THE QUEST OF THE SONS OF TURENN
Long ago, when the people of Dana yet held lordship in Erinn, they were
sorely afflicted by hordes of sea-rovers named Fomorians who used to
harry the country and carry off youths and maidens into captivity. They
also imposed cruel and extortionate taxes upon the people, for every
kneading trough, and every quern for grinding corn, and every flagstone
for baking bread had to pay its tax. And an ounce of gold was paid as a
poll-tax for every man, and if any man would not or could not pay, his
nose was cut off. Under this tyranny the whole country groaned, but they
had none who was able to band them together and to lead them in battle
against their oppressors.
Now before this it happened that one of the lords of the Danaans named
Kian had married with Ethlinn, daughter of Balor, a princess of the
Fomorians. They had a son named Lugh Lamfada, or Lugh of the Long Arm,
who grew up into a youth of surpassing beauty and strength. And if his
body was noble and mighty, no less so was his mind, for lordship and
authority grew to him by the gift of the Immortals, and whatever he
purposed that would he perform, whatever it might cost in time or toil,
in tears or in blood. Now this Lugh was not brought up in Erinn but in a
far-off isle of the western sea, where the sea-god Mananan and the other
Immortals nurtured and taught him, and made him fit alike for warfare or
for sovranty, when his day should come to work their will on earth.
Hither in due time came the report of the grievous and dishonouring
oppression wrought by the Fomorians upon the people of Dana, and that
report was heard by Lugh. Then Lugh said to his tutors "It were a worthy
deed to rescue my father and the people of Erinn from this tyranny; let
me go thither and attempt it." And they said to him, "Go, and blessing
and victory be with thee." So Lugh armed himself and mounted his fairy
steed, and called his friends and foster-brothers about him, and across
the bright and heaving surface of the waters they rode like the wind,
until they took land in Erinn.
Now the chiefs of the Danaan folk were assembled upon the Hill of
Usnach, which is upon the western side of Tara in Meath, in order to
meet there the stewards of the Fomorians and to pay them their tribute.
As they awaited the arrival of the Fomorians they became aware of a
company on horseback, coming from the west, before whom rode a young man
who seemed to command them all, and whose countenance was as radiant as
the sun upon a dry summer's day, so that the Danaans could scarcely gaze
upon it. He rode upon a white horse and was armed with a sword, and on
his head was a helmet set with precious stones. The Danaan folk welcomed
him as he came among them, and asked him of his name and his business
among them. As they were thus talking another band drew near, numbering
nine times nine persons, who were the stewards of the Fomorians coming
to demand their tribute. They were men of a fierce and swarthy
countenance, and as they came haughtily and arrogantly forward, the
Danaans all rose up to do them honour. Then Lugh said:
"Why do ye rise up before that grim and ill-looking band and not before
Said the King of Erinn, "We needs must do so, for if they saw but a
child of a month old sitting down when they came near they would hold it
cause enough to attack and slay us."
"I am greatly minded to slay them," said Lugh; and he repeated it, "very
"That would be bad for us," said the King, "for our death and
destruction would surely follow."
"Ye are too long under oppression," said Lugh, and gave the word for
onset. So he and his comrades rushed upon the Fomorians, and in a moment
the hillside rang with blows and with the shouting of warriors. In no
long time all of the Fomorians were slain save nine men, and these were
taken alive and brought before Lugh.
"Ye also should be slain," said Lugh, "but that I am minded to send you
as ambassadors to your King. Tell him that he may seek homage and
tribute where he will henceforth, but Ireland will pay him none for
Then the Fomorians went northwards away, and the people of Dana made
them ready for war, and made Lugh their captain and war-lord, for the
sight of his face heartened them, and made them strong, and they
marvelled that they had endured their slavery so long.
In the meantime word was brought to Balor of the Mighty Blows, King of
the Fomorians, and to his queen Kethlinn of the Twisted Teeth, of the
shame and destruction that had been done to their stewards, and they
assembled a great host of the sea-rovers and manned their war-ships, and
the Northern Sea was white with the foam of their oarblades as they
swept down upon the shores of Erinn. And Balor commanded them, saying,
"When ye have utterly destroyed and subdued the people of Dana, then
make fast your ships with cables to the land of Erinn, and tow it here
to the north of us into the region of ice and snow, and it shall trouble
us no longer." So the host of Balor took land by the Falls of Dara and began plundering and devastating the province of Connacht.
