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

Part II Book IV: The Wedding at Ceann Slieve

FINN and the Fianna made a great hunting one time on the hill of Torc that is over Loch Lein and Feara Mor. And they went on with their hunting till they came to pleasant green Slieve Echtge, and from that it spread over other green-topped hills, and through thick tangled woods, and rough red-headed hills, and over the wide plains of the country. And every chief man among them chose the place that was to his liking, and the gap of danger he was used to before. And the shouts they gave in the turns of the hunt were heard in the woods all round, so that they started the deer in the wood, and sent the foxes wandering, and the little red beasts climbing rocks, and badgers from their holes, and birds flying, and fawns running their best. Then they let out their angry small-headed hounds and set them hunting. And it is red the hands of the Fianna were that day, and it is proud they were of their hounds that were torn and wounded before evening.

It happened that day no one stopped with Finn but only Diorraing, son of Domhar. "Well, Diorraing," said Finn, "let you watch for me while I go asleep, for it is early I rose to-day, and it is an early rising a man makes when he cannot see the shadow of his five fingers between himself and the light of day, or know the leaves of the hazel from the leaves of the oak." With that he fell into a quiet sleep that lasted till the yellow light of the evening. And the rest of the Fianna, not knowing where he was gone, gave over the hunt.

And the time was long to Diorraing while Finn was asleep, and he roused him and told him the Fianna must have given up the hunt, for he could not hear a cry or a whistle from them. "The end of day is come," said Finn then, "and we will not follow them tonight. And go now to the wood," he said, "and bring timber and dead branches for shelter, and I will go looking for food for the night." So Diorraing went to the wood, but he was not gone far till he saw a fine well-lighted house of the Sidhe before him on the edge of the wood near at hand, and he went back to Finn with the news. "Let us go to it," said Finn, "for we ought not to be working in this place, and people living so near at hand." They went then to the door of the house and knocked at it, and the door-keeper came to it. "Whose house is this?" said Diorraing. "It belongs to Conan of Ceann Slieve," said the door-keeper. "Tell him," said Diorraing, "there are two of the Fianna of the Gael at the door."

The door-keeper went in then and told Conan there were two men of the Fianna at the door. "The one of them," he said, "is young and strong, and quiet and fair-haired, and more beautiful than the rest of the men of the world, and he has in his hand a small-headed, white-breasted hound, having a collar of rubbed gold and a chain of old silver. And the other of them," he said, "is brown and ruddy and white-toothed, and he is leading a yellow-spotted hound by a chain of bright bronze." "It is well you have made your report of them," said Conan, "and I know them by it; for the man you spoke of first is Finn, son of Cumhal, Head of the Fianna of Ireland, and Bran in his hand; and the other is Diorraing, and Sceolan in his hand. And go now quickly and let them in," he said.

Finn and Diorraing were brought in then, and they got good attendance, and their arms were taken from them, and a grand feast was made ready that pleased them well. And the wife of Conan was at the one side of Finn, and his daughter, Finndealbh, of the Fair Shape, was at his other side. And they had a great deal of talk together, and at last, seeing her so beautiful, the colour of gold on her curled hair, and her eyes as blue as flowers, and a soft four-cornered cloak fastened at her breast with a silver pin, he asked her of Conan for his wife. "Leave asking that, Finn," said Conan, "for your own courage is not greater than the courage of the man she is promised to." "Who is that?" said Finn. "He is Fatha, son of the King of Ess Ruadh," said Conan. "Your wounds and your danger on yourself," said Diorraing; "and it would be right," he said, "that stammering tongue that gave out those words to be tied and to be shortened for ever, and a drink of death to be given to you; for if the whole of the Men of Dea," he said, "could be put into the one body, Finn would be better than them all." "Leave off, Diorraing," said Finn, "for it is not fighting I am here, but asking a wife, and I will get her whether the Men of Dea think good or bad of it." "I will not be making a quarrel with you," said Conan, "but I put you under bonds as a true hero to answer me everything I am going to ask you." "I will do that," said Finn.

