Every three years, the High King of Tara had to throw a feast for all the people of Ireland, lasting seven days and seven nights. One High King, Diarmait son of Cerball, was finding it hard to cover the expense of this feast, and he looked out at the great plain of Tara, with seven views on every side, and he wondered if he might cultivate some of that good green land, and put it to profit, to offset the costs of the feast.
All the people of Ireland began to arrive for the great feast in Tara: kings and queens, chieftains and chieftainesses, youths and their loves, maidens and their lovers, people of all degree and class arrived, and were seated according to their station: the kings and ollaves (that is the highest rank of bard) sat around the High King, the warriors and fighting men were all put together, and the youths and maidens and proud foolish folk were put in the chambers around the doors, and everyone was given their proper portion of the feast, and though the best of the fine fruit and oxen and boars went to the kings and ollaves, nobody at all would go hungry.
But when the High King Diarmait mentioned that he was considering reappointing the Manor of Tara, all the people said that they would wait and not eat a bit until such an important matter as this was decided. But Diarmait was uneasy about making such a huge decision on his own, so he sent for the wisest man he could think of: Fiachra, son of the embroideress, who was Saint Patrick’s successor in Ireland. But when the question was put to Fiachra, he refused to answer it. “There is another man, wiser and older than myself,” he said, “and that is Cennfaelad, who got a wound to the head in the Battle of Moy Rath, that took the brain of forgetfullness out of his head, so the remembers everything, and can forget nothing.”
But Cennfaelad, too, refused to answer the question of what to do with the Manor of Tara. He insisted they ask his five seniors, the oldest and wisest people in Ireland. But when the five elders arrived, they wouldn’t partition Tara and its manor unless their senior said it was alright.
At this stage, Diarmait was getting frustrated, and the feast was growing cold, so he sent at once for the man named by the five seniors of Ireland. That man was called Fintan Mac Bochra, and he had lived for so long that his legend had grown and fallen again into obscurity, until only the oldest and wisest people had ever heard of him.
Fintan had his home in Tulcha in Kerry at that time, and the people in Tara had to wait until he was sent for, and brought before them. Fintan was given a great welcome in the banqueting house, and everyone was keen to hear his words and his stories, they knew this was a rare thing to have such a sage in their company. They asked him to sit in the judge’s seat, but Fintan refused until he knew what question they had to put to him. He said they shouldn’t make a fuss over him, because he knew he was welcome anywhere in Ireland: Ireland was his fostermother, and Tara was her knee that he rested on, and Ireland had sustained him throughout all the long years of his life, from the time of the Deluge until that time.
He told them of all the Invasions of Ireland, an eyewitness account of their ancient history, and told them how, when Saint Patrick came to Ireland, Fintan converted to the Faith of the King of the cloudy heaven.
Someone in the crowd wanted to know how good Fintan’s memory might be, since he had lived for so long and it might be starting to go. “Well,” said Fintan, “One day I was walking the in the woods of West Munster, and I picked a berry from a yew tree.” He told them where he’d planted the berry, described how it grew, into a magnificent tree. And when the yew tree died of old age, he cut it down and made into churns and pitchers and useful wooden tools. And those vessels served him well, until they began to decay. So he cut out the bad wood, and salvaged the good, and made new vessels (but from every churn, he got only a pitcher, and from every barrel, not more than a plank). “And where are those pitchers that I re-made?” said Fintan, “Gone to dust now, on account of their great age.”
Dairmait was very impressed with Fintan’s great age and great wisdom, and explained to Fintan that he thought the manor of Tara was going to waste, and he thought it would be best to partition it and use it for something profitable. And he asked Fintan if he had any knowledge from history that would help them in the settling of the manor of Tara.
