Articles Tagged with: Fenian Cycle

The Battle of Magh Lena Part 1

Long ago in Ireland, there was a King in called Conn Cead Cathach, Conn of the Hundred Battles. Conn’s reign was long, and many great sagas were told during his time. He was King at the time of Finn McCool, at the height of Fianna’s fame and glory. He meddled with the Otherworld, and was not just king of a hundred battles but the King of One Hundred Treaties.

However, it’s not these stories I’m going to tell you today. For Conn’s most famous enemy was Eoghan Mogh Nuadhat. A king of Munster, and a would be High-King of Ireland. The story of their enmity is a long one, spanning decades, and great tragedy befell both of them because of it. Conn’s origins match the beginning of most of Ireland’s great kings. In that he received both the blessing of the land, the people, and the gods.

Firstly, on the night he was born it was said that great fruit trees sprang from the ground, standing for the length of his reign. Also, three great lakes filled from basins barren, and the five roads to Tara were revealed, though they never said how the roads were missed in the first place. One day, when he was a child, Conn stood on the ramparts of Tara with his father’s druid, as it was their tradition to take turns guarding the walls against the return of the Tuath de Danann, whose world was driven underground by Conn’s ancestors hundreds of years before. By chance, he happened to step upon a relic that was thought lost since the time of Cú Chulain, it was the Lia Fáil, the Speaking Stone. In ages past it was used to determine the High-king, as it would cry out whenever the rightful leader sat upon it.

But being lost, it was mistakenly used to built at Tara, and so, Conn ended up stepping on it. It called out, with a piercing cry somewhere between ecstasy and terror. Hearing the sound, his father’s druid explained the stone’s worth. But even as he did a magical mist arose, and a horseman emereged from it. He threw spears at Conn, three times the horseman threw, and three times the young prince deflected with his shield. At this the horseman paused, then invited Conn and the druid to Otherworld. They followed the horseman through the mist until they came across a house on a plain beside a golden tree. Inside they were welcomed by a woman in a gold crown. She was Eriu, the sovereign god of Ireland. She was stirring a golden vat, of full of red ale, while lilting a sweet melody, Eriu served Conn a drink in a marvellous chalice. Then the horseman threw off his disguise and revealed himself to be Lugh, the greatest of the Tuath de Dannan. Then he made a solemn prophecy, and this was it: “You will reign for seven years of plenty, and seven years without. Nine years of peace, and fifteen of truce. And many generations of kings will follow after you.” Lugh then went on to list the mighty names that would follow Conn’s, going all the way up to Niall of the Nine Hostages and beyond. Having received this blessing and foretelling, Conn and his druid were returned to Tara, where Conn would eventually become king.

Now, Conn soon to be rival, Eoghan, had a different story towards his kingship. He was called Mogh Naudhat because, when he was fostered with Chief Nuada of Munster, the chief was having a great rath built. One day, Eoghan came across two poor slaves attempting to lift a heavy rock into place, they failed over and over until Eoghan, pitied them, and came and lifted the stone all by himself. Nuada’s druid witnessed this and saw him to be stronger than any slave or servant, and so they called him Mogh Nuadhat, Nuada’s slave. Which, in the way of the Irish, had a dual meaning, which is Noble slave. You see, Eoghan was the son of another chief in Munster called Mogh Nuid. He was wiley man, who in his heart sought more dominion that he already possessed. One night, his wife, Sioda, had a dream, in it, she saw seven cows stand upon a wide plain, and their milk filled the land with plenty, but then seven other cows came, and they were gaunt and terrible to look upon, and they consumed all the milk and grass, leaving the land barren. Upon waking she told her husband this and he summoned their druid. The druid’s interpretation echoed the prediction made by Lugh when Conn was a child. Their would be seven years of plenty, and seven years of famine. With this knowledge, Mogh Nuid concocted a plan. For the seven years of plenty he hoarded all the food he could, and so when the time of famine arrived he had enough stored to feed his people, and more, if necessary. When Conn did take the kingship, the land was blessed, and, as Lugh predicted, there were seven years of plenty. It was time without sickness, there was abundance of crops, and the rivers were so full of fish you only had to put your hand into the river to pull one out. But, upon the end of these years a curse was put upon the land, and there was soon to come another seven years of blight and famine.

