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Myths and Legends of the Celtic Race

Page: 144

[pg 308]

The End of Finn

As to Finn himself, it is strange that in all the extant mass of the Ossianic literature there should be no complete narrative of his death. There are references to it in the poetic legends, and annalists even date it, but the references conflict with each other, and so do the dates. There is no clear light to be obtained on the subject from either annalists or poets. Finn seems to have melted into the magic mist which enwraps so many of his deeds in life. Yet a popular tradition says that he and his great companions, Oscar and Keelta and Oisīn and the rest, never died, but lie, like Kaiser Barbarossa, spell-bound in an enchanted cave where they await the appointed time to reappear in glory and redeem their land from tyranny and wrong.

[pg 309]

CHAPTER VII: THE VOYAGE OF MAELDŪN

Besides the legends which cluster round great heroic names, and have, or at least pretend to have, the character of history, there are many others, great and small, which tell of adventures lying purely in regions of romance, and out of earthly space and time. As a specimen of these I give here a summary of the “Voyage of Maeldūn,” a most curious and brilliant piece of invention, which is found in the manuscript entitled the “Book of the Dun Cow” (about 1100) and other early sources, and edited, with a translation (to which I owe the following extracts), by Dr. Whitley Stokes in the “Revue Celtique” for 1888 and 1889. It is only one of a number of such wonder-voyages found in ancient Irish literature, but it is believed to have been the earliest of them all and model for the rest, and it has had the distinction, in the abridged and modified form given by Joyce in his “Old Celtic Romances,” of having furnished the theme for the “Voyage of Maeldune” to Tennyson, who made it into a wonderful creation of rhythm and colour, embodying a kind of allegory of Irish history. It will be noticed at the end that we are in the unusual position of knowing the name of the author of this piece of primitive literature, though he does not claim to have composed, but only to have “put in order,” the incidents of the “Voyage.” Unfortunately we cannot tell when he lived, but the tale as we have it probably dates from the ninth century. Its atmosphere is entirely Christian, and it has no mythological significance except in so far as it teaches the lesson that the oracular injunctions of wizards should be obeyed. No adventure, or even detail, of importance is omitted in [pg 310] the following summary of the story, which is given thus fully because the reader may take it as representing a large and important section of Irish legendary romance. Apart from the source to which I am indebted, the “Revue Celtique,” I know no other faithful reproduction in English of this wonderful tale.


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