Tag Archives: celtic

the voyage of bran

Prince Bran sat in his royal house. The ramparts were closed around and no more could anyone enter it. There was a gathering of the nobles and notables of the countryside, and Prince Bran feasted them in his hall.



A woman came and stood in the doorway of the hall. None knew how she had come there. She was fairer than any woman that Bran or any of the nobles or notables present had ever seen. Her garb was strange; no woman of that part of the country had ever worn a garb such as this woman had on. In her hand she held a branch; white blossoms were on it, and a fragrance came from them. She held the branch towards where Bran sat on his high seat, and as she did the woman chanted this lay to him:


Crystal and silver
The branch that to you I show:
’Tis from a wondrous isle–
Distant seas close it
Glistening around it
The sea-horses hie them:
Emne of many shapes,
Of many shades, that island.
They who that island near
Mark a stone standing:
From it a music comes,
Unheard-of, enchanting.
They who that music hear
In clear tones answer–
Hosts sing in choruses
To its arising.
A folk that through ages long
Know no decaying,
No death nor sickness, nor
A voice raised in wailing.
Such games they play there–
Coracle on wave-ways
With chariot on land contends–
How swift the race is!
Only in Emne is
There such a marvel–
Treason and wounding gone
And sorrow of parting!
Who to that island comes,
And hears in the dawning
The birds, shall know all delight,
All through the ages!
To him, down from a height,
Will come bright-clad women,
Laughing and full of mirth–
Lovely their coming!
Freshness of blossom fills
All the isle’s mazes;
Crystals and dragon-stones
Are dropped in its ranges!

But all my song is not
For all who have heard me
Only for one it is:
Bran, now bestir you!
Heeding the message brought,
In this, my word,
Seeing the branch I show,
Leave you a crowd.

She finished her lay; she held up the branch that was in her hand so that Bran saw the blossoms upon it and felt the fragrance that came from the blossoms. Then she was seen no more. Nor Bran nor any of the company that were in the hall knew how she had gone from where she had been.

When Prince Bran went abroad the next day he heard music whether he stood still or whether he walked on. A wide space was before him, and in it he saw neither man nor woman. He went upon a mound; he stood there and looked towards the sea. Still he could see no one, neither man nor woman. And yet the music was around him; it quieted all stir within him; he sat down upon the mound, and there he slept.

And in his sleep he saw the woman who had appeared with the branch in her hand. “Arouse thee,” she said to him in his dream. “Be no longer unheeding, no longer unready. Launch thy ship upon the sea and sail on until thou dost come to the island I sang to thee about.”

So Bran made ready his ship. Thrice nine companions he took with him, and over each of the nine he set one of his foster-brothers. They launched the ship from an inlet in their own territory, and they sailed their ship into the outer sea. For two days and two nights they saw only the waves and the monsters of the deep around them. On the third day they saw a sight that was stranger than the sight of any of the monsters of the deep: they saw a chariot coming across the surface of the sea.

The chariot was driven by a man of resplendent appearance; the horses yoked to it came on as if they were galloping over the surface of a plain. When the chariot came near the ship the man who was in it reined his horses and spoke to those who were sailing across the sea.

And this is what that resplendent charioteer said to Bran and his companions, “Manannan MacLer, the Lord of the Sea, am I who speak to thee. I go into your land to seek a queen who will bear a son to me; his teacher I will be, and he shall be beloved by the mortal and the immortal folk. He shall have wisdom and be able to disclose the mysteries without fear. He shall be a dragon before the hosts of battle, a wolf in the forest, an antlered stag upon the plain; he shall be a salmon of changing hues in the river, a seal in the sea, a white swan upon the shore; Mongan he shall be named.” Then Manannan chanted a lay to Bran, bidding him sail on, and telling him that he would soon come to the islands where the immortal folk were.

Manannan went over the waves in his chariot, and Bran and his companions sailed on. They came to an island from which a marvellous fragrance was blowing. They saw blossoming trees that grew to the edge of the water. They saw women upon the island, and they saw one who was a queen amongst them. Bran knew the queen, for she was the one who had appeared to him in his royal house, she was the one who had borne the branch with the blossoms. The queen cried to him from the island, “Come, Prince Bran, and land, for thou art welcome!”

But Bran and his companions were fearful of making a landing; they would have sailed off. Then the queen threw a ball of thread towards the ship. Bran caught it, and the thread held to the palm of his hand. The queen kept the other end of the thread, and she began to wind it. As she wound it she drew Bran and his ship to the island. Then Bran and his companions landed.

