It is nearly eight hundred years ago since the story was transcribed from some old authority into the "Book of the Dun Cow," the oldest manuscript of Gaelic literature we possess.—Joyce's "Old Celtic Romances," p. 97.
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The House in the Lake
In the Irish annals lake dwellings, which were formerly common in Ireland, are called crannogs, from crann, a tree, either because of the timber framework of which the island was formed or of the wooden huts erected thereon.
Some crannogs appear to have been veritable islands, the only means of communication with the land being canoes. Remains of these have been frequently found near the dwelling, in some instances alongside the landing stage, as if sunk at their moorings.
"Favorite sites for crannogs were marshes, small loughs surrounded by woods and large sheets of water. As providing good fishing grounds the entrance to or exit of a stream from a lake was eagerly selected."—"Lake Dwellings of Ireland," Col. Wood Martin, M.R.I.A.
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Brian, Ur, and Urcar, the three sons of Turenn, were Dedanaan chiefs. They slew Kian, the father of Luga of the Long Arms, who was grandson of Balor of the Evil Eye. Luga imposed an extraordinary eric fine on the sons of Turenn, part of which was "the cooking-spit of the women of Fincara." For a quarter of a year Brian and his brothers sailed hither and thither over the wide ocean, landing on many shores, seeking tidings of the Island of Fincara. At last they met a very old man, who told them that the island lay deep down in the waters, having been sunk beneath the waves by a spell in times long past.
Then Brian put on his water-dress, with his helmet of transparent crystal on his head, telling his brothers to wait his return. He leaped over the side of the ship, and sank at once out of sight. He walked about for a fortnight down in the green salt sea, seeking for the Island of Fincara, and at last he found it.
His brothers waited for him in the same spot the whole time, and when he came not they began to fear he would return no more. At last they were about to leave the place, when they saw the glitter of his crystal helmet deep down in the water, and immediately after he came to the surface with the cooking-spit in his hand.—"Old Celtic Romances" (Joyce), p. 87.
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In the list of the historic tales mentioned in the Book of Leinster, and which is given in O'Curry's appendix to his "Lectures on the MSS. Materials of Ancient Irish History," "The Cave of the Road of Cuglas" finds place. O'Curry has the following note:—
"Cuglas was the son of Donn Desa, King of Leinster, and master of the hounds to the monarch Conaire Mor. Having one day followed the chase from Tara to this road, the chase suddenly disappeared in a cave, into which he followed, and was never seen after. Hence the cave was called Uaimh Bealach Conglais, or the cave of the road of Cuglas (now Baltinglass, in the County of Wicklow). It is about this cave, nevertheless, that so many of our pretended Irish antiquarians have written so much nonsense in connection with some imaginary pagan worship to which they gravely assure the world, on etymological authority, the spot was devoted. The authority for the legend of Cuglas is the Dinnoean Chus on the place Bealach Conglais (Book of Lecain). The full tale has not come down to us."
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"Here comes a single champion towards us, O Cuchulain," said Laegh (Cuchulain's charioteer). "What sort of a champion is he?" said Cuchulain. "A brown-haired, broad-faced, beautiful youth; a splendid brown cloak on him; a bright bronze spear-like brooch fastening his cloak. A full and well-fitting shirt to his skin. Two firm shoes between his two feet and the ground. A hand-staff of white hazel in one hand of his; a single-edged sword with a sea-horse hilt in his other hand." "Good, my lad," said Cuchulain; "these are the tokens of a herald."—Description of the herald MacRoath in the story of The Tain bo Chuailgne.—O'Curry's "Manners and Customs of the Ancient Irish," Vol. II., p. 301.
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In O'Curry's "Lectures on the Manners and Customs of the Ancient Irish" are several dazzling descriptions of cavalcades taken from the old tales. Silver and golden bells are frequently mentioned as part of the horse furniture.
