The tale, of which the following is an abridgment,. was composed in mixed prose and verse by Brian Dhu O'Reilly, [a] who was living in Cavan about the year 1725. The original title is Eachtra mhic na Miochomhairle. Our plan allows admission but to a few of the adventures. The hero tells the tale in his own person, and it must be owned that his is a very rambling mode of fixing his hearer's interest. You would suppose at first that his meeting with a lovely fairy and their subsequent courtship would be the central group of his fortunes; but after singing her glorious form and features, and the splendour of the surrounding landscape, in the most florid Irish poesy, night comes on, and he is obliged to seek for shelter in the castle of a Gruagach (giant, enchanter; Breton, groac'h). Here is a taste of the original, literally translated:--
"Or, the sun going to his bed I knew not what place, what land,
What district I was in, on the earth or above.
My eyes to the four quarters of the sky I cast round,
And by the roadside I there saw the beautiful Sighe.
"I approached her, though arduous and bold was the deed:
Seated on the bank, like an angel she seemed.
Her silky sweet shape not bony nor angular,
Like the blossoms of the berry her fair-coloured breasts."
The "Son of Bad Counsel" was evidently very whimsical and fickle-minded; he turned from the lovely fairy beauty at once to sing the glory of the landscape.
"The like of that land I've not seen nor heard of,
For amenity, for goodness, for its clear flowing streams
Dew-drops of honey on all the tree branches,
And the bee's humming music was heard without pause."
Dark stormy night came on the landscape. No more is heard of the fairy belle, and the Son of Bad Counsel somehow found himself before a castle, the beauties of which he described in poetic language. Entering, he found the Gruagach master, "strong, truly powerful, ruddy in countenance, and clad in 'silken robes." And on the right hand of the Gruagach, on a chair of burnished gold, was his lady daughter, beauteous, gentle, honest, unexceptionable in her attire, musical in voice and compassionate, young, glorious, sweet-spoken, lightsome, like a shining diamond, a harvest moon, a morning sun, a heavenly angel. Her eyes were gray and thoughtful, like the gleaming sparkling stars of a hard frosty night. Her golden, curling hair was divided, and hung on each side like bunches of clustering grapes. Her robe was of silk, gracefully covering her beautiful figure, and an ornamented brooch glittered on her bosom, and on her knee was a hand-harp (Cruith), from which she was drawing sweet sounds. [b]
The hero of the story was an arrant coward, as well as a poet; but he plucked up courage to address the host, who, after all, was not very formidable in appearance:----
King of the globe, fair is this place which I have come to--
A royal fort, white-boarded, erected as the abode of Maev;
Like onto the Dun Aileach, it is similar to Paradise,
And I am not certain that it is not in a court I am truly.
"More delightful is this sight than Tara and Naas together,
And than the three branches in Emania, [c] once held by the hero
My journey I arrest till I know who dwells here."
The richly dressed Gruagach made a suitable reply "Long it is since we saw a person or people before you, who could afford us joy or pleasure" (they were apparently not aware of his cowardice and general worthlessness), "and long were we expecting you, for we have neither children nor heirs, but that daughter you see before you; and we have nursed and nobly reared her from her infancy for you to be your wife and companion." "By your hand," was the ready answer, "if I had known so much--but how could I? It is I that would have searched the four quarters of the globe for her sweet self, even to the loss of my life."
Then the Gruagach arose, and bade the guest take his golden chair; and then he began his own particular grievances, and the service he required at the hands of his future son-in-law before the silken-attired lady could become his wife.
It seemed that Trom Ceo Draochta (Heavy Enchanted Fog), the fairy chief residing at Din Aoilig, had stolen the two sons of the King of the Isle of the Living, as he had no heirs to enjoy his power. Ruan Luimneach, a powerful Sighe chief, a neighbour of him of the Isle of the Living, on hearing of this wrong, summoned all his subjects of the Western World to assemble, and attack the Fog-chief in his stronghold, and rescue the sons of his friend. Heavy Magic Fog, on hearing of the projected attack on Din Aoilig, summoned his confederates to his aid. Among these were Donn Ceiv Fionn from Magh Hi in Conacht, Donn Feiriné O'Conail from Knocfierna, and Donn Binné Eachla labhra (The Lord of the Hill of the Speaking Horse [d]), Gilla Brighid O'Faolan, a Sighe gaoithe (Fairy Blast) from the Decies, and Gilla Fiamach O'Doran, Chief of Ceibhfion. [e]
"I was also summoned among these chiefs," continued the master, "and my footmen and my horsemen departed yesterday to Din Aoilig, and I myself will follow to-morrow. I did not go with my people, for I expected you; and if your feats of valour deserve the hand of my daughter, my daughter shall be your wife on our return. If you fall, a mighty mound shall cover your remains, your caoine shall be said by eloquent and very famous fileas, and your name, and your ancestors, and your deeds engraved on the Oghuim stone."
