Myths and Legends of the Celtic Race
Page: 129This fine story, which is given in poetical form, as if narrated by Oisīn, in the Ossianic Society's “Transactions,” tells how Cullan the Smith (here represented as [pg 279] a Danaan divinity), who dwelt on or near the mountains of Slievegallion, in Co. Armagh, had two daughters, Ainé and Milucra, each of whom loved Finn mac Cumhal. They were jealous of each other; and on Ainé once happening to say that she would never have a man with grey hair, Milucra saw a means of securing Finn's love entirely for herself. So she assembled her friends among the Danaans round the little grey lake that lies on the top of Slievegallion, and they charged its waters with enchantments.
This introduction, it may be observed, bears strong signs of being a later addition to the original tale, made in a less understanding age or by a less thoughtful class into whose hands the legend had descended. The real meaning of the transformation which it narrates is probably much deeper.
The story goes on to say that not long after this the hounds of Finn, Bran and Skolawn, started a fawn near the Hill of Allen, and ran it northwards till the chase ended on the top of Slievegallion, a mountain which, like Slievenamon in the south, was in ancient Ireland a veritable focus of Danaan magic and legendary lore. Finn followed the hounds alone till the fawn disappeared on the mountain-side. In searching for it Finn at last came on the little lake which lies on the top of the mountain, and saw by its brink a lady of wonderful beauty, who sat there lamenting and weeping. Finn asked her the cause of her grief. She explained that a gold ring which she dearly prized had fallen from her finger into the lake, and she charged Finn by the bonds of geise that he should plunge in and find it for her.
Finn did so, and after diving into every recess of the [pg 280] lake he discovered the ring, and before leaving the water gave it to the lady. She immediately plunged into the lake and disappeared. Finn then surmised that some enchantment was being wrought on him, and ere long he knew what it was, for on stepping forth on dry land he fell down from sheer weakness, and arose again, a tottering and feeble old man, snowy-haired and withered, so that even his faithful hounds did not know him, but ran round the lake searching for their lost master.
Meantime Finn was missed from his palace on the Hill of Allen, and a party soon set out on the track on which he had been seen to chase the deer. They came to the lake-side on Slievegallion, and found there a wretched and palsied old man, whom they questioned, but who could do nothing but beat his breast and moan. At last, beckoning Keelta to come near, the aged man whispered faintly some words into his ear, and lo, it was Finn himself! When the Fianna had ceased from their cries of wonder and lamentation, Finn whispered to Keelta the tale of his enchantment, and told them that the author of it must be the daughter of Cullan the Smith, who dwelt in the Fairy Mound of Slievegallion. The Fianna, bearing Finn on a litter, immediately went to the Mound and began to dig fiercely. For three days and nights they dug at the Fairy Mound, and at last penetrated to its inmost recesses, when a maiden suddenly stood before them holding a drinking-horn of red gold. It was given to Finn. He drank from it, and at once his beauty and form were restored to him, but his hair still remained white as silver. This too would have been restored by another draught, but Finn let it stay as it was, and silver-white his hair remained to the day of his death.