathcool, twelve miles inward from the sea at Dublin,
with the hills rising up from the plain to the south of the Rath. Cumal
fought and fell, slain by Goll Mac Morna, and enmity long endured
between Find and Goll who slew his sire. But like valiant men they were
reconciled, and when Goll in his turn died, Find made a stirring poem on
Goll's mighty deeds.
Another fateful fight for Find was the battle of Kinvarra, among the
southern rocks of Galway Bay; for though he broke through the host of
his foeman Uince, that chieftain himself escaped, and, riding swiftly
with a score of men, came to Find's own dwelling at Druim Dean on the
Red Hills of Leinster, and burned the dwelling, leaving it a smoldering
ruin. Find pursuing, overtook them, slaying them at the ford called to
this day Ath-uince, the ford of Uince. Returning homewards, Find found
his house desolate, and the song he sang still holds the memory of
Two poems he made, on the Plain of Swans and on Roirend in Offaly, full
of vivid pictures and legends; and one of romantic tragedy, telling how
the two daughters of King Tuatal Tectmar were treacherously slain,
through the malice of the Leinster king. But of romances and songs of
fair women in the days of Find, the best is the Poem of Gael, who
composed it to win a princess for his bride.
Of fair Crede of the Yellow Hair it was said that there was scarce a gem
in all Erin that she had not got as a love-token, but that she would
give her heart to none. Crede had vowed that she would marry the man who
made the best verses on her home, a richly-adorned dwelling in the
south, under the twin cones of the Paps, and within sight of Lough Leane
and Killarney. Cael took up the challenge, and invoking the Genius that
dwelt in the sacred pyramid of Brugh on the Boyne he made these verses,
and came to recite them to yellow-haired Crede:
"It would be happy for me to be in her home,
Among her soft and downy couches,
Should Crede deign to hear me;
Happy for me would be my journey.
A bowl she has, whence berry-juice flows,
With which she colors her eyebrows black;
She has clear vessels of fermenting ale;
Cups she has, and beautiful goblets.
The color of her house is white like lime;
Within it are couches and green rushes;
Within it are silks and blue mantles;
Within it are red gold and crystal cups.
Of its sunny chamber the corner stones
Are all of silver and yellow gold,
Its roof in stripes of faultless order
Of wings of brown and crimson red.
Two doorposts of green I see,
Nor is the door devoid of beauty;
Of carved silver,--long has it been renowned,--
Is the lintel that is over the door.
Crede's chair is on your right hand,
The pleasantest of the pleasant it is;
All over a blaze of Alpine gold,
At the foot of her beautiful couch...
The household which is in her house
To the happiest fate has been destined;
Grey and glossy are their garments;
Twisted and fair is their flowing hair.
Wounded men would sink in sleep,
Though ever so heavily teeming with blood,
With the warbling of the fairy birds
From the eaves of her sunny summer-room.
If I am blessed with the lady's grace,
Fair Crede for whom the cuckoo sings,
In songs of praise shall ever live,
If she but repay me for my gift....
There is a vat of royal bronze,
Whence flows the pleasant; nice of malt;
An apple-tree stands over the vat,
With abundance of weighty fruit.
When Crede's goblet is filled
With the ale of the noble vat,
There drop down into the cup forthwith
Four apples at the same time.
The four attendants that have been named,
Arise and go to the distributing,
They present to four of the guests around
A drink to each man and an apple.
She who possesses all these things,
With the strand and the stream that flow by them,
Crede of the three-pointed hill,
Is a spear-cast beyond the women of Erin.
Here is a poem for her,--no mean gift.
It is not a hasty, rash composition;
To Crede now it is here presented:
May my journey be brightness to her!"
[Illustration: Colleen Bawn Caves, Klllarney.]
Tradition says that the heart of the yellow-haired beauty was utterly
softened and won, so that she delayed not to make Cael master of the
dwelling he so well celebrated; master, perhaps, of all the jewels of
Erin that her suitors had given her. Yet their young love was not
destined to meet the storms and frosts of the years; for Cael the
gallant fell in battle, his melodious lips for ever stilled. Thus have
these two become immortal in song.
We have seen Cailte with Ossin following Find in his wild ride through
the mountains of Killarney, and to Cailte is attributed the saying that
echoes down the ages: "There are things that our poor wit knows nothing
off!" Cailte was a great lover of the supernatural, yet there was in him
also a vein of sentiment, shown in his poem on the death of
Clidna--"Clidna the fair-haired, long to be remembered," who was
tragically drowned at Glandore harbor in the south, and whose sad wraith
still moans upon the bar, in hours of fate for the people of Erin.
In a gayer vein is the poem of Fergus the Eloquent, who sang the legend
of Tipra Seangarmna, the Fountain of the Feale River, which flows
westward to the sea from the mountains north of Killarney. The river
rises among precipices, gloomy caverns and ravines, and passes through
vales full of mysterious echoes amid mist-shrouded hills. There, as
Fergus sings, were Ossin and his following hunting, when certain ominous
fair women lured them to a cave,--women who were but insubstantial
wraiths,--to hold them captive till the seasons ran full circle, summer
giving place again to winter and spring. But Ossin, being himself of
more than human wisdom, found a way to trick the spirits; for daily he
cut chips from his spear and sent them floating down the spring, till
Find at last saw them, and knew the tokens as Ossin's, and, coming,
delivered his son from durance among ghosts.
