THE BIRTH OF BRAN.
THERE are people who do not like dogs a bit...
in this story there is a man who did not
like dogs. In fact, he hated them. When he saw one he
used to go black in the face, and he threw rocks at it until
it got out of sight. But the Power that protects all creatures
had put a squint into this man's eye, so that he always threw
crooked. There is no more light in the sky—
This gentleman's name was Fergus Fionnliath, and his
stronghold was near the harbour of Galway. Whenever a
dog barked he would leap out of his seat, and he would
throw everything that he owned out of the window in the
direction of the bark. He gave prizes to servants who
disliked dogs, and when he heard that a man had drowned
a litter of pups he used to visit that person and try to marry
Now Fionn, the son of Uail, was the reverse of Fergus
Fionnliath in this matter, for he delighted in dogs, and
he knew everything about them from the setting of the first
little white tooth to the rocking of the last long yellow one.
He knew the affections and antipathies which are proper in
a dog; the degree of obedience to which dogs may be
trained without losing their honourable qualities or becoming
servile and suspicious; he knew the hopes that animate
them, the apprehensions which tingle in their blood, and
all that is to be demanded from, or forgiven in, a paw, an
ear, a nose, an eye, or a tooth; and he understood these things
because he loved dogs, for it is by love alone that we understand anything.
Among the three hundred dogs which Fionn owned there
were two to whom he gave an especial tenderness, and who
were his daily and nightly companions. These two were
Bran and Sceolan, but if a person were to guess for twenty
years he would not find out why Fionn loved these two dogs
and why he would never be separated from them.
Fionn's mother, Muirne, went to wide Allen of Leinster
to visit her son, and she brought her young sister Tuiren
with her. The mother and aunt of the great captain were
well treated among the Fianna, first, because they were
parents to Fionn, and second, because they were beautiful
and noble women.
No words can describe how delightful Muirne was â€”
She took the branch; and as to Tuiren, a man could not look
at her without becoming angry or dejected. Her face was
fresh as a spring morning; her voice more cheerful than the
cuckoo calling from the branch that is highest in the hedge;
and her form swayed like a reed and flowed like a river, so
that each person thought she would surely flow to him.
Men who had wives of their own grew moody and
downcast because they could not hope to marry her, while
the bachelors of the Fianna stared at each other with truculent,
bloodshot eyes, and then they gazed on Tuiren so gently
that she may have imagined she was being beamed on by
the mild eyes of the dawn.
It was to an Ulster gentleman, Iollan Eachtach, that
she gave her love, and this chief stated his rights and qualities
and asked for her in marriage.
Now Fionn did not dislike the men of Ulster, but either
he did not know them well or else he knew them too well,
for he made a curious stipulation before consenting to the
marriage. He bound Iollan to return the lady if there should
be occasion to think her unhappy, and Iollan agreed to do
so. The sureties to this bargain were Caelte mac Ronan,
Goll mac Morna, and Lugaidh. Lugaidh himself gave
the bride away, but it was not a pleasant ceremony for him,
because he also was in love with the lady, and he would have
preferred keeping her to giving her away. When she had
gone he made a poem about her, beginning:
And hundreds of sad people learned the poem by heart.
Lovely the day. Dear is the eye of the dawn—
When Iollan and Tuiren were married they went to Ulster,
and they lived together very happily. But the law of life
is change; nothing continues in the same way for any
length of time; happiness must become unhappiness, and
will be succeeded again by the joy it had displaced. The
past also must be reckoned with; it is seldom as far behind
us as we could wish: it is more often in front, blocking the
way, and the future trips over it just when we think that the
road is clear and joy our own.
Iollan had a past. He was not ashamed of it; he
merely thought it was finished, although in truth it was only
beginning, for it is that perpetual beginning of the past
that we call the future.
Before he joined the Fianna he had been in love with
a lady of the Shí, named Uct Dealv (Fair Breast), and they
had been sweethearts for years. How often he had visited
his sweetheart in Faery! With what eagerness and anticipation
he had gone there; the lover's whistle that he used
to give was known to every person in that Shí, and he had
been discussed by more than one of the delicate sweet ladies
"That is your whistle, Fair Breast," her sister of the
Shí would say.