Then Lugh sent messengers abroad to bring his host together, and among them
was his own father, Kian, son of Canta. And as Kian went northwards on his
errand to rouse the Ulster men, and was now come to the plain of Murthemny
near by Dundealga, he saw three warriors armed and riding across the
plain. Now these three were the sons of Turenn, by name Brian and Iuchar
and Iucharba. And there was an ancient blood-feud between the house of
Canta and the house of Turenn, so that they never met without bloodshed.
Then Kian thought to himself, "If my brothers Cu and Kethan were here
there might be a pretty fight, but as they are three to one I would do
better to fly." Now there was a herd of wild swine near by; and Kian
changed himself by druidic sorceries into a wild pig and fell to rooting
up the earth along with the others.
When the sons of Turenn came up to the herd, Brian said, "Brothers, did
ye see the warrior wh' just now was journeying across the plain?"
"We saw him," said they.
"What is become of him?" said Brian.
"Truly, we cannot tell," said the brothers.
"It is good watch ye keep in time of war!" said Brian; "but I know what
has taken him out of our sight, for he struck himself with a magic wand,
and changed himself into the form of one of yonder swine, and he is
rooting the earth among them now. Wherefore," said Brian, "I deem that
he is no friend to us."
"If so, we have no help for it," said they, "for the herd belongs to
some man of the Danaans; and even if we set to and begin to kill the
swine, the pig of druidism might be the very one to escape."
"Have ye learned so little in your place of studies," said Brian, "that
ye cannot distinguish a druidic beast from a natural beast?" And with
that he smote his two brothers with a magic wand, and changed them into
two slender, fleet hounds, and they darted in among the herd. Then all
the herd scattered and fled, but the hounds separated the druidic pig
and chased it towards a wood where Brian awaited it. As it passed, Brian
flung his spear, and it pierced the chest of the pig and brought it
down. The pig screamed, "Evil have you done to cast at me."
Brian said, "That hath the sound of human speech!"
"I am in truth a man," said the pig, "and I am Kian, son of Canta, and I
pray you show me mercy."
"That will we," said Iuchar and Iucharba, "and sorry are we for what has
"Nay," said Brian, "but I swear by the Wind and the Sun that if thou
hadst seven lives I would take them all."
"Grant me a favour then," said Kian.
"We shall grant it," said Brian.
"Let me," said Kian, "return into my own form that I may die in the
shape of a man."
"I had liefer kill a man than a pig," said Brian. Then Kian became a man
again and stood before them, the blood trickling from his breast.
"I have outwitted you now," cried he, "for if ye had killed a pig ye
would have paid a pig's eric, but now ye shall pay the eric of a
man. Never was greater eric in the land of Erinn than that which ye
shall pay; and I swear that the very weapons with which ye slay me shall
tell the tale to the avenger of blood."
"Then you shall be slain with no weapons at all," said Brian; and they
picked up the stones on the Plain of Murthemny and rained them upon him
till he was all one wound, and he died. So they buried him as deep as
the height of a man, and went their way to join the host of Lugh.
When the host was assembled, Lugh led them into Connacht and smote the
Fomorians and drove them to their ships, but of this the tale tells not
here. But when the fight was done, Lugh asked of his comrades if they
had seen his father in the fight and how it fared with him. They said
they had not seen him. Then Lugh made search among the dead, and they
found not Kian there. "Were Kian alive he would be here," said Lugh,
"and I swear by the Wind and the Sun that I will not eat or drink till I
know what has befallen him."
On their return the Danaan host passed by the Plain of Murthemny, and
when they came near the place of the murder the stones cried aloud to
Lugh. And Lugh listened, and they told him of the deed of the sons of
Turenn. Then Lugh searched for the place of a new grave, and when he had
found it he caused it to be dug, and the body of his father was raised up,
and Lugh saw that it was but a litter of wounds. And he cried out:
"O wicked and horrible deed!" and he kissed his father and said, "I am sick
from this sight, my eyes are blind from it, my ears are deaf from it, my
heart stands still from it. Ye gods that I adore, why was I not here when
this crime was done? a man of the children of Dana slain by his fellows."
And he lamented long and bitterly. Then Kian was again laid in his grave,
and a mound was heaped over it and a pillar-stone set thereon and his name
written in Ogham, and a dirge was sung for him.
After that Lugh departed to Tara, to the Court of the High King, and he
charged his people to say nothing of what had happened until he himself
had made it known.
When he reached Tara with his victorious host the King placed Lugh at
his own right hand before all the princes and lords of the Danaan folk.
Lugh looked round about him, and saw the sons of Turenn sitting among
the assembly; and they were among the best and strongest and the
handsomest of those who were present at that time; nor had any borne
themselves better in the fight with the sea-rovers. Then Lugh asked of
the King that the chain of silence might be shaken; and the assembly
heard it, and gave their attention to Lugh. And Lugh said:
"O King, and ye princes of the People of Dana, I ask what vengeance
would each of you exact upon a man who had foully murdered your father?"