The great romantic theme of the time binds the name of Find, son of
Cumal, with that of Cormac, son of Art, and grandson of Conn of the
Five-score Battles. This Cormac was himself a notable man of wisdom, and
here are some of the Precepts he taught to Cairbre, his son:
"O grandson of Conn, O Cormac," Cairbre asked him, "what is good for a
"This is plain," answered Cormac. "It is good for him to have patience
and not to dispute, self-government without anger, affability without
haughtiness, diligent attention to history, strict observance of
covenants and agreements, justice tempered by mercy in the execution of
the laws. It is good for him to make fertile land, to invite ships, to
import jewels of price from across the sea, to purchase and distribute
raiment, to keep vigorous swordsmen who may protect his territory, to
make war beyond his territory, to attend to the sick, to discipline his
soldiers. Let him enforce fear, let him perfect peace, let him give mead
and wine, let him pronounce just judgments of light, let him speak all
truth, for it is through the truth of a king that God gives
"O grandson of Conn, O Cormac," Cairbre again asked him, "what is good
for the welfare of a country?"
"This is plain," answered Cormac. "Frequent assemblies of wise and good
men to investigate its affairs, to abolish every evil and retain every
wholesome institution, to attend to the precepts of the seniors; let
every assembly be convened according to the law, let the law be in the
hands of the noblest, let the chieftains be upright and unwilling to
oppress the poor."
"O grandson of Conn, O Cormac," again asked Cairbre, "what are duties of
a prince in the banqueting-house?"
"A prince on the Day of Spirits should light his lamps and welcome his
guests with clapping of hands, offering comfortable seats; the
cup-bearers should be active in distributing meat and drink. Let there
be moderation of music, short stories, a welcoming countenance, a
greeting for the learned, pleasant conversation. These are the duties
of a prince and the arrangement of a banqueting-house."
"O grandson of Conn, O Cormac, for what qualifications is a king elected
over countries and tribes of people?"
"From the goodness of his shape and family, from his experience and
wisdom, from his prudence and magnanimity, from his eloquence and
bravery in battle, and from the number of his friends."
"O grandson of Conn, O Cormac, what was thy deportment when a youth?"
"I was cheerful at the banquet of the House of Mead, I was fierce in
battle, but vigilant and careful. I was kind to friends, a physician to
the sick, merciful to the weak, stern toward the headstrong. Though
possessed of knowledge, I loved silence. Though strong, I was not
overbearing. Though young, I mocked not the old. Though valiant, I was
not vain. When I spoke of one absent I praised and blamed him not, for
by conduct like this are we known to be courteous and refined."
"O grandson of Conn, O Cormac, what is good for me?"
"If thou attend to my command, thou wilt not scorn the old though thou
art young, nor the poor though thou art well clad, nor the lame though
thou art swift, nor the blind though thou seest, nor the weak though
thou art strong, nor the ignorant though thou art wise. Be not slothful,
be not passionate, be not greedy, be not idle, be not jealous; for he
who is so is hateful to God and man."
"O grandson of Conn, O Cormac, I would know how to hold myself with the
wise and the foolish, with friends and strangers, with old and young."
"Be not too knowing or simple, too proud or inactive, too humble or
haughty, talkative or too silent, timid or too severe. For if thou art
too knowing, thou wilt be mocked at and abused; if too simple, thou wilt
be deceived; if proud, thou wilt be shunned; if too humble, thou wilt
suffer; if talkative, thou wilt be thought foolish; if too severe, men
will speak ill of thee; if timid, thy rights will suffer."
"O grandson of Conn, O Cormac, how shall I discern the characters of
"I know them, but I cannot describe them. Their counsel is foolish, they
are forgetful of love, most headstrong in their desires, fond of folly,
prone to enter rashly into engagements, given to swearing, proud to be
asked in marriage, tenacious of enmity, cheerless at the banquet,
rejectors of reconciliation, prone to strife, of much garrulity. Until
evil be good, until hell be heaven, until the sun hide his light, until
the stars of heaven fall, women will remain as we have declared. Woe to
him, my son, who desires or serves a bad woman, woe to him who has a
Was there some thought of his daughter Grania in Cormac's mind, behind
these keen-edged; words?--of Grania, beloved of Diarmuid? When the
winters of the years were already white on Find, son of Cumal, when
Ossin his son had a son of his own, Oscur the valiant, the two old men,
Cormac the king and Find leader of the warriors, bethought them to make
a match between Find and Grania, one of the famous beauties of the olden
time. A banquet was set in the great House of Mead, and Find and his men
were there, Diarmuid son of Duibne being also there, best beloved among
Find's warriors. There was a custom, much in honor among the chieftains,
that a princess should send her goblet to the guests, offering it to
each with gentle courtesy. This grace fell to the lady Grania, whose
whole heart rose up against her grey-bearded lover, and was indeed set
on Diarmuid the son of Duibne. Grania compounded a dreamy draught to
mix with the mead, so that all the chieftains and warriors, with Cormac
and Find himself, even while praising the drink, fell straightway
a-nodding, and were soon in silent sleep, all except Ossin and Diarmuid,
whom Grania had bidden not to drink.
Then Grania, her voice all tremulous with tears, told to Ossin the fate
that awaited her, looking at him, but speaking for Diarmuid; bewailing
bitterly the misery of fair youth in the arms of withered eld, and at
last turning and openly begging Diarmuid to save her from her fate. To
carry away a king's daughter, betrothed to the leader of the warriors,
was a perilous thing, and Diarmuid's heart stood still at the thought of
it; yet Grania's tears prevailed, and they two fled forth that night to
the hills and forests. Dire and ruinous was the wrath of Cormac and of
Find when they awoke and found that these two were fled; and whatever
might was in the king's hand, whatever power in the hosts of Find, was
straightway turned against them in pursuit. Yet the two fled as the deer
might fly, visiting with their loves every wood and valley in Erin, till
the memory of them lingers throughout all the hills. Finally, after a
year's joyful and fearsome fleeing, the Fian warriors everywhere aiding
them for love of Diarmuid, swift death came upon Diarmuid, and Grania
was left desolate.
But Angus the Ever-Young, guardian Genius of the pyramid-shrine of Brugh
by the Boyne, De Danaan dweller in the secret house, Angus of the
Immortals received the spirit of Diarmuid, opening for him the ways of
the hidden world.
