From Angus MacDonald, Stoneybridge, South Uist.
THERE was a king on a time over Eirinn, to whom the cess which the Lochlanners had laid on Alba and on Eirinn was grevious. They, were coming on his own realm, in harvest and summer, to feed themselves on his goods; and they were brave strong men, eating and spoiling as much as the Scotch and Irish (Albannaich and Eirionnaich; Alban-ians Eirin-ians) were making ready for another year.
He sent word for a counsellor that he had, and he told him all what was in his thought, that he wanted to find a way to keep the Scandinavians (Lochlannaich; Lochlan-ians) back. The counsellor said to him that this would not grow with him in a moment; but if he would take his counsel, that it would grow with him in time.
"Marry," said he, "the hundred biggest men and women in Eirinn to each other; marry that race to each other; marry the second race to each other again; and let the third kindred (ginealach) go to face the Lochlaners."
This was done, and when the third kindred came to man's estate they came over to Albainn, and Cumhal at their head. 1
It grew with them to rout the Lochlaners, and to drive them back. Cumhal made a king of himself in Alba that time with these men, and he would not let Lochlaner or Irelander to Alba but himself. This was a grief to the King of Lochlann, and he made up to the King of Alba, that there should be friendship between them, here and yonder, at that time. They settled together the three kings--the King of Lochlann, and the King of Alba, and the King of Eirinn--that they would have a great "ball" of dancing, and there should be friendship and truce amongst them.
There was a "schame" between the King of Eirinn and the King of Lochlann, to put the King of Scotland to death. Cumhal was so mighty that there was no contrivance for putting him to death, unless he was slain with his own sword when he was spoilt with drink, and love making, and asleep.
He had. his choice of a sweetheart amongst any of the women in the company; and it was the daughter of the King of Lochlann whom he chose.
When they went to rest, there was a man in the company, whose name was Black Arcan, whom they set apart to do the murder when they should be asleep. When they slept Black Arcan got the sword of Cumhal, and he slew him with it. The murder was done, and
everything was right. Alba was under the Lochlaners, and the Irelanders and the Black Arcan had the sword of Cumhal. 1
The King of Lochlann left his sister with the King of Eirinn, with an order that if she should have a babe son to slay him; but if it were a baby daughter, to keep her alive. A prophet had told that Fionn MacChumhail would come; and the sign that was for this was a river in Eirinn; that no trout should be killed on it till Fionn should come. That which came as the fruit of the wedding that was there, was that the daughter of the King of Lochlann bore a son and daughter to Cumhall. Fionn had no sister but this one, and she was the mother of Diarmaid. On the night they were born his muime (nurse) fled with the son, and she went to a desert place with him, and she was keeping him up there till she raised him as a stalwart goodly child. 2
She thought that it was sorry for her that he should be nameless with her. The thing which she did was to go with him to the town, to try if she could find means to give him a name. She saw the school-boys of the town swimming on a fresh water loch.
"Go out together with these," said she to him, "and if thou gettest hold of one, put him under and drown him; and if thou gettest hold of two, put them under and drown them."
He went out on the loch, and he began drowning the
children, and it happened that one of the bishops of the place was looking on. 1
"Who," said he "is that bluff fair son, with the eye of a king in his head, who is drowning the school-boys?"
"May he steal his name!" said his muime, "Fionn, son of Cumhall, son of Finn, son of every eloquence, son of Art, son of Eirinn's high king, and it is my part to take myself away."
Then he came on shore, and she snatched him with her.
When the following were about to catch them, he leapt off his muime's back, and he seized her by the two ankles, and he put her about his neck. He went in through a wood with her, and when be came out of the wood he had but the two shanks. He met with a loch after he had come out of the wood, and he threw the two legs out on the loch, and it is Loch nan Lurgan, the lake of the shanks, that the loch was called after this. Two great monsters grew from the shanks of Fionn's muime. That is the kindred that he had with the two monsters of Loch nan Lurgan. 2
Then he went, and without meat or drink, to the great town. He met Black Arcan fishing on the river, and a hound in company with him. Bran MacBuidheig (black, or raven, son of the little yellow).