They went into the high house that was upon the island. There were couches there–couches enough for Bran and his companions. They were entertained there by the queen and her women. The mariners took the queen’s women for their companions, and the queen was with Bran.

On the island were all the marvels of which the queen had chanted to Bran when she stood in the doorway of his hall. And this island was one of fifty islands, each one of them larger than Ireland. Silver-cloud Plain. Plain of Sports, Bountiful Land, Gentle Land, were some of the names that these islands bore. All who were on them lived without fear of death, without treachery, without pain of parting.



Again the queen chanted a lay of the marvels of that land. She chanted it to Bran as she stood beside him outside of her own high house:

Age-old, and yet
It bears the white blossom,
This tree wherein
Birds’ songs are loud.
Hear! with the hours
The birds change their singing–
But always ’tis gladness–
Welcome their strain!
Look where the yellow-maned
Horses are speeding!
Look where the chariots
Are turning and wheeling!
Silver the chariots
On the plain yonder;
On the plain nigh us,
Chariots of bronze!
And from our grounds,
Cultivated, familiar,
No sound arises
But is tuned for our ear.
Splendour of colour
Is where spread the hazes;
Drops hair of crystal
From the waves’ manes!

And of the many-coloured
Land, Ildatach,
We dream when slumber
Takes us away.
‘Tis like the cloud
That glistens above us,
A crown of splendour
On beauty’s brow!

So it was on the island that was named Emne. But a day came when the first of his foster-brothers said to Bran, “In Ireland the blossoms go off the trees, and even the leaves are blown away. The ravens come with the storms. But I am fain to see again the land to which such changes come. Thou, Bran, didst bring us here. And if one of us only should desire it, it is right that thou shouldst bring us back to look upon our land again.”

Bran knew that it was right that he should do this–that he should let those who desired it look upon their own land again. He spoke to the queen; he told her that he would have to bring the mariners to within sight of the land of Ireland. Bitterly grieved was the queen when he told her this. But she gave him permission to go. “Let no one,” she said, “neither you nor any of your companions set foot upon the ground of your own country. And when you have looked upon that changing land, return; come to me here in the Land of the Ever-living.” Bran told her that he would sail only to within sight of the land, and that when he and his companions had looked upon it, they would turn their ship back.

The ship that had brought them to the island was still within a creek there. Nothing had changed on the ship; not a tear was in a sail, not a splinter was off an oar. The mariners went into the ship, and they sailed off. When they had sailed a little way an island appeared before them. They drew near to it, and they saw upon it a multitude of folk. All were playing games, all were merry, all were laughing. Bran sent one of his foster-brothers upon the island. They waited for him to return with tidings from the people.

But they waited for him in vain. For no sooner had this foster-brother of Bran’s gone upon the shore than he joined in the sports of the multitude; when he turned his face towards his fellows on the ship they saw that he was laughing happily. Not for all the signals they made would he return to them. Then Bran ordered his companions to sail on, leaving this foster-brother of his on the Island of Merriment.

They sailed on; they sailed to where the seas became misty. They sailed on and they saw the mist around Ireland. Then they sailed to that part of the north where Prince Bran’s territory was.

And when they were able to look upon that territory, they saw a throng of people near the shore. There was an assembly there of the people of the countryside. The mariners shouted to the people from the ship. “Bran, the prince of this territory, his foster-brothers, and the men who sailed with him are here,” they cried.

“We know no one of that name,” the spokesman of the people said, “but in our old stories Prince Bran is spoken of as one who made a voyage overseas.”

When Bran heard that said he bade the mariners turn the ship away from the shore. But the foster-brother who had desired so greatly to see the land of Ireland sprang from the ship and dashed through the water to the shore. The people went to where he landed and drew him amongst them. But even as they touched him he fell upon the shingle.



The people drew away from that man. Those who were upon the ship saw him lying there; as they looked upon him it seemed to them that he was like one who had been dead and buried for an age.

Then Bran spoke from the ship to the people upon the shore. He told them all that had befallen him and his companions since they had sailed from that place–a wondrous story it was to those who heard him tell it. And the learned who were amongst them wrote down in Ogham the chants that Bran had heard from the queen of the island. Then he bade the people farewell. He sailed back over the sea with his companions, and from that day to this there has been neither tale nor tidings of Prince Bran.

