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Celtic Wonder Tales
Retold by Ella Young
Illustrated and decorated
by Maud Gonne
Originally Published by
MAUNSEL & COMPANY, DUBLIN
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ABELA PUBLISHING, LONDON
Celtic Wonder Tales
Typographical arrangement of this edition
© Abela Publishing 2009
This book may not be reproduced in its current format in any manner in any media, or transmitted by any means whatsoever, electronic, electrostatic, magnetic tape, or mechanical ( including photocopy, file or video recording, internet web sites, blogs, wikis, or any other information storage and retrieval system) except as permitted by law without the prior written permission of the publisher.
Abela Publishing acknowledges the work that
did in compiling Celtic Wonder Tales
in a time well before any electronic media was in use.
* * * * * * *
A percentage of the net profit from the sale of this book
will be donated to the Princes Trust.
* * * * * * *
The Spear of Victory
A Good Action
How the Son of the Gobhaun Saor Sold the Sheepskin
How the Son Gobhaun Saor Shortened the Road
The Cow of Plenty
The Eric-Fine of Lugh
The Great Battle
The Golden Fly
The Children of Lir
N Tir-na-Moe, the Land of the Living Heart, Brigit was singing. Angus the Ever-Young, and Midyir the Red-Maned, and Ogma that is called Splendour of the Sun, and the Dagda and other lords of the people of Dana drew near to listen.
Now comes the hour foretold, a god-gift bringing .
A wonder-sight.Is it a star new-born and splendid up springing Out of the
Is it a wave from the Fountain of Beauty up flinging Foam
of delight?Is it a glorious immortal bird that is Winging Hither its
flight?It is a wave, high-crested, melodious, triumphant,
Breaking in light.It is a star, rose-hearted and joyous, a splendour Risen
from night.It is flame from the world of the gods, and love runs before
A quenchless delight.
Let the wave break, let the star rise, let the flame leap.
Ours, if our hearts are wise,To take and keep.
Brigit ceased to sing, and there was silence for a little space in Tir-na-Moe. Then Angus said:
"Strange are the words of your song, and strange the music: it swept me down steeps of air--down--down--always further down. Tir-na-Moe was like a dream half-remembered. I felt the breath of strange worlds on my face, and always your song grew louder and louder, but you were not singing it. Who was singing it?"
"The Earth was singing it."
"The Earth!" said the Dagda. "Is not the Earth in the pit of chaos? Who has ever looked into that pit or stayed to listen where there is neither silence nor song? "
"O Shepherd of the Star-Flocks, I have stayed to listen. I have shuddered in the darkness that is round the Earth. I have seen the black hissing waters and the monsters that devour each other--I have looked into the groping writhing adder-pit of hell."
The light that pulsed about the De Danaan lords grew troubled at the thought of that pit, and they cried out: "Tell us no more about the Earth, O Flame of the Two Eternities, and let the thought of it slip from yourself as a dream slips from the memory."
"O Silver Branches that no Sorrow has Shaken," said Brigit, "hear one thing more! The Earth wails all night because it has dreamed of beauty."
"What dream, O Brigit?"
"The Earth has dreamed of the white stillness of dawn; of the star that goes before the sunrise; and of music like the music of my song."
"O Morning Star," said Angus, "would I had never heard your song, for now I cannot shake the thought of the Earth from me!"
"Why should you shake the thought from you, Angus the Subtle-Hearted? You have wrapped yourself in all the colours of the sunlight; are you not fain to look into the darkness and listen to the thunder of abysmal waves; are you not fain to make gladness in the Abyss?"
Angus did not answer: he reached out his hand and gathered a blossom from a branch:
he blew upon the blossom and tossed it into the air: it became a wonderful white bird, and circled about him singing.
Midyir the Haughty rose and shook out the bright tresses of his hair till he was clothed with radiance as with a Golden Fleece.
"I am fain to look into the darkness," he said. "I am fain to hear the thunder of the Abyss."
"Then come with me," said Brigit, "I am going to put my mantle round the Earth because it has dreamed of beauty."
"I will make clear a place for your mantle," said Midyir. "I will throw fire amongst the monsters."
"I will go with you too," said the Dagda, who is called the Green Harper.
"And I," said Splendour of the Sun, whose other name is Ogma the Wise. "And I," said Nuada Wielder of the White Light. "And I," said Gobniu the Wonder-Smith, "we will remake the Earth!"
"Good luck to the adventure!" said Angus. "I would go myself if ye had the Sword of Light with you."
"We will take the Sword of Light," said Brigit, "and the Cauldron of Plenty and the Spear of Victory and the Stone of Destiny with us, for we will build power and wisdom and beauty and lavish-heartedness into the Earth."
