The lovely Fiongalla (fair cheek) was daughter to Glas, chief of a district in the south-west of Desmond.2 She would have been his great happiness, but for a fate that had brooded over his house for nearly two centuries. No woman of the family could be married till her suitor had brought from the Donn Thir (brown or dark land) the Craov Cuilleann (holly-bough), the Luis Bui (marigold), and the crimson berries of the Uhar (yew). These were to be found in the dim and distant Donn Thir, in the Western Sea, near the Stone Circle of Power; and for some generations no knight had been so fortunate as to secure them. Ë corrochan (leather-covered bark) lay in a wooded nook near Bean Tra (Fair Strand, Bantry), and had lain there time out of mind. The daring adventurer entered it, and readily made the open sea. A day and a night were allowed for the voyage going and coming; but hitherto the fated bark had been in every instance seen entering its little cove within the time, un-freighted by the hero or the magic prizes.
1 The golden pin of sleep.
2 Desmond-Deas, south ; Muimhe, Munster ; Tuaig Muimhe, Thomond, North Munster.
In the family lived the sage woman Amarach (lucky, fortunate), whom no one living remembered ever to have seen look a day younger, and of whom their fathers and mothers had made the same report, handing down the assertions of their ancestors for two generations to the same effect.
More than one suitor had essayed the adventure, hoping for the hand of fair Fiongalla. All had perished in the rough western waves, when at last the court was visited by the young Fear gal (nobleman), son of Ciocal. In his father's hospitable hall in Thomond he had heard of the matchless beauty and good qualities of Fiongalla, from the lips of more than one wandering bard; and despite all opposition from his parents and the Duine Uasals of his tribe, he travelled to the Court of Glas, saw the damsel, found his resolution confirmed, and demanded of the lady and her father permission to try the adventure.
The love felt by Feargal was fully returned by Fiongalla, yet she used her influence to dissuade him from the attempt. " How could he hope for success, when so many bold and skilful young knights had failed and perished for the past two centuries ? " But the young hero on his journey had a vision of the tutelar Sighe of his family, the benevolent and powerful Finncaev (fair love), who had promised him her assistance at his utmost need. Confident in her protection, and inspired by strong love, he told her that the only words from her mouth that could turn him from his purpose were, " I love you not." These words she could not force herself to utter, and forth fared the knight to find the magic coracle, while the shadow of night still lay on sea and land.
Amarach had joined her entreaties to those of father and daughter. But Amarach was the evil being that had, two centuries before, imposed this cruel fortune on the family. She knew by her art that the youth was protected by the powerful Sighe Finncaev, and she feared that her influence and her spells would become things of nought.
Passing from the heights on which the dun of the chief stood, he had to traverse a rough glen strewed with rocks and brushwood, and his path led by a circle of tall stones marking the burial-place of some chief of former days, and still the favoured resort of those who practised druidic rites. He felt a sudden awe creep over him as he was hurrying by the ring of power, and which was increased by the appearance of a tall figure. His courage was restored when he discovered it to be the friendly Sighe, who gave him a few brief directions. " You have rashly engaged in a most perilous enterprise, but follow my instructions punctually, and I trust to bring you out of it with safety and honour. When you reach the corrach and enter it, wish yourself outside the bay, and there remain till the darkness of evening comes on. If you return and touch the land before you see on the shore my three servants, you are lost. Those servants I will now present to your sight." She struck one of the stones with her druidic wand, and at the touch it fell to pieces. " Cush fe Crish (Tied Foot), come out," and a stout figure with his right foot in his hand stood before them. She struck another stone and cried, " Fir ?ia Saghaidh (Man of the Arrows), come out." The stone parted, and yielded an archer with a well-furnished quiver. She struck the third, " Fir na Mulla Headha, come forth," and a figure with an enormous mouth and swollen cheeks sprung from the fragments of his stone.
All bowed before the youth, and asked to know his will. He turned to Finncaev, but she had vanished ; and he addressed the powerful beings before him in some perplexity. " I am ignorant of your means of helping me. I only know that I require you to be on the shore by sunset of the coming day with the holly bough, the marigold, and the red berries of the yew from the ring of power in the obscure land in the great sea ! " Hard," said Cush, " will be the task, O noble knight, to foil the powerful Amarach. If when you approach the land at sunset she get into the boat, or you touch the land till you see us, you are lost j so will be our services. Come, brothers, I am obliged to keep one foot tied for fear of out-distancing my object. You, O
Fir na Saghaidh, are unerring in aim ; you, Ï Fir na Mulla Headha, can see through the earth and to its farthest rim, and can blow tempests from your mouth. To your tasks! I hasten before you to the extreme verge of Hy Conaill (Donegal). There at the base of the mighty rocks lies the boat to convey me to the dim land and the circle of power. The voyage which you, Sir Knight, would not accomplish within a year I will execute in half a day. Brothers, await my return on the summit of Rinkan Barra on the brink of the North Sea.