Fair was the daughter of the Gruagach, but she was to be won with risk of life; and a shivering seized on the limbs of the young man, and his teeth chattered. The master seemed to know that trouble had come on his spirit, and be asked his wife to bring in the golden, gem-incrusted goblet of comfort and forgetfulness.
It was brought, and this was the quality of that goblet, that every one drinking from it should forget their cares and troubles as if they had never been; and if a thousand persons drank their fill from it, never was the wine a hair's breadth lower.
Mac drank, and great courage came into his heart. "Deep is my gratitude to you, O powerful chief," said he; "and I would be glad to know your name, and the name of the Bhan Tiernach (Woman-chief), your wife, and how your castle is called." "Gruagath Tirégan Taithige (Giant [f] of the Unfrequented Land) is my name," said he, "and my wife is daughter of the King of the Lonesome Land, and Dun Tochluaiste (Uncertain Castle) is the name of this castle; and it is as easy for me to be at the end of Erinn at any hour as to be here."
Then the master of the house and his guest sat down at Taibleish Mhor (backgammon, large table), and the fashion of the tables was this. Fine elephant (ivory) were the dice, and fine carved wood, and emerald, and gold, and white silver, and carbuncle were the tables; and a blind man could see to play with them, and people with their sight could play with them on the darkest night. But if the body of the Mac na, &c. was at the table with the Gruagach, his "intellect, his desire, his sight, and his reason, were at the other side of the hall, where sat the Gruagach's daughter, with her golden curling hair and her silken robe."
So the unfortunate youth lost the game, but the Gruagach made him a present of the tables that he might learn to play. Very grateful was he, but he feared he 'should pay for all to-morrow before Din Aoilig. Then came supper time, and the youth sat opposite the magician, with the fair beauty on his right hand, and better food or better liquor was not consumed that night at Tara of the Kings.
But when the time of rest was come, and the Gruagach bade the Mac, &c. sleep soundly, as the flight of night was to see them on their way to Aoilig, "great fear, and discomfort, arid hate, and loathing, "fell on the heart of the Son of Bad Counsel, and said he to himself, "I wish I had -the dressed skin of a white sheep; that I might leave my last thoughts to my friends."
"Long it is to tell how I first saw the maid.
When she came in my sight I lit up full of her love.
My heart is sad that I see no more her fair face,
Her neck like the snow, and her bosom like two fair hills
Aud by the king's hand I'm sorry she is not mine."
Then they prepared his state bed, and the Gruagach and his wife went to their own apartment, after first giving him a token of life and health (wishing him goodnight). He was thinking more of the morning than the night; but the maid of the flowing hair, and the mild gray eyes, and the sweet smile, told him not to fear for his life, for that it was not in the power of all the fairy hosts within the four seas of Erinn to bring the end of life on him that had received baptism. They might pierce him with sighe-darts that would disable arm or leg, or cause him to pine, but perhaps they would not. And she also "gave him a token of life and health," and went to her couch in the next chamber.
Bad it was to lose life and the maid of the silk robe together, and but little better was it to be stretched on rushes with sighe-darts in the leg. So the Son of Bad Counsel, while lying on the wolf-skin, felt a shivering all over him, and then all the blood in his body rushed up to his head, arid his skin seemed on fire, and at last despair put it into his mind to persuade the lady that had won his heart to fly with him where neither Gruagach, nor Heavy Magic Fog, nor Ruan Luimneach, King of all the Fairies of the West, could find them out. So he arose, with his heart in his mouth, and his legs trembling under him he opened her door, and he found himself in a wild lonesome place, and then he knew that it was Aimsighthe and Aimgeoireachd (qu. ambushes and temptations) were on him; and he heard the bonanaich and the boconaigh (qu. wild boars or wild bulls, and he-goats), and the other forest dwellers, hideous, terrible, loud-voiced, sharp, inflamed. And he became like a madman, and he flew like a wild cat from its nest in the tree, or a stag from his lair. And when he cleared the wood he found himself in a plain, wide-spread and grassy, and in the middle a high green hill, where neither boars nor goats could easily catch him.
