From Alexander MacNeill, fisherman, Ten Tangval, Barra.
THE Fair Chief, son of the King of Eirinn, went away with his great company to hold court, and keep company with him. A woman met him, whom they called the Dame of the Fine Green Kirtle; she asked him to sit a while to play at the cards; and they sat to play the cards, and the Fair Chief drove the game against the Dame of the Fine Green Kirtle.
"Ask the fruit of the game," said the Wife of the Fine Green Kirtle.
"I think that thou hast not got a fruit; I know not of it," said the Fair Chief, son of the King of Eirinn.
"On the morrow be thou here, and I will meet thee," said the Dame of the Fine green Kirtle.
"I will be (here)," said the Fair Chief.
On the morrow he met her, and they began at the cards, and she won the game.
Ask the fruit of the game," said the Fair Chief.
"I," said the Dame of the Fine Green Kirtle, "am laying thee under spells, and under crosses, under holy herdsmen of quiet travelling, wandering women, the little calf, most feeble and powerless, to take thy head and thine ear and thy wearing of life from off thee, if thou takest rest by night or day; where thou takest
thy breakfast that thou take not thy dinner, and where thou takest thy dinner that thou take not thy supper, in whatsoever place thou be, until thou findest out in what place I may be under the four brown quarters of the world." 1
She took a napkin from her pocket, and she shook it, and there was no knowing what side she had taken, or whence she came.
He went home heavily-minded, black sorrowfully; he put his elbow on the board, and his hand under his cheek, and he let out a sigh.
"What is it that ails thee, son said the king of Eirinn; "Is it under spells that thou art?--but notice them not; I will raise thy spells off thee. I have a smithy on shore, and ships on sea; so long as gold or silver lasts me, stock or dwelling, I will set it to thy losing till I raise these spells off thee."
"Thou shalt not set them," said he; "and, father, thou art high-minded. Thou wouldst set that away from thyself, and thou wilt lose all that might be there. Thou wilt not raise the spells; thy kingdom will go to want and to poverty, and that will not raise the spells; and thou wilt lose thy lot of men; but keep thou thy lot of Men by thyself, and if I go I shall but lose myself."
So it was in the morning of the morrow's day he went away without dog, without man, without calf, without child.
He was going, and going, and journeying; there was blackening on his soles, and holes in his shoes; the black clouds of night coming, and the bright, quiet
clouds of the day going away, and without his finding a place of staying, or rest for him. He spent a week from end to end without seeing house or castle, or any one thing. He was grown sick; sleepless, restless, meatless, drinkless, walking all the week. He gave a glance from him, and what should he see but a castle. He took towards it, and round about it, and there was not so much as an auger hole in the house. His "DUDAM" and his "DADAM" fell with trouble and wandering, and he turned back, heavily-minded, black sorrowfully. He was taking up before him, and what should he hear behind him but a shout.
"Fair Chief, son of the king of Eirinn, return: there is the feast of a day and year awaiting thee; the meat thou thinkest not (of), and the drink thou thinkest not of; the meat thou thinkest on, and the drink thou thinkest on," and he returned.
There was a door for every day in the year in the house; and there was a window for every day in the year in it. It was a great marvel for him, the house that he himself had gone round about, and without so much as an auger hole in it, that door and window should be in it for every day in the year when he came back.
He took in to it. Meat was set in its place for using, drink in its place of drinking, music in its place for hearing, and they were plying the feast and the company with solace and pleasure of mind, himself and the fine damsel that cried after him in the palace.
A bed was made for him in the castle, with pillows, with a hollow in the middle; warm water was put on his feet, and he went to lie down. When he rose up in the morning, the board was set over with each meat
that was best; and he was thus for a time without his feeling the time pass by.
She stood in the door. "Fair Chief, son of the king of Eirinn, in what state dost thou find thyself, or how art thou?" said the damsel of the castle.
"I am well," said he.
"Dost thou know at what time thou camest here?" said she.
"I think I shall complete a week, if I be here this day," said he.
