Gods and Fighting Men, by Lady Gregory

Book Ten

The End of the Fianna.

Chapter i. Death of Bran

One day Finn was hunting, and Bran went following after a fawn. And they were coming towards Finn, and the fawn called out, and it said: “If I go into the sea below I will never come back again; and if I go up into the air above me, it will not save me from Bran.” For Bran would overtake the wild geese, she was that swift.

“Go out through my legs,” said Finn then. So the fawn did that, and Bran followed her; and as Bran went under him, Finn squeezed his two knees on her, that she died on the moment.

And there was great grief on him after that, and he cried tears down the same as he did when Osgar died.

And some said it was Finn’s mother the fawn was, and that it was to save his mother he killed Bran. But that is not likely, for his mother was beautiful Muirne, daughter of Tadg, son of Nuada of the Tuatha de Danaan, and it was never heard that she was changed into a fawn. It is more likely it was Oisin’s mother was in it.

But some say Bran and Sceolan are still seen to start at night out of the thicket on the hill of Almhuin.

Chapter ii. The Call of Oisin

One misty morning, what were left of the Fianna were gathered together to Finn, and it is sorrowful and downhearted they were after the loss of so many of their comrades.

And they went hunting near the borders of Loch Lein, where the bushes were in blossom and the birds were singing; and they were waking up the deer that were as joyful as the leaves of a tree in summer-time.

And it was not long till they saw coming towards them from the west a beautiful young woman, riding on a very fast slender white horse. A queen’s crown she had on her head, and a dark cloak of silk down to the ground, having stars of red gold on it; and her eyes were blue and as clear as the dew on the grass, and a gold ring hanging down from every golden lock of her hair; and her cheeks redder than the rose, and her skin whiter than the swan upon the wave, and her lips as sweet as honey that is mixed through red wine.

And in her hand she was holding a bridle having a golden bit, and there was a saddle worked with red gold under her. And as to the horse, he had a wide smooth cloak over him, and a silver crown on the back of his head, and he was shod with shining gold.

She came to where Finn was, and she spoke with a very kind, gentle voice, and she said: “It is long my journey was, King of the Fianna.” And Finn asked who was she, and what was her country and the cause of her coming. “Niamh of the Golden Head is my name,” she said; “and I have a name beyond all the women of the world, for I am the daughter of the King of the Country of the Young.” “What was it brought you to us from over the sea, Queen?” said Finn then. “Is it that your husband is gone from you, or what is the trouble that is on you?” “My husband is not gone from me,” she said, “for I never went yet to any man. But O King of the Fianna,” she said, “I have given my love and my affection to your own son, Oisin of the strong hands.” “Why did you give your love to him beyond all the troops of high princes that are under the sun?” said Finn. “It was by reason of his great name, and of the report I heard of his bravery and of his comeliness,” she said. “And though there is many a king’s son and high prince gave me his love, I never consented to any till I set my love on Oisin.”

When Oisin heard what she was saying, there was not a limb of his body that was not in love with beautiful Niamh; and he took her hand in his hand, and he said: “A true welcome before you to this country, young queen. It is you are the shining one,” he said; “it is you are the nicest and the comeliest; it is you are better to me than any other woman; it is you are my star and my choice beyond the women of the entire world.” “I put on you the bonds of a true hero,” said Niamh then, “you to come away with me now to the Country of the Young.” And it is what she said:

“It is the country is most delightful of all that are under the sun; the trees are stooping down with fruit and with leaves and with blossom.

“Honey and wine are plentiful there, and everything the eye has ever seen; no wasting will come on you with the wasting away of time; you will never see death or lessening.

“You will get feasts, playing and drinking; you will get sweet music on the strings; you will get silver and gold and many jewels.

“You will get, and no lie in it, a hundred swords; a hundred cloaks of the dearest silk; a hundred horses, the quickest in battle; a hundred willing hounds.

“You will get the royal crown of the King of the Young that he never gave to any one under the sun. It will be a shelter to you night and day in every rough fight and in every battle.

“You will get a right suit of armour; a sword, gold-hilted, apt for striking; no one that ever saw it got away alive from it.

“A hundred coats of armour and shirts of satin; a hundred cows and a hundred calves; a hundred sheep having golden fleeces; a hundred jewels that are not of this world.

“A hundred glad young girls shining like the sun, their voices sweeter than the music of birds; a hundred armed men strong in battle, apt at feats, waiting on you, if you will come with me to the Country of the Young.