"Put out the rod for me," said he to the fisherman, "for I am hungry, to try if thou canst get a trout for
me." The trout laid to him, and he killed the trout. He asked the trout from Black Arcan.
"Thou art the man!" said Black Arcan; "when thou wouldst ask a trout, and that I am fishing for years for the king, and that I am as yet without a trout for him."
He knew that it was Fionn he had. To put the tale on the short cut, he killed a trout for the king, and for his wife, and for his son, and for his daughter, before he gave any to Fionn. Then he gave him a trout. 1
Thou must, said Black Arcan, broil the trout on the further side of the river, and the fire on this side of it, before thou gettest a bit of it to eat; and thou shalt not have leave to set a stick that is in the wood to broil it. He did not know here what he should do. The thing that he fell in with was a mound of sawdust, and he set it on fire beyond the river. A wave of the flame came over, and it burned a spot on the trout, the thing that was on the crook. 2 Then he put his finger on the
black spot that came on the trout, and it burnt him, and then he put it into his mouth. Then he got knowledge that it was this Black Arcan who had slain his father, and unless he should slay Black Arcan in his sleep, that Black Arcan would slay him when he should awake. The thing that happened was that he killed the carle, and then he got a glaive and a hound, and the name of the hound was Bran MacBuidheig.
Then he thought that he would not stay any longer in Eirinn, but that he would come to Alba, to get the soldiers of his father. He came on shore in Farbaine. There he found a great clump of giants, men of stature. He understood that these were the soldiers that his father had, and they (were) as poor captives by the Lochlaners hunting for them, and not getting (aught) but the remnants of the land's increase for themselves. The Lochlaners took from the arms when war or anything should come, for fear they should rise with the foes. They had one special man for taking their arms, whose name was Ullamh Lamh fhaba (Pr. oolav lav ada, oolav long hand). He gathered the arms and he took them with him altogether, and it fell out that the sword of Fionn was amongst them. Fionn went after him, asking for his own sword. When they came within sight of the armies of Lochlann, he said--
"Blood on man and man bloodless,
Wind over hosts, 'tis pity without the son of Luin.
"To what may that belong?" said Ulamh lamb fhada.
"It is to a little bit of a knife of a sword that I had," said Fionn. "You took it with you amongst the rest, and I am the worse for wanting it, and you are no better for having it."
"What is the best exploit thou wouldst do if thou hadst it?"
"I would quell the third part of the hosts that I see before me."
Oolav Longhand laid his hand on the arms. The most likely sword and the best that he found there he gave it to him. He seized it, and he shook it, and he cast it out of the wooden handle, and said he--
It is one of the black-edged glaives,
It was not Mac an Luin my blade;
It was no hurt to draw from sheath,
It would not take off the head of a lamb.
Then he said the second time the same words.
He said the third time--
"Blood on man, and bloodless man,
Wind o'er the people, 'tis pity without the son of Luin."
"What wouldst thou do with it if thou shouldst get it?"
"I would do this, that I would quell utterly all I see."
He threw down the arms altogether on the ground. Then Fionn got his sword, and said he then--
"This is the one of thy right hand."
Then he returned to the people he had left. He got the ord Fiannta (? Dord) of the Fian, and he sounded
it. (See illustration, page 303, for an ancient horn, sculptured on a stone in the east of Scotland.)
There gathered all that were in southern end of Alba of the Faintaichean to where he was. He went with these men, and they went to attack the Lochlaners, and those which he did not kill he swept them out of Alba. 1
From Angus MacDonald, Staoine-breac, South Uist, September 14, 1860.
This story is very popular in South Uist and Barra, and is known to the most of old people in these islands.--H. ML.
348:1 This seems to have a trace of probability about it. There must have been more spoil on the more fertile and accessible p. 349 east coasts of Ireland and Scotland to tempt invaders; and the Celts might well assemble amongst the mountains and wild islands of the western coasts of Ireland and Scotland to make head against the Norsemen, who certainly were settled in Ireland, about Dublin and elsewhere, in historical times. Cumhal and a warlike tribe might well have risen and set up in Scotland, and this story gives more standing ground for MacPherson's story of a king in Morven than anything which I have. This also explains one meaning of Cumhal, subjection.
