Standish O'Grady.

Finn and his companions / by Standish O'Grady online

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bay mare. He took them with him as
plunder. There were no horses like them
in the world.

When they brought Arthur before Finn,
Finn asked him why he had done that deed,
and Arthur bade him look at the hounds
and he would cease to be surprised. He



also added, ' ' Finiij thou hast thy compen-
sation already for that wrong, for I have
lost many dear comrades, and my two
matchless steeds; keep them, and let the
quarrel between us end here."

Finn was satisfied with that proposal,
and Arthur remained with him till he was
healed, and when he departed Finn dis-
missed him with kind words, rich and
numerous gifts, and a guard of honour. All
the horses that were in Erin after that
descended from the two steeds which Goll
mac Morna took out of Arthur's house in
the mountain of Lodan the son of Lear.

Finn and his men, however, only used
horses for racing. They were themselves
infantry, and went always on foot. Yet
they were fond of horses and had them in
great numbers. The following is a verse in
one of Caelta's poems which he recited for
St. Patrick :—

Three rivers, that used to pour from Finn's camp
On a May-day morning when the sun shone brightly,
A river of men and a river of horses and a river of






At the end of a day's hunting Finn and
Bering found themselves alone with their
two dogs. When Finn wound his horn
there was no answering horn. They then
went forward, looking around on every side
for some sign of human habitation. At last
they saw a light and went towards it. The
light came from a large shining lamp set in
the gate- tower of a handsome dwelling-
place. There was a moat, and inside the moat
a wall, and within the wall a good-sized house
with trees around it. The drawbridge which
spanned the moat was drawn up, but on the
side of the moat on which the two men stood
was an iron gong, and beneath it a stout club.
Bering seized the club and beat upon the

The people of this fort had already
retired to rest, but the master was awake.
He was sitting beside his fire, arranging a
number of beechen tablets on which many

(d 436) p


things seemed to have been written in
strange letters. In fact the man was read-
ing, for in those days books were made of
timber. The beechen tablet which he held
in his hand contained the history of Finn
and his men. He had written this history
himself, and was getting the tablets into
better older, and lamenting that there were
so many things in Finn's history with which
he was not acquainted. At the other side
of the fire was a boy very sleepy and

Said the man, '* Oh, that Finn might
lose his way some night v>^hen he is hunting,
and come here for rest and refreshment. He
would tell me the things I want to know.
Then I could fill up these empty tablets.
Boy," he said, ' ' have not the Fianna been
hunting all day in the next forest?"

" Truly, master," said the boy; "I
myself ran from height to height watching
them, but the chase passed away south-

The man groaned. Just then both man
and boy started from their seats, for they
heard the thunderous roar of the great iron
gong struck by the hand of Finn's man.

*' Eun, boy," said the man of the house;


" see who is at the gate and bring me

The boy ran, climbed into the gate tower,
and swiftly returned.

" My lord," he said, " there are without
two men of great stature. The elder and
taller of the two is the most beautiful being
that these eyes ever saw. His hair is pure
white and rolls in masses over the scarlet
mantle that surrounds his mighty shoulders;
his complexion is fresh and ruddy, and his
eyes are blue. There is beside him a hound
which he leads by a chain of silver attached
to a collar of gold. That hound is a wonder.
She has a small head, eyes as terrible as a
dragon, and a white spot on her black
breast. The man's companion is brown-
haired, and he leads by a bronze chain a
spotted leopard."

" Put wings to thy feet, lad," cried the
old man in great excitement; " raise the
portcullis and let fall the bridge, for the
men are Finn and his man Dering, and thy
leopard is only Bran's spotted sister.
Haste I haste !"

Meantime Dering w^ould have once more
thundered upon the gong, but Finn re-
strained him.