But enmity grew between Find with his warriors and Cormac the king, till
at last a battle was fought where Find's men fell, and Cairbre, the
well-instructed son of Cormac also fell. Thus passed away the ruling
spirits of that age, the flowering time of the genius of Erin.
THE MESSENGER OF THE NEW WAY.
The valor of Fergus and Cuculain, the rich imaginative life of Find and
Ossin, were the flower of heroic centuries. Strong men had fought for
generations before Concobar reigned at Emain of Maca. Poets had sung
their deeds of valor, and the loves of fair women, and the magical
beauty of the world, through hardly changing ages. The heroes of fame
were but the best fruit in the garden of the nation's life. So ripe was
that life, more than two thousand years ago, that it is hard to say what
they did not know, of the things which make for amenity and comity. The
colors of the picture are everywhere rich, yet perfectly harmonized.
The earliest forms of Irish writing seem to have come from the Baltic
runes, and these, in their turn, from an old Greek script of twenty-five
hundred years ago. The runes spread as far as the Orkneys, and there
they were well within the horizon of Ireland's knowledge. Nothing would
be more natural than the keeping of written records in Erin for three
or four hundred years before Cuculain's birth, nineteen hundred
The arts of life were very perfect; the gold-work of that time is
unsurpassed--has never been surpassed. At a far earlier time there were
beautifully moulded and decorated gold-bronze spears, that show what
richness of feeling and imagination, what just taste and fine skill were
there. All our knowledge goes to show that the suitor of Crede has drawn
a true picture of her house and the generous social life belonging to
it. We know, too, that the great dining-hall of Tara has been faithfully
celebrated by the bards; the picture of the king in his scarlet cloak is
representative of the whole epoch.
The story of Crede also shows the freedom and honor accorded to women,
as does the queenship of Meave, with the record of her separate riches.
The tragedies of Deirdre and Grania would never have been remembered,
had not the freedom and high regard of women been universal. Such
decorative skill as is shown in the metal-work and pottery that have
come down to us must have borne fruit in every realm of social life, in
embroideries, tapestries, well-designed and beautifully adorned homes.
Music is everywhere spoken of in the old traditions, and the skill of
the poets we can judge for ourselves.
In all that concerns the natural man, therefore, a very high perfection
had been reached. A frame of life had grown habitual, which brought out
the finest vigor and strength and beauty. Romantic love added its riches
to valor, and dignity was given by the ever-present memory of the heroic
past, merging on the horizon with the divine dawn of the world. Manhood
and womanhood had come to perfect flower. The crown rested on the brow
of the nation's life.
When the life of the natural man is perfected, the time comes to strike
the note of the immortal, to open the door of our real and enduring
destiny. Sensual success, the ideal of unregenerate man, was perfectly
realized in Concobar and ten thousand like him. The destiny of
triumphant individual life, the strong man victorious over nature and
other men, was fulfilled. Individual prowess, individual accomplishment,
could go no further.
Nor should we overlook the dark shadows of the picture. Glory is to the
victor, but woe to the vanquished. The continual warfare between tribe
and tribe, between chief and chief, which made every valley a home of
warriors dominated by a rath-fortress, bore abundant fruits of evil.
Death in battle need not be reckoned, or may be counted as pure gain;
but the fate of the wounded, maimed and miserable, the destitution of
women and children left behind, the worse fate of the captives, sold as
they were into exile and slavery,--all these must be included in
Nor are these material losses the worst. The great evil of the epoch of
tribal war is its reaction on the human spirit. The continual struggle
of ambition draws forth egotism, the desire to dominate for mere
domination, the sense of separation and antagonism between man and man,
tribe and tribe, province and province.
But our real human life begins only when these evil tendencies are
abated; when we learn to watch the life of others as if it were our
own,--as being indeed a part of our own life,--and in every act and
motion of our minds do only that which shall be to the best advantage of
both ourselves and our neighbor. For only thus, only by the incessant
practice of this in imagination and act, can the door of our wider and
more humane consciousness be opened.
[Illustration: Ruins on Scattery Island.]
Nor is this all. There are in us vast unexplored tracts of power and
wisdom; tracts not properly belonging to our personal and material
selves, but rather to the impersonal and universal consciousness which
touches us from within, and which we call divine. Our personal fate is
closed by death; but we have a larger destiny which death does not
touch; a destiny enduring and immortal. The door to this larger destiny
can only be opened after we have laid down the weapons of egotism; after
we have become veritably humane. There must be a death to militant
self-assertion, a new birth to wide and universal purposes, before this
larger life can be understood and known.
With all the valor and rich life of the days of Cuculain and Ossin, the
destructive instinct of antagonism was very deeply rooted in all hearts;
it did endless harm to the larger interests of the land, and laid
Ireland open to attack from without. Because the genius of the race was
strong and highly developed, the harm went all the deeper; even now,
after centuries, it is not wholly gone.
The message of the humane and the divine, taught among the Galilean
hills and on the shores of Gennesaret, was after four centuries brought
to Ireland--a word of new life to the warriors and chieftains,
enkindling and transforming their heroic world. Britain had received
the message before, for Britain was a part of the dominion of Rome,
which already had its imperial converts. Roman life and culture and
knowledge of the Latin tongue had spread throughout the island up to the
northern barrier between the Forth and Clyde. Beyond this was a
wilderness of warring tribes.
Where the Clyde comes forth from the plain to the long estuary of the
sea, the Messenger of the Tidings was born. His father, Calpurn, was a
Roman patrician; from this his son, whose personal name was Succat, was
surnamed Patricius, a title raised by his greatness into a personal
name. His letters give us a vivid picture of his captivity, and the
stress of life which gradually aroused in him the inspiration of the
humane and divine ripened later into a full knowledge of his apostolate.