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The great Irish joiant, Fann Mac Cuil, lived to be a middle-aged man, without ever meeting his match, and so he was as proud as a paycock. He had a great fort in the Bog of Allen, and there himself and his warriors would be playing soord’ and pot-lid, or shootin’ bowarras, or pitchin’ big stones twenty or thirty miles off, to make a quay for the harbour of Dublin. One day he was quite down in the mouth, for his men were scattered here and there, and he had no one to wrestle or hurl, or go hunt along with him. So he was walking about very lonesome, when he sees a foot-messenger he had, coming hot-foot across the bog. “What’s in the win’ (wind)?” says he. “It’s the great Scotch giant, Far Rua, that’s in it,” says the other. “He’s coming over the big stepping stones that lead from Ireland to Scotland,  and you will have him here in less than no time. He heard of the great Fann Mac Cuil, and he wants to see which is the best man.” “Oh, ho!”says Fann, “I hear that the Far Rua is three foot taller nor me, and I’m three foot taller nor the tallest man in Ireland. I must speak to Grainne about it.”

Well, it wasn’t long till the terrible Scotch fellow was getting along the stony road that led across the bog, with a sword as big as three scythe blades, and a spear the lenth of the house. “Is the great Irish giant at home?” says he. “He is not,” says Fann’s messenger “he is huntin’ stags at Killarney; but the vanithee is within, and will be glad to see you, Follow me if you please.” In the hall they see a long deal (fir) tree, with an iron head on it, and a round block of wood, with an iron rim, as big as four cart wheels. “Them is the shield and spear of Fann,” says the messenger. “Ubbabow! says the giant to himself.

“You’re welcome, Far Rua,” says Grainne, as mild as the moon. “Sit down, and take such fare as God sends.” So she put before him a great big griddle cake, with the griddle itself inside, that had a round piece cut out at one part of the rim; and for a beefsteak, she gave him a piece of a red deal plank, with a skrimshin of hard meat outside.’ The first bite the giant give at the cake, he broke three of his teeth; and when he tried the beef the other ones stuck so fast in the deal, he could not draw them out. “By me soord, ma’am,” says he, “this is hard diet you give your company.” “Oh, Lord love you!” says she, “the children here think nothing of it. Let us see if the infant would object.” So she takes the cake over where Fann was lying in the cradle, and offers him the part where the piece was taken out of the griddle. Well, he bit off the bread with the greatest ease, chawed it, and swallyed it, and smacked his lips after it, and then he winked one eye at Far Rua. “Be the laws!” says the Scotchman to himself, “these is wonderful people.”

Well, they didn’t stent him in the drink any way. The jug of beer they laid before him would hold four gallons, and he emptied it out of spite at one offer, as he didn’t get fair play at the bread and mate. “I think,” says he, after his drink, “I’d like to see how Fann and his men amuses themselves after dinner.” “You must see that,” says the messenger. “Step out into the bawn, if it is agreeable to you.” Well, when they wor outside, the messenger pointed to four or five stones, the size and shape of a gate post. “Them is their finger stones, that they do be casting to see who’ll throw them, farthest. It is a good throw when one of them reaches Dublin. But Fann does mooroon (more than enough) sometimes; and you’ll see some of them sticking up out o’ the say where they light after a great fling. Maybe you’d like to try your hand.” He did try his hand, and after winding it round and round his head he let fly, and it went half a mile whistling, through the air, and broke in a hundred smithereens on a big stone in the bog. “You’ll do well,” says the boy, when you come to your full’ growth, and get a year’s practice or so with Fann.” “To the d—-I pitch Fann and his finger stones!” says the big Red Man to himself.

“Well, is there any other way they divart themselves?” says the stranger. “Oh, yes,’ says the boy.’ “Fann and his men does be throwing that handball (the ball was a round stone that ‘ud fill this’ hearth up to the mantel beam) from the bawn here, over the house, and running round and catching it before it “comes to the ground. Every miss counts one lost,” .’ “Wonderful quare people is the Irish,” said the big man. “Maybe if it wouldn’t go over with me at the first offer, it might break down the roof, and that ‘ud annoy the vanithee. I’ll pitch it up in the air here, and you can mark.” So he gave a heave. “How high is it gone?” “Up to the window sill.” “Now?” “Up to the eaves.” “Dickens take it! Now where is it!” “Oh, sir, it is on your head.” And indeed so it was, and levelled him also, and only he had a reasonable hard noggin of his own, it would be cracked in two with the souse the big stone gave it again’ the ground.

