Emerald Isle

The Hostel of the Quicken Trees

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

Battle is joined in The Hostel of the Quicken Trees

A dark horde of fell-handed warriors approached Ireland, sails gathered off the coast like storm clouds, billowing out in the gusts of uncertain wind, while oars bent to the rolling thunder of drums. Fierce indeed was the host of King Colgan, master of Lochlainn, and he came to make war on Cormac Mac Airt, High King of Ireland!

As soon as Fionn Mac Cumhaill heard what was afoot he quickly mustered the Fianna, brave warriors of Ireland, at his Dún on the Hill of Allen, and they marched out to the sound of brave horns and the cheers of the common folk.

Battle was joined and after many were killed, at last Colgan fell to Oscar, son of Fionn. Strife-weary and exhausted, Colgan's son Midac was captured and brought before Fionn. Having had his fill of blood that day and seeing Midac was but a young lad, he spared him and took him back to his home as a foster son.

As Midac grew to manhood many of the Fianna came to know him, and little enough they trusted him for in his heart they could feel a dark anger that never quite abated, so when he came of age Goll Mac Morna, the strongest of the Fianna, suggested to Fionn that he be sent away.

Although having little fear of Midac, Fionn did agree and told him he could live wherever he liked, and would be given lands and servants fitting for a young prince. Midac decided he'd live in Kanri on the Shannon river, and on some islands to the north of the mouth of that mighty waterway.

So there he dwelt for fourteen years, and with each passing year his bitter resentment grew, although none could say there was justice in it. Midac sent word to Lochlainn which he still considered his true home, and asked that an army be sent to carry out his vengeful dreams.

Well, not only did Lochlainn send an army, more enemies came from far countries to marshall behind his banner! Sinsar of the Battles, the King of the World, from Greece, and the king's son, Borb the Haughty were there, as well as the three kings from the Island of Torrent, each accompanied by his own army, which they hid on Midac's island.

Fionn was blithely unaware of the treachery which was afoot, so when he came upon Midac while out hunting with some of the Fianna, he cheerfully agreed to join him for a feast at the Hostel of the Quicken Trees, which was a hall made of Rowan, the tree of life. It seemed to Fionn that Midac was but being hospitable and repaying his generosity.

The hunting party was scattered hither and yon so Fionn left some of his men behind to wait and proceeded to the hall, although there oddly seemed to be no attendants, which struck him as peculiar. But he paid it no mind, as they were amazed at the richness they beheld, fine hangings on every wall, soft couches to rest on, and a bright roaring fire in the hearth to warm them.

It was a fine and bright place, with cunning inlaid carvings on the wood of its pillars and a scented thatch that was lit in the sun like golden hair, and all around it grew rowan trees with ripe berries red on them.  

“Certainly you have done well for yourself” said Fionn to Midac but when he looked around his host was nowhere to be seen.  “Odd,” he mused, and sat himself down anyway with his men.

Odder yet he thought it when the hangings rotted away into old leaves, and the fine strong walls were revealed as mouldy planks, the soft couches became mounds of freezing chilly earth and the many doors had disappeared!

Well Fionn had had enough so he told Conan to break down the door and they'd be off.

“Not a bother,” said Conan, making to rise, but then he fell back howling.

“Help, lads!” he shouted ”For I am fixed to this floor like I was a deep rooted quicken tree!”

When the others tried to get to him to help, they found themselves likewise caught, like flies in the web of a ghastly spider. Thinking quickly, Fionn put the thumb that had been burned by the skin of the Salmon of Knowledge in his mouth and the whole affair became clear to him.

Bitterly he groaned, “Fourteen years we've been plotted against and now the harvest is being reaped! Midac has a war host gathered on his island to destroy us, and it was by their black workings that we're stuck. The Three Kings of the Torrented Isle made the bargain which sealed our fate, and it is only by their blood being spilled on this cold clay that we will be freed again!”

The warriors of the Fianna put up a great hue and cry then, but Fionn bid them be silent, for it wasn't fitting for a warrior to wail and bemoan his troubles. Instead he told them to raise the Dord-Fian, the weird war cry of the Fianna, which could be heard by all in Ireland who had ears to hear.