"I Patricius, a sinner," he writes, "and most unlearned of believers,
looked down upon by many, had for my father the deacon Calpurn, son of
the elder Potitus, of a place called Bannova in Tabernia, near to which
was his country home. There I was taken captive, when not quite sixteen.
I knew not the Eternal. Being led into captivity with thousands of
others, I was brought to Ireland,--a fate well deserved. For we had
turned from the Eternal, nor kept the laws of the Eternal. Nor had we
heeded the teachers who urged us to seek safety. Therefore the Eternal,
justly wroth, scattered us among unbelievers, to the uttermost parts of
the earth; here, where my poor worth is now seen among strangers, where
the Eternal liberated the power hid in my unenkindled heart, that even
though late I should recognize my error, and turn with all my heart to
"I have long had it in mind to write, but until now have hesitated; for
I feared blame, because I had not studied law and the sacred
writings,--as have others who have never changed their language, but
gone on to perfection in it; but my speech is translated into another
language, and the roughness of my writing shows how little I have been
taught. As the Sage says, 'Show by thy speech thy wisdom and knowledge
and learning.' But what profits this excuse? since all can see how in my
old age I struggle after what I should have learned as a boy. For then
my sinfulness hindered me. I was but a beardless boy when I was taken
captive, not knowing what to do and what to avoid; therefore I am
ashamed to show my ignorance now? because I never learned to express
great matters succinctly and well;--great matters like the moving of the
soul and mind by the Divine Breath.... Nor, indeed, was I worthy that
the Master should so greatly favor me, after all my hard labor and heavy
toil, and the years of captivity amongst this people,--that the Master
should show me such graciousness as I never knew nor hoped for till I
came to Ireland.
"But daily herding cattle here, and aspiring many times a day, the fear
of the Eternal grew daily in me. A divine dread and aspiration grew in
me, so that I often prayed a hundred times a day, and as many times in
the night. I often remained in the woods and on the hills, rising to
pray while it was yet dark, in snow or frost or rain; yet I took no
harm. The Breath of the Divine burned within me, so that nothing
remained in me unenkindled.
"One night, while I was sleeping, I heard a voice saying to me, 'You
have fasted well, and soon you shall see your home and your native
land.' Soon after, I heard the voice again, saying, 'The ship is ready
for you.' But the ship was not near, but two hundred miles off, in a
district I had never visited, and where I knew no one. Therefore I fled,
leaving the master I had served for six years, and found the ship by
divine guidance, going without fear....
"We reached the land after three days' sail; then for twenty-eight days
we wandered through a wilderness.... Once more, after years of exile, I
was at home again with my kindred, among the Britons. All welcomed me
like a son, earnestly begging me that, after the great dangers I had
passed through, I would never again leave my home.
"While I was at home, in a vision of the night I saw one who seemed to
come from Ireland, bringing innumerable letters. He gave me one of the
letters, in which I read, 'The voices of the Irish ...;' and while I
read, it seemed to me that I heard the cry of the dwellers by the forest
of Foclut, by the Western Ocean, calling with one voice to me, 'Come and
dwell with us!' My heart was so moved that I awoke, and I give thanks to
my God who after many years has given to them according to
"On another night, whether within me or without me I know not, God
knows, One prayed with very wonderful words that I could not comprehend,
till at last He said, 'It is He who gave His soul for you, that speaks!'
I awoke for joy. And once in a vision I saw Him praying within me, as it
were; I saw myself, as it were, within myself; and I heard Him praying
urgently and strongly over the inner man; I being meanwhile astonished,
and wondering who thus prayed within me, till at the end He declared
that I should be an overseer for Him....
"I had not believed in the living Divine from childhood, but had
remained in the realm of death until hunger and nakedness and daily
slavery in Ireland--for I came there as a captive--had so afflicted me
that I almost broke down. Yet these things brought good, for through
that daily suffering I was so changed that I work and toil now for the
well-being of others, I who formerly took no care even for myself....
"Therefore I thank Him who kept me faithful in the day of trial, that I
live to offer myself daily as a living offering to Him who saves and
guards me. Well may I say, 'Master, what am I, what is my calling, that
such grace and divine help are given to me--that I am every day raised
to greater power among these unbelievers, while I everywhere praise thy
name? Whatever comes to me, whether happiness or misery, whether good or
evil fortune, I hold it all the same; giving Thee equal thanks for it,
because Thou hast unveiled for me the One, sure and unchanging, in whom
I may for ever believe. So that in these latter days, even though I am
ignorant, I may dare to undertake so righteous a work, and so wonderful,
that makes me like those who, according to His promise, should carry His
message to all people before the end of the world.
"It were long in whole or even in part to tell of my labours, or how the
all-powerful One many times set me free from bondage, and from twelve
perils wherein my life was in danger, and from nameless pitfalls. It
were ill to try the reader too far, when I have within me the Author
himself, who knows all things even before they happen, as He knows me,
His poor disciple. The voice that so often guides me is divine; and
thence it is that wisdom has come to me, who had no wisdom, knowing not
Him, nor the number of my days: thence comes my knowledge and heart's
joy in His great and healing gift, for the sake of which I willingly
left my home and kindred, though they offered me many gifts with tears
"Many of the older people also disapproved, but through divine help I
would not give way. It was no grace of mine, but the divine power in me
that stood out against all, so that I came to bear the Message here
among the people of Ireland, suffering the scorn of those who believed
not, and bearing derision and many persecutions, and even chains. Nay, I
even lost my patrician rank for the good of others. But if I be worthy
to do something for the Divine, I am ready with all my heart to yield
service, even to the death, since it has been permitted that through me
many might be reborn to the divine, and that others might be appointed
to teach them....