He got up, and rubbed his poor skull, and looked very cross. “I suppose Fann won’t be home to-night.” “Sir, he’s not expected for a week.” “Well, give the vanithee my compliments, and tell her I must go back without bidding her good bye, for fear the tide would overtake me crossing the Causeway.”

The Giant’s Causeway, of which there are now visible only some slices at the two extremities. Those trustworthy chroniclers, the ancient bards, affirm that it is the work of the ancient Irish and Scotch men of might, laid down to facilitate their mutual visits.

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children of lir

LONG ago when the Tuatha De Danaan lived in Ireland there was a great King called Lir. He had four children–Fionnuala, Aodh, Fiacra, and Conn. Fionnuala was the eldest and she was as beautiful as sunshine in blossomed branches; Aodh was like a young eagle in the blue of the sky; and his two brothers, Fiacra and Conn, were as beautiful as running water. In those days sorrow was not known in Ireland: the mountains were crowned with light, and the lakes and rivers had strange starlike flowers that shook a rain of jewelled dust on the white horses of the De Danaans when they came down to drink. The horses were swifter than any horses that are living now and they could go over the waves of the sea and under deep lake-water without hurt to themselves. Lir’s four children had each one a white horse and two hounds that were whiter than snow.

Every one in Lir’s kingdom loved Fionnuala, and Aodh, and Fiacra, and Conn, except their step-mother, Aoifa. She hated them, and her hatred pursued them as a wolf pursues a wounded fawn. She sought to harm them by spells and witchcraft. She took them in her chariot to the Lake of Darvra in Westmeath. She made them bathe in the lake and when they were coming out of the water she struck them with a rod of enchantment and turned them into four white swans. Swim as wild swans on this lake,” she said, “for three hundred years, and when that time is ended swim three hundred years on the narrow sea of the Moyle, and when that time is ended swim three hundred years on the Western Sea that has no bounds but the sky.”

aodh, november 2004, union hall

Then Fionnuala, that was a swan, said:

“O Wicked Woman, a doom will come upon you heavier than the doom you have put on us and you will be more sorrowful than we are to-day. And if you would win any pity in the hour of your calamity tell us now how we may know when the doom will end for us.”

“The doom will end when a king from the North weds a queen from the South; when a druid with a shaven crown comes over the seas; when you hear the sound of a little bell that rings for prayers.”

The swans spread their wings and flew away over the lake. They made a very sorrowful singing as they went, lamenting for themselves.

When the Great King, their father, knew the sorrow that had come to him, he hastened down to the shore of the lake and called his children.

They came flying to him, four white swans, and he said:

“Come to me, Fionnuala; come Aodh; come Conn; come Fiacra.” He put his hands on them and caressed them and said: ” I cannot give you back your shapes till the doom that is laid on you is ended, but come back now to the house that is mine and yours, White Children of my Heart.”

Then Fionnuala answered him:

“The shadow of the woman who ensnared us lies on the threshold of your door: we cannot cross it.”

And Lir said:

“The woman who ensnared you is far from any home this night. She is herself ensnared, and fierce winds drive her into all the restless places of the earth. She has lost her beauty and become terrible; she is a Demon of the Air, and must wander desolate to the end of time–but for you there is the firelight of home. Come back with me.”

Then Conn said:

“May good fortune be on the threshold of your door from this time and for ever, but we cannot cross it, for we have the hearts of wild swans and we must fly in the dusk and feel the water moving under our bodies; we must hear the lonesome cries of the night. We have the voices only of the children you knew; we have the songs you taught us–that is all. Gold crowns are red in the firelight, but redder and fairer is dawn.”

Lir stretched out his hands and blessed his children. He said:

“May all beautiful things grow henceforth more beautiful to you, and may the song you have be melody in the heart of whoever hears it. May your wings winnow joy for you out of the air, and your feet be glad in the water-ways. My blessing be on you till the sea loses its saltness and the trees forget to bud in springtime. And farewell, Fionnuala, my white blossom; and farewell Aodh, that was the red flame of my heart; and farewell, Conn, that brought me gladness; and farewell, Fiacra, my treasure. Lonesome it is for you, flying far off in places strange to you; lonesome it is for me without you. Bitter it is to say farewell, and farewell, and nothing else but farewell.”

fionnuala & fiacra, october 2007, sligo

Lir covered his face with his mantle and sorrow was heavy on him, but the swans rose into the air and flew away calling to each other. They called with the voices of children, but in their heart was the gladness of swans when they feel the air beneath them and stretch their necks to the freedom of the sky.

