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Title: A Reading Book in Irish History
Author: Joyce, P. W. (Patrick Weston), 1827-1914
Language: English
As this book started as an ASCII text book there are no pictures available.

*** Start of this LibraryBlog Digital Book "A Reading Book in Irish History" ***

Transcriber's note:

      Some typographical and punctuation errors have been
      corrected. A complete list follows the text.

      Variations in spelling and hyphenation have been
      retained as in the original.

      Words italicized in the original are surrounded by

      Words with bold emphasis in the original are surrounded
      by =equals signs=.




 _One of the Commissioners for the Publication of
 the Ancient Laws of Ireland_

 Author of





 [_All rights reserved_]


As this little book is intended chiefly for children, the language is
very simple. But to make matters still easier, all words and allusions
presenting the smallest difficulty are explained either in footnotes or
in the "Notes and Explanations" at the end.

Advantage has been taken of the descriptions under the several
Illustrations to give a good deal of information on the customs and
usages of the ancient Irish people.

Although the book has been written for children, it will be found, I
hope, sufficiently interesting and instructive for the perusal of older

The book, as will be seen, contains a mixture of Irish History,
Biography, and Romance; and most of the pieces appear in their present
form now for the first time. A knowledge of the History of the country
is conveyed, partly in special Historical Sketches, partly in the Notes
under the Illustrations, and partly through the Biography of important
personages, who flourished at various periods from St. Brigit down to
the Great Earl of Kildare. And besides this, the Stories, like those of
all other ancient nations, teach History of another kind, very important
in its own way.

Ancient Irish Manuscript books contain great numbers of Historical and
Romantic Tales; and the specimens given here in translation will, I am
confident, give the reader a very favourable impression of old Irish
writings of this class.

       *       *       *       *       *

I make the following acknowledgments of assistance, with pleasure and

To the Council of the Royal Irish Academy I am indebted for the use of
the blocks of many Illustrations in Wilde's "Catalogue of Irish

I owe to the Council of the Royal Society of Antiquaries of Ireland
several Illustrations from their Journal.

Colonel Wood-Martin has given me the use of the blocks of several of the
Illustrations in his "Pagan Ireland."

Lord Walter FitzGerald has given me permission to reproduce the drawing
of the old Chapter House door in St. Patrick's Cathedral, Dublin, from
the "Journal of the Kildare Archæological Society."

And lastly, Messrs. Macmillan & Co. have permitted me to print portions
of Lord Tennyson's poem, "The Voyage of Maildune."



       I. Legends and Early History,        1

      II. The Song of Inisfail,             7

     III. Religion of the Pagan Irish,      8

      IV. Customs and Modes of Life,       14

      =The Fate of the Children of Lir.=

       V. The Children of Lir turned to
            Swans,                         22

      VI. The Swans on Lake Darvra,        27

     VII. The Swans on the Sea of Moyle,   32

    VIII. Death of the Children of Lir,    39

      IX. Religion and Learning in
            Ancient Ireland,               45

       X. The Red Branch Knights,          50

      =The Fate of the Sons of Usna.=

      XI. The Flight to Alban,             55

     XII. Concobar's guileful Message,     60

    XIII. The Return to Emain,             66

     XIV. Trouble Looming,                 72

      XV. The Attack on the Sons of
            Usna,                          75

     XVI. Death of the Sons of Usna,       80

    XVII. Avenging and Bright,             84

   XVIII. The Wrath of Fergus,             85

     XIX. Ancient Irish Physicians: I.     87

      XX. Ancient Irish Physicians: II.    89

     XXI. The Fena of Erin,                92

    XXII. The Chase of Slieve Cullin,      98

   XXIII. Saint Brigit: I.,               103

    XXIV. Saint Brigit: II.,              107

     XXV. Saint Brigit: III.,             111

    XXVI. Irish Scribes and Books,        114

   XXVII. The Gilla Dacker and his
            Horse,                        120

  XXVIII. The Fena carried off by the
            Horse,                        123

    XXIX. Dermot O'Dyna at the Well,      129

     XXX. Dermot and the
            Wizard-Champion,              132

    XXXI. Saint Columkille: I.,           139

   XXXII. Saint Columkille: II.,          145

  XXXIII. Prince Alfred in Ireland,       150

      =The Voyage of Maildune.=

   XXXIV. The Voyage of Maildune,         155

          The First Island,               157

    XXXV. An Extraordinary Monster,       160

          The Silver Pillar of the Sea    160

   XXXVI. Maildune forgives his enemy,    162

  XXXVII. Tennyson's "Voyage of
            Maildune,"                    164

 XXXVIII. Saint Donatus: I.,              167

   XXXIX. Saint Donatus: II.,             170

      XL. Danish and Anglo-Norman
            Invasions,                    173

     XLI. The Watchfire of Barnalee,      179

    XLII. Cahal O'Conor of the Red Hand,  181

   XLIII. Cahal-More of the Wine-red
            hand,                         186

    XLIV. Sir John de Courcy,             190

     XLV. Sir John de Courcy imprisoned,  193

    XLVI. Sir John de Courcy accepts
            a challenge,                  197

   XLVII. Sir John de Courcy and the
            French Champion,              200

  XLVIII. The Earls of Kildare and
            Ormond,                       203

    XLIX. Ancient Irish Music,            208

          Notes and Explanations,         213

[Illustration: Ornament from the Book of Kells. See page 117.]



In our ancient books there are stories of five different races of people
who made their way to Ireland in old times, with very exact accounts of
their wanderings before their arrival, and of the battles they fought
after landing. But these narratives cannot be depended on, for they are
not real History but Legends, that is stories either wholly or partly
fabulous. Of the five early races, the two last, who were called
Dedannans and Milesians, were the most remarkable; and they are mixed up
with most of the old Irish tales.

  [1-1] It is necessary to know the substance of this first sketch in
            order to understand the rest of the book.

The Dedannans, coming from Greece, landed in Ireland; and having
overcome the people they found there, became masters of the country.
They had the name of being great magicians; and ancient Irish writings
are full of tales of the marvellous spells of their skilled wizards.
They remained in possession for about two hundred years, till the
Milesians came, as will now be related.

For many generations the Milesians, before their arrival in Ireland,
journeyed from one part of Europe to another, seeking for some place of
settlement. And becoming at length weary of this state of unrest, they
consulted their chief druid, who was a skilful seer, and bade him find
out for them when they were to end their wanderings, and where they were
to settle down. The druid, having thought the matter over for a while,
told them that far out on the verge of the western sea was a lovely
green island called Inisfail,[2-1] or the Island of Destiny, which was
to be their final home and resting-place. So they set out once more, and
fared on from land to land, keeping the Isle of Destiny ever in mind,
thinking of it by day and dreaming of it by night. At last they arrived
in Spain, where they lived for a time. Here they were under the command
of the renowned hero "Miled of Spain,"[2-2] or Milesius, from whom they
came to be called Milesians.

  [2-1] Inisfail, one of the old names of Ireland.

  [2-2] Miled, pronounced _Mee-lĕ_ (two syllables).

Some old Irish writers say that while they dwelt in Spain, their chiefs,
as they gazed wistfully over the waters northwards, one clear winter's
night, from the top of a tower at the place now called Corunna, saw
Inisfail like a dim white cloud on the sea, in the far distance.
However this may be, the eight sons of Milesius, after their father's
death--many centuries before the Christian era--set sail with a fleet,
and soon arrived on the coast of Ireland. But before they could land,
the Dedannans, by their spells, raised a furious tempest, which wrecked
the fleet and drowned five of the brothers with most of their crews. The
remaining three landed with their men; and having defeated the Dedannans
in battle, they took possession of Ireland.

[Illustration: A fairy hill: an earthen mound at Highwood, near Lough
Arrow, in Co. Sligo. A fairy moat is also figured at page 15, and a
cairn at page 97.]

When the Dedannans found that they were no longer able to hold the
country, the legend tells us that they retired to secret dwellings under
old forts, moats, cairns, and beautiful green little hills: and they
became fairies, and built themselves glorious palaces in their new
underground abodes, all ablaze with light, and glittering with gems and

From that period forward, till the time of the Danes, there were no more
invasions; and the Milesian kings and people were left to make their own
laws and manage the country as they thought best, without any
interference from outside.

In the History of Ireland from the settlement of the Milesian Colony
down to the time of St. Patrick, that is, to the fifth century of the
Christian Era, there is a mixture of legend and fact; and it is often
hard to disentangle them, so as to tell which is truth and which is
fable. As we advance, the truth and certainty increase, and the legend
grows less, till we arrive near the time of St. Patrick. From about this
period forward, we are able to tell the main history of the country
without any mixture of fable.

For a long time in the beginning the Irish people were all pagans; and
the kind of religion they had will be presently described.

As early as the third or fourth century--long before St. Patrick's
arrival--there were some Christians in Ireland; and it is believed that
the knowledge of Christianity was brought to them from Britain: but on
this point there is no certainty. Their numbers gradually increased as
time went on; and when St. Patrick arrived he found some small Christian
congregations scattered here and there through the country. But the main
body of the people were pagans; and to St. Patrick belongs the glory of
converting them. The history of his life-work need not be told here, as
it will be found set forth in one of the Chapters of the "Child's
History of Ireland." It is enough to say that he arrived in the year
A.D. 432, with many companions to aid him; and that after thirty-three
years of constant toil, he died in 465, leaving the great body of the
people Christians, and the country covered with churches. St. Patrick
was a man of strong will, of great courage--fearing no danger while
doing his Master's work--and possessing mighty power over those he mixed
with and addressed. He was more successful than any other missionary
after the time of the Apostles.

Some years before St. Patrick's arrival, a great king ruled over Ireland
(from 379 to 405) called Niall of the Nine Hostages. From him were
descended most of the kings who reigned over Ireland after his time till
the Anglo-Norman Invasion.[5-1]

  [5-1] The Anglo-Norman Invasion will be found described at page 175.

From the earliest ages the Irish of Ulster were in the habit of crossing
the narrow sea to Alban or Scotland, which can be seen plainly from the
sea-cliffs of Antrim; and many settled there and made it their home. In
the year 503, nearly forty years after St. Patrick's death, a great
colony of Irish--men, women, and children--crossed over, commanded by
three princes, brothers, named Fergus, Angus, and Lorne. In course of
time the posterity of these people mastered all Scotland; and from
Fergus, who was their first king, the kings of Scotland were descended.
At that time Ireland was generally known by the name of Scotia, and the
Irish were called Scots; and from them Alban got the name of Scotland.

[Illustration: Stone Hammers, used when metal was still scarce, or not
known at all. A wooden handle was fixed in the hole. Iron was known in
Ireland from the beginning of the Christian era, and gold, silver,
copper, and bronze, long before it.]

In old times there were five provinces in Ireland:--Leinster, Ulster,
Connaught, Munster, and Meath. Meath, which stretched from the Shannon
eastwards to the sea, and from Kildare on the south to Armagh on the
north, was about half the size of Ulster. It was the last formed of the
five, and later on it disappeared as a province altogether. The present
counties of Meath and Westmeath occupy only about half of it. In those
times, the county Louth belonged to Ulster, and Cavan and Clare to

There was a king over each of the five provinces, and over these again
was a king of all Ireland, called the Over-king or head king. The kings
of Ireland had their chief palace on the Hill of Tara in Meath; where
many of the forts and other remains of the old buildings are still to be
seen. But Tara was deserted as a royal residence in the sixth century,
after which the kings of Ireland lived elsewhere.




    They came from a land beyond the sea,
      And now o'er the western main,
    Set sail, in their good ships, gallantly,
      From the sunny land of Spain.
    "Oh, where's the Isle we've seen in dreams,
      Our destined home or grave?"--
    Thus sung they, as by the morning's beams
      They swept the Atlantic wave.


    And lo, where afar o'er ocean shines
      A sparkle of radiant green,
    As though in that deep lay em'rald mines,
      Whose light through the wave was seen.
    "'Tis Inisfail--'tis Inisfail!"
      Rings o'er the echoing sea,
    While, bending to Heav'n, the warriors hail
      That home of the brave and free.


    Then turn'd they unto the Eastern wave,
      Where now their Day-God's eye
    A look of such sunny omen gave
      As lighted up sea and sky.
    Nor frown was seen through sky or sea,
      Nor tear on leaf or sod,
    When first on their Isle of Destiny
      Our great forefathers trod.




So far as we are able to judge from our old writings, the pagan Irish
had no one religion common to all the people, and no settled general
form of worship. They had many gods; and it would appear that every
person chose whatever god he pleased for himself. Some worshipped idols;
and we read of certain persons who had spring wells for gods: while some
again adored fire, and others the sun and moon. The people also
worshipped the _shee_ or fairies, who were supposed to live in grand
palaces underground, as described at page 3. The persons who taught the
people all about these gods were the Druids, who were the learned men of
those times. They were believed to be wizards, and some think that they
were pagan priests.

The pagan Irish had a dim notion of a sort of heaven, a happy land of
perpetual youth and peace. It was believed that there were many happy
lands in different places, which were called by various names, such as
Moy-Mell, I-Brazil, and Tirnanoge. Some were out in the Atlantic Ocean,
off the western coast, while others were down deep beneath lakes, and
some in caves under forts or cairns. They were all inhabited by fairies,
who sometimes carried off mortals: and those whom they brought away
hardly ever came back. A fairy who wished to allure a mortal often
chanted a sort of magical song called an incantation, which exercised a
spell over the person that listened to it.

There is a pretty story, more than a thousand years old, in the Book of
the Dun Cow, which relates how Prince Connla of the Golden Hair, son of
the great king Conn the Hundred-Fighter, was carried off by a fairy from
the western shore in a crystal boat to Moy-Mell. One day--as the story
relates--while the king and Connla and many nobles were standing on the
sea-shore, a boat of shining crystal approached from the west: and when
it had touched the land, a fairy, like a human being, and richly
dressed, came forth from it, and, addressing Connla, tried to entice him
into it. No one saw this strange being save Connla alone, though all
heard the conversation: and the king and the nobles marvelled, and were
greatly troubled. At last the fairy chanted the following words in a
very sweet voice: and the moment the chant was ended, the poor young
prince stepped into the crystal boat, which in a moment glided swiftly
away to the west: and prince Connla was never again seen in his native



    A land of youth, a land of rest,
      A land from sorrow free;
    It lies far off in the golden west,
      On the verge of the azure sea.
    A swift canoe of crystal bright,
      That never met mortal view--
    We shall reach the land ere fall of night,
      In that strong and swift canoe:
    We shall reach the strand
      Of that sunny land
    From druids and demons free;
      The land of rest,
      In the golden west,
    On the verge of the azure sea!


    A pleasant land of winding vales, bright streams, and verdurous
    Where summer, all the live-long year, in changeless splendour
    A peaceful land of calm delight, of everlasting bloom;
    Old age and death we never know, no sickness, care, or gloom;

          The land of youth,
          Of love and truth,
        From pain and sorrow free;
          The land of rest,
          In the golden west,
        On the verge of the azure sea!


    There are strange delights for mortal men in that island of the west;
    The sun comes down each evening in its lovely vales to rest:

          And though far and dim
          On the ocean's rim
        It seems to mortal view,
          We shall reach its halls
          Ere the evening falls,
        In my strong and swift canoe;
          And ever more
          That verdant shore
        Our happy home shall he;
          The land of rest,
          In the golden west,
        On the verge of the azure sea!


    It will guard thee, gentle Connla of the flowing golden hair,
    It will guard thee from the druids, from the demons of the air;[12-1]
    My crystal boat will guard thee, till we reach that western shore,
    Where thou and I in joy and love shall live for evermore:

        From the druid's incantation,
          From his black and deadly snare,
        From the withering imprecation
          Of the demon of the air,

    It will guard thee, gentle Connla of the flowing golden hair;
    My crystal boat will guard thee, till we reach that silver strand,
    Where thou shalt reign in endless joy, the king of the Fairy-land!

From "Old Celtic Romances," by P. W. JOYCE, LL.D.

  [12-1] Demons of the air were evil spirits who were supposed to live,
            not in underground places like fairies, but in the air.
            They were very much dreaded and hated.

[Illustration: Stone hatchet in the National Museum, Dublin: probably
used as a battle-axe. Before metals came into general use, tools and
weapons of various kinds, in Ireland as well as in other countries, were
made of stone, flint being commonly used for making cutting-instruments,
such as knives. But this was at a very early period, mostly before the
time when our written history begins.]

[Illustration: Bronze head of Irish battle-mace: now in the National
Museum Dublin. It was fitted with a handle which was fastened in the
socket; and it was used for striking in battle. It is double the size of
the picture. Weapons of this kind were in use at a very early time, long
before the beginning of our regular history.]



Our old books contain very full information regarding the Irish people,
and how they lived, more than a thousand years ago.

In early times Ireland was almost everywhere covered with forests; and
there were great and dangerous bogs and marshes, overgrown with reeds,
moss, and coarse grass. Many of these bogs still remain, but they are
not nearly so large or dangerous as they were then. Great tracts of
country were uninhabited, so that the whole population was much less
than it is now.

[Illustration: Ancient Irish bronze reaping-hook: 6 inches long. It was
fitted with a handle which was fastened in the socket with a rivet. Now
in the National Museum, Dublin.]

The people hunted and fished a great deal, partly for food, partly to
rid the country of noxious creatures, and partly for sport; for the
forests were alive with wild animals of all kinds, and the rivers and
lakes teemed with fish. But no one then thought it worth while to hunt
foxes and hares for sport, as people do now. They had much grander
game:--wild boars with long and dangerous tusks; gigantic deer; and
fierce wolves that lurked in caves and thick woods. In the cleared parts
of the country there was much pasture and tillage various kinds of corn
and vegetables were grown, and the land was very fertile and well
watered with springs and rivulets.

[Illustration: A moat: at Patrickstown, near Oldcastle, Co. Meath. Some
moats were burial mounds. See pages 16 and 59.]

There was more pasture than tillage; and the pasture land was not fenced
in, but was grazed in common. The law was very particular in laying down
rules about the fences of tillage lands--that they should be properly
made, and that when two farms lay next each other, each man should do
half the fencing work. Oxen were generally used for ploughing: horses
seldom. Generally two oxen were put to one plough, but sometimes four,
and sometimes even six. While one man held the plough, another walked in
front to lead the animals.

On account of the great forests and bogs, there were many large
districts where it was hard to go long distances across country from
place to place: and often impossible. But in all the inhabited parts
there were roads or cleared paths. The roads of those times were however
very rough, and not nearly so good as our present roads. Rivers were
crossed by bridges made of rough planks or wickerwork--for there were no
stone bridges--or by wading at shallow fords, or by little ferry boats.

The people lived in houses almost always made of timber, generally
round-shaped or oval, but sometimes four-cornered and oblong like our
present houses. In order to keep off wild beasts and robbers, there was
a high embankment of earth, with a deep trench, round every house. Many
of these earthworks still remain all over Ireland, and are well known by
the names _lis_, _rath_, fort, &c.; and some have high mounds commonly
called moats.

[Illustration: Grain-rubber: 16 inches long. People ground their corn
with this before the invention of querns and milk. The grain was put
between the two stones, and the upper stone was worked backwards and
forwards with the hands. It was very hard and tedious work. See p. 17.]

The food of the people was not very different from what it is at
present, except that they had no potatoes, which were brought to Ireland
for the first time about 300 years ago: and there was no tea or coffee.
They used oats, wheat, rye, and barley, ground and made into bread;
fish; and for those who could afford it, the flesh of various animals,
either boiled or roast. Oatmeal porridge or stirabout was in very
general use, especially for children. They ground their corn with small
watermills, or with handmills called querns, one of which was kept in
almost every house. Querns were in use before the earliest time that our
history reaches; and water-mills were introduced before the arrival of
St. Patrick. In those early ages there was no sugar, and honey was
greatly valued, so that beehives were kept everywhere.

[Illustration: Ancient Irish bronze caldron for boiling meat, 12-1/2
inches deep, formed of plates beautifully rivetted together. It shows
marks and signs of long use over a fire. Now in the National Museum,

[Illustration: Irish drinking vessel, called a _Mether_. They drank from
the corners. At meals, the same mether was used by several persons, who
drank from it in turn.]

For drink, they had, besides plain water and milk, ale, and a sweet sort
of liquor called mead both of which were made at home, and often wine,
which was brought from the continent. There was then no whiskey.

In those days there were no hotels or inns as there are now, where a
person could have board and lodging for payment; but they were not much
needed then, as travellers were otherwise well provided for. Besides the
monasteries, which, as we shall see further on, were always open and
free to wayfarers, there were, all through the country, what were called
"Houses of public hospitality." The keeper of one of those houses was
called a _Brugaid_ and sometimes a _Beetagh_; and his office was
considered very high and honourable. A brugaid or beetagh had to keep an
open house for travellers who were always welcome, and received bed and
food free of charge. He was obliged by law to keep constantly in hands a
large stock of provisions; and he should have a certain number of beds
and all other necessary household furniture. To enable a brugaid to keep
up such an expensive establishment, he had the house itself and a large
tract of land, free of rent and taxes, besides other liberal allowances.

The law required that there should be several open roads leading to the
residence of every brugaid; and that a light should always be kept
burning in the lawn at night to guide travellers to the house.

The people dressed well according to their means. Both men and women
were fond of bright coloured garments, which were not hard to procure,
as the art of dyeing in all the various hues was well understood. It
was usual for the same person to wear clothes of several brilliant
colours: and sometimes the long outside mantle worn by men and women was
striped and spotted with purple, yellow, green, or other dyes like
Joseph's coat of many colours. Those who were able to afford it wore
rings, bracelets, necklaces, gorgets, brooches, and other ornaments,
made of gold, silver, and a sort of white bronze.

[Illustration: Ancient Irish Gorget for the neck: of gold, reddish in
colour, and very pure: weighs 16-1/3 oz. Now in the National Museum,

The Irish metal workers were very skilful. They made brooches, rings,
bracelets, croziers, crosses, and other such articles, in gold, silver,
whitish bronze, gems, and enamel, of which many have been found in the
earth from time to time, and are now kept in museums: and some of them
are so skilfully and beautifully wrought that no artificer of the
present day can imitate them.

There were men of the several professions, such as medical doctors,
lawyers, judges, builders, poets, historians: and all through the
country were to be found tradesmen of the various crafts--carpenters,
smiths, workers in gold, silver, and brass, ship and boat builders,
masons, shoemakers, dyers, tailors, brewers, and so-forth: all working
industriously and earning their bread under the old Irish laws, which
were everywhere acknowledged and obeyed. Then there was a good deal of
commerce with Britain and with Continental countries, especially France;
and the home commodities, such as hides, salt, wool, etc., were
exchanged for wine, silk, satin, and other goods not produced in

From what has been said here, we may see that the ancient Irish were
orderly and regular in their way of life--quite on a level in this
respect with the people of those other European countries of the same
period that had a proper settled government; and, it will be shown
further on in this book, that they were famed throughout all Europe for
Religion and Learning.

The greatest evil of the country was war; for the kings and chiefs were
very often fighting with each other, which brought great misery on the
poor people where the disturbances took place. But in those early times
war was common in all countries; and in this respect there was no more
trouble in Ireland than in England, Scotland, and the countries of the

[Illustration: Flint arrow-heads. The head was fixed on the top of the
shaft with cord of some kind, or with dried gut or tendon. Flint was
used at a very early period when metals were either not known at all or
were still very scarce. The makers of flint implements shaped them by
chipping with stone hammers, in which they were very skilful and

[Illustration: One form of Irish Ornament.]

The Fate of the Children of Lir[22-1]; or, The Four White Swans.



During the time when the Dedannans ruled in Erin, there was a chief
named Lir, who lived in Ulster, and who was much beloved for his
goodness and his hospitality. He had four little children: a girl, named
Finola, who was the eldest, and three boys, Aed, Ficra, and Conn: and
Finola and Aed were twins, as were also Ficra and Conn. Their mother
died when they were very young, and they were then placed in charge of
one of Lir's friends named Eva, who was a witch-lady.

  [22-1] Among the ancient Irish Romantic Tales, three are specially
            known as "The Three Sorrowful Stories of Erin," viz. "The
            Fate of the Children of Lir," "The Fate of the Sons of
            Turenn," both of which relate to the Dedannans; and "The
            Fate of the Sons of Usna," referring to the Milesian
            people. The greater part of the "Children of Lir" and the
            whole of the "Sons of Usna" are given in this book,
            translated from the Gaelic. "The Fate of the Sons of
            Turenn" is translated in full in "Old Celtic Romances."

The four children grew up under Eva's care. She nursed them with great
tenderness, and her love for them increased every day. They slept near
their father; and he would often rise from his own bed at the dawn of
morning, and go to their beds to talk with them and to fondle them. And
they were the delight and joy of all the Dedannans, who often came to
Lir's house to see them. For nowhere could four lovelier children be
found; so that those who saw them were always delighted with their
beauty and their gentleness, and could not help loving them with all
their heart.

Now when Eva saw that the children of Lir received such attention and
affection from all, she fancied she was neglected on their account; and
a poisonous dart of jealousy entered her heart, which turned her love to
hatred; and she began to have feelings of bitter enmity for the

Her jealousy so preyed on her that she feigned illness, and lay in bed
for nearly a year, filled with gall and brooding mischief; and at the
end of that time she committed a foul and cruel deed of treachery on the
children of Lir.

One day she ordered her horses to be yoked to her chariot, and she set
out for the palace of the Dedannan king, Bove Derg, bringing the four
children with her. Finola did not wish to go, for it was revealed to her
darkly in a dream that Eva was bent on some dreadful deed; and she knew
well that the witch-lady intended to kill her and her brothers that
day, or in some other way to bring ruin on them. But she was not able to
avoid the fate that awaited her; so she went.

They fared on towards the palace, which was situated near Lough Derg in
the south, till they came to the shore of Lake Darvra,[24-1] where they
alighted; and the horses were unyoked. Eva led the children to the edge
of the lake, and told them to go to bathe; and as soon as they had got
into the clear water, she struck them one by one with a druidical fairy
wand, and turned them into four beautiful snow-white swans. And she
addressed them in these words--

    Out to your home, ye swans, on Darvra's wave;
      With clamorous birds begin your life of gloom:
    Your friends shall weep your fate, but none can save;
      For I've pronounced the dreadful words of doom.

  [24-1] Lake Darvra, now Lough Derravaragh, in Westmeath.

After this, the four children of Lir turned towards the witch-lady; and
Finola spoke--

"Evil is the deed thou hast done, O Eva; thy friendship to us has been a
friendship of treachery; and thou hast ruined us without cause. But the
power of thy witchcraft is not greater than the druidical power of our
friends to punish thee; and the doom that awaits thee shall be worse
than ours."

    The witch-lady loved us long ago;
    The witch-lady now has wrought us woe;
    With magical wand and fearful words,
    She changed us to beautiful snow-white birds;
    And we live on the waters for evermore,
    By tempests driven from shore to shore.

Finola again spoke and said, "Tell us now how long we shall be in the
shape of swans, so that we may know when our miseries shall come to an

"It would be better for you if you had not put that question," said Eva;
"but I will declare the truth to you, as you have asked me. Three
hundred years on smooth Lake Darvra; three hundred years on the Sea of
Moyle, between Erin and Alban;[25-1] three hundred years at Inish
Glora[25-2] on the Western Sea. Until the union of Largnen, the prince
from the north, with Decca, the princess from the south; until the
Taillkenn[25-3] shall come to Erin, bringing the light of a pure faith;
and until ye hear the voice of the Christian bell. And neither by your
own power, nor by mine, nor by the power of your friends, can ye be
freed till the time comes."

  [25-1] The sea between Erin and Alban (Ireland and Scotland) was
            anciently called the Sea of Moyle, from the Moyle, or
            Mull, of Cantire.

  [25-2] Inish Glora; a small island, about five miles west from
            Belmullet, in the county Mayo, still known by the same

  [25-3] The Taillkenn, a name given by the druids to St. Patrick.

Then Eva repented what she had done; and she said, "Since I cannot
afford you any other relief, I will allow you to keep your own Gaelic
speech, and ye shall be able to sing sweet, plaintive fairy music, which
shall excel all the music of the world, and which shall lull to sleep
all that listen to it. Moreover, ye shall retain your human reason; and
ye shall not be in grief on account of being in the shape of swans."

And she chanted this lay--

    Depart from me, ye graceful swans;
      The waters are now your home:
    Your palace shall be the pearly cave,
    Your couch the crest of the crystal wave,
      And your mantle the milk-white foam!

    Depart from me, ye snow-white swans,
    With your music and Gaelic speech:
    The crystal Darvra, the wintry Moyle,
    The billowy margin of Glora's isle;--
        Three hundred years on each!

    Victorious Lir, your hapless sire,
      His loved ones in vain shall call;
    His weary heart is a husk of gore,
    His home is joyless for evermore,
      And his anger on me shall fall!

    Through circling ages of gloom and fear
      Your anguish no tongue can tell;
    Till faith shall shed her heavenly rays,
    Till ye hear the Taillkenn's anthem of praise,
      And the voice of the Christian bell!

Then ordering her steeds to be yoked to her chariot, she set out once
more for the palace leaving the four white swans swimming on the lake.

    Our father shall watch and weep in vain;
    He never shall see us return again.
    Four pretty children, happy at home;
    Four white swans on the feathery foam;
    And we live on the waters for evermore,
    By tempests driven from shore to shore.



Lir and his people, hearing that Eva had arrived at Bove Derg's palace
without the children, became alarmed, and went southwards without delay;
till passing by the shore of Lake Darvra, they saw the swans. And the
swans swam up and spoke to them, at which they wondered greatly. But
when they told Lir that they were indeed his four children whom the
witch-lady had turned into birds, he and his people were struck with
amazement and horror; and they uttered three long mournful cries of
grief and lamentation. And when Lir had heard from Finola how the matter
happened, he prepared to set out in quest of Eva. And bidding farewell
to the children for a time, he chanted this lay:--

    The time has come for me to part:
      No more, alas! my children dear,
    Your rosy smiles shall glad my heart,
      Or light the gloomy home of Lir.

