Standish O'Grady.

Finn and his companions / by Standish O'Grady online

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disorder, confusion, noise, and quarrelling.
There were the howling of dogs furiously
chastised, and the noise of loud vauntings
with fierce recriminations, and disturbances
at ale feasts, and frequent rushings of
Finn's champions through the camp to
separate men engaged in deadly combat. It
seemed as if the very genius of discord, con-
fusion, and civil war were let loose in Finn's
fraternal and affectionate host. One morn-
ing Bering awakened Finn and said,
*' There is some great thing forward to-day,
O Finn. Come forth at once." Finn came
to the door of his tent and there he saw the
seven standing battalions of the Fians
drawn up before him in marching array,


and over every battalion its own ensign, and
gloom, wrath, and mutiny in every face.
When Finn appeared the seven captains
stepped forward and stood before him, and
they said —

" Choose this day, O Finn, between thy
grandson and the army. If MacLewy re-
mains with thee, ive go; if we remain with
thee the boy goes."

At that the army shouted approval, and
that shout went across the sea and was heard
in the court of Arthur, high King of the

With difficulty Finn pacified the host on
that occasion. He promised them that he
would send away his grandson if within a
given time he could not tame his wild un-
tutored heart.

' ' Why is the host so enraged with thee ?"
said Finn.

"It is because I am the best man
amongst them," said the lad; " and is it I,
thy grandson, who must instruct thee that
surpassing merit always provokes envy,
jealousy, and hatred?"

"Nay, nay, lad," said Finn; "Cuchulain,
son of Sualtam, was without dispute the
greatest hero in his time, and also the best


beloved. And remember what the historians
record concerning him —

He spake not a boasting word

Nor vaunted he at all,

Though marvellous were his deeds.'*

Finn took the lad to himself and trained
and tutored him till he tamed his wild heart,
and when his cure was complete he gave him
back to the host, and after that none of
Finn's men was more admired and loved
than was MacLewy.

Finn's precepts which he used in the in-
struction of MacLewy were repeated to St.
Patrick by Caelta, and St. Patrick bade his
scribe write them in a book, and ordered his
people to use them in the instruction of

Here are some of them : —

Pursue mildness, son of Lewy.

Don't beat the hounds without good cause.

Don't censure high chiefs.

Keep two-thirds of thy politeness for women
and humble people.

Don't rage against the rabble.

Strive to hold others in esteem and to
like them ; so the host will not be offended
though thou art loud and noisy.


Trust not in thy courage and thy great
strength, but consider well thy arms and thy
armour. Then with confidence bend thy
knee to the battle, and thy brow to the pale
fierce fight, etc., etc.



A SCORE of young warriors burst from the
wide doors of Mongfinn's house and ran joy-
fully across the lawn. Their polished
shields leaped upon their backs as they ran.
It was May morning. It had rained during
the night, but the sun now shone brightly
and the wet fields and trees glistened in his
rays. The youths were Mongfinn's finished
scholars. They came fresh from her hands,
each of them with her kiss and her blessing
on his head. Whither did they run so
swiftly and with such joyful cries and ex-
clamations ? To the Hill of Allen, to Finn,
to be entered in the roll of his men, in case
they should pass the examination; and all
felt sure that they would pass.

Leaving the lawn they struck a narrow


path in the woods and ran on, one by one,
making pleasant echoes in the still forest.
When they emerged from the forest they
came to a rocky ravine through which a
torrent rushed. There were stepping-stones
in the torrent, but they were now hidden, for
the torrent was greatly swollen; a brown
swirling mass of rough water rushed down
the ravine.

Nothing daunted, the foremost of the
party ran to the torrent, holding his two
spears in front of him with the hafts for-
ward, as boys now use leaping poles. He
planted these on the edge of the torrent, and
springing upwards, rose between them and
propelled himself clear across the water.
The rest did the same, only the youngest of
the party fell back once, not having sprung
with sufficient force, but encouraged by the
rest he succeeded at the second attempt.

As they were proceeding on their jour-
ney they heard a groan, and, looking back,
saw an aged woman leaning on a staff on the
far side of the torrent, a little out of the
way. She said, " You who are so young,
strong, and happy, have pity on one who is
old, weak, and sorrowful, for I cannot cross
this wild torrent without aid."