At this point in the history of Ireland there were in fact two Munsters. Led by two kings who were brothers, one named Connaire and the other called MacNid-MacLug. They were not well liked, in fact, when the chiefs of Munster called a great council to decide what might be done to coutner the famine, they neglected to even invite the kings. Just as Connaire and Mag-Nig Mac-Lug had neglected to call a council at all. At this meeting, Mogh Nuid offered to allow them access to his stores in exchange for a gift: That they make his son Eoghan, king of Munster, and that they exile the two current kings. Eoghan resisted, thinking that it be wrong for him to made king over his father. but Mogh Nuid insisted, as he knew that he could control Eoghan anyway. And besides that Eoghan was better loved by the people than either himself, or Munster’s current kings. So it was that Connaire and MacNid-MacLug were driven from Munster and Eoghan was made the sole king the united province.

By this time, Conn was now High-King and consider the arbiter of the land, knowing this the two brothers went to Conn protesting injustice. Conn was sympathetic towards them, but more so was outraged at Mogh Nuid’s treachery in abusing the famine in the land for his own gain. So, Conn vowed to help them reclaim their thrones. Mogh Nuid was enraged that the High-king would interfere in the matters of Munster. And immediately declared war upon Conn. Eoghan was reluctant to take the field as he foresaw great woe befalling them if they fought the High-king. But Mogh Nuid and the other chiefs called him a coward, and he was shamed into taking part.

The Fianna, the greatest warriors in Ireland, swore fealty to no king, and were free to live as they chose along the borders of the realms. But they chose to side with Conn. For they and their leader, Goll Mac Morna, were bound to Conn through an close friendship.  With their help, despite still having less troops, Conn succeeded in driving Mogh Nuid back. And so it was that Goll Mac Morna, the greatest warrior in all Ireland at that time, ended up meeting Mogh Nuid in combat. The two fought fiercely spear meeting shield in at devastating speeds, but Mogh Nuid couldn’t hold a torch to the Leader of the Fianna, and in short order; Goll slew him. Eoghan witnessed this and was grieved by his father’s death, but kept his cool. He gathered himself and then requested a day of truce with Conn to bury his father. Conn honourably agreed, and then, when Eoghan that requested two more days of mourning, he granted that as well.

Eoghan used the time to retreat to a great pass that lay on Conn’s route south, in order to set up an ambush. But Conn was not fooled, instead he took a long detour, and reached Munster’s undefended lands. There Connaire and MacNid-MacLug began pillaging the lands that were stolen from them, and causing great harm to the people there. Realising his mistake, and trying his best to alleviate the burden on the common folk, Eoghan ordered the soldiers of Munster to leave him and seek a truce with Conn. Keeping only his father’s forces as their lands were now forfeit to Conn anyway. With great reluctance his allies did this, for they knew their people’s safety were worth more than their loyalty to Eoghan. But in their hearts, they loved him all the more for his decision. They made peace with Conn, and they took once again the kingship of Connaire and MacNid-MacLug. Having secured peace Conn dismissed his armies. And made camp with only his warriors from Connaught and the Fianna. Eoghan however, blamed Conn for his father’s death. For if he hadn’t interfered in the Succession of Munster, the war would have never come. And so, Eoghan began to feel the desire for revenge. He attacked Conn when the king’s forces were weakened. The battle was brutal and Eoghan’s soldiers were killed one by one, until only he and his strongest survived. Yet still he fought on until he came upon Goll mac Morna. Their combat was terrible to witness, and Eoghan knew that he could not beat the leader of the Fianna.

However, he was a man of many attributes, admired by many. And he was even the lover of a member of the Tuath de Dannan, a woman called Eadoinn. And so, she received a premonition that Eoghan would be defeated, and not willing to let the man she loved die, she used her magic to rescue him before Goll could kill him. Eoghan was greatly displeased, as to die honourably in battle as his right, but he loved Eadoinn and forgave her immediately. She took him to her magic island, where he rested for nine days. When fully recovered he made to leave and seek his revenge on Conn, but Eadoinn lamented that because the island was magic, for each day Eoghan dwelt with her a year had passed in Ireland. Eoghan told her he was glad to even have nine days with her but he now knew he could never return.

As a farewell, Eadoinn gave Eoghan three blessings. First, Eadoinn told Eoghan where to seek allies in order to defeat Conn, then she gave him a magic sword, and told him that with it he could defat any foe, but it also was the only that sword could slay him. And her third blessing, she would give at a later date, the last time they would meet.

Meanwhile, Conn spent nine years in peace. But as the nine year anniversary of Eoghan’s flight came upon him, he was restless. He remembered well Lugh’s words that he would have nine years of peace, then fifteen of truce. And he feared that to have truce, first there must be war. So, even as Eoghan set foot on Ireland’s shores once more, Conn was summoning his armies from Connaught and his few allies of Ulster. On Eadoinn’s advice, Eoghan sought out Daire of Leinster, who had grown tired of paying the boruma, a levy of cattle, that Conn’s grandfather forced upon Leinster follwing conflict during his reign. Eoghan also reached out to Conn’s enemies in Ulster, of which for a man called of the Hundred battles, you can guess, were many. Now Ulster had not had one sole king since the time of the Red Branch, but King Eochaid managed to call enough allies under his banner, and joined Eoghan’s side.