The old man joyfully received these
welcome guests. As all his people had been
awakened by the thunder which Bering had
roused from the gong, an excellent supper
was soon got ready for the two Fians. Bran
and the Leopard had their supper that
night served to them in a silver dish, a vessel
of great price, for it was the proudest and
happiest night in that old man's long life,
and well he knew that not Finn only, but
those two dogs, would be famous while
night and day endure. When they had had
their supper Bran and the Leopard came
and lay down upon the hearth before the
fire, and the old man scanned them closely
with great awe and reverence. Bran's ears
were red, her legs yellow, the rest of her
body was black, save for a round white spot
on her breast, and a starry shower of white
over her loins. The Leopard was spotted
yellow throughout on a ground of black, the
spots growing smaller and more frequent
towards the neck, and very small upon the
head and ears. Of the two, the Leopard
seemed to be the more powerful, and Bran
the swifter and more spirited. Both dogs
were sleek and glossy. There was no beast
in the world which they would not overtake


and pull down. The Leopard's real name
was Sgeolan.



" I LIKE thee well, old man, for many-
things," said Finn, who had now ended his
supper. " Thou hast entertained us nobly
and like a king, without officiousness or too
hospitable zeal, and hast suffered us to eat
our supper in peace, which hungry men like
best. I perceive, too, that thou art a lover
of dogs like myself, and that there flows
from thee a strong torrent of affection and
admiration for my two matchless hounds;
and if a man loves my dogs, he shall ever be
dear to me. I perceive, also, that thou art
a historian, and historians are very dear to

The old man answered, " captain of
the Fianna, thy dogs are famous over the
whole world, and will be famous to the
world's end; nor am I surprised at their
glory when I look upon them, and this is the


first time I have seen them near at hand.
Often have I inquired concerning their birth
and breeding, but no man could relate it.
The wisest of them said it is unknown."

" It is unknown," said Finn.

" I would give much to learn," said the
old man.

" Many have expressed the same wish, '
answered Finn.

The old man set drinking vessels on a
small table near the fire, also a great
measure of ale, and when the two guests
had washed their hands in ewers of water,
and dried them in napkins, they drew nigh
to the fire. Finn blessed the man and his
house, and took a deep draught, draining
the last drop from the huge tankard, while
the old man wondered.

Finn looked earnestly at him and said —
" Bid the servants go to bed, and I will tell
thee. I will tell thee other things, too, and
thou shalt fill thy empty prepared staves."

The old man obeyed joyfully, and when
he had shut and bolted the doors of the
chamber, he returned. He thought his heart
would break with excess of joy. Then he
sat down at the one side of the fire, and, for
the first time, looked at Finn towering on



the other, his mighty limbs and huge
knotted knees, and his countenance like the

" Long ago," said Finn, " for no man
who now lives remembers these things,
when first my passion for hounds came upon
me, I was in my booth on the slopes of the
Slieve Bloom Mountains. It was night,
and I in my bed. Without a storm raged,
and the roar of the forest surrounded me,
with thunder and lightning and the rush-
ing of rain. I lay awake rejoicing in the
uproar ; but while I listened I heard amid
the noise a very small and delicate sound,
like the tinkling of some exquisitely modu-
lated tympan, exceeding sweet. I must tell
thee, too, that ere this my mother's sister
was lost and could nowhere be found, and it
was supposed that she had been spirited
away by the Fomorian enchanters, and was
Been subsequently in the form of a beautiful
hound. I heard a knocking at the door of
the booth, and when I opened it, I was at
first dazzled with the flood of light which
came in through the door. I thought it was
very near lightning. Then I perceived a
woman standing there, tall, and wondrous
beautiful, with a closed basket in her hand.


She gave me the basket, and said — ' I have
brought these to thee, O Finn, for I have
always heard that cousins should be
cousinly.' I sav^ no more of the woman,
and when I drew back into the booth and
had stirred up the embers and made a blaze,
I opened the basket and discovered there
two blind puppies of exactly the same
colour as those which lie before thee on the
hearth. They have been w4th me ever
since," said Finn, " and they are with me
now. These hounds, then, matchless for
beauty, speed, courage, strength, and intel-
ligence, are my own cousins," said Finn.



