WHEN Osgar was a boy he was sent to a school. When they used to get out at the mid-day, they used to go to play shinny on to a strand that was there. At the time when he was sixteen years of age,
there would be a like number of the lads working on each side, and the side on which Osgar might be, that was the side which would hold.
He became exceedingly big, so that there was no one of his contemporaries that he was not twice as much as he. At last there used to be two divisions against him, and one division with him. At last there would be no man with him but himself, and the rest altogether against him.
They were there on a day of these days playing shinny, and they saw a boat coming in, and one man in her, and they never saw a man equal to him. The scholars took great fear before the man when they saw him coming, and they gathered about Oscar, every begotten one of them, to make a protector of him, and this wild man that was here came down where they were, and not a bit of him to be seen but the eyes, with blue-green scales of hardening upon him. 1
He came towards them, and every one on whom he would strike his palm be would level him on the strand. He struck Osgar and put him in a faint. It was but scarcely that be could rise; but he thought that it was best for him to lie still; if he should get up again that he would slay him utterly.
Then he seized on Osgar, and he put him on the end of a withy, and sixteen of the scholars on top of him, He put the withy on his shoulder, and he betook himself to the boat with it. He put in the withy, "and it's I that was under altogether," said Osgar. 2
"I am saying to you," said Osgar, "that was as sore a blow as I have had, when be struck my ribs against the boat's floor, and the rest on top of me." Then he rowed the boat away for the length of a time, and he reached an island, and then he caught hold of the withy again, and he put it out. Then he took with him the withy on his shoulder, and I below. He reached a castle, and he went in. He left the withy there, and he went up to the end of the house, and there was a fine woman there. He said to her that he was going to take a nap, and when he should wake that the best hero who was there should be cooked before him." 1
"She went where the withy was, and she began to feel them. And I was the biggest there. I caught her by the hand, and said to her to let me be for the present. She went and she took with her the best one she found of the others. She put the roasting stake through him, and she roasted him on the fire. Then he got up, and he asked if she had got him cooked. She said that he was. Then he said, "There was a better boy than this there; I am going to sleep, and unless thou hast him cooked when I awake, I will have thyself in his place." 2
She went down then again and said, "I must take thee with me now."
"That is not best for thee, but leave me alive. Art thou his wife?"
"Not I. It is (so) that he stole me here seven years ago, and I in dread that he will slay me every day. Do thou help me, and I will help thee, and may be that we might put an end to the monster. Put thou the poker in the fire, and when it is red give me notice."
She did this, and when it was red she gave him notice. 1 Osgar went up then when she loosed him, and he took the poker with him to where he was in his sleep. There was no part of his face bare, with scales of hardness, but his two eyes. He put the poker down through his eye to the ground; and she caught hold of his sword, and she struck off his head.
They went away then, and they took with them silver and gold enough, and Osgar hit upon the spot where they had left the little boat. He did not know to what side he should turn her prow, but they began to row, and they reached the very spot from which they had gone, on the strand. Then he reached the king of the Finne. They took exceeding good care of the woman that was there. 2
The heroes of the Finne went one day to the hunting-hill, and they parted from each other. They went
to a glen that was there, and they did not know that they had ever been in the glen before. They hit upon a kind of burgh there, and a great wild savage of a giant in the upper end of the house.
"What's the news of the warriors of the Finne?" said he.
"Well, then, we have the news that we had no knowledge of ever having been in this place before."
He arose, and he put a cauldron on the fire, and a stag of a deer in it.
"Sit," said he, "and burn (fuel) beneath that cauldron, but unless the deer be cooked when I awake, you shall have but what you can take off his head, and by all you have ever seen do not take out the head."
They were tormented by hunger, and they did not know what they should do. They saw a little shaggy man coming down from the mountain. "Ye are in extremity," said he, himself, "why are ye not tasting what is in the cauldron?"
"We are not," said they fear will not let us."
They took the lid out of the end of the cauldron, when they thought it was boiled, and so it was that there was frozen ice came upon it.
The old carle got up so wildly, and when he saw the little shaggy man, he laid the one great grasp upon him.
The carle went down, and he asked battle or combat from them. Caolite rose in front of him, and they began upon each other. He was about to have got Caolite under him now, and the little shaggy man got up, and he shook himself.
"Take notice that I am here," said he to the giant. He took to the tuft of (fell upon) the giant, and he kept back Caolite. They arose against each other now, and the little shaggy man slew the giant.
"Go now, and be going home." They went, and they were going before them, but they were not hitting upon the proper road. They saw the very finest man they had ever seen coming to meet them, and he met them, and he asked what was their wish.
They told him that they were seeking (to get) home to the Finne.
"It were right for me, Osgar, son of Fionn," said he, "to tell the way to thee. I am the ugly man whom ye saw coming through the mountain, and that slew the giant. He has had me under spells for eight years there, and I should have been there for ever, unless thou hadst come to help me to kill him. I am the son of the King of Greece, and it was a sister of mine that thou tookest from the other giant in the island."
They reached the Fhinn, and the son of the King of Greece and his sister knew each other. He kissed her, and he himself and she herself went, and Fionn, and Osgar, to Greece; and before they came back, Osgar married her.
The Gaelic is omitted to make room. (In the original--JBH).
