The Dream of Aengus
Irish and Celtic myths and legends, Irish folklore and Irish fairy tales from the Ulster Cycle
True love comes in many forms
It was a warm and balmy summer's night, heavy with the fragrances of heather and honeysuckle, when Aengus, son of Dagda, awoke to find a beautiful young woman approaching him where he had slept. He was immediately taken with her grace and elegance, and his heart yearned for her, but when he tried to speak, she vanished!
He stayed in his bed until morning, but sleep was far from his mind as he wondered greatly who she had been, this mysterious midnight visitor. Not a bite of food did he eat that day, and his fevered brow was furrowed with thoughts of her.
He didn't sleep that night either, but stayed awake until she came to him. No words did he speak, for fear she might vanish like a reflection on the waters again. She brought forth a timpán, which was a kind of lyre used in ancient Ireland, and played sweet music to soothe him until he slept soundly.
A full year passed in this way, and it was only sicker and sicker he got with each nightly visit! He was deep in love with the young woman but told nobody what ailed him. The healers of Eriu gathered and prodded him and poked him, they gave him herbal remedies and tinctures of rare substances, but nothing seemed to work.
At last they called for Fingen, who was the healer of Cond, and he saw immediately where the problem lay, just as he could tell from the smoke rising from a chimney-hole how many were sick inside a house, and what their sicknesses were.
Fingen took Aengus aside and confided that he knew what ailed him – love in absence! Aengus broke down then and confessed the whole business, so Fingen nodded and decided the wisest course of action would be to send for Boand, the mother of Aengus.
Well she wasted no time in arriving, and Fingen explained what had been going on.
“It would be best for you to tend him,” he said, “and for you to search throughout Eriu until the figure that has been visiting Aengus is found.”
For a full year thereafter the queen's warriors and wise folk searched high and low throughout Eriu, but in the end no sign of her was found, so they called next for the Dagda, who had knowledge of many things hidden and lost.
When he arrived Fingen told him everything, and said to him
“It is right that you help him, for his death would be a pity. Love in absence has overcome him, and no help for it has been found.”
“Why tell me?” asked the Dagda, “My knowledge is no greater than yours!”
“Indeed it is greater,” replied Ferdne, “for you are the king of all of the Sidhe, the people of the mounds, of Eriu. Will you send messengers to the spirit Bodb who rules the Sidhe of Mumu, and who knows all the deep ways?”
Fast fairy riders were sent to the Bodb in Mumu, which we today know as Munster, and they were made welcome. When they heard the trouble that afflicted Aengus, they wasted no time in agreeing to help find this young lady, and the Bodb assured them he would search for a full year to be certain.
At the end of the year, Bodb's people went to him at his house in Sídh ar Femuin and said
“We made a circuit of Eriu, and we found the girl at Loch Béal Dragún, the Lake of the Dragon's Mouth in Cruit Cliach, the Harps of Cliach.”
Messengers went to the Dagda, who rejoiced at the news, and they asked him to bring Aengus back with them to be certain they had the right woman.
Aengus was brought to Sidh ar Femuin in a bronze-studded chariot and made welcome, a great feast was laid out for his arrival, laden with every kind of delicacy and wholesome food to restore his strength.
After that, the Bodb said to Aengus “Let us go to see if you recognise the girl. You may look upon her, but be warned that it is not in my power to give her to you!”
They travelled a ways until they reached the lake, and there they saw thrice times fifty young girls, and among them was none other than the lady who had stolen the heart of Aengus! The other girls were no taller than her shoulders, and they were linked in pairs by silver chains. Only Aengus' girl wore a silver necklace and a chain of polished, glimmering gold.
“Is that her?” inquired the Bodb.
“It is,” confirmed Aengus.
“That is the end of it then,” said the Bodb.
“Never,” said Aengus, “Who is she?”
“Her name is Cáer Ibormeith daughter of Ethal Anbúail from Sídh Uamuin in the kingdom of Connachta,” said the Bodb.
So Aengus returned to his own land and brought the Bodb with him, and they came before the Dagda to tell him their news – how the girl's form and appearance were just as Aengus had seen, and they spoke her name and those of her father and grandfather.
“A pity that we cannot get her,” said the Dagda.
“What you should do is go to Ailill and Medb, for the girl is in their territory,” said Bodb.
So the Dagda went to Connachta and brought with him a great entourage, three score beautiful chariots, many riders and followers. They were made welcome and spent a full week feasting and drinking.
Then the King asked the Dagda, “Why have you come to visit, arrayed in such panoply?”
“There is a girl in your territory,” said the Dagda, “and my son has fallen in love with her. He will not eat and wastes away while he dreams of her. I have come to see if you will give her to me. She is the daughter of Ethal Anbúail.”
“We do not have the power to give her to you,” said Ailill and Medb.
“Then the best thing would be to have the King of that mound called here,” said the Dagda.
Ailill's herald went to Ethal Anbúail and said “Ailill and Medb require that you come and speak with them.”
“I will not come,” Ethal said, “and I will not give my daughter to the son of the Dagda.”
The herald repeated this to Ailill, saying “He knows why he has been summoned, and he will not come.”
“No matter,” said Ailill, “for he will come, and the heads of his warriors with him!”
As you can tell, even among fairies it is no small thing to defy a king!
Ailill's household and the Dagda's warriors rose up against the sidh and destroyed it, and from the ruins they brought out three score bloody heads and the King in chains, from where he was brought to Crúacha.
King Ailill said then to Ethal Anbúail “Give your daughter to the son of the Dagdae!”
“I cannot,” he replied, “for her power is greater than mine.”
“What great power does she have?” Ailill asked in bafflement.
“Being in the form of a bird each day of one year and in human form each day of the following year,” Ethal said.
“Which year will she be in the shape of a bird?” Ailill asked with a calculating look.
“It is not for me to reveal that,” Ethal replied.
“It's your head,” shrugged said Ailill, lifting his razor sharp wide sword.
“I will conceal it no longer, then, but will tell you, since you are so obstinate,” said Ethal, “next Samhain she will be in the form of a bird at Loch Béal Dragún, and beautiful birds will be seen with her, thrice fifties of swans about her.”
Peace and friendship were made between Ailill and Ethal and the Dagda, then, and the Dagda waved farewell and went to his house to tell Aengus all the doings.
“Go next Samhain, when the worlds are thin, to Loch Béal Dragún,” he said, “and call her to you there.”
Aengus went to Loch Béal Dragún, which was also called Lough Béal Seod, the Lake of the Jewel Mouth, where he saw the three times fifty white birds with silver chains, and golden hair about their heads, and there were no more beautiful birds in all of Eriu. Aengus was in human form at the edge of the lake, and he called to the girl, saying
“Come and speak with me, Cáer!”
“Who is calling to me?” asked Cáer.
“Aengus is calling,” he replied, “he whom you have visited many nights and played sweet music to.”
“I will come,” she said, “if you can promise me that I may return to the water.”
“You have my promise,” he said.
She went to him, then and he put his arms round her, and they slept in the form of swans upon the waters until they had circled the lake three times, and that is how he kept his promise. They left in the form of two great swans and flew to Brugh mac Óg, and there they sang until the people inside fell asleep for three days and three nights.
The girl remained with Aengus forever after, and this is how the friendship between Ailill and Medb and Aengus arose, and this is why Aengus took three hundred warriors of the mounds to the cattle raid of Cúailnge when that time came.
Loch Béal Dragún, also known as Lough Béal Seod, and today called Lough Muskry can be found on the map below!
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