Three hundred years they flew over Lake Darvra and swam on its waters. Often their father came to the lake and called them to him and caressed them; often their kinsfolk came to talk with them; often harpers and musicians came to listen to the wonder of their singing. When three hundred years were ended the swans rose suddenly and flew far and far away. Their father sought them, and their kinsfolk sought them, but the swans never touched earth or rested once till they came to the narrow Sea of the Moyle that flows between Ireland and Scotland. A cold stormy sea it was, and lonely. The swans had no one to listen to their singing, and little heart for singing amid the green curling bitter waves. The storm-wind beat roughly on them, and often they were separated and calling to one another without hope of an answer. Then Fionnuala, for she was the wisest, said:

“Let us choose a place of meeting, so that when we are separated and lost and wandering each one will know where to wait for the others.

The swans, her brothers, said it was a good thought; they agreed to meet together in one place, and the place they chose was Carraig-na-Ron, the Rock of the Seals. And it was well they made that choice, for a great storm came on them one night and scattered them far out over the sea. Their voices were drowned in the tempest and they were driven hither and thither in the darkness.

In the pale morning Fionnuala came to the Rock of the Seals. Her feathers were broken with the wind and draggled with the saitness of the sea and she was lamenting and calling on Aodh and Fiacra and Conn.

“O Conn, that I sheltered under my feathers, come to me! O Fiacra, come to me! O Aodh, Aodh, Aodh, come to me!”

And when she did not see them, and no voice answered, she made a sore lamentation and said:

“O bitter night that was blacker than the doom of Aoifa at the first to us! O three that I loved! O three that I loved! The waves are over your heads and I am desolate!”

She saw the red sun rising, and when the redness touched the waters, Conn came flying to her. His feathers were broken with the wind and draggled with the saltness of the sea. Fionnuala gathered him under her wings and comforted him, and she said:

“The day would not seem bitter to me now if only Aodh and Fiacra were come.”

In a little while Fiacra came to her over the rough sea. She sheltered and comforted him with her wings, and she cried over the waters:

“O Aodh, Aodh, Aodh, come to me!”

The sun was high in the heavens when Aodh came, and he came with his feathers bright and shining and no trace of the bitter storm on him.

“O where have you been, Aodh?” said Fionnuala and Fiacra and Conn to him.

“I have been flying where I got sight of our kinsfolk. I have seen the white steeds that are swifter than the winds of March, and the riders that were comrades to us when we had Our own shapes. I have seen Aodh and Fergus, the two sons of Bove Dearg.”

“O tell us, Aodh, where we may get sight of them!” said the swans.

“They are at the river mouth of the Ban,” said Aodh, “Let us go there, and we may see them though we cannot leave the Moyle.”

So much gladness came on all the swans that they forgot their weariness and the grievous buffeting of the storm and they rose and flew to the river mouth of the Bann. They saw their kinsfolk, the beautiful company of the Faery Host, shining with every colour under heaven and joyous as the wind in Springtime.

“O tell us, dear kinsfolk,” said the swans, ” how it is with our father?”

“The Great King has wrapped his robes of beauty about him, and feasts with those from whom age cannot take youth and light-hearted-ness,” said Fergus.

“Ah,” said Fionnuala, ” he feasts and it is well with him! The joy-flame on his hearth cannot quench itself in ashes. He cannot hear us calling through the night–the wild swans, the wanderers, the lost children.”

The Faery Host was troubled, seeing the piteous plight of the swans, but Aodh, that was a swan said to Fergus, his kinsman and comrade:

“Do not cloud your face for us, Fergus; the horse you ride is white, but I ride a whiter–the cold curling white wave of the sea.”

Then Fiacra said:

“O Fergus, does my own white horse forget me, now that I am here in the cold Moyle?”

And Conn said:

“O Fergus, tell my two hounds that I will come back to them some day.”

The memory of all beautiful things came on the swans, and they were sorrowful, and Fionnuala said:

“O beautiful comrades, I never thought that beauty could bring sorrow: now the sight of it breaks my heart,” and she said to her brothers:

“Let us go before our hearts are melted utterly.” The swans went over the Moyle then, and they were lamenting, and Fionnuala said:

“There is joy and feasting in the house of Lir to-night, but his four children are without a roof to cover them.”

“It is a poor garment our feathers make when the wind blows through them: often we had the purple of kings’ children on us.