Then they were all astonished, and the King answered and said:
"Surely it is not the father of Lugh Lamfada who has thus been slain?"
"Thou hast said it," said Lugh, "and those who did the deed are
listening to me now, and know it better than I."
The King said, "Not in one day would I slay the murderer of my father,
but I would tear from him a limb day by day till he were dead."
And so spake all the lords of the Danaans, and the Sons of Turenn among
"They have sentenced themselves, the murderers of my father," said Lugh.
"Nevertheless I shall accept an eric from them, and if they will pay it,
it shall be well; but if not, I shall not break the peace of the King's
Assembly and of his sanctuary, but let them beware how they leave the
Hall Tara until they have made me satisfaction."
"Had I slain your father," said the High King, "glad should I be to have
an eric accepted for his blood."
Then the Sons of Turenn whispered among themselves. "It is to us that
Lugh is speaking," said Iuchar and Iucharba, "let us confess and have
the eric assessed upon us, for he has got knowledge of our deed."
"Nay," said Brian, "but he may be seeking for an open confession, and
then perchance he would not accept an eric."
But the two brethren said to Brian, "Do thou confess because thou art
the eldest, or if thou do not, then we shall."
So Brian, son of Turenn, rose up and said to Lugh: "It is to us thou
hast spoken, Lugh, since thou knowest there is enmity of old time
between our houses; and if thou wilt have it that we have slain thy
father, then declare our eric and we shall pay it."
"I will take an eric from you," said Lugh, "and if it seem too great, I
will remit a portion of it."
"Declare it, then," said the Sons of Turenn.
"This it is," said Lugh.
"The skin of a pig.
"Two steeds and a chariot.
"A whelp of a dog.
"A cooking spit.
"Three shouts on a hill."
"We would not consider heavy hundreds or thousands of these things,"
said the Sons of Turenn, "but we misdoubt thou hast some secret purpose
"I deem it no small eric," said Lugh, "and I call to witness the High
King and lords of the Danaans that I shall ask no more; and do ye on
your side give me guarantees for the fulfilment of it."
So the High King and the lords of the Danaans entered into bonds with
Lugh and with the Sons of Turenn that the eric should be paid and should
wipe out the blood of Kian.
"Now," said Lugh, "it is better forme to give you fuller knowledge of
the eric. The three apples that I have demanded of you are the apples
that grow in the garden of the Hesperides, in the east of the world, and
none but these will do. Thus it is with them: they are the colour of
bright gold, and as large as the head of a month-old child; the taste of
them is like honey; if he who eats them has any running sore or evil
disease it is healed by them; they may be eaten and eaten and never be
less. I doubt, O young heroes, if ye will get these apples, for those
who guard them know well an ancient prophecy that one day three knights
from the western world would come to attempt them.
"As for the skin of the pig, that is a treasure of Tuish, the King of
Greece. If it be laid upon a wounded man it will make him whole and
well, if only it overtake the breath of life in him. And do ye know what
is the spear that I demanded?"
"We do not," said they.
"It is the poisoned spear of Peisear, the King of Persia, and so fierce
is the spirit of war in it that it must be kept in a pot of soporific
herbs or it would fly out raging for death. And do ye know what are the
two horses and the chariot ye must get?"
"We do not know," said they.
"The steeds and the chariot belong to Dobar, King of Sicily. They are
magic steeds and can go indifferently over land and sea, nor can they be
killed by any weapon unless they be torn in pieces and their bones
cannot be found. And the seven pigs are the swine of Asal, King of the
Golden Pillars, which may be slain and eaten every night and the next
morning they are alive again.
"And the hound-whelp I asked of you is the whelp of the King of
Iorroway, that can catch and slay any beast in the world; hard it is to
get possession of that whelp.
"The cooking spit is one of the spits that the fairy women of the Island
of Finchory have in their kitchen.
"And the hill on which ye must give three shouts is the hill where
dwells Mochaen in the north of Lochlann. Now Mochaen and his sons have
it as a sacred ordinance that they permit not any man to raise a shout
upon their hill. With him it was that my father was trained to arms, and
if I forgave ye his death, yet would Mochaen not forgive it.
"And now ye know the eric which ye have to pay for the slaying of Kian,
son of Canta."
Astonishment and despair overcame the Sons of Turenn when they learned
the meaning of the eric of Lugh, and they went home to tell the tidings
to their father.
