Part One- The Flight
In this the first
part of the famous tale we learn much about the nature of the court of a celtic
chief. We can follow Grainne for example from grassy area to the house of the
women and into the court. We learn of wattle gates and of the arrangement of the
hall. We also explore the central aspect of this tale- the relationship of
loyalties- will one be loyal to the promises of love or the promises to one's
chief and patron. We also take a look at feats of bravery- perhaps those
practiced for entertainment and or training at court- Diarmuid leaping on the
tips of his spears for example. As you read this story listen as it demonstrates
and describes the nature of Celtic society. This is the latest of the
ancient cycles. It is a cumulative effort - a layer cake if you will, of all of
the traditions which have crossed the island of Ireland from earliest times.
Can you pick out the layers? They are it seems all there at least in part as lenses which color the tale.
On a certain
day when Finn mac Cumaill rose at early morn in Almu, in Leinster, and sat upon
the grass-green plain, having neither servant nor attendant with him, there
followed him two of his people; that is, Oisin the son of Minn, and Diorruing
the son of Dobar O' Baoiscne. Oisin Spoke, and what he said was:
is the cause of this early rising of thine, O Finn?" said he.
without cause have I made this early rising," said Finn'"for I am
without a wife since Maignes the daughter of Garad Glundub Mac Moirne died; for
he is not wont to have slumber nor sweet sleep who happens to be without a
fitting wife, and that is the cause of my early rising O Oisin."
forceth thee to be thus?" said Oisin; "for there is not a wife nor a
mate in the green-landed island of Erin upon whom thou mightest turn the light
of thine eyes or of thy sight, whom we would not bring by fair means or by foul
then spoke Diorruing, and what he said was: "I myself could discover for
thee a wife and a mate befitting thee."
is she?" said Finn.
is Grainne the daughter of Cormac the son of Art the son of Conn the
Hundred-Fighter," said Diorruing, "that is, the woman that is fairest
of feature and form and speech of the women of the world together."
my hand, O Diorruing," said Finn, "there has been strife and variance
between Cormac and myself for a long time, and I think it not good nor seemly
that he should give me a refusal of marriage; and I had rather that ye should
both go to ask the marriage of his daughter for me of Cormac, for I could better
endure a refusal of marriage to be given to you than to myself."
will go there," said Oisin, "though there be no profit for us there,
and let no man know of our journey until we come back again."
that, those two good warriors went their way, and they took farewell of Finn,
and it is not told how they fared until they reached Tara. The king of Erin
chanced to be holding a gathering and a muster before them upon the plain of
Tara, and the chiefs and the great nobles of his people were with him. A
friendly welcome was given to Oisin and Diorruing, and the gathering was then
put off until another day, for the king was certain that it was upon some
pressing matter that those two had come to him. Afterwards Oisin called the king
of Erin to one side, and told him that it was to ask of him the marriage of his
daughter for Finn Mac Cumaill that they themselves were then come. Cormac spoke,
and what he said was:
is not a son of a king or of a great prince, a hero a battle-champion in Erin,
to whom my daughter has not given refuse of marriage, and it is on me that all
and every one lays the blame for that; so I will not give you any formal
decision until ye betake yourselves before my daughter, for it is better that ye
hear her own words than that ye be displeased with me."
that they went their way to the dwelling of the women, and Cormac sat him upon
the side of the couch and of the high bed by Grainne; and he said:"Here, O
Grainne," said he, "are two of the people of Finn mac Cumaill coming
to ask thee as wife and mate for him, and what answer wouldst thou give them?"
note: Notice that the dwelling of the women is mentioned- it is noted that in
many tribal societies and in particular those of North America there are set
aside special places for women to live during special times of the month- could
this be a reference to a celtic version of the "menstrual hut"? In any
case the setting apart of a special woman's house is significant)
answered, and what she said was: "If he be a fitting son-in-law for thee,
why should he not be a fitting husband and mate for me?"