And Uct Dealv would reply;
"Yes, that is my mortal, my lover, my pulse, and my
She laid her spinning aside, or her embroidery if she
was at that, or if she were baking a cake of fine wheaten
bread mixed with honey she would leave the cake to bake
itself and fly to Iollan. Then they went hand in hand in
the country that smells of apple-blossom and honey, looking
on heavy-boughed trees and on dancing and beaming clouds.
Or they stood dreaming together, locked in a clasping of
arms and eyes, gazing up and down on each other, Iollan
staring down into sweet grey wells that peeped and flickered
under thin brows, and Uct Dealv looking up into great black
ones that went dreamy and went hot in endless alternation.
Then Iollan would go back to the world of men, and
Uct Dealv would return to her occupations in the Land of
the Ever Young.
"What did he say?" her sister of the Shí would ask.
"He said I was the Berry of the Mountain, the Star of
Knowledge, and the Blossom of the Raspberry."
"They always say the same thing," her sister pouted.
"But they look other things," Uct Dealv insisted.
"They feel other things," she murmured; and an endless
Then for some time Iollan did not come to Faery, and
Uct Dealv marvelled at that, while her sister made an hundred
surmises, each one worse than the last.
"He is not dead or he would be here," she said. "He
has forgotten you, my darling."
News was brought to Tir na n-Og of the marriage of
Iollan and Tuiren, and when Uct Dealv heard that news her
heart ceased to beat for a moment, and she closed her eyes.
"Now!" said her sister of the Shí. "That is how long
the love of a mortal lasts," she added, in the voice of sad
triumph which is proper to sisters.
But on Uct Dealv there came a rage of jealousy and
despair such as no person in the Shí had ever heard of, and
from that moment she became capable of every ill deed;
for there are two things not easily controlled, and they are
hunger and jealousy. She determined that the woman who
had supplanted her in Iollan's affections should rue the day
she did it. She pondered and brooded revenge in her heart,
sitting in thoughtful solitude and bitter collectedness until
at last she had a plan.
She understood the arts of magic and shape-changing,
so she changed her shape into that of Fionn's female runner,
the best-known woman in Ireland; then she set out from
Faery and appeared in the world. She travelled in the
direction of Iollan's stronghold.
Iollan knew the appearance of Fionn's messenger, but he
was surprised to see her.
She saluted him.
"Health and long life, my master."
"Health and good days," he replied. "What brings
you here, dear heart?"
"I come from Fionn."
"And your message?" said he.
"The royal captain intends to visit you."
"He will be welcome," said Iollan. "We shall give
him an Ulster feast."
"The world knows what that is," said the messenger
courteously. "And now," she continued, "I have messages
for your queen."
Tuiren then walked from the house with the messenger,
but when they had gone a short distance Uct Dealv drew a
hazel rod from beneath her cloak and struck it on the queen's
shoulder, and on the instant Tuiren's figure trembled and
quivered, and it began to whirl inwards and downwards,
and she changed into the appearance of a hound.
It was sad to see the beautiful, slender dog standing
shivering and astonished, and sad to see the lovely eyes that
looked out pitifully in terror and amazement. But Uct
Dealv did not feel sad. She clasped a chain about the
hound's neck, and they set off westward towards the house
of Fergus Fionnliath, who was reputed to be the unfriendliest
man in the world to a dog. It was because of his reputation
that Uct Dealv was bringing the hound to him. She did
not want a good home for this dog: she wanted the worst
home that could be found in the world, and she thought
that Fergus would revenge for her the rage and jealousy
which she felt towards Tuiren.
As they paced along Uct Dealv railed bitterly against the
hound, and shook and jerked her chain. Many a sharp
cry the hound gave in that journey, many a mild lament.
"Ah, supplanter! Ah, taker of another girl's sweetheart!"
said Uct Dealv fiercely. "How would your lover
take it if he could see you now? How would he look if
he saw your pointy ears, your long thin snout, your shivering,
skinny legs, and your long grey tail. He would not love
you now, bad girl!"
"Have you heard of Fergus Fionnliath," she said again,
"the man who does not like dogs?"
Tuiren had indeed heard of him.
"It is to Fergus I shall bring you," cried Uct Dealv.
"He will throw stones at you. You have never had a stone
thrown at you. Ah, bad girl! You do not know how a
stone sounds as it nips the ear with a whirling buzz, nor how
jagged and heavy it feels as it thumps against a skinny leg.