"The people of Ireland, who formerly had only their idols and pagan
ritual, not knowing the Master, have now become His children. The sons
of the Scoti and their kings' daughters are now become sons of the
Master and handmaidens of the Anointed. And one nobly born lady among
them, a beautiful woman whom I baptized myself, came soon after to tell
me that she was divinely admonished to live in maidenhood, drawing
nearer to Him. Six days later she entered the grade that all the
handmaidens of the Anointed desire, though their fathers and mothers
would hinder them, reproaching and afflicting them; nevertheless, they
grow in number, so that I know not how many they are, besides widows and
continent women, who suffer most from those who hold them in bondage.
Yet they stand firm, and God grants grace to many of them worthily to
"Therefore I might even leave them, to go among the Britons,--for
willingly would I see my own kindred and my native land again, or even
go as far as Gaul to visit my brothers, and see the faces of my Master's
holy men. But I am bound in the Spirit, and would be unfaithful if I
went. Nor would I willingly risk the fruit of all my work. Yet it is not
I who decide, but the Master, who bid me come hither, to spend my whole
life in serving, as indeed I think I shall....
"Therefore I should ever thank Him who was so tolerant of my ignorance
and sluggishness, so many times; treating me not in anger but as a
fellow-worker, though I was slow to learn the work set for me by the
Spirit. He pitied me amongst many thousands, for he saw that I was very
willing, but did net know how to offer my testimony. For they all
opposed my mission, and talked behind my back, saying, 'He wishes to
risk his life among enemies who know nothing of the Master'; not
speaking maliciously, but opposing me because I was so ignorant. Nor did
I myself at once perceive the power that was in me....
"Thus simply, brothers and fellow-workers for the Master, who with me
have believed, I have told you how it happened that I preached and still
preach, to strengthen and confirm you in aspiration, hoping that we may
all rise yet higher. Let that be my reward, as 'the wise son is the
glory of his father.' You know, and the Master knows, how from my youth
I have lived among you, in aspiration and truth and with single heart;
that I have declared the faith to those among whom I dwell, and still
declare it. The Master knows that I have deceived no man in anything,
nor ever shall, for His sake and His people's. Nor shall I ever arouse
uncharity in them or in any, lest His name should be spoken evil of....
"I have striven in my poor way to help my brothers and the handmaidens
of the Anointed, and the holy women who often volunteered to give me
presents and to lay their jewels on my altar; but these I always gave
back to them, even though they were hurt by it; and I have so lived my
life, for the hope of the life eternal, that none may find the least
cause of offence in my ministry; that my least act might not tarnish my
good name, so that unbelievers might speak evil of me....
"If I have asked of any as much as the value of a shoe, tell me. I will
repay it and more. I rather spent my own wealth on you and among you,
wherever I went, for your sakes, through many dangers, to regions where
no believer had ever come to baptize, to ordain teachers or to confirm
the flock. With the divine help I very willingly and lovingly paid all.
Sometimes I gave presents to the kings,--in giving presents to their
sons who convoyed us, to guard us against being taken captive. Once they
sought to kill me, but my time was not yet come. But they took away all
we possessed, and kept me bound, till the Master liberated me on the
fourteenth day, and all our goods were given back, because of the Master
and of those who convoyed us. You yourselves know what gifts I gave to
those who administer the law through the districts I visited oftenest. I
think I spent not less than the fine of fifteen men among them, in order
that I might come among you. Nor do I regret it, nor count it enough,
for I still spend, and shall ever spend, happy if the Master allows me
to spend my soul for you....For I know certainly that poverty and plain
living are better for me than riches and luxury. The Anointed our Master
was poor for us. I am poorer still, for I could not have wealth if I
wished it. Nor do I now judge myself, for I look forward daily to a
violent death, or to be taken captive and sold into slavery, or some
like end. But I fear none of these ...but let me not lose the flock I
feed for Him, here in the uttermost parts of the earth....
"I am willing for His sake to shed my blood, to go without burial, even
though my body be torn by dogs and wild beasts and the fowls of the air;
for I know that thus I should through my body enrich my soul. And I know
that in that day we shall arise in the brightness of the sun, in the
glory of the Anointed Master, as sons of the divine and co-heirs with
Him, made in His likeness. For the sun we see rises daily by divine
ordinance; but it is not ordained to rise for ever, nor shall its light
last for ever. The sun of this world shall fade, with those that worship
it; but we bow to the spiritual Sun, the Anointed, that shall never
perish, nor they who do His will, but shall endure for ever like the
Anointed himself, who reigns with the Father and the Divine Spirit now
"This I beg, that no believer or servant of the Master, who reads or
receives this writing, which I, Patricius, a sinner and very unlearned,
wrote in Ireland,--I beg that none may say that whatever is good in it
was dictated by my ignorance, but rather that it came from Him. This is
my Confession, before I die."
That is the story of the most vital event in the life of Ireland, in the
words of the man who was chiefly instrumental in bringing it about.
Though an unskilled writer, as he says himself he has nevertheless
succeeded in breathing into every part of his epistle the power and
greatness of his soul, the sense and vivid reality of the divine breath
which stirred in him and transformed him, the spiritual power, humane
and universal, which enkindled him from within; these are the words of a
man who had first-hand knowledge of the things of our deeper life; not a
mere servant of tradition, living on the words and convictions of other
men. He has drawn in large and universal outline the death to
egotism--reached in his case through hunger, nakedness and slavery--and
the new birth from above, the divine Soul enkindling the inner man, and
wakening him to new powers and a knowledge of his genius and
Not less vivid is the sense he conveyed, of the world in which he moved;
the feeling of his dignity as a Roman Patrician, having a share of the
greatness of empire; the sense of a dividing-line between the Christian
realms of Rome and the outer barbarians yet in darkness. Yet the picture
he gives of these outer realms is as certainly true. There are the rival
chieftains, each with his own tribe and his own fort, and bearing the
title of king. They are perpetually striving among themselves, so that
from the province of one he must move to the province of another with an
escort, led by the king's son, who receives gifts in return for this
protection. This is the world of Concobar and Cuculain; of Find and
Ossin, as they themselves have painted it.
