Sacred Texts  Legends & Sagas  Celtic  Index  Previous  Next 

p. 66


NO. 2.

WHEN the Fhinn used to go to hunt, one of them used always to stay at home to watch the women. It fell upon Diarmaid on that day that it was he who should stay. There was a thing which they used to call SUGH SEIRC (love juice), a kind of mark in the face of the--man, and there was a helmet upon him that must not be raised, for there was no woman who might see the sugh seirc that would not fall in love with him, and Diarmaid knew that these gifts were in himself. On the day that he stayed at home he thought that no being was seeing him, and he gave a lift to the helmet; and Graidhne, the daughter of the King of Coig Ullainn, sees the face of Diarmaid. The warm soul would not be in her unless she should go with Diarmaid.

Said Diarmaid, "That will not answer for me to go with thee."

"O! we will go, or else I will tear my clothes, and I will give thee up to Fionn."

"I have no doubt of thee but that he will believe thee, because thou art his own beloved wife indeed."

They went away, and they travelled together three days and three nights. They were crossing a river, and a little trout rose and struck her, and she said--

"Thou art bolder than Diarmaid. If thou couldst go on shore!"

"Now," said he "Fionn has come home, and they will not find us within, then they will come on our tracks, and they will get us."

"They will not get us," said she. "Whether they get us, or get us not, we will try to hide ourselves. The thing that we will do is this, we will go up to this wood up here, and the branches and leaves of the trees will hide us."

p. 67

They rose up into the tree, and they went into the heart of the tree, and they drew the branches and leaves of the tree about them.

The Fhinn came to their house, and they did not find Diarmaid or Graidhne at the house.

"Here, here! lads," said Fionn, "I am without a wife, and the Fhinn without Diarmaid. We ought to go till we find them."

They went on their search, and they went over the same river. When they went over, said Fionn--

"We have now been a while walking, and since we have we will breathe a little at the root of this tree up here."

They took the advice of Fionn, and they sat at the foot of the tree.

Said Fionn--"We should turn to playing, lads."

"We are willing," said they.

Fionn and Osgar used to be the two leaders of the game. It was Diarmaid who used always to be along with Fionn. Fionn knew that Diarmaid had magic gifts at games. Now there was Osgar, and he needed a man to be with him, and it was his own father who used to be with him. They began at the games. Every game that was going, it was against Fionn that it went, and Osgar was winning. They drove three games.

Said Fionn--"I am missing Djeermaid heavily; for it was seldom that a game went against me when Diarmaid was with me. but they are now going against me since he parted from me; but I will go against thee another time."

Diarmaid was listening. He went and he put his hand against his right side,--thus;--and he caught hold of one of the red rowan berries that were on the tree,

p. 68

and he let it fall down beside the tree, and the back of Fionn was against the tree. He noticed something striking him on the back, and put his hand behind him, and he caught the rowan berry, and he put it into his pouch. They began at the game, and this game went with Fionn.

"One is with me," said Fionn.

"It is," said Osgar; "but two are wanting."

"Wilt thou go into it any more?" said Osgar.

"I will go, I will go," said Fionn; "try it again."

Diarmaid let down the next rowan berry, and Fionn won this one.

"Wilt thou go into any more?" said he.

"I will go," said Osgar. "If thou hast two, there is one wanting."

Diarmaid let down the third one, and Fionn won the third one.

"We are now," said Oscar, "even and even; all I won thou thyself hast taken it back again."

"Wilt thou go into it any more?" said Fionn.

"I will go," said Osgar; "we shall have knowledge of its good or evil at this time."

They went at it, and Diarmaid let down the fourth one, and Fionn won.

"Howsoever, it was whilst thou wert without Diarmaid on thy side I was winning. Howsoever the matter may be, there were matters that belong to Diarmaid about thee this day before thou hast won the fourth time."

Said Oisean--"My father did not drive (the game) against us with right, my son, at all."

