The Taking of Connla
Irish and Celtic myths and legends, Irish folklore and Irish fairy tales tales of Ireland
Some paths should not be travelled, as in The Taking of Connla
Connla of the Fiery Hair was one of the sons of Conn of the Hundred Battles, and his favourite son, a swift and agile warrior with a voice that could make the mountains tremble. Himself and his father climbed the heights of Usna on Samhain, when he saw coming towards them a slender maiden of great beauty, clad in strange clothes.
“Where do you come from, lady?” asked Connla curiously, for it was bitter cold and windy upon Usna that night, and she wasn't warmly dressed, yet still the blush of spring was on her cheeks.
“I come from the Plain of Light, the White Fields,” she said, “the land of the Everliving! In my land there is neither death nor sin, and every day is a holiday. There is no war and no strife to spoil our pleasure, and it is beneath the hills that lie the paths to our home.”
“Who's that you're talking to, son?” asked Conn the King.
And the maiden replied, “Connla speaks to a young and gracious maiden, oh King, one who knows neither death nor old age. I love Connla and in my heart I desire his company, so I call him away to the plain of joy, Moy Mell, where Manannan mac Lir is King forever, and none would raise their voice against him.”
“Oh come with me, Connla of the Fiery Hair, rich as the dawn, a sidhe crown waits for your head, and fitting it will be! Come and your youth and beauty will never fail, until the last awful day of judgement.”
The King was then struck with terror at the sound, for he could see nobody yet he could hear a voice, so he swiftly summoned his druid Coran to the scene.
“Oh Coran of the many spells,” he said, “and of the cunning craft, help me here, for this is beyond my ken. A maiden with no form or shape I can see has come to this place, and she wishes to take my son with her witchery! Help us or he'll be lost.”
So Coran the druid stood up against the rising moon and stretching out his hands he began to chant mighty spells, raising mist from the ground, shot through with the sound of hooting owls and hissing snakes. Towards the spot where the maiden's voice had been heard he pointed, and the apparitions gathered there, until she was seen and heard no more.
But behind her she left a bright green apple, which Connla swiftly picked up and hid in his tunic!
For a whole month after that Connla would eat nothing except bites of his hidden apple, and when he was finished with it, it grew back again whole, and a great desire grew in him all the whole to see again the maiden and hold her hand.
When the end of the month came Connla stood by his father's side on the Plain of Arcomin, and what did he see but the very same maiden walking towards him.
“Your place among mayfly mortals is high, Connla,” she whispered, “but now the land of the Everliving calls – come with me to Moy Mell, come to those who have learned of you and wish to meet you, come to your new family!”
At that, despite her whispering, Conn's sharp ears caught the words, and he called again for Coran to strike her dumb.
Groaning, the maiden said, “Oh mighty King Conn, victor of a hundred battles, the druid's power is hated among us, and has no honour among the upright folk. When the Law comes, it will do away with his magic spells that come from the lips of a false black demon!”
Coran came up quickly then and heard the words of the sidhe, and so he answered:
“All she says is true, my king, but I tell you that her folk fear no death for they died long ago! Beneath the Hill they dwell, for it is there they were buried, and dance their endless dances, never changing in joyless joy. Judgement will fall hardest upon those who defy the natural order of the world!”
But the king didn't hear him, looking instead at his son, who had said nothing all this while.
“Do you hear what is said by her, my son?” he asked.
“It's no easy question,” said Conn, “for I love my own family more than anything else, but I'm seized with a great longing for the maiden.”
When the lady heard this she said quickly “The tides of the ocean are not so strong as the pull of your desire, come with me in my curragh, my shimmering straight-gliding boat! We can reach the sun before it sets and will feast in Manannan mac Lir's realm and go further yet to the land of wives and maidens, and there we will make our home.”
And then the king and his court saw Connla run away from them faster than any could catch – he leaped into a Curragh which came from the mists and sailed away over the bright sea towards the setting sun, and they were never seen nor heard from again, leaving behind only the tinkling sound of a sidhe's laughter.
Below on the map is marked the ancient Hill of Usna or Uisneach at the centre of Ireland, where once the Samhain-fires burned brightly and the Sidhe lay yet beneath.
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