Fintan said that he had, and he told them this story:
“Once, long, long ago, we were holding a great assembly of the men of Ireland, the king at that time was Conaing Bec-eclach. On a day in that assembly, we saw a great hero coming towards us from the west. He was huge. The top of his shoulders were as high as a wood, you could see the sun and the sky between his legs. He was comely as well as tall, and wore a shining crystal veil about him as if it were linen, and had sandals on his feet, and even I don’t know what wonderful material they were made of. His hair was golden-yellow, and fell in curls to the level of his thighs. And in his left hand he was carrying stone tablets, and in his right hand, he was carrying a branch with three fruits on it: nuts, and apples and acorns. He strode past us and around the assembly, with is great branch of wood, and someone called out to him to come and speak with the king, Conaing Bec-eclach. He answered then, and said “What do you desire of me?”
“”To know where you come from, and where you’re going, and to know your name,” we answered.
“The giant said, “I come from the setting of the sun and I am going into the rising of the sun, and my name is Trefuilngid Tre-eochair.”
“”And what has brought you to the setting, if you were at its rising?” we asked.
“”A man who has been tortured,” said he, “A man in Palestine has been tortured today, and crucified to death, and the sun could not bear to look down on them, so I came to find out what ailed the sun.” And then he asked us, “What is your race?” he asked, “and whence have you come to this island?”
“”From the Children of Mil of Spain and from the Greeks are our people sprung,” we said, and told him all of the comings of the people to Ireland, and the history of the Sons of Mil before they came to Spain, the same story I told to all of you.
“What land is Spain?” asked Trefuilngid.
“You can just about see it in the distance in the south, for our people came here when Ith son of Breogan saw the mountains of Ireland from the top of the tower of Breogan in Spain, and following him the sons of MIl came.”
“And how many of you are in this island?” asked Trefuilngid, “I would like to see you assembled in one place.”
“Conaing said he’d assemble all the people of Ireland for Trefuilngid to see if he wanted, but he thought it would distress the people to feed such a great man as Trefuilngid. But Trefuilngid assured him that the branch in his hand would serve him for food and drink as long as he lived. So, for forty days and nights, Trefuilngid stayed with us all, until all the men of Ireland were assembled for him at Tara. And when he saw them all in one place, he asked them for the chronicles of the men of Ireland in the royal house of Tara. But the people replied that they had no real storytellers to entrust the chronicles to.
“Then Trefuilngid said that he would establish the progression of the stories and chronicles of the hearth of Tara with the four quarters of Ireland all about, because he was the most learned witness among them. And he asked them to bring to Tara from each quarter, the seven wisest, most prudent and most cunning people, and the shanachies, to represent the four quarters of Ireland, and so that each of the seven could take their share of the chronicles of the hearth of Tara back to his home province.
“He took those shanachies aside, and told them the chronicles of every part of Ireland, and then he took the king, Conaing, aside, to tell him how they had partitioned Ireland. Then Trefuilngid asked me, Fintan Mac Bochra to explain the partitioning of Ireland, since I was the oldest one at that assembly. I told him that Ireland was divided into five provinces: “Knowledge in the west, battle in the north, prosperity in the east, music in the south, and kingship in the centre.”
“”True indeed,” said Trefuilngid, “That is how it is, and will be forever.” And he told us where to fix the borders of all the provinces, and all the attributes of the different provinces, and marked the borders of the manor of Tara. And then Trefuilngid gave some of the berries and nuts and acorns from his branch to me and told me to plant them in the places I thought they would grow best in Ireland. Great trees sprang from each of the berries, and I watched them all grow from saplings, and watched them all wither and die with age in the end.”
After this great story, Fintan sang of his great age, and his duty as a shanachie, to bring clear testimony to the sons of Mil. He went on telling stories of Ireland to the men of Ireland, as they sat and listened with wide and wondering eyes, right up until his summoning by Diarmait son of Cerball that very day. And Fintan’s judgement was: “Let it be as we have found it, and not go against the arrangement that Trefuilngid Tre-eochair left us, because he was either an angel of God, or he was God Himself.”
Then the nobles of Ireland came with Fintan to Uisneach, and they took leave of each other from the top of Uisneach. And Fintan set up a pillar-stone with five ridges on the summit of Uisneach, and assigned a ridge of it to every province in Ireland, showing that Tara and Uisneach are in Ireland as two kidneys are in an animal, and he marked out the portion of each province in Uisneach, and arranged the pillar stone.
And that is the story of the Settling of the Manor of Tara