"This is an evil tale," said Turenn; "I doubt but death and doom shall
come from your seeking of that eric, and it is but right they should.
Yet it may be that ye shall obtain the eric if Lugh or Mananan will help
you to it. Go now to Lugh, and ask him for the loan of the fairy steed
of Mananan, which was given him to ride over the sea into Erinn. He will
refuse you, for he will say that the steed is but lent to him and he may
not make a loan of a loan. Then ask him for the loan of Ocean Sweeper,
which is the magic boat of Mananan, and that he must give, for it is a
sacred ordinance with Lugh not to refuse a second petition."
So they went to Lugh, and it all fell out as Turenn had told them, and
they went back to Turenn.
"Ye have done something towards the eric," said Turenn, "but not much.
Yet Lugh would be well pleased that ye brought him whatever might serve
him when the Fomorians come to the battle again, and well pleased would
he be that ye might get your death in bringing it. Go now, my sons, and
blessing and victory be with you."
Then the Sons of Turenn went down to the harbour on the Boyne river
where the Boat of Mananan was, and Ethne their sister with them. And
when they reached the place, Ethne broke into lamentations and weeping;
but Brian said, "Weep not, dear sister, but let us go forth gaily to
great deeds. Better a hundred deaths in the quest of honour than to live
and die as cowards and sluggards." But Ethne said, "ye are banished from
Erinn—never was there a sadder deed." Then they put forth from the
river-mouth of the Boyne and soon the fair coasts of Erinn faded out of
sight. "And now," said they among themselves, "what course shall we
"Bear us swiftly, Boat of Mananan, to the Garden of the Hesperides"
"No need to steer the Boat of Mananan," said Brian; and he whispered to
the Boat, "Bear us swiftly, Boat of Mananan, to the Garden of the
Hesperides"; and the spirit of the Boat heard him and it leaped eagerly
forward, lifting and dipping over the rollers and throwing up an arch of
spray each side of its bows wherein sat a rainbow when the sun shone
upon it; and so in no long time they drew nigh to the coast where was
the far-famed garden of the Golden Apples.
"And now, how shall we set about the capture of the apples?" said
"Draw sword and fight for them," said Iuchar and Iucharba, "and if we
are the stronger, we shall win them, and if not, we shall fall, as fall
we surely must ere the eric for Kian be paid."
"Nay," said Brian, "but whether we live or die, let not men say of us
that we went blind and headlong to our tasks, but rather that we made
the head help the hand, and that we deserved to win even though we lost.
Now my counsel is that we approach the garden in the shape of three
hawks, strong of wing, and that we hover about until the Wardens of the
Tree have spent all their darts and javelins in casting at us, and then
let us swoop down suddenly and bear off each of us an apple if we may."
So it was agreed; and Brian struck himself and each of the brothers with
a druid wand, and they became three beautiful, fierce, and strong-winged
hawks. When the Wardens perceived them, they shouted and threw showers
of arrows and darts at them, but the hawks evaded all of these until the
missiles were spent, and then seized each an apple in his talons. But
Brian seized two, for he took one in his beak as well. Then they flew as
swiftly as they might to the shore where they had left their boat. Now
the King of that garden had three fair daughters, to whom the apples and
the garden were very dear, and he transformed the maidens into three
griffins, who pursued the hawks. And the griffins threw darts of fire,
as it were lightning, at the hawks.
"Brian!" then cried Iuchar and his brother, "we are being burnt by these
darts—we are lost unless we can escape them."
On this, Brian changed himself and his brethren into three swans, and
they plunged into the sea, and the burning darts were quenched. Then the
griffins gave over the chase, and the Sons of Turenn made for their
boat, and they embarked with the four apples. Thus their first quest was
After that they resolved to seek the pigskin from the King of Greece,
and they debated how they should come before him. "Let us," said Brian,
"assume the character and garb of poets and men of learning, for such
are wont to come from Ireland and to travel foreign lands, and in that
character shall the Greeks receive us best, for such men have honour
among them." "It is well said," replied the brothers, "yet we have no
poems in our heads, and how to compose one we know not."
Howbeit they dressed their hair in the fashion of the poets of Erinn,
and went up to the palace of Tuish the King. The doorkeeper asked of
them who they were, and what was their business.
"We are bards from Ireland," they said, "and we have come with a poem to
"Let them be admitted," said the King, when the doorkeeper brought him
that tale; "they have doubtless come thus far to seek a powerful
So Brian and Iuchar and Iucharba came in and were made welcome, and were
entertained, and then the minstrels of the King of Greece chanted the
lays of that country before them. After that came the turn of the
stranger bards, and Brian asked his brethren if they had anything to
"We have not," said they; "we know but one art—to take what we want by
the strong hand if we may, and if we may not, to die fighting."