It is well said," cried all the Shining Ones.
"We will take the Four Jewels."
Ogma brought the Sword of Light from Findrias the cloud-fair city that is in the east of the De Danaan world; Nuada brought the Spear of Victory from Gorias the flame-bright city that is in the south of the Dc Danaan world; the Dagda brought the Cauldron of Plenty from Murias the city that is builded in the west of the De Danaan world and has the stillness of deep waters; Midyir brought the Stone of Destiny from Falias the city that is builded in the north of the De Danaan world and has the steadfastness of adamant. Then Brigit and her companions set forth.
They fell like a rain of stars till they came to the blackness that surrounded the Earth, and looking down saw below them, as at the bottom of an abyss, the writhing, contorted, hideous life that swarmed and groped and devoured itself ceaselessly.
From the seething turmoil of that abyss all the Shining Ones drew back save Midyir. He grasped the Fiery Spear and descended like a flame.
His comrades looked down and saw him treading out the monstrous life as men tread grapes in a wine-press; they saw the blood and foam of that destruction rise about Midyir till he was crimson with it even to the crown of his head; they saw him whirl the Spear till it became a wheel of fire and shot out sparks and tongues of flame; they saw the flame lick the darkness and turn back on itself and spread and blossom--murk-red--blood-red--rose-red at last!
Midyir drew himself out of the abyss, a Ruby Splendour, and said:
"I have made a place for Brigit's mantle. Throw down your mantle, Brigit, and bless the Earth! "
Brigit threw down her mantle and when it touched the Earth it spread itself, unrolling like silver flame. It took possession of the place Midyir had made as the sea takes possession, and it continued to spread itself because everything that was foul drew back from the little silver flame at the edge of it.
It is likely it would have spread itself over all the earth, only Angus, the youngest of the gods, had not patience to wait: he leaped down and stood with his two feet on the mantle. It ceased to be fire and became a silver mist about him. He ran through the mist laughing and calling on the others to follow. His laughter drew them and they followed. The drifting silver mist closed over them and round them, and through it they saw each other like images in a dream--changed and fantastic. They laughed when they saw each other. The Dagda thrust both his hands into the Cauldron of Plenty.
"O Cauldron," he said, "you give to everyone the gift that is meetest, give me now a gift meet for the Earth."
He drew forth his hands full of green fire and he scattered the greenness everywhere as a sower scatters seed. Angus stooped and lifted the greenness of the earth; he scooped hollows in it; he piled it in heaps; he played with it as a child plays with sand, and when it slipped through his fingers it changed colour and shone like star-dust--blue and purple and yellow and white and red.
Now, while the Dagda sowed emerald fire and Angus played with it, Mananaun was aware that the exiled monstrous life had lifted itself and was looking over the edge of Brigit's mantle. He saw the iron eyes of strange creatures jeering in the blackness and he drew the Sword of Light from its scabbard and advanced its gleaming edge against that chaos. The strange life fled in hissing spume, but the sea rose to greet the Sword in a great foaming thunderous wave.
Mananaun swung the Sword a second time, and the sea rose again in a wave that was green as a crysolite, murmurous, sweet-sounding, flecked at the edges with amythest and purple and blue-white foam.
A third time Mananaun swung the Sword, and the sea rose to greet it in a wave white as crystal, unbroken, continuous, silent as dawn.
The slow wave fell back into the sea, and Brigit lifted her mantle like a silver mist. The De Danaans saw everything clearly. They saw that they were in an island covered with green grass and full of heights and strange scooped-out hollows and winding ways. They saw too that the grass was full of flowers--blue and purple and yellow and white and red.
"Let us stay here," they said to each other, "and make beautiful things so that the Earth may be glad."
Brigit took the Stone of Destiny in her hands: it shone
white like a crystal between her hands.
"I will lay the Stone in this place," she said, "that ye may have empire."
She laid the Stone on the green grass and it sank into the earth: a music rose about it as it sank, and suddenly all the scooped-out hollows and deep winding ways were filled with water--rivers of water that leaped and shone; lakes and deep pools of water trembling into stillness.
"It is the laughter of the Earth!" said Ogma the Wise.
Angus dipped his fingers in the water.
"I would like to see the blue and silver fishes that swim in Connla's Well swimming here," he said, "and trees growing in this land like those trees with blossomed branches that grow in the Land of the Silver Fleece."
"It is an idle wish, Angus the Young," said Ogma. "The fishes in Connla's Well are too bright for these waters and the blossoms that grow on silver branches would wither here. We must wait and learn the secret of the Earth, and slowly fashion dark strange trees, and fishes that are not like the fishes in Connla's Well."