The world of Find and Ossin, of Cael and Crede, was marked by a certain
urbanity and freedom, a large-mindedness and imaginative power. We are
therefore prepared to expect that the Messenger of the new life would be
received with openness of mind, and allowed to deliver his message
without any very violent opposition. It was the meeting of unarmed moral
power and armed valor; and the victory of the apostle was a victory of
spiritual force, of character, of large-heartedness; the man himself was
the embodiment of his message, and through his forceful genius his
message was effective. He visibly represented the New Way; the way of
the humane and the divine, transforming the destructive instinct of
self-assertion. He visibly represented the divine and the immortal in
us, the new birth from above.
Yet there were tragedies in his apostolate. In another letter a very
vivid and pathetic account is given of one of these. Coroticus, a
chieftain of Britain, and therefore nominally a Christian and a citizen
of Rome, had sent marauding bands to Ireland to capture slaves. Some of
the new converts were taken captive by these slave-hunters, an outrage
which drew forth an indignant protest from the great Messenger:
"My neophytes in their white robes, the baptismal chrism still wet and
glistening on their foreheads, were taken captive with the sword by
these murderers. The next day I sent letters begging them to liberate
the baptized captives, but they answered my prayer with mocking
laughter. I know not which I should mourn for more,--those who were
slain, those who were taken prisoner, or those who in this were Satan's
instruments, since these must suffer everlasting punishment in
He appeals indignantly to the fellow-Christians of Coroticus in Britain:
"I pray you, all that are righteous and humble, to hold no converse
with those who do these things. Eat not, drink not with them, accept no
gifts from them, until they have repented and made atonement, setting
free these newly-baptized handmaidens of Christ, for whom He died....
They seem to think we are not children of one Father!"
The work and mission of this great man grow daily better known. The
scenes of each marked event are certainly identified. His early slavery,
his time of probation, was spent in Antrim, on the hillside of Slieve
Mish, and in the woods that then covered its flanks and valleys.
Wandering there with his flocks to the hill-top, he looked down over the
green darkness of the woods, with the fertile open country stretching
park-like beyond, to the coast eight miles away. From his lonely summit
he could gaze over the silvery grayness of the sea, and trace on the
distant horizon the headlands of his dear native land. The exile's heart
must have ached to look at them, as he thought of his hunger and
nakedness and toil. There in deep pity came home to him the fate of the
weak ones of the earth, the vanquished, the afflicted, the losers in the
race. Compassion showed him the better way, the way of sympathy and
union, instead of contest and dominion. A firm and fixed purpose grew up
within him to make the appeal of gentleness to the chiefs and rulers, in
the name of Him who was all sympathy for the weak. Thus the inspiration
of the Message awakened his soul to its immortal powers.
Later, returning with the clear purpose of his message formed, he began
his great work not far from his first place of captivity. His strong
personality led him always to the presence of the chiefs and warriors,
and he talked to them freely as an equal, gradually giving them an
insight into his own vision of life, of the kinship between soul and
soul, of our immortal power and inheritance. He appealed always to his
own inner knowledge of things divine, to the light and power unveiled
within himself; and the commanding genius in his words lit a like fire
in the hearts of those who heard, awakening an enthusiasm for the New
Way. He had a constant sense of his divine mission:
"Was it without divine promise, or in the body only, that I came to
Ireland? Who led me? Who took captive my soul, that I should no more see
friends and kindred? Whence came my inspiration of pity for the race
that had enslaved me?"
The memory of his first victories is perpetuated in the name,
Downpatrick,--that is: the Dwelling of Patrick.--where Dicu son of
Tricem, chief of the district, gave him a tract of land to build a place
of meeting and prayer for his disciples; while the church was being
built, the chief offered his barn as a meeting-place, an incident
commemorated in the name of Saul, on a hill above the town,--a name
softened from Sabal, "a barn." This first victory was won among the
rounded hills south of the Quoyle River, where it widens toward
Strangford Lough; from the hill-top of Saul there is a wide prospect
over the reed-covered flats with the river winding among them, the hills
with their oak-woods in the bends of the river, and the widening lough
with its innumerable islands, its sand-flats lit up with red under the
dawn. The sun sets among the mountains of Mourne, flushing from behind
the purple profile of the hills, and sending golden arrows over the rich
fertility of the plain. The year 432 is the probable date of this first
The strong genius of the Messenger carried him after a few months to the
center of power in the land, to Tara with its fortresses, its
earthworks, its great banquet-halls and granaries and well-adorned
dwellings of chief and king. A huge oval earthwork defended the king's
house; northward of this was the splendid House of Mead,--the
banquet-hall, with lesser fortresses beyond it. Southward of the central
dwelling and its defence was the new ringed fort of Laogaire the king,
son of the more famous king Nial of the Hostages. At this circular fort,
Rath-Laogaire, on Easter day, Saint Patrick met the king face to face,
and delivered to him the message of the New Way, telling him of the
unveiling of the Divine within himself, of the voice that had bidden him
come, of the large soul of immortal pity that breathed in the teachings
among the hills of Galilee, of the new life there begun for the world.
Tradition says that the coming of the Messenger had been foretold by the
Druids, and the great work he should accomplish; the wise men of the
West catching the inner brightness of the Light, as the Eastern Magians
had caught it more than four centuries before. The fruits of that day's
teaching in the plain of Tara, in the assembly of Laogaire the king,
were to be gathered through long centuries to come.
In the year 444, the work of the teacher had so thriven that he was able
to build a larger church on a hill above the Callan River, in the
undulating country south of Lough Neagh. This hill, called in the old
days the Hill of the Willows, was only two miles from the famous
fortress of Emain of Maca. It was a gift from the ruler Daire, who, like
so many other chiefs, had felt and acknowledged the Messenger's power.