they were satisfied; and after that a feast and banquet was made for them in the
bower with Grainne and the women, so that they became exhilarated and mirthful;
and Cormac made a tryst with them and with Finn a fortnight from that night at
note: Note the celtic practice of joining divergent tribes and lineages with
arranged marriages. It was very important for isolated groups to link up with
one another not only for safety and prevention of warfare but also for common
assistance. Fosterage and hostage taking also helped in the sharing of
technology and training. These social arrangements were lifelines linking
delicate cultural outposts across the uninhabited lands)
Oisin and Diorruing arrived again at Almu, where they found Finn and the Fian,
and they told them their news from beginning to end. Now as every thing wears
away, so also did that space of time; and then Finn collected and assembled the
seven battalions of the standing Fian, from every quarter where they were, and
they came where Finn was, in Almu the great and broad of Leinster; and on the
last day of that period of time they went forth in great bands, in troops, and
in impetuous fierce impenetrable companies, and we are not told how they fared
until they reached Tara. Cormac was before them upon the plain with the chiefs
and the great nobles of the men of Erin about him, and they made a gentle
welcome for Finn and all the Fian, and after that they went to the king's
mirthful house called Midcuart. The king of Erin sat down to enjoy drinking and
pleasure, with his wife at his left shoulder, that is, Eitche, the daughter of
Atan of Corcaig, and Grainne at her shoulder, and Finn mac Cumall at the king's
right hand' and Cairbre Liffecair the son of Cormac sat at one side of the same
royal house, and Oisin the son of Finn at the other side, and each one of them
sat according to his rank and to his patrimony from that down.
note: Note how social status is defined spatially by arrangement of seating. The
story has as one of its functions the preservation of the history of lineage
and relationship- infact the entertainment value is perhaps simply
coloring for what would be a dull and boring recitation of these important facts.
The same is true of place names. The stories are very careful to name places and
landmarks. Another important function is the preservation of
maps. For an oral society with no written maps that we know of the common reference would the tale which would link places, names and geography together. Today many of these place names are still attached to the land.)
sat there a druid and a skillful man of knowledge of the people of Finn before
Grainne the daughter of Cormac; that is, Daire Duanach Mac Morna; and it was not
long before there arose gentle talking and mutual discourse between himself and
Grainne. Then Daire Duanach mac Morna arose and stood before Grainne, and sang
her the songs and the verses and the sweet poems of her fathers and of her
ancestors;and then Grainne spoke and asked the druid,
is the reason where fore Finn is come to this place tonight?"
thou knowest not that," said the druid, "it is no wonder that I know
desire to learn it of thee," said Grainne.
then," said the druid, " it is to ask thee as wife and as mate that
Finn is come to this place to-night."
is a great marvel to me," said Grainne, "that it is not for Oisin that
Finn asks me, for it were fitter to give me such as he, than a man that is older
than my father."
not that," said the druid, "for were Finn to hear thee he himself
would not have thee, neither would Oisin dare to take thee."
me know," said Grainne, "who is that warrior at the right shoulder of
Oisin the son of Finn?"
said the druid, "is Goll mac Morna, the active, the warlike."
is that warrior at the shoulder of Goll?" said Graine.
the son of Oisin," said the druid.
is that graceful-legged man at the shoulder of Oscar?" said Grainne.
mac Ronain," said the druid.
haughty impetuous warrior is that yonder at the shoulder of Cailte?" said
son of Lugaid of the mighty hand, and that man is sister's son to Finn mac
Cumaill," said the druid.
is that freckled sweet-worded man upon whom is the curling dusky-black hair and
the two red ruddy cheeks, upon the left hand of Oisin the son of Finn?"
man is Diarmuid the grandson of Dubne, the white-toothed, of the light-some
countenance; that is, the best lover of women and of maidens that is in the
is that at the shoulder of Diarmuid?" said Grainne.
the son of Dobar Damad O'Baoiscne, and that man is a druid and a skillful man of
science," said Daire Duanach.