Eoghan then called upon the chiefs if Munster who he’d allowed truce with Conn and they immediately flocked back to the King they loved so well. Under his leadership they subjugated Connaire and MacNid-MacLug, holding their families hostage and forcing their warriors to fight for Eoghan. Then Eoghan marched north to make himself High-king. Conn feared this tactic, and as the Munster and Leinster armies marched north he sent out scouts to give warning of their attack so he would have time to retreat to the more defensible mountains in Connaught.

But, as promised, Eadoinn gave Eoghan her final blessing. She came to him, and of their goodbye I will not tell, for it is for them alone. But after she shrouded Eoghan’s armies in a mist, and confounded Conn’s watch, until, one day, Conn awoke in Tara to find himself besieged Knowing that this place of meeting could not hold out, Conn broke forth, losing many warriors, but succeeding in fleeing to Connaught. However, Eochaid of Ulster were ready for him, and had secretly moved south, blocking Conn’s retreat.

Conn found himself trapped, and as his tired soldiers made camp for the night, he was despondent, knowing their defeat waited in the morning. He ordered the camp light three times the amount of fires, so that when Eoghan made his camp on the opposite hill, in the darkness, he perceived Conn’s forces to be thrice what they were, and near equal to his own.

Seeing this, Connaire and MacNid-MacLug suggested than Eoghan seek truce, instead of battle, and came up with the idea that Ireland should be divided in half. Despite Eoghan’s ever increasing desire to see Conn dead, he agreed to this, as a vestige of sense still was within him, and Conn was sent the offer. Conn remembered well the pillages the Kings of Munster had wrought on their own lands nine years previous, and wished to see no more death and suffering brought to the people of Ireland. He realised that it was selfish of him to insist on battle just so he could try and win all of Ireland for himself and so he accepted Eoghan’s treaty. And so Ireland was partitioned, divided in a line running from Dublin to Galway Bay. With Conn’s Half in the north and to the south, Mogh’s half, because Eoghan was called Mogh Nuadhat by the people.

Then followed fifteen years of truce… When we left Conn and Eoghan they had come to a truce. And Ireland had been partitioned into halves, along a line running from Dublin to Galway Bay.

Mounds were constructed to mark the edges of this boundary. One stands at the Peninsula of Marey, south of Galway City. And the other, if the legend is to be believed, stood where Dublin Castle would eventually be built. This division meant that both Galway and Dublin’s port fell under Conn’s rule. And this would prove vital. For fifteen years they had an uneasy truce, but Eoghan grew bitter, and the lust for revenge always gnawed at his mind. So it was that he spent less time ruling with wisdom, and more and more time seeking just cause to break his truce with Conn. His people would come looking for judgement or aid, but Eoghan would dismiss them, not bothered with providing fair judgement and so his lands grew poor and barren. And even at the king’s table, the fare was meagre.

One day, he did a tour of his holdings, seeking to find where the majority of his wealth lay, and to try and increase their taxes so he himself could benefit more. He arrived at Dublin, only to be met with an enraging sight. The port that lay to the north of the border was bustling. Trade was good, and he knew then that Conn benefited from this trade most. So, he made straight for Tara and demanded an audience. When Conn came to him, Eoghan informed his rival that their deal was unfair, and that Conn should give the port, and its trade, to Eoghan. Conn refuted this, stating that goods couldn’t not be divided as land was. Eoghan responded by calling an end to the truce, and declaring war once more. He finally had the reason he was looking for.

Conn didn’t hesitate this time and retreated to Connaught where he was safe in his fortresses while Eoghan gathered his forces. However, Conn still had enemies in Ulster and once again Eochaid thwarted him. He led a great army south, pillaging Meath and attempting to hold Tara against him. Conn had no choice but to leave his forts and face the Ulstermen on the field. He defeated them soundly and many fled north once more. Though Eochaid led his surviving warriors south to Eoghan’s gathering army.

