Myths and Legends of the Celtic Race

Page: 132

“till,” as the writer says, “right in front of them they saw a loch-well, sparkling and translucid. The size and thickness of the cress and of the fothlacht, or brooklime, that grew on it was a wonderment to them.” Then Keelta began to tell of the fame and qualities of the place, and uttered an exquisite little lyric in praise of it:

“O Well of the Strand of the Two Women, beautiful are thy cresses, luxuriant, branching; since thy produce [pg 283] is neglected on thee thy brooklime is not suffered to grow. Forth from thy banks thy trout are to be seen, thy wild swine in the wilderness; the deer of thy fair hunting crag-land, thy dappled and red-chested fawns! Thy mast all hanging on the branches of the trees; thy fish in estuaries of the rivers; lovely the colours of thy purling streams, O thou that art azure-hued, and again green with reflections of surrounding copse-wood.”

St. Patrick and Irish Legend

After the warriors have been entertained Patrick asks: “Was he, Finn mac Cumhal, a good lord with whom ye were?” Keelta praises the generosity of Finn, and goes on to describe in detail the glories of his household, whereon Patrick says:

“Were it not for us an impairing of the devout life, an occasion of neglecting prayer, and of deserting converse with God, we, as we talked with thee, would feel the time pass quickly, warrior!”

Keelta goes on with another tale of the Fianna, and Patrick, now fairly caught in the toils of the enchanter, cries: “Success and benediction attend thee, Keelta! This is to me a lightening of spirit and mind. And now tell us another tale.”

So ends the exordium of the “Colloquy.” As usual in the openings of Irish tales, nothing could be better contrived; the touch is so light, there is so happy a mingling of pathos, poetry, and humour, and so much dignity in the sketching of the human characters introduced. The rest of the piece consists in the exhibition of a vast amount of topographical and legendary lore by Keelta, attended by the invariable “Success and benediction attend thee!” of Patrick.

They move together, the warrior and the saint, on [pg 284] Patrick's journey to Tara, and whenever Patrick or some one else in the company sees a hill or a fort or a well he asks Keelta what it is, and Keelta tells its name and a Fian legend to account for it, and so the story wanders on through a maze of legendary lore until they are met by a company from Tara, with the king at its head, who then takes up the rôle of questioner. The “Colloquy,” as we have it now, breaks off abruptly as the story how the Lia Fail was carried off from Ireland is about to be narrated. The interest of the “Colloquy” lies in the tales of Keelta and the lyrics introduced in the course of them. Of the tales there are about a hundred, telling of Fian raids and battles, and love-makings and feastings, but the greater number of them have to do with the intercourse between the Fairy Folk and the Fianna. With these folk the Fianna have constant relations, both of love and of war. Some of the tales are of great elaboration, wrought out in the highest style of which the writer was capable. One of the best is that of the fairy Brugh, or mansion of Slievenamon, which Patrick and Keelta chance to pass by, and of which Keelta tells the following history:

The Brugh of Slievenamon

One day as Finn and Keelta and five other champions of the Fianna were hunting at Torach, in the north, they roused a beautiful fawn which fled before them, they holding it in chase all day, till they reached the mountain of Slievenamon towards evening, when the fawn suddenly seemed to vanish underground. A chase like this, in the Ossianic literature, is the common prelude to an adventure in Fairyland. Night now fell rapidly, and with it came heavy snow and storm, and, searching for shelter, the Fianna discovered in the [pg 285] wood a great illuminated Brugh, or mansion, where they sought admittance. On entering they found themselves in a spacious hall, full of light, with eight-and-twenty warriors and as many fair and yellow-haired maidens, one of the latter seated on a chair of crystal, and making wonderful music on a harp. After the Fian warriors have been entertained with the finest of viands and liquors, it is explained to them that their hosts are Donn, son of Midir the Proud, and his brother, and that they are at war with the rest of the Danaan Folk, and have to do battle with them thrice yearly on the green before the Brugh. At first each of the twenty-eight had a thousand warriors under him. Now all are slain except those present, and the survivors have sent out one of their maidens in the shape of a fawn to entice the Fianna to their fairy palace and to gain their aid in the battle that must be delivered to-morrow. We have, in fact, a variant of the well-known theme of the Rescue of Fairyland. Finn and his companions are always ready for a fray, and a desperate battle ensues which lasts from evening till morning, for the fairy host attack at night. The assailants are beaten off, losing over a thousand of their number; but Oscar, Dermot, and mac Luga are sorely wounded. They are healed by magical herbs; and more fighting and other adventures follow, until, after a year has passed, Finn compels the enemy to make peace and give hostages, when the Fianna return to earth and rejoin their fellows. No sooner has Keelta finished his tale, standing on the very spot where they had found the fairy palace on the night of snow, than a young warrior is seen approaching them. He is thus described: “A shirt of royal satin was next his skin; over and outside it a tunic of the same fabric; and a fringed crimson mantle, confined with a bodkin [pg 286] of gold, upon his breast; in his hand a gold-hilted sword, and a golden helmet on his head.” A delight in the colour and material splendour of life is a very marked feature in all this literature. This splendid figure turns out to be Donn mac Midir, one of the eight-and-twenty whom Finn had succoured, and he comes to do homage for himself and his people to St. Patrick, who accepts entertainment from him for the night; for in the “Colloquy” the relations of the Church and of the Fairy World are very cordial.

The Three Young Warriors