“We are cold to-night, and it is a cold bed the sea makes: often we had beds of down with broidered coverings.

“Often we drank mead from gold cups in the house of our father; now we have the bitterness of the sea and the harshness of sand in our mouths.

“It is weariness–O a great weariness–to be flying over the Moyle; without rest, without cornpanions, without comfort.

“I am thinking of Angus to-night: he has the laughter of joy about him for ever.

“I am thinking to-night of Mananaun, and of white blossoms on silver branches.

“O swans, my brothers, I am thinking of beauty, and we are flying away from it for ever.”

The swans did not see the company of the Faery Host again. They swam on the cold stormy sea of the Moyle, and they were there till three hundred years were ended.

“It is time for us to go,” said Fionnuala, “we must seek the Western Sea.”

The swans shook the water of the Moyle from their feathers and stretched out their wings to fly.

When they were come to the Western Sea there was sorrow on them, for the sea was wilder and colder and more terrible than the Moyle. The swans were on that sea and flying over it for three hundred years, and all that time they had no comfort, and never once did they hear the foot-fall of hound or horse or see their faery kinsfolk.

conn, november 2007, union hall

When the time was ended, the swans rose out of the water and cried joyfully to each other:

“Let us go home now, the time is ended!”

They flew swiftly, and yet they were all day flying before they came to the place where Lir had his dwelling; when they looked down they saw no light in the house, they heard no music, no sound of voices. The many-coloured house was desolate and all the beauty was gone from it; the white hounds and the brightmaned horses were gone, and all the beautiful glad-hearted folk of the Sidhe.

“Every place is dark to us!” said Conn. “Look at the hills!”

The swans looked at the hills they had known, and every hill and mountain they could see was dark and sorrowful: not one had a star-heart of light, not one had a flame-crown, not one had music pulsing through it like a great breath.

“O Aodh, and Conn, and Fiacra,” said Fionnuala, “beauty is gone from the earth: we have no home now!”

The swans hid themselves in the long dank grass, till morning. They did not speak to each other; they did not make a lamentation; they were silent with heaviness of grief. When they felt the light of morning they rose in the air and flew in wide circles seeking their kinsfolk. They saw the dwellings of strangers, and a strange people tending flocks and sowing corn on plains where the Tuatha De Danaan had hunted white stags with horns of silver.

“The grief of all griefs has come upon us!” said Fionnuala. “It is no matter now whether we have the green earth under us or bitter sea-waves: it is little to us now that we are in swans’ bodies.”

Her brothers had no words to answer her; they were dumb with grief till Aodh said:

“Let us fly far from the desolate house and the dead hills. Let us go where we can hear the thunder of the Western Sea.”

The swans spread their wings and flew westward till they came to a little reedy lake, and they alit there and sheltered themselves, for they had no heart to go farther.

They took no notice of the days and often they did not know whether it was the moon or the sun that was in the sky, but they sang to each other, and that was all the comfort they had.

One day, while Fionnuala was singing, a man of the stranger-race drew near to listen. He had the aspect of one who had endured much hardship. His garments were poor and ragged. His hair was bleached by sun and rain. As he listened to the song a light came into his eyes and his whole face grew beautiful. When the song ended he bowed himself before the swans and said:

“White Swans of the Wilderness, ye have flown over many lands. Tell me, have ye seen aught of Tir-nan-Oge, where no one loses youth; or Tir-na-Moe, where all that is beautiful lives for ever; or Moy-Mell, that is so honey-sweet with blossom?”

“Have we seen Tir-nan-Oge? It is our own country! We are the children of Lir the King of it.”

“Where is that country? How may one reach it? Tell me! ”

“Ochone! It is not anywhere on the ridge of the world. Our father’s house is desolate! ”

“Ye are lying, to make sport for yourselves! Tir-nan-Oge cannot perish–rather would the whole world fall to ruin!

“O would we had anything but the bitterness of truth on our tongues!” said Aodh. “Would we could see even one leaf from those trees with shining branches where the many-coloured birds used to sing! Ochone! Ochone! for all the beauty that has perished with Tir-nan-Oge!”

The stranger cried out a loud sorrowful cry and threw himself on the ground. His fingers tore at the roots of the grass. His body writhed and trembled with grief.

The children of Lir wondered at him, and Aodh said:

“Put away this fierceness of grief and take consolation to yourself. We, with so much heavier sorrow, have not lamented after this fashion.”