"A quarter is just out to-day," said she. "Thy meat, thy drink, or thy bed will not grow a bit the worse than they are till it pleases thyself to return home."
There he was by himself till he was thinking that he had a month out. At this time she stood in the door.
"Yes! Fair Chief, how dost thou find thyself this day?" said she.
"Right well," said he.
"In what mind dost thou find thyself?" said she.
"I will tell thee that," said he; "if my two hands could reach yonder peaked hill, that I would set it on yon other bluff hill."
"Dost thou know at what time thou camest hither?" said she.
"I am thinking that I have completed a month here," said he.
"The end of the two years is out just this day," said she.
"I will not believe that the man ever came on the surface of the world that would gain victory of myself in strength or lightness," said he.
"Thou art silly," said she; "there is a little band
here which they call An Fhinn, the Een, and they will get victory of thee. The man never came of whom they would not get victory."
"Morsel I will not eat, draught I will not drink, sleep there will not come on my eye, till I reach where they are, and I know who they are," said he.
"Fair Chief be not so silly, and let that lightness pass from thy head; stay as thou art, for I know thou wilt return," said she.
"I will not make stay by night or day, until I reach them," said he.
"The day is soft and misty," said she, "and thou art setting it before thee that thou wilt go. The Feen are in such a place, and they have a net fishing trout. Thou shalt go over where they are. Thou wilt see the Feen on one side, and Fionn alone on the other side. Thou shalt go where he is, and thou shalt bless him. Fionn will bless thee in the same way; thou shalt ask service from him; he will say that he has no service for thee, now that the Feen are strong enough, and he will not put a man out. He will say, 'What name is upon thee?' Thou shalt answer, the name thou didst never hide, An Gruagach ban Mae Righ Eireann. Fionn will say then, 'Though I should not want of a man, why should I not give service to the son of thy father.' Be not high minded amongst the Feeantan. Come now, and thou shalt have a napkin that is here, and thou shalt say to Fionn, whether thou be alive or dead to put thee in it when comes its need."
He went away, and he reached the (place) where the Feen were; he saw them there fishing trout, the rest on the one side, and Fionn on the other side alone. He went where Fionn was, and he blessed him. Fionn blessed him in words that were no worse.
"I heard that there were such men, and I came to you to seek hire from you," said the Fair Chief.
"Well, then, I have no need of a man at the time," said Fionn. "What name is upon thee?"
"My name I never hid. The Gruagach Ban, son of the king of Eireann," said he.
"Bad! bad! for all the ill luck that befel me! where I got my nourishment young, and my dwelling for my old age; who should get service unless thy father's son should get it; but be not high minded amongst the Feentan," said Fionn. "Come hither and catch the end of the net, and drag it along with me."
He began dragging the net with the Feen. He cast an eye above him, and what should he see but a deer.
"Were it not better for the like of you, such swift, strong, light, young men to be hunting yonder deer, than to be fishing any one pert trout that is here, and that a morsel of fish or a mouthful of juice will not satisfy you rather than yonder creature up above you a morsel of whose flesh, and a mouthful of whose broth will suffice you," said the Fair Chief, son of the king of Eirinn.
"If yonder beast is good, we are seven times tired of him," said Fionn, "and we know him well enough."
Well, I heard myself that there was one man of you called LUATHAS (Swiftness) that could catch the swift March wind, and the swift March wind could not catch," said the Fair Chief.
"Since it is thy first request, we will send to seek him," said Fionn.
He was sent for, and CAOILTE came. The Fair Chief shouted to him.
"There is the matter I have for thee," said the Gruagach, "to run the deer that I saw yonder above."
"The Fair Chief came amongst our company this day, and his advice may be taken the first day. He gave a glance from him, and he saw a deer standing above us; he said it was better for our like of swift, strong, light men to be hunting the deer, than to be fishing any one pert trout that is here; and thou Caoilte go and chase the deer."