** Win victories and blessings for ever, O
captain of the Fians of Fail," answered the
old man. " That, indeed, is a strange and
memorable story, nor am I surprised at it
when I contemplate their beautiful propor-
tions, and think of their rare intelligence
and sagacity, of which I have heard many


things. And now, Finn, if it would not
be irksome to thee, I would gladly learn
somewhat of thy boyish life. As long as I
can remember thou hast been famous and
powerful, ruling in the midst of thy uncon-
querable warriors and indefatigable hun-
ters. But men tell vaguely of a time, long
ago, when thou wert solitary and surrounded
with peril of many kinds. They also say
that the sons of Morna searched the world
for thee, to slay thee, when thou wert a
young child. But of these things they
speak vaguely. If it would not weary thee,
I would gladly learn these things with more
exactness from thy own eloquent and cor-
rectly-speaking lips."

" I will tell thee somewhat," said Finn.
' ' It will not weary me, for I am by nature
eloquent, and speech flows from me without
effort. I w^as a babe in the cradle when that
great battle was fought in which my father
was slain. The conquerors, viz. the sons of
Morna, forthwith spread themselves over
Ireland with the object of exterminating
all my father's sons and grandsons, and, in
fact, our whole race. A fierce company
came straight from the battle to my
mother's house to kill me. No news of


the battle had yet reached my mother,
when two strange women entered the.
house, snatched me from the cradle before
her eyes, and fled. They were leaving
the palace by one door when my enemies
were entering by the other. The latter
gave chase, but they might as well have
chased the wind as chased those women. The
women brought me to the depths of the
forests which clothe the Slieve Bloom
Mountains. There I was weaned, and dwelt
as a child with the two women in the forest,
cowering low before the wrath of the sons
of Morna, whose trackers and searchers
continued seeking for me. That was how I
survived the slaughter of all my father's


Finn's first quarry,

*' I WOULD know now, Finn," said the old
man, " what game, bird or beast, first fell
by thy hand. Now indeed thou art a mighty
hunter, thy forests are everywhere, and thy


game laws embrace all Erin. Few are the
houses in which a hound- whelp is not being
reared for thee, and, truly, the great game
and the small which fall before thee in any
one year, who could number? But of all
fame there is a beginning, as the mightiest
river has a small source."

" That is true," said Finn, " and I will
tell thee. Afterwards my protectors iied
with me out of the Slieve Bloom Mountains,
for the sons of Morna discovered my
retreat, and they put a ring of men and
dogs round the mountains, and were closing
inwards. Nevertheless, the heroines bore
me safely through them all, and fled with
me into the extreme west of Munster, be-
yond the beautiful glen which is called
Glengariffe, to a place on the haven of Bera,
which is known as Dunboy. There they
built a hut on the edge of a wood close to
a small lake. I used to play on the shore of
the lake, and send smooth finger stones
skimming along the surface, and soon began
to shoot very straight and far. One day a
wild duck came sailing past with her brood
of twelve ducklings. I took a good aim at
her with a care fully- selected stone. She
saw the missile approaching, leaping from


point to point on the smooth water, and
with her wdngs began to beat the water in
the act of raising herself for flight. Yet the
stone struck her and cut off her two wings.
The bird, accompanied by her orphaned
brood, drifted towards the shore, and when
I could reach her, I seized her joyfully, and
also took and put in my bosom the twelve
ducklings, and so hastened to the house,
where the heroines praised me much for my
skill and success. The plucking, the roast-
ing, basting, and carving of that duck gave
these persons and myself as much pleasure
as was ever got out of any similar adven-
ture. That," said Finn, " was my first
exploit as a hunter."



** It is reported," said the old man, " that
no one understands or loves poetry better
than thyself, and I know that no j^outh can
be enrolled amongst thy Fians unless he can
make a good poem."


C (

I myself made that law," said Finn,
for many good reasons, and chiefly for
this, that youths who love poetry are more
readily inflamed to the performance of great
deeds, are more obedient to their captains,
and hold their banner and their battalion in
greater esteem. One rude bone-hewer may
indeed conquer a youth of the kind I love,
but set against each other two armies, one
of warlike boors and the other such as are
my Fians, and they are not to be compared.

'* My own poetic nature I inherit from
my mother. It was she who composed that
lullaby which begins, " Sleep, my child, in
soft slumber sleep." She came secretly to
the place where the heroines guarded me,
and took me in her arms and to her bosom
and sang that lullaby and departed.

