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Myths and Legends of the Celtic Race

Page: 41

The latter now betook himself in wrath and resentment to his mother Eri, and begged her to give him counsel and to tell him of his lineage. Eri then declared to him that his father was Elatha, a king of the Fomorians, who had come to her secretly from over sea, and when he departed had given her a ring, bidding her never bestow it on any man save him whose finger it would fit. She now brought forth the ring, and it fitted the finger of Bres, who went [pg 109] down with her to the strand where the Fomorian lover had landed, and they sailed together for his father's home.

The Tyranny of the Fomorians

Elatha recognised the ring, and gave his son an army wherewith to reconquer Ireland, and also sent him to seek further aid from the greatest of the Fomorian kings, Balor. Now Balor was surnamed “of the Evil Eye,” because the gaze of his one eye could slay like a thunderbolt those on whom he looked in anger. He was now, however, so old and feeble that the vast eyelid drooped over the death-dealing eye, and had to be lifted up by his men with ropes and pulleys when the time came to turn it on his foes. Nuada could make no more head against him than Bres had done when king; and the country still groaned under the oppression of the Fomorians and longed for a champion and redeemer.

The Coming of Lugh

A new figure now comes into the myth, no other than Lugh son of Kian, the Sun-god par excellence of all Celtica, whose name we can still identify in many historic sites on the Continent.83 To explain his appearance we must desert for a moment the ancient manuscript authorities, which are here incomplete, and have to be supplemented by a folk-tale which was fortunately discovered and taken down orally so late as the nineteenth century by the great Irish antiquary, O'Donovan.84 [pg 110] In this folk-tale the names of Balor and his daughter Ethlinn (the latter in the form “Ethnea”) are preserved, as well as those of some other mythical personages, but that of the father of Lugh is faintly echoed in MacKineely; Lugh's own name is forgotten, and the death of Balor is given in a manner inconsistent with the ancient myth. In the story as I give it here the antique names and mythical outline are preserved, but are supplemented where required from the folk-tale, omitting from the latter those modern features which are not reconcilable with the myth.

The story, then, goes that Balor, the Fomorian king, heard in a Druidic prophecy that he would be slain by his grandson. His only child was an infant daughter named Ethlinn. To avert the doom he, like Acrisios, father of Danae, in the Greek myth, had her imprisoned in a high tower which he caused to be built on a precipitous headland, the Tor Mōr, in Tory Island. He placed the girl in charge of twelve matrons, who were strictly charged to prevent her from ever seeing the face of man, or even learning that there were any beings of a different sex from her own. In this seclusion Ethlinn grew up—as all sequestered princesses do—into a maiden of surpassing beauty.


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