350:1 Supposing this to refer to an early attack on Ireland and Scotland by Scandinavians, the story is probable enough.
350:2 This is manifestly the same story as that of the Great Fool (See No. 75), and it is in Irish also.
351:1 This makes the date of Fionn later than the establishment of Christianity in Ireland.
351:2 This gives the clue to another story which I have not yet got hold of, and seems to be a bit of mythology grafted on a tradition of some historical event.
352:1 I have heard a similar story told of a saint who came to a fisherman, and got the promise of the first fish he should catch. The first was a large one, so he promised the next; but that was larger, so he promised the next; and so on till the thirteenth, which was a toad. He gave that to the saint, who cursed him and the river, saying that no more salmon should ever be caught there. The story was told of a small river which runs out of Loch Guirm in Islay, up which salmon cannot get for natural obstacles, but where salmon are often seen leaping in the sea. A similar story is told of rivers in Ireland, and I think. there is some such legend about Kent.
352:2 This word is used for a crozier and a shepherd's crook. Bachal? Baculum. Here it seems to mean the method of roasting fish, which I learned from Lapps, and have practised scores of times. Wooden skewers are stuck through slices of fish, and a long rod is spitted through these, and one end is planted in the ground to windward of a fire of sticks.
The incident of saw-dust, as wood that grew and is neither p. 353 crooked nor straight, is proverbial in the Highlands, and common to many stories. So is the fish which gives knowledge when eaten. (See No. 47. Vol. II. 377.) This, then, is clearly some wide-spread myth about a fish attached to a Celtic hero. It is given in the transactions of the Ossianic Society of Dublin in another shape, and has very old Irish manuscript authority.
355:1 This, then, seems to be popular history, interlarded with Celtic mythology. History of a successful rising of Celts in Scotland, headed by a leader who was a Scandinavian by the mother's side; against the Scandinavians who had beaten them twice before. Once and for a long time in Ireland, whence they retired to Scotland, and again long afterwards, treacherously and by the help of Irish allies in Scotland.
The mythology has to do with fish; so has that of the two stories which follow; so, as an illustration, I have copied all the fish which are figured in the "Sculptured Stones of Scotland," together with some of the characteristic ornaments which accompany them.
It is remarkable that, with the exception of two, all these are swimming from the left to the right of an observer, and that a nondescript creature which is often figured on the same stones with fish, heads the same way. I take the monster to be a representation of a water animal, a walrus, by an artist who had never seen one.
As no explanation has yet been found for the symbols, as fish clearly have to do with Celtic mythology, and as Celtic mythology appears to have been mixed with solar and well worship, it seems worth considering whether these symbols may not have an astronomical meaning. One of the signs of the Zodiac is and has been for many a day Pisces; and the symbol is ♓. The sun passes northwards through the constellation in the spring, and when the sun is travelling north "the fish" are swimming south. South and to the right are expressed by the same word in Gaelic "deas." Fish swimming to the right are swimming south (deas). The sun crosses the equator at the vernal equinox; and one of the emblems here associated with fish consists of circles, which still stand for the sun in our almanacks; joined by two crescents which in like manner stand for moons or months, and separated p. 356 by a line. Another consists of a circle bisected by a double line, which also cuts two smaller circles, touching it on either side. May not all these symbols refer to the sun of winter and the summer sun; to the sun crossing the line at the vernal equinox; and may not these rude sculptured stones be erected to mark spots for celebrating festivals. A sword, a mirror, and a comb, or things like them, accompany the fish; and at first sight they would appear to have nothing to do with this supposition.
But the sword may be the bright shining mystic sword of p. 357 Light of Gaelic stories, and an emblem of the sun, and it points to the left or north. The sun is the God of the long yellow bright hair everywhere, and the comb may be another of his emblems; and the looking-glass, if it be one, might be a third emblem. for its brightness.
This is but conjecture thrown out for the consideration of the learned. I am quite prepared to believe that the emblems represent the frying pans, gridirons, cauldrons, and spits on which ancient North-Britons cooked the fish whose portraits they drew so well.