"Yea," said Nuada, "we will fashion other trees, and under their branches shall go hounds that are not like the hound Failinis and deer that have not horns of gold. We will make ourselves the smiths and artificers of the world and beat the strange life out yonder into other shapes. We will make for ourselves islands to the north of this and islands to the west, and round them shall go also the three waves of Mananaun for we will fashion and re-fashion all things till there is nothing unbeautiful left in the whole earth."
"It is good work," cried all the De Danaans, "we will stay and do it, but Brigit must go to Moy Mel and Tir-na-Moe and Tir-nan-Oge and Tir-fo-Tonn, and all the other worlds, for she is the Flame of Delight in every one of them."
"Yes, I must go," said Brigit.
"O Brigit!" said Ogma, "before you go, tie a knot of remembrance in the fringe of your mantle so that you may always remember this place--and tell us, too, by what name we shall call this place."
"Ye shall call it the White Island," said Brigit, "and its other name shall be the Island of Destiny; and its other name shall be Ireland."
Then Ogma tied a knot of remembrance in the fringe of Brigit's mantle.
UADA, Wielder of the White Light, set up the Spear of Victory in the centre of Ireland. It was like a great fiery fountain. It was like a singing flame. It burned continually, and from it every fire in Ireland was kindled. The glow of it reached up to the mountain tops. The glow of it reached under the forest trees. The glow of it shot into the darkness and made a halo of light far beyond the three waves of Mananaun. The mis-shapen things of the darkness came to the edge of the halo. They sunned themselves in it They got strength from it. They began to build a habitation for themselves in the dark waters. They took shapes to themselves, and dark cunning wisdom. Balor the One-Eyed was their king. They were minded to get the Spear of Victory.
They compassed Ireland. They made a harsh screeching. The De Danaans said to each other:
"It is only the Fomor, the people from under the sea, who are screeching; they will tire of it!"
They did not tire of it: they kept up the screeching. The De Danaans tired of it. Nuada took up the Spear of Victory. He whirled it. He threw it into the blackness that it might destroy the Fomor. It went through them like lightning through storm-clouds. It made a great destruction. Balor grasped it. He had the grip The Spear stayed with him. It was like a fiery serpent twisting every way. He brought it into his own country. There was a lake in the middle of his own country full of black water. Whoever tasted that water would forget anything he knew. Balor put the fiery head of the Spear in that lake. It became a column of red-hot iron. He could not draw it out of the lake.
The Spear was in the lake then. Great clouds of steam rose about it from the black water. Out of the hissing steam Demons of the Air were born. The Demons were great and terrible. There was an icy wind about them. They found their way into Ireland. They took prey there in spite of the De Danaans. They made broad tracks for themselves. The Fomor followed in their tracks. It was then that misfortune came to the De Danaans. The people of the Fomor got the better of the De Danaans. They took the Cauldron of Plenty and the Magic Harp from the Dagda. They made themselves lords and hard rulers over the De Danaans, and they laid Ireland under tribute. They were taking tribute out of it ever and again till Lugh Lauve Fauda came. 'Twas he that broke the power of the Fomor and sent the three sons of Dana for the Spear. They had power to draw it out of the lake. They gave it to Lugh, and it is with him it is now, and 'tis he will set it up again in the middle of Ireland before the end of the world.
HE DAGDA sat with his back to an oak tree. He looked like a workman, and his hands were as hard as the hands of a mason, but his hair was braided like the hair of a king. He had on a green cloak with nine capes, and along the border of every cape there was a running pattern embroidered in gold and silver and purple thread. Opposite the Dagda sat his son, Angus Og, with his hands clasped about his knees. He was in rags, and his hair was matted like the hair of a beggar: a bramble had scratched his nose, but his eyes were smiling.
"If you only knew how ridiculous you look in that cloak," he was saying to the Dagda, "you would not wear it."
"My son," said the Dagda, with dignity, "it is the only cloak the people of the Fomor have left me, and the evening is cold."
"Why don't you keep yourself warm by working?" said Angus. "It's what I would do myself if you had brought me up to a trade."
"Angus," said his father, "remember I am one of the gods: it is not necessary to talk sense to me."
"O dear! " said Angus, "a bramble scratched me on the nose this morning--it's all because you have lost your Magic Harp and the Cauldron of Plenty! Soon even the snails will make faces at me. I can't go wandering round Ireland in comfort any more. I'll change myself into a salmon and swim in the sea."
"The salmon must come up the rivers once a year, and when you come the Fomorians will take you in their net, and it is likely Balor, their king, will eat you."
"'Ochone a rie! ' I must be something else! I'll be an eagle."