Tied Foot was on the coast of Hy Conaill at an early hour, and discovered the fated boat which Amarach was obliged to keep in the dark cove for the service of adventurers. She was sitting within it in the appearance of a fair young woman, and received Cush fe Crish on his first call. A mether stood in the bow, filled with brown mead, and the sight enchanted the wearied and thirsty traveller. The maiden courteously offered the vessel, which he gratefully took, and drained to the bottom. "Lovely maid," said he, "you were beautiful when I entered your boat; you are now the most beautiful within the coasts of Erinn. I want your boat for a passage to the dim land to fetch the three magic gifts for Feargal, son of Ciocal. I shall be there and back by the first hour after mid-day; but there's no hurry. I must sit here and converse with you, enslaver of my heart, for a small hour." As he was endeavouring to take her hand, his foot escaped from his grasp, and he fell, overpowered with the magic drink, and lay motionless at the bottom of the boat. The treacherous woman then took from her hair the braon suan or, the magic sleeping pin, and stuck it through his long glibbs; and while it lay in his hair no power could wake him.
His two companions arrived on the rocks an hour later, and were dismayed at sight of him, far below them, in dead sleep. In his hair they espied the magic pin, and in a moment they recognised it, and guessed at what had occured. The archer had his bow bent in a trice, and the next the braon was dashed from the hair of Cush, and lay powerless at his feet. He awoke, took his foot again in his hand, looked at the pin, then up at the cliff, waved his free arm in gratitude, seized on the oar, and the skiff went skimmimg over the great sea fleeter than the swiftest arrow. Fir na Mulla Headha put his hand to his eyebrow, and spoke to his comrade :-" Through the thick air and the mist I still see the shooting bark ; the dim veils are clearing a little round Cush, and he seems almost at the world's end; a low, thick fog lies beyond; the boat speeds to it, and it becomes a land of rocks, and woods, and valleys, as grey as clouds. He enters a bay, secures his boat, advances inland. A grove is before him, and under the shade of trees as old as the world stands a ring of mighty stones. Within is a cromleacht, and overshadowing it the holly-bough and berry-bearing yew ; at its foot springs the marigold. He leaves the dim land behind him. I see the boat more plainly, but the land has become a cloud. The boat is larger, but the cloud bank has vanished. Here he comes swifter than the arrow from your own bow-string."
Great was the joy of the druidical servants as they met; but after a moment Cush fe Crish cried out, " Our work is only half accomplished. The powerful Amarach is speeding south, and if she reaches Bean Tra she will induce Feargal to touch the land, and then our labour is void. You, Ï Boghadoir (archer), have done your duty -follow at your leisure. Get on my back, Ï Mulla Headha. I value not your weight a dry leaf. Now for the southern bay. On they swept, leaving the breeze behind them, and at last spied the sage Amarach as she skimmed by the side of Ben Gulban, and passed the mound of the sword hilt, where Diarmuid the peerless perished by the tusk of the fell wild boar. She found herself pursued, and increased her speed ; but Cush fe Crish found new vigour in his limbs at sight of her, and still was gaining as they brushed the hills of Iar-Conacht.1
1 Star or far, West; Soir, Oirthir, East ; Thuaig, North ; Deas, South.
As they approached Knoc an Air (hill of slaughter),1 Tied Foot, who had not yet put forth his utmost speed, swept past, and his rider, making him stop and turn about, blew from his mouth such a mighty tempest as rooted up the oaks in its path. Catching up the sorceress, she was blown through the air to a great distance, and a second blast put all further struggles on her part at an end.
Feargal had waited wearily in the fated boat the long hours of the day. Toward the gathering of the dark he heard the distant tempest, which astonished him, for, wild and horrifying as it was, it lasted only for a few seconds. Approaching the shore, he perceived as it were a flash of lightning darting from the bosom of the hills, and ceasing at the near strand. He then distinguished, in a soft, dimly-bright vapour that hovered on the shore, the servants and their powerful mistress. He sprung to land, and Finncaev, advancing and smiling on him, placed the magic gifts in his hand. While he was pouring out his thanks, she turned to her ministers, and laid her hands caressingly on their shoulders. Smiles of pleasure came over their weird features, and while Feargal was looking on in awe, the figures and the soft vapour vanished.
But shouts of joy were heard on every side, and crowds bearing torches were hurrying through various defiles to the shore. The figure of Feargal had been descried, and he was now conducted in triumph to the dun, and the trophies were hung in the great hall. Amarach had not been seen since the previous night, and the meeting of the lovers and their speedy marriage was undisturbed by fears of the sorceress, or of her hellish spells.