THE COMING OF FINN
And now we tell how Finn came to the captaincy of the Fianna of Erinn.
At this time Ireland was ruled by one of the mightiest of her native
kings, Conn, son of Felimy, who was surnamed Conn of the Hundred
Battles. And Conn sat in his great banqueting hall at Tara, while the
yearly Assembly of the lords and princes of the Gael went forward,
during which it was the inviolable law that no quarrel should be raised
and no weapon drawn, so that every man who had a right to come to that
Assembly might come there and sit next his deadliest foe in peace. Below
him sat at meat the provincial kings and the chiefs of clans, and the
High King's officers and fighting-men of the Fianna, with Goll and the
sons of Morna at their head. And there, too, sat modestly a strange youth,
tall and fair, whom no one had seen in that place before. Conn marked him
with the eye of a king that is accustomed to mark men, and by and by he
sent him a horn full of wine from his own table and bade the youth declare
his name and lineage. "I am Finn, son of Cumhal," said the youth, standing
among them, tall as a warriors spear, and a start and a low murmur ran
through the Assembly while the captains of the Fianna stared upon him like
men who see a vision of the dead. "What seek you here?" said Conn, and Finn
replied, "To be your man, O King, and to do you service in war as my
father did." "It is well," said the King. "Thou art a friend's son and
the son of man of trust." So Finn put his hand in the Kind's and swore
fealty and service to him, and Conn set him beside his own son Art, and
all fell to talking again and wondering what new things that day would
bring forth, and the feasting went merrily forward.
Now at this time the people of the royal burg of Tara were sorely
afflicted by a goblin of the Fairy Folk, who was wont to approach the
place at night-fall, there to work what harm to man, or beast, or
dwelling that he found in his evil mind to do. And he could not be
resisted, for as he came he played on a magic harp a strain so keen and
sweet, that each man who heard it must needs stand entranced and
motionless until the fairy music had passed away. The King proclaimed a
mighty reward to any man who would save Tara from the goblin, and Finn
thought in his heart, "I am the man to do that." So he said to the King,
"Shall I have my rightful heritage as captain of the Fianna of Erin if I
slay the goblin?" Conn said, "I promise thee that," and he bound himself
by the sureties of all the provincial Kings of Ireland and of the Druid
Kithro and his magicians.
Now there was among the following of Conn a man named Fiacha, who had
been as a youth a trusty friend and follower of Cumhal. He came to Finn
and brought with him a spear having a head of dark bronze with
glittering edges, and fastened with thirty rivets of Arabian gold, and
the spear-head was laced up within a leathern case. "By this weapon of
enchantment," said Fiacha, "you shall overcome the enchanter," and he
taught Finn what to do with it when the hour of need should come.
So Finn took the spear, and left the strings of the case loose, and he
paced with it towards night-fall around the ramparts of royal Tara. And
when he had once made the circuit of the rampart, and the light had now
almost quite faded from the summer sky, and the wide low plains around
the Hill of Tara were a sea of white mist, he heard far off in the
deepening gloom the first notes of the fairy harp.
"Finn heard far off the first notes of the fairy harp"
Never such music was made by mortal hand, for it had in it sorrows that man has never felt,
and joys for which man has no name, and it seemed as if a man listening
to that music might burst from time into eternity and be as one of the
Immortals for evermore. And Finn listened, amazed and rapt, till at last
as the triumphant melody grew nearer and louder he saw dimly a Shadow
Shape playing as it were on a harp, and coming swiftly towards him. Then
with a mighty effort he roused himself from dreams, and tore the cover
from the spear-head and laid the metal to his brow. And the demoniac
energy that had been beaten into the blade by the hammers of unearthly
craftsmen in ancient days thrilled through him and made him
fighting-mad, and he rushed forward shouting his battle-cry, and
swinging the spear aloft. But the Shadow turned and fled before him, and
Finn chased it northward to the Fairy Mound of Slieve Fuad, and there he
drove the spear through its back. And what it was that fell there in the
night, and what it was that passed like the shadow of a shadow into the
Fairy Mound, none can tell, but Finn bore back with him next day a pale,
sorrowful head on the point of Fiacha's spear, and the goblin troubled
the folk of royal Tara no more.
But Conn of the Hundred Battles called the Fianna together, and he set
Finn at his right hand and said, "Here is your Captain by birth-right
and by sword-right. Let who will now obey him hence-forward, and who
will not, let him go in peace and serve Arthur of Britain or Arist of
Alba, or whatsoever King he will." And Goll, son of Morna, said, "For my
part I will be Finn's man under thee, O King," and he swore obedience
and loyalty to Finn before them all. Nor was it hard for any man to step
where Goll had gone before, so they all took their oaths of Fian service
to Finn mac Cumhal. And thus it was that Finn came to the captaincy of
the Fianna of Erinn, and he ruled the Fianna many a year till he died in
battle with the Clan Urgrenn at Brea upon the Boyne.
The High Deeds of Finn and other Bardic Romances of Ancient Ireland.
T. W. Rolleston, ed. Illustrations by Stephen Reid.
London: G. G. Harrap & Co., 1910. 118-119.