"You will shiver in the icy grip of the wind that goes
before the Fomor--the black bitter wind that blows them hither to darken the sun for us."
"'Ochone, Ochone, my Grief and my Trouble!' I must think of something else. I'll be a good action. The Fomor never meddle with a good action."
While Angus was talking a Pooka came out from between the trees. It looked like a little snow-white kid with golden horns and silver hoofs, but it could take any shape it had a fancy for. When it saw Angus it smiled and made one jump on to his shoulder.
Look at this " said Angus. " I never can say anything important without being interrupted!"
"What do you want?" he said to the Pooka, pretending to be cross.
"O nothing at all, only to listen to your wise talk; it does me good," said the Pooka, prancing on Angus' shoulder.
"Well, keep quiet if you want to listen!" said Angus. "I was saying," he continued to the Dagda, "I will be a good action."
Just at that moment an ugly deformed animal, with a head like the head of a pig and a hound's body, came tearing through the wood; behind it was a young boy of the Fomor. He was ugly and deformed, but he had a rich cloak and a gold circle on his head. The moment he saw the Pooka he threw a fire-ball at it. The Pooka jumped behind Angus, and Angus caught the fire-ball. It went out in his hand.
"I am a Prince of the Fomor," said the boy, trying to look big.
"I was thinking as much," said Angus; "you have princely manners."
"I am Balor's own son. I have come out to look for treasure, and if you have anything I command you to give it to me at once."
"What would you like?" said Angus.
"I would like the white horse of Mananaun; or three golden apples; or a hound out of Tir-nan-Oge."
"They say it's lucky to be good to poor folk," said Angus. "If you are good to us, perhaps you may find a treasure."
"If you do not get up at once and hunt about for a treasure for me I will tell my father, Balor, and he will wither you off the face of the earth!"
"O give me a little time," said Angus, "and I'll look for something."
The Pooka, who had been listening to everything, now skipped out from his hiding-place with a turnip in his mouth--he was holding it by the green leaves.
"The very thing!" said Angus. "Here is a treasure!" He took the turnip in his hands and passed his fingers over it. The turnip became a great white egg, and the leaves turned into gold and crimson spots and spread themselves over the egg.
"Now, look at this!" said Angus. "It is an enchanted egg. You have only to keep it till you do three Good Actions, and then it will hatch out into something splendid."
"Will it hatch into Mananaun's white horse? said the boy.
"It depends on the Good Actions you do; everything depends on that."
"What is a Good Action?"
"Well, if you were to go quietly away, and never tell anyone you had seen us, it would be a Good Action."
"I'll go," said the boy. He took the egg in his hands, kicked up a toe-full of earth at the Pooka, and went.
He hadn't gone far when he heard a bird singing. He looked and saw a little bird on a furze-bush.
"Stop that noise! " he said.
The bird went on singing. The boy flung the egg at it. The egg turned into a turnip and struck a hare. The hare jumped out of the furze-bush.
"My curse on you," said the boy, "for a brittle egg! What came over you to hatch into nothing better than a hare! My Grief and my Trouble! what came over you to hatch out at all when this is only my second Good Action?"
He set his hound after the hare, but the hare had touched the enchanted turnip and got some of the magic, so the hound could not chase it. He came back with the turnip. The boy hit him over the head with it many times and the dog howled. His howling soothed Balor's son, and after a while he left off beating the dog and turned to go back to his own country. At first he walked with big steps puffing his cheeks vaingloriously, but little by little a sense of loss overcame him, and as he thought how nearly he had earned the white horse of Mananaun, or three golden apples, or some greater treasure, two tears slowly rolled down his snub nose: they were the first tears he had shed in his life.
Angus and the Dagda and the Pooka were still in the little clearing when Balor's son passed back through it. The moment he came in sight the Pooka changed himself into a squirrel and ran up the oak tree; Angus changed himself into a turnip and lay at the Dagda's feet; but the Dagda, who had not time to think of a suitable transformation, sat quite still and looked at the young Fomorian.
"Sshh! Sshh! Hii! Tear him, dog!" said Balor's son.
The pig-headed creature rushed at the Dagda, but when he came to the turnip he ran back howling. The Dagda smiled and picked up the turnip. He pressed his hands over it and it became a great golden egg with green and purple spots on it.
"Give it to me! Give it to me! " yelled Balor's son, "it's better than the first egg, and the first egg is broken. Give it to me."
"This egg is too precious for you," said the Dagda. "I must keep it in my own hands."
"Then I will blast you and all the forest and every living thing! I have only to roar three times, and three armies of my people will come to help me. Give me the egg or I will roar."
"I will keep this egg in my own hands," said the Dagda.