    Dark was the day when first I brought
      This Eva in my home to dwell!
    Hard was the woman's heart that wrought
      This cruel and malignant spell!

    I lay me down to rest in vain;
      For, through the livelong, sleepless night,
    My little lov'd ones, pictured plain,
      Stand ever there before my sight.

    Finola, once my pride and joy;
      Dark Aed, adventurous and bold;
    Bright Ficra, gentle, playful boy;
      And little Conn, with curls of gold;--

    Struck down on Darvra's reedy shore,
      By wicked Eva's magic power:
    Oh, children, children, never more
      My heart shall know one peaceful hour.

After this he fared southwards till he arrived at the palace, where he
found Eva. And the king, Bove Derg, when Lir had told him what Eva had
done, was in great wrath; for he loved those little children. And
calling Eva to him he spoke to her fiercely and asked her what shape of
all others, on the earth, or above the earth, or beneath the earth, she
most abhorred, and into which she most dreaded to be transformed.

And she, being forced to answer truly, said, "A demon of the air."

"That is the form you shall take," said Bove Derg; and as he spoke he
struck Eva with a druidical magic wand, and turned her into a demon of
the air. She opened her wings, and flew with a scream upwards and away
through the clouds; and she is still a demon of the air, and she shall
be a demon of the air till the end of time.

After this, Lir and the Dedannans came to live on the shore of the lake,
to be near the swans and to speak with them. And so the swans passed
their time on the waters. During the day they discoursed lovingly with
their father and their friends; and at night they chanted their slow,
sweet, fairy music, the most delightful that was ever heard by men; so
that all who listened to it, even those who were in grief, or sickness,
or pain, forgot their sorrows and their sufferings, and fell into a
gentle, sweet sleep from which they awoke bright and happy.

At last the three hundred years[30-1] came to an end, and Finola said to
her brothers:--

"Do you know, my dear brothers, that we have come to the end of our time
here; and that we have only this one night to spend on Lake Darvra?"

  [30-1] Three hundred years: the Dedannans were regarded as gods and
            lived an immensely long time.

When the three sons of Lir heard this, they were in great distress and
sorrow; for they were almost as happy on Lake Darvra, surrounded by
their friends, and conversing with them day by day, as if they had been
in their father's house in their own natural shapes; whereas they should
now live on the gloomy and tempest-tossed Sea of Moyle, far away from
all human society.

Early next morning, the swans came to the margin of the lake to speak to
their father and their friends for the last time, and to bid them
farewell; and Finola chanted this lay--


    Farewell, farewell, our father dear!
      The last sad hour has come:
    Farewell, Bove Derg! farewell to all,
      Till the dreadful day of doom!
    We go from friends and scenes beloved,
      To a home of grief and pain;
          And that day of woe
          Shall come and go,
      Before we meet again!


    We live for ages on stormy Moyle,
      In loneliness and fear;
    The kindly words of loving friends
      We never more shall hear.
    Four joyous children long ago;
      Four snow-white swans to-day;
          And on Moyle's wild sea
          Our robe shall be
      The cold and briny spray.


    Far down on the misty stream of time,
      When three hundred years are o'er,
    Three hundred more in storm and cold,
      By Glora's desolate shore;
    Till Decca fair is Largnen's spouse;
      Till north and south unite;
          Till the hymns are sung,
          And the bells are rung,
      At the dawn of the pure faith's light.


    Arise, my brothers, from Darvra's wave
      On the wings of the southern wind;
    We leave our father and friends to-day
      In measureless grief behind.
    Ah! sad the parting, and sad our flight
      To Moyle's tempestuous main;
          For the day of woe
          Shall come and go,
      Before we meet again!

The four swans then spread their wings, and rose from the surface of the
water in sight of all their friends, till they reached a great height in
the air; then resting, and looking downwards for a moment, they flew
straight to the north, till they alighted on the Sea of Moyle between
Erin and Alban.



Miserable was the abode and evil the plight of the children of Lir on
the Sea of Moyle. Their hearts were wrung with sorrow for their father
and their friends; and when they looked towards the steep rocky,
far-stretching coasts, and saw the great, dark, wild sea around them,
they were overwhelmed with fear and despair. They began also to suffer
from cold and hunger, so that all the hardships they had endured on Lake
Darvra appeared as nothing compared with their suffering on the
sea-current of Moyle.

And so they lived, till one night a great tempest fell upon the sea.
Finola, when she saw the sky filled with black, threatening clouds, thus
addressed her brothers:--

"Beloved brothers, we have made a bad preparation for this night: for it
is certain that the coming storm will separate us; and now let us
appoint a place of meeting, or it may happen that we shall never see
each other again."

And they answered, "Dear sister, you speak truly and wisely; and let us
fix on Carricknarone,[33-1] for that is a rock that we are all very well
acquainted with."

  [33-1] Carricknarone, the "Rock of the Seals": probably the Skerry
            rock near Portrush in Antrim: but the old name is now

And they appointed Carricknarone as their place of meeting.

Midnight came, and with it came the beginning of the storm. A wild,
rough wind swept over the dark sea, the lightnings flashed, and the
great waves rose, and increased their violence and their thunder.

The swans were soon scattered over the waters, so that not one of them
knew in what direction the others had been driven. During all that night
they were tossed about by the roaring winds and waves, and it was with
much difficulty they preserved their lives.

Towards morning the storm abated, the sky cleared, and the sea became
again calm and smooth; and Finola swam to Carricknarone. But she found
none of her brothers there, neither could she see any trace of them when
she looked all round from the summit of the rock over the wide face of
the sea.

Then she became terrified, thinking she should never see them again; and
she began to lament them plaintively.

[On this incident Thomas Moore wrote the following beautiful song. A
person is supposed to be listening to Finola, and--in the first four
lines of the song--calls on the winds and the waves to be silent that he
may hear.]


    Silent, O Moyle! be the roar of thy water,
      Break not, ye breezes! your chain of repose,
    While, murmuring mournfully, Lir's lonely daughter
      Tells to the night-star her tale of woes.
    When shall the Swan, her death-note singing,
      Sleep with wings in darkness furl'd?
    When will Heav'n, its sweet bell ringing,
      Call my spirit from this stormy world?

    Sadly, O Moyle! to thy winter-wave weeping,
      Fate bids me languish long ages away;
    Yet still in her darkness doth Erin lie sleeping
      Still doth the pure light its dawning delay
    When will that day-star, mildly springing,
      Warm our Isle with peace and love?
    When will Heaven, its sweet bell ringing,
      Call my spirit to the fields above?

At last, while she stood gazing in despair over the waste of waters, she
saw her brothers swimming from different directions towards the rock.
They came to her one by one, and she welcomed them joyfully: and she
placed Aed under the feathers of her breast, and Ficra and Conn under
her wings, and said to them:--"My dear brothers, though ye may think
last night very bad, we shall have many like it from this time forth."

So they continued for a long time on the Sea of Moyle, suffering
hardships of every kind, till one winter night came upon them, of great
wind and of snow and frost so severe, that nothing they ever before
suffered could be compared to the misery of that night. The swans
remained on Carricknarone, and their feet and their wings were frozen to
the icy surface, so that they had to strive hard to move from their
places in the morning; and they left the skin of their feet, the quills
of their wings, and the feathers of their breasts clinging to the rock.

"Sad is our condition this night, my beloved brothers," said Finola,
"for we are forbidden to leave the Sea of Moyle; and yet we cannot bear
the salt water, for when it enters our wounds, I fear we shall die of
pain." And she uttered these words--

    Our life is a life of woe;
      No shelter or rest we find:
    How bitterly drives the snow;
      How cold is this wintry wind!

    From the icy spray of the sea,
      From the wind of the bleak north-east,
    I shelter my brothers three,
      Under my wings and breast.

    The witch-lady sent us here,
      And misery well we know:--
    In cold and hunger and fear;
      Our life is a life of woe![36-1]

  [36-1] Short Irish poems often began and ended in the same words, as
            seen in the above translation.

They were, however, forced to swim out on the stream of Moyle, all
wounded and torn as they were; for though the brine was sharp and
bitter, they were not able to avoid it. They stayed as near the coast as
they could, till after a long time the feathers of their breasts and
wings grew again, and their wounds were healed.

After this the swans lived on for a great number of years, sometimes
visiting the shores of Erin, and sometimes the headlands of Alban. But
they always returned to the sea-stream of Moyle, for it was to be their
home till the end of three hundred years.

One day they came to the mouth of the Bann, on the north coast of Erin,
and looking inland, they saw a stately troop of horsemen approaching
directly from the south-west. They were mounted on white steeds, and
clad in bright-coloured garments, and as they wound towards the shore
their arms glittered in the sun.

These were a party of the Dedannans who had been a long time searching
for the children of Lir along the northern shores of Erin: and now that
they had found them, they were joyful; and they and the swans greeted
each other with tender expressions of friendship and love. The children
of Lir inquired after the Dedannans, and particularly after their father
Lir; and for Bove Derg, and for all the rest of their friends and

"They are well," replied the Dedannans; "but all are mourning for you
since the day you left Lake Darvra. And now we wish to know how you fare
on this wild sea."

"Miserable has been our life since that day," said Finola; "and no
tongue can tell the suffering and sorrow we have endured on the Sea of
Moyle." And she chanted these words--

    Ah, happy is Lir's bright home to-day,
    With mead and music and poet's lay:
    But gloomy and cold his children's home,
    For ever tossed on the briny foam.

    Our wreathèd feathers are thin and light
    When the wind blows keen through the wintry night:
    Yet often we were robed, long, long ago,
    In purple mantles and furs of snow.

    On Moyle's bleak current our food and wine
    Are sandy sea-weed and bitter brine:
    Yet oft we feasted in days of old,
    And hazel-mead drank from cups of gold.

    Our beds are rocks in the dripping caves;
    Our lullaby song the roar of the waves:
    But soft rich couches once we pressed,
    And harpers lulled us each night to rest.

    Lonely we swim on the billowy main,
    Through frost and snow, through storm and rain:
    Alas for the days when round us moved
    The chiefs and princes and friends we loved!

    My little twin brothers beneath my wings
    Lie close when the north wind bitterly stings,
    And Aed close nestles before my breast;
    Thus side by side through the night we rest.

    Our father's fond kisses, Bove Derg's embrace,
    The light of Mannanan's godlike face,
    The love of Angus--all, all are o'er;
    And we live on the billows for evermore!

After this they bade each other farewell, for it was not permitted to
the children of Lir to remain away from the stream of Moyle.



Great was the misery of the Children of Lir on the sea of Moyle till
their three hundred years were ended. Then Finola said to her brothers--

"It is time for us to leave this place, for our period here has come to
an end."

    The hour has come; the hour has come;
      Three hundred years have passed:
    We leave this bleak and gloomy home,
      And we fly to the west at last!

    We leave for ever the stream of Moyle;
      On the clear, cold wind we go;
    Three hundred years round Glora's Isle,
      Where wintry tempests blow!

    No sheltered home, no place of rest,
      From the tempest's angry blast:
    Fly, brothers, fly, to the distant west,
      For the hour has come at last!

So the swans left the Sea of Moyle, and flew westward, till they reached
the sea round the Isle of Glora. There they remained for three hundred
years, suffering much from storm and cold, and in nothing better off
than they were on the Sea of Moyle. Towards the end of that time, St.
Patrick came to Erin with the pure faith; and St. Kemoc, one of his
companions, came to Inish Glora. The first night Kemoc came to the
island, the children of Lir heard his bell at early matin time, ringing
faintly in the distance. And the three sons of Lir trembled with fear,
for the sound was strange and dreadful to them. But Finola knew well
what it was; and she soothed them and said:--"My dear brothers, this is
the voice of the Christian bell: and now the end of our suffering is
near: for this bell is the signal that we shall soon be freed from our
spell, and released from our life of suffering; for God has willed it."

And when the bell ceased she chanted this lay--

    Listen, ye swans, to the voice of the bell,
      The sweet bell we've dreamed of for many a year;
    Its tones floating by on the night breezes, tell
      That the end of our long life of sorrow is near!

    Listen, ye swans, to the heavenly strain;
      'Tis the anchoret tolling his soft matin bell:
    He has come to release us, from sorrow, from pain,
      From the cold and tempestuous shores where we dwell!

    Trust in the glorious Lord of the sky;
      He will free us from Eva's druidical spell:
    Be thankful and glad, for our freedom is nigh,
      And listen with joy to the voice of the bell!

"Let us sing our music now," said Finola.

And they chanted a low, sweet, plaintive strain of fairy music, to
praise and thank the great high King of heaven and earth.

Kemoc heard the music from where he stood; and he listened with great
astonishment. And he came and spoke to the swans, and asked them were
they the children of Lir. They replied, "We are indeed the children of
Lir, who were changed long ago into swans by the spells of the

"I give God thanks that I have found you," said Kemoc; "for it is on
your account I have come to this little island." Then he brought them to
his own house; and, sending for a skilful workman, he caused him to make
two bright, slender chains of silver; and he put a chain between Finola
and Aed, and the other chain he put between Ficra and Conn. And there
they lived with Kemoc in content and happiness.

Now there was in that place a certain king named Largnen, whose queen
was Decca: the very king and queen whom the witch-lady had foretold on
the day when she changed the children into swans, nine hundred years
before. And Queen Decca, hearing all about those wonderful speaking
swans, wished to have them for herself: so she sent to Kemoc for them;
but he refused to give them. Whereupon the queen waxed very wroth: and
her husband the king, when she told him about it, was wroth also: and he
set out straightway for Kemoc's house to bring the swans away by force.
The swans were at this time standing in the little church with Kemoc.
And Largnen coming up, seized the two silver chains, one in each hand,
and drew the birds towards the door; while Kemoc followed him, much
alarmed lest they should be injured.

The king had proceeded only a little way, when suddenly the white
feathery robes faded and disappeared; and the swans regained their human
shape, Finola being transformed into an extremely old woman, and the
three sons into three feeble old men, white-haired and bony and

When the king saw this, he started with affright, and instantly left the
place without speaking one word.

As to the children of Lir, they turned towards Kemoc; and Finola spoke--

"Come, holy cleric, and baptise us without delay, for our death is near.
You will grieve after us, O Kemoc; but in truth you are not more
sorrowful at parting from us than we are at parting from you. Make our
grave here and bury us together; and as I often sheltered my brothers
when we were swans, so let us be placed in the grave--Conn standing
near me at my right side, Ficra at my left, and Aed before my

    Come, holy priest, with book and prayer
      Baptise and bless us here:
    Haste, cleric, haste, for the hour has come
      And death at last is near!

    Dig our grave--a deep, deep grave,
      Near the church we loved so well;
    This little church, where first we heard
      The voice of the Christian bell.

    As oft in life my brothers dear
      Were sooth'd by me to rest--
    Ficra and Conn beneath my wings,
      And Aed before my breast;

    So place the two on either hand--
      Close, like the love that bound me;
    Place Aed as close before my face,
      And twine their arms around me

    Thus shall we rest for evermore,
      My brothers dear and I;
    Haste, cleric, haste, baptise and bless,
      For death at last is nigh!

  [43-1] In Ireland, in old times, the dead were often buried
            standing up in the grave. It was in this way Finola and
            her brothers were buried.

[Illustration: An Ogham stone. See note, next page.]

[Illustration: Bronze spear-head. A long handle was fixed in the socket
and fastened by a rivet.]

[Illustration: Bronze sword. A hilt was fixed on by rivets.]

Then the children of Lir were baptised, and they died immediately. And
when they died, Kemoc looked up; and lo, he saw a vision of four lovely
children, with light, silvery wings, and faces all radiant with joy.
They gazed on him for a moment; but even as they gazed, they vanished
upwards, and he saw them no more. And he was filled with gladness, for
he knew they had gone to heaven; but when he looked down on the four
bodies lying before him, he became sad and wept.

And Kemoc caused a wide and deep grave to be dug near the little church;
and the children of Lir were buried together, as Finola had
directed--Conn at her right hand, Ficra at her left, and Aed standing
before her face. And he raised a grave-mound over them, placing a
tombstone on it, with their names graved in Ogham;[45-1] after which he
uttered a lament for them, and their funeral rites were performed.

  [45-1] Ogham, a sort of writing often used on tombstones to mark the
            names of the persons buried. It consisted of lines and
            points generally cut on the edges of the stone.

So far we have related the sorrowful story of the Fate of the Children
of Lir.

        From "Old Celtic Romances," by P. W. JOYCE, LL.D.



As soon as St. Patrick had entered on his mission in Ireland, he began
to found monasteries, which continued to spread through every part of
the country for hundreds of years after his time. Though religion was
their main object, these establishments were among the chief means of
spreading general enlightenment among the people. Almost every
monastery had a school or college attached, at the head of which was
some man who was a great scholar and teacher. The teachers were
generally monks: but many learned laymen were also employed. Some
colleges had very large numbers of students: for instance, we are told
that there were 3000 in each of the two colleges of Clonard and
Bangor[46-1]; and many others might be named, which, though not so
large, had yet several hundred students in each.

  [46-1] Clonard, in Meath, on the Boyne. Bangor, in the Co. Down.

In these monasteries and their schools all was life and activity. The
monks were always busily employed; some at tillage on the farm round the
monastery--ploughing, digging, sowing, reaping--some teaching, others
writing books. The duty of a few was to attend to travellers, to wash
their feet and prepare supper and bed for them: for strangers who called
at the monastery were always received with welcome, and got lodging,
food, and attendance from the monks, all free. Others of the inmates,
again, employed themselves in cooking, or carpentry, or smithwork, or
making clothes, for the use of the community. Besides all this they had
their devotions to attend to, at certain times, both day and night,
throughout the year. As for the students, they had to mind their own
simple household concerns, and each day when these were finished they
had plenty of employment in their studies: for the professors kept them
hard at work.

There were also great numbers of schools not held in monasteries,
conducted by laymen, some for general learning, such as History, Poetry,
Grammar, Latin, Greek, Irish, the Sciences, &c.; and some for teaching
and training young men for professions, such as lawyers and doctors. And
these schools helped greatly to spread learning, though they were not so
well known outside Ireland as the monastic schools.

The Irish professors were so famed for their learning, and the colleges
were so excellent, that students came to them from every country of
Europe: but more from Great Britain than elsewhere. The Irish were very
much pleased to receive these foreign students: and they were so
generous that they supplied them with food, gave them the manuscript
books they wanted to learn from, and taught them too, all free of
charge. Ireland was in those times the most learned country in Europe,
so that it was known by the name of the Island of Saints and Scholars.

But the Irish scholars and missionaries did not confine themselves to
their own country. Great numbers of them went abroad--to Britain and
elsewhere--to teach and to preach the Gospel to the people. The
professors from Ireland were held in such estimation that they were
employed to teach in most of the schools and colleges of Great Britain
and the Continent.

We shall see that the Northern Picts of Scotland were converted by St.
Columkille and his monks from Iona (see p. 144): and a large proportion
of the people of England became Christians through the preaching of
Irish monks before the arrival of St. Augustine.[48-1]

  [48-1] St. Augustine came to England in the year 596--having been
            sent by Pope Gregory--and converted to Christianity those
            of the English who had not been already converted.

The Irish missionaries, who went to the Continent, in their eagerness to
spread religion and knowledge, penetrated to all parts of Europe: they
even found their way to Iceland. Few people have any idea of the trials
and dangers they encountered. Most of them were persons in good
position, who might have lived in plenty and comfort at home. They knew
well, when setting out, that they were leaving country and friends
probably for ever: for of those that went, very few ever returned. Once
on the Continent, they had to make their way poor and friendless,
through people whose language they did not understand, and who were in
many places ten times more rude and dangerous in those ages than the
inhabitants of these islands: and we know, as a matter of history, that
many were killed on the way. Then these earnest men had, of course, to
learn the language of the people among whom they took up their abode:
for until they did this they had to employ an interpreter, which was a
very troublesome and slow way of preaching. But the noble-hearted
missionaries went forth to do their good work; and no labours,
hardships, or dangers could turn them from their purpose.

More than three hundred years ago the great English poet, Edmund
Spenser, lived some time in Ireland, and made himself very well
acquainted with its history. He knew what kind of a country it was in
past ages; so that in one of his poems he speaks of the time

          "When Ireland florishèd in fame
    Of wealth and goodnesse, far above the rest
    Of all that beare the British Islands name."

[Illustration: Ancient Irish solid gold ornament, now in the National
Museum Dublin. It is double the size of the picture, and weighs 5-1/4
oz. Great numbers of gold objects, shaped like this, are in the National
Museum, some very large--one of them weighing 33 oz.: while others are
quite small, not bigger than a common coat-button. Besides being
ornaments, it is believed that they were used as money, as there were no
coins in use in very ancient times in Ireland.]



Nearly two miles west of Armagh are the remains of the ancient palace of
Emain, or Emain Macha, often called Emania. They consist of a great
circular _rath_ or rampart of earth, with a deep trench outside it, and
a high mound within, the whole structure covering a space of about
thirteen acres. At one time the circular ring was complete, but of late
years some portions of it have been levelled or removed. The houses in
which the kings and heroes of old, with their numerous households, lived
and feasted, stood mostly within the enclosure, and were all of wood,
not a trace of which remains. This great fort is now called by the
people of the place, the "Navan Fort," or "Navan Ring."

According to Irish legendary history, Emain was founded about three
centuries before the beginning of the Christian era, by Macha of the
Golden Hair, queen of Ulster; and for more than six hundred years it was
the residence of the kings of that province. But about the year A.D.
331, it was destroyed by three princes from Tara, who invaded and
conquered that part of Ulster; after which Emain was no longer

Early in the first century of the Christian era flourished the Red
Branch Knights, a band of heroes in the service of Concobar (or Conor)
Mac Nessa, king of Ulster. There were several bodies of them, under
separate commanders, who lived in different parts of the province. These
leaders were the great heroes of the Red Branch, who are celebrated in
ancient Irish romance, and who are mentioned by Moore in his song, "Let
Erin remember":--

    "When her kings with standard of green unfurled
    Led the Red Branch Knights to danger."

Every year during the summer months, various companies of the Knights
came to Emain under their several commanders, to be drilled and trained
in military science and feats of arms. They were lodged in a large
separate building beside Emain, called Creeveroe or the Red Branch--from
which the whole force took its name: and the townland in which this
great house stood is still called Creeveroe. Each day the leaders were
feasted by King Concobar Mac Nessa in his own banquetting hall at Emain.

The greatest of all the Red Branch heroes was Cu-Culainn--"the mightiest
hero of the Scots," as he is called in one of the oldest of the Irish
books--whose residence was _Dundalgan_, a mile west of the present town
of Dundalk. This dun or fort consists of a high mound surrounded by an
earthen rampart and trench, all of immense size, even in their ruined
state; but it has lost its old name and is now called the Moat of
Castletown, while the original name Dundalgan, slightly altered, has
been transferred to Dundalk.

Another of these Red Branch Knights' residences stands beside
Downpatrick: viz., the great fort anciently called (among other names)
Dun-Keltair or Rath-Keltair, where lived the hero, Keltar of the
Battles. It consists of a huge embankment of earth, nearly circular,
with the usual deep trench outside it, covering a space of about ten

Next to Cuculainn, the most renowned of those knights were Fergus Mac
Roy, Leary the Victorious, Conall Carnagh, and the three Sons of Usna.

There were, at this same time, similar orders of knights in the other
provinces. Those of Munster were commanded by Curoi Mac Dara, who lived
in a great stone fortress high up on the side of Caherconree Mountain,
near Tralee, the remains of which may be seen to this day. He was a
mighty champion, and on one occasion vanquished Cuculainn in single
combat. The Connaught knights were in the service of Maive, the warlike
queen of that province, whose residence was the palace of Croghan, the
ruins of which still remain near the village of Rathcroghan in the north
of Roscommon.

In the Book of the Dun Cow, the Book of Leinster, and other old
manuscripts (which will be found described farther on), there are great
numbers of romantic stories about those Red Branch Knights, and about
the Knights of Munster and Connaught, of which many have been translated
and published.

The most celebrated of all these tales is what is called the _Tain_ or
"Cattle spoil" of Quelna or Cooley.[53-1] Queen Maive, having some cause
of quarrel with an Ulster chief, set out with her army for the north on
a plundering expedition, attended by all the great heroes of Connaught.
During the march northwards, the queen, as the story tells us, had nine
splendid chariots for herself and her attendant chiefs, her own in the
centre, with two abreast in front, two behind, and two on each side,
right and left; and--in the words of the old tale--"the reason for this
order was, lest the clods from the hoofs of the horses, or the
foam-flakes from their mouths, or the dust raised by that mighty host,
should strike and tarnish the golden diadem on the head of the queen."

  [53-1] Quelna or Cooley, the ancient name of the hilly peninsula
            lying between the bays of Carlingford and Dundalk: the
            name Cooley is still retained.

The invading army entered Quelna, which was then a part of Ulster and
belonged to Cuculainn. It happened just then that the men of Ulster were
under a spell of feebleness, all but Cuculainn, who had to defend
single-handed the several fords and passes, in a series of combats
against Maive's best champions, in all of which he was victorious. But,
in spite of what he could do, Queen Maive carried off nearly all the
best cattle of Quelna, and, at their head, a great brown bull which
indeed was what she chiefly came for. At length the Ulstermen, having
been freed from the spell, attacked and routed the Connaught army. The
battles, single combats, and other incidents of this war are related in
the Tain, which consists of one main story, with about thirty minor
tales grouped round it. Another Red Branch story is the Fate of the Sons
of Usna, which has been always a favourite with Irish story-tellers, and
with the Irish people in general, and which is now given here,
translated in full.

[Illustration: A "Cromlech," an ancient Irish tomb: still to be seen in
its place in the Phoenix Park, Dublin. This is rather a small one, the
covering stone being only about 6-1/2 feet long. Some cromlechs are very
large: one at Kilternan near Dublin has a covering stone 23-1/2 feet
long, 17 feet broad, and 6-1/2 feet thick: and no one can tell how the
people of old lifted it up.]

Deirdre; or, The Fate of the Sons of Usna.[55-1]



Concobar Mac Nessa king of Ulaid[55-2] ruled in Emain. And his chief
storyteller, Felimid, made a feast for the king and for the knights of
the Red Branch; who all came to partake of it in his house. While they
were feasting right joyously, listening to the sweet music of the harps
and the mellow voices of the bards, a messenger brought word that
Felimid's wife had given birth to a little daughter, an infant of
wondrous beauty. And when Caffa, the king's druid and seer, who was of
the company, was ware of the birth of the child, he went forth to view
the stars and the clouds, if he might thereby glean knowledge of what
was in store for that little babe.[55-3] And when he had returned to his
place, he sat deep pondering for a time: and then standing up and
obtaining silence, he said:--

"This child shall be called Deir-drĕ[56-1]; and fittingly is she so
named: for much of woe will befal Ulaid and Erin in general on her
account. There shall be jealousies, and strifes, and wars: evil deeds
will be done: many heroes will be exiled: many will fall."

  [55-1] The translation that follows is quite new, and is now
            published for the first time. On this fine story is
            founded the poem of "Deirdre" by Robert Dwyer Joyce, M.D.

  [55-2] Ulaid (pron. _Ulla_), Ulster.

  [55-3] The druids professed to be able to foretell by observing the
            stars and clouds.

  [56-1] "Deirdre" is said to mean "alarm."

When the heroes heard this they were sorely troubled, and some said that
the child should be killed. But the king said:--"Not so, ye Knights of
the Red Branch, it is not meet to commit a base deed in order to escape
evils that may never come to pass. This little maid shall be reared out
of the reach of mischief, and when she is old enough she shall be my
wife: thus shall I be the better able to guard against those evils that
Caffa forecasts for us."

And the Ultonians did not dare to gainsay the word of the king.

Then king Concobar caused the child to be placed in a strong fortress on
a lonely spot nigh the palace, with no opening in front, but with door
and windows looking out at the back on a lovely garden watered by a
clear rippling stream: and house and garden were surrounded by a wall
that no man could surmount. And those who were put in charge of her
were, her tutor, and her nurse, and Concobar's poetess, whose name was
Lavarcam: and save these three, none were permitted to see her. And so
she grew up in this solitude, year by year, till she was of marriageable
age; when she excelled all the maidens of her time for beauty.

One snowy day as she and Lavarcam looked forth from the window, they saw
some blood on the snow, where her tutor had killed a calf for dinner;
and a raven alighted and began to drink of it. "I should like," said
Deirdre, "that he who is to be my husband should have these three
colours: his hair as black as the raven: his cheeks red as the blood:
his skin like the snow. And I saw such a youth in a dream last night;
but I know not where he is, or whether he is living on the ridge of the

"Truly," said Lavarcam, "the young hero that answers to thy words is not
far from thee; for he is among Concobar's knights: namely, Naisi the son
of Usna."

Now Naisi and his brothers, Ainnli and Ardan, the three Sons of Usna,
were the best beloved of all the Red Branch Knights, so gracious and
gentle were they in time of peace, so skilful and swift-footed in the
chase, so strong and valiant in battle.

And when Deirdre heard Lavarcam's words, she said:--"If it be as thou
sayest, that this young knight is near us, I shall not be happy till I
see him: and I beseech thee to bring him to speak to me."

"Alas, child," replied Lavarcam, "thou knowest not the peril of what
thou askest me to do: for if thy tutor come to know of it, he will
surely tell the king; and the king's anger none can bear."

Deirdre answered not: but she remained for many days sad and silent: and
her eyes often filled with tears through memory of her dream: so that
Lavarcam was grieved: and she pondered on the thing if it could be done,
for she loved Deirdre very much and had compassion on her. At last she
contrived that these two should meet without the tutor's knowledge: and
the end of the matter was that they loved each other: and Deirdre said
she would never wed the king, but she would wed Naisi.

