Conall and the Ring
Irish and Celtic myths and legends, Irish folklore and Irish fairy tales from the Fenian Cycle
Fionn was not alone in seeking one of the salmon of knowledge!
There once was a young fellow called Conall, and he lived with his parents in the east of the country. They lived a quiet life, catching fish and digging up oysters for meat and lamps, but one dark day the Fomors came and demanded tribute. Having none to give, his father bid the sea demons begone, but instead they made to take himself and his family for slaves!
A terrible fight broke out and the Fomorians slew his parents, so Conall fled into the deep dark woods with the silver sea-hounds of the raiders slobbering at his heels. Deep into the rainy night he fled, across a wrenching and thundering river with boulders rolling around in it, until he came at last to a cave.
He scurried inside with no care for what else might be there, for he was only glad to get away from the hounds and out of the chill downpour, but he needn't have feared, for there was only a herd of goats as miserable as himself. Shivering with shock and the clinging wetness, he soon fell asleep.
Before too long who should come into the cave with a wriggling salmon in one hand but an enormous giant, whose earthshaking footsteps woke Conall from his fitful slumber and whose single eye in the middle of his forehead was as large as the sun in the sky! He was as tall as five men one standing atop the shoulders of the other, and wider yet, an enormous creature from olden times.
He saw Conall and let a roar at him. "Who is this who sleeps in my home uninvited? But seeing as you're here, you can make yourself useful and roast this salmon – carefully now mind! For if I spot a single blister I'll cut the head clean off your shoulders and roast you as well! And don't think you'd be the first."
He struck a fire from the stone and continued in a mumble as he slid to the floor to sleep himself, "Three days and three nights I've hunted this salmon, and never has it been out of my sight, for it is the most wonderful salmon in all the world."
With that he fell asleep on the floor, and Conall put the salmon on a spit, holding it above the crackling flames. No sooner had the giant gone to sleep than he started to snore, and each time he drew a breath into his body he dragged Conall, the salmon, the fire and the goats to his mouth! And when he exhaled, they were thrown back to where they were before.
Time and again Conall was sucked towards the giant's gaping mouth with such force that he was in dread of going down his throat, but nonetheless he managed to roast the salmon on the spit. Then with dread he saw what he feared most – a single large blister rising on the skin of the fish!
Knowing he was done for otherwise, he pushed down on the blister with his thumb in order to burst it and hide the damage from the giant, but he burned himself and put it into his mouth to ease the pain. Quick as a flash, he suddenly received the knowledge of all things, and in the next moment was pulled towards the mouth of the giant again, right up to his face.
Knowing what to do now, he plunged the sharp spit into the giant’s sleeping eye and destroyed it.
That instant the giant with a single bound was at the low entrance of the cave, and, standing with his back to the wall and a foot on each side of the opening, roared out: “I swear by my darkened eye that you will not leave this place alive!”
Conall killed the largest goat with his knife and skinned him as quickly as the deed could be done, then wrapped the skin about himself and drove the herd toward the entrance to the cave, between the giant’s legs. When he passed below the giant himself, the giant took him by the horns, but Conall slipped out of the skin and fled into the night.
With a sigh of great despair and sadness, the giant declared “Oh you have bested me! And I am undone. But before you leave, let me make you a gift to show there are no hard feelings.”
“I’m afraid to go near you,” said Conall, “if you wish to give me a present, put it out this way, and then step well back.”
So the giant put a ring on the ground a little distance from the cave, then went back. Conall took up the ring and put it on the end of his little finger above the first joint, where it clung so firmly that no man in the world could have taken it off.
The giant then called out, “Where are you?”
“On Conall’s finger,” cried the ring. Like a thunderbolt the giant sprang at Conall and almost landed on his head, and if he had been only a little closer there would have been only jam where Conall once stood. Conall leapt back, his forest ways standing to him as he moved in silence, but again the giant asked, “Where are you?”
“On Conall’s finger,” answered the ring.
And again the giant made a leap, coming down just in front of Conall. Many times he called and many times he almost caught Conall, who could not escape with the ring on his finger. Locked in this terrifying dance, he was at a loss as to how he should live to see the dawn, but he remembered the wisdom when he bit his thumb, and so he bit it again.
Conall bit his thumb so hard that he bled, and when he tasted blood he knew what to do. He took the knife with which he had skinned the goat, cut off his finger at the first joint, and threw it, with the ring still on, into a deep bog close by.
Again the giant called out, “Where are you?” and the ring answered, “On Conall’s finger.”
Straight away the giant sprang towards the voice, sank to his shoulders in the bog, and stayed there forever after.
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