When he was on the hill he found a great rim round its summit, and within, a boiling, boisterous, noisy, foamy, very tempestuous sea, with no path round it. By the harbour was an old boat, which the unfortunate, ill-advised youth strove to repair; but hearing the wild piercing cries of the beasts of devils of the woods at his back, he put to sea. This was all that the fierce, incessant, spiteful, threatening, very destructive winds waited for. They blew as if to scoop out the sea from its hollow, and the earth belched out from its caverns the restless waters. The boatman flying up to the clouds at this side of the wave, and descending into the dark caverns of the earth op the other, bellowed to heaven for help; arid the Gruagach, hearing the outcry, bade his daughter light a candle!
In the cellar they found the son of ill-luck as well as of ill-counsel, seated on a cullender that was covering a vat of strongly-working new beer. These were the high-rimmed mound and the sea. The roaring of the he-goats, the boars, and the bulls, and the wolves, was the cry of two cats which the sleep-walker had disturbed, and the howling of the storm, a breeze blowing through the cellar window.
The Gruagach and his daughter, seeing the youth crouched in the cullender over the great beer vat, burst out a laughing, and, said the master of the house, "Very fond of sailoring you must be to get into so small a vessel; and if it was in search of my daughter you were, better it would be to seek her on dry land." The misguided boy, descending from his damaged boat, hastened to his state bed to hide his confusion and great shame. Lying on his back, he composed a strain of lamentation over his hard fate; and when he fell asleep, all the ugly dreams that float between the moon and the earth passed through his mind. At last he awoke, and the fear of death came upon him when he remembered the gathering of Din Aoilig next day.
He arose, and opened the door of the maiden's chamber, intending to persuade her to fly with him; and great was his terror when he found himself in a wide field without track of man or beast. He recollected the roaring of the wild devils, and his heart turned into water when he saw a beast, black, devilish, hideous coloured, heavy-headed, dull-buzzing, approaching him. A great plum or a small apple would fit on every one of his coarse hairs. Two dead eyes were locked in his head, an empty long-falling snout he had, and rough white teeth.
When the doomed boy saw this hellish beast rushing right on him to devour him, he felt it full time to seek an escape. So with swift, mighty springs he made to the edge of that large field, and at its bounds he found himself stopped by a stormy, dangerous, coarse-waved, light. leaping, strongly-diffused, streamy, troublesome river; and thought within himself whether it would be better to try to swim across it, not knowing anything of the art, or face the cursed-of-form, diabolical, odious-coloured, hideous-countenanced, amazingly-hateful, and malicious beast. He had heard of persons ignorant of swimming,. who crossed wide streams under terror, and was sure that he would do the deed if ever fear, surprise, terror, timidity, fright, or loss of reason helped any one.
But, while he was considering what he should do, he looked back, and the big animal, with his gluttonous -mouth open, was just behind. It was not a courageous look of defiance he gave him, but he took a high, powerful, very light spring into the slowly-flowing river, and struck out vigorously with his arms for life. But deep and thick with mud was that pool, and choked with reeds, and no boat with sail or oar could work its way out. It was then he considered indeed that it was to the suffocating sea he had come, and that he should not leave it till he had been permanently drowned, and unworlded, and till the ravenous birds, open-beaked, should have. taken away his skin, his flesh, and his blood. In that state he gave out a wondrous, hard, slender, complaining, frightened cry. The waters were oozing into his open mouth, and cold death was creeping up his limbs, when he heard the voices of the Gruagach and his daughter over him. He was lying in a large trough filled with water and grains, his face downwards, his mouth full of the contents of the trough, and his arms striking out. "If you wished for a bath," said the master, "better would a vessel of clean water be than where the pigs take their food."
He cleared his mouth and his eyes, and sorrow was upon him to be seen by the maiden; and, when he turned away his eyes in shame, he discovered the fierce, ravenous, life-seeking wild beast of the big, lonesome field, grunting and rummaging in the litter, and it was as small and as tame as the rest of the enchanter's pigs.