*' We cannot," they answered; " we are
bound for the court of the most splendid
captain on earth, and we must not appear
in his presence in raiment soiled and drip-
ping. Some strong churl will soon pass this
way and take thee over the torrent."

So they went on their way, but not all.
One of them, a tall and very beautiful strip-
ling, stayed behind. His name w^as Diarmid.
A second time he bounded lightly over the
torrent, and having saluted the old woman
respectfully, he raised her in his young
strong arms and bore her through the ford.
The torrent reached to his shoulders and
was so violent that no ordinary man could
have resisted it. Yet he reached the other
side safely, and set her down carefully. As
he was about to run forward again, he was
aware of a tall, stately, and beautiful
woman who stood by his side equipped like
a warrior, her countenance so bright that it
dazzled him to look upon it. Beside her
stood a tall man, as glorious as the woman,
but not armed. He smiled on the lad. ' ' I
know thee, Angus," said the youth.
*' Wherefore hast thou played this trick
upon me?" " To prove thy chivalry," he
answered Then the man and the woman


wrapped themselves in their magic mantle
of woven air and Vv^ere no more seen.

Diarmid pursued his party and came up
with them as they were entering the camp.

When they came before Finn all the rest
looked bright and clean and pleasant to the
eye, but Diarmid's scarlet mantle, all but a
little of it, was stained brown with the
muddy water, and his white tunic with gold
buttons was also defiled, and he looked like
a spot in the midst of his comrades. When
Finn saw him he said sternly, " Thou hast
been wading in torrents to-day."

" I have," said Diarmid.

*' Why did you not leap them like your
comrades ?" said Finn.

" That I cannot tell," answered the
young man, with a blush.

Then Finn looked fixedly at him and
said, ' ' I can. I see thee crossing a swollen
torrent with an aged woman in thy arms.
And thou hast seen a glorious sight. It is
still shining in thy face and in thy eyes.
Thou shalt have success in war and success
in love. All things good and nothing bad
shall ever be told concerning thee at all time,
and thy glory will last till the end of the


The woman whom Diarmid met at the
torrent was the war-goddess of the Gael :
the man was Angus Ogue, son of the Dagda,
the god of youth and beauty, from the fairy
Brugh on the Boyne.

I lingered on the royal Brugh which stands
By the dark-rolling waters of the Boyne
Where Angus Ogue magnificently dwells.


nod's life on the hill.

Before he came to Finn's camp Nod lived
alone in solitary grandeur in the midst of
inferiors. Now he lived amongst superiors,
which at first made him ashamed, but by
degrees his shame vanished and he began to
be happy. Soon he made dear friends and
comrades, and after that one day seemed to
him more joyful than another. He learned
the proper management of his weapons in
offence and defence. He delighted to watch
trials with hounds. He received as a gift
from one of his new friends a beautiful
hound, whom he called Son-of -the- Eagle.
He went to his first hunting shortly after
that, leading the dog with him. It was in a


forest belonging to Finn, in the country
called Teffia. There Son-of-the-Eagle had
the good fortune to hold a fine boar. Nod
despatched the boar with a well-aimed
thrust of his spear. His new comrades
praised him and the dog warmly. It so
chanced that while Nod was with Finn one
of Finn's forests in the North of Ireland was
disturbed by a lawless chief dwelling in the
neighbourhood. Finn sent a troop to
chastise him, and Nod was permitted to
accompany the troop as a volunteer. Nod
acquitted himself well in that expedition
and was brought back to the Hill on a litter
between four comrades, wounded but happy.
He was indeed sore wounded, yet his
recovery was rapid, so pure was his blood,
and so light, gay, and alert his spirit. Nod
could not believe that the world held so
much happiness as seemed to fill the air
upon the Hill of Allen. He went on two
fishing expeditions to the Shannon, when he
and his friends built for themselves booths
by the river and had good sport, but
wherever he went he was always glad to
return to the camp on the hill. Cheerfully
he arose in the morning and sweetly he slept
at night.




While Nod was on the Hill of Allen there
came messengers from the west imploring
Finn's assistance against a great water-
dragon, which had newly come to the
country, and had taken up his abode in
Lough Derg, which is a great fresh-water
sea formed by the river Shannon.