note: It is a convention of celtic tales to at some point generally early
in the tale to in effect go around the room making introductions of a wide range
of personalities. This is often very theatrical and gives a hint at some form of
production where the characters are presented. Again here is an opportunity for
the author to include the all important social information of lineage and the
history and deeds of the characters. From these descriptions it is possible to
learn of the professions represented at court- druids, warriors....lovers...men
is a goodly company," said Grainne; and she called her attendant handmaid
to her, and told her to bring to her the jeweled golden-chased goblet which was
in the bower behind her. The handmaid brought the goblet, and Grainne filled the
goblet forthwith, and it contained the drink of nine times nine men. Grainne
the goblet to Finn first, and bid him drink a draught out of it, and disclose to
him that it is I that sent it to him."
handmaid took the goblet to Finn, and told him everything that Grainne had
bidden her say to him. Finn took the goblet, and no sooner had he drunk a
draught out of it than there fell upon him a stupor of sleep and of deep slumber.
Cormac took the draught and the same sleep fell upon him, and Eitche, the wife
of Cormac, took the goblet and drank a draught out of it, and the same sleep
fell upon her as upon all the others. Then Grainne called the attendant handmaid
to her, and said to her:
this goblet to Cairbre Liffecair and tell him to drink a draught out of it, and
give the goblet to those sons of king by him"
handmaid took the goblet to Cairbre, and he was not well able to give it to him
that was next to him, before a stupor of sleep and of deep slumber fell upon him
too, and each one that took the goblet, one after another, fell into a stupor of
sleep and of deep slumber.
Grainne saw that they were in a state of drunkenness and of trance, she rose
fairly and softly from the seat on which she was, and spoke to Oisin, and what
she said was:
marvel at Finn mac Cumaill that he should seek such a wife as I , for it were
fitter for him to give me my own equal to marry than a man older than my father."
not that, O Grainne," said Osisin, "for if Finn were to hear thee he
would not have thee, neither would I dare to take thee."
thou receive courtship from me, O Oisin?" said Grainne.
will not," said Oisin. "For whatsoever woman is betrothed to Finn, I
would not meddle with her."
Grainne turned her face to Diarmuid O' Duibne, and what she said to him
was:" Wilt thou receive courtship from me, O O'Duibne, since Oisin received
it not from me?"
will not," said Diarmuid," for whatever woman is betrothed to Oisin I
may not take her, even were she not betrothed to Finn."
" said Grainne, "I put thee under taboos of danger and destruction, O
Diarmuid, that is, under the
of mighty druidism, if thou take me not with thee out of this household to-night,
ere Finn and the king of Erin arise out of that sleep."
note: Celtic society regarded spoken curses and taboos highly. In an oral
society where there were no written facts that which was said about you was
infact the highest fact. Therefore it is not surprising that taboo and satire
were of such great importance- again these stories helped the Fili classes
remember - without being too boring and statistical about it - who was placed
under what ban or taboo or satire by whom when. This was important as often such
pronouncements lasted throughout the generations and needed to be remembered
within the oral tradition)
bonds are those under which thou hast laid me, O woman," said Diarmuid;
"and wherefore hast thou laid those taboos upon me before all the sons of
kings and of high princes in the king's mirthful house called Midcuart this
night, seeing that there is not of all those one less worthy to be loved by a
woman than myself?"
thy hand, O O'Duibne, it is not without cause that I have laid those taboos on
thee, as I will tell thee now.
day when the king of Erin was presiding over a gathering and muster on the plain
of Tara, Finn and the seven battalions of the standing Fian chanced to be there
that day; and there arose a great goaling match between Cairbre Liffecair the
son of Cormac, and the son of Lugaid, and the men of Mag Breg, and of Cerna, and
the stout champions of Tara arose on the side of Cairbre, and the Fian of Erin
on the other side of the son of Lugaid; and there were none sitting in the
gathering that day but the king, and Finn, and thyself, O Diarmuid. It happened
that the game was going against the son of Lugaid, and thou didst rise and
stand, and tookest his hurly-stick from the next man to thee, and didst throw
him to the ground and to the earth, and thou wentest into the game, and didst
with the goal three times upon Caribre and upon the warriors of Tara. I was at
that time in my bower of the clear view, of the blue windows of glass, gazing
upon thee; and I turned the light of mine eyes and of my sight upon thee that
day , and I never gave that love to any other man from that time to this, and
will not for ever."