Later, the hill came to be called Ard-Maca, the Height of Maca; a name
now softened into Armagh, ever since esteemed the central stronghold of
the first Messenger's followers.
The Messenger passed on from chief to chief, from province to province,
meeting with success everywhere, yet facing grave perils. Later
histories take him to the kings of Leinster and Munster, and he himself
tells us that the prayer of the children of Foclut was answered by his
coming, so that he must have reached the western ocean. It was a
tremendous victory of moral force, of the divine and immortal working
through him, that the Messenger was able to move unarmed among the
warriors of many tribes that were often at war with each other;
everywhere meeting the chiefs and kings, and meeting them as an equal:
the unarmed bringer of good tidings confronting the king in the midst of
his warriors, and winning him to his better vision.
For sixty years the Messenger worked, sowing seed and gathering the
fruit of his labor; and at last his body was laid at rest close to his
first church at Saul. Thus one of the great men of the world
accomplished his task.
THE SAINTS AND SCHOLARS.
It would be hard to find in the whole history of early Christianity a
record of greater and more enduring success than the work of St.
Patrick. None of the Messengers of the New Way, as they were called
first by St. Luke, unless the phrase is St. Paul's, accomplished
single-handed so wonderful a work, conquering so large a territory, and
leaving such enduring monuments of his victory. Amongst the world's
masters, the son of Calpurn the Decurion deserves a place with
Not less noteworthy than the wide range of his work was the way in which
he gained success. He addressed himself always to the chiefs, the kings,
the men of personal weight and power. And his address was almost
invariably successful,--a thing that would have been impossible had he
not been himself a personality of singular force and fire, able to meet
the great ones of the land as an equal. His manner was that of an
ambassador, full of tact, knowledge of men and of the world. Nor can we
find in him--or, indeed, in the whole history of the churches founded by
him--anything of that bitter zeal and fanaticism which, nearly two
centuries nearer to apostolic times, marred the work of the Councils
under Constantius; the fierce animosity between Christian and Christian
which marked the Arian controversy. The Apostle of Ireland showed far
more urbanity, far more humane and liberal wisdom, far more gentleness,
humor and good feeling, in his treatment of the pre-Christian
institutions and ideals of Ireland than warring Christian sects have
generally been willing to show to each other.
It was doubtless due to this urbane wisdom that the history of the
conversion of Ireland is without one story of martyrdom. The change was
carried out in open-hearted frankness and good-will, the old order
giving place to the new as gently as spring changes to summer. The most
marvelous example of St. Patrick's wisdom, and at the same time the most
wonderful testimony to his personal force, is his action towards the
existing civil and religious law of the country, commonly known as the
Brehon Law. Principles had by long usage been wrought into the fabric of
the Brehon Laws which were in flat contradiction to St. Patrick's
teaching of the New Way. Instead of fiercely denouncing the whole
system, he talked with the chief jurists and heralds,--custodians of the
old system,--and convinced them that changes in their laws would give
effect to more humane and liberal principles. They admitted the justice
of his view, and agreed to a meeting between three great chieftains or
kings, three Brehons or jurists, and three of St. Patrick's converts, to
revise the whole system of law, substituting the more humane principles,
which they had already accepted as just and right. These changes were
made and universally applied; so that, without any violent revolution,
without strife or bloodshed, the better way became the accepted law. It
would be hard to find in all history a finer example of wisdom and
moderation, of the great and worthy way of accomplishing right ends.
We have seen the great Messenger himself founding monasteries, houses of
religious study, and churches for his converts, on land given to him by
chieftains who were moved by his character and ideals. We can judge of
the immediate spread of his teaching if we remember that these churches
were generally sixty feet long, thus giving room for many worshippers.
They seem to have been built of stone--almost the first use of that
material in Ireland since the archaic days. Among the first churches of
this type were those at Saul, at Donaghpatrick on the Blackwater, and at
Armagh, with others further from the central region of St. Patrick's
work. The schools of learning which grew up beside them were universally
esteemed and protected, and from them came successive generations of men
and women who worthily carried on the work so wisely begun. The tongues
first studied were Latin and Irish. We have works of very early periods
in both, as, for instance, the Latin epistles of St. Patrick himself,
and the Irish poems of the hardly less eminent Colum Kill. But other
languages were presently added.
[Illustration: Valley of Glendalough and Ruins of the Seven Churches.]
These schools and churches gradually made their way throughout the whole
country; some of the oldest of them are still to be seen, as at
Donaghpatrick, Clonmacnoise and Glendalough. Roofed with stone, they are
well fitted to resist the waste of time. An intense spiritual and moral
life inspired the students, a life rich also in purely intellectual and
artistic force. The ancient churches speak for themselves; the artistic
spirit of the time is splendidly embodied in the famous Latin
manuscript of the Gospels, called the Book of Kells, the most beautiful
specimen of illumination in the world. The wonderful colored initial
letters reproduce and develop the designs of the old gold work, the
motives of which came, it would seem, from the Baltic, with the De
Danaan tribes. We can judge of the quiet and security of the early
disciples at Kells, the comfort and amenity of their daily life, the
spirit of comity and good-will, the purity of inspiration of that early
time, by the artistic truth and beauty of these illuminated pages and
the perfection with which the work was done. Refined and difficult arts
are the evidence of refined feeling, abundant moral and spiritual force,
and a certain material security and ease surrounding the artist. When
these arts are freely offered in the service of religion, they are
further evidence of widespread fervor and aspiration, a high and worthy
ideal of life.
Yet we shall be quite wrong if we imagine an era of peace and security
following the epoch of the first great Messenger. Nothing is further
from the truth. The old tribal strife continued for long centuries; the
instincts which inspired it are, even now, not quite outworn. Chief
continued to war against chief, province against province, tribe
against tribe, even among the fervent converts of the first teachers.