Such a dragon, they said, was never seen
before in Ireland. He was more terrible,
they said, than any of the numerous dragons
which Finn had formerly slain.

Finn had killed dragons, monsters, ap-
paritions, and savage beasts without num-
ber, and was enraged that another of that
bad race should fear him and his men so
little as to take up his abode in the midst of
the island and lay waste the surrounding

This dragon killed and ate not cattle
only, but men and women, and as he rolled
through the country he destroyed forests


and houses. He was of a blue colour, they
said, and had a mane like a horse. Nearly
every one who saw him died of fright.

Finn announced the news to his men, and
they at once called upon him to lead them
against the monster. All Finn's young men
rejoiced greatly at this adventure, for the
young men had never been at the killing of
any serpent or monster, only they used to
hear their seniors tell many tales concerning
such adventures.

So they all went westward to the Shannon
with great joy. When they reached Lough
Derg the water of the lake was still and
smooth. There was nothing to indicate
that a terrible monster lay concealed in the
depths. Some, more fanciful than the rest,
declared that they saw a certain dark
shadow, which they said showed the outlines
of the beast's form at the bottom of the lake.
Then they shouted all together and beat
their swords against their shields in order
to awaken the monster, and certainly if he
could be awakened the noise they made was
loud enough to rouse him. Presently there
was an agitation in the water, which rose
up like a mound in the midst of the lake,
soon forming into waves and billows, and a



dark-blue mass lifted itself out of the water.
It was the monster's head and neck : he
had a mane like a horse. Then two eyes like
two lamps showed themselves and glared at
the Fians. The younger men, who were so
anxious to hunt a dragon, now trembled and
gradually moved away from the bank of the
river. They were not expecting such a
prodigy. When he saw the enemy the ser-
pent raised his tail out of the water, and
lashed the lake into storm in his fury, so
that the spray fell all round the country for
miles. Every Fian was as wet as if he had
been dipped in the l^ke. Now the serpent
roared with a voice like thunder, chilling
the blood of the bravest of the Fians. His
open red mouth was as wide as the gate of
a city. This dragon was blue and had no
wings or legs. He was in fact a monstrous
serpent. He rolled on to the shore, and
though many of the Fians gave back before
him the majority did not. They surrounded
him by the hundred, darting their spears
against him, cutting at him with their
swords, and though he rolled over and
crushed them by the score, others supplied
the places of those who fell. Finn from his
place saw that the serpent was devouring

(D 436) H


his men. With his great red tongue he
swept them into his mouth, using it as a
mower uses his scythe. No one behaved
more bravely than Nod, yet he was one of
those whom the serpent devoured. Above
the din of the battle Finn heard the lamenta-
tion and wailing of his men, as they disap-
peared in clusters down the serpent's red

" My dead will soon be more numerous
than my living," said Finn, and, so saying,
he sent Oscur against the reptile. If Oscur
could not kill him, no one else could save
perhaps Finn himself and it was now a
great many years since Finn had engaged in
conflict with a beast of the kind. Oscur
stepped down valiantly to the serpent, and,
poising it, cast his spear at the beast's head.
The rush of Oscur's spear through the air
was like the raging of a hurricane through
a forest. But the beast was invulnerable.
Oscur's first spear and second spear sprang
back from the serpent's tough hide as a ball
springs back from a wall. When Finn saw
that, he called to him his son, Dara, who
was a very active and intrepid youth, and
he said to him, " Dara, I must go myself
against this monster. Watch me, and when


I say ' leap,' then lightly and valiantly
spring into the dragon's mouth, sword in
hand, and cut him open from the inside.
There only he is vulnerable." Oscur was
still engaged with the serpent, and though
he could not wound the serpent owing to the
thickness of the skin, he yet held him in
check. Finn, v/ithout sword, shield, or
spear, ran past Oscur and plunged his two
hands into the great hairy mane of the

As soon as he got a firm grip, using his
utmost strength, he raised the serpent into
the air and then threw him again upon the
ground, belly upwards. " Leap," cried
Finn. Dara forthwith sprang as he was, all
armed, and his sword in his hand, into the
serpent's mouth, and descended into his
terrible throat. There Dara, as scon as he
could secure a footing, and indeed that was
not easy, cut a slit in the serpent's throat,
and continuing cut it downwards for twenty
yards. Dara came out all red, but erect,
with his sword still in his hand, and
behind him in gory heaps rolled out
all the warriors whom the serpent had
swallowed. The serpent was partly
choked by Finn, and partly killed by