"That is a difficult art too," said Brian; "let us see how we thrive
with the poetry."
So he rose up and recited this lay:—
"Mighty is thy fame, O King,
Towering like a giant oak;
For my song I ask no thing
Save a pigskin for a cloak.
"When a neighbour with his friend
Quarrels, they are ear to ear;
Who on us their store shall spend
Shall be richer than they were.
"Armies of the storming wind—
Raging seas, the sword's fell stroke—
Thou hast nothing to my mind
Save thy pigskin for a cloak."
"That is a very good poem," said the King, "but one word of its meaning
I do not understand."
"I will interpret it for you," said Brian:—
"Mighty is thy fame, O King,
Towering like a giant oak."
"That is to say, as the oak surpasses all the other trees of the forest,
so do you surpass all the kings of the world in goodness, in nobleness,
and in liberality.
"A pigskin for a cloak."
"That is the skin of the pig of Tuish which I would fain receive as the
reward for my lay."
"When a neighbour with his friend
Quarrels, they are ear to ear."
"That is to signify that you and I shall be about each other's ears over
the skin, unless you are willing to give it to me. Such is the sense of
my poem," said Brian, son of Turenn.
"I would praise your poem more," said the King, "if there were not so
much about my pigskin in it. Little sense have you, O man of poetry, to
make that request of me, for not to all the poets, scholars, and lords
of the world would I give that skin of my own free will. But what I will
do is this—I will give the full of that skin of red gold thrice over in
reward for your poem."
"Thanks be to you," said Brian, "for that. I knew that I asked too much,
but I knew also thou wouldst redeem the skin amply and generously. And
now let the gold be duly measured out in it, for greedy am I, and I will
not abate an ounce of it."
The servants of the King were then sent with Brian and his brothers to
the King's treasure-chamber to measure out the gold. As they did so,
Brian suddenly snatched the skin from the hands of him who held it, and
swiftly wrapped it round his body. Then the three brothers drew sword
and made for the door, and a great fight arose in the King's palace. But
they hewed and thrust manfully on every side of them, and though sorely
wounded they fought their way through and escaped to the shore, and
drove their boat out to sea, when the skin of the magic pig quickly made
them whole and sound again. And thus the second quest of the Sons of
Turenn had its end.
"Let us now," said Brian, "go to seek the spear of the King of Persia."
"In what manner of guise shall we go before the King of Persia?" said
"As we did before the King of Greece," said Brian.
"That guise served us well with the King of Greece," replied they;
"nevertheless, O Brian, this business of professing to be poets, when we
are but swordsmen, is painful to us."
However, they dressed their hair in the manner of poets and went up
boldly to the palace of King Peisear of Persia, saying, as before, that
they were wandering bards from Ireland who had a poem to recite before
the King; and as they passed through the courtyard they marked the spear
drowsing in its pot of sleepy herbs. They were made welcome, and after
listening to the lays of the King's minstrel, Brian rose and sang:—
"'Tis little Peisear cares for spears,
Since armies, when his face they see,
All overcome with panic fears
Without a wound they turn and flee.
"The Yew is monarch of the wood,
No other tree disputes its claim.
The shining shaft in venom stewed
Flies fiercely forth to kill and maim."
"'Tis a very good poem," said the King, "but, O bard from Erinn, I do
not understand your reference to my spear."
"It is merely this," replied Brian, "that I would like your spear as a
reward for my poem."
Then the King stared at Brian, and his beard bristled with anger, and he
said, "Never was a greater reward paid for any poem than not to adjudge
you guilty of instant death for your request."
Then Brian flung at the king the fourth golden apple which he had taken
from the Garden of the Hesperides, and it dashed out his brains.
Immediately the brothers all drew sword and made for the courtyard. Here
they seized the magic spear, and with it and with their swords they
fought their way clear, not without many wounds, and escaped to their
boat. And thus ended the third quest of the Sons of Turenn.
Now having come safely and victoriously through so many straits and
perils, they began to be merry and hoped that all the eric might yet be
paid. So they sailed away with high hearts to the Island of Sicily, to
get the two horses and the chariot of the King, and the Boat of Mananan
bore them swiftly and well.
Having arrived here, they debated among themselves as to how they should
proceed; and they agreed to present themselves as Irish mercenary
soldiers—for such were wont in those days to take service with foreign
kings—until they should learn where the horses and the chariot were
kept, and how they should come at them. Then they went forward, and
found the King and his lords in the palace garden taking the air.
