Myths and Legends of the Celtic Race

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“Tain Bo Cuailgnè,” or Cattle Raid of Quelgny; and it was written out in the “Book of Leinster” in the year 1150 by the hand of Finn mac Gorman, Bishop of Kildare, and at the end is written: “A blessing on all such as faithfully shall recite the ‘Tain’ as it stands here, and shall not give it in any other form.”

Cuchulain in Fairyland

One of the strangest tales in Celtic legend tells how Cuchulain, as he lay asleep after hunting, against a pillar-stone, had a vision of two Danaan women who came to him armed with rods and alternately beat [pg 226] him till he was all but dead, and he could not lift a hand to defend himself. Next day, and for a year thereafter, he lay in sore sickness, and none could heal him.

Then a man whom none knew came and told him to go to the pillar-stone where he had seen the vision, and he would learn what was to be done for his recovery. There he found a Danaan woman in a green mantle, one of those who had chastised him, and she told him that Fand, the Pearl of Beauty, wife of Mananan the Sea-god, had set her love on him; and she was at enmity with her husband Mananan; and her realm was besieged by three demon kings, against whom Cuchulain's help was sought, and the price of his help would be the love of Fand. Laeg, the charioteer, was then sent by Cuchulain to report upon Fand and her message. He entered Fairyland, which lies beyond a lake across which he passed in a magic boat of bronze, and came home with a report of Fand's surpassing beauty and the wonders of the kingdom; and Cuchulain then betook himself thither. Here he had a battle in a dense mist with the demons, who are described as resembling sea-waves—no doubt we are to understand that they are the folk of the angry husband, Mananan. Then he abode with Fand, enjoying all the delights of Fairyland for a month, after which he bade her farewell, and appointed a trysting-place on earth, the Strand of the Yew Tree, where she was to meet him.

Fand, Emer, and Cuchulain

But Emer heard of the tryst; and though not commonly disturbed at Cuchulain's numerous infidelities, she came on this occasion with fifty of her maidens armed with sharp knives to slay Fand. Cuchulain and Fand perceive their chariots from afar, and [pg 227] the armed angry women with golden clasps shining on their breasts, and he prepares to protect his mistress. He addresses Emer in a curious poem, describing the beauty and skill and magical powers of Fand—“There is nothing the spirit can wish for that she has not got.” Emer replies: “In good sooth, the lady to whom thou dost cling seems in no way better than I am, but the new is ever sweet and the well-known is sour; thou hast all the wisdom of the time, Cuchulain! Once we dwelled in honour together, and still might dwell if I could find favour in thy sight.” “By my word thou dost,” said Cuchulain, “and shalt find it so long as I live.”

“Give me up,” then said Fand. But Emer said: “Nay, it is more fitting that I be the deserted one.” “Not so,” said Fand; “it is I who must go.” “And an eagerness for lamentation seized upon Fand, and her soul was great within her, for it was shame for her to be deserted and straightway to return to her home; moreover, the mighty love that she bore to Cuchulain was tumultuous in her.”160

But Mananan, the Son of the Sea, knew of her sorrow and her shame, and he came to her aid, none seeing him but she alone, and she welcomed him in a mystic song. “Wilt thou return to me?” said Mananan, “or abide with Cuchulain?” “In truth,” said Fand, “neither of ye is better or nobler than the other, but I will go with thee, Mananan, for thou hast no other mate worthy of thee, but that Cuchulain has in Emer.”

So she went to Mananan, and Cuchulain, who did not see the god, asked Laeg what was happening. “Fand,” he replied, “is going away with the Son of the Sea, since she hath not been pleasing in thy sight.”

[pg 228]

Then Cuchulain bounded into the air and fled from the place, and lay a long time refusing meat and drink, until at last the Druids gave him a draught of forgetfulness; and Mananan, it is said, shook his cloak between Cuchulain and Fand, so that they might meet no more throughout eternity.161

The Vengeance of Maev

Though Maev made peace with Ulster after the battle of Garech she vowed the death of Cuchulain for all the shame and loss he had brought upon her and on her province, and she sought how she might take her vengeance upon him.

Now the wife of the wizard Calatin, whom Cuchulain slew at the Ford, brought forth, after her husband's death, six children at a birth, namely, three sons and three daughters. Misshapen, hideous, poisonous, born for evil were they; and Maev, hearing of these, sent them to learn the arts of magic, not in Ireland only, but in Alba; and even as far as Babylon they went to seek for hidden knowledge, and they came back mighty in their craft, and she loosed them against Cuchulain.

Cuchulain and Blanid

Besides the Clan Calatin, Cuchulain had also other foes, namely Ere, the King of Ireland, son to Cairpre, whom Cuchulain had slain in battle, and Lewy son of Curoi, King of Munster.162 For Curoi's wife, Blanid, had set her love on Cuchulain, and she bade him come and take her from Curoi's dūn, and watch his time to [pg 229] attack the dūn, when he would see the stream that flowed from it turn white. So Cuchulain and his men waited in a wood hard by till Blanid judged that the time was fit, and she then poured into the stream the milk of three cows. Then Cuchulain attacked the dūn, and took it by surprise, and slew Curoi, and bore away the woman. But Fercartna, the bard of Curoi, went with them and showed no sign, till, finding himself near Blanid as she stood near the cliff-edge of Beara, he flung his arms round her, and leaped with her over the cliff, and so they perished, and Curoi was avenged upon his wife.