Standish O'Grady.

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5tant)ish ^RctDy.

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Author of

"the comino of cuculain"

'the triumph and passing of cuculain"

"in the gates of the north"



TiiK Talbot Press Ltd.

85 Talbot Strekt


T. Fisher Unwin Ltd.

1 Adklphi Terrace

New Edition, published 1921


You have, I am sure, often heard how the Roman
Empire was broken up and destroyed by the
barbarians of Northern Europe, the Goths, the
Vandals, the Huns, the Picts, and Scots, etc., etc.
You know too, why God permitted this to be done.
It was because the civihsed Remans, and the
nations whom they made Hke themselves, lost the
great simple virtues of truth, courage, generosity,
and the readiness to sacrifice their lives and posses-
sions for the sake of noble objects. We read that
Romans at this time would even cut off their thumbs
in order to avoid becoming soldiers ; for, of course,
a young man who had no thumb to his hand could
not be expected to hold a spear strongly, or wield
a sword well. In those days the rich Roman
became not only very rich, but also selfish and ease-
loving, and the poor Roman very poor, so that he
cared about nothing but how he might get food in
order that he might live; and generally the Roman
character changed greatly from what it was in
ancient times, for wealth, commerce, civilisation,
and peace, however good in themselves, have this
tendency, vis. tlicy enfeeble and corrupt men's
minds, and make them selfish, lazy, and hard-
hearted. Then, as God long ago sent the Mood
to drown a world which had grov/n too wicked, so




he sent the brave though rude barbarians of
northern Europe to destroy the Romans and break
their great Empire to pieces.


Woe to the lands, the minstrel sang,
That hear the northern warriors' clang.

You have also read in the English histories how
at this time the Romanised Britons were perpetually
invaded and plundered by the Picts and Scots, and
then by the Saxons, until they were quite ruined.
The Picts and Scots and the Saxons could not have
done this in the time of Caractacus and Boadicea.

Now it becomes an interesting question what
kind of men these northern barbarians were who did
such a great work, and one would like to know how
they lived, what they loved and honoured, and what
they hated and despised. Of the other northern
nations other writers will tell you something. I am
going to tell you something about the nation which
in histories of England are called the Scots. Now
the Scots, who, in alliance with the Picts made such
havoc among the degenerate Britons, were in fact
the Irish, who at some very early period, overflow-
ing out of Ireland, occupied the western counties of
Scotland. The Highlanders and the Irish of Ireland
were one race of people whom the old historians
called Scoti or Scots. They spoke the same
language, and had the same manners and customs,
and the same traditions, the same music and the
same songs. A great many of their songs and
stories lingered a long time in the Highlands, and


were believed to have been made by a poet called
Ossian. In Ireland a still greater number remained
in the minds of the people. These sonjjs and stories,
too, were attributed to Ossian or to friends of
Ossian, and have been from time to time written
down on paper or on parchment. In these stories
we learn a great deal about Ossian, his friends and
acquaintances, what sort of men they were, and how
they lived. I do not say that everything related
about them is true, but when we compare these
stories with what is known historically about the
conquerors of the Roman Empire, we can see that
the people amongst whom Ossian lived must have
been very like the people of the Ossianic stories, and
that Finn, who was the father of Ossian, Oscur his
son, Diarmid his chivalrous cousin, Caelta, Mac-
Lewy, and the rest were very brave, upright, true-
hearted, and affectionate men, who in their forests
and their rude simple homes preserved certain
virtues which the Romans and the Romanised
Britons had lost in spite of all their wealth. These
stories will, I hope, amuse and entertain you, and
will also enable you to read some meaning in a word
which you have often seen in your histories, but
which has had hitherto for you no meaning at all,
or perhaps a bad one. The Scots, who with the
Picts gave the poor degenerate Britons so many
beatings in battle and plundered them far and wide,
were essentially somewhat like the men whose
characters and manner of living you will find
described in these stories. Most of our stories


relating to this period are supposed to have been
told by Ossiau to St. Patrick. Those which I relate
are, for £he most part, stories told to St. Patrick by
Caelta, a cousin of Ossian, and are not so well
known. Most of them are, I think, quite new. If
all our Irish Ossianic stories and poems were pub-
lished, I daresay they would fill a hundred volumes
like the present. I have, however, tried to tell
these few stories in such a way as to give you a good
general idea of the literature as a whole.