Robber! Mortal! Bad girl! You have never been
whipped, but you will be whipped now. You shall hear
the song of a lash as it curls forward and bites inward and
drags backward. You shall dig up old bones stealthily at
night, and chew them against famine. You shall whine
and squeal at the moon, and shiver in the cold, and you will
never take another girl's sweetheart again."
And it was in those terms and in that tone that she
spoke to Tuiren as they journeyed forward, so that the hound
trembled and shrank, and whined pitifully and in despair.
They came to Fergus Fionnliath's stronghold, and Uct
Dealv demanded admittance.
"Leave that dog outside," said the servant.
"I will not do so," said the pretended messenger.
"You can come in without the dog, or you can stay out
with the dog," said the surly guardian.
"By my hand," cried Uct Dealv, "I will come in with
this dog, or your master shall answer for it to Fionn."
At the name of Fionn the servant almost fell out of his
standing. He flew to acquaint his master, and Fergus
himself came to the great door of the stronghold.
"By my faith," he cried in amazement, "it is a dog."
"A dog it is," growled the glum servant.
"Go you away," said Fergus to Uct Dealv, "and when
you have killed the dog come back to me and I will give
you a present."
"Life and health, my good master, from Fionn, the son
of Uail, the son of Baiscne," said she to Fergus.
"Life and health back to Fionn," he replied. "Come
into the house and give your message, but leave the dog
outside, for I don't like dogs."
"The dog comes in," the messenger replied.
"How is that?" cried Fergus angrily.
"Fionn sends you this hound to take care of until he
comes for her," said the messenger.
"I wonder at that," Fergus growled, "for Fionn knows
well that there is not a man in the world has less of a liking
for dogs than I have."
"However that may be, master, I have given Fionn's
message, and here at my heel is the dog. Do you take
her or refuse her?"
"If I could refuse anything to Fionn it would be a dog,"
said Fergus, "but I could not refuse anything to Fionn, so
give me the hound."
Uct Dealv put the chain in his hand.
"Ah, bad dog!" said she.
And then she went away well satisfied with her revenge,
and returned to her own people in the Shí.
On the following day Fergus called his servant:
"Has that dog stopped shivering yet?" he asked.
It has not, sir," said the servant.
"Bring the beast here," said his master, "for whoever
else is dissatisfied Fionn must be satisfied."
The dog was brought, and he examined it with a jaundiced
and bitter eye.
"It has the shivers indeed," he said.
"The shivers it has," said the servant.
"How do you cure the shivers?" his master demanded,
for he thought that if the animal's legs dropped off, Fionn
would not be satisfied.
"There is a way," said the servant doubtfully.
"If there is a way, tell it to me," cried his master
"If you were to take the beast up in your arms and hug
it and kiss it, the shivers would stop," said the man.
"Do you mean—?" his master thundered, and he
stretched his hand for a club.
"I heard that," said the servant humbly.
"Take that dog up," Fergus commanded, "and hug it
and kiss it, and if I find a single shiver left in the beast I'll
break your head."
The man bent to the hound, but it snapped a piece out
of his hand, and nearly bit his nose off as well.
"That dog doesn't like me," said the man.
"Nor do I," roared Fergus; "get out of my sight."
The man went away and Fergus was left alone with
the hound, but the poor creature was so terrified that it
began to tremble ten times worse than before.
"Its legs will drop off," said Fergus. "Fionn will
blame me," he cried in despair.
He walked to the hound.
"If you snap at my nose, or if you put as much as the
start of a tooth into the beginning of a finger!" he growled.
He picked up the dog, but it did not snap, it only
trembled. He held it gingerly for a few moments.
"If it has to be hugged," he said, "I'll hug it. I'd
do more than that for Fionn."
He tucked and tightened the animal into his breast,
and marched moodily up and down the room. The dog's
nose lay along his breast under his chin, and as he gave it
dutiful hugs, one hug to every five paces, the dog put out
its tongue and licked him timidly under the chin.
"Stop," roared Fergus, "stop that for ever," and he
grew very red in the face, and stared truculently down along
his nose. A soft brown eye looked up at him and the shy
tongue touched again on his chin.
