Myths and Legends of the Celtic Race
Page: 145The “Voyage of Maeldūn” begins, as Irish tales often do, by telling us of the conception of its hero.
There was a famous man of the sept of the Owens of Aran, named Ailill Edge-of-Battle, who went with his king on a foray into another territory. They encamped one night near a church and convent of nuns. At midnight Ailill, who was near the church, saw a certain nun come out to strike the bell for nocturns, and caught her by the hand. In ancient Ireland religious persons were not much respected in time of war, and Ailill did not respect her. When they parted, she said to him: “Whence is thy race, and what is thy name?” Said the hero: “Ailill of the Edge-of-Battle is my name, and I am of the Owenacht of Aran, in Thomond.”
Not long afterwards Ailill was slain by reavers from Leix, who burned the church of Doocloone over his head.
In due time a son was born to the woman and she called his name Maeldūn. He was taken secretly to her friend, the queen of the territory, and by her Maeldūn was reared. “Beautiful indeed was his form, and it is doubtful if there hath been in flesh any one so beautiful as he. So he grew up till he was a young warrior and fit to use weapons. Great, then, was his brightness and his gaiety and his playfulness. In his play he outwent all his comrades in throwing balls, and in running and leaping and putting stones and racing horses.”
One day a proud young warrior who had been [pg 311] defeated by him taunted him with his lack of knowledge of his kindred and descent. Maeldūn went to his foster-mother, the queen, and said: “I will not eat nor drink till thou tell me who are my mother and my father.” “I am thy mother,” said the queen, “for none ever loved her son more than I love thee.” But Maeldūn insisted on knowing all, and the queen at last took him to his own mother, the nun, who told him: “Thy father was Ailill of the Owens of Aran.”