Finn and his friends are believed to have flour-
ished in the second and third centuries, that is about
two hundred years before the Irish began to break
out and attack the Roman Empire in this part of

The great influence exercised by Finn over the
Irish mind was not destroyed, but rather purified
and elevated, by the introduction of Christianity,
It is distinctly traceable down to the seventeenth
century, and though now unrecognised, perhaps
still survives, warring strongly, if silently, against
the vices which are always connected with civilisa-







1. St. Patrick and his Strange Guusis ... 13

2. St. Patrick converses with the great Mtt^t 13

3. ANGEI.S instruct St. Patrick as to Finn ... 22


1. Finn goes A-Hunting

2. Finn looking foe Hospitai<ity meets


3. The Curmudgeon by his Wife

4. Good Cheer in the House of Inhospitai,it

5. Nod pays Finn a Return Visit

6. Nod meets some Famous Fians

7. Finn at Home

8. How MacLtEWy came to finn

9. MacLewy gets into Trouble

10. How Diarmid came to Finn

11. Nod's Life on the Hili,

12. Nod and the Dragon

13. The Last of Nod

14. Finn and King Arthur







1. The Historian has a Welcome Visitor ... 81

2. Finn's Humble Relations ... 85
8. Finn tells about his Childhood ... 88
4. Finn's First Quarhy ... 90
5 Finn and the Poets ••• 92
6. Finn rkvkals himself further ... 96


1. Noble Ancients in Adversity ... 103

2. The Old Men have a Strange Guest ... 109

3. The Guest proves himself an Expert

Hunter ••• ^l*^

4. Finn ••• 115

5. Finn's Love Story ..• 121

6. There was Fear in Tara ... 129

7. Finn secures a Promise with Guarantees... 133

8. Finn Triumphs ••• 137

Notes ••• 1^7


Long, long ago, beyond the misty space

Of twice a thousand years.
In Erin old theta L'y^ed a mighty race.

Taller than Roman spears.

Finn and His Companions



St. Patrick and his fellow-missionaries
were building a little church made of
straight trees interlaced with osiers on the
plains of Meath at a place near the river
Boyne, westward from Tara. The sun was
declining, and the pious Britons worked
industriously, making the most of what day-
light still remained. A young clerk who
was laying the timbers of the roof cried out,
"Look, brothers ! What great men are these
who come towards us with large strides ?
Sad yet noble are their faces. Truly, I have
not seen such in this land at any time." So
he stood looking, with a plank in one hand
and a hammer in the other.

St. Patrick looked towards Tara and
saw ten men coming towards him and now
very near. The tallest of the tonsured Gaels
and Britons who were with Patrick would



not reach their shoulder-blades, and hardly
to the waist of the man who walked before
the others and seemed to be their captain.
They wore shields and swords, and in their
hands carried spears proportioned to their
size and strength. Each man's mantle,
blue, green, or scarlet, was folded round his
shoulders and fastened on the breast by
brooches the rings of w^hich were like wheels
of gold or silver. Their knees were bare,
and their hair, escaped from the brazen
helmets, fell in dense curling masses on
their shoulders. Their port was majestic,
and the meanest of them carried himself
like a king. Nevertheless, as the young
clerk had said, their countenances were sad,
as of men who lacked their comrades, or had
recently lost their dear lord.

St. Patrick in his white garments, and
bearing his bent staff in his hand, went to
meet them, and gave them a respectful and
affectionate greeting and bade them a wel-
come to his small monastery. He conducted
them himself to the guest-house. His people
brought lavers and washed their feet and
hands. They were struck with great awe
as they observed the nobleness of the men,
their mighty limbs, their tranquillity, and


their silence. Food fit for kings was set
before them, and old ale in handsome
vessels. There, sitting on couches, they ate
and drank a little and said nothing, and St.
Patrick ministered to them with his own
hands, and the more he looked upon them
the more he loved them. When all had been
served, St. Patrick himself sat down upon
a couch over against their captain, and as
he did so the men stood up and made him a
reverence and again sat down. Though the
young men of the monastery frequently
made the circuit of the chamber to pour out
ale, they soon found that the men's cups con-
tinued full. At a sign from St. Patrick
they withdrew ; nevertheless the silence was
not broken.