Knowing well the doom that awaited them when Concobar came to hear of
this, Naisi and his young wife and his two brothers, with thrice fifty
fighting men, thrice fifty women, thrice fifty attendants, and thrice
fifty hounds, fled over sea to Alban. And the king of the western part
of Alban received them kindly and took them into military service. Here
they remained for a space, gaining daily in favour: but they kept
Deirdre apart, fearing evil if the king should see her.

And so matters went on, till it chanced that the king's steward, coming
one day by Naisi's house, saw the couple as they sat on their couch: and
going directly to his master, he said:--

"O king, we have long sought in vain for a woman worthy to be thy wife,
and now at last we have found her: for the woman, Deirdre, who is with
Naisi, is worthy to be the wife of the king of the western world. And
now I give thee this counsel:--Let Naisi be killed, and then take thou
Deirdre for thy wife."

[Illustration: A burial urn. The ancient Irish sometimes buried as we do
now, placing the body in the grave, over which they often raised a cairn
or a cromlech. Sometimes they burned the body and put the ashes in an
urn, which they placed under a cromlech, or cairn, or burial mound. Urns
were always made of clay, which was baked till it was hard. They are
often found in graves, especially under cairns and cromlechs: and they
nearly always contain ashes and bits of burnt bones. Occasionally, as
has been already said (p. 43, note), persons were buried standing up,
especially kings and warriors, who were placed in the grave fully

The king basely agreed to do so; and forthwith he laid a plot to slay
the sons of Usna; which matter coming betimes to the ears of the
brothers, they fled by night with all their people. And when they had
got to a safe distance, they took up their abode in a wild place, where
with much ado they obtained food by hunting and fishing. And the
brothers built them three hunting booths in the forest, a little
distance from that part of the seashore looking towards Erin: and the
booth in which their food was prepared, in that they did not eat; and
the one in which they ate, in that they did not sleep. And their people
in like manner built themselves booths and huts, which gave them but
scant shelter from wind and weather.

Now when it came to the ears of the Ultonians, that the sons of Usna and
their people were in discomfort and danger, they were sorely grieved:
but they kept their thoughts to themselves, for they dared not speak
their mind to the king.



At this same time a right joyous and very splendid feast was driven by
Concobar in Emain Macha to the nobles and the knights of his household.
And the number of the king's household that sat them down in the great
hall of Emain on that occasion was five and three score above six
hundred and one thousand.[60-1] Then arose, in turn, their musicians to
sound their melodious harpstrings, and their poets and their
story-tellers to sing their sweet poetic strains, and to recount the
deeds of the mighty heroes of the olden time. And the feasting and the
enjoyment went on, and the entire assembly were gay and cheerful. At
length Concobar arose from where he sat high up on his royal seat;
whereupon the noise of mirth was instantly hushed. And he raised his
kingly voice and said:--

"I desire to know from you, ye Nobles and Knights of the Red Branch,
have you ever seen in any quarter of Erin, a house better than this
house of Emain, which is my mansion: and whether you see any want in

  [60-1] That is 1665. This inverted method of enumeration was often
            used in Ireland. But they also used direct enumeration
            like ours.

And they answered that they saw no better house, and that they knew of
no want in it.

And the king said: "I know of a great want: namely, that we have not
present among us the three noble sons of Usna. And why now should they
be in banishment on account of any woman in the world?"

And the nobles replied:--"Truly it is a sad thing that the sons of Usna,
our dear comrades, should be in exile and distress. They were a shield
of defence to Ulaid: and now, O king, it will please us well that thou
send for them and bring them back, lest they and their people perish by
famine or fall by their enemies."

"Let them come," replied Concobar, "and make submission to me: and
their homes, and their lands, and their places among the Knights of the
Red Branch shall be restored to them."

Now Concobar was mightily enraged at the marriage and flight of Naisi
and Deirdre, though he hid his mind from all men; and he spoke these
words pretending forgiveness and friendship. But there was guile in his
heart, and he planned to allure them back to Ulaid that he might kill

When the feast was ended, and the company had departed, the king called
unto him Fergus Mac Roy, and said:--"Go thou, Fergus, and bring back the
sons of Usna and their people. I promise thee that I will receive them
as friends should be received, and that what awaits them here is not
enmity or injury, but welcome and friendship. Take my message of peace
and good will, and give thyself as pledge and surety for their safety.
But these two things I charge thee to do:--That the moment you land in
Ulaid on your way back, you proceed straight to Barach's house which
stands on the sea cliff high over the landing place fronting Alban: and
that whether the time of your arrival be by day or by night, thou see
that the sons of Usna tarry not, but let them come hither direct to
Emain, that they may not eat food in Erin till they eat of mine."

And Fergus, suspecting no evil design, promised to do as the king
directed: for he was glad to be sent on this errand, being a fast friend
to the sons of Usna.

Fergus set out straightway, bringing with him only his two sons, Illan
the Fair and Buinni the Red, and his shield bearer to carry his shield.
And as soon as he had departed, Concobar sent for Barach and said to

"Prepare a feast in thy house for Fergus: and when he visits thee
returning with the sons of Usna, invite him to partake of it." And
Barach thereupon departed for his home to do the bidding of the king and
prepare the feast.

Now those heroes of old, on the day they received knighthood, were wont
to make certain pledges which were to bind them for life, some binding
themselves to one thing, some to another. And as they made the promises
on the faith of their knighthood, with great vows, in presence of kings
and nobles, they dared not violate them; no, not even if it was to save
the lives of themselves and all their friends: for whosoever broke
through his knighthood pledge was foully dishonoured for evermore. And
one of Fergus's obligations was never to refuse an invitation to a
banquet: a thing which was well known to King Concobar and to Barach.

As to Fergus Mac Roy and his sons: they went on board their galley and
put to sea, and made no delay till they reached the harbour nigh the
campment of the sons of Usna. And coming ashore, Fergus gave the loud
shout of a mighty man of chase. The sons of Usna were at that same hour
in their booth; and Naisi and Deirdre were sitting with a polished
chessboard between them playing a game.

And when they heard the shout, Naisi said:--"That is the call of a man
from Erin."

"Not so," replied Deirdre, "it is the call of a man of Alban."

And after a little time when a second shout came, Naisi said:--"That of
a certainty is the call of a man of Erin!"

But Deirdre again replied:--"No, indeed: it concerns us not: let us play
our game."

But when a third shout came sounding louder than those before, Naisi
arose and said:--"Now I know the voice: that is the shout of Fergus!"
And straightway he sent Ardan to the shore to meet him.

Now Deirdre knew the voice of Fergus from the first: but she kept her
thoughts to herself: for her heart misgave her that the visit boded
evil. And when she told Naisi that she knew the first shout, he
said:--"Why, my queen, didst thou conceal it then?"

And she replied:--"Lo, I saw a vision in my sleep last night: three
birds came to us from Emain Macha, with three drops of honey in their
beaks, and they left us the honey and took away three drops of our

"What dost thou read from that vision, O princess?" said Naisi.

"It denotes the message from Concobar to us," said Deirdre; "for sweet
as honey is the message of peace from a false man, while he has thoughts
of blood hidden deep in his heart."

When Ardan arrived at the shore, the sight of Fergus and his two sons
was to him like rain on the parched grass; for it was long since he had
seen any of his dear comrades from Erin. And he cried out as he came
near, "An affectionate welcome to you my dear companions": and he fell
on Fergus's neck and kissed his cheeks, and did the like to his sons.
Then he brought them to the hunting-booth; and Naisi, Ainnli, and
Deirdre gave them a like kind welcome; after which they asked the news
from Erin.

"The best news I have," said Fergus, "is that Concobar has sent me to
you with kindly greetings, to bring you back to Emain and restore you to
your lands and homes, and to your places in the Red Branch; and I am
myself a pledge for your safety."

"It is not meet for them to go," said Deirdre: "for here they are under
no man's rule; and their sway in Alban is even as great as the sway of
Concobar in Erin."

But Fergus said: "One's mother country is better than all else, and
gloomy is life when a man sees not his home each morning."

"Far dearer to me is Erin than Alban," said Naisi, "even though my sway
should be greater here."

It was not with Deirdre's consent he spoke these words: and she still
earnestly opposed their return to Erin.

But Fergus tried to re-assure her:--"If all the men of Erin were against
you," said he, "it would avail nought once I have passed my word for
your safety."

"We trust in thee," said Naisi, "and we will go with thee to Erin."

[Illustration: A gold box: 2-3/4 inches across: 1 inch deep. Found in a
grave in Co. Cork. Use not known.]

[Illustration: Ancient Irish bronze lamp. Found in a _crannoge_ (i.e. an
island-dwelling in a lake) in Co. Roscommon. The vessel held the oil,
and the wick projected from the pipe.]



Going next morning on board their galleys, Fergus and his companions put
out on the wide sea: and oar and wind bore them on swiftly till they
landed on the shore of Erin near the house of Barach.

And Deirdre, seating herself on a cliff, looked sadly over the waters at
the blue headlands of Alban: and she uttered this farewell:--


"Dear to me is yon eastern land: Alban with its wonders. Beloved is
Alban with its bright harbours and its pleasant hills of the green
slopes. From that land I would never depart except to be with Naisi.


Kil-Cuan, O Kil-Cuan,[67-1] whither Ainnli was wont to resort: short
seemed the time to me while I sojourned there with Naisi on the margins
of its streams and waterfalls.

  [67-1] This and the other places named in Deirdre's Farewell are
            all in the west of Scotland.


"Glen-Lee, O Glen-Lee, where I slept happy under soft coverlets: fish
and fowl, and the flesh of red deer and badgers; these were our fare in


"Glen-Masan, O Glen-Masan: tall its cresses of white stalks: often were
we rocked to sleep in our curragh in the grassy harbour of Glen-Masan.


"Glen-Orchy, O Glen-Orchy: over thy straight glen rises the smooth ridge
that oft echoed to the voices of our hounds. No man of the clan was more
light-hearted than my Naisi when following the chase in Glen-Orchy.


"Glen-Ettive, O Glen-Ettive: there it was that my first house was raised
for me: lovely its woods in the smile of the early morn: the sun loves
to shine on Glen-Ettive.


"Glen-da-Roy, O Glen-da-Roy: the memory of its people is dear to me:
sweet is the cuckoo's note from the bending bough on the peak over


"Dear to me is Dreenagh over the resounding shore: dear to me its
crystal waters over the speckled sand. From those sweet places I would
never depart, but only to be with my beloved Naisi."

       *       *       *       *       *

After this they entered the house of Barach; and when Barach had
welcomed them, he said to Fergus: "Here I have a three-days banquet
ready for thee, and I invite thee to come and partake of it."

When Fergus heard this his heart sank and his face waxed all over a
crimson red: and he said fiercely to Barach:--"Thou hast done an evil
thing to ask me to this banquet: for well thou knowest I cannot refuse
thee. Thou knowest, too, that I am under solemn pledge to send the Sons
of Usna this very hour to Emain: and if I remain feasting in thy house,
how shall I see that my promise of safety is respected?"

But none the less did Barach persist; for he was one of the partners in
Concobar's treacherous design.

Then Fergus turned to Naisi and said:--"I dare not violate my knighthood
promise: what am I to do in this strait?" But Deirdre answered for her
husband:--"The choice is before thee, Fergus; and it is more meet for
thee to abandon thy feast than to abandon the sons of Usna, who have
come over on thy pledge."

Then Fergus was in sore perplexity; and pondering a little he said:--"I
will not forsake the sons of Usna: for I will send with them to Emain
Macha my two sons, Illan the Fair and Buinni the Red, who will be their
pledge instead of me."

But Naisi said: "We need not thy sons for guard or pledge: we have ever
been accustomed to defend ourselves!" And he moved from the place in
great wrath: and his two brothers, and Deirdre, and the two sons of
Fergus followed him, with the rest of the clan; while Fergus remained
behind silent and gloomy: for his heart misgave him that mischief was
brewing for the sons of Usna.

Then Deirdre tried to persuade the sons of Usna to go to Rathlin between
Erin and Alban, and tarry there till Barach's feast was ended: but they
did not consent to do so, for they deemed it would be a mark of
cowardice: and they sped on by the shortest ways towards Emain Macha.

When now they had come to Fincarn of the Watch-tower on Slieve Fuad,
Deirdre and her attendants stayed behind the others a little: and she
fell asleep. And when Naisi missed her he turned back and found her just
awakening; and he said to her:--"Why didst thou tarry, my princess?"

And she answered:--"I fell asleep and had a dream. And this is what I
saw in my dream:--Illan the Fair took your part: Buinni the Red did not:
and I saw Illan without his head: but Buinni had neither wound nor

"Alas, O beauteous princess," said Naisi, "thou utterest nought but evil
forebodings: but the king is true and will not break his plighted word."

So they fared on till they had come to the Ridge of the Willows,[70-1]
an hour's journey from the palace: and Deirdre, looking upwards in great
fear, said to Naisi:--"O Naisi, see yonder cloud in the sky over Emain,
a fearful chilling cloud of a blood-red tinge: a baleful red cloud that
bodes disaster! Come ye now to Dundalgan and abide there with the mighty
hero Cuculainn till Fergus returns from Barach's feast; for I fear
Concobar's treachery."

  [70-1] Irish name _Drum-Sailech_; the ridge on which Armagh was
            afterwards built.

But Naisi answered:--"We cannot follow thy advice, beloved Deirdre, for
it would be a mark of fear: and we have no fear."

And as they came nigh the palace Deirdre said to them:--"I will now give
you a sign if Concobar meditates good or evil. If you are brought into
his own mansion where he sits surrounded by his nobles, to eat and drink
with him, this is a token that he means no ill; for no man will injure a
guest that has partaken of food at his table: but if you are sent to the
house of the Red Branch, be sure he is bent on treachery."

When at last they arrived at the palace they knocked loudly with the
handwood: and the door-keeper swang the great door wide open. And when
he had spoken with them he went and told Concobar that the sons of Usna
and Fergus's two sons had come, with their people.

And Concobar called to him his stewards and attendants and asked
them:--"How is it in the house of the Red Branch as to food and drink?"
And they replied that if the seven battalions of Ulaid were to come to
it they would find enough of all good things "If that is so," said
Concobar, "take the sons of Usna and their people to the Red Branch."

Even then Deirdre besought them not to enter the Red Branch: for she
deemed now that of a certainty there was mischief afoot. But Illan the
Fair said:--"Never did we show cowardice or unmanliness, and we shall
not do so now." Then she was silent and went with them into the house.

And the company, when they had come in, sat them down so that they
filled the great hall: and alluring viands and delicious drinks were set
before them: and they ate and drank till they became satisfied and
cheerful: all except Deirdre and the Sons of Usna, who did not partake
much of food or drink. And Naisi asked for the king's chessboard and
chessmen; which were brought: and he and Deirdre began to play.



Let us now speak of Concobar. As he sat among his nobles, the thought of
Deirdre came into his mind, and he said:--"Who among you will go to the
Red Branch and bring me tidings of Deirdre, whether her youthful shape
and looks still live upon her: for if so there is not on the ridge of
the world a woman more beautiful." And Lavarcam said she would go.

Now the Sons of Usna were very dear to Lavarcam: and Naisi was dearer
than the others. And rising up she went to the Red Branch, where she
found Naisi and Deirdre with the chessboard between them, playing. And
she saluted them affectionately: and she embraced Deirdre, and wept over
her, and kissed her many times with the eagerness of her love: and she
kissed the cheeks of Naisi and of his brothers.

And when her loving greeting was ended, she said:--"Beloved children,
evil is the deed that is to be done this night in Emain: for the three
torches of valour of the Gaels will be treacherously assailed, and
Concobar is certainly resolved to put them to death. And now set your
people on guard, and bolt and bar all doors, and close all windows; and
be steadfast and valourous, and defend your dear charge manfully, if you
may hold the assailants at bay till Fergus comes." And she departed
weeping piteously.

And when Lavarcam had returned to Concobar asked what tidings she
brought. "Good tidings have I," said she: "for the three Sons of Usna
have come, the three valiant champions of Ulaid: and now that they are
with thee, O king, thou wilt hold sway in Erin without dispute. And bad
tidings I bring also: Deirdre indeed is not as she was, for her youthful
form and the splendour of her countenance have fled from her."

And when Concobar heard this his jealousy abated, and he joined in the

But again the thought of Deirdre came to him, and he asked:--"Who now
will go for me to the Red Branch and bring me further tidings of Deirdre
and of the Sons of Usna?" for he distrusted Lavarcam. But the Knights of
the Red Branch had misgivings of some evil design, and all remained

Then he called to him Trendorn, one of the lesser chiefs: and he
said:--"Knowest thou, Trendorn, who slew thy father and thy three
brothers in battle?" And Trendorn answered:--"Verily, it was Naisi the
son of Usna that slew them." Then the king said:--"Go now to the Red
Branch and bring me back tidings of Deirdre and of the Sons of Usna."

Trendorn went right willingly. But when he found the doors and windows
of the Red Branch shut up, he was seized with fear, and he said: "It is
not safe to approach the Sons of Usna, for they are surely in wrathful
mood: nevertheless I must needs bring back tidings to the king."

Whereupon, not daring to knock at the door, he climbed nimbly to a small
window high up that had been unwittingly left open, through which he
viewed the spacious banquet hall, and saw Naisi and Deirdre playing
chess. Deirdre chanced to look up at that moment, and seeing the face of
the spy with eyes intently gazing on her, she started with affright and
grasped Naisi's arm, as he was making a move with the chessman. Naisi,
following her gaze, and seeing the evil-looking face, flung the chessman
with unerring aim and broke the eye in Trendorn's head.

Trendorn dropped down in pain and rage; and going straight to Concobar,
he said:--"I have tidings for thee, O king: the three Sons of Usna are
sitting in the banquet hall, stately and proud like kings: and Deirdre
is seated beside Naisi; and verily, for beauty and queenly grace, her
peer cannot be found."

When Concobar heard this, a flame of jealousy and fury blazed up in his
heart, and he resolved that by no means should the Sons of Usna escape
the doom he planned for them.



Coming forth on the lawn of Emain, King Concobar now ordered a large
body of hireling troops to beset the Red Branch: and he bade them force
the doors and bring forth the sons of Usna. And they uttered three
dreadful shouts of defiance, and assailed the house on every side; but
the strong oak stood bravely, and they were not able to break through
doors or walls. So they heaped up great piles of wood and brambles and
kindled them till the red flames blazed round the house.

Buinni the Red now stood up and said to the Sons of Usna:--"To me be
intrusted the task to repel this first assault: for I am your pledge in
place of my father." And marshalling his men, and causing the great door
to be thrown wide open, he sallied forth and scattered the assailants
and put out the fires: slaying thrice fifty hirelings in that onslaught.

But Buinni returned not to the Red Branch: for the king sent to him with
a secret offer of great favours and bribes: namely, his own royal
friendship, and a fruitful tract of land; which Buinni took and basely
abandoned the sons of Usna. But none the better luck came to him of it:
for at that same hour a blight fell on the land, so that it became a
moor, waste and profitless, which is at this day called Slieve Fuad.

When Illan the Fair became aware of his brother's treason, he was
grieved to the heart, and he said:--"I am the second pledge in place of
my father for the sons of Usna, and of a certainty I will not betray
them: while this straight sword lives in my hand I will be faithful: and
I will now repel this second attack." For at this time the king's
hirelings were again thundering at the doors.

Forth he issued with his band: and he made three quick furious circuits
round the Red Branch, scattering the troops as he went: after which he
returned to the mansion and found Naisi and Deirdre still playing.[77-1]
But as the hireling hordes returned to the attack, he went forth a
second time and fell on them, dealing death and havoc whither-soever he

  [77-1] These champions, as well as their wives, took care never to
            show any signs of fear or alarm even in the time of
            greatest danger: so Naisi and Deirdre kept playing
            quietly as if nothing was going on outside, though they
            heard the din of battle resounding.

Then, while the fight was still raging, Concobar called to him his son
Ficra, and said to him:--"Thou and Illan the Fair were born on the same
night: and as he has his father's arms, so thou take mine, namely, my
shield which is called the Ocean, and my two spears which are called
Dart and Slaughter, and my great sword, the Blue-green blade. And bear
thyself manfully against him, and vanquish him, else none of my troops
will survive."

Ficra did so and went against Illan the Fair; and they made a stout,
warlike, red-wounding attack on each other, while the others looked on
anxious: but none dared to interfere. And it came to pass that Illan
prevailed, so that Ficra was fain to shelter himself behind his father's
shield the Ocean, and he was like to be slain. Whereupon the shield
moaned, and the Three Waves of Erin uttered their hollow melancholy

  [77-2] The "Three _Tonns_ or Waves of Erin" were the Wave of Tuath
            outside the mouth of the river Bann, off the coast of
            Derry; the Wave of Rury in Dundrum Bay, off the county
            Down; and the Wave of Cleena in Glandore Harbour in the
            south of Cork. In stormy weather, when the wind blows from
            certain directions, the sea at those places, as it tumbles
            over the sandbanks, or among the caves and fissures of the
            rocks, utters a loud and solemn roar, which in old times
            was believed to forebode the death of some king.

            The legends also tell that the shield belonging to a king
            moaned when the person who wore it in battle--whether the
            king himself or a member of his family--was in danger of
            death: the moan was heard all over Ireland; and the
            "Three Waves of Erin" roared in response. See "Irish
            Names of Places," Vol. II., Chap. XVI.

The hero Conall Carnagh, sitting in his dun afar off, heard the moan of
the shield and the roar of the Wave of Tuath: and springing up from
where he sat, he said: "Verily, the king is in danger: I will go to his

He ran with the swiftness of the wind, and arrived on the Green of Emain
where the two young heroes were fighting. Thinking it was Concobar that
crouched beneath the shield, he attacked Illan, not knowing him, and
wounded him even unto death. And Illan looking up said, "Is it thou,
Conall! Alas, dreadful is the deed thou hast done, not knowing me, and
not knowing that I am fighting in defence of the Sons of Usna who are
now in deadly peril from the treachery of Concobar."

And Conall, finding he had unwittingly wounded his dear young friend
Illan, turned in his grief and rage on the other, and swept off his
head. And he stalked fierce and silent out of the battlefield.

Illan, still faithful to his charge, called aloud to Naisi to defend
himself bravely: then putting forth his remaining strength, he flung his
arms, namely, his sword and his spears and his shield, into the Red
Branch; and falling prone on the green sward, the shades of death dimmed
his eyes, and his life departed.

And now when it was the dusk of evening, another great battalion of the
hirelings assailed the Red Branch, and kindled fagots around it:
whereupon Ardan sallied out with his valorous band and scattered them,
and put out the fires, and held guard for the first third of the night.
And during the second third Ainnli kept them at bay.

Then Naisi took his turn, issuing forth, and fought with them till the
morning's dawn: and until the sands of the seashore, or the leaves of
the forest, or the dew drops on the grass, or the stars of heaven are
counted, it will not be possible to number the hirelings that were slain
in that fight by Naisi and his band of heroes.

And as he was returning breathless from the rout, all grimy and terrible
with blood and sweat, he spied Lavarcam, as she stood watching the
battle anxiously; and he said:--"Go, Lavarcam, go and stand on the outer
rampart, and cast thine eyes eastwards, if perchance thou shouldst see
Fergus and his men coming."

For many of Naisi's brave followers had fallen in these encounters: and
he doubted that he and the others could sustain much longer the
continual assaults of superior numbers. And Lavarcam went, but returned
downcast, saying she saw nought eastwards, but the open plain with the
peaceful herds browsing over it.



Believing now that they could no longer defend the Red Branch, Naisi
took council with his brothers; and what they resolved on was this:--To
sally forth with all their men and fight their way to a place of safety.
Then making a close firm fence of shields and spears round Deirdre, they
marched out in solid ranks and attacked the hireling battalions and slew
three hundred in that onslaught.

Concobar, seeing the rout of his men, and being now sure that it was not
possible to subdue the Sons of Usna in open fight, cast about if he
might take them by falsehood and craft. And sending for Caffa the druid,
who loved them, he said:--

"These sons of Usna are brave men, and it is our pleasure to receive
them back into our service. Go now unto them, for thou art their loved
friend; and say to them that if they lay down their arms and submit to
me, I will restore them to favour and give them their places among the
Red Branch Knights. And I pledge thee my kingly word and my troth as a
true knight, that no harm shall befal them."

Caffa, by no means distrusting him, went to the Sons of Usna and told
them all the king had said. And they, suspecting neither guile nor
treachery joyfully threw their swords and spears aside, and went towards
the king to make submission. But now, while they stood defenceless, the
king caused them to be seized and bound. Then, turning aside he sought
for some one to put them to death; but he found no man of the Ultonians
willing to do so.

Among his followers was a foreigner named Maini of the Rough Hand, whose
father and two brothers had fallen in battle by Naisi: and this man
undertook to kill the Sons of Usna.

When they were brought forth to their doom, Ardan said:--"I am the
youngest: let me be slain first that I may not see the death of my
brothers." And Ainnli earnestly pleaded for the same thing for himself,
saying that he was born before Ardan and should die before him.

But Naisi said:--"Lo, I have a sword, the gift of Mannanan Mac Lir,
which leaves no remnant unfinished after a blow: let us be struck with
it, all three together, and we shall die at the same moment."

This was agreed to: and the sword was brought forth, and they laid their
heads close together, and Maini swept off all three with one blow of the
mighty sword. And when it became known that the Sons of Usna were dead,
the men of Ulaid sent forth three great cries of grief and lamentation.

As for Deirdre, she cried aloud, and tore her golden hair, and became
like one distracted. And after a time, when her calmness had a little
returned, she uttered a lament:--


"Three lions of the hill are dead, and I am left alone to weep for them.
The generous princes who made the stranger welcome have been guilefully
lured to their doom.


"The three strong hawks of Slieve Cullinn,[82-1] a king's three sons,
strong and gentle: willing obedience was yielded to them by heroes who
had conquered many lands.

  [82-1] Slieve Cullinn, now Slieve Gullion mountain in Armagh.


"Three generous heroes of the Red Branch, who loved to praise the valour
of others: three props of the battalions of Quelna: their fall is the
cause of bitter grief.


"Ainnli and Ardan, haughty and fierce in battle, to me were ever loving
and gentle: Naisi, Naisi, beloved spouse of my choice, thou canst not
hear thy Deirdre lamenting thee.


"When they brought down the fleet red deer in the chase, when they
speared the salmon skilfully in the clear water, joyful and proud were
they if I looked on.


"Often when my feeble feet grew weary wandering along the valleys, and
climbing the hills to view the chase, often would they bear me home
lightly on their linked shields and spears.


"It was gladness of heart to be with the Sons of Usna: long and weary is
the day without their company: short will be my span of life since they
have left me.


"Sorrow and tears have dimmed my eyes, looking at the grave of Naisi: a
dark deadly sickness has seized my heart: I cannot, I cannot live after


"O, thou who diggest the new grave, make it deep and wide: let it be a
grave for four: for I will sleep for ever beside my beloved."

When she had spoken these words, she fell beside the body of Naisi and
died immediately. And a great cairn of stones was piled over their
grave, and their names were inscribed in Ogham, and their funeral rites
were performed.

This is the sorrowful tale of The Fate of the Sons of Usna.



    Avenging and bright fall the swift sword of Erin,
      On him, who the brave sons of Usna betray'd!
    For ev'ry fond eye he hath waken'd a tear in,
      A drop from his heart-wounds shall weep o'er her blade.

    By the red cloud that hung over Connor's dark dwelling,
      When Ulad's three champions lay sleeping in gore--
    By the billows of war which, so often high swelling,
      Have wafted these heroes to victory's shore?

    We swear to revenge them!--no joy shall be tasted,
      The harp shall be silent, the maiden unwed,
    Our halls shall be mute, and our fields shall lie wasted,
      Till vengeance is wreak'd on the murderer's head.

    Yes, monarch! though sweet are our home recollections,
      Though sweet are the tears that from tenderness fall;
    Though sweet are our friendships, our hopes, our affections,
      Revenge[85-1] on a tyrant is sweetest of all!


  [85-1] The Red Branch Knights were all pagans; and besides, what
            they meant here by revenge was merely punishment for a
            great crime.



Barach's banquet was ended. Fergus, anxious and impatient, returned with
his people to Emain. And when he found that the sons of Usna had been
slain in violation of his pledge, and that his son, Illan the Fair, had
fallen while defending them, his grief and wrath knew no bounds. Caffa
the druid was none the less incensed; and he was in sore anguish: for he
it was, who, trusting in Concobar's deceitful promises, persuaded the
sons of Usna to give up their arms and yield. And he pronounced the doom
of Concobar's race, that neither he nor any of his descendants should
reign in Emain thenceforward for evermore.

And these two, Fergus and Caffa, collecting their men of valour, spoiled
and laid waste Concobar's territory; till at last a battle was fought
between them, in which the king was defeated, and three hundred of his
bravest Ultonians were slain, besides his son and many other illustrious
persons in his service. Fergus and Caffa then attacked Emain, and burned
and pillaged it, and slew those who defended it. And though the palace
was rebuilt in due time, and continued to be the residence of the kings
of Ulaid for more than three hundred years afterwards, none of
Concobar's descendants possessed it, as Caffa had foretold.

[Illustration: Bronze celts. A celt was a sort of battle axe; sometimes
made of bronze, sometimes of stone. The right hand figure shows how the
bronze head was fixed to the handle. Great numbers of these celts of
many different shapes, both stone and bronze, are preserved in the
National Museum, Dublin.]

After this, Fergus and other great champions of the Red Branch, with
three thousand warriors, marched into Connaught, where Ailell and
Maive, king and queen of that province, being at war with Concobar,
welcomed them and took them gladly into their service. And for seven
years they continued to send marauding parties to spoil and ravage the
province of Ulaid, so that many battles were fought, and many heroes
were slain. In the stories of this war we read much of the mighty
champion Cuculainn who was the chief defender of Ulaid against Ailell
and Maive's forces.