The Sons of Turenn then paid homage to him, and he asked them of their
"We are Irish mercenary soldiers," they said, "seeking our wages from
the kings of the world." "Are ye willing to take service with me?" said
the King. "We are," said they, "and to that end are we come."
Then their contract of military service was made, and they remained at
the King's court for a month and a fortnight, and did not in all that
time come to see the steeds or the chariot. At last Brian said,
"Things are going ill with us, my brethren, in that we know no more at
this day of the steeds or of the chariot than when we first arrived at
"What shall we do, then?" said they.
"Let us do this," said Brian. "Let us gird on our arms and all our
marching array, and tell the King that we shall quit his service unless
he show us the chariot.
And so they did; and the King said, "To-morrow shall be a gathering and
parade of all my host, and the chariot shall be there, and ye shall see
it if ye have a mind."
So the next day the steeds were yoked and the chariot was driven round a
great plain before the King and his lords. Now these steeds could run as
well on sea as on dry land, and they were swifter than the winds of
March. As the chariot came round the second time, Brian and his brothers
seized the horses' heads, and Brian took the charioteer by the foot and
flung him out over the rail, and they all leaped into the chariot and
drove away. Such was the swiftness of their driving that they were out
of sight ere the King and his men knew rightly what had befallen. And
thus ended the fourth quest of the Sons of Turenn.
Next they betook themselves to the court of Asal, King of the Golden
Pillars, to get the seven swine which might be eaten every night and
they would be whole and well on the morrow morn.
But it had now been noised about every country that three young heroes
from Erinn were plundering the kings of the world of their treasures in
payment of a mighty eric; and when they arrived at the Land of the
Golden Pillars they found the harbour guarded and a strait watch kept,
that no one who might resemble the Sons of Turenn should enter.
But Asal the King came to the harbour-mouth and spoke with the heroes,
for he was desirous to see those who had done the great deeds that he
had heard of. He asked them if it were true that they had done such
things, and why. Then Brian told him the story of the mighty eric which
had been laid upon them, and what they had done and suffered in
fulfilling it. "Why," said King Asal, "have ye now come to my country?"
"For the seven swine," said Brian, "to take them with us as a part of
"How do you mean to get them?" asked the King.
"With your goodwill," replied Brian, "if so it may be, and to pay you
therefore with all the wealth we now have, which is thanks and love, and
to stand by your side hereafter in any strait or quarrel you may enter
into. But if you will not grant us the swine, and we may not be quit of
our eric without them, we shall even take them as we may, and as we have
beforetime taken mighty treasures from mighty kings."
Then King Asal went into counsel with his lords, and he advised that the
swine be given to the Sons of Turenn, partly for that he was moved with
their desperate plight and the hardihood they had shown, and partly that
they might get them whether or no. To this they all agreed, and the Sons
of Turenn were invited to come ashore, where they were courteously and
hospitably entertained in the King's palace. On the morrow the pigs were
given to them, and great was their gladness, for never before had they won
a treasure without toil and blood. And they vowed that, if they should
live, the name of Asal should be made by them a great and shining name,
for his compassion and generosity which he had shown them. This, then,
was the fifth quest of the Sons of Turenn.
"And whither do ye voyage now?" said Asal to them.
"We go," said they, "to Iorroway for the hound's whelp which is there."
"Take me with you, then," said Asal, "for the King of Iorroway is
husband to my daughter, and I may prevail upon him to grant you the
hound without combat."
So the King's ship was manned and provisioned, and the Sons of Turenn laid
up their treasures in the Boat of Mananan, and they all sailed joyfully
forth to the pleasant kingdom of Iorroway. But here, too, they found all
the coasts and harbours guarded, and entrance was forbidden them. Then
Asal declared who he was, and him they allowed to land, and he journeyed
to where his son-in-law, the King of Iorroway, was. To him Asal related
the whole story of the sons of Turenn, and why they were come to that
"Thou wert a fool," said the King of Iorroway, "to have come on such a
mission. There are no three heroes in the world to whom the Immortals
have granted such grace that they should get my hound either by favour
or by fight."
"That is not a good word," said Asal, "for the treasures they now
possess have made them yet stronger than they were, and these they won
in the teeth of kings as strong as thou." And much more he said to him
to persuade him to yield up the hound, but in vain. So Asal took his way
back to the haven where the Sons of Turenn lay, and told them his
Then the Sons of Turenn seized the magic spear, and the pigskin, and
with a rush like that of three eagles descending from a high cliff upon
a lamb-fold they burst upon the guards of the King of Iorroway. Fierce
and fell was the combat that ensued, and many times the brothers were
driven apart, and all but overborne by the throng of their foes. But at
last Brian perceived where the King of Iorroway was directing the fight,
and he cut his way to him, and having smitten him to the ground, he
bound him and carried him out of the press to the haven-side where Asal
"There," he said, "is your son-in-law for you Asal, and I swear by my
sword that I had more easily killed him thrice than once to bring him
thus bound to you."
