THE Feen were once, and their hunting failed, and they did not know what they should do. They were going about strands and shores gathering limpets, and to try if they should fall in with a pigeon or a plover. They were holding counsel together how they should go to get game. They reached a hill, and sleep came on them. What should Fionn see but a dream. That it was at yon crag of rock that be would be, the longest night that came or will come; that he would be driven backwards till he should set his back to the crag of rock. He gave a spring out of his sleep. He struck his foot on Diarmid's mouth, and he drove out three of his teeth. Diarmid caught hold of the foot of Fionn, and he drove an ounce of blood from every nail he had. "Ud! what didst thou to me?"--"What didst thou thyself to me?"--"Be not angry, thou son of my sister. When I tell thee the reason, thou wilt not take it ill."--"What reason?"--"I saw a dream that at yonder crag I would pass the hardest night I ever passed; that I should be driven backwards till I should set my back to the crag, and there was no getting off from there." "What's our fear! Who should frighten us! Who will come!" "I fear, as we are in straits just now, that if this lasts we may become useless." They went and they cast lots who should go and who should stay.
[paragraph continues] The Feinn altogether wished to go. Fionn was not willing to go, for fear the place should be taken out before they should come (back). "I will not go," said Fionn. "Whether thou goest or stayest, we will go," said they.
The rest went, but Fionn did not go. They stopped, on the night when they went, at the root of a tree; they made a booth, and they began to play at cards. Said Fionn, when the rest were gone, "I put him from amongst heroes and warriors any man that will follow me out." They followed after Fionn. They saw a light before them, and they went forward where the light was. Who were here but the others playing at cards, and some asleep; and it was a fine frosty night. Fionn hailed them so stately and bravely. When they heard. the speaking of Fionn, those who were laid down tried to rise, and the hair was stuck to the ground. They were pleased to see their master. Pleasant to have a stray hunting night. They went home. Going past a place where they used to house, they saw a house. They asked what house was that. They told them there was the house of a hunter. They reached the house, and there was but a woman within, the wife of the fine green kirtle. She said to them, "Fionn, son of Cumal, thou art welcome here." They went in. There were seven doors to the house. Fionn asked his gillies to sit in the seven doors. They did that. Fionn and his company sat on the one side of the house to breathe. The woman went out. When she came in, she said, "Fionn, son of Cumal, it is long since I was wishing thy welfare, but its little I can do for thee to-night. The son of the king of the people of Danan is coming here, with his eight hundred full heroes, this night." "Yonder side of the house be
theirs, and this side ours, unless there come men of Eirinn." Then they came, and they sat within. "You will not let a man on our side," said Fionn, "unless there comes one that belongs to our own company." The woman came in again, saying, "The middle son of the king of the people of Danan is coming, and his five hundred brave heroes with him." They came, and more of them staid without on a knoll. She came in again, saying, "The youngest son of the king of the people of Danan is coming, and his five hundred swift heroes with him." She came in again, saying, "That Gallaidh was coming, and five hundred full heroes."--"This side of the house be ours, and that be theirs, unless there come of the men of Eirinn." The people of Danan made seven ranks of themselves, and the fourth part of them could not cram in. They were still without a word. There came a gillie home with a boar that had found death from leanness and without a good seeming, and he throws that in front of Fionn with an insult. One of Fionn's gillies caught hold of him, and he tied his four smalls, and threw him below the board, and they spat on him. "Loose me, and let me stand up; I was not in fault, though it was I that did it, and I will bring thee to a boar as good as thou ever ate."--"I will do that," said Fionn; "but though thou shouldst travel the five-fifths of Eirinn, unless thou comest before the day comes, I will catch thee." They loosed him; he went away, and gillies with him. They were not long when they got a good boar. They came with it, and they cooked it, and they were eating it. "A bad provider of flesh art thou," said Gallaidh to Fionn. "Thou shalt not have that any longer to say;" and the jawbone was in his hand. He raised the bone, and he killed seven men from every row of the people of Danan, and