Among most nations of old times there were great leeches or physicians,
who were considered so skilful that the people believed they could cure
wounds and ailments as if by magic. In some countries they became gods,
as among the Greeks.

The ancient Irish people, too, had their mighty leech, a Dedannan named
Dianket, who, as they believed, could heal all wounds and cure all
diseases; so that he became the Irish God of Medicine. He had a son,
Midac, and a daughter, Armedda, who were both as good as himself; and at
last Midac became so skilful that his father killed him in a fit of
jealousy. And, after some time, there grew up from the young doctor's
grave 365 herbs, each with virtue to cure some particular ailment. His
sister Armedda plucked up these herbs, and carefully sorting them,
wrapped them up in her mantle. But the jealous old Dianket came and
mixed them all up, so that no one could distinguish them: and but for
this--according to the legend--every physician would now be able to cure
all diseases without delay, by selecting and applying the proper herbs.

Leaving these shadowy old-world stories, let us come down to historic
times, when we shall, as it were, tread on solid ground. From the very
earliest times medicine and surgery were carefully studied in Ireland:
and there was a distinct class of professional medical doctors, who
underwent a course of education and practical training. A young man
usually learned to be a physician by apprenticeship, i.e. by living in
the house of a regular physician, and accompanying him on his visits to
patients to learn his methods of treatment.

A king or a great chief had always a physician as part of his household,
to attend to the health of his family. The usual remuneration of these
men was a residence and a tract of land in the neighbourhood, free of
all rent and taxes, together with certain allowances: and the medical
man might, if he chose, practise for fee outside the household. Some of
those in the service of great kings had castles, and lived in state like
princes. Those not so attached lived on their fees, like many doctors
of the present day: and the fees for the various operations or
attendances were laid down in the Brehon Law.[89-1]

  [89-1] The Brehon Law: that is, the old law of Ireland.

Though medical doctors were looked up to with great respect, they had to
be very careful in exercising their profession. A leech who through
carelessness, or wilful neglect, or gross want of skill, failed to cure
a wound, might be brought before a brehon or judge, and if the case was
proved home against him, he had to pay the same fine to the patient, as
if he had inflicted the wound with his own hand.



Medicine, as a profession, like Law, History, &c., often ran in families
in Ireland, descending regularly from father to son; and several Irish
families were distinguished leeches for generations, such as the
O'Shiels, the O'Cassidys, the O'Hickeys, and the O'Lees.

Each medical family kept a book, which was handed down reverently from
father to son, and in which was written, in Irish or Latin, all the
medical knowledge derived either from other books or from the actual
experience of the various members of the family; and many of these old
volumes, all in beautiful handwriting, are still preserved in Dublin and
elsewhere. As showing the admirable spirit in which those good men
studied and practised their profession, and how much they loved it, it
is worth while to give a translation of the opening statement, a sort of
preface, in the Irish language, written at the beginning of one of these
books, in the year 1352.

"May the good God have mercy on us all. I have here collected practical
rules of medicine from several works, for the honour of God, for the
benefit of the Irish people, for the instruction of my pupils, and for
the love of my friends and of my kindred. I have translated many of them
into Gaelic from Latin books, containing the lore of the great leeches
of Greece and Rome. These are sweet and profitable things which have
been often tested by us and by our instructors.

"I pray God to bless those doctors who will use this book; and I lay it
as an injunction on their souls, that they extract knowledge from it not
by any means sparingly, and that they do not neglect the practical rules
herein contained. More especially I charge them that they do their duty
devotedly in cases where they receive no payment on account of the
poverty of their patients.

"Let every physician, before he begins his treatment, offer up a secret
prayer for the sick person, and implore the heavenly Father, the
Physician and Balm-giver of all mankind, to prosper the work he is
entering upon, and to save himself and his patient from failure."

There is good reason to believe that the noble sentiments here expressed
were generally those of the physicians of the time; from which we may
see that the old Irish medical doctors were quite as devoted to their
profession, as eager for knowledge, and as anxious about their patients
as those of the present day.

The fame of the Irish physicians reached the continent. Even at a
comparatively late time, about three hundred years ago, when medicine
had been successfully studied and practised in Ireland for more than a
thousand years, a well-known and distinguished physician of
Brussels,[91-1] in a book written by him in Latin on medical subjects,
praises the Irish doctors, and describes them correctly as follows:--

  [91-1] Van Helmont.

"In the household of every great lord in Ireland there is a physician
who has a tract of land for his support, and who is appointed to his
post, not on account of the great amount of learning he brings away in
his head from colleges, but because he is able to cure diseases. His
knowledge of the healing art is derived from books left him by his
forefathers, which describe very exactly the marks and signs by which
the various diseases are known, and lay down the proper remedies for
each. These remedies, [which are mostly herbs], are all produced in that
country. Accordingly, the Irish people are much better managed in
sickness than the Italians, who have a physician in every village."

It is pleasant to know that the Irish physicians of our time who, it is
generally agreed, are equal to those of any other country in the world,
can look back with respect, and not without some feeling of pride, to
their Irish predecessors of the times of old.



In the third century of the Christian era lived the Fena[92-1] of Erin,
a famous body of warriors something like the Red Branch Knights of an
older time. Their most renowned commander was Finn Mac Cumaill [Cool],
King Cormac Mac Art's son-in-law, who of all the heroes of ancient
Ireland is at the present day best remembered in tradition by the

  [92-1] Fena, spelled _Fianna_ in Irish, and pronounced _Feena_.

Finn had his chief residence on the Hill of Allen, a remarkable
flat-topped hill lying about four miles to the right of the railway as
you pass from Newbridge towards Kildare, which will be at once
recognised by a tall pillar erected fifty or sixty years ago on the
top, on the very site of Finn's palace. There are now very little
remains of the palace-fort, which, there is good reason to believe, was
at no time very large. Whatever remained of it has been cleared away,
partly to make room for the pillar, and partly by cultivation, for the
land has been tilled and cropped to the very summit. The whole
neighbourhood however still teems with living traditions of the heroes;
and the people all round the hill tell many stories of Finn and the
Fena, and point out the several spots they frequented. As in the case of
the Red Branch Knights, there were Fena in all the provinces, each
provincial troop under a leader. The Fena of Erin flourished for many
generations; but they reached their greatest glory under Finn in the
time of Cormac Mac Art, who was king of Ireland from A.D. 254 to 277.

No man was admitted to their ranks till he had proved his strength and
activity by passing severe tests in leaping, running, and defending
himself from attack against great odds. They should be educated in the
sort of learning in vogue at the time, and especially they should be
able to repeat many verses and stories recounting the great deeds of the
times of old, so that they might learn to admire all that was brave and
noble, and that in time of peace they might be bright and entertaining
at banquets and other festive gatherings. They were all mighty men in
fight, brave, and strong, and swift of foot: and they were above all
things bound to be honourable and truthful in their dealings, and to
protect the weak--particularly women and children--from oppression and

The Fena loved open-air games and exercises of all kinds, especially the
chase. They had a breed of enormous dogs of which they were very fond,
gentle and affectionate at home, but fierce and terrible in the chase;
and from Beltane (1st of May) to Samin (1st November) they hunted deer,
wild boars, and other game through the forests, and over the hills,
glens, and plains. Though the chief men among them rode on horseback
when travelling long distances from one district to another, they always
hunted on foot, never using horses in the chase. During hunting time
they camped out at night, living on the flesh of the animals they
brought down and on the wild fruit and herbs of the forest.

At midday, whatever game they had killed during the morning they sent by
their attendants to the place appointed for the evening meal, which was
always chosen near a wood and beside a stream or lake. The attendants
roasted one part on hazel spits before immense fires of wood, and baked
the rest on hot stones in a pit dug in the earth. The stones were heated
in the fires. At the bottom of the pit the men placed a layer of these
hot stones: then a layer of meat-joints wrapped in sedge to keep them
from being burned: next another layer of hot stones: down on that more
meat; and so on till the whole was disposed of. When the hunters
returned, their first care was to bathe, so as to remove the sweat and
mire of the chase. Then they attended to their hair: for they wore the
hair long, and were very particular about combing, dressing, and
plaiting it. By the time their preparations were completed, the meat was
ready: and the hungry hunters sat down to their smoking-hot savoury

[Illustration: Ancient Irish ornamented comb in the National Museum,

[Illustration: Ancient Irish gold earring, one of a pair found in Co.

After the meal they set up their tents, and each man prepared his bed.
He first put down a thick layer of brushwood from the surrounding
forest; on that he spread a quantity of moss; and on that again a layer
of fresh rushes, on which he slept soundly after his day of joyous,
healthful toil. In the old tales these three materials--brushwood, moss,
and rushes--are called the "Three beddings of the Fena."[95-1]

  [95-1] The above account of how the Fena hunted, cooked, ate, and
            slept is from Keating, who took it from old Irish books.

The Fena were in the service of the kings, and their main duties were to
uphold justice and put down oppression and wrong, to suppress robbers
and other evil-doers, to exact fines and tributes for the king, and to
guard the harbours of the country against pirates and invaders. For
these services they received a fixed pay: during the six months hunting
season, their pay was merely the animals they killed, of which they used
the flesh for food and sold the skins.

An Irish poet of our day has written of the Milesian people in general,
including those Fena of Erin and the Red Branch Knights:--

    "Long, long ago, beyond the misty space
              Of twice a thousand years,
    In Erin old there dwelt a mighty race
              Taller than Roman spears;
    Like oaks and towers they had a giant grace,
              Were fleet as deers,
    With winds and wave they made their biding place,
              Those western shepherd seers.

    Great were their deeds, their passions, and their sports.
              With clay and stone,
    They piled on strath and shore those mystic forts,
              Not yet o'erthrown:
    On cairn-crowned hills they held their council-courts;
              While youths alone,
    With giant dogs explored the elk resorts
              And brought them down."

[Illustration: Cairn, on Carns Hill near Sligo: a "cairn-crowned hill."]

In many modern stories, Finn is spoken of as a giant; but this is a
vulgar notion. The old romantic tales describe him as a tall, strong
man, though not a giant; with much keen wit, sound sense, and great
judgment: and though he was a mighty champion, he ruled his men more by
wisdom, kindness, and justice, than by strength. When quite a young man
his hair became white like silver: how this happened will be told in the
next story. Oisin [Isheen] or Ossian, the renowned hero-poet of the
Fena, was his son. Oscar the son of Ossian was youthful, comely,
kind-hearted, and valiant. Dermot O'Dyna was the handsomest of all these
heroes. He was unconquerably brave, of untarnished honour, generous, and
self-denying, ever ready to take the post of danger, always giving
credit to others, and never in the least boasting of his own deeds. He
is the finest character of all the Fena; and it would be hard to find
his equal in the ancient tales of any country. We have a vast number of
beautiful stories in the Irish language about Finn and the other heroes
of the Fena, a few of which are translated in this book.




On a morning in summer, Finn happened to be walking alone on the lawn
before the palace of Allen, when a doe sprang out from a thicket, and,
passing quite close to him, bounded past like the wind. Without a
moment's delay, he signalled for his companions and dogs; but none heard
except his two hounds, Bran and Skolan. He instantly gave chase,
accompanied only by his two dogs; and before the Fena knew of his
absence, he had left Allen of the green slopes far behind.

The chase turned northwards; and though the hounds kept close to the
doe, the chief kept quite as close to the hounds the whole way. And so
they continued without rest or pause, till they reached Slieve Cullinn,
far in the north.

Here the doe made a sudden turn and disappeared; and Finn never caught
sight of her after. And he marvelled much that any doe in the world
should be able to lead Bran and Skolan so long a chase, and escape from
them in the end. Meantime they kept searching, Finn taking one side of
the hill and the dogs another, so that he was at last left quite alone.

While he was wandering about the hill and whistling for his hounds, he
heard the plaintive cry of a woman at no great distance; and, turning
his steps towards the place, he saw a beautiful young lady sitting on
the brink of a little lake, weeping as if her heart would break. Finn
accosted her; and, seeing that she ceased her weeping for a moment, he
asked her had she seen his two hounds pass that way.

"I have not seen thy hounds," she replied, "nor have I been at all
concerned in the chase; for, alas, there is something that troubles me
more nearly. I had a precious gold bracelet on my hand, which I prized
beyond anything in the world; and it has fallen from me into the water.
I saw it roll down the steep slope at the bottom, till it went quite out
of my sight. This is the cause of my sorrow, and thou canst remedy the
mishap if thou wilt. The Fena are sworn never to refuse help to a woman
in distress; and I now put it on thee to search for this bracelet, and
cease not till thou find it and restore it to me."

Finn plunged in without a moment's hesitation; and after swimming three
times round the lake, diving and searching into every nook and cranny at
the bottom, he found the bracelet at last; and approaching the lady, he
handed it to her from the water. The moment she had got it she sprang
into the lake before his eyes, and, diving down, disappeared in an

[Illustration: Irish bracelet or armlet of solid gold, now in the
National Museum, Dublin. It is double the size of the picture, of
beautiful shape and workmanship, and weighs 3-3/4 oz.]

The chief, wondering greatly at this strange behaviour, stepped forth
from the water; but as soon as his feet had touched the dry land, he
lost all his strength, and fell on the brink, a withered, grey old man,
shrunken up and trembling all over with weakness. He sat him down in
woful plight; and soon his hounds came up. They looked at him wistfully
and sniffed and whined around him; but they knew him not, and, passing
on, they ran round the lake, searching in vain for their master.

On that day we and the Fena in general were assembled in the banquet
hall of the palace of Allen; some feasting, some playing chess, and
others listening to the sweet music of the harpers. While all were in
this wise pleasantly engaged, we suddenly missed our chief, and when we
searched for him he was nowhere to be found: whereupon we became
alarmed. Inquiring now from the lesser people about the palace, we found
that the chief and his two dogs had chased a doe northwards. So, having
mustered a strong party of the Fena, we started in pursuit, and
following the track, never slackened speed till we reached Slieve

We began to search round the hill, and after wandering among brakes and
rough, rocky places, we at last espied a grey-headed old man sitting on
the brink of a lake. I went up to him, followed by the rest of the Fena,
and asked him if he had seen a noble-looking hero pass that way, with
two hounds, chasing a doe. He never answered a word, neither did he stir
from where he sat, or even look up; but at the question, his head sank
on his breast, and his limbs shook all over as with palsy. Then he fell
into a sudden fit of grief, wringing his hands and uttering feeble cries
of woe.

We soothed him and used him gently, hoping he might speak at last; but
to no purpose, for he only lamented the more, and still answered

At last, after this had gone on for some time, and when we were about
to leave him, he told us in a whisper the dreadful secret; and then we
all came to know the truth. When we found that the withered old man was
no other than our beloved king, Finn himself, we uttered three shouts of
lamentation and anger, so loud and prolonged that the foxes and badgers
rushed affrighted from their dens in the hollows of the mountain.

When quietness was restored, we asked Finn how this dread evil had
befallen him; and he told us that it was the daughter of Culann the
smith who had transformed him by her spells. And then he recounted how
she had lured him to swim in the lake, and how, when he came forth, he
was turned into a withered old man.

We now made a framework litter of slender poles, and, placing our king
on it, we lifted him tenderly on our shoulders. And, turning from the
lake, we marched slowly up-hill till we came to the fairy palace of
Slieve Cullinn, where we knew the daughter of Culann had her dwelling
deep under ground. Here we set him down, and the whole troop began at
once to dig, determined to find the enchantress in her cave-palace, and
force her to restore our chief.

For three days and three nights we dug, without a moment's rest or
pause, till at length we reached her hollow dwelling; when she,
affrighted at the tumult and at the vengeful look of the heroes,
suddenly started forth from the cave and stood before us. She held in
her hand a drinking-horn of red gold, which she handed to the king and
told him to drink. No sooner had he drunk from it, than his own shape
and features returned, save only that his hair remained of a silvery

When we gazed on our chief in his own graceful and manly form, we were
all pleased with the soft, silvery hue of the grey hairs. And, though
the enchantress appeared ready to restore this also, Finn himself told
her that it pleased him as it pleased the others, and that he chose to
remain grey for the rest of his life.

[Illustration: Ancient Irish bracelet for the wrist. This is of bronze;
but many Irish bracelets were of gold, like that shown at page 100.]



Of all the Irish saints, Brigit and Columkille are, next after St.
Patrick, the most loved and revered by the people of Ireland.

Like many others of our early saints, Brigit came of a noble family. Her
father Dubthach [Duffa] was a distinguished Leinster chief, descended
from the kings of Ireland. For some reason, which we do not know, he and
his wife lived for a time in Faughart near Dundalk, which was then a
part of Ulster: and at Faughart Brigit was born about the year 455. The
family must have soon returned however to their own district, for we
know that Brigit passed her childhood with her parents in the
neighbourhood of Kildare. She was baptised, and carefully instructed and
trained, both in general education and in religion: for her father and
mother were Christians. As she grew up, her quiet, gentle, modest ways
pleased all that knew her. At the time of her birth, St. Patrick was in
the midst of his glorious career; and some say that while she was still
a child she knew him, and that when he died she made with her own hands
a winding sheet in which his body was laid in the grave; which may have
happened, as she was ten or twelve years of age at the time of his

When Brigit came of an age to choose her way of life, she resolved to be
a nun, to which her parents made no objection. After due preparation she
went to a holy bishop of the neighbourhood, who, at her request,
received her, and placed a white robe on her shoulders and a white veil
over her head. Here she remained for some time in companionship with
eight other maidens who had been received with her, and who placed
themselves under her guidance. As time went on, she became so beloved
for her piety and sweetness of disposition, that many young women asked
to be admitted; so that though she by no means desired that people
should be speaking in her praise, the fame of her little community began
to spread through the country.

This first establishment was conducted strictly under a set of Rules
drawn up by Brigit herself: and now, bishops in various parts of Ireland
began to apply to her to establish convents in their several districts
under the same rules. She was glad of this, and she did what she could
to meet their wishes. She visited Longford, Tipperary, Limerick, South
Leinster, and Roscommon, one after another; and in all these places she
founded convents.

At last the people of her own province of Leinster, considering that
they had the best right to her services, sent a number of leading
persons to request that she would fix her permanent residence among
them. She was probably pleased to go back to live in the place where she
had spent her childhood; and she returned to Leinster, where she was
welcomed with great joy. The Leinster people gave her a piece of land
chosen by herself, on the edge of a beautiful level grassy plain, well
known as the Curragh of Kildare. Here, on a low ridge over-looking the
plain, she built a little church, under the shade of a wide-spreading
oak tree, whence it got the name of Kill-dara, the Church of the Oak, or
as we now call it, Kildare. This tree continued to flourish long after
Brigit's death, and it was regarded with great veneration by the people
of the place. A writer of the tenth century--four hundred years after
the foundation of the church--tells us that in his time it was a mere
branchless, withered trunk; but the people had such reverence for it
that no one dared to cut or chip it.

We are not quite sure of the exact year of Brigit's settlement here; but
it probably occurred about 485, when she was thirty years of age. Hard
by the church she also built a dwelling for herself and her community.
We are told, in the Irish Life of St. Brigit, that this first house was
built of wood, like the houses of the people in general: and the little
church under the oak was probably of wood also, like most churches of
the time. As the number of applicants for admission continued to
increase, both church and dwelling had to be enlarged from time to time;
and the wood was replaced by stone and mortar. Such was the respect in
which the good abbess was held, that visitors came from all parts of the
country to see her and ask her advice and blessing: and many of them
settled down in the place, so that a town gradually grew up near the
convent, which was the beginning of the town of Kildare.



Brigit, although now at the head of a great community, and very strict
in carrying out her Rules, still retained all her humility and
gentleness of disposition. With such a large family, there was plenty of
work to do; and it was all done by the nuns, as they kept no servants
and called in no outsiders. The abbess herself, so far as she was able
to withdraw from the cares of governing the establishment, took her part
like the rest in most of the domestic occupations. In some of the old
accounts of her life we are told that she often, with some companions,
herded and tended her flocks of sheep that grazed on the level sward
round the convent. And sometimes she was caught by the heavy
rain-squalls that occasionally sweep across that shelterless plain, so
that her clothes were wet through by the time she returned to the
convent: showing that she took her own share of the rough work.

Not far from the convent, another establishment was founded, later on,
for men, which afterwards became one of the great Colleges of Ireland.
As the two communities and the population of the town continued to grow,
it was Brigit's earnest desire that a bishop should be there to take
spiritual charge of the whole place. A holy man named Conleth, who had
hitherto spent his life as a hermit in the neighbourhood, was appointed
bishop by the heads of the Church. He was the first bishop of Kildare,
and he took up his residence in the monastery. The name of that good
bishop is to this day held in affectionate remembrance, with that of St.
Brigit, by the people of Kildare and of the country all round.

[Illustration: Ruins of Kilcrea Abbey, on the river Bride, ten miles
from Cork city. Built in honour of St. Brigit.]

While the parent convent at Kildare continued to grow, branch houses
under Brigit's Rule, and subject to her authority, were established all
over Ireland; and many establishments for monks were also founded in
honour of her.

Brigit had such a reputation for wisdom and prudence, that the most
eminent of the saints, and many kings and chiefs of her day, visited
Kildare or corresponded with her, to obtain her advice in doubtful or
difficult matters. Visitors were constantly coming and going, all of
whom she received kindly and treated hospitably. All this, with daily
alms to the needy, and the support of a large community, kept her poor:
for the produce of her land was not nearly sufficient to supply her
wants. For a long time in the beginning she and her community suffered
from downright poverty, so that she had often to call on the charity of
her friends and neighbours to assist her. But as time went on, and as
the reputation of the place spread abroad, she received many presents
from rich people, which generally came in the right time, and enabled
her to carry on her establishment without any danger of want.

Among Brigit's virtues none is more marked than her charity and kindness
of heart towards poor, needy, and helpless people. She never could look
on distress of any kind without trying to relieve it at whatever cost.
Even when a mere girl living with her parents, her father was often
displeased with her for giving away necessary things belonging to the
house to poor people who came in their misery to beg from her. It
happened on one occasion that her father drove her in his chariot to
Naas (in Kildare), where then lived Dunlang king of Leinster; and
dismounting, he entered the palace, leaving his sword behind--a
beautiful and valuable one--while Brigit remained in charge of horse and
chariot. A wretched looking poor man with sickness and want in his face
came up and begged for some relief. Overcome with pity she looked about
for something to give him, and finding nothing but the sword, she handed
it to him. On her father's return he fell into a passion at the loss of
his sword: and when King Dunlang questioned her reproachfully, she
replied:--"If I had all thy wealth I would give it to the poor; for
giving to the poor is giving to the Lord of the Universe." And the king
turning to the father said:--"It is not meet that either you or I should
chide this maiden, for her merit is greater before God than before men":
on which the matter ended: and Brigit returned home with her father.

Her overflowing kindness of heart was not confined to human beings: it
extended even to the lower animals. Once while she lived in her father's
house, a party of guests were invited, and she was given some pieces of
meat to cook for dinner. And a poor miserable half-starved hound limped
into the house and looked longingly at the meat: whereupon the girl,
quite unable to overcome her feeling of pity, threw him one of the
pieces. And when the poor animal, in his hungry greediness, had
devoured that in a moment, she gave him another, which satisfied him.
And to the last day of her life she retained her tenderness of heart and
her kindness and charity towards the poor.



Late in life Brigit's influence over young people was unbounded: for her
very gentleness gave tenfold power to her words. Once, seeing a young
man, a student of the neighbouring college, running very violently and
in an unbecoming manner, in presence of some of her nuns, she sent for
him on the spot and asked him why he was running in such haste. He
replied thoughtlessly, and half in jest, that he was running to heaven:
on which she said quietly: "I wish to God, my dear son, that I was
worthy to run with you to-day to the same place: I beg you will pray for
me to help me to arrive there." And when he heard these words, and
looked on her grave kind face, he was greatly moved; and telling her
with tears in his eyes, that he would surely pray for her and for many
others besides, he besought her to offer up her prayers for him, that he
might continue his journey steadily towards heaven, and arrive there in
the end. That young man, whose name was Ninnius, became in after-life
one of the most revered of the Irish saints.

But with all her gentle unassuming ways, St. Brigit was a woman of
strong mind and great talents. She not only governed her various
establishments in strict accordance with her own Rules and forms of
discipline, but she was a powerful aid in forwarding the mighty
religious movement that had been commenced by St. Patrick half a century
before. She set an illustrious example to those Irish women who, during
and after her time, entered on a religious life; and though many of them
became distinguished saints, she stands far above them all. No writer
has left us a detailed account of her last hours, as Adamnan has done
for St. Columkille. (See page 150, note, farther on.) We only know that
she died at Kildare on the first of February, in or about the year 523,
and that she received the last consolations of religion from the
grateful hand of that same Ninnius whom she had turned to a religious
life many years before.

She was buried in Kildare, where her body was entombed in a magnificent
shrine, ornamented with gold, silver, and precious stones. We may be
sure it was a very beautiful work of art, for we know that there was a
noted school of metal workers in Kildare under the direction of St.
Conleth, who was himself a most skilful artist; but this tomb was
plundered by the Danes three hundred years afterwards, and not a trace
of it now remains.

According to some accounts, the bones of St. Brigit and St. Columkille
were brought to Downpatrick many centuries after the death of both, and
buried in the same tomb with the remains of St. Patrick. Whether this
was so or not, the matter has been commemorated in a Latin verse, of
which the following is a translation:--

    "Interred beneath one tomb in Down, a single vault doth hold
    Patrick and Brigit and Columkille, three holy saints of old."

A well known Welshman, Gerald Barry (Giraldus Cambrensis), who was in
Ireland in 1185, and who wrote an account of it, says that he found "at
Kildare in Leinster, celebrated for the glorious Brigit, the 'Fire of
St. Brigit' which is reported never to go out." This fire was kept up
day and night by the nuns in his time, and for centuries before--how
long no one can tell--probably from the time of the saint herself--and
was continued for centuries after: but it was finally extinguished when
the monasteries were closed up by Henry VIII. in the year 1536. Thomas
Moore, in one of his songs, refers to it in the following words:--

    "Like the bright lamp that shone in Kildare's holy fane,
    And burned through long ages of darkness and storm."

St. Brigit is venerated in England and Scotland as well as in Ireland:
for in both these countries churches were built in her honour, and many
convents were established under her name and rule. She was also well
known and honoured on the Continent. We need not wonder that her life
has been written by many Irishmen: but English, Scotch, French, Italian,
and German writers have also written about her and have commemorated her
as one of the most eminent saints of the West.

Convents and monasteries were maintained in Kildare for hundreds of
years after the time of St. Brigit; and "Kildare's holy fane" is still
venerated as much as ever. On the very ridge where the humble little
church was erected fourteen hundred years ago, there is a group of fine
old church buildings, with a tall round tower that overlooks the
splendid plain of Kildare.



In old times all books were handwritten, printing being a late
invention. There were persons called Scribes, many of whom made writing
the chief business of their lives. From constant practice they became
very expert; and the penmanship of many of them was extremely beautiful
and highly ornamented, much more so than any writing executed by the
very best penmen of the present day.

In Ireland, most of these scribes were monks, inmates of monasteries;
but many were laymen. These good and industrious men wrote into their
books all the learning of every kind that they could collect; so that
although the work of writing was slow, the numbers of books rapidly
increased; and very large libraries grew up, especially in the
monasteries. The leaves of these books were not paper like those of our
books, but parchment or vellum, which was generally made from sheepskin,
but often from the skins of other animals.

Sometimes the scribes wrote down what had never been written before,
that is, matters composed at the time, or preserved in memory: but more
commonly they copied from other volumes. If an old book began to be
worn, ragged, or dim with age, so as to be hard to make out and read,
some scribe was sure to copy it, so as to have a new book easy to read
and well bound up. Most of the books written out in this manner related
to Ireland, as will be described presently; and the language of these
was almost always Irish. For in those times the Irish language was
spoken by all the people of Ireland.

A favourite occupation was copying portions of the Holy Scriptures,
nearly always in the Latin language; and in this good work some monks
spent nearly all their time, in order to multiply copies of the sacred
books. Some of the greatest saints of the ancient Irish Church employed
themselves in copying the Gospels and other portions of the Bible,
whenever they could get the opportunity, as we shall see in the case of
St. Columkille.

Copies of the Scriptures, and also prayer books, were generally
ornamented in the most beautiful way: for those accomplished and devoted
old scribes loved to beautify the sacred writings. Many of the lovely
books they wrote are still preserved, of which the most splendid is the
Book of Kells, now kept in the Library of Trinity College, in Dublin. It
is a copy of the Four Gospels, and the language is Latin, though the
letters are Irish. It was written by an Irish scribe eleven or twelve
hundred years ago, but who he was is not known.

There is no old book in any part of the world so skilfully ornamented as
this. The capital letters are very large--one of them fills an entire
page--and are all illuminated, that is, painted in brilliant colours;
and after the lapse of so many centuries the colours are still very
fresh, though not so bright as when they were first laid on.

In this Book of Kells, and in others like it, the capitals are
ornamented in every part with a kind of interlaced work, all done with
the pen, in which bands and ribbons are curved and plaited and woven in
the most wonderful way. These plaits and folds are so small and so close
together that one must sometimes use a magnifying glass in order to see
them plainly: in one space, the size of a half penny, in a page of a
splendid old volume, called the Book of Armagh, the ribbons appear woven
in and out more than three hundred times.

A specimen of this interwoven ornamental work is seen at the head of the
first page of this book; but it gives only a poor idea of the beauty of
the Book of Kells. The frontispiece of the "Child's History of Ireland"
is a perfect copy, in full colours, of a complete page of the Book of
Mac Durnan, which is almost as beautiful as the Book of Kells. The Irish
used this sort of ornamentation also in metal-work and stone-work, of
which an example is given here.