Meanwhile, Eoghan’s passivity had led to the release of Connaire’s and MacNid-MacLug’s families. And, as soon as they had gathered information on Eoghan’s plans, the two former kings fled to Conn, with their warriors. They betrayed the route Eoghan would take north, so Conn would be able to cut Eoghan off and meet his forces in a place of his choosing. The two armies met on the hills of Magh Leana, and here, their fates would be decided. The two kings set up their camps on opposing hills, and once more prepared to do battle in the morning. Conn had no tricks up his sleeve this time, and as he looked at Eoghan’s superior forces, he knew that he would not win in the morning. Eoghan knew this as well, and so, driven more by a sense of irony than the desire to save lives, he sent Conn an offer.

And this was it:

He was going to massacre all Conn’s warriors down to last, no matter the cost. Then, he said, he would find their families and do the same to them. After, he would hunt down every last friend Conn ever had and bring them to ruin. Finally he would raise Tara to the ground and build it new again so no one would know what had stood there before. Or Conn and all his kin could leave Ireland, and swear to never return for all of time, or be cursed if they did. Reluctantly, Conn agreed. But the point was raised that he would have to give proof of his honest intentions, as Eoghan had grown paranoid since their truce was declared and increasingly hateful.  So, as show of good faith, Conn sent his two foster brothers, his best friends, to carry the message to Eoghan.

Upon receiving Conn’s capitulation Eoghan became overjoyed. He declared that his time of suffering was at an end, and that he would now relish in the excess of being High-king of all Ireland. He said that no food would go untasted, and no wine undrank. You see, the long years of hardship, the loss of his father, and Eadoinn, meant his hatred for Conn had festered to a point nearing on madness. And as Conn’s brothers looked at their would-be High-king, they knew that doom was upon them all.

In his arrogance, Eoghan ordered them to swear fealty to him, but they refused. They said that even if Conn couldn’t king, they would never see a man such as Eoghan rule Ireland. Eoghan flew into a rage, and ordered Conn’s brothers seized. Eochaid and the Ulstermen objected to this, insisting that it was dishonourable to attack ambassadors in truce. But Eoghan overruled him, reminding him that he was now High-king, and if they refused to swear allegiance, then it was treason. He dragged them up to the top of the highest hill and lit a fire to so that Conn could see what was going on from the opposite side. When he could be sure he had Conn’s attention Eoghan drew the great sword of Eadoinn and he beheaded Conn’s brothers, the men Conn loved best in the world. Conn was struck by grief, and declared that they would fight in the morning. There could be no peace between them now.

Eoghan was confident in his victory at set his camp to merriment. But even as he arrived at his own fire, three women appeared to him. They were Eriu, Foitla and Banbha, the three sister goddesses of Ireland. They sang to him, outlining the punishments the land suffers under a bad King. Then they declared that Eoghan was cursed for breaking the laws of the Kingdom, and that he would be killed for them. Despite his fear, Eoghan rebuked them. Reminding them that he could only die by his own hand, and showed them the blade given him by Eadoinn. But the Ulstermen heard the goddess’  prediction, and were quiet.

Conn meanwhile, was also approached by the three goddess. They sang to Conn of the blessings that the land received under good Kingship, then, Eriu urged him to attack Eoghan at first light, when his forces were still hungover and sleeping. Conn refused, calling the deed dishonourable, but Eriu was insulted that Conn would allow the people of Ireland to suffer under the yoke of Eoghan’s rule, all to protect his precious personal honour.

While Conn debated, Eochaid of Ulster approached him, he was outraged at Eoghan’s actions in executing the messengers, who were protected by law. And encouraged Conn to follow the Tuath de Dannan’s advice. And the Ulstermen switched sides, and though their force was small, this combined with the surprise attack, just might win Conn the day. Conn was torn, but eventually decided it was indeed better to attack and be considered dishonourable, than allow Eoghan kingship of Ireland. But the Fianna, the warriors of the greatest strength, wisdom, and honour, disagreed. And so refused to fight until the sun was fully up and all Eoghan’s troops raised.

Goll Mac Morna, however, knew that Eoghan mustn’t be made king. He was no longer the leader of the Fianna but he still possessed great influence over the warriors of Ireland. So he persuaded Conn’s men to protect their lord, and keep him from the front-lines until Goll felt it right for the Fianna to join and for him to fight Eoghan in Conn’s stead. As the Sun rose the Fianna stayed camping while Conn and Ulstermen led the charge into Eoghan’s sleeping camp.

Eoghan had slept poorly that night and was soon woke by the sound of battle, but by the time he got up and put on his gear, over a third of his forces were killed. Never the less, he rallied his men, and they began the battle in earnest, though he knew the two sides were now painfully evenly matched. The battle that raged at Magh Leana was bloody and the bodies littered the ground in huge piles of mangled human flesh. Many great warriors lost their lives that day, and their like would never be seen in Ireland again. The conflict left many children without parents, and many parents without children.