Dara's sword. Dara won great honour
by this adventure. This w^as looked upon
as one of the bravest leaps ever made
in Ireland, and it must be confessed that it
is not everyone w^ho would spring into the
throat of a dragon. Dara was called Dara
the Red after that, viz. Dara Derg. Dara
did many other brave feats in his time, but
this was regarded as his masterpiece. A
river of blood rolled from the serpent into
the lake, and after this the lake was called
Lough Derg, i.e. the Red Lake.

Nod, as you may imagine, was not ready
to engage in other adventures for some time
after this. When taken from the gory
heaps that rolled from the serpent, and
when he was washed, it was found that
there was no hair on his head, and his broken
armour was crushed everywhere into his
mangled body.

A couch of healing was a second time
made for Nod, and Finn's surgeons and his
beautiful nursing-women attended him, and
Finn himself, with pleasant words, came
every day to his bedside. Yet, in spite of
his sufferings, no sooner was Nod healed
than he clamoured to be led against the only
hvdra known to exist in Ireland. It was a


black female serpent called Ethnea, which
dwelt in a gloomy tarn then called from her
Lough Ethnea, but which is now called
Glendalough. Such a torrent of warlike
ardour and love of adventure now flowed
perpetually from Nod's heart.

Finn would not attack that serpent be-
cause it was foretold to him that her
destruction was reserved for a holy druid of
the coming time, whose name would be
Caemhghen {i.e. Beautiful Born) or, as
we pronounce the word, Kevin. That
serpent is supposed to have been the death-
goddess of the Gael. The holy youth Saint
Kevin, Christ's servant, destroyed her in the
power of Almighty God, maker of all



It was evening in Nod's valley and the sun
was descending. The summei was over, and
the autumn and winter were in the air.
Nod's wife was in her house, guiding and


directing her people, who were making the
winter store of candles. One of the out-
door thralls ran in and said —

' ' O lady, there is a brilliant company of
young heroes coming to the house."

" They shall be welcome," said Nod's
wife. " What kind of man is the leader of
the band?"

" He is young," answered the other, "tall,
and very handsome, with abundant hair
as black as the raven, and his complexion
clear, so that the blood shows like scarlet in
his cheek. He is gay and cheerful, talks
and laughs much, and with his spear points
out distant places to his companions. There
are a score of young men with him, all of a
noble appearance, also a company of little
boys riding on horses."

" That young man is my husband and
your lord," said Nod's wife to her people,
but they answered firmly that he was not.

Then she threw round her shoulders her
best mantle and clasped it in front with a
shining brooch, and, followed by her per-
sonal attendants, went out to meet the com-
pany, leading her little son by the hand.

The young man was indeed Nod, but so
altered that no one in the palace, save his


Avife only, recognised him. All the early
grayness had gone from his hair, and his
cheeks were full and rosy and his eyes
bright, so that one could hardly desire to see
a happier, or handsomer, or more attractive
young man than was Nod after his six
months' visit to Finn and his stay amongst
the Fians. Finn used to billet his men upon
the country during the winter, and Nod
undertook to entertain, that winter, as
many men as he would be permitted to take
with him. The boys riding on horses were
the sons of divers of his new friends. They
were to be his foster-children, to be brought
up in his house along with his own son. Very
joyful was the meeting between husband
and wife on that occasion.

Here, then, we will take leave of Nod and
his wife. I have only further to add that
Nod became as famous for hospitality as he
had been formerly notorious for the want of
it. So greatly was he changed that he was
said to be the third most hospitable man of
his time in all Ireland.

Let me add that Nod was not so much a
penurious man as penury itself and dark,
fierce selfishness, and the story shows how
Finn by force, example, and precept, taught


the men of Ireland to live in a more generous,
kindly, and humane manner than they had
done. Those who look deeper into these
strange stories will find that the numerous
serpents which Finn slew were ugly prac-
tices and savage unnatural habits. Finn,
like the Greek Apollo and the Greek Her-
cules, was famous as a serpent-slayer.