"I did drive it," said Fionn.

"Thou did'st not," said Oisean.

"I did; as a proof that I did there are four rowan

p. 69

berries in my pouch opposite to (for) every game that I won."

He took out the four rowan berries, and when be took them out he said-

"Come down from that, Diarmaid, thyself and Graidhne, daughter of the King of Coig-Ullainn, for ye are there together."

Diarmaid and Graidhne came down; the party was made anew, and Fionn and Osgar fell out. The arms began, and the skaith began, and they were doing much harm to each other. The other part of the Fhinn were seeing that Osgar was like to win against the side of his grandfather.

Said Goll Mac Morna--"Though we had no part in the discord we should make a redding, and an umpire's parting, between the children of Treun Mhor."

Said Conan--"Let the Clann Baoisge back each other's bodies."

Then Fionn said to Osgar to stay the arms, in case the Clanna Morna should still be after them in Alba.

Fionn took notice of Diarmaid, and he said--

My frame, and my band, and mine eye,
Are longing to do honour to thee,
Oh! Dhiarmaid O Duibhne, brave man,
Going with my consort in secret?

There was a woman who was called Mala Lith, and she had a herd of swine, and there was a venomous boar at their head, and many a good lad went to hunt him that never came whole from the boar.

Said Fionn to Diarmaid--"Go to hunt the boar of Mala Lith on her herd of swine. Many a one went there that did not come out of the burn besides a trout." Diarmaid went to hunt the boar.


The Gaelic follows at page 78.

p. 70

These two stories and the following poem give the relationships of the chiefs of that band of warriors whose exploits form the subject of all that class of old Celtic poetry which is attributed to Oisean, Osin or Ossian, and is called Fingalian in English, and Fenian in Ireland. This is the family tree as here set forth:--

TREUNMHOR (great, mighty), who gives his name to the tribe, the children of Treunmhor, or the clan of the BAOISGE (flashes of light, coruscations, gleams).

CUMHAL (spelt Cooal in Manx), only mentioned as the father of Fionn. He is sometimes called MacDhughil (Macdugald), or the son of black and white Brian the king, brother of Fionn's father, who seldom does anything.

FIONN MACCHUMAIL (fair), flath na Finne (chief of the Finne), married to GRAIDHNE, daughter of the king of the fifth of Ullan.

OISEAN, the last of the Finne, son of Fionn, who afterwards sings the departed glories of his race as a blind old man in poverty and wretchedness.

OSGAR, his son, Flath nam Fear, chief of men.

DONN, brown, who gives his name to a tribe, clan O Duibhne.

A SISTER of Fionn, wife of King O Dhuine, mother of DIARMAID O DHUBHINE, the Expert Shield, the best head in the Finne, whom all family histories and oral traditions call the ancestor of the Campbells, but whom I strongly suspect to be a Celtic divinity, whose attributes have been ascribed to their ancestor by a Celtic tribe.

GOLL MAC MORNA, who is only mentioned here as an umpire in the strife, but who is a very well known character in other poems, and is said to have been a god in Ireland.

p. 71

CONAN, who only appears to utter a bitter taunt and thereby supports the character always assigned to him. MAOL, the blunt, cropped, or bald.

The FINNE, who are not here named in detail, but are always introduced into every poem or story in which the rest of these characters are named. Besides these, there are--

MALA LITH, an old woman, who has a magical white boar with a spike of venom in his back, invulnerable to all arms but the arms of Diarmaid.

There is a trout which Graidhne wishes to come on shore.

A savage who comes to the cave where Graidhne is, and who is killed by Diarmaid, to whom the faithless Graidhne is unfaithful.

There is the rowan tree, which is magical, and whose berries are amulets to this day; and nearly all this is common to Irish stories, as published in 1855.