"Well, then, many is the day that I have given to chasing him, and it is little I have for it but my grief that I never got a hold of him," said Caoilte.
Caoilte went away, and he took to speed.
"How will Caoilte be when he is at his full speed?" said the Fair Chief.
"There will be three heads on Caoilte when he is at his full speed," said Fionn.
"And how many heads will there be on the deer?" said the Chief.
"There will be seven heads on him when he is at full swiftness," said Fionn. 1
"What distance has he before he reaches the end of his journey?" said the Chief.
"It is seven glens and seven hills, and seven summer seats," said Fionn; "he has that to make before he reaches a place of rest."
"Let us take a hand at dragging the net," said the Chief.
The Fair Chief gave a glance from him, and he said to Fionn, "Een, son of Cumhail, put thy finger under
thy knowledge tooth, to see what distance Caoilte is from the deer."
Fionn put his finger under his knowledge tooth. "There are two heads on Caoilte, and on the deer there are but two heads yet," said Fionn.
"How much distance have they put past?" said the Fair Chief.
"Two glens and two hills; they have five unpassed still," said Fionn.
"Let us take a hand at fishing the trout," said the Fair Chief.
When they had been working a while, the Fair Chief gave a glance from him. "Fionn, son of Cumal," said he, "put thy finger under thy knowledge tooth to see what distance Caoilte is from the deer."
"There are three heads on Caoilte, and four heads on the deer, and Caoilte is at full speed," said Fionn.
"How many glens and hills and summer seats are before them," said the Chief.
"There are four behind them, and three before them," said Fionn.
"Let us take a hand at fishing the trout," said the Fair Chief.
They took a while at fishing the trout.
"Fionn, son of Cumal," said the Chief, "what distance is still before the deer before he reaches the end of his journey?"
"One glen and one hill, and one summer seat," said Fionn.
He threw the net from him, and he took to speed. He would catch the swift March wind, and the swift March wind could not catch him, till he caught Caoilte; he took past him, and he left his blessing with him. Going over by the ford of Sruth Ruadh, the deer gave
a spring--the Fair Chief gave the next spring, and he caught the deer by the hinder shank, and the deer gave a roar, and the Carlin cried--
"Who seized the beast of my love?"
"It is I," said the Fair Chief, "the son of the king of Eirinn."
"Oh, Gruagach ban, son of the king of Eirinn, let him go," said the Carlin.
"I will not let (him go); he is my own beast now," said the Gruagach.
"Give me the full of my fist of his bristles, or a handful of his food, or a mouthful of his broth, or a morsel of his flesh," said the Carlin.
"Any one share thou gettest not," said he.
"The Feen are coming," said she, "and Fionn at their head, and there shall not be one of them that I do not bind back to back."
"Do that," said he, "but I am going away."
He went away, and he took the deer with him, and he was taking on before him till the Een met him.
"Een, son of Cumal, keep that," said he, as he left the deer with Fionn.
Fionn, son of Cumal, sat at the deer, and the Fair Chief went away. He reached the smithy of the seven and twenty smiths. He took out three iron hoops out of it for every man that was in the Een (Fhinn); he took with him a hand hammer, and he put three hoops about the head of every man that was in the Een, and he tightened them with the hammer.
The Carlin came out, and let out a great screech.
"Een, son of Cumal, let hither to me the creature of my love."
The highest hoop that was on the Feeantan burst with the screech. She came out the second time, and
she let out the next yell, and the second hoop burst. (Was not the Carlin terrible!) She went home, and she was not long within when she came the third time, and she let out the third yell, and the third hoop burst. She went and she betook herself to a wood; she twisted a withy from the wood; she took it with her; she went over, and she bound every man of the Feeantaichean back to back, but Fionn.
The Fair Chief laid his hand on the deer, and he flayed it. He took out the GAORR, and every bit of the inside; he cut a turf, and he buried them under the earth. He set a caldron in order, and be put the deer in the caldron, and fire at it to cook it.