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The Wild People of the Glen
"And then he put on his helmet of battle and of combat and of fighting, from every recess and from every angle of which issued the shout as it were of an hundred warriors; because it was alike that woman of the valley (de bananaig), and hobgoblins (bacanaig), and wild people of the glen (geinti glindi), and demons of the air (demna acoir), shouted in front of it, and in rear of it, and over it, and around it, wherever he went, at the spurting of blood, and of heroes upon it."
Description of Cuchulain's helmet in the story of The Tain bo Chuailgne.—O'Curry's "Manners and Customs of the Ancient Irish," Vol. II., p. 301.
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The Fair of Tara
"The great fairs anciently held in Ireland were not like their modern representatives, mere markets, but were assemblies of the people to celebrate funeral games, and other religious rites; during pagan times to hold parliaments, promulgate laws, listen to the recitation of tales and poems, engage in or witness contests in feats of arms, horse-racing, and other popular games. They were analogous in many ways to the Olympian and other celebrated games of ancient Greece.
"These assemblies were regulated by a strict by-law, a breach of which was punishable by death. Women were especially protected, a certain place being set apart for their exclusive use, as a place was set apart at one side of the lists of mediaeval tournaments for the Queen of Beauty and the other ladies.
"At the opening of the assembly there was always a solemn proclamation of peace, and the king who held the fair awarded prizes to the most successful poets, musicians, and professors and masters of every art."—See Dr. Sullivan's "Introduction to O'Curry's Lectures."
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The Contest of the Bards
"The three musical feats of the Daghda, a celebrated Dedanann chief and Druid, were the Suantraighe, which from its deep murmuring caused sleep. The Goltraighe, which from its meltive plaintiveness caused weeping, and the Goltraighe, which from its merriment caused laughter.
"Bose, the great Norse harper, could give on his harp the Gyarslager, or stroke of the sea gods, which produced mermaids' music."—O'Curry's Lectures.
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The Fairy Tree of Dooros
The forest of Dooros was in the district of Hy Fiera of the Moy (now the barony of Tireragh, in Sligo).
On a certain occasion the Dedanns, returning from a hurling match with the Feni, passed through the forest, carrying with them for food during the journey crimson nuts, and arbutus apples, and scarlet quicken-berries, which they had brought from the Land of Promise. One of the quicken-berries dropped on the earth, and the Dedanns passed on not heeding.
From this berry a great quicken-tree sprang up, which had the virtues of the quicken-trees that grow in fairyland. Its berries had the taste of honey, and those who ate of them felt a cheerful glow, as if they had drunk of wine or old mead, and if a man were even a hundred years old he returned to the age of thirty as soon as he had eaten three of them.
The Dedanns having heard of this tree, and not wishing that anyone should eat of the berries but themselves, sent a giant of their own people to guard it, namely, Sharvan the Surly of Lochlann.—"The Pursuit of Diarmuid and Grania," "Old Celtic Romances," p. 313 (Joyce).
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The Palace of the Little Cat
The description of the rows of jewels ranged round the wall of the palace of the Little Cat is taken from "The Voyage of Maildun."—See Note XII.
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The Birds of the Mystic Lake
The incident of the birds coming to the mystic lake is taken from "The Voyage of Maildun," a translation of which is given in Joyce's "Old Celtic Romances." The operations of the birds were witnessed by Maildun and his companions, who, in the course of their wanderings, had arrived at the Isle of the Mystic Lake. One of Maildun's companions, Diuran, on seeing the wonder, said to the others: "Let us bathe in the lake, and we shall obtain a renewal of our youth like the birds."
But they said: "Not so, for the bird has left the poison of his old age and decay in the water."
Diuran, however, plunged in, and swam about for some time; after which he took a little of the water and mixed it in his mouth, and in the end he swallowed a small quantity. He then came out perfectly sound and whole, and remained so ever after as long as he lived. But none of the others ventured in.
The return of the birds in the character of the cormorants of the western seas and guardians of the lake does not occur in the old tale. The oldest copy of the voyage is in the "Book of the Dun Cow" (about the year 1100). O'Curry says the voyage was undertaken about the year 700. It was made by Maildun in search of pirates who had slain his father. The story is full of fancy.