Gods and Fighting Men, by Lady Gregory

Book Five

Oisin’s Children

Now as to Oisin, that was so brave and so comely, and that could overtake a deer at its greatest speed, and see a thistle thorn on the darkest night, the wife he took was Eibhir of the plaited yellow hair, that was the foreign sweetheart of the High King of Ireland.

It is beyond the sea she lived, in a very sunny place; and her father’s name was lunsa, and her sunny house was thatched with the feathers of birds, and the doorposts were of gold, and the doors of ribbed grass. And Oisin went there looking for her, and he fought for her against the High King and against an army of the Firbolgs he had helping him; and he got the better of them all, and brought away Eibhir of the yellow hair to Ireland.

And he had a daughter that married the son of Oiliol, son of Eoghan, and of Beara, daughter of the King of Spain. It was that Eoghan was driven out of Ireland one time, and it is to Spain he went for safety. And Beara, that was daughter of the King of Spain, was very shining and beautiful, and her father had a mind to know who would be her husband, and he sent for his Druid and asked the question of him. “I can tell you that,” said the Druid, “for the man that is to be her husband will come to land in Spain this very night. And let your daughter go eastward to the river Eibhear,” he said, “and she will find a crimson-spotted salmon in that river, having shining clothing on him from head to tail. And let her strip that clothing off him,” he said, “and make with it a shining shirt for her husband.”

So Beara went to the river Eibhear, and found the golden salmon as the Druid had said, and she stripped him of his crimson clothing and made a shining shirt of it.

And as to Eoghan, the waves of the shore put a welcome before him, and he came the same night to the king’s house. And the king gave him a friendly welcome; and it is what all the people said, that there was never seen a comelier man than Eoghan, or a woman more beautiful than Beara, and that it was fitting for them to come together. And Eoghan’s own people said they would not be sorry for being sent away out of Ireland, if only Eoghan could get her for his wife.

And after a while the king sent his Druid to ask Eoghan why he did not ask for Beara. “I will tell you that,” said Eoghan; “it would not be fitting for me to be refused a wife, and I am but an exile in this country, and I have brought no treasures or goods with me out of Ireland for giving to learned men and to poets. But for all that,” he said, “the king’s daughter is dear to me, and I think I have the friendship of the king.”

The Druid went back with that message. “That is the answer of a king,” said the King of Spain; “and bid my daughter to sit at Eoghan’s right hand,” he said, “and I will give her to him this very night.” And when Beara, the king’s daughter, heard that, she sent out her serving-maid to bring the shirt she had made for Eoghan, and he put it on him over his armour, and its shining was seen in every place; and it was from wearing that shirt he got the name of Eoghan the Bright.

And Oiliol was the first son they had; it was he that had his ear bitten off by Aine of the Sidhe in revenge for her brother, and it was his son married Oisin’s daughter afterwards.

And as to Osgar, that was Oisin’s son, of all the young men of the Fianna he was the best in battle. And when he was but a young child he was made much of by the whole of the Fianna, and it is for him they used to keep the marrow bones, and they did not like to put any hardship on him. And he grew up tall and idle, and no one thought he would turn out so strong as he did. And one day there was an attack made on a troop of the Fianna, and all that were in it went out to fight, but they left Osgar after them. And when he knew the fight was going on, he took a log of wood that was the first thing he could find, and attacked the enemy and made a great slaughter, and they gave way and ran before him. And from that out there was no battle he did not go into; and he was said to be the strongest of all the Fianna, though the people of Connacht said that Goll was the strongest. And he and Diarmuid, grandson of Duibhne, were comrades and dear friends; and it was Diarmuid taught him feats of arms and of skill, and chess-playing. And Oisin his father took great pride in him, and his grandfather Finn. And one time Finn was holding a feast at Almhuin, and he asked the chief men of the Fianna that were there what was the music they thought the best. “To be playing at games,” said Conan, “that is the best music I ever heard;” for though Conan was a good hand against an enemy, there never was a man had less sense. “The music I like the best is to be talking with a woman,” said Diarmuid. “My music is the outcry of my hounds, and they putting a deer to its last stand,” said Lugaidh’s Son. “The music of the woods is best to me,” said Oisin; “the sound of the wind and of the cuckoo and the blackbird, and the sweet silence of the crane.”