"Een, son of Cumal, " said the fair Chief, "whether wouldst thou rather go to fight the Carlin, or stay to boil the caldron?"
"Well, then," said Fionn, "the caldron is hard enough to boil. If there be a morsel of the flesh uncooked, the deer will get up as he was before; and if a drop of the broth goes into the fire, be will arise as he was before. I would rather stay and boil the caldron."
The Carlin came. "Een, son of Cumal," said she give me my fist full of bristles, or a squeeze of my fist of GAORR, or else a morsel of his flesh, or else a gulp of the broth."
"I myself did not do a thing about it, and with that I have no order to give it away," said Fionn.
Here then the Fair Chief and the Carlin began at each other; they would make a bog on the rock and a rock on the bog. In the place where the least they would sink, they would sink to the knees; in the place where the most they would sink, they would sink to the eyes.
"Art thou satisfied with the sport, Een, son of Cumal?" said the Fair Chief.
"It is long since I was satiated with that," said Fionn.
"There will be a chance to return it now," said the Chief.
He seized the Carlin, and he struck her a blow of his foot in the crook of the hough, and he felled her.
"Een, son of Cumal, shall I take her head off?" said the Chief.
"I don't know," said Fionn.
"Een, son of Cumal," said she, "I am laying thee under crosses, and under spells, and under holy herdsman of quiet travelling, wandering woman, the little calf, most powerless, most uncouth, to take thy head and thine ear, and thy life's wearing off, unless thou be as a husband, three hours before the day comes, with the wife of the Tree Lion." 1
"I," said the Fair Chief, "am laying thee under crosses and under spells, under holy herdsman of quiet travelling, wandering woman, the little calf most powerless and most uncouth, to take thy head and thine ear, and thy life's wearing off, unless thou be with a foot on either side of the ford of Struth Ruadh, and every drop of the water flowing through thee."
He arose, and he let her stand up.
"Raise thy spells from off me, and I will raise them from off him," said the Carlin. "Neither will I lift nor lay down, but so; howsoever we may be, thou comest not."
The fair Chief went and he took off the caldron; he seized a fork and a knife, and he put the fork into the deer; he seized the knife and he cut a morsel out of it, and he ate it. He caught a turf, and cut it, and he laid that on the mouth of the caldron.
"Een, son of Cumal, it is time for us to be going," said he; "art thou good at horsemanship?"
"I could hit upon it," said Fionn.
He caught hold of a rod, and he gave it to Fionn. "Strike that on me," said he.
Fionn struck the rod on him and made him a brown ambler.
"Now, get on top of me," said the Chief. Fionn got on him.
"Be pretty watchful; I am at thee."
He gave that spring and he went past nine ridges, and Fionn stood (fast) on him. "She" gave the next spring and "she" went past nine other ridges and Fionn stood fast on "her." He took to speed. He would catch the swift March wind, and the swift March wind could not catch him.
"There is a little town down here," said the ambler, "and go down and take with thee three stoups of wine and three wheaten loaves, and thou shalt give me a stoup of wine and a wheaten loaf, and thou shalt comb me against the hair, and with the hair."
Fionn got that and they reached the wall of the Tree Lion.
"Come on the ground, Een, son of Cumal, and give me a stoup of wine and a wheaten loaf."
Fionn came down and he gave him a stoup of wine and a wheaten loaf.
"Comb me now against the hair, and comb me with the hair."
He did that.
"Take care of thyself," said the ambler.
Then "she" leaped, and she put a third of the wall below her, and there were two-thirds above, and she returned.
"Give me another stoup of wine and another wheaten loaf, and comb me against the hair, and comb me with the hair."
He did that.
"Take care of thyself, for I am for thee now," said the ambler.
She took the second spring, and she put two-thirds of the wall below her, and there was a third over her head, and she returned.
"Give me another stoup of wine and a wheaten loaf, and comb me against the hair, and with the hair."
He did that.
"Take care of thyself, for I am for thee now," said she.
She took a spring, and she was on the top of the wall.