With bitter grief he again betook himself to his rest, his soul divided between love for the maid of the sweet eyes and lips, and dread of the battle. [g] The Gruagach told him to sleep soundly till he should be called, as he himself was then going to gird the horses in their battle harness for the morrow. The blood rushed again to his head, while a shivering fit seized on his limbs. In the middle of his despair a raw gray light fell on his eyes; and his bed was the dry grass of a moat; and little wonder it was that he should be shivering, for his clothes were the pillow that supported his head.
But the love of the sighe-maid was still strong in his soul, and he vowed he would never lie two nights in the same bed till he had discovered her. For a year and a day he searched through the length and breadth of Erinn, and his resting-place at night was a sheltered grassy nook near a Sighe-Brugheen or a Danish fort. At the end of a year and a day, he was again at the spot where he had discovered the Castle of Uncertainty; and in his sleep that- night he had a vision of his fairy love, who told him to give over his pursuit of her, as she had been obliged by her father to take a husband. Next morning he found the charm gone, and his soul freed from the sighe-spell. He reformed his ways, and became the "Son of Good Counsel," and these are the verses he made about it:--
"Farewell, sweet and false dreams of my fancy!
The happiness you give is like the gold of the Clurichaun.
By the light of the moon the weight and the colour are there;
Withered leaves only remain in our hands at the dawn.
My course I'll change as the feathers fall from the birds;
I'll keep my hands busy, and take the sogarth's [h] advice;
And surely in Erinn of chaste and beautiful women,
I'll find some fair angel to come and sit on my hearth,
With smiles on her face when wearied I come from the fields;
She'll make evening happy, and lie all night at my side."
Among the old fireside romances were more than one or two of this deceptional character. Thor's visit to Jotunheim was the reverse in the order of things. What to him and his companions seemed of a mean and trifling character, were in reality of awful dimensions. The vessel from which he drank, but could scarcely see any way diminished of its contents, was the bed of ocean. The cat which he found it impossible to raise from the ground, was in reality the wolf Fenris, and so on.
The knights in quest of the San Graal also suffered in body and mind from being led aside by one of the three chief enemies of the human soul.
The general belief of the peasantry is that the existing fairies are those angels who, without openly joining Satan in his rebellion, gave it no opposition. Their future destiny will be determined at the Day of Judgment.
Some archaeologists fancy that the tales of mortals abiding with the fays in their Sighe palaces are founded on the tender preferences shown by the Druidic priestesses of old to favourite worshippers of the Celtic Divinities.
[a] Some give the credit of it to that loose fish, Carroll O'Daly.
[b] A profusion of epithets nearly synonymous often occurs in Irish poetry and romance. It arises from the richness of the language in words of the same or nearly the same meaning, and the temptation thrown in the way of the poet by alliteration.
[c] Maev, the Semiramis of the Royal Court of Conacht. Aileach, the Great Stone Fortress in the north-east of Donegal. Naas, once the residence of the kings of Leinster. Ernania, the Court of Ulster, whose ruins are yet to be seen near Armagh. Red Branch, an order of knighthood there established.
[d] Scholars who insist on beast-worship among the pagan Irish, adduce this tradition in support of their views. At every midsummer festival of the sun, this Each Labhra would issue from his mound, and give full and true answers to all who consulted him on the occurrences that would take place up to the next summer festival.
[e] As in our country parts, Casar, Pincher, Juno, and other favourite dogs enjoy the surnames of the families whom they serve, so we find here the fairy chiefs called by the names of the old families whose districts they frequented, and whose deceases they marked by their lamentations. The O'Dorans were Brehons to the kings of South Leinster. Gilla Brighid O'Faolan, St. Bridgid's servant (now Kilbride), would otherwise have been a strange name for a fairy chief.
[f] Gruagach has for root, Gruach, hair,--giants and magicians being usually furnished with a large provision of that appendage. A favourite song (even in its English dress) with the dying out generation, was the Bouchal 'na Gruaga Dhouna, "The Boy with the Brown Hair."
[g] There is a third adventure, of course, but it does not possess much novelty or interest.
[h] The Irish construction of sacerdos, one of the many words introduced with Christianity.