"If it has to be kissed," said Fergus gloomily, "I'll
kiss it. I'd do more than that for Fionn," he groaned.
He bent his head, shut his eyes, and brought the dog's
jaw against his lips. And at that the dog gave little wriggles
in his arms, and little barks, and little licks, so that he could
scarcely hold her. He put the hound down at last.
"There is not a single shiver left in her," he said.
And that was true.
Everywhere he walked the dog followed him, giving
little prances and little pats against him, and keeping her
eyes fixed on his with such eagerness and intelligence that
"That dog likes me," he murmured in amazement.
"By my hand," he cried next day, "I like that dog."
The day after that he was calling her "My One Treasure,
My Little Branch." And within a week he could not bear
her to be out of his sight for an instant.
He was tormented by the idea that some evil person
might throw a stone at the hound, so he assembled his
servants and retainers and addressed them.
He told them that the hound was the Queen of Creatures,
the Pulse of his Heart, and the Apple of his Eye, and he
warned them that the person who as much as looked sideways
on her, or knocked one shiver out of her, would answer
for the deed with pains and indignities. He recited a list
of calamities which would befall such a miscreant, and these
woes began with flaying and ended with dismemberment,
and had inside bits of such complicated and ingenious torment
that the blood of the men who heard it ran chill in their
veins, and the women of the household fainted where they
In course of time the news came to Fionn that his mother's
sister was not living with Iollan. He at once sent a messenger
calling for fulfilment of the pledge that had been given to
the Fianna, and demanding the instant return of Tuiren.
Iollan was in a sad condition when this demand was made.
He guessed that Uct Dealv had a hand in the disappearance
of his queen, and he begged that time should be given him
in which to find the lost girl. He promised if he could not
discover her within a certain period that he would deliver
his body into Fionn's hands, and would abide by whatever
judgement Fionn might pronounce. The great captain
agreed to that.
"Tell the wife-loser that I will have the girl or I will
have his head," said Fionn.
Iollan set out then for Faery. He knew the way, and
in no great time he came to the hill where Uct Dealv
It was hard to get Uct Dealv to meet him, but at last
she consented, and they met under the apple boughs of
"Well!" said Uct Dealv. "Ah! Breaker of Vows
and Traitor to Love," said she.
"Hail and a blessing," said Iollan humbly.
"By my hand," she cried, "I will give you no blessing,
for it was no blessing you left with me when we parted."
"I am in danger," said Iollan.
"What is that to me?" she replied fiercely.
"Fionn may claim my head," he murmured.
"Let him claim what he can take," said she.
"No," said Iollan proudly, "he will claim what I can
"Tell me your tale," said she coldly.
Iollan told his story then, and, he concluded, "I am
certain that you have hidden the girl."
"If I save your head from Fionn," the woman of the Shí
replied, "then your head will belong to me."
"That is true," said Iollan.
"And if your head is mine, the body that goes under
it is mine. Do you agree to that?"
"I do," said Iollan.
"Give me your pledge," said Uct Dealv, "that if I
save you from this danger you will keep me as your sweetheart until the end of life and time."
"I give that pledge," said Iollan.
Uct Dealv went then to the house of Fergus Fionnliath,
and she broke the enchantment that was on the hound, so
that Tuiren's own shape came back to her; but in the matter
of two small whelps, to which the hound had given birth,
the enchantment could not be broken, so they had to remain
as they were. These two whelps were Bran and Sceolan.
They were sent to Fionn, and he loved them for ever after,
for they were loyal and affectionate, as only dogs can be,
and they were as intelligent as human beings. Besides that,
they were Fionn's own cousins.
Tuiren was then asked in marriage by Lugaidh who
had loved her so long. He had to prove to her that he was
not any other woman's sweetheart, and when he proved
that they were married, and they lived happily ever after,
which is the proper way to live. He wrote a poem beginning:
And a thousand merry people learned it after him.
But as to Fergus Fionnliath, he took to his bed, and he
stayed there for a year and a day suffering from blighted
affection, and he would have died in the bed only that Fionn
sent him a special pup, and in a week that young hound
became the Star of Fortune and the very Pulse of his Heart,
so that he got well again, and he also lived happily ever after.
Stephens, James, ed. Irish Fairy Tales.
London: The Macmillan Co., Ltd., 1920. 91-108.