*' After the first hunting exploit which
I have described, I hunted perpetually, and
got food for my piotectors. Then the
passion of poetry grew upon me. There
were six poets who lived together in a dell
in the Galtee Mountains I abandoned my
protectors and went to live w4th them, and
they taught me. I lived with these sons of
wisdom and beauty till one day when a
robber and plunderer out of Leinster came



and slew them all and took me away cap-
tive, and compelled me to live with him in
his den, which, like a stork's nest, was in
the midst of a cold, bleak, desolate marsh,
a wide watery expanse of sorrow,

' ' Afterwards, when I was a young man,
J came to the beautiful Boyne, hearing that
the wisest men were there, I became ser-
vant to a man who called himself Finn ; my
own name then was Demna. It chanced that
the day I entered his service he had taken a
salmon in the pool of the Boyne which is
called Linn F6c. He bade me bake the
salmon and serve it. When I set the salmon
before him, he asked me whether I had
tasted the fish. I said, ' no,' but that I had
touched it with my thumb to know if it were
sufficiently baked, and afterwards put my
burned thumb into my mouth, ' Alas,' he
said, ' the prophecy is fulfilled. This fish
is not for me, but for thee. It is the Salmon
of Knowledge, and thou art the true Finn,
about whom the prophets have been pro-
phesying from ancient days. Sit in my
place and eat the fish,' So I sat in his
place and ate the Salmon of Knowledge.
That is the reason why, when I put my
thumb under my divining tooth, the know-


ledge of things past and to come is revealed
to me.

' ' I remained on tlie banks of the Boyne
with the wise men there till I had mastered
all the mysteries of poetry and all the know-
ledge which it contained in that art. On
the day that I was initiated and admitted
a member of their learned company, I com-
posed a poem in proof of my poetic skill."

'* Prithee repeat it for me," said the old

Finn repeated it.

" May-day ! delightful time ! how beautiful the

The blackbirds sing their full lay.

Oh that Laeg were here.
The cuckoos sing in constant strains.

How welcome the noble
Brilliance of the season ever. On the margin of

the branchy woods
The summer swallows skim the streams.

The horses seek the pool.
The heath spreads out its long hair.

The weak white bog-down grows.
Sudden consternation attacks the signs. The planets

in their course running exert an influence.
The sea is lulled to rest, flowers cover the earth."

Finn repeated the poem slowly in order


that the old man might remember it. The
metre was complicated and intricate, and
the poem throughout riveted with many-
shining alliterations, so that it might be the
more easily remembered, and defy the
assaults of time.



" It is on account of my poetic nature and
my close intimacy with many excellent
poets that I have pleasures which are not
usually enjoyed by warriors and hunters.
Dear to me is the cry of sea-gulls and the
thunder of the srreat billows of the Atlantic
against the cliffs of Erris, the washing of
water against the sides of ships, and the
sound, foam, and motion behind them as
they cleave the fluid sea, for not dearer to
me is the firm earth than the never-resting
ocean. I love to hear the clear flute of the
blackbird in the morning, and the thrush's
song as he sits by himself and sings when
the sun goes down. The beautiful changes


of the varying year are sweet to me, and
truly there are not many sights and sounds
that I do not love, or from which I do not
derive pleasure, so that solitude is no more
irksome to me than company, and yet I am
the most sociable of men; so that I do not
surround myself with guards and royal
state, but live simply in the midst of my
people, like one of themselves, for I love
them well, and well they love me."

The old man, still thirsting for know-
ledge, said, "O Finn, tell me who is the best
man, and who is the worst among the

Finn answered, " I myself am the best
man, and Dara-duff from the Black Moun-
tain is the worst. There is a great deal of
life in me," said Finn; "and a great deal of
life goes out of me. There is death in him,
and a great deal of death goes out of
him. Yet he never had less power than
he has now. Even if I could destroy him,
I am not permitted to do so, for his roots
spring mysteriously out of the roots of the
world. He has been in the v/orld always,
and will be in it till the end of time."