This then gives part of the early adventures of Osgar. If any reliance is to be placed on early Irish history, he was a real personage; and if so, this, stripped of the marvellous element, would seem to shew that he was carried off by a mail-clad warrior; that he escaped, and made his way to Greece. The reasonable explanation would be that this is part of the history of a sea-rover, who wandered, as the Icelanders did in the ninth century, from Labrador to Constantinople. The cauldron that froze, the more it was boiled, indicates a cold climate. But while there is a reasonable explanation
for the story, there is a mythical element which cannot be reasonably explained; and probably the name of Osgar has attracted a lot of floating myths whose origin cannot be discovered.
The following poem relates the death of Osgar, and is more reasonable; it certainly relates to some real event in Irish history. The first volume of the transactions of the Ossianic Society of Dublin (1853) contains an Irish poem on the "Battle of Gabhra," which embodies the main incidents, such as:--War between Cairbre, the red-haired, and the Feen; the death of Cairbre and his son, by the band of Osgar; the wounding of Osgar by a spear-thrust from the hand of Cairbre; the arrival of Fionn on the field after the battle; the placing of Osgar on a mound; the examination and nature of the wound, which had been foretold; the weeping of Fionn, who never wept but for Osgar and for Brann; the death of Osgar, and the lament for him. There is enough resemblance to shew clearly that the two poems relate to the same events. There are several stanzas which seem to indicate a common origin, but there the resemblance ends. The two poems are wholly distinct, and probably separated from one another by centuries; and yet they must have had a common origin, unless they are independent accounts of a real event. At page 75 is this stanza,--
When we marched from Binn Eadair.
"The bands of the Fians of Alba,
And the supreme King of Britain,
Belonging to the order of the Fian of Alba,
Joined us in that battle."
Beinn Eadair, say the Irish authorities, is the Hill of Howth. It is the haunt of the Feen and of Conal Gulban,
according to Gaelic stories, if it be Beinn Eudain or Eidain. In the introduction to the Irish poem, which was taken as it appears from a comparatively modern MS., a fragment is quoted, taken from an ancient Irish MS., now preserved in the College Library, and supposed by good authority to have been written prior to A.D. 1150. This contains the incidents of the death of "Oscar" by the hand of "Cairpre," the grandson of "Conn," and the death of Cairpre by the hand of Oscar, "by a mighty spear, on a white horse's back."
It seems, then, that this traditional poem, written from the dictation of a peasant in Barra in 1860, relates to a battle fought prior to 1150, near the Hill of Howth, at which the "Fenians" of Alba were present, and that the battle was called the battle of Gabhra in Ireland. The Scotch Gaelic word used means corpses. The Irish explain Gabhra to mean Garrystown, near Dublin.
At page 25 of the selections from the Lismore MSS., a Scotch poem on the same subject is given. It is attributed to Allan MacRuaraidh, and was written at least three centuries ago. The incidents are much the same, and several lines are common to this traditional version. Another version is quoted as written down in 1856, from the dictation of an old woman in Caithness It is therefore beyond a doubt that this is one of many poems relating to the same ancient event, some of which are orally preserved and still recited, and others are found in MSS. of various ages.
A poem, almost identical, was printed in 1787, at page 313 of Gillies' collection; another version of 120 lines is given at page 167 of the same book; another version, 247 lines, is at page 154 of MacCallum, 1816. The incidents are the opening of Macpherson's Temora, and I have heard of several other versions orally collected.
[paragraph continues] Here, then, are seven Scotch versions--one orally collected in 1860, one in 1856, one in 1816, two before 1886--Macpherson's versions, of doubtful authority, 1760, and Dean MacGregor's MS. version of 1530, besides an Irish book of 1853, and an Irish fragment of some date before 1100; nine Gaelic poems, all different, yet all telling the same story, and there are many other versions.
The conclusion which I would draw is, that this was a Celtic popular ballad, composed to celebrate a real battle between an Irish usurper named Cairbre, and a band of warriors who spoke Gaelic, who were headed by the Osgar (the bounding warrior), who went from Scotland to Ireland on this occasion, whatever his native country may have been; who was the grandson of Fionn, the chief of the Finne, who on this occasion came from Scotland after the battle; and the son of Oisein, in whose person the poet speaks, and who is supposed to be addressing "Padruig." He would be an illiberal Celt who claimed this for Scotland or for Ireland alone, and a very prejudiced critic who could now attribute Temora wholly to Macpherson. This ballad is later than St. Patrick and earlier than 1530. The battle was earlier than 1100; I will not attempt to fix the date of either.
312:1 Probably "tempered scale armour;" here a scaly monster. The phrase is not in Gaelic dictionaries, but it occurs pretty often slìgneach chruadhach.
312:2 This idea is taken from the common method of carrying fish, viz., on "gad," a withy. A hook is left at the large end of p. 313 a supple stick, and the small end is run through the gills of a lot of cuddies or trouts. Consequently, the first has all the others upon him, and he often has a rough time of it, for the boys do not trouble themselves to kill their prizes.
313:1 That is to say, the castle was in the mind of the narrator a building like his own dwelling; a long room, with the wife at the end of it, beside the fire; and the fine lady was to cook a warrior as his wife would roast a herring.
313:2 With proper audience and emphasis, with fish broiling on a peat fire, and a string of cuddies in a corner; with a ruddy light within, and a winter's night outside, this must be a thrilling passage.
314:1 It is curious how often in this and in other cases the narrator identifies himself for a time with his hero. A story so told becomes a kind of dramatic representation, and the more untutored the narrators the more dramatic they are.
314:2 This first adventure is like part of Nos. V. VI. VII., and of a vast number of other stories which I have. It is at least as old as Homer; but as the Gaelic versions invariably introduce a woman, I do not believe that the stories come from Homer. See notes, Vol. I., 156.