"The matter is well before thee, Een," said the ambler, "the Tree Lion is from home."
He went home. My Chief, and all hail! were before him: meat and drink were set before him; he rested that night, and he was with the wife of the Tree Lion three hours before the day.
So early as his eye saw the day, earlier than that he arose, and he reached the ambler, the Gruagach Ban, and they went away.
Said the Fair Chief, "The Tree Lion is from home; anything that passed she will not hide; he is coming after us, and he will not remember his book of
witchcraft; and since he does not remember the book of witchcraft, it will go with me against him; but if he should remember the book, the people of the world could not withstand him. He has every DRAOCHD magic, and he will spring as a bull when be comes, and I will spring as a bull before him, and the first blow I give him, I will lay his head on his side, and I will make him roar. Then he will spring as an AISEAL, (ass), and I will spring as an ass before him, and the first thrust I give him I will take a mouthful out of him, between flesh and hide as it may be. Then he will spring as a hawk in the heavens; I will spring as a hawk in the wood, and the first stroke I give him, I will take his heart and his liver out. I will come down afterwards, and thou shalt seize that napkin yonder, and thou shalt put me in the napkin, and thou shalt cut a turf, and thou shalt put the napkin under the earth, and thou shalt stand upon it. Then the wife of the Tree Lion will come, and thou standing on the top of the turf, and I under thy feet; and she with the book of witchcraft on her back in a hay band, and she will say--Een, son of Cumal, man that never told a lie, tell me who of the people of the world killed my comrade, and thou shalt say I know not above the earth who killed thy comrade. She will go away and take to speed with her weeping cry."
When they were on forward a short distance, whom saw they coming but the Tree Lion.
He became a bull; the Fair chief became a bull before him, and the first blow he struck him he laid his head on his side, and the Tree Lion gave out a roar. Then he sprung as an ass, the Fair Chief sprung as an ass before him, and at the first rush he gave towards him he took a mouthful between flesh and
skin. The Tree Lion then sprang as a hawk in the heavens, the Fair Chief sprang as a hawk in the wood, and he took the heart and liver out of him. The Fair Chief fell down afterwards, Fionn seized him and he put him into the napkin, and he cut a turf, and he put the napkin under the earth, and the turf upon it, and he stood on the turf. The wife of the Tree Lion came, and the book of witchcraft was on her back in a hay band.
"Een, son of Cumal, man that never told a lie, who killed my comrade?"
"I know not above the earth, who killed thy comrade," said Fionn.
And she went away in her weeping cry, and she betook herself to distance.
He caught hold of the Fair Chief and he lifted him with him, and he reached the castle in which was the dame of the Fine Green Kirtle. He reached her that into her hand. She went down with it, and she was not long down when she came up where he was.
"Een, son of Cumal, the Gruagach Ban, son of the king of Eirinn, is asking for thee."
"That is the news I like best of all I ever heard, that the Fair Chief is asking for me," said Fionn.
She set meat and drink before them, and they would not eat a morsel nor drink a drop till they should eat their share of the deer with the rest at Sruth Ruaidh.
They reached (the place) where the Een were bound, and they loosed every single one of them, and they were hungry enough. The Fair Chief set the deer before them, and they left of the deer thrice as much as they ate.
"I should go to tell my tale," said the Fair Chief. He reached the carlin at the ford of Sruth Ruaidh, and
he began to tell the tale how it befel him. Every tale he would tell her she would begin to rise; every time she would begin to rise he would seize her, and he would crush her bones, and he would break them until he told his lot of tales to her.
When he had told them he returned, and he reached the Een back again.
Fionn went with him to the Castle of the Dame of the Fine Green Kirtle.
"Blessing be with thee, Een, son of Cumal," said the Fair Chief, son of the king of Eirinn, "I have found all I sought--a sight of each matter and of each thing, and now I will be returning home to the palace of my own father."
"It is thus thou art about to leave me, after each thing I have done for thee; thou wilt take another one, and I shall be left alone."