"That is very like," said Asal; "but now hold him to ransom."
So the people of Iorroway gave the hound to the Sons of Turenn as a
ransom for their King, and the King was released, and friendship and
alliance were made between them. And with joyful hearts the Sons of
Turenn bade farewell to the King of Iorroway and to Asal, and departed
on their way. Thus was the sixth of their quests fulfilled.
Now Lugh Lamfada desired to know how the Sons of Turenn had fared, and
whether they had got any portion of the great eric that might be
serviceable to him when the Fomorians should return for one more
struggle. And by sorcery and divination it was revealed to him how they
had thriven, and that nought remained to be won save the cooking-spit of
the sea-nymphs, and to give the three shouts upon the hill. Lugh then by
druidic art caused a spell of oblivion and forgetfulness to descend upon
the Sons of Turenn, and put into their hearts withal a yearning and
passion to return to their native land of Erinn. They forgot, therefore,
that a portion of the eric was still to win, and they bade the Boat
of Mananan bear them home with their treasures, for they deemed that
they should now quit them of all their debt for the blood of Kian and
live free in their father's home, having done such things and won such
fame as no three brothers had ever done since the world began.
At the Brugh of Boyne, where they had started on their quest, their boat
came ashore again, and as they landed they wept for joy, and falling on
their knees they kissed the green sod of Erinn. Then they took up their
treasures and journeyed to Ben Edar, where the High King of Ireland,
and Lugh with him, were holding an Assembly of the People of Dana. But
when Lugh heard that they were on their way he put on his cloak of
invisibility and withdrew privily to Tara.
When the brethren arrived at Ben Edar, the High King of the lords of the
Danaans gave them welcome and applause, for all were rejoiced that the
stain of ancient feud and bloodshed should be wiped out, and that the
Children of Dana should be at peace within their borders. Then they
sought for Lugh to deliver over the eric, but he was not to be found.
And Brian said, "He has gone to Tara to avoid us, having heard that we
were coming with our treasures and weapons of war."
Word was then sent to Lugh at Tara that the Sons of Turenn were at Ben
Edar, and the eric with them.
"Let them pay it over to the High King," said Lugh.
So it was done; and when Lugh had tidings that the High King had the
eric, he returned to Ben Edar.
Then the eric was laid before him, and Brian said, "Is the debt paid, O
Lugh, son of Kian?"
Lugh said, "Truly there is here the price of any man's death; but it is
not lawful to give a quittance for an eric that is not complete. Where
is the cooking-spit from the Island of Finchory? and have ye given the
three shouts upon the Hill of Mochaen?"
At this word Brian and Iuchar and Iucharba fell prone upon the ground,
and were speechless awhile from grief and dismay. After a while they
left the Assembly like broken men, with hanging heads and with heavy
steps, and betook themselves to Dún Turenn, where they found their
father, and they told him all that had befallen them since they had
parted with him and set forth on the Quest. Thus they passed the night
in gloom and evil forebodings, and on the morrow they went down once
more to the place where the Boat of Mananan was moored. And Ethne their
sister accompanied them, wailing and lamenting, but no words of cheer
had they now to say to her, for now they began to comprehend that a
mightier and a craftier mind had caught them in the net of fate. And
whereas they had deemed themselves heroes and victors in the most
glorious quest whereof the earth had record, they now knew that they
were but as arrows in the hands of a laughing archer, who shoots one at
a stag and one at the heart of a foe, and one, it may be, in sheer
wantonness, and to try his bow, over a cliff edge into the sea.
"There dwelt the red-haired ocean-nymphs"
However, they put forth in their magic boat, but in no wise could they
direct it to the Isle of Finchory, and a quarter of a year they
traversed the seaways and never could get tidings of that island. At
last Brian fashioned for himself by magic art a water-dress, with a
helmet of crystal, and into the depths of the sea he plunged. Here, the
story tells, he searched hither and thither for a fortnight, till at
last he found that island, which was an island indeed with the sea over
it and around it and beneath it. There dwelt the red-haired ocean-nymphs
in glittering palaces among the sea-flowers, and they wrought fair
embroidery with gold and jewels, and sang, as they wrought, a fairy
music like the chiming of silver bells. Three fifties of them sat or
played in their great hall as Brian entered, and they gazed on him but
spoke no word. Then Brian strode to the wide hearth, and without a word
he seized from it a spit that was made of beaten gold, and turned again
to go. But at that the laughter of the sea-maidens rippled through the
hall and one of them said:
"Thou art a bold man, Brian, and bolder than thou knowest; for if thytwo
brothers were here, the weakest of us could vanquish all the three.