The Pagan then raised his eyes and con-
templated the Christian for a long time. He
knew well the faces of druids, but such a
druid as this he had never seen before, and
he marvelled at the goodness, refinement,
and purity which shone in every feature.
St. Patrick on the other hand contemplated
the Pagan, his large, bright, peerless eyes
and the simplicity and majesty of his
aspect, and the more he looked the moie he





Then the Saint became aware that the
expression of his guest's countenance
altered to one of sharp inquiry, and, as if
answering his thoughts, he said,

" What wouldst thou, warrior?"

" Tidings of my dear foster-brother
Ossian, holy druid on whose head has
come the razor."

Ere the Saint could reply a young and
very handsome clerk who sat near him
started up, smote his hands together, and,
signing the air with the symbol of the cross,
cried aloud in the Latin tongue, " Grod and
His holy angels protect us. My father, this
is a dead man. Occisus est in frcelio
Gahran'' (he was slain in the battle of
Gabhra) ' ' in the reign of Cairbre of the
Liffey, son of Cormac mac Art. These men
are apparitions, or they are the Sidhe (the

The youth was Benignus. He was a
Gael, and learned in his country's history.
What he called " the Shee" were the gods


of the Pagan Irish. At the name of
" Gabhra" the men bowed their heads, and
their captain put his great hands over his
face and wept silently. After a while
Patrick said —

" Of thy dear foster-brother Ossian I
have no tidings. But who art thou, O noble
man, and who are these with thee ? I ask
that I may be the better able to serve thee."

A torrent of loving-kindness and com-
passion poured from the saint's heart
towards him as he spoke. Also he endeav-
oured to calm the agitation of his young
friend end disciple Benignus, who said they
were dead men or gods.

" I am Caelta the son of Eonan,"
answered the large man. ' ' We are all that
remain in the whole world of Finn's heroes,
unless, mayhap, magnanimous Ossian, his
incomparable son, be still alive in some isle
of the sea beyond the setting of the sun.
Thy druidic community, I perceive, are
strangers in Erin. Is the King of Erin kind
to thee, who art thyself kind to strangers ?
Say he is not, O Talkend,* and verily he
shall be compelled."

• Talkend means ' razored head,' an allusion to the
saint's tonsure.

(D 436) B


" Nay," answered Patrick, " Laeghaire,
son of Nial, hath been very kind to us."

" Who is that man?" said Caelta, more
sternly. " Are thy spells upon us, druid,
for that man is not in Ireland?"

His voice in its rising wrath was terrible
to hear and shook the guest-house.

"I am no druid," answered Patrick
mildly, " and have no understanding of
spells, charms, and incantations. Truly,
Laeghaire, son of Nial of the Nine Hostages,
is now King of Ireland, whoever was King
in thy time. Benignus, tell these noble men
the pedigree of the King, and how he stands
related in descent or otherwise with him
who reigned when the battle of Gabhra was

Benignus thereupon spoke out very
clearly and fluently, for sweet was his voice,
and eloquent was the young man. It was
he who used to chant hymns and canticles
for Patrick, and revive his spirits when they

" Noble strangers," he said, " the King
of Ireland now is indeed Laeghaire, son of
Nial of the Nine Hostages, who was the son
of Eocha Movmodhon, who was the son of
Murdach, who was the son of Fiacha, who


was the son of Cairbre of the Liffey. And
in the reign of Cairbre of the Li&ey was
fought the great battle of Gabhra, where
were exterminated the giant race of the
Fians, falling by each other's hands in frat-
ricidal warfare, so that only nine men went
alive out of the battle around Caelta son of
Ronan, and from that day to this they have
not been seen. Also there survived Ossian
the son of Finn, but he was not in the battle,
for he went out of Ireland before that, and
there are no tidings of him since he followed
the Danann maiden bej^ond the setting of
the sun." The men looked at each other in
great amazement.

