Celtic Knotwork Peacock


It happened that in Cormac's time there was a very wealthy farmer named Buicad who dwelt in Leinster, and had vast herds of cattle and sheep and horses. This Buicad and his wife had no children, but they adopted a foster-child named Ethne, daughter of one Dunlang. Now Buicad was the most hospitable of men, and never refused aught to anyone, but he kept open house for all the nobles of Leinster who came with their following and feasted there as they would, day after day; and if any man fancied any of the cattle or other goods of Buicad, he might take them home with him, and none said him nay. Thus Buicad lived in great splendour, and his Dún was ever full to profusion with store of food and clothing and rich weapons, until in time it was all wasted away in boundless hospitality and generosity, and so many had had a share in his goods that they could never be recovered nor could it be said of any man that he was the cause of Buicad's undoing. But undone he was at last, and when there remained to him but one bull and seven cows he departed by night with his wife and Ethne from Dún Buicad, leaving his mansion desolate. And he travelled till he came to a place where there was a grove of oak trees by a little stream in the county of Meath, near where Cormac had a summer palace, and there he built himself a little hut and tended his few cattle, and Ethne waited as a maid-servant upon him and his wife.

  The Milkmaid. Coloured Engraving by J. D. Miller after the painting by George Mason.
The Milkmaid. Engraving by J. D. Miller
after the painting by George Mason.

Now on a certain day it happened that King Cormac rode out on horseback from his Dún in Meath, and in the course of his ride he came upon the little herd of Buicad towards evening, and he saw Ethne milking the cows. And this was the way she milked them: first she milked a portion of each cow's milk into a certain vessel, then she took a second vessel and milked into it the remaining portion, in which was the richest cream, and these two vessels she kept apart. Cormac watched all this. She then bore the vessels of milk into the hut, and came out again with two other vessels and a small cup. These she bore down to the river-side; and one of the vessels she filled by means of the cup from the water at the brink of the stream, but the other vessel she bore out into the middle of the stream and there filled it from the deepest of the running water. After this she took a sickle and began cutting rushes by the river-side, and Cormac saw that when she cut a wisp of long rushes she would put it on one side, and the short rushes on the other, and she bore them separately into the house. But Cormac stopped her and saluted her, and said:

"For whom, maiden, art thou making this careful choice of the milk and the rushes and the water?"

"I am making it," said she, "for one who is worthy that I should do far more than that for him, if I could."

"What is his name?"

"Buicad, the farmer," said Ethne.

"Is it that Buicad, who was the rich farmer in Leinster that all Ireland has heard of?" asked the King.

"It is even so."

"Then thou art his foster-child, Ethne the daughter of Dunlang?" said Cormac.

"I am," said Ethne.

"Wilt thou be my wife and Queen of Erinn?" then said Cormac.

"If it please my foster-father to give me to thee, O King, I am willing," replied Ethne. Then Cormac took Ethne by the hand and they went before Buicad, and he consented to give her to Cormac to wife. And Buicad was given rich lands and great store of cattle in the district of Odran close by Tara, and Ethne the Queen loved him and visited him so long as his life endured.

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. 179-181.

Background courtesy of Windhaven Web Art.

Web-presentation ©2007-2018 Anniina Jokinen. All Rights Reserved.
May be printed for personal and schoolroom use. All further publication requires permission.