Saint Brigid is one of the great figures in the epoch immediately
succeeding the first coming of the Word. She was the foundress of a
school of religious teaching for women at Kildare, or Killdara, "The
Church of the Oak-woods," whose name still records her work. Her work,
her genius, her power, the immense spiritual influence for good which
flowed from her, entitle her to be remembered with the women of
apostolic times, who devoted their whole lives to the service of the
divine. We have seen the esteem in which women were always held in
Ireland. St. Brigid and those who followed in her steps gave effect to
that high estimation, and turned it to a more spiritual quality, so that
now, as in all past centuries, the ideal of womanly purity is higher in
Ireland than in any country in the world.
This great soul departed from earthly life in the year 525, a generation
after the death of the first Messenger. To show how the old order
continued with the new, we may record the words of the Chronicler for
the following year: "526: The battle of Eiblinne, by Muirceartac son of
Erc; the battle of Mag-Ailbe; the battle of Almain; the battle of
Ceann-eic; the plundering of the Cliacs; and the battle of Eidne against
the men of Connacht." Three of these battles were fought at no great
distance from St. Brigid's Convent.
The mediaeval Chronicler quotes the old Annalist for the following year:
"The king, the son of Erc, returned to the side of the descendants of
Nial. Blood reached the girdle in each plain. The exterior territories
were enriched. Seventeen times nine chariots he brought, and long shall
it be remembered. He bore away the hostages of the Ui-Neill with the
hostages of the plain of Munster."
Ten years later we find the two sons of this same king, Muirceartac son
of Erc, by name Fergus and Domnall, fighting under the shadow of
Knocknarea mountain against Eogan Bel the king of Connacht; the ancient
Annalist, doubtless contemporary with the events recorded, thus
commemorated the battle in verse:
"The battle of the Ui-Fiacrac was fought with the fury of edged weapons
"The kine of the enemy roared with the javelins, the battle was spread
out at Crinder;
"The River of Shells bore to the great sea the blood of men with their
"They carried many trophies across Eaba, together with the head of
During this stormy time, which only carried forward the long progress of
fighting since the days of the prime, a famous school of learning and
religion had been founded at Moville by Finian, "the tutor of the saints
of Ireland." The home of his church and school is a very beautiful one,
with sombre mountains behind rising from oak-woods into shaggy masses of
heather, the blue waters of Lough Foyle in front, and across the mouth
of the lough the silver sands and furrowed chalk hills of Antrim,
blending into green plains. Here the Psalms and the Gospels were taught
in Latin to pupils who had in no wise given up their love for the old
poetry and traditions of their motherland. Here Colum studied,
afterwards called Colum Kill, "Saint Colum of the Churches," and here
arose a memorable dispute concerning a Latin manuscript of the Psalms.
The manuscript belonged to Finian, founder of the school, and was
esteemed one of the treasures of his college. Colum, then a young
student, ardently longed for a copy, and, remaining in the church after
service, he daily copied a part of the sacred text. When his work was
completed, Finian discovered it, and at once claimed the copy of his
book as also his. The matter was submitted to an umpire, who gave the
famous decision: "Unto every cow her calf; unto every book its
copy"--the copy belonged to the owner of the book. This early decision
of copyright was by no means acceptable to the student Colum. He
disputed its justice, and the quarrel spread till it resulted in a
battle. The discredit attaching to the whole episode resulted in the
banishment of Colum, who sailed away northward and eastward towards the
isles and fiords of that land which, from the Irish Scoti who civilized
it, now bears the name of Scotland. Let us recall a few verses written
by Colum on his departure, in a version which echoes something of the
original melody and form:
"We are rounding Moy-n-Olurg, we sweep by its head and
We plunge through the Foyle,
Whose swans could enchant with their music the dead and
Make pleasure of toil....
Oh, Erin, were wealth my desire, what a wealth were
To gain far from thee,
In the land of the stranger, but there even health were
A sickness to me!
Alas for the voyage, oh high King of Heaven,
Enjoined upon me,
For that I on the red plain of bloody Cooldrevin
Was present to see.
How happy the son is of Dima; no sorrow
For him is designed,
He is having this hour, round his own Kill in Durrow,
The wish of his mind.
The sound of the wind in the elms, like the strings of
A harp being played,
The note of the blackbird that claps with the wings of
Delight in the glade.
With him in Ros-grenca the cattle are lowing
At earliest dawn,
On the brink of the summer the pigeons are cooing
And doves on the lawn...."
In another measure, he again mourns his exile: "Happy to be on Ben Edar,
before going over the sea; white, white the dashing of the wave against
its face; the bareness of its shore and its border....
"How swiftly we travel; there is a grey eye
Looks back upon Erin, but it no more
Shall see while the stars shall endure in the sky,
Her women, her men, or her stainless shore...."
This great-hearted and impetuous exile did not waste his life in useless
regrets. Calling forth the fire of his genius, and facing the reality of
life, he set himself to work, spreading the teaching of the New Way
among the Picts of the north--the same Picts who, in years gone by, had
raged against the barrier of Hadrian between Forth and Clyde. The year
of his setting out was 563; the great center of his work was in the
sacred isle of Iona, off the Ross of Mull. Iona stands in the rush of
Atlantic surges and fierce western storms, yet it is an island of rare
beauty amid the tinted mists of summer dawns. Under the year 592, a
century after Saint Patrick's death, we find this entry in the
Chronicle: "Colum Kill, son of Feidlimid, Apostle of Scotland, head of
the piety of the most part of Ireland and Scotland after Patrick, died
in his own church in Iona in Scotland, after the thirty-fifth year of
his pilgrimage, on Sunday night, the ninth of June. Seventy-seven years
was his whole age when he resigned his spirit to heaven." The corrected
date is 596.