(editor's note: Observe here the reference to the ancient celtic game of hurling. This game comes up frequently in ancient Irish tales and is still played today. Players use a hurling stick almost like a hockey stick to hit a hard wooden ball across a field and into a hole under the far goal. It is a very fast and rough game-the game was associated with boys training to be warriors and was instrumental in the settling of disputes)
is a wonder that though shouldest give me that love instead of Finn," said
Diarmuid, "seeing that there is not in Erin a man that is fonder of a woman
than he; and knowest thou, O Grainne, on the night that Finn is in Tara that he
it is that has the keys of Tara, and that so we cannot leave the stronghold
is a wicket-gate to my bower,' said Grainne, " and we will pass out through
is a prohibited thing for me to pass through any wicket gate whatsoever,"
I hear," said Grainne, "that every warrior and battle champion can
pass by the shafts of his javelins and by the staves of his spears, in or out
over the rampart of every fort and of every stronghold and I will pass out by
the wicker gate, and do thou follow me so."
went her way out, and Diarmuid spoke to his people, and what he said was:"O
Oisin, son of Finn, what shall I do with this taboo that has been laid on
art not guilty of the taboo which has been laid upon thee," said Oisin,
"and I tell thee to follow Grainne, and keep thyself well against the wiles
Oscar, son of Oisin, what is good for me to do as to those bonds which have been
laid upon me?"
tell thee to follow Grainne," said Oscar, " for he is a sorry wretch
that fails to keep his taboos."
counsel dost thou give me, O Cailte?" said Diarmuid.
say said Cailte, "that I have a fitting wife, and yet I had rather than the
wealth of the world that it had been to me that Grainne gave that love."
counsel givest thou me, O Diorruing?"
tell thee to follow Grainne, though thy death will come of it, and I grieve for
that the counsel of you all to me?" said Diarmuid.
is," said Oisin, and said all the others together.
that Diarmuid arose and stood, and stretched forth his active warrior hand over
his broad weapons, and took leave and farewell of Oisin and of the chiefs of the
Fian; and not bigger is a smooth-crimson whortleberry than was each tear that
Diarmuid shed from his eyes at parting with his people. Diarmuid went to the top
of the stronghold, and put the shafts of his two javelins under him, and rose
with an airy, very light, exceeding high, birdlike leap, until he attained the
breadth of his two soles of the beautiful grass-green earth on the plain
without, and Grainne met him. Then Diarmuid spoke, and what he said was:" I
believe, O Grainne, that this is an evil course upon which thou art come; for it
were better for thee to have Finn mac Cumaill for a lover than myself, seeing
that I know not what nook or corner, or remote part of Erin I can take thee to
now, and return again home, without Fin's learning what thou hast done."
note: It is important to notice the use of characteristics of nature to
describe human attributes. It is suggested by scholars that along with the
concepts of romantic love advanced in this cycle the use of these natural traits
indicates the development of the literature from a dry officia mechanism for
recording facts to the impressionistic creativity which we see here. Many
believe that this is an effect of Irish monasticism which has provided written
records which have liberated the authors to provide more color and human
interest to their accounts which are no longer valued only for their
is certain that I will not go back," said Grainne, " and that I will
not part from thee until death part me from thee."
go forward, O Grainne," said Diarmuid.
and Grainne went their way after that, and they had not gone beyond a mile from
Tara when Grainne said, "I indeed am wearying, O O' Duibne."
is a good time to weary, O Grainne," said Diarmuid, " and return now
to thine old household again, for I plight the word of a true warrior that I
will never carry thee, nor any other woman, to all eternity."
needst thou not do," said Grainne, "for my father's horses are in a
fenced meadow by themselves, and they have chariots; and return thou to them
,and yoke two horses of them to a chariot, and I will wait for thee on this spot
till thou overtake me again." Diarmuid returned to the horses, and he yoked
two horses of them to a chariot. It is not told how Diarmuid and Grainne fared
until they reached Beul Atha Luain.