The Fianna observed this until all of Eoghan’s remaining soldiers were armed and awake. And then joined the fray. Goll sought Eoghan, so that he might end this brutal war. And so it was that once more, the King of Munster met the once leader of the Fianna in single combat. Goll Mac Morna and Eoghan Mor fought as if nothing else mattered. But it had been many years since their last battle, and Goll was aged, while Eoghan was still in his prime. Besides that he had the sword of Eadoinn, and Goll found himself sorely matched. Eoghan landed a strike on Goll’s shield arm, and the great warrior called out in shock and pain. Hearing his cries, Conn recognised them and went to help. But he was held back by others of the Fianna who instead went to Goll’s aid. Each one landed a hit on Eoghan, but each one received a cut from Eoghan in return.

Goll recovered and again he and Eoghan were matched blow for blow. But, again Goll faltered and Eoghan landed a slice across his leg. Goll called out, and Conn heard his cries. He tried to run ahead, but his personal guard held him back and they went instead to Goll’s aid. They struck at Eoghan injuring him, however, Eoghan managed to place a hit on   each of them, driving them back. Once more, Goll Mac Morna recovered and charged Eoghan, but he was much weakened, and Eoghan landed a nasty cut across Goll’s chest. As Goll collapsed he let loose a last mournful shout. He was not slain, but he could not rise. Upon hearing the Fianna’s cry Conn charged. Eluding those who would hold him back and finally, Conn Cead Cathach faced Eoghan Mogh Nuadhat and the victor would be High-king of Ireland. Eoghan’s fury was unchecked, and blinding. His enemy of years was at last within reach of his blade and he made devastating strike after devastating strike upon Conn’s shield.

Conn’s anger was quieter, though still present. He took each blow with patience, stepping back with each hit. As the distance between them grew, Eoghan over extended himself. Conn side stepped, allowing Eoghan’s swing to glance across his shield, then he jabbed, taking the other King in his shoulder. Eoghan fell back, as blood drenched his arm, making his hands slippery. Now, Conn was on the attack. He swung his sword high, driving Eoghan backwards. All around the battle was lessening, and though the two didn’t know it, Conn’s troops was slowly winning the field. Then, Eoghan’s sword slipped in his hand, and he dropped it. But as Eoghan stepped back his foot hit off a fallen spear. Using his foot kicked the spear up into his waiting hands, and in one swift motion he rammed it into Conn’s gut.

Conn pulled back, yanking the spear out of Eoghan’s hands. He dropped his weapon and fell to his knees. The High-king felt silence come over him as battlefield became distant. The fighting died down, and all turned to watch, some in horror, some in exultation. In that moment, Conn knew he was to die, and that Eoghan had won. Eoghan knew it too, and made to gloat, but as he did, Conn noticed Eoghan’s own sword at his finger tips. He grasped it, and rising with the spear still stuck in him, he used the blade to hack off the shaft. He started swinging at Eoghan’s now raised shield. Three times he struck and three times Eoghan blocked, barely. But on the next strike, the shield shattered, sending a jolt down Conn’s arm and breaking Eoghan’s.

Eoghan Mogh Nuadhat fell to his knees, and in a furious slash, Eadoinn’s magic sword cut off his head. And so the battle ended. Conn was wounded, but the tenacious Goll mac Morna kept him conscious until they could both be healed. Upon the death of their king, Eoghan’s army surrendered. A new treaty was drawn between the provinces, and Conn became High-king of all Ireland once more.

But, the people of Ireland were split over Conn’s actions that day. The argument ran; that if he had not done this shameful dawn-attack, then Ireland would have suffered greatly under the terrible yoke of Eoghan’s reign. Yet, the people would speak behind the King’s back, words like dishonour, and distrust, would haunt him for the remainder of his days. So, even though Ireland was united once more under Conn. There was still a division within their hearts and minds that would not be healed in Conn’s lifetime…   Conn’s Half and Mogh’s Half remained in spirit. And perhaps it should be considered that Ireland; was never whole again…


The Hostel of the Quicken Trees

At one time, the Fianna were called to defend Ireland’s shores from the invading King of Lochlann. They won the battle when their leader, Finn Mac Cumhaill killed the King of Lochlann and his sons, breaking the will of the invading army. Finn spared the youngest son, Miadach, who was just a boy, and brought him back to his home as a hostage and fosterling.

Finn treated all his fosterlings well, and held no grudge against Miadach for his father’s enmity. The same could not be said for Miadach. He took all Finn’s generosity with a smile, but he nursed a secret hatred all through the years. When he came of age, Finn gave Miadach lands on the coast, and Miadach left without a backward glance.

