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Gods and Fighting Men, by Lady Gregory, [1904], at

Part I Book IV: Tadg in Manannan's Islands

AND another that went to the Land of the Ever-Living Ones, but that came back again, was Tadg, son of Cian, son of Olioll; and this is the way that happened.

It was one time Tadg was going his next heir's round, into the west of Munster, and his two brothers, Airnelach and Eoghan, along with him. And Cathmann, son of Tabarn, that was king of the beautiful country of Fresen that lay to the south-east of the Great Plain, was searching the sea for what he could find just at that time, and nine of his ships with him. And they landed at Beire do Bhunadas, to the west of Munster, and the country had no stir in it, and so they slipped ashore, and no one took notice of them till all were surrounded, both men and cattle. And Tadg's wife Liban, daughter of Conchubar Abratrudh of the Red Brows, and his two brothers, and a great many of the people of Munster, were taken by the foreigners and brought away to the coasts of Fresen. And Cathmann took Liban to be his own wife, and he put hardship on Tadg's two brothers; Eoghan he put to work a common ferry across a channel of the coast, and Airnelach to cut firing and to keep up fires for all people; and all the food they got was barley seed and muddy water.

And as to Tadg himself, it was only by his courage and the use of his sword he made his escape, but there was great grief and discouragement on him, his wife and his brothers to have been brought away. But he had forty of his fighting men left that had each killed a man of the foreigners, and they brought one in alive. And this man told them news of the country he came from. And when Tadg heard that, he made a plan in his own head, and he gave orders for a curragh to be built that would be fit for a long voyage. Very strong it was, and forty ox-hides on it of hard red leather, that was after being soaked in bark. And it was well fitted with masts, and oars, and pitch, and everything that was wanting. And they put every sort of meat, and drink, and of clothes in it, that would last them through the length of a year.

When all was ready, and the curragh out in the tide, Tadg said to his people: "Let us set out now on the high sea, looking for our own people that are away from us this long time."

They set out then over the stormy, heavy flood, till at last they saw no land before them or behind them, but only hillsides of the great sea. And farther on again they heard the singing of a great flock of unknown birds; and pleasant white-bellied salmon were leaping about the curragh on every side, and seals, very big and dark, were coming after them, breaking through the shining wash of the oars; and great whales after them again, so that the young men liked to be looking at them, for they were not used to see the like before.

They went on rowing through twenty days and twenty nights, and at the end of that time they got sight of a high land, having a smooth coast. And when they reached it they all landed, and they pulled up the curragh and lit their fires, and food was given out to them, and they were not long making an end of it. They made beds for themselves then on the beautiful green grass, and enjoyed their sleep till the rising of the sun on the morrow.

Tadg rose up then and put on his arms, and went out, and thirty of his men along with him, to search the whole island.

They went all through it, but they found no living thing on it, man or beast, but only flocks of sheep. And the size of the sheep was past all telling, as big as horses they were, and the whole island was filled with their wool. And there was one great flock beyond all the others, all of very big rams, and one of them was biggest of all, nine horns he had, and he charged on Tadg's chief men, attacking them and butting at them.

There was vexation on them then, and they attacked him again, and there was a struggle between them. And at the first the ram broke through five of their shields. But Tadg took his spear that there was no escape from, and made a lucky cast at the ram and killed him. And they brought the ram to the curragh and made it ready for the young men to eat, and they stopped three nights on the island, and every night it was a sheep they had for their food. And they gathered a good share of the wool and put it in the curragh because of the wonder and the beauty of it. And they found the bones of very big men on the island, but whether they died of sickness or were killed by the rams they did not know.

They left that island then and went forward till they found two strange islands where there were great flocks of wonderful birds, like blackbirds, and some of them the size of eagles or of cranes, and they red with green heads on them, and the eggs they had were blue and pure crimson. And some of the men began eating the eggs, and on the moment feathers began to grow out on them. But they went bathing after that, and the feathers dropped off them again as quick as they came.

It was the foreigner they had with them gave them the course up to this time, for he had been on the same track before. But now they went on through the length of six weeks and never saw land, and he said then, "We are astray on the great ocean that has no boundaries." Then the wind with its sharp voice began to rise, and there was a noise like the tramping of feet in the sea, and it rose up into great mountains hard to climb, and there was great fear on Tadg's people, for they had never seen the like. But he began to stir them up and to rouse them, and he bade them to meet the sea like men. "Do bravely," he said, "young men of Munster, and fight for your lives against the waves that are rising up and coming at the sides of the curragh." Tadg took one side of the curragh then and his men took the other side, and he was able to pull it round against the whole twenty-nine of them, and to bale it out and keep it dry along with that. And after a while they got a fair wind and put up their sail, the way less water came into the curragh, and then the sea went down and lay flat and calm, and there were strange birds of many shapes singing around them in every part. They saw land before them then, with a good coast, and with that courage and gladness came on them.