Diarmuid spoke to Grainne, and said: " it is all the easier for Finn to
follow our track, O Grainne, that we have the horses." " Then,"
said Grainne, "leave the horses upon this spot, and I will journey on foot
by thee henceforth." Diarmuid got down at the edge of the ford, and took a
horse with him over across the ford, and thus left one of them upon each side of
the stream, and he and Grainne went a mile with the stream westward, and reached
land at the side of the province of Connacht. It is not told how they fared
until they arrived at Doire Da Both, in the midst of Clan Ricard; and Diarmuid
cut down the grove around him, and made to it seven doors of wattles, and he
settled a bed of soft rushes and of the tops of the birch under Grainne in the
very midst of that wood.
(editor's note: The seven door structure is a primary image in the ancient tales. Note the wattle construction technique and the use of rushes- one can also see here a description which would serve as instruction for stage setting. The scene is described so as to almost refer to a stage-it is very set graphic- having doors open and characters appear is very visually dramatic)
for Finn mac Cumaill, I will tell his tidings clearly . All that were in Tara
rose at early morn on the morrow, and they found Diarmuid and Grainne wanting
from among them and a burning jealousy and rage seized upon Finn. He found his
trackers before him on the plain, that is the Clan Neamuin, and he bade them
follow Diarmuid and Grainne. Then they carried the track as far as Beul Atha
Luain, and Finn and the Fian of Erin followed them; but they could not follow
the track over across the ford so that Finn pledged his word that if they
followed not the track out speedily, he would hang them on either side of the
the Clan Neamuin went up to the stream, and found a horse on either side of the
stream; and they went a mile with the stream westward, and found the track by
the side of the province of Connacht, and Finn and the Fian of Erin followed
them. Then spoke Finn, and what he said was. "Well I know where Diarmuid
and Grainne shall be found now, that is in Doire Da Both." Oisin, and
Oscar, and Cailte, and Diorruing son of Dobar Damad O' Baoiscene, were listening
to Finn speaking these words, and Oisin spoke, and what he said was:"We are
in danger lest Diarmuid and Grainne be yonder, and we must needs send him some
warning. And look where Bran is, that is, the hound of Finn mac Cumail, that we
may send him to him, for Finn himself is not dearer to him than Diarmuid is; and
O Oscar, tell Bran to go with a warning to Diarmuid, who is in Doire Da Both"
and Oscar told that to Bran. Bran understood that without knowledge and wisdom,
and went back to the hinder part of the host where Finn might not see him, and
followed Diarmuid and Grainne by their track until he reached Doire Da Both, and
thrust his head into Diarmuid's bosom, and he asleep.
Diarmuid sprang out of his sleep, and awoke Grainne also and said to her: "There
is Bran, the hound of Finn mac Cumall, coming with a warning to us before Finn
that warning, " said Grainne, " and fly."
will not take it," said Diarmuid, "for I would not that Finn caught me
at any other time rather than now, since I cannot escape from him." When
Grainne heard this, dread and great fear seized her; and Bran departed from them.
Oisin the son of Finn spoke and said: "We are in danger lest Bran have not
gotten opportunity to go to Diarmuid, and we must needs give him some other
warning; and look for Feargoir the henchman of Cailte."
He is with me, " said Cailte. Now Feargoir was so, that every shout he gave
used to be heard in the three nearest districts to him. Then they made him give
three shouts, in order that Diarmuid might hear him. Diarmuid heard Feargoir,
and awoke Grainne out of her sleep, and what he said was: "I hear the
henchman of Cailte mac Ronain, and it is with Cailte he is, and it is with Finn
that Cailte is, and this is a warning they are sending me."
that warning,"said Grainne.
will not," said Diarmuid, "for we shall not leave this wood until Finn
and the Fian of Erin overtake us";