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Myths and Legends of the Celtic Race

Page: 133

Nowhere in Celtic literature does the love of wonder and mystery find such remarkable expression as in the “Colloquy.” The writer of this piece was a master of the touch that makes, as it were, the solid framework of things translucent; and shows us, through it, gleams of another world, mingled with ours yet distinct, and having other laws and characteristics. We never get a clue as to what these laws are. The Celt did not, in Ireland at least, systematise the unknown, but let it shine for a moment through the opaqueness of this earth and then withdrew the gleam before we understood what we had seen. Take, for instance, this incident in Keelta's account of the Fianna. Three young warriors come to take service with Finn, accompanied by a gigantic hound. They make their agreement with him, saying what services they can render and what reward they expect, and they make it a condition that they shall camp apart from the rest of the host, and that when night has fallen no man shall come near them or see them.

Finn asks the reason for this prohibition, and it is this: of the three warriors one has to die each night, and the other two must watch him; therefore they would not [pg 287] be disturbed. There is no explanation of this; the writer simply leaves us with the thrill of the mystery upon us.

The Fair Giantess

Again, let us turn to the tale of the Fair Giantess. One day Finn and his warriors, while resting from the chase for their midday meal, saw coming towards them a towering shape. It proved to be a young giant maiden, who gave her name as Vivionn (Bebhionn) daughter of Treon, from the Land of Maidens. The gold rings on her fingers were as thick as an ox's yoke, and her beauty was dazzling. When she took off her gilded helmet, all bejewelled, her fair, curling golden hair broke out in seven score tresses, and Finn cried: “Great gods whom we adore, a huge marvel Cormac and Ethné and the women of the Fianna would esteem it to see Vivionn, the blooming daughter of Treon.” The maiden explained that she had been betrothed against her will to a suitor named Æda, son of a neighbouring king; and that hearing from a fisherman, who had been blown to her shores, of the power and nobleness of Finn, she had come to seek his protection. While she was speaking, suddenly the Fianna were aware of another giant form close at hand. It was a young man, smooth-featured and of surpassing beauty, who bore a red shield and a huge spear. Without a word he drew near, and before the wondering Fianna could accost him he thrust his spear through the body of the maiden and passed away. Finn, enraged at this violation of his protection, called on his chiefs to pursue and slay the murderer. Keelta and others chased him to the sea-shore, and followed him into the surf, but he strode out to sea, and was met by a great galley which bore him away to unknown regions. Returning, discomfited, to Finn, they found the girl [pg 288] dying. She distributed her gold and jewels among them, and the Fianna buried her under a great mound, and raised a pillar stone over her with her name in Ogham letters, in the place since called the Ridge of the Dead Woman.


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