[Illustration: Ancient Irish Ornamental Sculpture on a Stone Monument.]

Very often, large volumes were kept, into which were written
compositions of all kinds, both prose and poetry, such as were thought
worth preserving, copied from older books, and written in, one after
another, till the volume was filled. Of all these old books of mixed
compositions, the largest that remains to us is the Book of Leinster,
which is kept in Trinity College in Dublin. It is an immense volume, all
in the Irish language, written more than 750 years ago; and many of the
pages are now almost black with age and very hard to make out. It
contains a great number of pieces, some in prose and some in verse, and
nearly all of them about Ireland--histories, accounts of battles and
sieges, lives and adventures of great men, with many tales and stories
of things that happened in this country in far distant ages.

The Book of the Dun Cow is preserved in the Royal Irish Academy in
Dublin. It is fifty years older than the Book of Leinster, but not so
large; and it contains also a great number of tales, adventures, and
histories, nearly all relating to Ireland, and all written in the Irish
language. Its name was derived from the following circumstance:--St.
Kieran of Clonmacnoise had a favourite brown cow, whose skin, when she
died, he caused to be turned into parchment, of which a book was made.
But this old book no longer exists: it was lost ages ago; and the
present "Book of the Dun Cow" is only a copy of it.

Three other great Irish books kept in Dublin are the Book of Lecan
[Leckan], the Yellow Book of Lecan, and the Book of Ballymote. These
contain much the same kind of matter as the Book of Leinster--with
pieces mostly different however--but they are not nearly so old. The
Speckled Book, which is also in Dublin, is nearly as large as the Book
of Leinster, but not so old. It is mostly on religious matters, and
contains a great number of Lives of Saints, Hymns, Sermons, portions of
the Scriptures, and other such pieces. All these books are written with
the greatest care, and in most beautiful penmanship.

The six old books described above have been lately printed, in such a
way as that the print resembles exactly the writing of the old books
themselves. The printed volumes are now to be found in libraries in
several parts of Ireland, as well as in England and the Continent; so
that those desirous of studying them need not come to Dublin, as people
had to do formerly.

Many people are now eagerly studying these books and men often come to
Ireland from France, Germany, Italy, Norway and Sweden, Russia, and
other countries, in order to learn the Irish language so as to be able
to read them. But this requires much study, even from those who know the
Irish of the present day; for the language of those books is old and

In many National and Intermediate schools the Irish language is now
taught, and no doubt some of the pupils who attend the Irish classes
will continue their studies after they leave school, till they come to
be able to read our old books.

A great many old Irish tales and histories have been printed and
translated, and some of them are very beautiful and instructive. Several
of the stories in this book are from the Book of the Dun Cow and the
Book of Leinster.



Once upon a time, when Finn and the Fena were hunting over Munster, Finn
and some of his companions encamped on the slope of Knockainey
hill[120-2] to rest for awhile. And they sent Finn Mac Bressal to the
top of the hill to keep watch and ward, while they amused themselves,
some playing chess, and some viewing the chase all round and listening
to the sweet cry of the hounds.

  [120-1] "The Pursuit of the Gilla Dacker and his horse" is a
            humorous story, of which only a few incidents are given
            here. The Gilla Dacker was really Mannanan Mac Lir, the
            Pagan Irish sea-god, who came in disguise to play a
            trick--a sort of practical joke--on the Fena. The whole
            story is given in "Old Celtic Romances."

  [120-2] Knockainey: a hill celebrated in story, rising over the
            village of Knockainey, in the Co. Limerick.

Finn Mac Bressal had been watching only a little time, when he saw on
the plain to the east, a Fomor[121-1] of vast size coming towards the
hill, leading a horse. As he came nearer, Finn Mac Bressal observed that
he was the ugliest-looking giant his eyes ever lighted on. He had a
large, thick body, bloated and swollen out to a great size; clumsy,
crooked legs; and broad, flat feet, turned inwards. His hands and arms
and shoulders were bony and thick and very strong-looking; his neck was
long and thin; and while his head was poked forward, his face was turned
up, as he stared straight at Finn Mac Bressal. He had thick lips, and
long crooked teeth; and his face was covered all over with bushy hair.

  [121-1] Fomor, a gigantic warrior, a giant: its real meaning is "a
            sea-robber," commonly called a Fomorian.

He was fully armed; but all his weapons were rusty and soiled. A broad
shield of a dirty, sooty colour, rough and battered, hung over his back;
he had a long, heavy, straight sword at his left hip; and he grasped in
his left hand two thick-handled, broad-headed spears, old and rusty,
that looked as if they had not been handled for years. In his right hand
he held an iron club, which he dragged after him, with its end on the
ground; and it was so heavy that, as it trailed along, it tore up a
track as deep as the furrow a farmer ploughs with a pair of oxen.

The horse he led was even larger in proportion than the giant himself,
and quite as ugly. His great carcase was covered all over with tangled,
scraggy-hair, of a sooty black; you could count his ribs and all the
points of his big bones through his hide; his legs were crooked and
knotty; his neck was twisted; and as for his jaws, they were so long and
heavy that they made his head look twice too big for his body.

The giant held the horse by a thick halter, and seemed to be dragging
him forward by main force, the animal was so lazy and so hard to move.
Every now and then when the beast tried to stand still, the giant would
give him a blow on the ribs with his big iron club, which sounded as
loud as the thundering of a great billow against the rough-headed rocks
of the coast. When he gave him a pull forward by the halter, the wonder
was that he did not drag the animal's head away from his body; and, on
the other hand, the horse often gave the halter such a tremendous tug
backwards that it was equally wonderful how the arm of the giant was not
torn from his shoulder.

Now it was not an easy matter to frighten Finn Mac Bressal; but when he
saw the giant and his horse coming straight towards him in that wise, he
was seized with such fear and horror that he sprang from his seat, and,
snatching up his arms, he ran down the hill-slope with the utmost speed
towards the king and his companions, whom he found sitting round the
chess-board, deep in their game.

They started up when they saw him looking so scared; and, turning their
eyes towards where he pointed, they saw the big man and his horse coming
up the hill. The Fena stood gazing at him in silent wonder, waiting till
he should arrive; but although he was no great way off when they first
caught sight of him, it was a long time before he reached the spot where
they stood, so slow was the movement of his horse and himself.



Patiently and in silence the Fena stood till the giant came up; when he
bowed his head, and bended his knee, and saluted the king with great

Finn addressed him; and having given him leave to speak, he asked who he
was, and what was his name; also what was his profession or craft, and
why he had no servant to attend to his horse--if, indeed, such an ugly
old spectre of an animal could be called a horse at all.

The big man made answer and said, "King of the Fena, I will answer
everything you ask me, as far as lies in my power. As to where I came
from, I am a Fomor of the north; but I have no particular
dwelling-place, for I am continually travelling about from one country
to another, serving the great lords and nobles of the world, and
receiving wages for my service.

"In the course of my wanderings I have often heard of you, O king, and
of your greatness and splendour and royal bounty; and I have come now to
visit you, and to ask you to take me into your service for one year; and
at the end of that time I shall fix my own wages, according to my

"You ask me also why I have no servant for this great horse of mine. The
reason of that is this: at every meal I eat, my master must give me as
much food and drink as would be enough for a hundred men; and whosoever
the lord or chief may be that takes me into his service, it is quite
enough for him to have to provide for me, without having also to feed my

"Moreover, I am so very heavy and lazy that I should never be able to
keep up with a company on march if I had to walk; and this is my reason
for keeping a horse at all.

"My name is the Gilla Dacker,[124-1] and it is not without good reason
that I am so called. For there never was a lazier or worse servant than
I am, or one that grumbles more at doing a day's work for his master.
And I am the hardest person in the whole world to deal with; for, no
matter how good or noble I may think my master, or how kindly he may
treat me, it is hard words and foul reproaches I am likely to give him
for thanks in the end.

  [124-1] Gilla Dacker means "a slothful fellow"--a fellow hard to
            move, hard to manage, hard to have anything to do with.

"This, O Finn, is the account I have to give of myself, and these are my
answers to your questions."

"Well," answered Finn, "according to your own account, you are not a
very pleasant fellow to have anything to do with; and of a truth there
is not much to praise in your appearance. But things may not be so bad
as you say; and, anyhow, as I have never yet refused any man service and
wages, I will not now refuse you."

Whereupon the Gilla Dacker was taken into service among the warriors for
a year.

Then the big man said:--"Now, as to this horse of mine, I find I must
attend to him myself, as I see no one here worthy of putting a hand near
him. So I will lead him to the nearest stud, as I am wont to do, and let
him graze among your horses. I value him greatly, however, and it would
grieve me very much if any harm were to befal him; so," continued he,
turning to the king, "I put him under your protection, O king, and under
the protection of all the Fena that are here present."

At this speech the Fena all burst out laughing, to see the Gilla Dacker
showing such concern for his miserable, worthless, old skeleton of a

Howbeit, the big man, giving not the least heed to their merriment, took
the halter off the horse's head, and turned him loose among the horses
of the Fena.

But now, this same wretched-looking old animal, instead of beginning to
graze, as every one thought he would, ran in among the horses of the
Fena, and began straightway to work all sorts of mischief. He cocked his
long, hard, switchy tail straight out like a rod, and, throwing up his
hind legs, he kicked about on this side and on that, maiming and
disabling several of the horses. Sometimes he went tearing through the
thickest of the herd, butting at them with his hard, bony forehead; and
he opened out his lips with a vicious grin, and tore all he could lay
hold on, with his sharp, crooked teeth, so that none were safe that came
in his way either before or behind. And the end of it was, that not an
animal of the whole herd escaped, without having a leg broken, or an eye
knocked out, or his ribs fractured, or his ear bitten off, or the side
of his face torn open, or without being in some other way cut or maimed
beyond cure.

At last he left them, and was making straight for a small field where
Conan Mail's horses were grazing by themselves, intending to play the
same tricks among them. But Conan, seeing this, shouted in great alarm
to the Gilla Dacker, to bring away his horse, and not let him work any
more mischief; and threatening, if he did not do so at once, to go
himself and knock the brains out of the vicious old brute on the spot.

But the Gilla Dacker took the matter quite coolly; and he told Conan
that he saw no way of preventing his horse from joining the others,
except some one put the halter on him and held him, which would, of
course, he said, prevent the poor animal from grazing, and would leave
him hungry at the end of the day. "But," said he to Conan, "there is the
halter; and if you are in any fear for your own animals, you may go
yourself and bring him away from the field."

Conan was in a mighty rage when he heard this; and as he saw the big
horse just about to cross the fence, he snatched up the halter, and
running forward with long strides, he threw it over the animal's head
and attempted to lead him back. But in a moment the horse stood stock
still, and his body and legs became as stiff as if they were made of
wood; and though Conan pulled and tugged with might and main, he was not
able to stir him an inch from his place.

He gave up pulling at last, when he found it was no use; but he still
kept on holding the halter, while the big horse never made the least
stir, but stood as if he had been turned into stone; the Gilla Dacker
all the time looking on quite unconcernedly, and the others laughing at
Conan's perplexity. But no one offered to relieve him.

At last Conan jumped up on the horse, and tried to urge him on, but all
to no purpose: for the animal never stirred. Another of the Fena now
mounted behind him, and another, and another, till there were fourteen
of them on the horse's back. Then the Gilla Dacker, suddenly tucking up
his skirts, darted away from the Fena, and ran south-west with the speed
of a swallow flying across a mountain side, or of a March wind sweeping
over the plain. When the horse saw his master running, he stirred
himself at once and followed him with equal speed, carrying off the
whole fourteen men, and plunging and tearing along as if he had nothing
at all on his back.

The men now tried to throw themselves off; but this, indeed, they were
not able to do, for the good reason that they found themselves fastened
firmly, hands and feet and all, to the horse's back. Moreover they found
that their seat was not a comfortable one, for the old horse's backbone
was rough and scraggy, and nearly as sharp as a saw.

And now Conan, looking round, raised his big voice, and shouted to Finn
and the Fena, asking them were they content to let their friends be
carried off in that manner by such a horrible, foul-looking old spectre
of a horse.

Finn and the others, hearing this, instantly started off in pursuit, and
for miles on miles they kept the Gilla Dacker and the horse in view, but
were not able to overtake them. At last the horse and his master came to
the shore of the sea in the west of Kerry, and without stop or stay they
plunged forward, moving over the waves the same as on the dry land: and
just as the Fena arrived at the shore, they lost sight of them in the



Great was the astonishment of the Fena, and great their dismay, on
seeing their comrades carried off in this manner on the back of the big
horse. And now they took counsel; and what they resolved on was, to send
Dermot O'Dyna and a party of the Fena in a ship to search for their
companions. And Dermot and the others went on board, and sailed to the
west for many leagues, till they lost sight of the shores of Erin. At
length they came to an island with steep cliffs all round, so high that
its head seemed hidden in the clouds: and they saw by the tracks, that
up the face of this cliff the horse had made his way. And it was agreed
that Dermot O'Dyna should climb up and explore the island in quest of
their comrades. Then Dermot put on his armour and his helmet, and took
his shield, his two spears, and his sword: and leaning on the handles of
the spears, he leaped with a light, airy bound on the nearest shelf of
rock. Using his spears and his hands, he climbed from ledge to ledge,
while his companions watched him anxiously from below; till, after much
toil, he measured the soles of his two feet on the green sod at the top
of the rock. And when, recovering breath, he turned round and looked at
his companions in the ship far below, he started back with amazement and
dread at the dizzy height.

He now looked inland, and saw a beautiful country spread out before
him:--a lovely, flowery plain straight in front, bordered with pleasant
hills, and shaded with groves of many kinds of trees. It was enough to
banish all care and sadness from one's heart to view this country, and
to listen to the warbling of the birds, the humming of the bees among
the flowers, the rustling of the wind through the trees, and the
pleasant voices of the streams and waterfalls.

Making no delay, Dermot set out to walk across the plain. He had not
been long walking when he saw, right before him, a great tree laden with
fruit, over-topping all the other trees of the plain. It was surrounded
at a little distance by a circle of pillar-stones; and one stone, taller
than the others, stood in the centre near the tree. Beside this
pillar-stone was a spring well, with a large, round pool as clear as
crystal; and the water bubbled up in the centre, and flowed away towards
the middle of the plain in a slender stream.

Dermot was glad when he saw the well; for he was hot and thirsty after
climbing up the cliff. He stooped down to take a drink; but before his
lips touched the water, he heard the heavy tread of a body of warriors,
and the loud clank of arms, as if a whole host were coming straight down
on him. He sprang to his feet and looked round; but the noise ceased in
an instant, and he could see nothing.

After a little while he stooped once more to drink; and again, before he
had wet his lips, he heard the very same sounds, nearer and louder than
before. A second time he leaped to his feet; and still he saw no one. He
knew not what to think of this; and as he stood wondering and perplexed,
he happened to cast his eyes on the tall pillar-stone that stood on the
brink of the well; and he saw on its top a large, beautiful
drinking-horn,[131-1] chased with gold and enamelled with precious

  [131-1] The ancient Irish used drinking vessels of various forms
            and with several names. A "Drinking-horn" (called a
            _corn_: pronounced _curn_) was usually made of a
            bullock's horn, hollowed out, cut into shape, and often
            highly ornamented with silver rim, precious stones,
            carvings, and other decorations. A beautiful
            drinking-horn will be found figured in the "Child's
            History of Ireland," p. 26. Another kind of drinking
            vessel--the mether--has been already noticed here (page
            17 above).

"Now surely," said Dermot, "I have been doing wrong: it is, no doubt,
one of the virtues of this well that it will not let any one drink of
its waters except from the drinking-horn."

So he took down the horn, dipped it into the well, and drank without
hindrance, till he had slaked his thirst.



Hardly had Dermot taken the horn from his lips, when he saw a tall
wizard-champion coming towards him from the east, clad in a complete
suit of mail, and fully armed with shield and helmet, sword and spear. A
beautiful scarlet mantle hung over his armour, fastened at his throat by
a golden brooch; he had a gold torque round his neck; and a broad
circlet of sparkling gold was bended in front across his forehead, to
confine his yellow hair, and keep it from being blown about by the wind.

As he came nearer, he increased his pace, moving with great strides; and
Dermot now observed that he looked very wrathful. He offered no
greeting, and showed not the least courtesy; but addressed Dermot in a
rough, angry voice--

"Surely, Dermot O'Dyna, Erin of the green plains should be wide enough
for you; and it contains abundance of clear, sweet water in its crystal
springs and green bordered streams, from which you might have drunk your
fill. But you have come into my island without my leave, and you have
taken my drinking-horn, and have drunk from my well; and this spot you
shall never leave till you have given me satisfaction for the insult."

[Illustration: A torque [pronounced _tork_] of gold: a twisted collar
for the neck. Golden torques were much used by kings and other rich
people. Many torques are in the National Museum: but most of them are
better made and twisted more closely than the one here represented.]

So spoke the wizard-champion, and instantly advanced on Dermot with fury
in his eyes. But Dermot was not the man to be terrified by any hero or
wizard-champion alive. He met the foe half-way; and now, foot to foot,
and knee to knee, and face to face, they began a fight, watchful and
wary at first, but soon hot and vengeful, till their shields and helmets
could scarce withstand their strong thrusts and blows. Like two enraged
lions fighting to the death, or two strong serpents intertwined in
deadly strife, or two great opposing billows thundering against each
other on the ocean border; such was the strength and fury and
determination of the combat of these two heroes.

And so they fought through the long day, till evening came, and it began
to be dusk; when suddenly the wizard-champion sprang outside the range
of Dermot's sword, and leaping up with a great bound, he alighted in the
very centre of the well. Down he went through it, and disappeared in a
moment before Dermot's eyes, as if the well had swallowed him up. Dermot
stood on the brink, leaning on his spear, amazed and perplexed, looking
after him in the water; but whether the hero had meant to drown himself,
or that he had played some wizard trick, Dermot knew not.

He sat down to rest, full of vexation that the wizard-champion should
have got off so easily. And what chafed him still more was that his
companions knew nought of what had happened, and that when he returned,
he could tell them nothing of the strange hero; neither had he the least
token or trophy to show them after his long fight.

Dermot now began to think what was best to be done; and he made up his
mind to stay near the well all night, in the hope of finding out
something further about the wizard-champion on the morrow.

He walked towards the nearest point of a great forest that stretched
from the mountain down to the plain on his left; and as he came near, a
herd of speckled deer ran by among the trees. Poising his spear, he
threw it with an unerring cast, and brought down the nearest of the

Then, having lighted a fire under a tree, he skinned the deer and fixed
it on long hazel spits to roast, having first, however, gone to the
well, and brought away the drinking-horn full of water. And he sat
beside the roasting deer to turn it and tend the fire, waiting
impatiently for his meal; for he was hungry and tired after the toil of
the day.

When the deer was cooked, he ate till he was satisfied, and drank the
clear water of the well from the drinking-horn; after which he lay down
under the shade of the tree, beside the fire, and slept a sound sleep
till morning.

Night passed away and the sun rose, bringing morning with its abundant
light. Dermot started up, refreshed after his long sleep, and, repairing
to the forest, he slew another deer, and fixed it on hazel spits to
roast at the fire as before. For Dermot had this custom, that he would
never eat of any food left from a former meal.

And after he had eaten of the deer's flesh and drunk from the horn, he
went towards the well. But though his visit was early, he found the
wizard-champion there before him, standing beside the pillar-stone,
fully armed as before, and looking now more wrathful than ever. Dermot
was much surprised; but before he had time to speak, the wizard-champion
addressed him--

"Dermot O'Dyna, you have now put the cap on all your evil deeds. It was
not enough that you took my drinking-horn and drank from my well: you
have done much worse than this, for you have hunted on my grounds, and
have killed some of my speckled deer. Surely there are many
hunting-grounds in Erin of the green plains, with plenty of deer in
them; and you need not have come hither to commit these robberies on me.
But now for a certainty you shall not go from this spot till I have
taken satisfaction for all these misdeeds."

And again the two champions attacked each other, and fought during the
long day, from morning till evening. And when the dusk began to fall,
the wizard-champion leaped into the well, and disappeared down through
it, even as he had done the day before.

The selfsame thing happened on the third day. And each day, morning and
evening, Dermot killed a deer, and ate of its flesh, and drank of the
water of the well from the drinking-horn.

On the fourth morning, Dermot found the wizard-champion standing as
usual by the pillar-stone near the well. And as each morning he looked
more angry than on the morning before, so now he scowled in a way that
would have terrified anyone but Dermot O'Dyna.

And they fought during the day till the dusk of evening. But now Dermot
watched his foe narrowly; and when he saw him about to spring into the
well he closed on him and threw his arms round him. The wizard-champion
struggled to free himself, moving all the time nearer and nearer to the
brink; but Dermot held on, till at last both fell into the well. Down
they went, clinging to each other, Dermot and the strange champion;
down, down, deeper and deeper they went; and Dermot tried to look round,
but nothing could he see save darkness and dim shadows. At length there
was a glimmer of light; then the bright day burst suddenly upon them;
and presently they came to the solid ground, gently and without the
least shock.

At the very moment they reached the ground, the wizard-champion, with a
sudden effort, tore himself away from Dermot's grasp, and ran forward
with great speed. Dermot leaped to his feet; and he was so amazed at
what he saw around him that he stood stock still and let the
wizard-champion escape:--a lovely country, with many green-sided hills
and fair valleys between, woods of red yew trees, and plains laughing
all over with flowers of every hue.

Right before him, not far off, lay a city of great tall houses with
glittering roofs; and on the side nearest to him was a royal palace,
larger and grander than the rest. On the level green in front of the
palace were a number of knights, all armed, and amusing themselves with
various warlike exercises of sword and shield and spear.

[Illustration: Ancient Irish bronze shield, 28 inches in diameter, found
in a bog in the Co. Limerick. Shields were often made of yew-wood, which
is very hard: and oftener still of wickerwork, covered outside with
tough hides, generally tanned. Wickerwork shields were sometimes large
enough to cover the whole body. On the inside of every shield was a
crossbar which was held in the hand: and for additional safety a leather
strap fastened to the shield, went round the warrior's neck.]

To tell all Dermot's adventures here would be too long for this book.
But he remained in that strange country, till he met the wizard
champion and subdued him in fight. And after much searching he found
Conan and the others who had been carried off by the Gilla Dacker's
horse after which they all returned to the ship. And they sailed back to
Erin where, when they landed, they were welcomed with a mighty shout by
the assembled Fena.

        From "Old Celtic Romances," by P. W. JOYCE, LL.D.



Saint Columkille[139-1] was born in the year 521, in Gartan, a wild
district in the county Donegal, not far from Letterkenny. He was a near
relation of the kings of Ireland of his time; for his father was
great-grandson of the mighty King Niall of the Nine Hostages (see p. 5):
and his mother was related to the kings of Leinster. He spent his
boyhood in a little village near Gartan; and when he was old enough, he
was sent away from his home to a school kept by a distinguished bishop
and teacher, St. Finnen, at Movilla, near the present Newtownards, in
Down. Though he belonged to a princely family, and might easily have
become rich and great, he gave up these worldly advantages for religion,
and resolved to become a priest.

  [139-1] In books he is often called Columba; but in Ireland he is
            best known by the name Columkille. This is derived from
            _colum_ [pron. _collum_] a dove, and _cill_, or _kill_, a
            church: the "Dove of the church." This name was given him
            when a boy from his gentle, affectionate disposition, and
            because he was so fond of praying in the little church of
            Tullydouglas, near where he was born: so that the little
            boys who were accustomed to play with him used often to
            ask: "Has our little _Colum_ yet come from the church?"

            The sketch given here is taken chiefly, but not
            altogether, from Adamnan's "Life of St. Columba." Adamnan
            was a native of Tirconnell or Donegal, like Columba
            himself. He died in the year 703. He was the ninth abbot
            of Iona, of which Columba was the first. His "Life of St.
            Columba" is a very beautiful piece of Latin composition.

[Illustration: Ruins of the Monastery of Movilla, near Newtownards.
(Drawn in 1845.)]

Having spent some time at Movilla, the youthful Columkille went to
several other Irish Colleges, including that of St. Movi, at Glasnevin,
near Dublin; and as he was a diligent student, he made great progress in
all. The most celebrated of these was at Clonard, in Meath, in which
there were many hundreds of students under the instruction of another
St. Finnen, a great and holy man, who is styled in old Irish writings "a
doctor of wisdom and the tutor of the saints of Ireland in his time."
Here Columkille met many young Irishmen who afterwards became
distinguished saints and missionaries.

As soon as he was ordained priest, he set about the work of his
life--spreading the Gospel. At that time the high ridge over the river
Foyle, where now stands the old city of Derry, was an uninhabited spot,
clothed with a splendid wood of oaks, from which it got the name of
Derry, meaning an oak grove: this spot was presented to Columkille by
his cousin, prince Aed, afterwards king of Ireland. Here, when he was
twenty-five years of age, he built his first church, round which grew up
a monastery that continued to flourish for many hundred years, so that,
in memory of the saint, the place was long afterwards known by the name
of Derry-Columkille. At this period of his life he was a man of noble
presence, a worthy member of a kingly race, as one of the old Irish
writers describes him:--tall, broad-shouldered, and powerful: with long,
curling hair: luminous grey eyes, and a countenance bright and
pleasing: and he was always lively and agreeable in conversation.

[Illustration: Remains of a Round Tower at Drumcliff, 4 miles north of
Sligo town: built near the church founded by St. Columkille; but long
after his time.]

For fifteen years after the establishment of Derry, Columkille continued
to found churches all over the country, among many others those of Kells
in Meath, Tory Island, Swords near Dublin, Drumcliff in Sligo, and
Durrow in King's County, the last of which was his chief establishment
in Ireland. It is recorded that during these fifteen years he founded
altogether three hundred churches and monasteries. These establishments,
like all the other Irish monasteries, were the means of spreading not
only religion but general enlightenment: for in most of them there were
schools; and the priests and monks converted, and taught, and civilised,
to the best of their power, the people in their neighbourhood.

Many years before this, St. Patrick and the missionaries who worked
under his guidance, had converted the greatest part of the Irish people
to Christianity. But the time was too short and the missionaries too few
to instruct the newly-converted people fully in their faith: so that
although they were Christians, many of them had only a poor knowledge of
the Christian doctrine. In those times there were certain persons in
Ireland called Druids, who were the learned men among the pagans of the
day, and who taught the people the pagan religion known as Druidism.
They hated the Christian faith, and gave St. Patrick and his companions
great trouble by trying to persuade the pagan Irish not to become
Christians. They continued in the country till the time of St.
Columkille, as active as ever though much fewer; and St. Columkille and
the other missionaries of his time had often hard work to win over the
people from the false teaching of these druids, and make good Christians
of them.

A great part of the north of Scotland was then inhabited by a people
called the Picts. Those of them who lived south of the Grampian
mountains had been converted some time before by St. Ninian of
Glastonbury:[143-1] but the northern Picts were still pagans; and
Columkille made up his mind to leave Ireland and devote the rest of his
life to their conversion. In 563, in the forty-second year of his age,
he bade a sorrowful farewell to his native country, and crossing the sea
with twelve companions, he settled in the island of Iona, in the
Hebrides, which had been presented to him by his relative, the king of
that part of Scotland. Here he built his little church and monastery,
all of wood, and began to prepare for his glorious work. This little
island afterwards became the Greatest religious centre in Scotland: and
grand churches and other buildings were erected in and around the site
of Columkille's humble structures. For many centuries Iona was held in
such honour that most of the kings and chiefs and other great people of
Scotland were buried in it; and to this day it is full of venerable and
beautiful ruins, which are every year visited by people from all parts
of the British Islands.

  [143-1] Glastonbury, a town in Somersetshire, in England, where in
            old times there was a celebrated monastery, much reported
            to by Irish students.

The most laborious part of St. Columkille's active life began after his
settlement in Iona. He traversed the Highlands of Scotland and the
Islands of the Hebrides, sometimes in a rude chariot, sometimes on foot,
visiting the kings and chiefs of the Picts, and preaching to them in
their homes; and he founded churches and monasteries all over that part
of Scotland, just as he had done in Ireland. After many years of
incessant labour he succeeded in converting the whole of the northern

When Columkille was at home in his monastery resting from his
missionary labours, his favourite occupation was copying the Holy
Scriptures. We are told that he wrote with his own hand, in the course
of years, three hundred copies of the sacred books, which he presented
to the various churches he had founded; and this good work he continued
to the very last day of his life. Besides mere copying, he composed many
hymns and other poems, both in Latin and Irish. He was always employed
at something. Adamnan says that not an hour of the day passed by without
some work for himself and his monks--praying, reading, writing,
arranging the affairs of the monastery, or manual work: for he took his
own share in cooking, grinding corn, overseeing the men who were working
in the fields, and so forth.



During St. Columkille's residence in Iona he visited Ireland more than
once, on important business: and we may be sure that he was delighted
when the opportunity came to see again the land he loved so well. The
most important of these occasions was when he came over to take part in
a great Meeting--a sort of Parliament for all Ireland--which was held at
a place called Drum-Ketta in Derry. The proceedings at this meeting
will be found described in the "Child's History of Ireland."

Amidst all the earnest and laborious efforts of St. Columkille in the
cause of religion, he never forgot his native country. He looked upon
himself as an exile, though a voluntary exile in a great and glorious
cause; and a tender regret was always mingled with his recollections of
Ireland. We have in our old books a very ancient poem in the Irish
language, believed to have been composed by him, in which he expresses
himself in this manner:--

    "How delightful to be on Ben-Edar before embarking on the foam-white
    sea: how pleasant to row one's little curragh all round it, to look
    upward at its bare steep border, and to hear the waves dashing;
    against its rocky cliffs.

    "A grey eye looks back towards Erin: a grey eye full of tears.

