THE CHASE OF GLEANN-NA-SMOL.
A THICK white sea-mist lay like a woolly
fleece over Dublin and had drifted inland as
far as Gleann-na-smol—the Glen of the
Thrushes—and Fionn, glancing outside the
door of his hunting-cabin, thought regretfully
of the plan he had formed overnight for a
deer-hunt, and how little prospect there
seemed of its fulfilment this morning, when
objects only a few yards distant were completely
hidden by the mist. Still, he remembered
many a good day that had begun
with a misty morning, and calling Oisin, he
told him to waken the rest of the hunting-party
and leash the hounds, he himself taking
his two favourite hounds, Bran and Sgeolan.
They climbed the hill above the glen,
stumbling over the rough, narrow paths made
by mountain cattle; for, between the darkness
of the early autumn morning and the fog they
could not see plainly where they were going.
Then, as the mist lifted a little, Fionn bade
them unleash the hounds, and soon the Fians
knew, by the excited yelping and barking of
their dogs, that they had started something
from its lair in the tall bracken and hazel-
bushes growing near.
Soon a curiously marked deer, with one
side all white, and the other all black, flashed
by them, and the Fians followed on its track.
For many hours they continued the chase,
but even Bran, the swiftest of all the Fians'
hounds, could not overtake the deer, and
when the darkness of night came on the Fians
lost all trace of their dogs and the hunted
animal, nor did they quite know in what part
of the country they were.
They were very perplexed, not knowing
which way to go in order to find their hounds,
and Conan mac Morna, who was very cross,
began to abuse Fionn.
" It would have been better for me to have
stopped in my bed this day," said Conan,
"instead of trailing through the country at
your heels, who haven't as much sense as
would enable you to keep your dogs with you.
Although people talk of your wisdom and
foreknowledge, it's little enough I see of it, and
I think I've twice as much myself. Indeed I
think, too, that I should make a much better
chief of the Fianna than you do, and it is a
perpetual wonder to me that the Fians do not
depose you, and elect me in your place."
Fionn and all his party were tired and
hungry, but they shouted with laughter at
Conan. He was regarded as the jester of the
Fianna Eireann, and no matter how rude and
scoffing his speeches were, no one heeded them.
Then, as there was still no sign of the dogs
returning, Oisin said to Fionn:
"Can you not divine for us, father, where
they have gone or what has happened to them?"
Fionn placed his thumb of knowledge to
his mouth, and after a short time answered:
"Alas, of all our brave and sweet-tongued
dogs who followed the deer only Bran will
return to us!"
The Fians were in deep and silent despair
when they heard Fionn speak witli such certainty.
The loss of their hounds would be a
great calamity, for they had brought with them
only the best trained and the swiftest. Even
Conan was silent, then he burst out:
"Never yet, O Fionn, have I been out with
you that you did not get me into some trouble
or scrape. Now, following after that animal
which hasn't its like in any country under the
sun, my best hounds are gone, and I swear I
will give you neither rest nor peace until you
have found me two equally good."
As he finished speaking Fionn heard a distant,
piteous cry, and soon after Bran appeared,
tired and wet, and covered with bog-mire from
head to tail. She lay down before Fionn, and
howled long and sorrowfully.
"I think," said Fionn, " she has a knowledge
of some unknown danger which threatens us.
"And what worse can happen to us than
the loss of our swift and gentle hounds?"
asked Diarmuid. "I would rather have been
covered with wounds in battle than have this
There was a little rustling in the bracken
near them, and Bran, tired as she was, pricked
up her ears to listen. Then, in the misty moonlight,
a beautiful woman, with long fair hair
flowing down to the hem of her dress, stood
before them. They were astonished at her
sudden appearance, but before Fionn could
speak to her she said, looking at him:
"Surely you are Fionn, lord of the Fianna.
If so, there is a woman not far from here who
wishes to meet you, and has already prepared
a great feast in your honour."
"That is good news," said Conan hurriedly,
before Fionn could speak. "I should like to
be with her now."
The woman smiled, and courteously included
Fionn's companions in the invitation.
Then she led the way to a house built on the
summit of a little hill overlooking an inlet of
the sea, and the Fians followed her into the
house. When supper was ended Fionn said
to the woman who had conducted them hither:
"Where is the woman who wishes to meet
me? I should like to thank her for her
Just then a woman entered the room.
Fionn thought she was the ugliest woman the
world had ever seen, for one side of her face
was white, and one black, and her hair was
like red fire-flames waving round her head.
She reminded him vaguely of the curious
black and white animal they had chased so
unsuccessfully that day.
"I give you greeting," she said to Fionn,
"your name is well known to me as that of
the greatest hero in Ireland; for that reason
I sent for you to say that if your appearance
pleased me I would take you for my husband,
and all the treasure I have shall be yours."