And then Osgar was asked, and he said: “The best music is the striking of swords in a battle.” And it is likely he took after Finn in that, for in spite of all the sweet sounds he gave an account of the time he was at Conan’s house, at Ceann Slieve, it used to be said by the Fianna that the music that was best with Finn was what happened.

This now is the way Osgar met with his wife.

One time Finn and his men came to Slieve Crot, and they saw a woman waiting there before them, having a crimson fringed cloak, and a gold brooch in it, and a band of yellow gold on her forehead. Finn asked her name, and where she came from. “Etain of the Fair Hair is my name,” she said, “daughter of Aedh of the White Breast, of the hill of the Sidhe at Beinn Edair, son of Angus Og.” “What is it brought you here, girl?” said Finn. “To ask a man of the Fianna of Ireland to run a race with me.” “What sort of a runner are you?” said Diarmuid. “I am a good runner,” said the girl; “for it is the same to me if the ground is long or short under my feet.”

All of the Fianna that were there then set out to run with her, and they ran to the height over Badhamair and on to Ath Cliath, and from that on to the hill of the Sidhe at Beinn Edair.

And there was a good welcome before them, and they were brought meat and wine for drinking, and water for washing their feet. And after a while they saw a nice fair-haired girl in front of the vats, and a cup of white silver in her hand, and she giving out drink to every one. “It seems to me that is the girl came asking the Fianna to race against her at Slieve Crot,” said Finn. “It is not,” said Aedh of the White Breast, “for that is the slowest woman there is among us.” “Who was it so?” said Finn. “It was Be-mannair, daughter of Ainceol, woman-messenger of the Tuatha de Danaan. And it is she that changes herself into all shapes; and she will take the shape of a fly, and of a true lover, and every one leaves their secret with her. And it was she outran you coming from the east,” he said, “and not this other girl that was drinking and making merry here in the hall.” “What is her name?” said Finn. “Etain of the Fair Hair,” he said; “a daughter of my own, and a darling of the Tuatha de Danaan. And it is the way with her, she has a lover of the men of the Fianna.” “That is well,” said Finn; “and who is that lover?” “It is Osgar, son of Oisin,” said Aedh; “and it is she herself sent her messenger for you,” he said, “in her own shape, to Slieve Crot in the south. And the son of the High King of Ireland has offered a great bride-price to the Men of Dea for her,” he said, “three hundreds of the land nearest to Bregia and to Midhe, and to put himself and his weight of gold into a balance, and to give it all to her. But we did not take it,” he said, “since she had no mind or wish for it herself, and so we made no dealing or agreement about her.” “Well,” said Finn, “and what conditions will you ask of Osgar?” “Never to leave me for anything at all but my own fault,” said the girl. “I will make that agreement with you indeed,” said Osgar. “Give me sureties for it,” said she; “give me the sureties of Goll for the sons of Morna, and of Finn, son of Cumhal, for the Fianna of Ireland.”

So they gave those sureties, and the wedding-feast was made, and they stopped there for twenty nights. And at the end of that time Osgar asked Finn where would he bring his wife. “Bring her to wide Almhuin for the first seven years,” said Finn.

But a while after that, in a great battle at Beinn Edair, Osgar got so heavy a wound that Finn and the Fianna were as if they had lost their wits. And when Etain of the Fair Hair came to the bed where Osgar was lying, and saw the way he was, and that the great kinglike shape he had was gone from him, greyness and darkness came on her, and she raised pitiful cries, and she went to her bed and her heart broke in her like a nut; and she died of grief for her husband and her first love.

But it was not at that time Osgar got his death, but afterwards in the battle of Gabhra.

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Last updated Friday, March 7, 2014 at 19:14