“You will get everything I have said to you, and delights beyond them, that I have no leave to tell; you will get beauty, strength and power, and I myself will be with you as a wife.”

And after she had made that song, Oisin said: “O pleasant golden-haired queen, you are my choice beyond the women of the world; and I will go with you willingly,” he said.

And with that he kissed Finn his father and bade him farewell, and he bade farewell to the rest of the Fianna, and he went up then on the horse with Niamh.

And the horse set out gladly, and when he came to the strand he shook himself and he neighed three times, and then he made for the sea. And when Finn and the Fianna saw Oisin facing the wide sea, they gave three great sorrowful shouts. And as to Finn, he said: “It is my grief to see you going from me; and I am without a hope,” he said, “ever to see you coming back to me again.”

Chapter iii. The Last of the Great Men

And indeed that was the last time Finn and Oisin and the rest of the Fianna of Ireland were gathered together, for hunting, for battle, for chess-playing, for drinking or for music; for they all wore away after that, one after another.

As to Caoilte, that was old and had lost his sons, he used to be fretting and lonesome after the old times. And one day that there was very heavy snow on the ground, he made this complaint:—

“It is cold the winter is; the wind is risen; the fierce high-couraged stag rises up; it is cold the whole mountain is to-night, yet the fierce stag is calling. The deer of Slievecarn of the gatherings does not lay his side to the ground; he no less than the stag of the top of cold Echtge hears the music of the wolves.

“I, Caoilte, and brown-haired Diarmuid and pleasant light-footed Osgar, we used to be listening to the music of the wolves through the end of the cold night. It is well the brown deer sleeps with its hide to the hollow, hidden as if in the earth, through the end of the cold night.

“To-day I am in my age, and I know but a few men; I used to shake my spear bravely in the ice-cold morning. It is often I put silence on a great army that is very cold to-night.”

And after a while he went into a hill of the Sidhe to be healed of his old wounds. And whether he came back from there or not is not known; and there are some that say he used to be talking with Patrick of the Bells the same time Oisin was with him. But that is not likely, or Oisin would not have made complaints about his loneliness the way he did.

But a long time after that again, there was a king of Ireland making a journey. And he and his people missed their way, and when night-time came on, they were in a dark wood, and no path before them.

And there came to them a very tall man, that was shining like a burning flame, and he took hold of the bridle of the king’s horse, and led him through the wood till they came to the right road. And the King of Ireland asked him who was he, and first he said: “I am your candlestick”; and then he said: “I was with Finn one time.” And the king knew it was Caoilte, son of Ronan, was in it.

And three times nine of the rest of the Fianna came out of the west one time to Teamhair. And they took notice that now they were wanting their full strength and their great name, no one took notice of them or came to speak with them at all. And when they saw that, they lay down on the side of the hill at Teamhair, and put their lips to the earth and died.

And for three days and a month and a year from the time of the destruction of the Fianna of Ireland, Loch Dearg was under mists.


And as to Finn, there are some say he died by the hand of a fisherman; but it is likely that is not true, for that would be no death for so great a man as Finn, son of Cumhal. And there are some say he never died, but is alive in some place yet.

And one time a smith made his way into a cave he saw, that had a door to it, and he made a key that opened it. And when he went in he saw a very wide place, and very big men lying on the floor. And one that was bigger than the rest was lying in the middle, and the Dord Fiann beside him; and he knew it was Finn and the Fianna were in it.

And the smith took hold of the Dord Fiann, and it is hardly he could lift it to his mouth, and he blew a very strong blast on it, and the sound it made was so great, it is much the rocks did not come down on him. And at the sound, the big men lying on the ground shook from head to foot. He gave another blast then, and they all turned on their elbows.

And great dread came on him when he saw that, and he threw down the Dord Fiann and ran from the caye and locked the door after him, and threw the key into the lake. And he heard them crying after him, “You left us worse than you found us.” And the cave was not found again since that time.

But some say the day will come when the Dord Fiann will be sounded three times, and that at the sound of it the Fianna will rise up as strong and as well as ever they were. And there are some say Finn, son of Cumhal, has been on the earth now and again since the old times, in the shape of one of the heroes of Ireland.

And as to the great things he and his men did when they were together, it is well they have been kept in mind through the poets of Ireland and of Alban. And one night there were two men minding sheep in a valley, and they were saying the poems of the Fianna while they were there. And they saw two very tall shapes on the two hills on each side of the valley, and one of the tall shapes said to the other: “Do you hear that man down below? I was the second doorpost of battle at Gabhra, and that man knows all about it better than myself.”

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