THE BIRTH OF CORMAC MAC ART
Of all the kings that ruled over Ireland, none had a better and more
loyal servant than was Finn mac Cumhal, and of all the captains and
counsellors of kings none ever served a more glorious and a nobler
monarch than did Finn, for the time that he served Cormac, son of Art,
son of Conn of the Hundred Battles. At the time at which this monarch
lived and reigned, the mist of sixteen centuries hangs between us and
the history of Ireland, but through this mist there shine a few great
and sunlike figures whose glory cannot be altogether hidden, and of
these figures Cormac is the greatest and the brightest. Much that is
told about him may be true, and much is certainly fable, but the fables
themselves are a witness to his greatness; they are like forms seen in
the mist when a great light is shining behind it, and we cannot always
say when we are looking at the true light and when at the reflected
The birth of Cormac was on this wise. His father, as we have said, was
Art, son of Conn, and his mother was named Achta, being the daughter of
a famous smith or ironworker of Connacht. Now before the birth of
Cormac, Achta had a strange dream, namely, that her head was struck off
from her body and that out of her neck there grew a great tree which
extended its branches over all Ireland and flourished exceedingly, but a
huge wave of the sea burst upon it and laid it low. Then from the roots
of this tree there grew up another, but it did not attain the splendour
of the first, and a blast of wind came from the West and overthrew it.
On this the woman started from her sleep, and she woke her husband, Art,
and told him her vision. "It is a true dream," said Art. "I am thy head,
and this portends that I shall be violently taken from thee. But thou
shalt bear me a son who shall be King of all Ireland, and shall rule
with great power and glory until some disaster from the sea overtake
him. But from him shall come yet another king, my grandson and thine,
who shall also be cut down, and I think that the cause of his fall shall
be the armies of the Fian host, who are swift and keen as the wind."
Not long thereafter Art, son of Conn, fell in battle with the Picts and
Britons at the Plain of the Swine, which is between Athenry and Galway
in Connacht. Now the leader of the invaders then was mac Con, a nephew
to Art, who had been banished out of Ireland for rising against the High
King; and when he had slain Art he seized the sovranty of Ireland and
reigned there unlawfully for many years.
But before the battle, Art had counselled his wife:
"If things go ill with us in the fight, and I am slain, seek out my
faithful friend Luna who dwells in Corann in Connacht, and he will
protect thee till thy son be born." So Achta, with one maid, fled in her
chariot before the host of mac Con and sought to go to the Dún of Luna.
On her way thither, however, the hour came when her child should be
born, and the maid turned the chariot aside into the wild wood at the
place called Creevagh (the Place of the Twigs), and there, on a couch of
twigs and leaves, she gave birth to a noble son.
Then Achta, when she had cherished her boy and rejoiced over him, bade
her handmaid keep watch over both of them, and they fell asleep. But the
maid's eyes were heavy with weariness and long travelling, and ere long
she, too, was overpowered by slumber, and all three slept a deep sleep
while the horses wandered away grazing through the wood.
By and by there came a she-wolf roaming through the wood in search of
prey for her whelps, and it came upon the sleeping woman and the little
child. It did not wake the woman, but very softly it picked up the
infant and bore it off to the stony cave that is hard by to Creevagh in
the hill that was afterwards called Mount Cormac.
After a while the mother waked up and found her child gone. Then she
uttered a lamentable cry, and woke her handmaid, and both the women
searched hither and thither, but no trace of the child could they find;
and thus Luna found them; for he had heard news of the battle and the
death of his King, and he had come to succour Achta as he had pledged
his word to do. Luna and his men also made search for the infant, but in
vain; and at last he conveyed the two sorrowing women to his palace; but
Achta was somewhat comforted by her prophetic dream. Luna then
proclaimed that whoever should discover the King's son, if he were yet
alive, might claim of him what reward he would.
And so the time passed, till one day a man named Grec, a clansman of
Luna the lord of Corann, as he ranged the woods hunting, came on a stony
cavern in the side of a hill, and before it he saw wolf-cubs at play,
and among them a naked child on all fours gambolling with them, and a
great she-wolf that mothered them all. "Right," cried Grec, and off he
goes to Luna his lord. "What wilt thou give me for the King's son?" said
he. "What wilt thou have?" said Luna. So Grec asked for certain lands,
and Luna bound himself to give them to him and to his posterity, and
there lived and flourished the Clan Gregor for many a generation to
come. So Luna, guided by Grec, went to the cave on Mount Cormac, and
took the child and the wolf-cubs all together and brought them home. And
the child they called Cormac, or the Chariot-Child. Now the lad grew up
very comely and strong, and he abode with Luna in Connacht, and no one
told him of his descent.
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. 172-175.