The following story will not be pleasing
to those who think that the famous King
Arthur could do nothing wrong. It is
pleasant, however, to find that two such
illustrious men as Finn and Arthur, though
they had their quarrel, finally became good



One day Finn hunted his forest of Ben
Edar ; that was the old name of the Hill of
Howth, near Dublin. The game of this
forest were w'ild oxen. Only the best dogs
were brought out that day, for the urus was


an animal of great size, strength, and
ferocity. Finn invited Arthur, King of the
Britons, to share in that hunt. Arthur
came in his galley with twenty-seven men,
and took up his station at the head of the
harbour, in order to turn back the wild oxen
should they take to the water when hard
pressed by the hounds. Finn sat on a rock
called the Cairn of Fergal, midway between
the top of the hill and the sea, rejoicing in
the music of the crying hounds, the roaring
of the oxen, and the shouting of his men.

Three dogs chanced to pursue a great ox
along the shore of the harbour and dragged
him down close to where Arthur stood.

*' There are not in the world hounds like
these," said his men to Arthur, " and let us
now put them on board our galley and sail
away before the Fians break through the
woods and come to us."

Arthur consented. They put the dogs
on board the galley, hoisted sail, and, grasp-
ing their oars, lashed the blue sea into foam.
Presently there was nothing visible of
Arthur and his people save a faint white
track on the distant horizon. The dogs were
Bran, and the Leopard, and a third called
Adnuaill. When they put to shore in


Briton-land they went straight to the moun-
tain of Lodan, the son of Lear, and hunted
that forest with great joy and signal suc-
cess. No one, not even Finn, seated though
he was upon the cairn, saw the taking of
the dogs.

In the evening, after Finn had divided
the spoil, the dogs were counted, as was
customary with them, and their tale was
three short. Finn called out the names, and
Bran, the Leopard, and Adnuaill were
missing. There was great sorrow amongst
the Fians at the loss of their three match-
less hounds which were the glory of the
western world, and many of the men wept.
Then Finn called for pure water, and when
he had washed his hands he put his thumb
to his divining tooth, and it was revealed to
him that Arthur had taken away the hounds
to Briton-land and was hunting the moun-
tain of Lodan, the son of Lear,

Finn selected nine men to go in pursuit
of the hounds, with Goll mac Morna for
their captain, and Oscur, son of Ossian, to
crush every enemy in their path. The nine
went to the top of the Hill, in the gray dawn
of the day, and looked across the sea to
Mananan's Island and " fasted upon him,"


that he should send them his magic boat.
They were not long there, when they saw the
boat coming. It had no sails and no oars.
There was not a man on board, yet the boat
leaped and sprang from wave to wave,
glittering with gold and pearl. She came
to the harbour of Ben Edar, and the nine
men got on board, and again the bark beat
out into the open sea conducting the heroes
to Briton-land. They disembarked and
marched to the mountain of Lodan and
searched the forest through, till they came
to the great booth which Arthur and his men
had made for themselves. Arthur and his
men were at supper when Finn's people
entered the booth.

Arthur welcomed them and bade them
sit down to supper.

" We are come for Finn's dogs," said
Goll mac Morna. " If we are to have them
peaceably we will accept your hospitality.
If not, look to your arms, for we will not
leave this house without bringing our dogs
with us."

" Then you will not leave this house at
all," said Arthur. " For I give you my
word, that I would rather see all Finn's men
rolled in bloody shrouds than surrender


these dogs. And as you are bent upon war,
war you shall have."

Then weapons screeched and flashed,
and a terrible and murderous battle ensued,
and the end of the fighting was, that all
Arthur's men were slain, and he himself
was wounded. Finn's men were closing in
upon him to slay him, when Oscur son of
Ossian sprang forward, and throwing one
arm round Arthur, stood against the eight,
though their battle-fury was on them, and
that was no small proof of Oscur's in-
trepidity and no small proof of his warlike
prowess, when the eight gave back and let
him have his way.

They buried the dead honourably, and
set up their mounds and pillar stones, and
returned as they came, bringing the three
hounds and Arthur. Ere they left the
palace, Goll spied in one corner of it a
great gray steed, and in another a beautiful

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