With that Conan put questions to Finn as to his birth and his rearing, and the deeds he had done since he came to the Fianna, and Finn gave full answers to them all. And at last he said: "Let us go on with this no longer, but if you have musicians with you, let them be brought to us now; for it is not my custom," he said, "to be for a single night without music." "Tell me this first," said Conan, "who was it made the Dord Fiann, the Mutterer of the Fianna, and when was it made?" "I will tell you the truth of that," said Finn; "it was made in Ireland by the three sons of Cearmait Honey-Mouth; and nine men used to be sounding it, and since it came to me I have fifty men sounding it." "And tell me this," said Conan, "what is the music pleased you best of all you ever heard?" "I will tell you that," said Finn; "the time the seven battalions of the Fianna are gathered in the one place and raise their spear-shafts over their heads, and the sharp whining of the clear, cold wind goes through them, that is very sweet to me. And when the drinking-hall is set out in Almhuin, and the cup-bearers give out the bright cups to the chief men of the Fianna, that is very sweet to me; and it is sweet to me to be listening to the voice of the sea-gull and the heron, and the noise of the waves of Traig Liath, the song of the three sons of Meardha, the whistle of Lugaidh's Son, and the voice of the cuckoo in the beginning of summer, and the grunting of the pigs on the Plain of Eithne, and the shouting of laughter in Doire." And it is what he said: "The Dord in the green-topped woods, the lasting wash of the waves against the shore, the noise of the waves at Traig Liath meeting with the river of the White Trout; the three men that came to the Fianna, a man of them gentle and a man of them rough, another man of them ploughing the clouds, they were sweeter than any other thing.

"The grey mane of the sea, the time a man cannot follow its track; the swell that brings the fish to the land, it is sleep-music, its sound is sweet.

"Feargall, son of Fionn, a man that was ready-handed, it is long his leap was, it is well marked his track is; he never gave a story that did not do away with secrets; it is his voice was music of sleep to me."

And when Finn had answered all the questions so well, Conan said he would give him his daughter, and that he would have a wedding-feast ready at the end of a month.

They spent the rest of the night then in sleep; but Finn saw a dreadful vision through his sleep that made him start three times from his bed. "What makes you start from your bed, Finn?" said Diorraing. "It was the Tuatha de Danaan I saw," said he, "taking up a quarrel against me, and making a great slaughter of the Fianna."



Now as to the Fianna, they rested at Fotharladh of Moghna that night, and they were downhearted, having no tidings of Finn. And early on the morrow two of them, Bran Beag and Bran Mor, rose up and went to Mac-an-Reith, son of the Ram, that had the gift of true knowledge, and they asked him where did Finn spend the night. And Mac-an-Reith was someway unwilling to tell them, but at the last he said it was at the house of Conan of Ceann Slieve.

The two Brans went on then to Conan's house, and Finn made them welcome; but they blamed him when they heard he was taking a wife, and none of his people with him. "Bid all the Fianna to come to the feast at the end of a month," said Conan then. So Finn and Diorraing and the two Brans went back to where the Fianna were and told them all that had happened, and they went onto Almhuin.

And when they were in the drinking-hall at Almhuin that night, they saw the son of the King of Ireland coming to where they were. "It is a pity the king's son to have come," said Finn; "for he will not be satisfied without ordering everything in the hall in his own way." "We will not take his orders," said Oisin, "but we will leave the half of the hall to him, and keep the other half ourselves."

So they did that; but it happened that in the half of the house that was given up to the King of Ireland's son, there were sitting two of the Men of Dea, Failbhe Mor and Failbhe Beag; and it is what they said, that it is because they were in that side of the hall it was given up. "It is a pity," said Failbhe Beag, "this shame and this great insult to have been put on us to-night; and it is likely Finn has a mind to do more than that again to us," he said, "for he is going to bring away the woman that is promised to the third best man of the Tuatha de Danaan, and against the will of her father and mother." And these two went away early in the morning to Fionnbhar of Magh Feabhail, and told him of the insults Finn and the Fianna of Ireland had a mind to put on the Tuatha de Danaan.

And when Fionnbhar that was king over the Tuatha de Danaan heard that, he sent out messengers through the length of Ireland to gather them all to him. And there came six good battalions to him on the edge of Loch Derg Dheirc at the end of a month; and it was the same day Conan had the wedding-feast made ready for Finn and his people.