    "While I traverse Alban of the ravens, I think on my little oak
    grove in Derry. If the tributes and the riches of Alban were mine,
    from the centre to the utmost borders, I would prefer to them all
    one little house in Derry. The reason I love Derry is for its
    quietness, for its purity, for its crowds of white angels.

    "How sweet it is to think of Durrow: how delightful would it be to
    hear the music of the breeze rustling through its groves.

    "Plentiful is the fruit in the Western Island--beloved Erin of many
    waterfalls: plentiful her noble proves of oak. Many are her kings
    and princes; sweet-voiced her clerics; her birds warble joyously in
    the woods; gentle are her youths; wise her seniors; comely and
    graceful her women, of spotless virtue; illustrious her men, of
    noble aspect.

    "There is a grey eye that fills with tears when it looks back
    towards Erin. While I stand on the oaken deck of my bark I stretch
    my vision westwards over the briny sea towards Erin."

During his whole life Columkille retained his affection for his native
land and for everything connected with it. One breezy day, when he was
now in his old age in Iona, a crane appeared flying towards the island:
it was beaten about by the wind, and with much difficulty it reached the
beach, where it fell down quite spent with hunger and fatigue. And the
good old man said to one of his monks:--

"That crane has come from our dear fatherland, and I earnestly commend
it to thee: nurse and cherish it tenderly till it is strong enough to
return again to its sweet home in Scotia."

Accordingly the monk took the bird up in his arms and brought it to the
hospice, and fed and tended it for three days till it had quite
recovered. The third day was calm, and the bird rose from the earth till
it had come to a great height, when resting for a moment to look
forward, it stretched out its neck and directed its course towards

[Illustration: Round Tower of St. Canice, Kilkenny: 100 feet high, and
perfect, except that it wants the pointed cap. St. Canice was an
intimate friend of St. Columkille: but this tower was not erected till
some centuries after the death of the two saints.]

On the day before the saint's death he went to a little hill hard by the
monastery that overlooked the whole place; and gazing-lovingly round him
for the last time, he lifted up his hands and blessed the monastery. And
as he was returning with his attendant, he grew tired and sat down half
way to rest; for he was now very weak. While he was sitting here an old
white horse that was employed for many years to carry the pails between
the milking place and the monastery, first looked at him intently, and
then, coming up slowly, step by step, he laid his head gently on the
saint's bosom. And he began to moan pitifully, and big tears rolled from
his eyes and fell into the saint's lap: which, when the attendant saw,
he came up to drive him away. Put the old man said:--"Let him alone: he
loves me. May be God has given him some dim knowledge that his master is
going; from him and from you all: so let him alone." At last, standing
up, he blessed the poor old animal and returned to the monastery.

The death call came to him when he was seventy-six years of age. Though
his death was not a sudden one, he had no sickness before it: he simply
sank, wearied out with his life-long labours. Although he knew his end
was near, he kept writing one of the Psalms till he could write no
longer; while his companion Baithen sat beside him. At last, laying down
the pen, he said, "Let Baithen write the rest."

On the night of that same day, at the toll of the midnight bell for
prayer, he rose, feeble as he was, from his bed, which was nothing but a
bare flagstone, and went to the church hard by, followed immediately
after by his attendant Dermot. He arrived there before the others had
time to bring in the lights; and Dermot, losing sight of him in the
darkness, called out several times, "Where are you, father?" Perceiving
no reply, he felt his way, till he found his master before the altar
kneeling and leaning forward on the steps: and raising him up a little,
supported his head on his breast. The monks now came up with the lights;
and seeing their beloved old master dying, they began to weep. He looked
at them with his face lighted up with joy, and tried to utter a
blessing; but being unable to speak, he raised his hand a little to
bless them, and in the very act of doing so he died in Dermot's

  [150-1] This simple and beautiful narrative of the last days of St.
            Columkille, including the two pleasing little stories
            about the crane and the old white horse, with the
            affecting account of the saint's death, is taken
            altogether from Adamnan's Life. The circumstances of
            Columkille's death are, in some respects, very like those
            attending the death of the Venerable Bede, as recorded in
            the tender and loving letter of his pupil, the monk
            Cuthbert. But Adamnan's narrative was written more than
            forty years before that of Cuthbert.

            Baithen was St. Columkille's first cousin and his most
            beloved disciple, and succeeded him as abbot of Iona.



It has been already stated (p. 47) that in early ages great numbers of
foreigners came to Ireland to study in the colleges. Among those was
Aldfrid or Alfred,[150-2] Prince of Northumbria, one of the Kingdoms of
the Saxon Heptarchy. His history is interesting to us as exhibiting an
example of the class of persons who came to Ireland for education in
those days, and as showing the close relations existing between many of
the royal families of England and Ireland.

  [150-2] This Alfred must be distinguished from Alfred the Great who
            lived two centuries later.

In the year 670, on the death of his father Oswy, who was king of
Northumbria, the throne was seized unjustly by Alfred's younger brother,
Egfrid: whereupon Alfred fled to Ireland. He was all the more ready to
choose this as his place of exile, inasmuch as he was fond of learning,
and he knew well that there were more learned and skilful teachers and
better opportunities for study in Ireland than elsewhere. But he had
another good reason; for his mother Fina [Feena] was an Irish princess
of the family of the kings of Meath. The Irish knew him by the name
"Flann," or more commonly Flann Fina, from his mother. He remained many
years in Ireland, studying with great diligence in various colleges,
till he had mastered most of the branches of learning then taught. He
became specially skilled in the Holy Scriptures, and he also learned to
speak and write the Irish language.

While he was in Ireland he was for a time under the instruction of St.
Adamnan, the writer of the life of St. Columkille (see p. 140, note);
and so close and affectionate was the intimacy between them, that the
ancient Irish writers often call Alfred Adamnan's foster-son.

In the year 684 a party of Saxons were sent from Northumbria by Egfrid
across the sea on a plundering expedition to Ireland. Having ravaged the
coast of Meath,[152-1] between Ben-Edar and the Boyne, these marauders
carried off a number of captives, who were held in bondage during the
short remainder of his reign. In the very next year Egfrid was killed in
battle, on which the Northumbrian nobles, who were well aware of
Alfred's virtues and great abilities, sent to Ireland inviting him to
take the throne: and accordingly he returned to England and became king
of the Northumbrians.

  [152-1] Meath, one of the five Kingdoms into which Ireland was
            divided. Ben-Edar, the old name of Howth, near Dublin.

[Illustration: Ancient Irish thin plate of gold, twice the size of the
picture. This is one of the bosses at the two ends of a gorget, like
that figured at page 19. Now in the National Museum, Dublin.]

The poor captives were still kept in slavery: but Adamnan, seeing now a
chance for their release, proceeded to the Northumbrian court to plead
with his friend and former pupil for their restoration. He was received
most affectionately; and at his intercession the king had the captives
set free. Adamnan then brought them back, to the number of sixty, and
restored them all rejoicing to their homes and friends.

As soon as Alfred had taken possession of the throne he took careful
measures to have his people instructed in learning, religion, and
virtue, in accordance with what he had himself seen and learned in
Ireland; and he governed his kingdom for nineteen years in peace and

In several ancient Irish manuscripts, including the Book of Leinster,
there is a poem in the Irish language in praise of Ireland, said to have
been composed by Alfred Flann Fina; of which the following are some of
the verses faithfully translated[153-1]:--


    I found in Inisfail the fair,
    In Ireland, while in exile there,
    Women of worth, both grave and gay men,
    Many clerics and many laymen.

    I travelled its fruitful provinces round,
    And in every one of the five I found,
    Alike in church and in palace hall,
    Abundant apparel, and food for all.

    Gold and silver I found, and money,
    Plenty of wheat and plenty of honey;
    I found God's people rich in pity,
    Found many a feast and many a city.

    I found in Munster, unfettered of any,
    Kings, and queens, and poets a many--
    Poets well skilled in music and measure,
    Prosperous doings, mirth and pleasure.

    I found in Connaught the just, redundance
    Of riches, milk in lavish abundance;
    Hospitality, vigour, fame,
    In Cruachan's[154-1] land of heroic name.

    I found in Ulster, from hill to glen,
    Hardy warriors, resolute men;
    Beauty that bloomed when youth was gone,
    And strength transmitted from sire to son.

    I found in Leinster the smooth and sleek,
    From Dublin to Slewmargy's[154-2] peak;
    Flourishing pastures, valour, health,
    Long-living worthies, commerce, wealth.

    I found in Meath's fair principality,
    Virtue, vigour, and hospitality;
    Candour, joyfulness, bravery, purity,
    Ireland's bulwark and security.

    I found strict morals in age and youth,
    I found historians recording truth;
    The things I sing of in verse unsmooth,
    I found them all--I have written sooth.

  [153-1] It was translated very exactly into prose in 1832 by the
            great Irish scholar Dr. John O'Donovan: the Irish poet
            James Clarence Mangan turned this prose with very little
            change into verse, part of which is given here.

  [154-1] Cruachan or Croghan in the north of the present Co.
            Roscommon, the ancient palace of the kings of Connaught:
            see page 52.

  [154-2] Slewmargy, now Slievemargy, a low range of hills in Queen's




In that part of Thomond[155-2] lying opposite the Aran Islands there
once lived a young chief named Maildune. When he was an infant, a band
of marauders landed on the coast, and plundered the whole district, and
slew his father by burning the house over his head. Maildune grew up
knowing nothing of all this, for his mother concealed it from him. But
one day, when he was now a young man, he was contending in certain games
of strength with a number of young persons of his own age, and he
obtained the victory in every contest. At last it came to throwing the
handstone: and when he had thrown it farther than all the others, an
envious foul-tongued fellow who was standing by said to him:--

"It would better become you to avenge the man who was burned to death
here, than to be amusing yourself casting a stone over his bare, burnt

  [155-1] Only a few of his adventures are given here: but the whole
            story of the voyage is in "Old Celtic Romances": see page
            164, farther on.

  [155-2] Thomond, North Munster, namely the present county Clare and
            parts of Tipperary and Limerick.

"Who was he?" inquired Maildune.

"Your own father," replied the other.

"Who slew him?" asked Maildune.

"Plunderers from a fleet slew him and burned him in this house; and the
same plunderers are now living in an island far out in the sea, and they
still have the same fleet."

Maildune was disturbed and sad after hearing this. He dropped the stone
that he held in his hand, folded his cloak round him, buckled on his
shield, and left the company. And having made further inquiry and found
that the story was true, he resolved that he would never rest till he
had overtaken these plunderers, and avenged on them the death of his

Then he sent for a skilful workman to whom he gave directions to make
for him a triple-hide curragh[157-1] large enough to hold sixty persons
and all things needed for a voyage. This was done: and Maildune chose
his companions; and having laid in a little stock of provisions, and
whatever other things were needed, he put to sea.

  [157-1] Curragh, a boat made of basket or wicker work, covered with
            hides. Curraghs were generally small and light: but some,
            intended for long voyages, were large and strong, and
            covered with two, or three, layers of hide one outside
            another. Sometimes the hides were tanned into leather to
            give additional strength.


They sailed that day and night, as well as the whole of the next day,
till darkness came on again; and at midnight they saw two small bare
islands, with two great houses on them near the shore. When they drew
nigh, they heard the sounds of merriment and laughter, and the shouts of
revellers intermingled with the loud voices of warriors boasting of
their deeds. And listening to catch the conversation, they heard one
warrior say to another--

"Stand off from me, for I am a better warrior than thou; it was I who
slew Maildune's father, and burned the house over his head; and no one
has ever dared to avenge it on me. Thou hast never done a great deed
like that!"

"Now surely," said one of Maildune's companions to him, "Heaven has
guided our ship to this place. Here is an easy victory. Let us sack this
house, since our enemies have been revealed to us and delivered into our

While they were yet speaking, the wind arose, and a great tempest
suddenly broke on them. And they were driven violently before the storm,
all that night and a part of next day, into the great and boundless
ocean; so that they saw neither the islands they had left nor any other
land; and they knew not whither they were going.

Then Maildune said, "Take down your sail and put by your oars, and let
the curragh drift before the wind in whatsoever direction it pleases God
to lead us": which was done.



During the next few days, the wind bore Maildune's curragh along
smoothly, so that the crew had not to use their oars. The island they
now came to had a wall all round it. When they approached the shore, an
animal of vast size, with a thick, rough skin, started up inside the
wall, and ran round the island with the swiftness of the wind. When he
had ended his race, he went to a high point, and standing on a large,
flat stone, began to exercise himself according to his daily custom, in
the following manner. He kept turning himself completely round and round
in his skin, the bones and flesh moving, while the skin remained at

When he was tired of this exercise, he rested a little; and he then set
to work turning his skin continually round his body, down at one side
and up at the other like a mill-wheel; but the bones and flesh did not

After spending some time at this sort of exercise, he started and ran
round the island as at first, as if to refresh himself. He then went
back to the same spot, and this time, while the skin that covered the
lower part of his body remained without motion, he whirled the skin of
the upper part round and round like the movement of a flat-lying
millstone. And it was in this manner that he passed most of his time on
the island.

Maildune and his people, after they had seen these strange doings,
thought it better not to venture nearer. So they put out to sea in great
haste. The monster, observing them about to fly, ran down to the beach
to seize the curragh; but finding that they had got out of his reach, he
began to fling round stones at them with great force and an excellent
aim. One of them struck Maildune's shield and went quite through it,
lodging in the keel of the curragh; after which the voyagers got beyond
his range and sailed away.

    In a wall-circled isle a big monster they found,
      With a hide like an elephant, leathery and bare;
    He threw up his heels with a wonderful bound,
      And ran round the isle with the speed of a hare.

    But a feat more astounding has yet to be told:
      He turned round and round in his leathery skin;
    His bones and his flesh and his sinews he rolled--
      He was resting outside while he twisted within!

    Then changing his practice with marvellous skill,
      His carcase stood rigid and round went his hide;
    It whirled round his bones like the wheel of a mill--
      He was resting within while he twisted outside!

    Next, standing quite near on a green little hill,
      After galloping round in the very same track,
    While the skin of his breast remained perfectly still,
      Like a millstone he twisted the skin of his back!

    But Maildune and his men put to sea in their boat,
      For they saw his two eyes looking over the wall;
    And they knew by the way that he opened his throat,
      He intended to swallow them, curragh and all!


The next wonderful thing the voyagers came across was an immense silver
pillar standing in the sea. It had eight sides, each of which was the
width of an oar-stroke of the curragh, so that its whole circumference
was eight oar-strokes. It rose out of the sea without any land or earth
about it, nothing but the boundless ocean; and they could not see its
base deep down in the water, neither were they able to see the top on
account of its vast height.

A silver net hung from the top down to the very water, extending far out
at one side of the pillar; and the meshes were so large that the curragh
in full sail went through one of them. When they were passing through
it, Diuran, one of Maildune's companions, struck the mesh with the edge
of his spear, and with the blow cut a large piece off it.

"Do not destroy the net," said Maildune; "for what we see is the work of
great men."

"What I have done," answered Diuran, "is for the honour of my God, and
in order that the story of our adventures may be more readily believed;
and I shall lay this silver as an offering on the altar of Armagh, if I
ever reach Erin."

That piece of silver weighed two ounces and a half, as it was reckoned
afterwards by the people of the church of Armagh.

After this the voyagers heard someone speaking on the top of the pillar,
in a loud, clear, glad voice; but they knew neither what he said, nor in
what language he spoke.



The next land the travellers sighted was a small island. On a near
approach they recognised it as the very same island they had seen in the
beginning of their voyage, in which they had heard the man in the great
house boast that he had slain Maildune's father, and from which the
storm had driven them out into the great ocean.

They turned the prow of their vessel to the shore, landed, and went
towards the house. It happened that at this very time the people of the
house were seated at their evening meal; and Maildune and his
companions, as they stood outside, heard a part of their conversation.

Said one to another, "It would not be well for us if we were now to see

"As to Maildune," answered another, "it is very well known that he was
drowned long ago in the great ocean."

"Do not be sure," observed a third; "perchance he is the very man that
may waken you up some morning from your sleep."

"Supposing he came now," asked another, "what should we do?"

The head of the house now spoke in reply to the last question; and
Maildune at once knew the voice, for it was the voice of the man who
had made a boast of slaying the young chief's father.

And what he said was:--"I can easily answer that. Maildune has been for
a long time suffering great afflictions and hardships; and if he were to
come now, though we were enemies once, I should certainly give him a
welcome and a kind reception."

When Maildune heard this he knocked at the door; and the door-keeper
asked who was there; to which Maildune made answer--

"It is I, Maildune, returned safely from all my wanderings."

The chief of the house then ordered the door to be opened; and he went
to meet Maildune, and brought him and his companions into the house.
They were joyfully welcomed by the whole household; new garments were
given to them; and they feasted and rested, till they forgot their
weariness and their hardships.

They related all the wonders God had revealed to them in the course of
their voyage, according to the word of the sage who says, "It will be a
source of pleasure to remember these things at a future time."

After they had remained here for some days, Maildune and his companions
returned to their own country. And Diuran took the piece of silver he
had cut down from the great net at the Silver Pillar, and laid it,
according to his promise, on the high altar of Armagh.

        From "Old Celtic Romances," by P. W. JOYCE, LL.D.




Of the tale called the "Voyage of Maildune," the oldest copy is in the
Book of the Dun Cow, which was copied from older books eight hundred
years ago: but here the story is imperfect at both the beginning and
end, portions of the book having been torn away at some former time.
There is, however, a perfect copy in the Yellow Book of Lecan.[164-1] It
was translated and published for the first time in "Old Celtic Romances"
in 1879. When this book appeared, the great English poet, Alfred
Tennyson (afterwards Lord Tennyson), read the story, and made it the
subject of a beautiful poem, also called "The Voyage of Maildune."
Portions of the beginning and end of this poem are here given:--


    I was the chief of the race--he had stricken my father dead--
    But I gather'd my fellows together, I swore I would strike off his
    Each of them looked like a king, and was noble in birth as in worth,
    And each of them boasted he sprang from the oldest race upon earth.
    Each was as brave in the fight as the bravest hero of song,
    And each of them liefer had died than have done one another a wrong.
    _He_ lived on an isle in the ocean--we sail'd on a Friday morn--
    He that had slain my father the day before I was born.

  [164-1] For the Book of the Dun Cow and the Yellow Book of Lecan,
            see p. 118.


    And we came to the isle in the ocean, and there on the shore was he.
    But a sudden blast blew us out and away thro' a boundless sea.

       *       *       *       *       *


    And we came to the Isle of a saint who had sail'd with St.
                Brendan[165-1] of yore,
    He had lived ever since on the Isle and his winters were fifteen
    And his voice was low as from other worlds, and his eyes were sweet,
    And his white hair sank to his heels and his white beard fell to his
    And he spake to me, "O Maeldune, let be this purpose of thine!
    Remember the words of the Lord when he told us 'Vengeance is mine!'
    His fathers have slain thy fathers in war or in single strife,
    Thy fathers have slain his fathers, each taken a life for a life,
    Thy father had slain his father, how long shall the murder last?
    Go back to the Isle of Finn[166-1] and suffer the Past to be Past."

  [165-1] St. Brendan of Clonfert in Kerry, commonly called Brendan
            the Navigator: born in Kerry in 484. He sailed from near
            Brandon mountain in Kerry (which is named from him) on his
            celebrated voyage of seven years on the Atlantic, in which
            it is related he saw many wonderful things--quite as
            wonderful as those of Maildune.

  [166-1] The Isle of Finn: i.e. of Finn Mac Cumaill: Ireland (see p.


    And we came to the Isle we were blown from, and there on the shore
                was he,
    The man that had slain my father. I saw him and let him be.
    O weary was I of the travel, the trouble, the strife and the sin,
    When I landed again, with a tithe of my men, on the Isle of Finn.




At page 47 of this book it has been related how missionaries and learned
men went in great numbers from Ireland to the Continent in the early
ages of Christianity to preach the Gospel and to teach in colleges. A
full account of the lives and labours of these earnest and holy men
would fill several volumes: but the following short sketch of one of
them will give the reader a good idea of all.

  [167-1] Fiesole in Tuscany, Italy: pronounced in four syllables:

Donatus was born in Ireland of noble parents towards the end of the
eighth century. There is good reason to believe that he was educated in
the monastic school of Inishcaltra, a little island in Lough Derg, near
the Galway shore, now better known as Holy Island[167-2]: so that he was
probably a native of that part of the country. Here he studied with
great industry and success. He became a priest, and in course of time a
bishop: and he was greatly distinguished as a professor.

  [167-2] In the "Child's History of Ireland" there is a picture of
            the round tower and church ruins on this little island.

Having spent a number of years teaching, he resolved to make a
pilgrimage to Rome and visit the holy places on the way. He had a
favourite pupil named Andrew, belonging to a noble Irish family, a
handsome, high-spirited youth, but of a deeply religious turn: and these
two, master and scholar, were much attached. And when Donatus made known
his intention to go as a pilgrim to foreign lands, Andrew, who could not
bear to be separated from him, begged to be permitted to go with him: to
which Donatus consented. When they had made the few simple preparations
necessary, they went down to the shore, accompanied by friends and
relatives; and bidding farewell to all--home, friends, and country--amid
tears and regrets, they set sail and landed on the coast of France.

And now, here were these two men, with stout hearts, determined will,
and full trust in God, exhibiting an excellent example of what
numberless Irish exiles of those days gave up, and of what trials and
dangers they exposed themselves to, for the sake of religion. One was a
successful teacher and a bishop; the other a young chief; and both might
have lived in their own country a life of peace and plenty. But they
relinquished all that for a higher and holier purpose; and they brought
with them neither luxury nor comfort. They had, on landing, just as much
money and food as started them on their journey; and with a small
satchel strapped on shoulder, containing a book or two and some other
necessary articles, and with stout staff in hand, they travelled the
whole way on foot. Whenever a monastery lay near their road, there they
called, sure of a kind reception, and rested for a day or two. When no
monastery was within reach, they simply begged for food and night
shelter as they fared along, making themselves understood by the
peasantry as best they could, for they knew little or nothing of their
language. Much hardship they endured from hunger and thirst, bad
weather, rough paths that often led them astray, and constant fatigue.
They were sometimes in danger too from rude and wicked peasants, some of
whom thought no more of killing a stranger than of killing a sparrow.
But before setting out, the two pilgrims knew well the hardships and
dangers in store for them on the way: so that they were quite prepared
for all this: and on they trudged, contented and cheerful, never
swerving an instant from their purpose. They travelled in a sort of
zigzag way, continually turning aside to visit churches, shrines,
hermitages, and all places consecrated by memory of old-time saints, or
of past events of importance in the history of Christianity. And
whenever they heard, as they went slowly along, of a man eminent for
holiness and learning, they made it a point to visit him, so as to have
the benefit of his conversation and advice; using the Latin language,
which all learned men spoke in those times.




In this manner the pilgrims made their way right through France, and on
through north Italy, till they arrived at Rome. This was the main object
of their pilgrimage, and here they sojourned for a considerable time.
Having obtained the Pope's blessing, they set out once more, directing
their steps now towards Tuscany, till at length they reached the
beautiful mountain of Fiesole, near Florence, where stood many churches
and other memorials of Christian saints and martyrs. They entered the
hospice of the monastery, intending to rest there for a week or two, and
then to resume their journey. At this time Irish pilgrims and
missionaries were respected everywhere on the Continent; and as soon as
the arrival of those two became known, they were received with honour by
both clergy and people, who became greatly attached to them for their
gentle quiet ways, and their holiness of life.

It happened about the time of their arrival here, that the pastor of
Fiesole, who was a bishop, died; and the clergy and people resolved to
have Donatus for their pastor. But when they went to him and told him
what they wanted, he became frightened; and trembling greatly, he said
to them in his gentle humble way:--

"We are only poor pilgrims from Scotia, and I do not wish to be your
bishop; for I am not at all fit for it, hardly even knowing your
language or your customs."

But the more he entreated the more vehemently did they insist: so that
at last he consented to take the bishop's chair. This was in or about
the year 824.

We need not follow the life of St. Donatus further here. It is enough to
say that, notwithstanding all his fears and his deep humility, he became
a great and successful pastor and missionary. For about thirty-seven
years he laboured among the people of Fiesole, by whom he was greatly
loved and revered. Down to the day of his death, which happened about
861, when he was a very old man, he was attended by his affectionate
friend Andrew. He is to this day honoured in and around Fiesole, as an
illustrious saint of those times. His tomb is still shown and regarded
with much veneration: and in the old town there are several other
memorials of him.

Like St. Columkille, Donatus always cherished a tender regretful love
for Ireland; and like him also he wrote a short poem in praise of it
which is still preserved. It is in Latin, and the following is a
translation, made by a Dublin poet many years ago:--

    Far westward lies an isle of ancient fame,
    By nature bless'd; and Scotia is her name,
    Enroll'd in books[172-1]: exhaustless is her store,
    Of veiny silver, and of golden ore.[172-2]
    Her fruitful soil, for ever teems with wealth,
    With gems[172-3] her waters, and her air with health;
    Her verdant fields with milk and honey flow;[172-4]
    Her woolly fleeces[172-5] vie with virgin snow;
    Her waving furrows float with bearded corn;
    And arms and arts her envied sons adorn![172-6]
    No savage bear, with lawless fury roves,
    Nor fiercer lion, through her peaceful groves;
    No poison there infects, no scaly snake
    Creeps through the grass, nor frog annoys the lake;[172-7]
    An island worthy of its pious race,
    In war triumphant, and unmatch'd in peace!

  [172-1] _I.e._ enrolled in books under the name of Scotia. The
            natives always called it Erin.

  [172-2] Ireland had mines of gold in old times; and silver was also
            found. Great numbers of Irish gold ornaments, found from
            time to time in the earth, are now preserved in Museums.

  [172-3] Pearls were then found in many Irish rivers; as they are,
            sometimes, to this day.

  [172-4] The Venerable Bede, a great English historian, writing in
            the eighth century, calls Ireland "a land flowing with
            milk and honey."

  [172-5] Ireland was noted for the plenty and goodness of its wool.

  [172-6] Ireland had great warriors, and many learned men and skilful
            artists (see pp. 20, 47, and 117).

  [172-7] There are no venomous reptiles in Ireland. There were then
            no frogs: but these were afterwards introduced from



From the time of the settlement of the Milesians, as described at page
3, Ireland was ruled by native kings, without any disturbance from
outside, till the arrival of the invaders we are now about to speak of.

During all these centuries, though there were troubles enough from the
quarrels of the kings and chiefs, learning and art, as we have seen,
were successfully cultivated. But a change came--a woful change--once
the Danes began to arrive. These were pirates, all pagans, from Denmark
and other countries round the Baltic Sea, brave and daring, but very
wicked and cruel, who for a long period kept, not only Ireland, but the
whole of western Europe in terror. They appeared for the first time on
the coast of Ireland in the year 795, when they plundered St.
Columkille's monastery on Lambay Island near Dublin. After this, for
more than two hundred years, the country was never free from them, and
they plundered and burned and destroyed churches, monasteries,
libraries, and homesteads, and killed all that fell in their way, men,
women, and children. They were often attacked and routed by the native
chiefs; but this did not much discourage them and they generally landed
so suddenly, and marched through the country so swiftly, that in most
cases they got clear off to their ships, with all their plunder, before
the people could overtake them. They settled permanently in various
towns on the coast, especially Dublin, Waterford, and Limerick, which
they held for a long time.

At last they were overthrown by Brian Boru king of Ireland, in a great
battle fought at Clontarf near Dublin, on Good Friday, the 23rd April,
1014, of which a full account may be read in the "Child's History of
Ireland." After this, though no attempt was made to expel them from the
country, they gave little trouble. They became Christians, intermarried
with the natives, and settled down to industry and commerce like the
rest of the people; and there are many of their descendants to this day
in various parts of Ireland.

For about a century and a half after the battle of Clontarf, eight Irish
kings reigned: but none of them succeeded in mastering the whole
country. Some of these were O'Briens of Munster, the descendants of
Brian Boru; some O'Loghlins of Ulster, a branch of the O'Neill family,
descendants of Niall of the Nine Hostages (see p. 5); and some O'Conors
of Connaught. During this period Ireland was greatly disturbed; for the
several kings were continually fighting with each other, striving who
should be head king: so that the next invaders, when they came, found
the country ill prepared to resist them.

Those who have read the History of England will remember that the
Normans, coming from France under William the Conqueror, took the
sovereignty of England after the battle of Hastings in 1066. About a
century later, their descendants, who were now called Anglo-Normans,
i.e. English Normans, made settlements in Ireland. Their leader when
they first arrived was Earl Strongbow; but in 1171 Henry II., king of
England, came over with an army and took command. In 1172 he annexed
Ireland to the crown of England, that is, he claimed it as a part of his
dominions. The Over-king of Ireland at this time was Roderick O'Conor.
He was unable to repel the new invaders: and after his death there was
no longer a native king over all Ireland.

King Henry divided nearly the whole island among his lords, who all
went, after some time, to reside in their own territories: but they were
to remain under the authority of the king. These lords soon became great
and powerful, and ruled like princes; and from them descend the chief
Anglo-Irish families, of whom the most distinguished were the Geraldines
or Fitzgeralds, the Butlers, and the De Burgos or Burkes.

But it must not be supposed that all this was done quietly: for the
native Irish chiefs everywhere resisted these new lords. Although king
Henry went through the form of "annexing" Ireland, it was annexed only
in name. In reality his authority extended over only a small portion. It
took more than four hundred years to annex the whole country: and during
all this time there were constant wars, the Anglo-Normans encroaching,
and the Irish chiefs resisting as best they could. It was only in the
reign of James I., that is, about three hundred years ago, that the
whole of Ireland was brought under English law.

[Illustration: O'Dea's Castle, Dysart, Co. Clare. Built in the
fourteenth century by one of the Irish chiefs. See the note under St.
Finghin's Church, page 189.]

