Myths and Legends of the Celtic Race

Page: 130

The tale has been made the subject of a very striking [pg 281] allegorical drama, “The Masque of Finn,” by Mr. Standish O'Grady, who, rightly no doubt, interprets the story as symbolising the acquisition of wisdom and understanding through suffering. A leader of men must descend into the lake of tears and know feebleness and despair before his spirit can sway them to great ends.

There is an antique sepulchral monument on the mountain-top which the peasantry of the district still regard—or did in the days before Board schools—as the abode of the “Witch of the Lake”; and a mysterious beaten path, which was never worn by the passage of human feet, and which leads from the rock sepulchre to the lake-side, is ascribed to the going to and fro of this supernatural being.

The Colloquy of the Ancients

One of the most interesting and attractive of the relics of Ossianic literature is the “Colloquy of the Ancients,” Agallamh na Senorach, a long narrative piece dating from about the thirteenth century. It has been published with a translation in O'Grady's “Silva Gadelica.” It is not so much a story as a collection of stories skilfully set in a mythical framework. The “Colloquy” opens by presenting us with the figures of Keelta mac Ronan and Oisīn son of Finn, each accompanied by eight warriors, all that are left of the great fellowship of the Fianna after the battle of Gowra and the subsequent dispersion of the Order. A vivid picture is given us of the grey old warriors, who had outlived their epoch, meeting for the last time at the dūn of a once famous chieftainess named Camha, and of their melancholy talk over bygone days, till at last a long silence settled on them.

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Keelta Meets St. Patrick

Finally Keelta and Oisīn resolve to part, Oisīn, of whom we hear little more, going to the Fairy Mound, where his Danaan mother (here called Blai) has her dwelling, while Keelta takes his way over the plains of Meath till he comes to Drumderg, where he lights on St. Patrick and his monks. How this is chronologically possible the writer does not trouble himself to explain, and he shows no knowledge of the legend of Oisīn in the Land of Youth. “The clerics,” says the story, “saw Keelta and his band draw near them, and fear fell on them before the tall men with the huge wolf-hounds that accompanied them, for they were not people of one epoch or of one time with the clergy.” Patrick then sprinkles the heroes with holy water, whereat legions of demons who had been hovering over them fly away into the hills and glens, and “the enormous men sat down.” Patrick, after inquiring the name of his guest, then says he has a boon to crave of him—he wishes to find a well of pure water with which to baptize the folk of Bregia and of Meath.

The Well of Tradaban