Some time later, the Fianna were hunting. Finn and a few of his companions followed the tracks of a giant boar, and were separated from the main part of the Fianna, and there on the road, who did they meet but Miadach!

Finn greeted him warmly, and Miadach seemed delighted to see them. He invited Finn and his friends to come with him to the Hostel of the Quicken Trees for a drink. Conan Maol Mac Morna, who was known for his blunt speech as much as his bald head, protested that Miadach had never been so friendly to Finn Mac Cumhaill before, so perhaps they shouldn’t trust him! But Finn reprimanded him for his bad manners.

All the same, just to be on the safe side, Finn split up his company. Taking Conan Maol and his brother Goll with him to the Hostel, he told his own son Oisín to wait for the rest of the hunt, along with Diarmuid O’Duibhne, Caoilte Mac Ronán, and three young warriors; Fodla, Caoilte’s son Fiachna, and Fiachna’s foster-brother Innsa, to wait on the hunt, while he went with Goll Mac Morna and his brother Conan Maol to share this drink with Miadach.

Miadach led them to a lovely hostel, with Quicken-Trees all around. They could see the walls of every colour, the coverings on the floor, and the fires giving off sweet smoke through the many windows and doors. Miadach ushered them in ahead of him, and the warriors were so busy admiring their surroundings and settling in that it took them a moment to realize that he hadn’t followed them at all. He was nowhere to be seen.

Goll spoke up. “Finn. Wasn’t there a window there just a moment ago?”

Finn agreed that there was.

“Then why is it only bare planks that I see now?”

Said Conan Maol, “And weren’t there rich tapestries on those walls a moment ago? And they bare now? And wasn’t there a fire in that grate, that’s cold now? And furthermore, weren’t we sitting on grand fine couches a moment ago, when there’s bare dirt under us now!?”
In fact, all the loveliness on the hostel had vanished, and now it was a mean, bare hut, with no windows and only one door, and a dirt floor under them.

At this the warriors realized that something uncanny was afoot. They tried, each one, to leap to their feet, but found that they were stuck fast to the cold earth floor! The more that they struggled, the faster they were stuck, till soon only Finn had so much as a hand free.

Conan Maol started to curse Miadach, and curse Finn for accepting his invitation to this treacherous place!

“There’s little use in you carrying on like that,” said Finn, “Oisin and the others are only a little way off. We’ll sound the Dord Fiann, and they’ll come running and help us.”

“And get themselves just as stuck as we are!” snarled Conan Maol.

That was a fair point, so Finn put his thumb between his teeth, that he had burnt long ago on the Salmon of Knowledge, and he could straightaway see the treacherous plans of Miadach.

“It’s worse than we thought,” said Finn.

“Worse!?” cried Conan Maol, “How could it be worse?”

“Miadach has brought over the armies of the King of Torrents to destroy us. This enchantment that’s on us is wrought by that king, and only his blood can wash it away, but there are armies on the plains over the river, and they’ll be here before long to kill us, and there’s little we can do to stop them when we’re fixed to the floor like this!”

The three men then sounded the Dord Fiann, the great battle cry of the Fianna, but only Fiachna and Innsa heard, and they came running.

“Don’t come in, you eejits!” Conan Maol cried, and Finn and Goll told them all that had happened.

The two young warriors took it upon themselves to find the armies of the King of Torrents. At the bottom of the hill, they found a ford that anyone coming to the Hostel of the Quicken Trees would have to cross, and they decided to make their stand there.

That night, one chieftain under the command of the King of Torrents decided that he would take his part of the army on ahead, and kill the famous Finn Mac Cumhaill himself, and win all of the glory, but when he got to the ford, Fiachna and Innsa were waiting for him. They fought long and hard, and when dawn broke, the ford was choked with the bodies of the dead, but Innsa too had died of his terrible wounds. Fiachna had to tell Finn, and Finn wept, for Innsa had been another of his foster-sons.

The brother of the chieftain who had hoped to steal all that glory came next to the ford, and found Fiachna waiting, desperately tired, but grim with purpose. They were too frightened to attack the young man who had clearly laid waste to all the chieftain’s followers, but Miadach came then, and challenged Fiachna to combat.

Now Oisin and the others had heard nothing of all of this, so when they came to find Fiacha and Innsa, they had a terrible shock. Oisin and Caoilte, being the fastest runners, went straight away to find the rest of the Fianna, leaving Diarmuid and Folda to follow the sounds of battle till they came upon Fiachna, fighting with Miadach. Diarmuid waded in and killed Miadach, but Fiachna did not long survive his wounds.