[Illustration: Bunratty Castle in the south of Clare, on the Bunratty
River, where it joins the Shannon: built about the end of the thirteenth
century by Thomas de Clare, an Anglo-Norman lord.]

These Anglo-Normans were a great and famous people, skilful and mighty
in war; and they built splendid abbeys, churches, and castles, all over
Ireland the ruins of which remain to this day. As an example of what
manner of men they were, a sketch of the career of one of them--Sir
John de Courcy--is given in this book (page 190).

[Illustration: Kilclief Castle, Co. Down. Built by one of the
Anglo-Normans in the fourteenth century.]

For hundreds of years after the Invasion, people continued to come from
England to live in Ireland both Anglo-Norman and Anglo-Saxon. After
settling down they became good friends with the native Irish,
intermarried with them, learned to speak and read the Irish language,
and quite fell in with the customs and modes of the country, so that it
was said of them that they became "more Irish than the Irish
themselves." A large proportion of the present inhabitants of Ireland
are of this race, mixed up however by intermarriage, with the older
Milesian stock.



During the many wars in Ireland, small parties of men had often to
traverse the country for long distances to bring messages from one
general to another, and for other purposes. They marched by day and put
up at night in the woods, choosing some sheltered corner and making a
big fire of brambles to keep them warm and to cook their food. After
supper they usually sat by the fire, amusing themselves with pleasant
conversation or by telling stories: and when at last it was time to go
to sleep, they wrapped themselves up in their great coats and lay down
round the fire, leaving one of their number to stand guard.

The following short poem--part of a much longer one--describes how a
small party of four men passed the early part of the night during a
march across country. There was to be a battle in a day or two, and
these four friends met, and each told a story by the Watch-fire of
Barnalee. And they arranged to meet again after the battle, if any
survived. But this turned out to be a sad meeting: there were only two:
the other two lay dead on the battlefield.


    There were four comrades stout and free,
    Within the Wood of Barnalee,
    Under the spreading oaken tree.


    The ragged clouds sailed past the moon;
    Loud rose the brawling torrent's croon;
    The rising winds howled in the wood,
    Like hungry wolves at scent of blood.
    Yet there they sat, in converse free,
    Under the spreading oaken tree,--
    Garrod the Minstrel, with his lyre,
    Sir Hugh le Poer, that heart of fire,
    Dark Gilliemore, the mournful squire,
    And Donal, from the banks of Nier.


    Spectrally shone the watch-fire light
    On their sun-browned faces and helmets bright
    Showing beneath the woodland glooms
    Their swords, and jacks, and waving plumes;
    As there they sat, those comrades free,
    Within the Wood of Barnalee,
    Under the spreading oaken tree,
    And told their tales to you and me.




Roderick O'Connor, the last native king of Ireland retired from the
throne towards the end of the twelfth century, to end his days in the
monastery of Cong.[181-1] After his time, as we have said, there was no
longer a king over the whole country. But for hundreds of years
afterwards, kings continued to reign over the five provinces. Roderick
had been king of Connaught before he became king of all Ireland; and
after his retirement there were several claimants for the Connaught
throne, who contended with one another, so that the province was for a
long time disturbed with wars and battles.

  [181-1] Cong in Mayo, between Lough Corrib and Lough Mask; the
            remains of an abbey are there still.

Roderick had a young brother named Cahal, who was called Cahal of the
Red Hand, from a great blood-red mark on his right hand. He would
naturally have a claim to the Connaught throne when old enough; and as
he was, even when a boy, a noble young fellow, and showed great ability,
the queen of Connaught, jealous of him, feared that when he grew up he
would give trouble, and she sought him out, determined to kill him: so
that Cahal and his mother had to flee from one hiding place to another.

Finding at last that he could no longer remain in the province with
safety, he and his mother crossed the Shannon into Leinster, where no
one knew him, and there for several years they remained, while he made a
poor living for both, by working in the fields as a common labourer. And
as the fame of the brave young Cahal with the red mark on his hand, had
gone abroad, he always wore a loose mitten on his right hand for fear of
discovery; for he knew well that the queen had spies everywhere
searching for him.

At this time the people had no newspapers: but there were news-carriers
who made it their business to travel continually about the country,
picking up information wherever they could, and relating all that
occurred whenever they came to a village, or to any group of people who
desired to hear the news. They generally received some small payment;
and in this manner they made their living.

One day while Cahal was employed with several others, reaping in a field
of rye, they saw one of these men approaching; and they stopped their
work for a few moments to hear what he had to say. After relating
several unimportant matters, he came at last to the principal
news:--that the king of Connaught was dead, and that the leading people
of the province, having met in counsel to choose a king declared that
they would have no one but young Cahal of the Red Hand. "And now,"
continued the newsman, "I and many others have been searching for him
for several weeks. He is easily known, for his right hand is blood-red
from the wrist out: but up to this we have been unsuccessful. We fear
indeed that he is living in poverty in some remote place where he will
never be found: or it may be that he is dead."

When Cahal heard this, his heart gave a great bound, and he stood musing
for a few moments. Then flinging his sickle on the ridge, he
exclaimed:--"Farewell reaping-hook: now for the sword!" And pulling off
the mitten, he showed his red hand, and made himself known. The newsman,
instantly recognising him, threw himself prostrate before him to
acknowledge him as his king. And ever since that time, "Cahal's farewell
to the rye," has been a proverb in Connaught, to denote a farewell for
ever. He returned immediately with his mother to Connaught, where he was
joyfully received, and was proclaimed king in 1190.

At this time the Anglo-Norman barons who had come over at the time of
Henry II.'s Invasion, nearly twenty years before, had settled down in
various parts of Ireland: and they were constantly encroaching on the
lands of the Irish and erecting strong castles everywhere; while the
Irish chiefs as we have already said, resisted as far as they were
able, so that there was much disturbance all over the country. Cahal was
a brave and active king, and took a leading part in fighting against the

After he had reigned over Connaught in peace for eight or nine years,
trouble came again. There was at this time, settled in Limerick, a
powerful Anglo-Norman baron, William de Burgo, to whom a large part of
Connaught had been granted by King Henry II. This man stirred up another
of the O'Conors to lay claim to the throne in opposition to Cahal,
promising to help him: and now Connaught was again all ablaze with civil
war. Cahal was defeated in battle, and fled to Ulster to Hugh O'Neill,
prince of Tyrone, who took up his cause. Marching south with his own and
O'Neill's men, he attacked his rival, but was defeated, and again fled
north. He soon made a second attempt, aided this time by Sir John de
Courcy (for whom see page 190): but he and De Courcy were caught in an
ambush in Galway by the rival king, who routed their army. In this fight
De Courcy very nearly lost his life, being felled senseless from his
horse by a stone. Recovering in good time however, he and Cahal escaped
from the battlefield, and fled northwards.

Cahal of the Red Hand, in no way cowed by these terrible reverses, again
took the field, after some time, aided now by De Burgo, who had changed
sides. A battle was fought near Roscommon, in which the rival king was
slain; and Cahal once more took possession of the throne. From this
period forward he ruled without a native rival; though a few years
later, he was forced to surrender a large part of his kingdom to King
John, in order that he might secure possession of the remainder.

But he was as vigilant as ever in repelling all attempts of the barons
to encroach on his diminished territory. Thus when in 1220 the De Lacys
of Meath, a most powerful Anglo-Norman family, went to Athleague on the
Shannon at the head of Lough Ree, where there was a ford, and began to
build a castle at the eastern or Leinster side, in order that they might
have a garrison in it always ready to attack Connaught, Cahal promptly
crossed the river into Longford, and so frightened them that they were
glad to conclude a truce with him. And he broke down the castle, which
they had almost finished.

Cahal of the Red Hand was an upright and powerful king, and governed
with firmness and justice. The Irish Annals tell us that he relieved the
poor as long as he lived, and that he destroyed more robbers and rebels
and evil-doers of every kind than any other king of his time. In early
life he had founded the abbey of Knockmoy,[185-1] into which he retired
in the last year of his life: and in this retreat he died in 1224.

  [185-1] Knockmoy in Galway, six miles from Tuam: the ruins of the
            abbey still remain.



The ancient Irish people--like those of several other
countries--believed that when a just and good king reigned, the country
was blessed with fine weather and abundant crops, the trees bended with
fruit, the rivers teemed with fish, and the whole kingdom prospered.
This was the state of Connaught while Cahal of the Red Hand reigned in
peace. And it is recorded that when he died, fearful portents appeared,
and there was gloom and terror everywhere. James Clarence Mangan, a
Dublin poet, who died in 1849, pictures all this in the following fine
poem. He supposes himself to be living on the river Maine, in Germany,
and he is brought to Connaught in a vision, where he witnesses the
prosperity that attended Cahal's reign. This he sets forth in the first
part of the poem: but a sudden mysterious change for the worse comes,
which he describes in the last two verses. The whole poem forms a wild,
misty sort of picture, such as one might see in a dream.[186-1]


        I walked entranced
          Through a land of Morn;
    The sun, with wondrous excess of light,
        Shone down and glanced
          Over seas of corn
    And lustrous gardens aleft and right.
        Even in the clime
          Of resplendent Spain,
    Beams no such sun upon such a land;
        But it was the time,
          'Twas in the reign,
    Of Cahal More of the Wine-red Hand.

        Anon stood nigh
          By my side a man
    Of princely aspect and port sublime.
        Him queried I,
          "O, my Lord and Khan,[187-1]
    What clime is this, and what golden time?"
        When he--"The clime
          Is a clime to praise,
    The clime is Erin's, the green and bland;
        And it is the time,
          These be the days,
    Of Cahal More of the Wine-red Hand!"

        Then saw I thrones,
          And circling fires,
    And a dome rose near me, as by a spell,
        Whence flowed the tones
          Of silver lyres,
    And many voices in wreathèd swell;
        And their thrilling chime
          Fell on mine ears
    As the heavenly hymn of an angel-band--
        "It is now the time,
          These be the years,
    Of Cahal More of the Wine-red Hand!"

        I sought the hall,
          And, behold!... a change
    From light to darkness, from joy to woe!
        King, nobles, all,
          Looked aghast and strange;
    The minstrel-group sate in dumbest show!
        Had some great crime
          Wrought this dread amaze,
    This terror? None seemed to understand!
        'Twas then the time,
          We were in the days,
    Of Cahal More of the Wine-red Hand.

        I again walked forth;
          But lo! the sky
    Showed fleckt with blood, and an alien sun
        Glared from the north,
          And there stood on high,
    Amid his shorn beams, A SKELETON
        It was by the stream
          Of the castled Maine,
    One Autumn eve, in the Teuton's land,
        That I dreamed this dream
          Of the time and reign
    Of Cahal More of the Wine-red Hand!

  [186-1] Mangan wrote many poetical translations from the Irish, as
            well as from the German and other languages. The "Vision
            of Connaught" is, however, an original poem, not a

  [187-1] Irish, _Ceann_ [can], meaning 'head,' one of the Gaelic
            titles for a chief.

[Illustration: St. Finghin's Church, Quin, Co. Clare: originally built
by the Irish: re-built by Thomas de Clare, the Anglo-Norman lord who
erected Bunratty Castle (see p. 177).

The Irish began to build large churches and castles a little before the
arrival of the Anglo-Normans. The Irish churches of a previous time were
generally small. After the Invasion, the Anglo-Norman barons and the
Irish kings and chiefs vied with each other in erecting churches,
abbeys, and castles.]



Among the many Anglo-Norman lords and knights who came to settle in
Ireland in the time of Henry II., one of the most renowned was John de
Courcy. The Welsh writer, Gerald Barry, already mentioned (p. 113), who
lived at that time and knew him personally, thus describes him:--

"He was of huge size, tall and powerfully built, with bony and muscular
limbs, wonderfully active and daring, full of courage, and a bold and
venturous soldier from his youth. He was so eager for fighting that,
though commanding as general, he always mingled with the foremost ranks
in charging the enemy, which might have lost the battle; for if he
chanced to be killed or badly wounded, there was no general able to take
his place. But though so fierce in war, he was gentle and modest in time
of peace and very exact in attending to his religious devotions; and
when he had gained a victory he gave all the glory to God, and took none
to himself."

When King Henry II. divided the country among his lords in 1172, he gave
Ulster to De Courcy. But it was one thing to be granted the province,
and another thing to take possession of it; for the Ulster chiefs and
people were warlike and strong; and for five years De Courcy remained
in Dublin without making any attempt to conquer it.

At length he made up his mind to try his fortune; and gathering his
followers to the number of about a thousand, every man well armed and
trained to battle, he set out for the north. Through rugged and
difficult ways the party rode on, and early in the morning of the fourth
day--the 2nd February, 1177--they arrived at Downpatrick, then the
capital of that part of the country. The Irish of those times never
surrounded their towns with walls; and the astonished Downpatrick
people, who knew nothing of the expedition, were startled from their
beds at daybreak by a mighty uproar in the streets--shouts, and the
clatter of horses' hoofs, and the martial notes of bugles. Whatever
little stock of provisions the party had brought with them was gone soon
after they left Dublin; and by the time they arrived at Downpatrick they
were half-starved. They scattered themselves everywhere, and, breaking
away for the time from the control of their leader, they fell ravenously
on all the food they could lay their hands on: they smashed in doors and
set fire to houses, and ate and drank and slew as if they were mad, till
the town was half destroyed. And the people were taken so completely by
surprise that there was hardly any resistance.

When this terrible onslaught at last came to an end, De Courcy, having
succeeded in bringing his men together, made an encampment, which he
carefully fortified; and there the little army rested from their toils.
At the end of a week the chief of the district came with a great army to
expel the invaders; while De Courcy arranged his men in ranks with great
skill, to withstand the attack. The Ulstermen who were without armour,
wearing a loose saffron-coloured tunic over the ordinary dress,
according to the Irish fashion, rushed on with fearless bravery; but by
no effort could they break the solid ranks of the armour-clad
Anglo-Normans, who, after a long struggle put them to flight, and
pursued them for miles along the seashore.

After this victory De Courcy settled in Downpatrick with his followers,
and built a strong castle there for his better security. Nevertheless
the Ulstermen, in no way discouraged, continued their fierce attacks:
and though he was victorious in several battles, he was defeated in
others, so that for a long time he had quite enough to do to hold his

But through all his difficulties the valiant De Courcy kept up his heart
and battled bravely on, continually enlarging his territory, founding
churches and building strong castles all over the province. King Henry
was so pleased with his bravery, and with his success in extending the
English dominions, that he made him earl of Ulster and lord of
Connaught; and in 1185 he appointed him Lord Lieutenant of Ireland.
This obliged him to live in Dublin; but he left captains and governors
in Ulster to hold his castles and protect his territory, till he should
return, which he did in 1189.



By the death of Henry II. in 1189, Sir John de Courcy lost his best
friend: and things began to go ill with him when King John came to the
throne in 1199. For another Anglo-Norman lord, Hugh de Lacy, grew
jealous of his great deeds, and hated him with his whole heart, so that
he took every means to poison the king's mind against him. In a very old
volume, written by some Anglo-Irish writer, there are several
entertaining stories of all that befel De Courcy after his return to
Ulster from Dublin in 1189. Two of these, somewhat shortened and
re-arranged, are given here, and much of the fine old language in which
they are told is retained, as it is easily understood.

The first story relates that whereas Sir Hugh de Lacy, who was now
appointed general ruler of Ireland by the king, did much disdain and
envy Sir John de Courcy, and being marvellous grieved at the worthy
service he did, he sought all means that he could possible to damage and
hinder him and to bring him to confusion, and promised much rewards in
secret to those who would invent any matter against him; for which De
Lacy had no cause but that Sir John's actions and commendations were
held in greater account than his own. He feigned also false charges
against him, and wrote them over to the king, and sore complained of

Amongst other his grievous complaints, he said De Courcy refused to do
homage to King John, and he charged him also with saying to many that
the king had somewhat to do with the death of Prince Arthur, lawful heir
to the crown of England[194-1]; and many other such like things. All
these were nothing but matters feigned by De Lacy, to bring to a better
end his purpose of utterly ruining De Courcy. On this De Courcy
challenged him, after the custom of those times, to try the matter by
single combat: but De Lacy, fearing to meet him, made excuses and

  [194-1] Prince Arthur, the rightful heir to the English throne, was
            cast into prison by John: he was soon after murdered,
            which, it was believed, was done by John's orders.

By reason of such evil and envious tales, though untrue they were, Sir
Hugh de Lacy was at last commanded by King John to do what he might to
apprehend and take Sir John de Courcy. Whereupon he devised and
conferred with certain of Sir John's own men how this might be done;
and they said it was not possible to do so the while he was in his
battle-harness. But they told him that it might be done on Good Friday;
for on that day it was his accustomed usage to wear no shield, harness,
or weapon, but that he would be found kneeling at his prayers, after he
had gone about the church five times barefooted. And having so devised,
they lay in wait for him in his church at Downpatrick; and when they saw
him barefooted and unarmed they rushed on him suddenly. But he,
snatching up a heavy wooden cross that stood nigh the church, defended
him till it was broken, and slew thirteen of them before he was taken.
And so he was sent to England, and was put into the Tower of London, to
remain there in perpetual, and there miserably was kept a long time,
without as much meat or apparel as any account could be made of.

Now these men had agreed to betray their master to Sir Hugh de Lacy for
a certain reward of gold and silver: and when they came to Sir Hugh for
their reward, he gave them the gold and silver as he had promised. They
then craved of him a passport into England to tell all about the good
service they had done; which he gave them, with the following words
written in it:--

"This writing witnesseth that those whose names are herein subscribed,
that did betray so good a master for reward, will be false to me and to
all the earth besides. And inasmuch as I put no trust in them, I do
banish them out of this land of Ireland for ever; and I do let
Englishmen know that none of them may enjoy any part of this our king's
land, or be employed as servitors from this forward for ever."

[Illustration: Ennis Abbey as it appeared in 1780: now carefully
preserved by the Board of Works. Built by Donogh O'Brien, king of
Thomond, in 1242. See the note under Illustration, p. 189.]

And so he wrote all their names, and put them in a ship with victuals
and furniture, but without mariners or seamen, and put them to sea, and
gave them strict charge never to return to Ireland on pain of death. And
after this they were not heard of for a long time; but by chance of
weather and lack of skilful men, they arrived at Cork, and being taken,
were brought to Sir Hugh de Lacy; and first taking all their treasure
from them, he hung them in chains, and so left them till their bodies
wasted away.

This deed, that Sir Hugh de Lacy did, was for an ensample that none
should use himself the like, and not for love of Sir John de Courcy:
since it appeareth from certain ancient authors that he would have it so
as that De Courcy's name should not be so much as mentioned, and that no
report or commendation of him should ever be made.



And now Sir John de Courcy, being in the Tower in evil plight, cried
often to God why He suffered him to be thus so miserably used, who did
build so many good abbeys, and did so many good deeds to God: and thus
often lamenting with himself, he asked God his latter end to finish.

It fortuned after this that much variance and debate did grow between
King John of England and King Philip of France,[197-1] about a certain
castle which the king of France won from King John. And when King Philip
had often been asked to restore it he refused, saying it was his by
right. But at last he offered to try the matter by battle. For he had a
champion, a mighty man, who had never been beaten; and he challenged the
king of England to find, on his side, a champion to fight him, and let
the title to the castle depend on the issue thereof; to which King John,
more hasty than well advised, did agree.

  [197-1] At this time the kings of England had a large territory in
            France so that quarrels often arose between them and the
            French kings.

And when the day of battle was appointed, the king of England called
together his Council to find out where a champion might be found that
would take upon him this honour and weighty enterprise. Many places they
sought and inquired of, but no one was found that was willing to engage
in so perilous a matter. And the king was in a great agony, fearing more
the dishonour of the thing than the loss of the castle.

At length a member of the Council came to the king and told him that
there was a man in the Tower of London, one De Courcy, that in all the
earth was not his peer, if he would only fight. The king was much
rejoiced thereat, and sent unto him to require and command him to take
the matter in hand: but Sir John refused. The king sent again and
offered him great gifts; but again he refused, saying he would never
serve the king in field any more; for he thought himself evil rewarded
for such service as he did him before. The king sent to him a third
time, and bade him ask whatever he would, for himself and for his
friends, and all should be granted to him: and he said furthermore that
upon his stalworth and knightly doings the honour of the realm of
England did rest and depend.

He answered that for himself, the thing he would wish to ask for, King
John was not able to give, namely, the lightness and freedom of heart
that he once had, but which the king's unkind dealing had taken from
him. As for his friends, he said that, saving a few, they were all slain
in the king's service; "and for these reasons," said he, "I mean never
to serve the king more. But"--he went on to say--"the honour of the
realm of England, that is another matter: and I would defend it so far
as lies in my power, provided I might have such things as I shall ask

This was promised to him, and the king sent messengers to set him at
liberty; who, when they had entered into his prison, found him in great
misery. His hair was all matted, and overgrew his shoulders to his
waist; he had scarce any apparel, and the little he had fell in rags
over his great body; and his face was hollow from close confinement and
for lack of food.

After all things that he required had been granted to him, he asked for
one thing more, namely, that his sword should be sent for all the way to
Downpatrick in Ireland, where it would be found within the altar of the
church; for with that weapon he said he would fight and with no other.
After much delay it was brought to him; and when they saw it and felt
its weight, they marvelled that any man could wield it. And good food
was given to him, and seemly raiment, and he had due exercise, and in
all things he was cherished and made much of; so that his strength of
body and stoutness of heart returned to him.



The lists were enclosed and all things were prepared against the day of
battle. The two kings were there, outside the lists, with most of their
nobility, and thousands of great people to look on, all sitting on seats
placed high up for good view. Within the lists were two tents for the
champions, where they might rest till the time appointed. And men were
chosen to see that all things were carried on fairly and in good order.

When the time drew nigh, the French champion came forth on the field,
and did his duty of obeisance, and bowed with reverence and courtesy to
all around, and went back to his tent, where he waited for half an hour.
The king of England sent for Sir John to come forth, for that the French
champion rested a long time awaiting his coming; to which he answered
roughly that he would come forth when he thought it was time. And when
he still delayed, the king sent one of his Council to desire him to make
haste, to which he made answer:--"If thou or those kings were invited to
such a banquet, you would make no great haste coming forth to partake of

On this the king, deeming that he was not going to fight at all, was
about to depart in a great rage, thinking much evil of Sir John de
Courcy. While he was thus musing, Sir John came forth in surly mood, for
memory of all the ill usage that had been wrought on him; and he stalked
straight on, looking neither to the right nor to the left, and doing no
reverence to anyone: and so back to his tent.

Then the trumpets sounded the first charge, for the champions to
approach. Forth they came, and passing by slowly, viewed each other
intently without a word. And when the foreign champion noted De Courcy's
fierce look, and measured with his eyes his great stature and mighty
limbs, he was filled with dread and fell all a-trembling. At length the
trumpets sounded the last charge for the fight to begin; on which De
Courcy quickly drew his sword and advanced; but the Frenchman, turning
right round, "ranne awaie off the fielde and betooke him to Spaine."

Whereupon the English trumpets sounded victory; and there was such
shouting and cheering, such a-clapping of hands and such a-throwing of
caps in the air as the like was never seen before.

When the multitude became quiet, King Philip desired of King John that
De Courcy might be called before them to give a trial of his strength by
a blow upon a helmet: to which De Courcy agreed. They fixed a great
stake of timber in the ground, standing up the height of a man, over
which they put a shirt of mail, with a helmet on top. And when all was
ready, De Courcy, drawing his sword, looked at the kings with a grim and
terrible look that fearful it was to behold; after which he struck such
a blow as cut clean through the helmet and through the shirt of mail,
and down deep in the piece of timber. And so fast was the sword fixed
that no man in the assembly, using his two hands with the utmost effort,
could pluck it out; but Sir John, taking it in one hand, drew it forth

The princes, marvelling at so huge a stroke, desired to understand why
he looked so terrible at them before he struck the blow: on which he

"I call St. Patrick of Down to witness, that if I had missed the mark I
would have cut the heads off both of you kings on the score of all the
ill usage I received aforetime at your hands."

King John, being satisfied with all matters as they turned out, took his
answer in good part: and he gave him back all the dominions that before
he had in Ireland, as Earl of Ulster and lord of Connaught; and
licensed him to return, with many great gifts besides. And to this day
the people of Ireland hold in memory Sir John de Courcy and his mighty
deeds; and the ruins of many great castles builded by him are to be seen
all over Ulster.



The great lords who settled in Ireland in the time of Henry II. became
so powerful that they ruled in the land like so many kings. It was so
hard to reach Ireland in those times, or even to get from one part of
Ireland to another, that their master, the king of England, had
generally very little control over them: and he often found it hard
enough even to find out what was going on among them. So those mighty
barons did very much as they liked. They imposed taxes, raised armies,
and made war on each other, just as if they were independent sovereigns.

The Fitzgeralds, or Geraldines, were among the most illustrious of those
families. They intermarried with the families of the native Irish kings
and princes, such as the O'Neills and O'Conors; and altogether they fell
in so well with the ways of the country, that the Irish people came to
love them almost better than they loved their own old native kings and
chiefs. And for hundreds of years those Geraldines took a leading part
in the government of Ireland for the kings of England.

In the time of Henry VII., who became king in the year 1485, Garrett
Fitzgerald, earl of Kildare--the "Great Earl" as he was called--was Lord
Deputy, or chief ruler of Ireland, for the king: and he was the leading
man of his day in Ireland.[204-1] We are told in the old accounts of him
that he was tall of stature, of goodly presence, very liberal and
merciful; of strict piety; mild in his government; very easily put into
a passion, but just as easily appeased; a knight in valour, and princely
in his words and judgments.

  [204-1] A further account of the Great Earl, and of some of his
            proceedings, will be found in the "Child's History of

Once he got into a great rage with one of his servants for some blunder.
It happened that two of the gentlemen of his household were looking on:
and one of them whispered to the other, whose name was Boice, that he
would give him a good Irish hobby if he went and plucked a hair out of
the earl's beard. Boice took him at his offer, and knowing well the
earl's good nature, he went up to him, while he still fumed with anger,
and said:--

"If so it please your good lordship, one of your horsemen promised me a
choice horse if I snip one hair from your beard." "Well," quoth the
earl, "I agree thereto; but if you pluck more than one, I promise you to
bring my fist away from your ear!"

And Boice plucked the hair, and won the hobby: but he took good care to
pluck only one, so that his ear escaped the earl's big fist.

At this time the chief man of the Butlers was James, earl of Ormond: and
he and the Deputy were at enmity, each working with might and main to
put down the other. The earl of Ormond, who was a deep and far reaching
man, not being strong enough to oppose his adversary openly, devised a
plan to entrap him by means of submission and courtesy. Certain charges
had, it seems, been made against Ormond, and he now wrote to the deputy,
who was, of course, in authority over him, asking permission to come to
Dublin to disprove them; which the deputy granted. Accordingly, in the
year 1492, he marched to Dublin with a numerous army, and encamped near
the city.

Now Kildare's councillors, and the citizens in general, disliked the
presence of so great an army, suspecting some evil design: and besides,
the soldiers used the people ill, often beating and robbing them; so
that instead of peace, this visit of Ormond made all the greater
discord. Yet still, with an air of great respect and humility, he
persisted in asking to be heard, saying he would show that the evil
stories about him were all false. At length, Lord Deputy Kildare
agreed, and the meeting was held in St. Patrick's Church.

But this meeting was not a quiet or peaceful one; for the two earls,
instead of speaking gentle words of forgiveness, began to accuse each
other of all the damages inflicted on both sides. The citizens too, who
were in great crowds around the church, complained with loud voices of
all the ill usage they had suffered from the soldiers; whereupon they
and the soldiers fell to jars and quarrels, and the whole city was soon
in an uproar. At last, a body of Dublin archers, enraged that such a
disturbance should be raised by "this lawless rabble," rushed into the
church, shouting out that they would kill Ormond, as the leader of them,
and they shot at random hither and thither, leaving their arrows
sticking in the timbers and ornaments of the church, but doing no harm
otherwise. It is probable, indeed, that out of respect to the place,
notwithstanding their rage, they took care to shoot over the heads of
the crowd, so as to kill no one.

On this, the Earl of Ormond, fearing with good reason for his safety,
fled with a few of his followers to the chapter-house, and slamming the
door, bolted and barred it strongly. Kildare followed and called to him
to come out, promising upon his honour that he should receive no harm.
Ormond replied that he would come forth if the deputy gave him his hand
that his life should be safe; so "a cleft was pierced in a trice
through the chapter-house door," to the end that the earls might shake
hands and be reconciled. But Ormond, still suspecting treachery, refused
to put forth his hand, fearing it might be chopped off, till at last
Kildare stretched in his arm to him through the hole, and they shook
hands. Then the door was opened and the two earls embraced, and the
storm was appeased.

[Illustration: Old Chapter-house Door, now in St. Patrick's Cathedral,

But though this quarrel was patched up, it was only for the time.
Kildare suspected that Ormond had brought his army with evil intent "to
outface him and his power in his own countrie"; while "Ormond mistrusted
that this treacherous practice of the Dublinians was by Kildare
devised." So that, as the old writer goes on to say, "their quarrels
were not ended, but only for the present discontinued: like unto a green
wound, rather bungerlie botcht, than soundlie cured. And these and the
like surmises, with many stories carried to and fro, and in their ears
whispered, bred and fostered a malice betwixt them and their posterity,
many years incurable, which caused much stir and unquietnesse in the

The old chapter-house door, which is pictured on last page, still
remains in St. Patrick's Cathedral, where it may be seen leaning against
one of the walls, with the very "cleft" in it through which the two
earls shook hands more than four hundred years ago.