Nevertheless, take the spit for thy daring; we had never granted it for
So Brian thanked them and bade farewell, and he rose to the surface of
the water. Ere long his brethren perceived him as he shouldered the
waves on the bosom of the deep, and they sailed to where he was and took
him on board. And thus ended the quest for the seventh portion of the
eric of Kian.
After that their hopes revived a little, and they set sail for the land
of Lochlann, in which was the Hill of Mochaen. When they had arrived at
the hill Mochaen came out to meet them with his three sons, Corc and
Conn and Hugh; nor did the Sons of Turenn ever behold a band of grimmer
and mightier warriors than those four.
"What seek ye here?" asked Mochaen of them They told him that it had
been laid upon them to give three shouts upon the hill.
"It hath been laid upon me," said Mochaen, "to prevent this thing."
Then Brian and Mochaen drew sword and fell furiously upon each other,
and their fighting was like that of two hungry lions or two wild bulls,
until at last Brian drove his sword into the throat of Mochaen, and he
With that the Sons of Mochaen and the Sons of Turenn rushed fiercely
upon each other. Long and sore was the strife that they had, and the
blood that fell made red the grassy place wherein they fought. Not one
of them but received wounds that pierced him through and through, and
that heroes of less hardihood had died of a score of times. But in the
end the sons of Mochaen fell, and Brian, Iuchar, and Iucharba lay over
them in a swoon like death.
After a while Brian's senses came back to him, and he said, "Do ye live,
dear brothers, or how is it with you?" "We are as good as dead," said
they; "let us be."
"Arise," then said Brian, "for truly I feel death coming swiftly upon
us, and we have yet to give the three shouts upon the hill."
"We cannot stir," said Iuchar and Iucharba. Then Brian rose to his knees
and to his feet, and he lifted up his two brothers while the blood of
all three streamed down to their feet, and they raised their voices as
best they might, and gave three hoarse cries upon the Hill of Mochaen.
And thus was the last of the epic fulfilled.
Then they bound up their wounds, and Brian placed himself between the
two brothers, and slowly and painfully they made their way to the boat,
and put out to sea for Ireland. And as they lay in the stupor of
faintness in the boat, one murmured to himself, "I see the Cape of Ben
Edar and the coast of Turenn, and Tara of the Kings." Then Iuchar and
Iucharba entreated Brian to lift their heads upon his breast. "Let us
but see the land of Erinn again," said they, "the hills around Tailtin,
and the dewy plain of Bregia, and the quiet waters of the Boyne and our
father's Dún thereby, and healing will come to us; or if death come we
can endure it after that." Then Brian raised them up; and they saw that
they were now near by under Ben Edar; and at the Strand of the Bull they took land. They were then conveyed to the Dún of Turenn, and life
was still in them when they were laid in their father's hall.
And Brian said to Turenn, "Go now, dear father, with all speed to Lugh
at Tara. Give him the cooking-spit, and tell how thou hast found us
after giving our three shouts upon the Hill of Mochaen. Then beseech him
that he yield thee the loan of the pigskin of the King of Greece, for if
it be laid upon us while the life is yet in us, we shall recover. We
have won the eric, and it may be that he will not pursue us to our
Turenn went to Lugh and gave him the spit of the sea-nymphs, and
besought him for the lives of his sons.
Lugh was silent for a while, but his countenance did not change, and he
said, "Thou, old man, seest nought but the cloud of sorrow wherein thou
art encompassed. But I hear from above it the singing of the Immortal
Ones, who tell to one another the story of this land. Thy sons must die;
yet have I shown to them more mercy than they showed to Kian. I have
forgiven them; nor shall they live to slay their own immortality, but
the royal bards of Erinn and the old men in the chimney corners shall
tell of their glory and their fate as long as the land shall endure."
Then Turenn bowed his white head and went sorrowfully back to Dún
Turenn; and he told his sons of the words that Lugh had said. And with
that the sons of Turenn kissed each other, and the breath of life
departed from them, and they died. And Turenn died also, for his heart
was broken in him; and Ethne his daughter buried them in one grave.
Thus, then, ends the tale of the Quest of the Eric and the Fate of the
Sons of Turenn.
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. 22-50.