Where have you been since the battle ?"
asked Patrick.

" We went out of the battle," said
Caelta, " after having raised the tombs of
our dead, and after having mourned long,
weeping passionately, over the grave of
Oscur, to the house of the prophetess and
wisest of all w^omen, Kama, who had cared
for and watched over Finn since he was a
boy. And she asked tidings of the Fians
and why v/e came to her so few, so sad, and
so torn with many wounds, and when we
told her she raised up her voice and wept


aloud. Then we all wept together, lament-
ing as it were the end of the world, on
account of the great destruction that had
come upon the Fians. After that she washed
our wounds and bound them up, applying
salves and ointments and incantations of
power, and gave us the newest of food and
the oldest of drink, and sweetly we slept
that night in her enchanted house, and our
great sorrow departed ; and ever delicious
fairy music resounded under the hollow
dome, so that it was sweeter to be awake
there than to sleep. Nevertheless she would
not suffer us to go beyond her doors, nor were
we ourselves inclined to do so on account of
the lassitude and weakness which had come
upon us after the battle ; yet we felt no pain
or grief, and that indeed surprised us, for
it is not usual with good men whose dear
friends have been slain to feel such peace of
mind as we experienced in the house of the
prophetess. Four days and nights we were
with her, and on the morning of the fifth I
said to my men, ' It is time for us to go.
Why should we be burthensome to kind
hosts ? Let us go elsewhere if there are yet
in Erin those who will be kind to us on


account of our kindness to them in the day
of our power.'

When we came to bid the woman fare-
well, she wept anew a long time, and she
said that we would not meet again any more
till the day of the final harmonising of all
the world's discordant things. And she
directed us to come first to this place, where
holy druids would be kind to us and instruct
us. Verily, Talkend, our parting from
the woman was like the parting of body and
soul, and when we put our feet outside her
fairy threshold and saw the green grass and
the resplendent sun, full remembrance came
upon us again, and great sorrow and weep-
ing, so that wdth one accord we drew back
our feet. But when we thought to recross
the threshold, the house which we had left
was not seen, nor the woman. There was
nothing there save the green hillside and a
murmuring stream. Then having wept
again, we did as the woman directed, and
came to this place. Truly we were under
spells in that palace, and our days there
were the generations of men.'*




Patrick rejoiced greatly when he heard
these words, for he perceived that the men
had been miraculously preserved by the
power of the Almighty, that he, Patrick,
might teach them the true faith, and that
they might be baptized by his hands, and he
shed tears of joy for that reason, and on
account of his ardent affection for the men.
Then he arose and kissed the ten men one
after another and blessed them, beginning
with Caelta, and again sat down, and drew
his white raiment over his face and wept.
Then all wept together, the Saint for pure
joy and the heroes for pure sorrow on
account of the strange things and men
amongst whom they had drifted in the tide
of time.

After that Patrick asked Caelta many
questions concerning Finn and the Fians
and concerning their thoughts and manner
of life, and Caelta answered all well, for he
was rarely intelligent, and moreover he
possessed the gift of eloquence, and Patrick


rejoiced listening to him. When their con-
versation had lasted a good while, Patrick
said —

" How came you, the Fians, to have such
power, w^hen the knowledge of the true God
w^as denied to you ?"

And Caelta ansv>'ered —

" Talkend, it was because we had
truth in our hearts, strength in our hands,
and discretion in our tongues."

Patrick called a young man v/ho was his
scribe to take his tablets and write down
that speech of the Fian's.

He also asked him what manner of man
was Finn.

And Caelta said : " There has not come
upon the earth a man like him since the be-
ginning of the v/orid nor will till the end of
time. That, Talkend, is, in a little, what
I have to say concerning Finn. But if I
were to pronounce his complete eulogy, the
morning with its full light would not find
me near the end."

And of Ossian he said, not that he was
a famous poet, but that he was a famous
warrior, and renowned above all the rest for
magnanimity and liberality. " Ossian," he
said, ' ' never asked anything from any man,


and never refused any man anything. For
himself he was willing to keep only the head
wdth which he ate and the feet with which
he walked."