From the most remote times the Irish took great pleasure in music: and
they studied and cultivated it so successfully that they became
celebrated every where for their musical skill. Irish teachers of this
art were thought so highly of that from about the seventh to the
eleventh century, or later, they were employed in colleges and schools
in Great Britain and on the Continent, like Irish professors of other
branches of learning (see p. 47). Many of the early missionaries took
great delight in playing on the harp, so that some brought a small harp
with them on their journeys through the country, which no doubt
lightened many a weary hour at their homes in the evenings, during the
time of hard missionary work. In our oldest manuscript books, music is
continually mentioned: and musicians are spoken of with respect and

The two chief instruments used in Ireland were the harp and the bagpipe.
The harp was the favourite with the higher classes, many of whom played
it as an accomplishment, as people now play the piano. The professional
Irish harpers were more skilful, and could play better, than those of
any other country: so that for hundreds of years it was the custom for
the musicians of Great Britain to visit Ireland in order to finish their
musical education; a custom which continued down to about a century and
a-half ago.

The bagpipe was very generally used among the lower classes of people.
The form in use was what we now call the Highland or Scotch pipes--slung
from the shoulder: the bag inflated by the mouth. But this form of pipes
took its rise in Ireland: and it was brought to Scotland in early ages
by those Irish colonists already spoken of (page 5). There is another
and a better kind of bagpipes, now common in Ireland, resting on the lap
when in use, and having the bag inflated by a bellows: but this is a
late invention.

The Irish musicians had various "_Styles_," three of which are very
often mentioned in tales and other ancient Irish writings: of these many
specimens have come down to the present day. The style they called
"Mirth-music" consisted of lively airs, which excited to merriment and
laughter. These are represented by our present dance tunes, such as
jigs, reels, hornpipes, and other such quick, spirited pieces which are
known so well in every part of Ireland. The "Sorrow-music" was slow and
sad, and was always sung on the occasion of a death. We have many airs
belonging to this style, which are now commonly called _Keens_, i.e.,
laments, or dirges. The "Sleep-music" was intended to produce sleep; and
the tunes belonging to this style were plaintive and soothing. Such airs
are now known as lullabies, or nurse tunes, or cradle songs, of which
numerous examples are preserved in collections of Irish music. They were
often sung to put children to sleep. Though there are, as has been said,
many tunes belonging to these three classes, they form only a small part
of the great body of Irish music.

Music entered into many of the daily occupations of the people. There
were special spinning-wheel songs, which the women sang, with words, in
chorus or in dialogue, when employed in spinning. At milking time the
girls were in the habit of chanting a particular sort of air, in a low
gentle voice. These milking songs were slow and plaintive, something
like the nurse tunes, and had the effect of soothing the cows and of
making them submit more gently to be milked. This practice was common
down to fifty or sixty years ago; and many people now living can
remember seeing cows grow restless when the song was interrupted, and
become again quiet and placid when it was resumed. While ploughmen were
at their work they whistled a sweet, slow, and sad strain, which had as
powerful an effect in soothing the horses at their hard work as the
milking songs had on the cows: and these also were quite usual till
about half a century ago.

Special airs and songs were used during working time by smiths, by
weavers, and by boatmen. There were besides, hymn tunes; and young
people had simple airs for all sorts of games and sports. In most cases
words suitable to the several occasions were sung with lullabies,
laments, and occupation tunes. The poem at page 82 may be taken as a
specimen of a lament. Examples of all the preceding classes of melodies
will be found in the collections of Irish airs by Bunting, Petrie, and

The Irish had numerous war-marches, which the pipers played at the head
of the clansmen when marching to battle, and which inspired them with
courage and dash for the fight. This custom is still kept up by the
Scotch; and many fine battle-tunes are printed in Irish and Scotch
collections of national music.

From the preceding statement we may see how universal was the love of
music in former days among the people of Ireland. Though Irish airs,
compared with the musical pieces composed in our time, are generally
short and simple, they are constructed with such skill, that in regard
to most of them it may be truly said that no composer of the present
day can produce airs of a similar kind to equal them.

There are half a dozen original collections of Irish music, containing
in all between 1000 and 2000 airs: other collections are mostly copied
from these. But numerous airs are still sung and played among the people
all through Ireland, which have never been written down; and many have
been written down which have never been printed. Thomas Moore composed
his beautiful songs to old Irish airs; and his whole collection of songs
and airs--well known as "Moore's Melodies"--is now published in one
small cheap volume.

Of the entire body of Irish airs that are preserved, we know the authors
of not more than about one tenth; and these were composed within the
last 200 years. Most of the remaining nine tenths have come down from
old times. No one now can tell who composed "The Coolin," "Savourneen
Dheelish," "Shule Aroon," "Molly Asthore," "Garryowen," "The Boyne
Water," "Patrick's Day," "Langolee," "The Blackbird," or "The Girl I
left behind me"; and so of many other well-known and lovely airs.

The national music of Ireland and that of Scotland are very like each
other, and many airs are common to both countries: but this is only what
might be expected, as we know that the Irish and the Highland Scotch
were originally one people.


I.--Page 1.

  Ancient, very old, belonging to old times.

  Fabulous, not true.

  Magician, one skilled in magic or witchcraft; an enchanter.

  Spell, a charm, something done by enchantment.

  Wizard, an enchanter, a magician.

  Consult, to advise with.

  Druid. The druids were the learned men among the pagan Irish: they
    were believed to be wizards, or magicians.

  Seer, one who can foresee events, a prophet.

  Destiny, lot, what is to come to pass.

  Wistfully, thoughtfully, attentively, longingly.

  Cairn, a great pile of stones heaped up in memory of some person or
    some event. A cairn was very often raised over the grave of some
    important person. See page 97.

  Missionary, one sent to preach religion.

  Hostage, a person given as a pledge, or security, for carrying out
    some agreement.

  Possessing mighty power over people, able to persuade them by his
    earnestness and his powerful language.

II.--Page 7.

  Gallantly, boldly, bravely.

  Destined home: the druid had foretold that Inisfail, or the Isle of
    Destiny, was to be their final home.

  Emerald, a precious stone of a green colour. Ireland, from its
    greenness, is often called the Emerald Isle.

  Day god, the sun. Some of the pagan Irish worshipped the sun.

  Omen, a sign of what is to come.

III.--Page 8.

  Perpetual, lasting always.

  Allure, to entice, coax, or persuade.

  Book of the Dun Cow: see page 118.

  Conn the Hundred-fighter, or, as he is often called, Conn of the
    Hundred Battles, was King of Ireland from A.D. 177 to 212.

  Crystal, a sort of transparent mineral: glass, or anything like

  Marvelled, wondered.

  Chant, a slow, sweet song.

  Azure, a bright blue.

  Verdurous, green, full of verdure.

  Imprecation, a curse.

  Mace, here means a heavy-headed club used in fighting, generally for

IV.--Page 14.

  Noxious, hurtful, injurious.

  Gigantic, very large, giant-like.

  Fertile, fruitful, yielding good crops.

  Wickerwork, basket-work of woven twigs.

  Hospitality, kindness to strangers, free and generous entertainment
    of visitors.

  Expensive, costly.

  Establishment, the whole house, and all belonging to it.

  Liberal, plentiful.

  Gorget, an ornamental collar for the neck: the Irish gorgets were
    mostly of gold.

  Bronze, a mixed metal made of copper and tin melted together. The
    ancient Irish used a sort of white or whitish bronze, which they
    called _findruine_ [_finn´-drin-ă_].

  Enamel, a beautiful glassy substance, of various colours, used in
    metal work.

  Museum, a place where curiosities of all kinds are kept, especially
    objects belonging to ancient times.

  Artificer, an artist, a worker in metals, bone, wood, &c.

  Old Irish Laws: these were called the Brehon Laws.

  Commerce, trade with foreign nations.

V.--Page 22.

  Enmity, hatred, malice, ill feeling.

  Gall, bitterness and sourness of heart.

  Treachery, breach of faith, wickedness.

  Chariot, a kind of carriage.

  Druidical, made by the druids, who were believed to be enchanters,
    like the Dedannans.

  Clamorous, noisy, screaming.

  Repented, grew sorry.

  Gaelic speech, the Irish language, which all the people of Ireland
    then spoke.

  Plaintive, sad.

  Lay, a song, a poem.

  A husk of gore, withered up with grief.

  Anguish, great trouble and misery.

  Anthem, a song, a hymn: anthem of praise, _i.e._ of praise to God.

VI.--Page 27.

  Amazement, astonishment, wonder.

  Horror, terror mixed with dislike.

  Lamentation, great sorrow.

  Malignant, full of evil and badness.

  Adventurous, spirited, daring, courageous.

  Abhor, to hate, to detest, to have a horror of.

  Transform, to change the form or shape.

  Society, company.

  The dreadful day of doom, "that day of woe," _i.e._ the Day of
    Judgment. The children of Lir had some obscure foreknowledge of
    the coming of Christianity.

  Desolate, waste and solitary.

  Tempestuous, stormy.

VII.--Page 32.

  Abode, a dwelling.

  Plight, an evil and unpleasant state.

  Endure, to bear, to suffer.

  Chain of repose: as if the breezes were bound down and kept at rest
    by a chain.

  Darkness: the darkness of paganism.

  Pure light, and Day star: Christianity.

  Wreathed, twisted, curled.

  Hazel-mead, a kind of mead with hazel nuts put into it to flavour
    it. For mead, see p. 17.

  Lullaby, a nurse song: a song to put a person to sleep; see p. 210.

  Mannanan, or Mannanan Mac Lir, a Dedannan chief, the Pagan Irish god
    of the sea.

  Angus, a Dedannan or fairy chief, who had his palace under one of
    the great mounds on the Boyne between Drogheda and Slane.

VIII.--Page 39.

  Matin time, very early in the morning: before day: the time of
    first prayer.

  Anchoret, a hermit.

  Matins, very early morning prayers.

  Transformed, changed, turned.

  Waxed, grew, became: waxed very wroth, became very angry.

  Cleric, a clergyman.

  Radiant, bright, joyful, happy looking.

  Lament, a sort of sad song.

IX.--Page 45.

  Enlightenment, knowledge, education, intelligence.

  Community, a number of persons living together in the same dwelling
    or in the same place.

  Encounter, to meet with, to go against.

  Interpreter, a person who explains in one language what a speaker
    says in another. The interpreter has to know both languages.

X.--Page 50.

  Rampart, a wall or high bank for defence.

  Structure, a building.

  Household, all the people that live in one house.

  Standard, a pole with a flag, banner, or colours, on top.

  Transfer, to change from one to another.

  Romantic stories, tales of fictitious adventures.

  Diadem, a crown, or a band like a crown, worn round the head.

  Spell of feebleness, weakness brought on by some sort of

XI.--Page 55.

  Pondering, thinking deeply.

  Meet, fit, proper, becoming.

  Ultonians, the Ulstermen.

  Gainsay, to speak against, to contradict.

  Ridge of the world, a usual expression in Irish writings.

  Gracious, kind and gentle in manner.

  Attendant, a person who attends, a servant.

  Military service, service as soldiers under pay.

  Betimes, in good time, early.

  Booth, a hut or tent.

XII.--Page 60.

  Pledge, security.

  Submission, yielding, coming under a person's authority.

  Knighthood. Knight, a soldier of high dignity: a champion:
    knighthood, the dignity of a knight. The ancient Irish often
    received knighthood at seven years of age.

  Obligation, a promise, a bond, something one is bound to do.

  Galley, a low flat vessel with oars and sails.

  Chessboard, a board with black and white squares on which chess was
    played. The ancient Irish were very fond of chess.

  Re-assure, to make a person sure that things are right, to

XIII.--Page 66.

  Resort, to go often to a place.

  Curragh, a light boat made of wickerwork covered with hides.

  Persist, to continue without ceasing.

  Perplexity, doubt, anxiety of mind.

  Clan, a number of families or a race of people all more or less
    related to each other.

  Slieve Fuad, a mountain near Newtownhamilton in Armagh: the name is
    now forgotten.

  Baleful, evil, very bad or wicked.

  Disaster, mishap, misfortune.

  Meditate, to plan, to intend.

  Handwood, a piece of wood to serve as a knocker, kept in a niche
    outside the door.

  Battalion, a body of foot soldiers.

  Alluring, very good, tempting a person to eat.

  Viands, food, victuals.

XIV.--Page 72.

  Looming, appearing darkly and dimly in the distance.

  Steadfast, firm, fixed, determined.

  Valorous, brave, fearless, valiant.

  Your dear charge, Deirdre.

  Assailants, persons assailing or attacking.

  Misgivings, doubts and fears of something wrong.

  Unwittingly, without knowing.

  Unerring, with a straight aim so as not to miss.

XV.--Page 75.

  Hireling troops, soldiers serving for pay: they were not Ultonians
    and did not belong to the Red Branch. The troops of the Red
    Branch could not be got to attack the Sons of Usna.

  Shouts of defiance, shouts challenging and threatening.

  Assault, a violent attack.

  Marshalling, arranging.

  Treason, treachery, foul play.

  Circuit, a journey around.

  Fissure, a split or chasm.

  Solemn, awful, serious, grave.

  Response, answer, reply.

XVI.--Page 80.

  Deeming, believing, thinking.

  Onslaught, a fierce attack.

  Mannanan Mac Lir, the Pagan Irish sea-god.

XVII.--Page 84.

  Billows of war, the tide or onward press of battle.

  Wreak, to inflict, to execute.

XVIII.--Page 85.

  Incensed, very angry.

  Anguish, great grief, pain.

  Descendants, children, grand-children, &c.

  Spoil, to plunder and pillage.

  Illustrious, famous, noble, great.

  Marauding, plundering, robbing.

  Ravage, to lay waste and plunder.

XIX.--Page 87.

  Magic, witchcraft, spells.

  Mighty, of wonderful skill.

  Distinguish, to tell one from another.

  Shadowy, uncertain, legendary.

  Historic times, when there are true accounts of things that

  Professional, following some profession or calling.

  Remuneration, payment, salary.

  Attached, joined to.

XX.--Page 89.

  Reverently, with great respect.

  Gaelic, the Irish language.

  Lore, learning.

  Injunction, an order or charge, an advice that should be followed.

  Extract, to take out.

  Devotedly, with great and anxious care.

  Balm, a sort of ointment that soothes pain and cures.

  Sentiments, thoughts, feelings.

  Comparatively late, late compared with older times.

  Predecessor, one who held an office or place before another.

XXI.--Page 92.

  Tradition, accounts handed down from generation to generation.

  Provincial, belonging to one of the five provinces of Ireland.

  Tests, trials.

  Entertaining, amusing, diverting.

  Festive, joyous, gay, with feasts.

  Sedge, a kind of coarse grass.

  Keating: the Rev. Doctor Geoffry Keating, who wrote, in Irish, a
    well known History of Ireland, full of old stories: died 1644.

  Oppression, cruelty, tyranny, hardship.

  Suppress, to put down.

  Exact, to make people pay.

  An Irish poet: Thomas Darcy M'Gee.

  Seers: among the Milesians were a good many druids, seers, or

  Strath, the level land along a river at both sides; an _inch_.

  Mystic forts, the forts mentioned at page 16: mystic, mysterious.

  Cairn-crowned hills. Many hills have cairns on top, round which the
    people often held council meetings.

  Elk, very large deer. Elk resorts, places frequented by elks.

  Modern, belonging to the present time.

  Unconquerably, such that he could not be conquered.

  Untarnished, unstained, pure, with out a spot.

XXII.--Page 98.

  Plaintive, sad, pitiful.

  Hesitation, pause, delay.

  Palsy, a sort of sickness that causes shivering or shaking.

  Litter, a sort of bed in which a person is carried.

  Tumult, great noise and confusion.

XXIII.--Page 103.

  Revered, regarded with love, honour, and respect.

  Distinguished, eminent, honoured.

  Community, a number of persons living together.

  Permanent, lasting.

  Veneration, love and great respect.

  Applicant, a person who applies.

  Abbess, the head nun of a convent.

XXIV.--Page 107.

  Humility, humbleness, lowliness of mind.

  Domestic occupations, the work of the house.

  Sward, a grassy place.

  Reputation, fame, a great name.

  Corresponded with her, wrote letters to her, and received replies.

  Chariot, a kind of carriage.

  Reproachfully, blaming her severely.

  Universe, the whole world.

XXV.--Page 111.

  Grave, sober, thoughtful.

  Unassuming, modest, not forward.

  Talents, great cleverness.

  Discipline, strict rules and regulations.

  Illustrious, eminent, noble, famous.

  Detailed, exact, giving all particulars.

  Consolation, comfort, a lightening of trouble.

  Magnificent, grand, splendid.

  Shrine, an ornamental tomb or box: sometimes applied to a small

  Commemorate, to keep in memory.

  Gerald Barry, better known as "Giraldus Cambrensis," _i.e._ Gerald
    the Welshman (Cambria, one of the old names of Wales).

  Fane, a temple, a church.

  Long ages of darkness and storm: _i.e._ of wars and troubles.

XXVI.--Page 114.

  Scribe, a writer: a person who made it the chief business of his
    life to copy books.

  Expert, skilful, ready.

  Accomplished, very skilful.

  Devoted, given up to earnestly, attached.

  Interlaced, woven in and out.

  Magnifying glass, a glass that makes things seen through it seem

  Composition, a piece of writing, a book.

  Library, a collection of books.

  Dun, brown.

  St. Kieran, or more properly Ciaran, lived in the sixth century.

  Clonmacnoise on the Shannon, below Athlone, containing the ruins of
    what was once a great monastery and college, founded by St.

XXVII.--Page 120.

  Watch and ward: ward means guard: he stood sentinel.

  Scared, frightened.

  Humorous, full of humour or fun.

XXVIII.--Page 123.

  Stud, a number of horses all kept in one place.

  Vicious, wicked, spiteful.

  Conan Mail, or Conan the bald: the Fena were always making fun of
    him, for he was big, fat, gluttonous, a great boast, a great
    coward, and had an evil tongue.

  Unconcernedly, not caring a bit.

  Perplexity, difficulty and doubt.

  Horrible, hateful.

XXIX.--Page 129.

  Took counsel, they advised with one another to know what was best
    to be done.

  Explore, to search.

  Dizzy, enough to make one's head giddy.

  Pillar-stone, a tall stone standing up, such as we often see in

  Host, a large body of soldiers.

  Decoration, an ornament.

  Chase, to ornament with thin coatings of metal on the surface.

  Enamelled, ornamented as if with enamel.

XXX.--Page 132.

  Wizard champion, a champion having something of the nature of a
    wizard or enchanter.

  Circlet, a long thin plate often worn around the head and forehead.

  Determination, a firm resolution to conquer.

  Chafe, to vex.

  Trophy, a prize taken from an enemy in battle.

  Poise, to balance.

  Scowl, to frown darkly and wickedly.

  Terrify, to frighten.

XXXI.--Page 139.

  Advantages, benefits, gains.

  Diligent, industrious, hard-working.

  Uninhabited, having no people living in it.

  Presence, appearance.

  Luminous, bright, sparkling.

  Enlightenment, knowledge, learning, instruction.

  Civilise, to refine, to educate, to bring people to live in a decent
    and proper way.

  Doctrine, teaching, belief, faith.

  Structure, a building.

  Venerable, old and greatly loved and respected.

  Incessant, without ceasing, continual.

  Occupation, employment, work.

  His relative the king of that part of Scotland: the royal families
    of Ireland and Scotland were related to each other (see pp. 5 and
    6), and Columkille was related to both.

XXXII.--Page 145.

  Voluntary, by his own choice.

  Ben Edar, Howth, near Dublin.

  Embarking, going on board ship.

  Seniors, elderly persons.

  Hospice, the part of a monastery set apart for the entertainment of

  Intently, with close attention.

XXXIII.--Page 150.

  Heptarchy means seven kingdoms: for at this time England was
    divided into seven parts with a king over each.

  Relations, connexion, friendship.

  Diligence, industry, working steadily.

  Intimacy, close friendship.

  Foster-son. When a man reared up and educated among his family a boy
    belonging to another family, he was the foster-father, and the boy
    was his foster-son.

  Bondage, slavery.

  Restoration, restoring, giving back.

  Marauders, robbers, plunderers.

  Intercession, pleading for.

  Unfettered of any, not under any other province.

  Redundance, more than enough, great plenty.

  Historians recording truth: to record truth is the chief merit of a

  Bulwark, a safeguard: "Ireland's bulwark," because Tara was in

  Sooth, truth.

XXXIV.--Page 155.

  Directions, orders, instructions.

  Revellers, persons feasting, drinking, and making merry.

  Sack, to plunder and destroy.

XXXV.--Page 158.

  Extraordinary, very strange, wonderful.

  Keel, the bottom part of a ship or boat.

  Astounding, astonishing, wonderful.

  Oarstroke of the curragh, about 20 feet.

  Circumference, the whole round.

  Extending, stretching.

  Meshes, the open spaces between the threads of a net.

XXXVI.--Page 162.

  Reconcile, to become friends again, to come back to friendship.

  Recognise, to know a thing again.

  Prow, the head or fore part of a ship or boat.

  Affliction, trouble and sorrow.

  Reception, receiving or entertaining.

  Reveal, to show, to make known.

XXXVII.--Page 164.

  Liefer, rather.

  Let be this purpose, let it lie by, don't attend to it, don't carry
    it out: _i.e._ the purpose of revenge.

  I let him be, I let him alone.

  A tithe, a tenth part.

XXXVIII.--Page 167.

  Monastic school, a school kept in a monastery.

  Distinguished, eminent and great.

  Pilgrimage, a journey to a place for devotion. Pilgrim, a person who
    goes on a pilgrimage.

  Determined will, allowing nothing to turn them from their purpose.

  Relinquish, to give up, to abandon.

  Luxuries, dainties, delicacies.

  Peasantry, the common country people.

  Swerve, to turn away from.

  Consecrated, made sacred and venerable.

  Hermitage, a place where a hermit lives.

XXXIX.--Page 170.

  Object of their pilgrimage, the place they chiefly came to visit.

  Sojourn, to dwell, to live in a place.

  Revere, to regard with honour, love, and respect.

  Memorial, something that reminds one of past persons or events.

  Vehemently, very earnestly.

  Envied, people of other nations envied them, or were jealous of

  Triumphant, gaining victories.

XL--Page 173.

  Successfully cultivated: the Irish people studied and practised
    them and made improvements.

  Pirates, sea robbers.

  Permanently, remaining there always.

  Expel, to drive out.

  Sovereignty, headship, kingship.

  Annex, to join.

  Encroaching, taking up or advancing on what belongs to another.

  Anglo-Irish, partly English and partly Irish.

  Milesian stock, the descendants of the Milesians (see p. 2).

XLI.--Page 179.

  Croon, a continuous murmuring sort of musical sound or song.

  Squire, a gentleman who attended on a knight.

  Nier, a river flowing into the Suir from the Co. Waterford.

  Spectrally, like a spectre or ghost.

  Jack, a leathern jacket used for armour.

  Plumes, the feathers of their helmets.

XLII.--Page 181.

  Claimant, a person laying claim to something.

  Contend, to struggle or fight.

  Unimportant, trifling, of no consequence.

  Remote, far off, out of the way.

  Recognise, to know.

  Prostrate, down on hands and knees.

  Barons, lords.

  Ambush, or ambuscade, an unexpected attack from a hiding place.

  Reverses, misfortunes.

  Surrender, to give up.

  Vigilant, watchful.

  Truce, an agreement for peace for a while.

  Annals, histories of events as they occurred from year to year.

XLIII.--Page 186.

  Cahal-More, Cahal the Great.

  Portent, a prodigy, a fearful sign or omen of evil.

  Entranced, in a trance, in a vision.

  A land of morn, a bright sunny land.

  Lustrous, bright, shining with fine crops and flowers.

  Resplendent, splendid, sunny, bright.

  Anon, immediately, on the spot.

  Port sublime, stately and grand looking.

  Him queried I, I asked him.

  Golden time, a prosperous plentiful time.

  Bland, soft, mild, temperate.

  Dome, a grand building.

  As by a spell, as if by magic; it started up suddenly. Remember this
    is all in a dream.

  Lyres, harps.

  Wreathèd swell, sounding all together with sweet musical turns and

  Thrilling, moving the feelings and heart.

  Aghast, frightened, pale with fear.

  Minstrel group, those who had been playing the harps.

  'Twas then the time, we were in the days. The poet
    means:--"Something dreadful has clearly happened; but how can this
    be, since this is the reign of Cahal-More?" He did not know--in
    his dream--of Cahal's death.

  Fleckt, spotted.

  Alien sun, a strange sun: it was of course strange, for it glared
    from the _north_.

  Shorn beams, not bright, giving a dull gloomy sort of light.

  Skeleton: the skeleton of a man, a sign of disaster: the skeleton,
    and the blood spots in the sky, and the "alien sun" were some of
    the portents.

  Castled Maine: there are many castles along its banks.

  Teuton, a German.

XLIV.--Page 190.

  Expedition, an undertaking or journey.

  Onslaught, a violent attack.

  Tunic, a loose outer garment.

  Dominions, territories.

XLV.--Page 193.

  Disdain, to scorn, to hate.

  Commendations, praises.

  Do homage, to yield obedience.

  Apprehend, to take prisoner.

  Devise, to plan.

  Confer, to take counsel.

  Battle-harness, battle dress with arms.

  Apparel, clothes.

  Passport, permission in writing to pass from one country to another.

  Subscribe, to write one's name.

  Servitor, one in the king's service.

  Furniture: _i.e._ the furniture of a ship--oars, sails, cordage, &c.

  Ensample, old form of _example_.

XLVI.--Page 197.

  Evil plight, miserable state.

  Council, a number of men kept by the king to help him with their

  Enterprise, an undertaking.

  Perilous, dangerous.

  Peer, an equal, a match.

  Stalworth, strong, stout, brave.

  Knightly, like a knight, valiant and stout-hearted.

  Seemly, proper, decent.

XLVII.--Page 200.

  Lists, the enclosed ground where a single combat was to be fought.

  Obeisance, courtesy, saluting, bowing to.

  Banquet, a feast.

  Reverence, great respect.

  Intently, with attention, closely.

  Grim, very fierce and angry.

XLVIII.--Page 203.

  Baron, a lord of the lowest rank. The ranks are:--baron, viscount,
    earl, marquis, duke.

  Independent, not under the authority of anyone.

  Goodly presence, a noble or fine appearance.

  Appease, to pacify.

  Hobby, a middle-sized horse of Irish breed, much valued.

  Adversary, an opponent, an enemy.

  Discord, disagreement, quarrelling.

  Jars, wrangles, quarrels.

  Chapter house, a house or room in a cathedral where the clergy meet.

  Trice, a very short time, as long as one would take to count three.

  Outface, to dare him up to his face.

  Green wound, a fresh wound.

  Devise, to plan.

  Bungerlie, in a bungling manner.

XLIX.--Page 208.

  Cultivate, to study, practise, and improve.

  Colonists, persons who leave their native land and settle in some
    distant country.

  Dirge, a mournful or funeral song.

  Dialogue, two people speaking in turn, conversation between two.

  Interrupt, to stop for a time.

  Placid, quiet, gentle, peaceful.

  Resume, to take up again.

  Clansmen, the men belonging to a clan.

  National music, music that has grown up gradually among the people
    of a country.

  Originally, in the beginning.


Transcriber's notes:

Variations in spelling and hyphenation have been retained as in the

The following corrections have been made to the text:

  Page 5, second line from bottom: named Fergus,[missing comma added]
            Angus, and Lorne.

  Page 8, last line: sun and moon.[missing period added]

  Page 13, description of illustration on the right: size of the
            picture.[missing period added]

  Page 16, line 1: and not nearly so good[original has goo]

  Page 17, last line: There was then no whiskey.[missing period added]

  Page 28, last line: My heart shall know one peaceful hour.[missing
            period added]

  Page 31, line 9: The cold and briny spray.[missing period added]

  Page 49, line 3 of illustration caption: are in the National
            Museum,[missing comma added]

  Page 64, fifth line from bottom: three drops of honey in their
            beaks,[missing comma added]

  Page 65, line 1: "It denotes the message from Concobar to us,"[close
            quote added]

  Page 65, last line: "[open quote added]even though my sway should be
            greater here."

  Page 67, line 9: "[open quote added]Kil-Cuan, O Kil-Cuan,

  Page 68, second line from bottom: "[original has ']Here I have a
            three-days banquet ready for thee, and I invite thee to
            come and partake of it."

  Page 69, fourth line from bottom: accustomed to defend
            ourselves!"[original has ']

  Page 70, line 14: "[original has ']Why didst thou tarry, my

  Page 82, line 16: "[open quote added]Three generous heroes of the
            Red Branch,

  Page 90, sixth line from bottom: More especially I[missing 'I'
            added] charge them that they do their duty devotedly

  Page 94, line 15: never using horses in the chase.[original has ,]

  Page 94, line 22: beside a stream or lake.[original has ,]

  Page 94, last line: next another layer of hot stones:[colon added]

  Page 107, line 11: accounts of her life[original has Life] we are

  Page 108, caption for illustration: ten miles from[original has rom]
            Cork city.

  Page 113, last line: ages of darkness and storm."[original has ']

  Page 132, seventh line from bottom: "[original has ']Surely, Dermot

  Page 158, line 2: "Heaven has guided our ship to this place.[missing
            period added]

  Page 163, seventh line from bottom: remained here for some
            days,[missing comma added]

  Page 164, chapter title: TENNYSON'S "VOYAGE OF MAILDUNE."[original
            has ']

  Page 164, line 13: "[original has ']The Voyage of Maildune."

  Page 177, line 3: and they built splendid abbeys,[missing comma
            added] churches,

  Page 210, line 2: in every part of Ireland.[missing period added]

  Page 210, line 6: i.e., laments, or dirges.[missing period added]

  Page 213, seventh entry under 'IV.--Page 14.': Establishment, the
            whole house, and[original has an] all belonging to it.

  Page 218, third entry under 'XXXIV.--Page 155.': Sack, to plunder
            and destroy[original has distroy].

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