And when they came nearer to the land they found a beautiful inver, a river's mouth, with green hills about it, and the bottom of it sandy and as bright as silver, and red-speckled salmon in it, and pleasant woods with purple tree-tops edging the stream. "It is a beautiful country this is," said Tadg, "and it would be happy for him that would be always in it; and let you pull up the ship now," he said, "and dry it out."

A score of them went forward then into the country, and a score stopped to mind the curragh. And for all the cold and discouragement and bad weather they had gone through, they felt no wish at all for food or for fire, but the sweet smell of the crimson branches in the place they were come to satisfied them. They went on through the wood, and after a while they came to an apple garden having red apples in it, and leafy oak-trees, and hazels yellow with nuts. "It is a wonder to me," said Tadg, "to find summer here, and it winter time in our own country."

It was a delightful place they were in, but they went on into another wood, very sweet smelling, and round purple berries in it, every one of them bigger than a man's head, and beautiful shining birds eating the berries, strange birds they were, having white bodies and purple heads and golden beaks. And while they were eating the berries they were singing sweet music, that would have put sick men and wounded men into their sleep.

Tadg and his men went farther on again till they came to a great smooth flowery plain with a dew of honey over it, and three steep hills on the plain, having a very strong dun on every one of them. And when they got to the nearest bill they found a white-bodied woman, the best of the women of the whole world, and it is what she said: "Your coming is welcome, Tadg, son of Cian, and there will be food and provision for you as you want it."

'I am glad of that welcome," said Tadg; "and tell me now, woman of sweet words," he said, "what is that royal dun on the hill, having walls of white marble around it?" "That is the dun of the royal hue of the kings of Ireland, from Heremon, son of Miled, to Conn of the Hundred Battles, that was the last to go into it." What is the name of this country?" Tadg said then. "It is Inislocha, the Lake Island," she said, "and there are two kings over it, Rudrach and Dergcroche, sons of Bodb." And then she told Tadg the whole story of Ireland, to the time of the coming of the Sons of the Gad. "That is well," said Tadg then, "and you have good knowledge and learning. And tell me now," he said, "who is living in that middle dun that has the colour of gold?" "It is not myself will tell you that," she said, "but go on to it yourself and you will get knowledge of it." And with that she went from them into the dun of white marble.

Tadg and his men went on then till they came to the middle dun, and there they found a queen of beautiful shape, and she wearing a golden dress. "Health to you, Tadg," she said. "I thank you for that," said Tadg. "It is a long time your coming on this journey was foretold," she said. "What is your name?" he asked then. "I am Cesair," she said, "the first that ever reached Ireland. But since I and the men that were with me came out of that dark, unquiet land, we are living for ever in this country."

"Tell me, woman," said Tadg, "who is it lives in the dun having a wall of gold about it?" "It is not hard to tell that," she said, "every king, and every chief man, and every noble person that was in a high place of all those that had power in Ireland, it is in that dun beyond they are; Parthalon and Nemed, Firbolgs and Tuatha de Danaan." "It is good knowledge and learning you have," said Tadg. "Indeed I have good knowledge of the history of the world," she said, "and this island," she said, "is the fourth paradise of the world; and as to the others, they are Inis Daleb to the south, and Inis Ercandra to the north, and Adam's Paradise in the east of the world." "Who is there living in that dun with the silver walls?" said Tadg then. "I will not tell you that, although I have knowledge of it," said the woman; "but go to that beautiful hill where it is, and you will get knowledge of it."

They went on then to the third hill, and on the top of the hill was a very beautiful resting-place, and two sweethearts there, a boy and a girl, comely and gentle. Smooth hair they had, shining like gold, and beautiful green clothes of the one sort, and any one would think them to have had the same father and mother. Gold chains they had around their necks, and bands of gold above those again. And Tadg spoke to them: "O bright, comely children," he said, "it is a pleasant place you have here." And they answered him back, and they were praising his courage and his strength and his wisdom, and they gave him their blessing.

And it is how the young man was, he had a sweet-smelling apple, having the colour of gold, in his hand, and he would eat a third part of it, and with all he would eat, it would never be less. And that was the food that nourished the two of them, and neither age or sorrow could touch them when once they had tasted it.