Fodla held the ford while Dirmuid brought Miadach’s head back to the Hostel, to show Finn that the two young warriors had been avenged, and promised to hold the ford till the rest of the Fianna could come.

As soon as Diarmuid came back to the ford, Fodla fell into an exhausted sleep, even that brief amount of time was too much for any ordinary warrior of the Fianna. Bur Diarmuid was no ordinary hero. He held the ford against all the armies of the King of Torrent’s sons, and as soon as Fodla woke up, the two of them were able to work together to drive the armies back! They hunted down the three sons of the King of Torrent and cut off their heads.

Leaving Fodla to hold the line at the ford once more, Diarmuid rushed to the Hostel of the Quicken Trees, with the blood running out of the heads all the while. He went first to Finn, and had to bathe him in blood before he was able to pull himself up off the floor. Then he wen to Goll Mac Morna, and poured blood all over him, and at last to Conan Maol. But by that time, almost all the blood had run out. He was able to get Conan’s arms and legs unstuck, but his back stayed firmly tethered.
Now Conan was not known for his fine manners at the best of times, but this was too much altogether. He was never overly fond of Diarmuid in the first place, judging him far too good-looking to be a proper warrior, and he roared abuse at him, “You wouldn’t leave me till last if I was a pretty woman, you useless preener!”

Finn and Goll staggered to their feet: the enchantment had taken the strength out of them. But what was to be done with Conan Maol. He was stuck to the ground, waving his arms and legs in the air like a beetle. “If you can’t break the spell,” cried Conan, “get me up anyway.”

They grabbed hold of his arms and legs and pulled. Finn and Goll had been struck by the same enchantment, so they knew how fast it held. Conan should have been in agony, but he only roared at them to pull harder, and braced with his legs against the floor of the hostel. At last, with a terrible tearing sound, Conan Maol was pulled to his feet, but he had left all the skin of his back behind him!

Bleeding terribly, they realized they would have to do something to help him. Finn sent Diarmiud back to the ford, as there was still an army on the other side, and he could see that the King of the World had arrived with his armies to help the King of Torrents! They were still in terrible danger. Finn and Goll were too weak from the enchantment to fight, and Conan would bleed to death if they didn’t find a way to help him. Then, Finn saw a black sheep grazing nearby. He felt about a match for a sheep at that moment, so he killed the sheep and took the skin off its back and put it over the wounded Conan Maol.

There must have been some magic of adhesion still left on Conan’s back, because the skin of the sheep stuck fast to him, and before long it grew in place of his old skin, as good as new, and warmer in the winter!

By this time, Oisin had found the rest of the Fianna, and as dawn broke, Finn, Goll and Conan felt their strength coming back to them. They raced down the hill to the ford, and the whole of the Fianna together made such a slaughter of the armies of the King of the World that there were few survivors left to tell the tale.

But every year after that, in the springtime, someone in the Fianna had to sheer the wool off Conan Maol’s back.

Caoilte’s Rabble

Caoilte Mac Ronan was a thin, grey man, and he was the best runner in all of the Fianna. Once, a king in Ireland asked all the fastest men he could find which of them would be able to fetch him sands from all the beaches in Ireland the quickest. They each gave him an answer: days or weeks or months; but when he got to Caoilte, Caoilte only smiled and held out a bag of sand. “I got it,” said he, “while ye were talking.”

Now, one time, the Fianna had stirred up a rebellion among the people of Ireland, and they were at odds with the High King himself, in Tara. He had no intention of starting a fight with the Fianna, so he asked Finn Mac Cumhaill to come peacefully as his hostage until the trouble had blown over, and Finn had agreed.

Caoilte was not there when this bargain was made. When he heard that his leader and friend was being held hostage, he was furious, and set out to avenge Finn. He went on a rampage of destruction, going in through every door that the red east wind blew on and destroying all before him, setting fire to the fields, and giving one man’s wife to another.

At last he came to Tara, and to get himself inside quietly, he took the clothes off the doorkeeper. He snuck into the king’s hall, and took the king’s sword right out of his sheath, replacing it with his own, which was thin as a blade of grass after all the fighting he’d done with it. Still disguised as a servant, he stood behind the king at the feast, holding a candle.

Now, the king was jumpy after hearing all these rumours of Caoilte’s rampage, and he thought he spotted Caoilte there in the shadows. But Finn dismissed this. “Caoilte has a high mind,” he said “And he wouldn’t go creeping about Tara with a candle, he only does high deeds!”

The king was at ease after that, till Caoilte handed him a glass of wine. “There’s a smell of Caoilte’s skin off that wine,” the king said. And at that, Caoilte knew he was discovered, and spoke out.