"Not all the treasure in the world would
induce me to take you for my wife," said
Fionn quickly, horrified at the proposal, and
startled out of his usual kindliness of speech.
"I cannot help thinking you have some rela-
tionship with that strange animal we hunted
to-day, and through which we have lost our
precious hounds. Tell me what became of
"Dead; they are all dead," she cried, and
her face gleamed with a mad delight as she
spoke. "Many brave heroes have fallen by
my hand too, and if you oppose my wishes
not all your courage and strength will hinder
me from destroying you and your Fians."
Fionn and his heroes laughed scornfully;
they were amused that this magpie-coloured
woman should imagine she could so easily
overcome them, whom so many famous
champions had failed to conquer.
"You laugh now," she said in a quiet voice;
"I think in a little while you will laugh no
more. But before you sleep forever I will
play and sing to you if you like."
She took a small harp and played, and the
music was like the rippling of a rock-strewn
mountain stream, or the murmur of the nightwind
when it plays through tall pines in
summer. Then she chanted a little song to
them in an unknown tongue, and a strange
helplessness relaxed their limbs; although
they felt that some great disaster was about
to overtake them they had no strength to
When the woman saw that her spells had
conquered the Fians, she fetched a two-edged
sword and began to slay the warriors as
quickly as she could, taunting them with their
lethargy. Fionn could not witness this
horrible deed in silence; he reproached himself
bitterly for having taken them to that
house, and implored the witch to listen to him.
"Spare my men," he said, "but kill me if
you choose, for I alone have refused to accede
to your wishes."
The woman would not listen to him, but
continued her deadly work until only a few
of the Fians were left. Then Fionn spoke
"How can I take you for my wife, when
the daughter of Goll mac Morna has shared
my house for years? If I put her away Goll
will surely kill me, and that would be no
benefit to you."
The witch considered for a moment, then
she said cheerfully:
"I will go and kill Goll. In the meantime
I will restore to you and your men freedom to
move about; but do not think to escape, for I
have placed a spell upon you that holds you
to this place."
It was early morning, and Goll mac Morn a
stood at the doorway of his house at Ben
Edar the place we now call the Hill of
Howth and looked over the sea. He was
surprised to see a number of ships in the
harbour, for overnight there had been none.
"It is unlucky so many of the Fianna are
away at the present time," he said to Caeilté,
"for I think these ships do not belong to any
friends of ours. Will you send some one to
discover whether they come in peace or in war?"
"I'll go myself," said Caeilté at once, and
taking a curragh rowed out to the ships.
When he saw the ugly black and white
woman, with a fierce red light shining in her
eyes, a feeling of horror came upon him,
though he spoke courteously to her.
"Goll mac Morna sends you greetings, and
wishes to know what purpose has brought you
hither, and whether he can render you any
service," he said.
"Go back and tell Goll I have come to kill
him and all his Fians, as I have killed those
with Fionn," said the woman, and she glared
at Caeilté so venomously, and looked so dreadful,
that he slipped down the side of the ship
into his boat and hurried away.
"And indeed," said Caeilté, after telling
Goll what the woman had threatened, "never
before have I fled from anyone, and for shame
I cannot hold up my head again among the
men of Ireland until I have put an end to that
Then Caeilté and Goll, remembering what
the woman had said about killing their comrades,
grieved together, for they thought that
never again would they see their noble and
generous chief Fionn. The Fians crowded
around them, and, hearing the cause of their
grief, vowed they would exact a vengeance
that should not be easily forgotten.
The morning hours had almost passed when
the watchmen called out that a great number
of armed men, with the red-haired woman
leading them, were putting off from the ship
in boats. Goll ordered Caeilté to take his
Fians to the strand and prevent the enemy
from landing; but though Caeilté and his men
fought most valiantly they were overpowered
by the strangers, and a great number of the
Fians were killed.
When Goll saw how the battle was going
against them, he said to the woman:
"Let there be peace between us this night,
and in the morning, though few of us remain,
we will fight again."
"I will let the remnant of your Fians go
free, Goll mac Morna," answered the woman,
"if you will agree to meet me in single combat.
If you will not, I will carry on the fight until
you are all dead."
Goll arranged to meet her, and the only
condition the combatants made was that the
fight must be carried on until one or the
other was killed; and though Caeilté and
the warriors tried to dissuade him from doing
so, the next morning he armed himself and
went down to the strand. The whole of that
day he and the woman fought together,
neither gaining the victory, and for two succeeding
days they met again, striking many
hard blows; but on the eve of the third day,
when Goll lay down to sleep, he was so
covered with wounds that he feared he would
be easily conquered on the morrow.
