Emerald Isle

The Feast of the Fianna

Irish and Celtic myths and legends, Irish folklore and Irish fairy tales from the Fenian Cycle

A man in sheep's clothing

It was a fine day in Ireland many years ago when Fionn and his Fianna took a fancy to go out hunting. Warm was the sun amid the whispering glades of ancient forests, gentle was the breeze and sweet the scent of summer flowers in its bosom. Sweeter yet was the sight of a mighty deer to the eyes of the hunters, and so they gave chase, howling with delight!

All day and into the darkness of the evening they followed the deer, until twilight purpled the heavens and their quarry was lost in the many glooms around them. Tired and hungry, the Fianna gazed about themselves and realised they had come to a strange place.

Well as the saying goes, if you’re lost walk slowly but don’t stop, so on they went in increasing exhaustion, until at last the forest seemed to open out before them and they beheld a great Dún or strong place ahead.

Greatly puzzled, for none of them had heard tell of a fortress of this size and power in the area, they nonetheless climbed the broad stone steps and passed through the impressive entryway, framed and beamed with hard old black oak.

The mystery only deepened when they found none within and no sign of life or occupation save only a great table bowed and creaking with the very finest food and drink, wine and mead, leek-boiled hams and roasted barley-salmon stuffed with fragrant herbal cheese.

The warrior Cluas le hÉisteacht, whose name meant “the listening ear”, was sent to keep watch while the others wasted no time in settling themselves down on the heavy chairs and getting stuck in to the feast before them!

Pleasant was their merriment and jovial their banter until it was time to leave, when suddenly an unwelcome surprise revealed itself – they found themselves stuck to the chairs upon which they sat and were unable to stand up! Each man first spoke and then shouted to the others, jumping and rattling around, but so heavy were the chairs they couldn’t even overturn one – for all the good that would have done them!

Naturally enough they turned to their leader for counsel, and Fionn bit his thumb to invoke the Imbas Forosnaí, which means the illumination of inspiration, the mystical gift he had gotten from the salmon of knowledge.

He gulped then for he knew the chairs and banquet were the work of something from the old world before the earth-rending flood that had cleansed much evil from the land, a hungry old stoop which should have passed away long ago, but had instead set this trap like a hunter might lay tar upon a branch to catch songbirds.

They sat, he knew then, in Teach Duinn, the House of Darkness.

Through the boundaries it had returned by the mischief-working of sorcery, and with that the answer came to him in a flash!

“Boundary water!” he shouted “fetch water from the boundaries between realms, that will free us!”

Cluas le hÉisteacht heard him well and although he had been feeling glum to have missed the feast, was now only delighted to be hungry, and he took to his heels as fast as he could, urged on by the shouts of the Fianna as the fire guttered low in its place. Fionn eyed it with worry, for he suspected that should it go out, something else would come in!

Cluas le hÉisteacht returned with a vessel full of water from a bubbling spring nearby, speaking of strange signs he had seen upon the rocks, but Fionn waved that aside and told him to wash the hindquarters of each man with the water. This he did, and one by one they stood and stretched, dancing and laughing.

At the very last he came to Conán but the water was all gone, used in freeing his comrades! Fionn began to feel real fear as he looked at the last few darkening coals and knew there was no time left to go back for more water, so he grabbed Conán by the shoulders and just lifted him up by main force.

Well he got poor Conán up alright but such was the strength he had to apply that a wide strip of Conán’s skin was left behind on the seat! They fled the hall but Conán was in a bad way, bleeding heavily, so they happened across a sheep nearby which they killed and skinned, placing a piece of fleece over Conán’s wound.

Soon enough the injury healed and the wool was shorn, but not long after it grew back again in plenty! And from that day onwards, Conán was able to provide enough wool for the Fianna to keep them in gloves and stockings.

Near to the House of Darkness may be found on the map below!

More Legends from the Fenian Cycle

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