The scene is vague, and might be anywhere in Alba. It is commonly laid near Oban, in Lorne, but Bein Gulbein is the favourite haunt of these warriors, and it is generally placed in Ireland, and is said to be in Sligo, and Diarmaid turns his dying face towards Bein Gulban, wherever it may be.

This subject is referred to elsewhere; but let me here point out that the "Feene" are the children of beams of light, "Baoisge;" of Great Mighty, their great ancestor, and their chief is Fair, the son of Cooal, or it may be of black and white, light and darkness. That Djeearmaid might be translated "the armed god," who had yellow hair. That their standard was called the sunbeam, and that in the following short poem we have similar incidents to the loves of Venus and Adonis, the death of Achilles, etc., and that all this points rather to

p. 72

mythology than to a single historical incident connected with the disbanding of an Irish militia.

It is worth remark that the poem alludes to several well known adventures which are now told as stories, which may have been poems or distorted facts.

The rowan tree dwelling, verse 21, is No. xxix. in vol. ii., or No. xxxvi. I forget which story goes by the name. Who White Tooth may be I do not know, but Diarmid had a son so called.

As to the date of the poem and its origin. There seems every reason to believe that it is old, and that it has been orally transmitted for centuries from generation to generation, in the islands of Scotland, wherever it was composed.

A version of it, got in Kintyre or on Lochawe-side, was printed by John Smith. D.D., minister of the gospel at Campbeltown, 1787, p. 99. That version is avowedly pruned and polished.

It is printed without division into stanzas, but the rhythm here and there appears to indicate that such was the original form of the poem.

That which is now printed is so divided by me, because the rhythm generally accords, and the "assonance" and sense all point to separate verses, each complete in itself, and fit for singing to music, as these old songs are in fact sung at this day. Similar Irish poems are so divided.

Several of the lines are nearly the same in Dr. Smith's version and in this which is collected from the people eighty-four years later.

The story in the "Sean Dana" is clearly the same, though--the magic is avowedly weeded from the original, and Graidhne is the faithful wife of Diarmaid, not the faithless wife of his uncle Fionn.

p. 73

There is another version much older, in a MS. now in course of publication, which dates from 1539.

One specimen page has been shewn to me, and it contains one stanza and several lines almost the same as part of this "Lady of Diarmaid." It is quite certain, then, that this old song has been preserved more or less perfectly by oral tradition in Scotland amongst people who can neither read nor write, for at least 330 years, and it gives a standard by which to form an opinion of popular tradition as an aid to written history.

"The pursuit of Diarmaid and Grainne" fills the greater part of vol. iii. of the Transactions of the Dublin Ossianic Society, 170 pages; and a glance at the story as there told will shew that it is founded on the same widely spread tradition, which, as I imagine, is not a tradition of any one real event which happened at any given time anywhere; but a chapter in the mythology of the Pagan world, which may be traced far and wide in various forms.

Of the following poem, founded on this legend, the collector MacLean says:

"This Laoidh Dhiarmaid is one of the most popular of the Ossianic pieces recited in the Long Island, and is known to more individuals than any other. In South Uist I heard it recited by Angus M'Donald, Janet Currie, Allan M'Phie, and some others; in Barra by Alexander M'Donald, and Donald M'Phie (smith), Breubhaig; also by a man in Minglay. The best reciter of this and other Ossianic pieces, that I have met with, is Donald M'Phie. This M'Phie says he learnt the poem from Neill M'Innes, Cill Bharraidh, who died about twenty years ago, about sixty years of age. M'Innes could neither read nor write. M'Donald

p. 74

says he learnt it from his mother, Marion Galbraith; and traces it up for six generations to a maternal ancestor of his, who came from Kintyre. Janet Currie traces it to Neill Currie, her ancestor, who was Clanronald's poet.


For valid reasons, I have not given the Gaelic of all the prose stories, or the whole of them, or the whole of those of which I translate a part.

J. F. C.


Next: The Lay of Yeearmaid. No. 3