The stranger raised himself: his eyes blazed like the eyes of a hunted animal when it turns on the hunters.

“How could your sorrow be equal to mine? Ye have dwelt in Tir-nan-Oge; ye have ridden horses whiter than the snow of one night and swifter than the storm-wind; ye have gathered flowers in the Plain of Honey. But I have never seen it–never once! Look at me! I was born a king! I have become an outcast, the laughing stock of slaves! I am Aibric the wanderer!–I have given all–all, for the hope of finding that country. It is gone now–it is not anywhere on the round of the world!”

“Stay with us,” said Fiacra, “and we will sing for you, and tell you stories of Tir-nan-Oge.”

“I cannot stay with you! I cannot listen to your songs! I must go on seeking; seeking;

seeking while I live. When I am dead my dreams will not torment me. I shall have my fill of quietness then.”

“Can you not believe us when we tell you that Tir-nan-Oge is gone like the white mists of morning? It is nowhere.”

“It is in my heart, and in my mind, and in my soul! It burns like fire! It drives me like a tireless wind! I am going. Farewell!

“Stay!” cried Aodh, “we will go with you. There is nothing anywhere for us now but brown earth and drifting clouds and wan waters. Why should we not go from place to place as the wind goes, and see each day new fields of reeds, new forest trees, new mountains? O, we shall never see the star-heart in any mountain again! ”

“The mountains are dead,” said Conn.

“The mountains are not dead,” said Aibric. “They are dark and silent, but they are not dead. I know. I have cried to them in the night and laid my forehead against theirs and felt the beating of their mighty hearts. They are wiser than the wisest druid, more tender than the tenderest mother. It is they who keep the world alive.”

“O,” said Fionnuala, ” if the mountains are indeed alive let us go to them; let us tell them our sorrowful story. They will pity us and we shall not be utterly desolate.”

Aibric and the swans journeyed together, and at dusk they came to a tall beautiful mountain–the mountain that is called Nephin, in the West.

It looked dark and sombre against the fading sky, and. the sight of it, discrowned and silent, struck chill to the hearts of our wild swans: they turned away their heads to hide the tears in their eyes. But Aibric stretched his hands to the mountain and cried out:

“O beautiful glorious Comrade, pity us! Tir-nan-Oge is no more, and Moy-Mell is lost for ever! Welcome the children of Lir, for we have nothing left but you and the earth of Ireland!”

Then a wonder happened.

The star-heart of Nephin shone out–magnificent–tremulous–coloured like a pale amethyst.

The swans cried out to each other:

“The mountain is alive! Beauty has come again to the earth! Aibric, you have given us back the Land of Youth!”

A delicate faery music trembled and died away and was born again in the still evening air, and more and more the radiance deepened in the heart of Nephin. The swans began to sing most sweetly and joyously, and at the sound of that singing the star-heart showed in mountain after mountain till every mountain in Ireland pulsed and shone.

“Crown yourselves, mountains!” said Aodh, “that we may know the De Danaans are still alive and Lir’s house is builded now where old age cannot wither it! ”

The mountains sent up great jewelled rays of light so that each one was crowned with a rainbow; and when the Children of Lir saw that splendour they had no more thought of the years they had spent over dark troublous waters, and they said to each other:

“Would we could hear the sound of the little bell that rings for prayers, and feel our swan-bodies fall from us!”

“I know the sound of a bell that rings for prayers,” said Aibric, ” and I will bring you where you can hear it. I will bring you to Saint Kemoc and you will hear the sound of his bell.”

“Let us go,” said the swans, and Aibric brought them to the Saint. The Saint held up his hands and blessed God when he saw them, and he besought them to remain a while and to tell him the story of their wanderings. He brought them into his little church and they were there with him in peace and happiness relating to him the wonders of the Land of Youth. It came to pass then that word reached the wife of King Largnen concerning the swans: she asked the king to get them for her, and because she demanded them with vehemence, the king journeyed to the Church of Saint Kemoc to get the swans.

When he was come, Saint Kemoc refused to give him the swans and Largnen forced his way into the church to take them. Now, he was a king of the North, and his wife was a queen of the South, and it was ordained that such a king should put an end to the power of Aoifa’s spell.

He came to the altar, and the swans were close to it. He put his hands on the swans to take them by force. When he touched them the swan-feathers dwindled and shrivelled and became as fine dust, and the bodies of Lir’s children became as a handful of dust, but their spirits attained to freedom and joined their kinsfolk in the Land-of-the-Ever-Living.

