THE LAKE OF SORROW.
FOR three days Fionn had held a big feast
at the Hill of Allen, but now the last of his
guests had departed; and on this hot June
night, as he lay on the cool grass under the
wide-spreading chestnut tree, he thought how
good and sweet the earth was after the heat
and gaiety of the day. In quiet contentment
he stretched his arms out over the grass,
and turned his face upwards, so that he could
see, through the trembling leaves above him,
occasional glimpses of a brilliant moon circling
through the heavens; and could feel, as the
little breezes swept through the trees, the
fading chestnut blooms fall softly on his face.
His famous hound, Bran, lay by his side,
but suddenly she lifted her head slightly from
her paws, and growled. Fionn lazily raised
himself on one elbow, and looked round; but
seeing nothing, resumed his former position.
After a minute Bran growled again, a low,
vicious growl, which caused Fionn to sit upright,
for he knew she would not growl in
such a manner unless some one or something
strange was near. Then, where the moonbeams
made a pathway on the grass, Fionn
saw coming towards him two fair young girls,
their dresses shimmering like rainbow mist in
the silver moonlight, and as they came nearer
he rose to receive and welcome them. They
were strange to him, and he thought they had
either wandered from their road, or were looking
for some of his people.
"Are you seeking some one, fair maidens?"
he inquired, after greeting them. "If it is
any of the women of my household, I will
have them roused; for, the hour being late,
they have retired."
"It is not your women we seek, but you,
Fionn," said one of them, a fair-haired, blue-eyed
girl, who appeared to be the elder of
the two, "and we have travelled a long way
to find you."
"In what way can I serve you?" asked
Fionn. "Is there any injustice you wish
me to set right, or have you a wrong to be
"For neither of these things have we sought
you," answered the girl who had spoken before.
"In our distant home we heard that in everything
you were the best of all men in Ireland,
and leaving our kinsfolk we have come to
offer you our love." Then, turning to the
girl at her side, who had brown hair, and eyes,
Fionn thought, like the gentle and faithful
eyes of Bran, she continued: "This is my
sister Aina, and I am Miluchra, both of us
daughters to Cuillean of Cooalney, who is a
prince of the Tuatha de Danann. Choose
now whether you will accept the love of
myself or my sister."
Fionn was naturally embarrassed. He did
not particularly want a wife just then; but
if he had to choose he preferred Aina, the
brown-haired, quiet girl who had not yet
spoken to him. Miluchra, he thought, had
a tongue which moved a trifle too readily,
and he did not care for women who were
always talking. He hesitated, wondering how
he could frame his refusal in words least dis-
courteous. At length he said:
"It is not customary for we of the Fianna
to take women of the Tuatha de Danann for
wives, nor do I think you would be happy
separated from your kinsfolk. When I wed
it must be among my own people."
"Think again, Fionn, before you reject our
love," said Miluchra; "and remember it is
better for you to have the friendship of the
Sidhe than their enmity. I can offer you,
too, unbounded wealth and power."
"Power I have already, and riches enough
for my needs," Fionn answered.
Then for the first time Aina spoke to him:
"I will give you strong sons to bear your
name, and as long as I am with you grey
old age shall never touch you," she promised,
not knowing the wicked depths of her sister's
Fionn's determination not to marry one of
the faery race wavered as he looked in Aina's
soft brown eyes, and, though he felt that by
choosing Aina he would probably rouse her
sister's enmity, he said:
"For your sake I will break through old
customs, and I choose you, Aina, to be my
When Miluchra heard his decision her
blue eyes grew hard and steel-like with jealous
rage, and she went away, vowing vengeance
on Fionn for his refusal of her love. For
a long time she meditated on the form her
revenge should take, then one day she called
her kinsfolk together, and asked them to make
her a magic lake on the mountain called Slieve
Gullion—a lake that would take youth and
strength from whoever entered its water.
The weeks passed by, and one autumn day
it happened that Fionn was alone on the plain
of Allen. Suddenly a fawn darted out from
the wood a short distance away, and Fionn,
calling Bran and Sgeolan to him, started in
pursuit. Northwards the fawn fled, but all
through the long chase Fionn and his dogs
kept it in sight. At length they came to
Slieve Gullion, and the fawn, with its pursuers
close on it now, steadily mounted the hillside;
but, as they were passing through a dense
thicket of tall-growing bracken, the fawn
disappeared, nor could the dogs pick up its
trail or scent it in any direction.
While his hounds nosed round, Fionn
walked to the top of the mountain, and came
to a lovely little lake, on the brink of which
sat a young girl who wept and looked sorrowfully into the water.
"What ails you, maiden," asked Fionn,
"that you weep and are sorrowful?"
"A most beautiful ring I had," she answered,
"a ring with shining purple stones
in it, and as I bathed in the lake it slipped
from my finger. I put you under geasa, O
Fian-chief—for I know well you are Fionn—to recover it for me."
"If it is only a ring you sorrow for," said
Fionn, "I will give you several to make up
for its loss." He did not like being put under
geasa for such a trivial thing as this seemed
to him; for being under "geasa" meant that
he could not refuse this request without his
fame and honour suffering.
"If you gave me the hundred best rings in
the world they would not be dear to me as
my own ring is," the girl answered; "and if
you refuse my request I will proclaim throughout
Ireland that the Fian-chief has neither
honour nor chivalry."
Without saying another word, Fionn placed
his weapons carefully on the shore, and slipping
out of his clothes dived into the lake and
searched until he discovered the ring lying on
some sand. He held it out to the girl who,
laughing maliciously, snatched it from him,
and springing into the lake disappeared without
even giving Fionn a word of thanks.