Oisín, Diarmuid and the rest of the men who hadn't yet gathered heard the Dord and ran quickly to the hall, but Fionn told them not to set one foot inside, for they'd be caught too. He told them how the spell must be broken, and said to guard only the ford leading to the hall, as that was narrow and only two men at a time could cross.

In Midac's Dun on the Island there was great cheer and merrymaking at the news of Fionn's capture, and they thought the conquest of Ireland a done deed. One of the chieftains of the King of the World whispered to another that he'd away before the rest and take the heads of Fionn and his men, all the better to win the King's favour, and he took his army towards the Quicken wood.

When he got to the ford where one of Fionn's men waited, Innsa, he laughed at being challenged.

“I am to visit Fionn and bear away with me a keepsake, his head, and you're the very fellow to lead us to him!”

Innsa replied, “A strange way to carry out my orders that would be, since I've been told to hold this ford against all comers!”

So with a savage roar the chieftain had at him, and his army marched across the ford, but as he could only cross two abreast Innsa slew most of them before taking a mortal wound himself. Fiachna who was at the hall, hearing the sounds of battle, ran up just as Innsa fell and cut down the rest, so the few survivors returned to Midac in disarray.

That chieftain's brother meanwhile, wondering at the absence of his kin, went to find him but found only a ford choked with bodies and a sole warrior standing firm blocking the way. With a cry of fury he and his men launched themselves across the river, only to meet the same fate! But even so their numbers told and Fiachna was mortally wounded, although not before Oisín and several others came upon the scene and drove the enemy back.

Midac was enraged at the loss of his chieftains and stormed out with his own forces from Lochlainn, but when Oisín spied him he flung a jagged-tooth gae bolg spear into his chest, and Midac the traitor pulled his own innards out with it. Leaderless his raiders gave some fight but the heart was gone from them, and Diarmuid chopped Midac's head clean off.

Not so the three Kings of the Isle of Torrents, who were fresh and ready for struggle, although they paused to see the ford grown twice as wide with the mess of bodies choking it. Not waiting for them to charge, Oisín and Diarmuid sprang into the middle of them, and Diarmuid leaped the shields of his enemies with his yellow spear, striking the heads off the three kings as he did so.

From one side struck Diarmuid and from the other Oisín until at last the men of the Isle of Torrents were defeated. Then, remembering what Fionn had said about the undoing of the binding spell, Diarmuid tied the heads together and sprayed their warm blood on the door of the hostel, causing it fall aside with a mighty crash!

Within they beheld Fionn and his men, blinking owlishly in the setting sun.

“Well done you heroes, none such men as you have yet stood to protect the land of Ireland!” shouted Fionn, and told them to sprinkle the blood within, and so they did. The champions trapped within fell to the ground and rubbed their arms and legs, and Fionn knew they wouldn't be right until the sun rose again and washed away the last of the dark magic.

So Diarmuid returned to his watch at the ford with several other men of the Fianna to await the coming of the last of their foes, and they didn't have long to wait, for Borb the haughty had heard tell of the fate of the Three Kings and knew his time was now or never. He marched with desperate haste to the ford with Sinsar and struck with all his might, and the fighting carried on through the night.

It was a hard battle and grim, and often Diarmuid could see no further than the tip of his spear, which made it as well that he was so outnumbered for he couldn't fail to strike a foe! But he and his few held hard and fast until the dawn, when Fionn, Goll and the champions of the Fianna came forth in their battle fury, their strength fully returned.

It was still touch and go and the King of the World had sent a numberless horde of warriors, meaning to put an end to the Fianna once and for all, but Oisín the son of Fionn had lit out in the night and warned the rest of the hosts of Ireland about the invaders, so they came upon the struggle at noon.

With the Mornas and Baiscnes, the Mican-Smoils and the O'Navnan's at his back Oisín tore into the enemy with gusto, but it was Oscar who finally smote down Borb and Sinsar, dealing and receiving many wounds as he did so.

Their kings defeated, the invaders fled to their low ships and made good their escape with what few men and little dignity remained to them, and it was long and long before anyone dared challenge the Fianna again!

The Hostel of the Quicken Trees, or where it once stood, can be found below.

More Legends from the Fenian Cycle

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