"Dismiss me now to my rest and my
slumber, O amiable and much-inquiring

(D 436) G


historian!" said Finn; " for I arose early
this morning, and that was an early rising
when a man could not see the sky between
his outspread fingers, or distinguish the
leaves of the oak from those of the beech."

While this conversation lasted Dering
had shown no signs of sleep or drowsiness;
he sat erect, listening with bright eyes.

In the morning Finn asked the historian
many questions concerning his manner of
work, and commended him, and gave him
good counsel, as, for example, " that he
should not, in making his histories, concern
himself exclusively with wars and things
horrible, but should tell also of the common
daily life of men and women; let women
and children," he said, "be frequent in
your stories, for they are the light of life,
nor let the sun be long absent from your tale,
seeing that he himself is never long absent
from us. Also," he said, " I perceive there
is some domestic sorrow in thy mind. What
is it?"

The old man said that he had a very dear
grandson who was sick of a decline.

" Bring him to me," said Finn.

Finn looked upon the lad and asked
whether there was a well of pure water in


the neighbourhood, and when they answered
him " Yes," he bade them lead him to it.

There he scooped up the sparkling water
in the hollow of his right hand, and when he
had spoken some poetry in a strange tongue,
he gave to the young man to drink. From
that day the youth steadily recovered.

Finn caused the whole household to come
before him. He spake kind words to them
all, and he blessed the old man and his
people, and went away with Bering and the
dogs, and they saw him no more.






Now that you are sufficiently acquainted
with Finn as he appeared in the fulness of
his power and glory, I desire to let you see
him in his youth, while he was struggling
upwards out of obscurity, when he was
friendless, solitary, and surrounded by
enemies. The lesson taught by Finn in his
power is the lesson of flowing goodwill
towards men. From his youth we learn the
lesson of cheerfulness and courage.

In the heart of Connaught, a deep track-
less forest, and in the heart of the forest
a rude booth of timber, rudely roofed with
rushes and heather. Brushwood grew
above it and around it, so that one might
pass many times and almost touch the house
without discovering it. In this booth, one
wild December evening, half a dozen old
men — very old men — sat crouched around
a small fire of sticks. They were clad in
ancient rags, and in skins ; their faces were
thin and hunger-bitten ; their fingers long,


lean, and crooked. The meanest of tliem
looked a king. Fate had pressed very hard
on these old men, but had not conquered
them, and their eyes shone under most rigid
brows. Who were these noble old men clad
in rags and skins, nourishing here in
poverty and famine some unconquerable
resolution ? I shall tell you.

The captain of the Fians in his time was
Cool, son of Trenmor, the mightiest of the
Fian captains down to his time, and Cool,
remember, was the father of Finn. Then
the sons of Morna revolted against him,
saying that Goll mac Morna, their brother,
was the better man and should be cap-
tain. Each party drew together an army,
and the battle for the Fian leadership
was fought on the banks of the Liffey.
There Cool was defeated and slain; the
sons of Morna triumphed and raised their
brother Goll to the leadership. Luchat
Mael was the champion who slew Cool and
took from him his satchel, which contained
the jewels of sovereignty and right leader-
ship. He slung it to his own girdle. While
he kept that bag, the tyranny of the sons of
Morna was secure, and it was supposed that
there was not a champion in the world who


could conquer Luchat Mael. What these
jewels were is not rightly known, but there
was great power and virtue in them.

After the battle, the sons of Morna went
through Ireland exterminating all the
breed and seed of the overthrown family.
Nearly all the warriors of Cool vv^ho escaped
from the battle were obliged to make terms
with the new tyranny, and swear allegiance
to Goll mac Morna. A very few did not.
These were the old men whom we saw , clad
in rags and skins, crouching around their
feeble fire in the booth in the forest.

At first they lived by hunting, poaching
it might be called, for all the forests and all
the game belonged now to Goll mac Morna.
They shifted from mountain to mountain
and forest to forest, from lake to river and
river to lake, for the trackers and searchers
of the sons of Morna were on their traces.
Finally they were pressed into greater
confinement, so that they could only hunt by
night and by stealth, and while one man
speared a salmon, there was another who
kept watch, and oftentimes they were

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