" That is a great character," said St.
Patrick, and he bade Bricna, the scribe,
write it down. " It is not greater than the
man to whom I attribute it," said Caelta.

Next day St. Patrick arose while it was
still dark, and walked meditating along the
banks of the slow-moving royal Boyne, be-
tween the trees and the river, revolving
many things. As at other times, angels of
God met him, and he asked them whether it
was displeasing to God that he should feel
so much delight in the profane conversation
of the great Pagans. And the angels said
that it was not, but pleasing, and that Finn,
though a Gentile, was nevertheless a
prophet without full knowledge, and had
prepared the minds of the Gael for the
preaching of Christ's gospel, and they also
bade him write in a book such things as
Caelta might tell him, for the instruction of
future generations. " For trulv," thev
said, " the Holy Trinity have been in this
place before thee."

After that the angels left him and


St. Patrick returned to the monastery with
great joy. The men were still asleep. They
slept two days and three nights before the
Saint conversed with them a^^ain.

Patrick baptized them, and after they
had been baptized Caelta put his hand into
the hollow of his mighty shield and took out
a bar of gold and gave it to Patrick as his
baptismal fee. It was as thick as a man's
arm and reached from the elbow of the
Saint to the first joint of his forefinger.

" It came from a good man," said Caelta,
" and it goes to another. This was the last
payment th?tt I had from my dear lord and
friend, Finn the son of Cool, the son of
Trenmor, high captain of the Fianna of

From that bar Patrick made gilding for
all his bells and books, and rejoiced to think
that his sacred things had their gold from
such a source, for the conversation of Caelta
and the communications of the angels
caused him to perceive that Finn was a seer
and a prophet who in his own way, not
knowing it, wrought out the will of God
amongst the Gael. Also he was careful to
record all that Caelta related to him con-
cerning Finn and the Fians.





Finn and his men went on a hunting expedi-
tion to one of his great forests in Leinster,
for the Fians had forests in all parts of
Ireland, and no one dared to hunt in them
or kill any game there without Finn's per-
mission. Early in the morning, before the
sun had yet risen, they entered the forest.
Each huntsman held back a straining hound
by a leash which passed through a ring in
the hound's collar. He held in his hands
the two ends of the leash ; when he wished
to let the hound slip, he loosed one of the
ends of the leash. Before them went the
beaters with long sticks, beating the brakes
and coppices and rousing the game. Be-
tween the places that gave cover for the
game there was much open and smooth
ground. Finn himself v/as on the right of
the line of huntsmen, leading his favourite
hound Bran.

The first animal that they started was a
wild boar. He could not be seen from the


place where Finn stood, but the sound of the
horn on the left notice that some great
game had been roused, and the cries of the
hunters and the loud baying of the hounds
showed that it was some great beast. ' ' That
is a boar," said Finn to the hunter who was
next to him. " He is charging dovvn our
way and killing or maiming every dog
which is loosed upon him." Presently the
boar broke through a coppice ; his eyes were
like fire and his white tusks red with blood ;
the bristles on his neck stood up like rods,
and the froth flew from his mouth like snow.
Some of the huntsmen refused to slip their
hounds against such a beast. Three were
loosed upon him after he passed the cop-
pice; one he tossed over his head, and the
second he trampled and maimed, the third
only stood at a distance and howled. Then
Finn slipped Bran. So swiftly flew Bran
upon the boar that her track was like a black
and yellow flash over the green turf, and at
her baying as she was let loose the hollows
of the distant mountains rang, and far away
husbandmen labouring in fields said,
"Hark! that is the voice of Bran. The
Fians are abroad to-day; they have let loose
Bran." Bran seized the huge boar by the


throat and shook him to and fro as a pnppy-
dog shakes a rag.

Then leaving the boar dead, she returned
to be caressed and made much of by her
master, who said, " My brave Bran, thou
hast not done such a deed since the son of
the great enchanter Angus Ogue, having
taken a boar's form, was dragged down by

So while the red sun climbed the sky,
Finn's men advanced through the forest.
The horns continually sounded, and the
mingled baying of the hounds, and the cries
of the hunters cheering on their dogs, made
a sweet music. Many of the poor people of

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