Celtic Knotwork Peacock


Strange was the birth and childhood of Cormac, strange his life and strange the manner of his death and burial, as we now have to narrate.

Cormac, it is said, was the third man in Ireland who heard of the Christian Faith before the coming of Patrick. One was Conor mac Nessa, King of Ulster, whose druid told him of the crucifixion of Christ and who died of that knowledge. The second was the wise judge, Morann, and the third Cormac, son of Art. This knowledge was revealed to him by divine illumination, and thenceforth he refused to consult the druids or to worship the images which they made as emblems of the Immortal Ones.

One day it happened that Cormac after he had laid down the kingship of Ireland, was present when the druids and a concourse of people were worshipping the great golden image which was set up in the plain called Moy Slaught. When the ceremony was done, the chief druid, whose name was Moylann, spoke to Cormac and said: "Why, O Cormac, didst thou not bow down and adore the golden image of the god like the rest of the people?"

And Cormac said: "Never will I worship a stock that my own carpenter has made. Rather would I worship the man that made it, for he is nobler than the work of his hands."

Then it is told that Moylann by magic art caused the image to move and leap before the eyes of Cormac. "Seest thou that?" said Moylann.

"Although I see," said Cormac, "I will do no worship save to the God of Heaven and Earth and Hell."

Druids Engraving Then Cormac went to his own home at Sletty on the Boyne, for there he lived after he had given up the kingdom to his son Cairbry. But the druids of Erinn came together and consulted over this matter, and they determined solemnly to curse Cormac and invoke the vengeance of their gods upon him lest the people should think that any man could despise and reject their gods, and suffer no ill for it.

So they cursed Cormac in his flesh and bones, in his waking and sleeping, in his down sitting and his uprising, and each day they turned over the Wishing Stone upon the altar of their god, and wove mighty spells against his life. And whether it was that these took effect, or that the druids prevailed upon some traitorous servant of Cormac's to work their will, so it was that he died not long thereafter; and some say that he was choked by a fish bone as he sat at meat in his house at Sletty on the Boyne.

But when he felt his end approaching, and had still the power to speak, he said to those that gathered round his bed:—

"When I am gone I charge you that ye bury me not at Brugh of the Boyne where is the royal cemetery of the Kings of Erinn. For all these kings paid adoration to gods of wood or stone, or to the Sun and the Elements, whose signs are carved on the walls of their tombs, but I have learned to know the One God, immortal, invisible, by whom the earth and heavens were made. Soon there will come into Erinn one from the East who will declare Him unto us, and then wooden gods and cursing priests shall plague us no longer in this land. Bury me then not at Brugh-na-Boyna, but on the hither-side of Boyne, at Ross-na-ree, where there is a sunny, eastward-sloping hill, there would I await the coming of the sun of truth."

So spake Cormac, and he died, and there was a very great mourning for him in the land. But when the time came for his burial, the princes and lords of the Gael vowed that he should lie in Brugh with Art, his father, and Conn of the Hundred Battles, and many another king, in the great stone chambers of the royal dead. For Ross-na-ree, they said, is but a green hill of no note; and Cormac's expectation of the message of the new God they took to be but the wanderings of a dying man.

Now Brugh-na-Boyna lay at the farther side of the Boyne from Sletty, and near by was a shallow ford where the river could be crossed. But when the funeral train came down to the ford, bearing aloft the body of the King, lo! the river had risen as though a tempest had burst upon it at its far-off sources in the hills, and between them and the farther bank was now a broad and foaming flood, and the stakes that marked the ford were washed clean away. Even so they made trial of the ford, and thrice the bearers waded in and thrice they were forced to turn back lest the flood should sweep them down.

At length six of the tallest and mightiest of the warriors of the High King took up the bier upon their shoulders, and strode in. And first the watchers on the bank saw the brown water swirl about their knees, and then they sank thigh-deep, and at last it foamed against their shoulders, yet still they braced themselves against the current, moving forward very slowly as they found foothold among the slippery rocks in the river-bed. But when they had almost reached the mid-stream it seemed as if a great surge overwhelmed them, and caught the bier from their shoulders as they plunged and clutched around it, and they must needs make back for the shore as best they could, while Boyne swept down the body of Cormac to the sea.

On the following morning, however, shepherds driving their flocks to pasture on the hillside of Ross-na-ree found cast upon the shore the body of an aged man of noble countenance, half wrapped in a silken pall; and knowing not who this might be they dug a grave in the grassy hill, and there laid the stranger, and laid the green sods over him again.

There still sleeps Cormac the King, and neither Ogham-lettered stone nor sculptured cross marks his solitary grave. But he lies in the place where he would be, of which a poet of the Gael in our day has written:—

"A tranquil spot: a hopeful sound
     Comes from the ever-youthful stream,
And still on daisied mead and mound
     The dawn delays with tenderer beam.

"Round Cormac, spring renews her buds:
     In march perpetual by his side
Down come the earth-fresh April floods,
     And up the sea-fresh salmon glide;

"And life and time rejoicing run
     From age to age their wonted way;
But still he waits the risen sun,
     For still 'tis only dawning day."

Text Source:
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. 202-206.

Image Source:
Engraving — Knight, Charles: "Old England: A Pictorial Museum" (London, 1845).

Background courtesy of Windhaven Web Art.

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