Fionn was astonished at this proceeding,
but he thought to himself, "Well, there's no
accounting for the ways of women," and waded
to the shore. He began to walk towards his
clothes, but suddenly felt so weak and weary
and old that he had to sit down. When he
tried to rise he found he could not, for crooked
old age had come swiftly upon him; so on his
hands and knees he crawled to his clothes,
and wrapping his cloak round him lay down
on the grass, wondering what evil thing had
Bran and Sgeolan ran up then, panting and
thirsty, and after drinking from the lake
sniffed round Fionn, but, not recognizing
either him or his voice, ran off again.
Some time afterwards Caeilté mac Ronan,
with a number of Fians, arrived at the lake-side.
On hearing that Fionn had started out by
himself, they followed and had tracked him as
far as the lake. There all trace of him ceased,
but seeing the feeble old man lying there,
Caeilté questioned him.
"Have you seen a fawn pass along here,"
he asked, "followed by a hunter of very
noble and warlike appearance, and two swift
"I saw them, O warrior, and it is but a
short time since the hounds drank at the
water there and ran down the hillside,"
answered the old man in a quavering voice.
On hearing this, Caeilté with his companions
departed, and Fionn sorrowed exceedingly as
the sound of their voices died away. It was as
inconceivable to him that his dearest friends
did not know him, nor did he like to reveal to
them that he was Fionn, the foremost champion
The dark hours of the night passed on, and
Fionn shivered as the chill autumnal dews
dropped on his weak and helpless limbs. He
thought how the poor and the old must suffer,
without warmth or comfort, and welcomed
the dawn and sunrise more eagerly than he
ever had before; then on his ears fell the
sound of men's voices shouting and calling,
and the barking of many dogs. Nearer and
nearer the sound came; a minute or two later
his son Oisin, and Oscur the son of Oisin,
with Caeilté and Conan mac Morna and a
great band of the Fianna Eireann, came over
the hill-top to him.
"Old man," said Caeilté, "has the warrior
that I questioned you about yesterday passed
by here since?"
"That is my father's cloak you are wrapped
in," cried Oisin hastily, before the old man
could speak. "How did you get it? And
tell us the truth about it, or death will soon
be your portion."
"Alas ! "exclaimed Fionn, "that my own
son should not know me."
They all stared at the old man in amazement,
and Fionn then began to relate the
story of his adventures to the Fians. When
he had ended they cried three loud cries of
woe, and at the sound the fox hurried back
to his earth, the badger to his hole, and the
affrighted birds flew to their nests, and to this
day the lake is called the Lake of Sorrow.
Fat, bald Conan mac Morna, when he saw
Fionn lying there helpless, thought that now
he would take vengeance on Fionn for all the
gibes and sneers the Fians had treated him to.
So stepping up to Fionn he began to abuse
"All the time I have been with the Fianna
you never praised me or my brave deeds," he
said, "and much it pleases me to see you
lying there, for now I can cut off your head.
The only grief I have is that all your Fians
are not in the same state you are; if they
were, my sword should run red in their blood."
In great indignation Oscur turned on
"Long have I known that there is neither
sense nor shame in that bald head of yours,"
he said; "but not till now did I believe that
one of the Clan Morna possessed the cowardice
and meanness you have shown. For your
threats to our chief I will deal with you so
hardly that from now till the day of your
death you shall speak no more evil words,"
and clenching his fists tightly he rushed at
But Conan, hearing Oscur speak in such a
furious manner, sheltered himself at the back
of the Fians, crying:
"Oh, save me from that terrible man, for
he has a woeful temper and a very strong
arm!" So, because his high-sounding speeches
and queer deeds provided them with a good
deal of amusement, they laughingly protected
him from Oscur's wrath; for they knew that
Conan had no power to ever injure Fionn.
Oisin now asked his father what they could
do to free him from this dreadful enchantment
of old age which had come upon him.
"Take me," said Fionn, "to the hill of
Cuillean of Cooalney. It was his daughter
Miluchra, sister to my own wife, who put this
spell on me, and only Cuillean can remove it."
The Fians made a litter of pine branches
and soft leaves, and carried Fionn gently to
the hill of the Sidhe, where Cuillean lived;
but though they waited there some time no
one came out to welcome them. Then, from
all parts of Ireland, Oisin summoned seven
battalions of the Fianna to him, and for three
days and nights they laboured unceasingly at
the hill, digging it away and tunnelling to the
very heart of it. Then Cuillean, fearing lest
they would level his hill-palace straight to the
ground, came out to them, bearing in his hand
a cup of gold, and going up to Fionn he
asked him to drink of its contents. Fionn
obeyed, and immediately his own shape returned
to him, and his strength was greater
than it had ever been before; the only thing
which remained unchanged was his hair, which
shone like white silver.
There were some of the Fianna who would
have liked to drink from the cup also, for
Cuillean said that whoever drank from it
would have knowledge of the future. But as
Fionn was passing the cup to one of them it
slipped from his hand and sank deep into the
earth, and was never found again; only where
it sank a many-branched tree sprang up, and
it is said that whoever gazed on that tree in
the morning, before breaking his fast, would
most surely know all that would happen to
him from that time until nightfall.
As for Miluchra, who because of her jealous
hatred tried to wreak such great evil on Fionn,
neither he nor Aina ever saw her again; but
the Lake of Sorrow still remains, and even
to-day people say that its waters have power
to change one's hair to silver-grey.
Russell, Violet. Heroes of the Dawn.
New York: The Macmillan Co., 1914. 72-84.