"Who are you yourself?" Tadg asked him then. "I am son to Conn of the Hundred Battles," he said. "Is it Connia you are?" said Tadg. "I am indeed," said the young man, "and it is this girl of many shapes that brought me here." And the girl said: "I have given him my love and my affection, and it is because of that I brought him to this place, the way we might be looking at one another for ever, and beyond that we have never gone."

"That is a beautiful thing and a strange thing," said Tadg, "and a thing to wonder at. And who is there in that grand dun with the silver walls?" he said. "There is no one at all in it," said the girl. "What is the reason of that?" said Tadg. "It is for the kings that are to rule Ireland yet," she said; "and there will be a place in it for yourself, Tadg. And come now," she said, "till you see it."

The lovers went on to the dun, and it is hardly the green grass was bent under their white feet. And Tadg and his people went along with them.

They came then to the great wonderful house that was ready for the company of the kings; it is a pleasant house that was, and any one would like to be in it. Walls of white bronze it had, set with crystal and with carbuncles, that were shining through the night as well as through the day.

Tadg looked out from the house then, and he saw to one side of him a great sheltering apple-tree, and blossoms and ripe fruit on it. "What is that apple tree beyond?" said Tadg. "It is the fruit of that tree is food for the host in this house," said the woman. "And it was an apple of that apple-tree brought Connla here to me; a good tree it is, with its white-blossomed branches, and its golden apples that would satisfy the whole house."

And then Connla and the young girl left them, and they saw coming towards them a troop of beautiful women. And there was one among them was most beautiful of all, and when she was come to them she said: "A welcome to you, Tadg." "I thank you for that welcome," said Tadg; "and tell me," he said, "who are you yourself?" "I am Cliodna of the Fair Hair," she said, "daughter of Gebann, son of Treon, of the Tuatha de Danaan, a sweetheart of Ciabhan of the Curling Hair, and it is from me Cliodna's wave on the coast of Munster got its name; and I am a long time now in this island, and it is the apples of that tree you saw that we use for food." And Tadg was well pleased to be listening to her talk, but after a while he said: "It is best for us to go on now to look for our people." We will be well pleased if you stop longer with us," said the woman.

And while she was saying those words they saw three beautiful birds coming to them, one of them blue and his head crimson, and one crimson and his head green, and the third was speckled and his head the colour of gold, and they lit on the great apple-tree, and every bird of them ate an apple, and they sang sweet music then, that would put sick men into their sleep.

"Those birds will go with you," Cliodna said then; "they will give you guidance on your way, and they will make music for you, and there will be neither sorrow or sadness on you, by land or by sea, till you come to Ireland. And bring away this beautiful green cup with you," she said, "for there is power in it, and if you do but pour water into it, it will be turned to wine on the moment. And do not let it out of your hand," she said, "but keep it with you; for at whatever time it will escape from you, your death will not be far away. And it is where you will meet your death, in the green valley at the side of the Boinn; and it is a wandering wild deer will give you a wound, and after that, it is strangers will put an end to you. And I myself will bury your body, and there will be a hill over it, and the name it will get is Croidhe Essu."

They went out of the shining house then, and Cliodna of the Fair Hair went with them to the place they had left their ship, and she bade their comrades a kindly welcome; and she asked them bow long had they been in that country. "It seems to us," they said, "we are not in it but one day only." "You are in it through the whole length of a year," said she, "and through all that time you used neither food nor drink. But however long you would stop here," she said, "cold or hunger would never come on you." "It would be a good thing to live this way always," said Tadg's people when they heard that. But he himself said: "It is best for us to go on and to look for our people. And we must leave this county, although it is displeasing to us to leave it."

Then Cliodna and Tadg bade farewell to one another, and she gave her blessing to him and to his people. And they set out then over the ridges of the sea; and they were downhearted after leaving that county until the birds began to sing for them, and then their courage rose up, and they were glad and light-hearted.

And when they looked back they could not see the island they had come from, because of a Druid mist that came on it and hid it from them.

Then by the leading of the birds they came to the county of Fresen, and they were in a deep sleep through the whole voyage. And then they attacked the foreigners and got the better of them, and Tadg killed Cathmann, the king, after a hard fight; and Liban his wife made no delay, and came to meet her husband and her sweetheart, and it is glad she was to see him.

And after they had rested a while they faced the sea again, and Tadg and his wife Liban, and his two brothers, and a great many other treasures along with them, and they came home to Ireland safely at the last.

Next: Part I Book IV: Laegaire in the Happy Plain