this made them stop. Then a gillie came home, and the black dog of the people of Danan with him, seeking a battle of dogs. Every one of them had a pack of dogs, and a dozen in every pack. The first one of them went and slipped the first dozen. The black dog killed the dozen; he killed them by the way of dozen and dozen, till there was left but Bran in loneliness. Said Fionn to Conan, "Let slip Bran, and, unless Bran makes it out, we are done." He loosed him. The two dogs began at each other. It was not long till Bran began to take driving; they took fear when they saw that; but what was on Bran but a venomous claw. There was a golden shoe on the claw of Venom, and they had not taken off the shoe. Bran was looking at Conan, and now Conan took off the shoe; and now he went to meet the black dog again; and at the third "spoch" he struck on him; he took his throat out. Then he took the heart and the liver out of his chest. The dog took out to the knoll; he knew that foes were there. He began at them. A message came in to Fionn that the dog was doing much harm to the people without. "Come," said Fionn to one of the gillies, "and check the dog." The gillie went out, and (was) together with the dog; a message came in that the gillie was working worse than the dog. From man to man they went out till Fionn was left within alone. The Feen killed the people of Danan altogether. The lads of the Feen went out altogether, and they did not remember that they had left Fionn within. When the children of the king saw that the rest were gone, they said that they would get the head of Fionn and his heart. They began at him, and they drove him backwards till he reached a crag of rock. At the end of the house he set his back to it, and he was keeping them off. Now he remembered the dream
[paragraph continues] He was tightly tried. Fionn had the "Ord Fianna," and when he was in extremity it would sound of itself, and it would be heard in the five-fifths of Eirinn. The gillies heard it; they gathered and returned. He was alive, and he was no more. They raised him on the point of their spears: he got better. They killed the sons of the king, and all that were alive of the people, and they got the chase as it ever was.
This story is one of the kind usually called SEANACHAS NA FEINE,--that is, the tradition, conversation, or tale or old stories, or ancient history, history or biography (Macalpine) of the people, best known to English readers as the Fingalians. These are called by a collective name, and are spoken of as the Feen or Fain. They are generally represented as hunters and warriors in Eirinn, but their country is the Feen. Bran's battle and his venomous claw in a golden shoe, is more like the fight of a tiger or cheetah than an Irish deer-hound.
The people of Danan are called Tuatha de danan, in manuscripts and books, and are supposed to be Scandinavians. The name, by a slight change in pronunciation, might mean the daring Northerns, the tenants of Danan, or the people of Danan, as here. Fionn, in various inflections, is pronounced Feeun, Een, Eeun. ORD FIANNA would seem to mean hammer of the Feean; if so, Fin may have acquired some of his gear of Thor, or he may be the same personage. The "ord Fiannar" is generally supposed to be a whistle, which sounded of itself, and was heard over the five-fifths of Erin.
This tale, and No. 24, 25, 26, 27, and the two which follow, were told to Hector MacLean "by four individuals, ALEXANDER MACDONALD, tenant, Barra, BAILEBHUIRGH, who heard them from his grandmother, Mary Gillies, about forty years ago, when she was more than eighty; NEILL MACLEAN, tenant, ditto, who learnt them from Donald MacNeill, who died about five years ago, about eighty years of age; JOHN CAMERON, ditto, who heard them from many, but cannot name any in particular. They state that these tales were very common in their younger days. They are pretty common still. They can tell nothing respecting the tales beyond the persons from whom they learnt them; of those from whom they learnt them they know nothing."
There are numerous prose tales of the Fingalians in Gaelic manuscripts, now in the Advocates' Library in Edinburgh (according to an abstract lent by W. F. Skene, Esq.) One is probably
the same as this tale; it is No. 4 of the manuscript numbered 4, called THE BOOTH OF EOCHAIDH DEARG--a tale of Fingal decoyed into a tent, and his combats with monsters, giants, armies, etc.
Of this manuscript the author of the abstract, Ewen MacLachlan, says (1812):--"This volume is evidently a transcript, perhaps not older than half a century. The language bespeaks high antiquity."
With the exception of a few words, the language in this Barra tale is the ordinary language of the people of the island. It seems then, that this is a remnant of an old tale, rapidly fading from memory and mixing with the manners of the day, but similar to tales in manuscripts about one hundred years old, and to tales now told in Ireland. See Poems of Ossin, Bard of Erin, 1857.