IRISH FAIRY TALES
IRISH FAIRY TALES
THE STORY OF TUAN MAC CAIRILL
THE BOYHOOD OF FIONN
THE BIRTH OF BRAN
THE WOOING OF BECFOLA
THE LITTLE BRAWL AT ALLEN
THE CARL OF THE DRAB COAT
THE ENCHANTED CAVE OF CESH CORRAN
BECUMA OF THE WHITE SKIN
THE STORY OF TUAN MAC CAIRILL
Finnian the Abbott of Moville went southwards and eastwards in
great haste. News had come to him in Donegal that there were yet
people in his own province who believed in gods that he did not
approve of and the gods that we do not approve of are treated
scurvily even by saintly men.
He was told of a powerful gentleman who observed neither Saint's
day nor Sunday.
"A powerful person!" said Finnian.
"All that" was the reply.
"We shall try this person's power" said Finnian.
"He is reputed to be a wise and hardy man" said his informant.
"We shall test his wisdom and his hardihood."
"He is" that gossip whispered--"he is a magician."
"I will magician him" cried Finnian angrily. "Where does that
He was informed and he proceeded to that direction without
In no great time he came to the stronghold of the gentleman who
followed ancient ways and he demanded admittance in order that
he might preach and prove the new God and exorcise and terrify
and banish even the memory of the old one; for to a god grown old
Time is as ruthless as to a beggarman grown old.
But the Ulster gentleman refused Finnian admittance. He
barricaded his house he shuttered his windows and in a gloom of
indignation and protest he continued the practices of ten
thousand years and would not hearken to Finnian calling at the
window or to Time knocking at his door.
But of those adversaries it was the first he redoubted.
Finnian loomed on him as a portent and a terror; but he had no
fear of Time. Indeed he was the foster-brother of Time and so
disdainful of the bitter god that he did not even disdain him; he
leaped over the scythe he dodged under it and the sole
occasions on which Time laughs is when he chances on Tuan the
son of Cairill the son of Muredac Red-neck.
Now Finnian could not abide that any person should resist both
the Gospel and himself and he proceeded to force the stronghold
by peaceful but powerful methods. He fasted on the gentleman and
he did so to such purpose that he was admitted to the house; for
to an hospitable heart the idea that a stranger may expire on
your doorstep from sheer famine cannot be tolerated. The
gentleman however did not give in without a struggle: he
thought that when Finnian had grown sufficiently hungry he would
lift the siege and take himself off to some place where he might
get food. But he did not know Finnian. The great abbot sat down
on a spot just beyond the door and composed himself to all that
might follow from his action. He bent his gaze on the ground
between his feet and entered into a meditation from which he
would Only be released by admission or death.
The first day passed quietly.
Often the gentleman would send a servitor to spy if that deserter
of the gods was still before his door and each time the servant
replied that he was still there.
"He will be gone in the morning" said the hopeful master.
On the morrow the state of siege continued and through that day
the servants were sent many times to observe through spy-holes.
"Go" he would say "and find out if the worshipper of new gods
has taken himself away."
But the servants returned each time with the same information.
"The new druid is still there" they said.
All through that day no one could leave the stronghold. And the
enforced seclusion wrought on the minds of the servants while
the cessation of all work banded them together in small groups
that whispered and discussed and disputed. Then these groups
would disperse to peep through the spy-hole at the patient
immobile figure seated before the door wrapped in a meditation
that was timeless and unconcerned. They took fright at the
spectacle and once or twice a woman screamed hysterically and
was bundled away with a companion's hand clapped on her mouth so
that the ear of their master should not be affronted.
"He has his own troubles" they said. "It is a combat of the gods
that is taking place."
So much for the women; but the men also were uneasy. They prowled
up and down tramping from the spy-hole to the kitchen and from
the kitchen to the turreted roof. And from the roof they would
look down on the motionless figure below and speculate on many
things including the staunchness of man the qualities of their
master and even the possibility that the new gods might be as
powerful as the old. From these peepings and discussions they
would return languid and discouraged.
"If" said one irritable guard "if we buzzed a spear at the
persistent stranger or if one slung at him with a jagged
"What!" his master demanded wrathfully "is a spear to be thrown
at an unarmed stranger? And from this house!" And he soundly
cuffed that indelicate servant.
"Be at peace all of you" he said "for hunger has a whip and he
will drive the stranger away in the night."
The household retired to wretched beds; but for the master of the
house there was no sleep. He marched his halls all night going
often to the spy-hole to see if that shadow was still sitting in
the shade and pacing thence tormented preoccupied refusing
even the nose of his favourite dog as it pressed lovingly into
his closed palm.
On the morrow he gave in.
The great door was swung wide and two of his servants carried
Finnian into the house for the saint could no longer walk or
stand upright by reason of the hunger and exposure to which he
had submitted. But his frame was tough as the unconquerable
spirit that dwelt within it and in no long time he was ready for
whatever might come of dispute or anathema.
Being quite re-established he undertook the conversion of the
master of the house and the siege he laid against that notable
intelligence was long spoken of among those who are interested in