It was Aibric who remembered the story of the children of Lir, because he loved them. He told the story to the people of Ireland, and they were so fond of the story and had such pity for Lir’s children that they made a law that no one was to hurt a wild swan, and when they saw a swan flying they would say:

“My blessing with you, white swan, for the sake of Lir’s children!”

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cry of the celts

dolmen, neolithic burial tomb, october 2007, donegal, ireland

Wikipedia –

The History of Ireland began with the first known human settlement in Ireland around 8000 BC, when hunter-gatherers arrived from Britain and continental Europe, probably via a land bridge. Few archaeological traces remain of this group, but their descendants and later Neolithic arrivals, particularly from the Iberian Peninsula, were responsible for major Neolithic sites such as Newgrange. Following the arrival of Saint Patrick and other Christian missionaries in the early to mid-5th century, Christianity subsumed the indigenous pagan religion by the year 600.


celtic cross, october 2007, sligo, ireland

From around 800, more than a century of Viking invasions wrought havoc upon the monastic culture and on the island’s various regional dynasties, yet both of these institutions proved strong enough to survive and assimilate the invaders. The coming of Anglo-Norman mercenaries under Richard de Clare, 2nd Earl of Pembroke, nicknamed Strongbow, in 1169 marked the beginning of more than 800 years of direct English involvement in Ireland.


celtic cross, october 2007, louth, ireland

the whole of ireland was occupied and ruled by great britain for over 800 years. the descendants of ancient celtic tribes were robbed of their land, self government, pride and basic human freedoms. hundreds of years of british plantation and manipulation reduced the majority of the irish population to a life of peasantry in the 19th century, subordinate to greedy landlords – 8 million people totally relying on … a potato.

irish farmer, october 2007, sligo, ireland

in 1845 a fungus attacked the only source of food available to a poor rural population, most of them living in mud cabins. the worst european disaster of the 19th century, known as the irish famine, lasted 7 years and brought mass starvation. during these years the british rule showed total incompetence, dublin nobility continued partying and greedy landlords exported enough grain to have kept millions of irish alive. within 7 years the irish population fell by 3.5 million. exactly how many died and how many emigrated? nobody knows.

famine village, october 2007, donegal, ireland

the easter rising of 1916, lasting a week, devastating dublin and ending in the rebels’ surrender and execution of leaders expedited the 1918 war of independence and brought to the partition of ireland in 1921. northern ireland remained a part of the u.k., a state which discriminated the catholic irish as a matter of policy.

commemoration murial, october 2007, belfast

the troubles began in the late 1960’s. 30 years of bloody violence between republican and loyalist paramilitary groups, including the ira, the royal ulster constabulary (the police force of northern ireland at the time) and the british army. between 1969 and 2001, 3,523 people were killed as a result of the troubles, 1,855 of them civilians, 47,000 injured, 16,000 bombings, 20,000 imprisoned. quite an intifada!

a gate in the barrier, october 2007, belfast

almost unbelievably, on friday april 10th 1998, good friday, both british and irish governments signed the belfast agreement for the creation of a power-sharing executive body committed to the use of “exclusively peaceful and democratic means”. the agreement was endorsed by almost all northern ireland political parties. which, with great emotion, reminds me of a song from childhood – 

Last night I had the strangest dream,
I never dreamed before.
I dreamed the world had all agreed
To put an end to war.
I dreamed I saw a mighty room,
The room was filled with men.
And the papers they were signing said
They’d never fight again.

And when the papers were all signed,
And a million copies made
They all joined hands and bowed their heads,
And grateful prayers were made.
And the people in the streets below,
They all danced round and round.
And guns and swords and uniforms
Were scattered on the ground.

international wall, october 2007, belfast

why the great emotion? because as an israeli living in a land of violent conflict, who has served in the army and been in wars, who is raising three children in this crazy part of the world, the eldest of which is now doing military service … there is hope! in this sense belfast was amazing! past enemies of decades living side by side in a modern city, sharing governing powers and responsibility for building the future, making a sincere effort together. not everything is perfect. the peace is tense. a barrier still divides parts of the city and the gates are locked every evening at 6 to prevent unnecessary friction. i felt the tension in the air, i could almost touch it. but everyone i talked to can voice only one thing – hope for lasting peace. yes, for me that causes a surge of emotion from deep inside.

hope for lasting peace, october 2007, sligo, ireland

as always, super quality prints and licensing options available.

nir, with thanks to david o’connor!


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