THE FAERY HARPER.
EARLY one April morning Fionn stood at the
door of his dún on the Hill of Allen, and
looked over the sunlit orchards and meadows
stretching far away before him. The apple-trees
were already covered with a pink and
white surge of blossom, and everywhere birds
were singing joyous songs to the sun. A
great gladness rose in Fionn's heart as he
listened, and he too was beginning to sing
when a robin flew down before him, and
chirped merrily up into his face.
"What is the word you are saying, little
bird?" asked Fionn, stretching out his hand.
The robin hopped up and perched fearlessly
on Fionn's hand, chirping again. Arid Fionn,
who, from the time he had touched the Salmon
of Wisdom, had the power when he chose to
exercise it of understanding the minds of all
creatures, from the bird flying in the air to
the wild beast creeping stealthily through the
forest, knew that the robin said:
"Follow me, follow me, over hill and
through wood, to a place where the Bright
"Surely I will, little red-breast," said Fionn,
stroking its feathers gently with one finger.
"Wait for me in yonder apple-tree."
He watched the robin fly to a branch, then
blew a call on his silver hunting-horn. At
the sound some Fians came running from the
dún, but Fionn chose only Oscur, Caeilté, and
two other Fians to accompany him.
Through the day they followed the robin
southward, and the sun was near its setting
when they found themselves on the side of
Slieve-na-man, and there the robin disappeared.
"What purpose we had in running after
that bird all day I do not know," complained
Caeilté. "Now it has deserted us, and we are
likely to be not only houseless, but supperless,
"It would not be the first time we lacked
food and shelter," Fionn replied. "But do
not be uneasy, Caeilté; Flann and Conal will
soon build a hut, and wild fowl is plentiful
among the reeds in the pool down there. In
the meantime we will rest ourselves on this
He sat down on the grass, and Oscur and
Caeilté willingly lay down a little distance
away. They were silent, half listening to the
songs the blackbirds and thrushes sang, half
dreaming of the Ever-Living Ones who dwell
in a beautiful home in the heart of the hills.
Fionn remembered he too was akin to them,
for his mother belonged to the ancient Tuatha
de Danann race. Then suddenly a most
sweet and perfect music sounded through the
air, and almost lulled them to sleep. But
Fionn roused himself, and looked round.
"Do you hear that, Caeilté?" said Fionn.
"Seek the minstrel and bring him to me, for
certainly we have none who can play the harp
Caeilté rose to his feet, and gazed down
the hill and up the hill.
"The music must be made by invisible
hands, O Fionn," he said. "Now it sounds
here, and now it sounds there, and again it
encircles us, but still I do not see the minstrel.
Perhaps it is Angus Oge playing on his lyre
in the heart of the mountain, or some other
great harper of the Sidhe."
A little laugh echoed from behind Fionn's
back, and he turned sharply round. There,
standing a short distance from him, was a
very small man, so small that he reached only
half-way to Fionn's knee. He stood leaning
on his little harp, which was almost as big
as himself, and smiled up into Fionn's face.
Long bright yellow hair he had, and his eyes
were blue as a cloudless summer sky.
"Who are you, little man," asked Fionn,
"and where did you come from?"
"Cnu Deireoil, or the Little Nut of
Melody, is my name," he answered, "and
out of Slieve-na-man I come. From the
place of the Sidhe I come to you; a place
where there is abundance of ale and mead and
food, for what is eaten one day is there the
next, as though it had never been touched."
"A fair and wonderful place you come
from," said Fionn; "but if you will leave it
and stay with me many precious things shall
be yours, and my friendship too, for well I
like your playing. It brings back to my
mind many dreams and thoughts of noble deeds
I had as a boy; dreams and thoughts which
the hurrying years have somewhat clouded."
"For the sake of your friendship alone I
will stay with you to the end of your days,"
said Cnu Deireoil, placing his little hand
"Tell me now," said Fionn, "what ancient
harper of the Deathless Ones instructed you
in your art, and whose son are you?"
"I am the son of Lu Lam-Fada," said the
little man. "After the battle of Moytura,
when Balor of the Evil Eye and his people
were conquered by the Tuatha de Danann,
Lu played to his people a most marvellous
strain of joy and beauty and gladness and
out of the music he played I was born.
Whoever listens to my harping too will have
gladness and beauty around them, and no evil
will come near them."
Fionn listened to his words and wondered;
then suddenly he sprang to his feet, for it
seemed to him that the little man had become
transformed into a very beautiful and gigantic
figure, with a face that shone like the sun,
and opalescent colours gleamed round him.
Then music sounded again through the quiet
evening air, and Fionn saw that Cnu Deireoil
was still before him. But ever after that
Fionn believed that the little harper was one
of the children of Dana, and that for some
purpose of his own he had chosen to show
himself to Fionn, and become one of his men.
The next day the Fians returned to their
home on the Hill of Allen, and Cnu Deireoil
accompanied them. Nor would Fionn ever
make any journey afterwards without his
little harper, and in stormy weather, or when
Cnu Deireoil grew tired, Fionn would pick
him up and carry him under his mantle; for
the chief of the Fians possessed a very noble
and kindly heart, and always showed a great
gentleness and courtesy to any one smaller
and weaker than himself.
Cnu Deireoil was a great wonder to the
giant warriors of Fionn, who had never seen
any one so small before; but when he played
they did not remember his smallness, they
listened only to his music, for such sweet
harping had never been heard by them
hitherto. From every part of Ireland the
musicians of the Fianna came to him to be
instructed, and he taught them gentle faery
melodies, and in the whole of Ireland there
were no minstrels, except those of the Fianna,
who could play such music.
"Little Nut of Melody," said Fionn to him
one day, "you are far from your own people,
and must often be very lonely. All my men
have wives but you, and my wish is to find a
fair and gentle woman for you."
"I do not want any wife at all," said the
little man hastily. He was greatly alarmed
lest Fionn should bestow on him one of the
big tall women of the Fianna.
"I can tell you where there is a woman of
his own race who would keep loneliness away
from him," said one of the Fians. "She lives
in a house of the Sidhe in Munster, and her
name is Blaithnait. She is wise too, and is a
revealer of the future."
Fionn was delighted when he heard this,
and said he would go to find her at once. So
he gathered a good company of his men together,
and travelled straightway to the home
of the Sidhe where Blaithnait lived. Cnu
Deireoil went with him also—he did not
object to a wife belonging to his own people—
for Fionn said that by his music he could
weave spells round Blaithnait, and bring her
forth. So one moonlit night, when everything
was sleeping except the owls and bats, Cnu
Deireoil sat on the faery mound and played a
melody which had never been heard on earth
before, and as the music sounded over the
mountains and through the valleys a hidden
door in the hillside opened, and a beautiful
little faery maiden came forth and walked
over the grass to Cnu Deireoil. Then she
and the little man went down to the tents in
the valley where the Fians were resting, and
until the end of Fionn's days they were both
with him. When good was coming to the
Fianna they would know and tell it, and when
evil was coming they would not conceal it.
But at the death of Fionn, Blaithnait and Cnu
Deireoil returned to their own people; and
even now, all these centuries afterwards, if
you are sitting on the side of Slieve-na-man
in the twilight, you will hear a sweet and
sorrowful strain coming from the hillside,
where Cnu Deireoil still laments on his harp
for the death of the most noble and generous
chief of the Fianna.
Russell, Violet. Heroes of the Dawn.
New York: The Macmillan Co., 1914. 37-45.