The Fianna of Ireland were noble
fighting men. Their motto was "Truth in our hearts, streangh in our
hands, our deeds according to our word". No man could join the
Fianna untill he was able to recite twelve books of poetry, defend
himself against the spears of nine warriors, run trhough woods without
breaking a twig, leap over a stick the hight of himself, pass under a
stick as low as his knee and take a thorn from his foot while running.
The chief of the Fianna was Cumhall, father of Fionn. Fionn was only a
small child when his father was killed in battle by the men of Clan
Morana. His mother was afraid that Clan Morana would try to kill Fionna
also. She asked two wise women to take him to a safe place and cared for
Fionna grew up straight and tall. At last the time came for him to leave the wise women and go to the ancient druid, Finneigeas, to learn the art of poetry. Finneigeas lived in a small cabin besid the river Roinne. He had chosen that place because it is always beside water that poetry is revealed to poets. Near to his cabin was a deep pool overhung by the branches of the nine hazel trees of wisdom. Nuts of wisdom fell from this tree into the pool and in the pool lived Fiontan, the salmon of wisdom.
It was fortold that whoever first
ate of this salmon would possess all the wisdom in the world. Finneigeas
had fished for seven years, but failed to catch the salmon of wisdom. A
short time after Fionn came to him he fished for the salmon and succeded
in catching it.
Fionn ate the salmon and became possessed of all the wisdom of the world. From that time, he had only to bite the thumb which he burned and he could discover the secrets of hidden magic and see into the future.
"Now you must go away from
this place for there is nothing more I can teach you", said
Finneigeas sadly. Fionn took leave of his teacher, and in return for his
kindness he made this poem:
"The Children of Lir"
Lir was a king of Tuatha De Danann, the fairy race who inhabite Ireland long ago. When his wife died, Lir mourned deeply but was comforted by his love for his children. He had four children, Fionnuala, Aodh, Fiachra and Conn.
After a time he married his wifeīs sister Aoife. At first Aoife seemed to love the children. But when she saw how their father loved them she became jealous. She wnet to a wicked druid and asked for his help. He gave her a magic wand.
Next day she took the children for
a drive in her chariot. Fionnuala did not want to go because she had
dremed an evil dream about her step-mother. However, Aoife forced the
children to come with her.
"We have done you no wrong". Fionnual cried, for although she was a swan she still had the power of speech. "Tell us how long our enchantment will last". For nine hundred years you will know only the wild waters and the sound of the crying of birds". Said Aofie scornfully. "You will remain on Logh Derravarragh for three hundred years, three hundred more on the cold sea of Moyle, and the last three hundred years on the bay of Erris. the spell will be broken when you hear the sound of a holy manīs bell".
"were are the children?"
Lir asked when Aoife came home alone.
"Who has done this to
you?" he asked.
Lir returned to Lough Derravarragh. Try as he might he could think of no spell to undo the evil enchantment. Years passed and he grow old and grey. People heard of the swans whose song could cure the pain of sorrow and came to listen to them.
At the end of three hundred years it was time for the swans to fly north to the sea of Moyle, a place of black clouds and foaming waves. Fionnuala said, "If we are scattered by storm, let us meet at this rock". Time after time the swans were dashed apart by the stormy sea. each time Fionnuala went to the rock and watched for her brothers who came to her, cold and exhausted. She sheltered Fiachra and Conn under her wings and put Aodh under the downy feathers of her breast.
They remained for three hundred years on the sea of Moyle, lashed by storm and frozen by sharp north winds. Then they flew west to Erris where the west winds drove the waves against the roky shore forcing the children to seek shelter in the frozen bay. They stayed there for three hundred years untill at last they were free to leave.
"Let us fly home to
father", Fionnuala said. Eagerly they flew across Ireland to the
hill were Lirīs castel had stood but found only green mounds overgrown
with thistles and nettles. They knew then that their father and friends
of their childhood were gone.
The children of Lir lived happily with the holy man, glad that their years of sorrow were ended...
"The sea woman"
There was a fisherman who was spreading his net near the seashore one day when he heard a sweet voice singing a strange lonsome song. He looked to see where the singing came from. On a rock at the edge of the waves he saw a beautiful sea maiden combing her long hair and singing. He saw that she had taken off the magic can which sea people wear under water and left it sitting beside here on the rock. He crept up behind her while she combed and sang, and when he was close enough, he seized her in his arms. the sea maiden screamed and struggled but could not escape. the fisherman carried her to his house and hid her magic cap in the potato pit nearby, so that she could not go back to the sea. The sea maiden was so beautiful that he fell in love with her and took her for his wife.
At first the neighbours wondering where the beautiful woman came from. the fiasherman told them that was washed ashored from a shipwreck and beacuse she could not speak their tongue and sang such strange songs, they belived him. They noticed that she had a strange way of looking at the sea from time to time, as if she had left something there, but after a while they stoped wondering about that.
One day the fisherman decided to bring his wife to the town. As they drove away from the sound of the sea his wife looked anxicusly over her shoulder. Terrified to be so far from the sea, she jumped from the trap and ran back the way they had come.
Years passed and children were born
to the fisherman and the sea woman. He grew so accustomed to having her
for his wife that he almost forgot how he found her and only remembered
when he put his potatoes in the pit each year and saw the magic cap.
"The story of Bran"
They youngest sister of Fionn MacCumhaillīs mother was very beautiful. She married the chief of the Fianna of Ulster but did not know that her husband had already promised his love to a fairy woman.
When the fairy woman heard of the marriage she was jealous. She stole the new bride away and cats a spell on her, turning her into a hound. While the enchantment lasted, the hound gave birht to two pups. Fionn found out what had happend and forced the fairy woman to undo the wicked spell. However the two pups could not be changed so Fionn took them into his care. He called them Bran and Sceolan.
They grow up to be swift and
beautiful hounds. Bran was small and wise, with more human
understanding. She was Fionnīs favourit hound. He gave her a colloar of
gold to wear and led her on a silver leash.
He turned to go back to the castel
of Fianna and the fawn followed. As they passed through the gates of the
castle it turned into a beautiful maiden with long golden hair. "My
name is Sive", she explained. The dark Druid changed me into a deer
fro refusing his love. But here in the castle of the Fianna I am free of
While he was gone, Sive watched for
his return. One day she saw a cloud of mist coming towards the castle
and in the mist she saw Fionn with Bran and Sceolan at his heels.
Fionn was heartbroken. He searched
for Sive in every part of Ireland. Bran and Sceolan were the only hounds
he brought with him because he could trust them not to harm Sive if they
Years passed but Fionn hoped always to find Oisinīs mother. One misty morning he was hunting on Benbulben. Bran started forward, baving at the scent of a deer. Fionn could not see in the mist. He was afraid that the deer was Sive and forgot that he should trust Bran to know. To silnce her, he struck her with her silver leash. At first Bran woundered at at being strukce by Fionn. Then she looked sadly at him and turned away. She ran down the mountainside to the dark lake which leads to the other world and plunged inti it. Fionn was sorry for what he had done but he never saw Bran again.
Yet still on moonlit nights Bran and Sceolan can be seen, playing among the thickets, where the castle of Fianna once stood. And sometimes when the mist of morning covers Benbulben, the cry of a hound in chase echoes from itīs hidden peak...