And Finn was at Teamhair Luachra at that time, and when he heard the feast was ready, he set out to go to it. And it chanced that the most of the men he had with him at that time were of the sons of Morna. And when they were on their way, Finn said to Goll, "O Goll," he said, "I never felt any fear till now going to a feast. And there are but few of my people with me," he said; "and I know there is no good thing before me, but the Men of Dea are going to raise a quarrel against me and to kill my people." "I will defend you against anything they may do," said Goll.

They went on then to Conan's house, and there was a welcome before them, and they brought into the drinking-hall, and Finn was put in the place beside the door, and Goll on his right and Finndeilb, of the Fair Shape, on his left, and all the rest in the places they were used to.

And as to Fionnbhar of Magh Feabhail and the Tuatha de Danaan, they put a Druid mist about themselves and went on, hidden and armed, in sixteen battalions, to the lawn before Conan's house. "It is little profit we have being here," they said then, "and Goll being with Finn against us." "Goll will not protect him this time," said Ethne, the woman-Druid, "for I will entice Finn out of the house, however well he is watched."

She went on to the house then, and took her stand before Finn outside. "Who is that before me?" she said then. "It is I myself," said Finn. "I put you under the bonds a true hero never broke," she said, "to come out to me here." When Finn heard that, he made no delay and went out to her; and for all there were so many in the house, not one of them took notice of him going, only Caoilte, and he followed him out. And at the same time the Tuatha de Danaan let out a flock of blackbirds having fiery beaks, that pitched on the breasts of all the people in the house, and burned them and destroyed them, till the young lads and the women and children of the place ran out on all sides, and the woman of the house, Conan's wife, was drowned in the river outside the dun.

But as to Ethne, the woman-Druid, she asked Finn would he run against her. "For it is to run a race against you I called you out," she said. "What length of a race?" said Finn. "From Doire da Torc, the Wood of the Two Boars, to Ath Mor, the Great Ford," she said. So they set out, but Finn got first over the ford. And Caoilte was following after them, and Finn was urging him, and he said: "It is ashamed of your running you should be, Caoilte, a woman to be going past you." On that Caoilte made a leap forward, and when he was in front of the witch he turned about and gave a blow of his sword that made two equal halves of her.

"Power and good luck to you, Caoilte," said Finn; "for though it is many a good blow you have struck, you never struck a better one than this."

They went back to the lawn before Conan's dun, and there they found the whole company of the Tuatha de Danaan, that had put the Druid mist, off them. "It seems to me, Caoilte," said Finn, "that we are come into the middle of our enemies."

With that they turned their backs to one another, and they were attacked on all sides till groans of weakness from the unequal fight were forced from Finn. And when Goll, that was in the house, heard that, he said: "It is a pity the Tuatha de Danaan to have enticed Finn and Caoilte away from us; and let us go to their help and make no delay," he said.

Then he rushed out, and all that were there of the Fianna with him, and Conan of Ceann Slieve and his sons. And great anger came on Goll, that he looked like a tall mountain under his grey shield in the battle. And he broke through the Tuatha de Danaan till he reached to Fionnbhar their leader, and they attacked one another, cutting and wounding, till at the last Fionnbhar of Magh Feabhail fell by the strokes of Goll. And a great many others fell in that battle, and there never was a harder battle fought in Ireland, for there was no man on one side or the other had a mind to go back one step before whoever he was fighting against. For they were the two hardest fighting troops to be found in the four parts of the world, the strong, hardy Fianna of the Gael, and the beautiful Men of Dea; and they went near to being all destroyed in that battle.

But after a while they saw the rest of the Fianna that were not in the battle coming from all parts of Ireland. And when the Tuatha de Danaan saw them coming, they put the Druid mist about themselves again and made away. And clouds and weakness came on Finn himself, and on them that were with him, with the dint of the fight. And there were many men of the Fianna lost in that battle; and as to the rest, it is a long time they stopped in Almhuin of Leinster, till their wounds were entirely healed.

Next: Part II Book IV: The Shadowy One