But help was nearer to him than he
imagined; even then Fionn and his comrades
were hurrying to his aid from the place where
the woman of the spells thought they were
still in safe keeping. And this is how the
spell that bound them was broken.
Among the men guarding the Fians was
one who had a beautiful daughter, called
Ethne, and often at night she would sit near
the Fians and listen as they spoke of past wars
and adventures. She seemed so gentle and
sweet, so unlike the witch and her companions,
that each time Diarmuid O'Duibhne saw her
he loved her more deeply; and one evening,
as they were pacing up and down the sands,
"Were I free from these evil bonds, Ethne,
I would ask you to leave your people, and
come to my home with me, for I love you,
and had I the choice of all the women in the
world it is you I would choose for my wife.
But, much as I and my companions try, we
cannot break the spell that binds us to this
"How can I be sure that you love me?"
asked Ethne doubtfully. "Do you forget that
I am one of your enemy's companions?"
"I swear by the sun and the wind,"
answered Diarmuid, "that I have spoken the
truth. Tell me that you will accompany me
when I leave this place."
Then Ethne knew that he did indeed love
her; for he had called on two eternal powers to
witness his vow, and did he break that vow the
powers of the sun and wind would punish him.
" I have given you my love, and wherever
you choose to take me I will go," said Ethne
softly. "This night you shall all be free, for,
unknown to the enchantress, I have a word of
might which will release your bonds."
All the people in the camp slept except
the Fians, for Diarmuid had whispered to them
that before dawn they would be free. At
midnight Ethne came, dressed ready for the
journey, and standing over the Fians lifted
her hands above their heads, and chanted in
a curiously even tone these words:
By the light of suns afar |
And the guiding, distant star;
By the mystic new-born moon
And the lilt of magic rune,
You are freed from the ill spell.
Take your swords and let us go,
From this place of death and woe;
Leave this shadowy land behind
And the words that hold and bind:
Now my bidding breaks the spell.
The Fians rose, and with great gladness
found that their strength had returned to
them. They surrounded Ethne, and with
deep gratitude thanked her for the service
she had rendered them. Then, taking swords
and shields in hand, they were preparing to
leave that house of ill-omen, when, to the
unutterable horror of Fionn and the other
men, and before they could prevent him,
Conan mac Morna suddenly raised his sword
and with one blow severed beautiful Ethne's
head from her body.
For a moment the Fians stood aghast.
They knew Conan to be a boaster and sometimes
they had even thought him lacking in
courage, but they never deemed him capable
of such an ungenerous and horrible deed as
this. The next moment Diarmuid lifted his
sword, and cried:
"Had you a hundred heads, nay, a
thousand, I would hew them all from your
cowardly body in revenge for this ever-hateful
As Diarmuid spoke Conan knew what fear
was. He thought the next breath he drew
would be his last, and it would have been had
not Oscur stepped between them.
"Let us not linger here," said Oscur.
"Every minute is precious, for I am sure
that Goll is hard pressed by the witch who
went to attack him. As for this coward,"
and he pointed at Conan, "he shall be dealt
with later, and through the whole of the land
his name shall be a name of scorn for ever
after; but now the welfare of the Fianna
must precede all personal affairs."
Very reluctantly Diarmuid let the matter
rest there, and they proceeded on their
journey. Through the hours of the night
they travelled quickly eastward, and at last
reached Ben Edar. They found Goll arming
himself for the fourth day's fight, and so weak
from his many wounds that he could hardly
Fionn and his companions clamoured to
stand before the witch and fight her both on
their own account and Goll's. But Goll
refused, and only when Fionn used his
authority and forbade him to go out that
day saying he did not want to altogether
lose his best captain did Goll relent, and
unwillingly agreed that Oscur should take his
The witch stared in amazement when she
saw that those whom she still believed to be
spell-bound were arrayed against her; but a
furious anger possessed her when she realized
they had escaped from her power. With all
her strength she attacked Oscur, and until the
day was drawing to its close they fought
together, when Oscur began to show signs of
weakness because of the hurts he had received.
Seeing this, Fergus, the bard of the Fianna,
called out to him:
"O Oscur, son of Oisin, you who have
never before been conquered, let it not be
said that an evil enchantress vanquished you.
Remember, Oscur, that hour when we lay
fettered by evil bonds in the Bay of Inch, and
forget not the death of thy comrades."
The bard's words strengthened Oscur's
failing arm, and with a swift leap forward
he struck the witch with his spear. She
wavered on her feet for a minute, then with
a great cry fell forward on the sand and died.
So ends Fionn's adventure and enchantment
when following the chase at Gleann-na-smol.
Russell, Violet. Heroes of the Dawn.
New York: The Macmillan Co., 1914. 37-45.