Emerald Isle

Treachery at Ben Edair

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

Sweet words are easily spoken

It was in the day of Fionn Mac Cumhaill when he was an old man, yet still hale and hearty, that one of his warriors, whose name was Diarmaid son of Donn and grandson of Duibne, had carried off his young bride-to-be, Gráinne daughter of Cormac! The two had fallen in love and Gráinne, for all of Fionn's fame, wanted nothing to do with him.

Well the two decided to elope and I can tell you, Fionn was none too happy with this turn of events! A famous chase ensued and eventually the two young lovers came to the place called Ben Edair, or the Hill of Howth, where they hid in a deep cave.

While they rested an old woman looked after them, a servant of Donn's house who was helping them to escape. She left the cave while they rested and saw a lone armed man of great splendour walking towards her out of the sea mists.

As he approached, she could see that it was none other than Fionn himself, the warrior-chief! She remained calm for she thought he knew her not, but asked him had he any news.

“I have great news for you,” he said in a most charming manner, “for I have come to woo thee and my greatest desire is that you should live with me as my only wife!” He continued with many flattering words until she finally believed him and said she would do as he asked.

And when she learned that Fionn wanted her to betray Diarmuid to him, she didn't hesitate, for her vanity had blinded her. With that, she went to the sea and dipped her cloak and hood in the icy ocean, then went back to the cave where the two young lovers rested.

When Diarmuid saw her, he asked her how she had become so wet.

“I confess,” said she, “I never saw or heard the like of it for cold and storms. For the frost has spread over the hillocks, and there is not a smooth plain in all Elga, in which there is not a long restless river between every two ridges’, said she.

“And no deer or raven in Ireland finds shelter in a cave or in any other place, or in an island, or in the bay of Fálmag.” Craftily she shook her cloak across the cave, and sang these words:

“Cold, cold!
Cold tonight is the broad plain of Lurg,
Higher the snow than the mountain-range,
The deer cannot get at their food.

Cold till Doom!
The storm has spread over all:
A river is each furrow upon the slope,
Each ford a full pool.

A great sea is each loch, which is full,
A full loch is each pool.
Horses do not get over Ross-ford,
No more do two feet get there.

The fishes of Inis Fáil are a-roaming,
There is no strand that a wave does not beat
In the lands there is no house visible,
Not a bell is heard, no crane talks.

The hounds of Cuan-wood find not
Rest nor sleep in the dwelling of hounds,
The little wren cannot find
Shelter in her nest on Lon-slope.

On the little company of the birds has broken forth
Keen wind and cold ice,
The blackbird cannot get a lee to her liking,
Shelter at the side in Cuan-woods.

Cosy our pot on the hook,
Crazy the hut on Lon-slope:
The snow has smoothed the wood here,
Toilsome to climb by kine-horned staves.

Glenn Rigi’s ancient bird
From the bitter wind gets grief,
Great her misery and her pain,
The ice will get into her mouth.

From flock and from down to rise
— Take it to heart! — were folly for thee
Ice in heaps on every ford,
That is why I keep saying “cold”!”

And then she left to fetch Fionn, certain that the pair would stay put in the cave after her dreadful warnings about the weather outside. But when she was gone, Gráinne dipped her finger in the droplets of water that had sprayed from the cloak, and found they tasted of salt!

“Woe, oh Diarmaid!” she cried, “the old woman has betrayed us. Get up quickly and wear your armour and war-garb!”

Well that is exactly what he did, and the pair of them fled the cave's darkness as fast as their legs could carry them. When they emerged onto the hillside they saw Fionn and his Fianna approaching from afar. Diarmuid looked around in desperation and saw a skiff in the shelter of the harbour nearby.

Gráinne and himself hopped into that little boat mighty quickly, and found but a single sailor in it – wearing a beautiful raiment about him, with a broad-braided golden-yellow mantle over his shoulder behind. It was none other than Aengus of the Brug, the fosterfather of Diarmaid, who had come to rescue him from the red wrath of Fionn's night-watch.

The Hill of Howth can be found on the map below!

More Legends from the Fenian Cycle

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