"Is that what thou sayest?" said he, "If I thought that might be done, I never saw of married women or maidens that I would take rather than thee, but I will not make wedding or marrying here with thee, but thou shalt do to the palace of my father with me."
They went to the palace of his father, himself and the Dame of the Fine Green Kirtle, and Fionn. A churchman was got, and the Fair Chief and the dame of the Fine Green Kirtle married. A hearty, jolly, joyful wedding was made for them; music was raised and lament laid down; meat was set in the place for using, and drink in the place for drinking, and music in the place for hearing, and they were plying the feast and the company until that wedding was kept up for a day and a year, with solace and pleasure of mind.
ALEXANDER MACNEILL, Fisherman.
Ten Tangval, Barra.
This is another specimen of what is called Seanachas--one of those old Highland stories which in their telling resemble no others. Fionn and his comrades are mentioned as England is by Americans. They are the greatest of heroes, but only act as foils to one still greater. "The Britishers wop the world, and we wop the Britishers," says the Americans. And Gruagach Ban, the Irish chief, beats the Fingalians, who beat the world. It seems hopeless to search for the original of this, unless it is to be found in mythology. The history of the Island of Barra, and the name of the place where the story was told, suggest a mixture of Norse and Celtic mythology as the most probable.
Fionn and his comrades are clearly Celtic worthies, and though they are usually brought clown to be "militia" raised in Ireland by a particular Irish king, at a certain date, I strongly suspect them to be divinities in disguise. The leader at one end of the net and all his comrades at the other, has a parallel in the Edda (page 76, Dasent's translation).
"When the net was made ready, then fared the Asa to the
river, and cast the net into the force; Thorr held one end and the other held all the Asa, and so they drew the net."
And in other stories Fionn has part of the gear of Thorr in the shape of a hammer, whose stroke was heard over Eirinn and Lochlann, and which surely was a thunderbolt rather than the whistle of a militiaman.
Fionn, too, has the character of the leader in all the old Western romances; and in all mythology of which I know anything, he is the chief, but he is not the strongest; he is the wisest, but there is always some power wiser and stronger than him.
The dame of the Fine Green Kirtle, and the carlin with the wonderful deer, were both able to perform feats which the Feen could not equal, and they with their magic arts overcame the heroes, as the Fates ruled Jupiter and the Nornir ruled men, though there were Greek and Norse gods and goddesses in plenty. So King Arthur was chief but not the most valiant, the wisest but not the best of his time. And so in the Niebelungen Lied there was always a hero greater than the great man. And here seems to be something of the same kind in this Gaelic story.
The wife of the Tree Lion in her magic castle, and the leaping man in disguise, who carries the wooer, are characters which may be traced in the old German romance, and the incidents have a parallel in the Volsung tale, as its outline is given in the Norse Tales. There, too, is a lady to be won, and an obstacle to be surmounted, and a steed which springs over it, and a disguised worthy, more valiant than the chief.
The transformation into many shapes is a very common incident in Gaelic tales. It is common to Norse, to Mr. Peter Buchan's Scotch MS. Collection; and is somewhat like a story in the Arabian Nights where a princess fights a genius.
The dame of the Fine Green Kirtle is a common character in Gaelic tales. In Sutherland she was mentioned as seen about hills. She is always possessed of magic powers; and I know nothing like her in other collections. The carlin with the deer is to be traced in the Irish tales published by Mr. Simpson, and in Breton tales and poems, and in Welsh stories; and she is at least as old as Diana and the Sacred Hind with golden horns and brazen feet, which Hercules caught after a year's chase, which Diana snatched from him, reprimanding him severely for molesting an animal sacred to her.
425:1 This sort of incantation is common, and I am not certain that it is quite correctly rendered.
430:1 What this means I do not know. Perhaps a head may be the height of a man, a fathom-three and seven fathoms at a stride.
434:1 Leòmhan chraobh. This, I presume, is a griffin; I have often heard the name though it is not in dictionaries. The word griffin is also omitted from some.