“Tell me what to do to get freedom for Finn Mac Cumhaill,” he said.

The high king thought about this. It wasn’t that he wanted Finn Mac Cumhaill as a hostage. If nothing else, this business of looking over his shoulder in case there was an enraged man of the Fianna coming for him was playing havoc with his nerves. It was time he wanted, for the rebellion to die down, and so he decided to set Caoilte a task that would surely take even him some time to achieve.

“I have a mind,” said the High King, “to see every creature in Ireland all together in the one place. A pair of each.”

“Right,” said Caoilte, and away he went.

He searched through all of Ireland, hunting down birds and beasts, wild and tame. The creatures were all startled, but Caoilte herded them and drove them on before them so fast that they hadn’t the time to fight amongst themselves. All the same, the deer did not like being so close to the wolves, nor the backbirds to the foxes, so it was a terrible time he had to bring them all together in one place and drive them. He almost had it, when a raven broke south, and a wild duck north, and he had to run them both down and bring them back by their necks before anything else could escape.

At last, he brought them all before the gates of Tara as evening was closing in, and shouted up at the walls for them to send out the king.

The king thought to himself, “This is far too soon,” so he had his men tell Caoilte to wait until morning: he wanted to see all the animals together in daylight. He had them direct Caoilte to a particular house to keep the creatures in all night.

It was a house with nine doors.

No sooner had Caoilte driven all the animals and birds inside, then they let out a dreadful screech, and every one of them did all they could to escape. There was no rest for Caoilte that night; he had to run from door to door all around the house, flinging back birds and beasts all desperately trying to get away from him and each other.

At last, when the sun rose, Caoilte brought all the creatures before the High King of Tara, and such a noise they were still making, that the people called them Caoilte’s Rabble!

As he looked out over the creatures, the High King thought to himself that this hadn’t been a bad plan at all. He had bought another bit of time with Finn Mac Cumhaill as his hostage, and after all, this was a fairly magnificent gift. What king in the world wouldn’t want a gathering of all the wild creatures in his land brought to him as tribute?

So he let Finn Mac Cumhaill go. And the second Caoilte stopped herding and circling the animals, they bolted off in all directions, fleeing from Tara, no two by the same road, so all the profit the High King had of them was that one glance.

Conán Mac Morna

Conán is the brother of Goll Mac Morna, Fionn’s great rival in the Fianna. He was fondly nicknamed Conán Maol, for his bald head. He was also known as Mallachtán, which means insulter, as he often voiced how great he was, how deserving of respect and adulation, and how nobody else fared well by comparison.

It is clear that throughout the years the Baoiscne Clan is painted in a better light than the Morna Clan, with members of the Morna clan often depicted as having some major character flaws. Conán is no different. He displays a great lack of tact and delicacy, often acting as a bit of a troublemaker within the Fianna, cutting quite a comical buffoonish figure at times with his blustering ways. He is fat, greedy, and ostensibly favours the members of the Morna clan. He is, however, very loyal to Fionn, and will never run from a fight. In fact, within the Fianna he is most valued for his quarrelsome nature. They appreciated that he was always first into the fray of any fight. He never held back in defence of any of his brother, though they may be from the Baoiscne clan.

At one point, Fionn suggested that he should take the blackthorn as his totem plant, as the uncompromising, stubborn and prickly nature of the plant resembled his nature, but that occasionally it could blossom with masses of pure white flowers, brightening the entire plant. There was a great feeling of tolerance towards his behaviour among the Fianna, as they all understood that it was just his way, and that he meant nothing by it.

Stories of Conán:
On one occasion, when out hunting, the Fianna sought shelter in a cave. They slept well, but each man woke to find that they had been put under a spell, and that they were stuck to the ground. Caílte, who had spent the night running with animals, came to the cave and found them in this state. He released them by pouring magical water between their skin and the ground. Unfortunately, by the time he arrived at Conán, the water had run out. Fionn and Goll caught Conán by his wrists and heaved him off the ground with all their strength. As he was released from the ground Conán let out a big roar, as all of the skin on his back was torn off him. The Fianna laid him down, killed a sheep, skinned it, and pressed the raw hide to Conán’s back. This succeeded in replacing his lost skin. The Fianna sheared his back regularly, and the black glossy curls of his back were used to make a new jacket and trousers for his each year. Having to suffer this indignity is one explanation for his ready temper, and for his need to bolster up his position within the Fianna.

Conán is a bit of a diamond in the rough. He is lucky that he is well understood by the members of the Fianna. His brothers know to take his roughness in good nature, as they know that beneath that bluster and the insults lies a true-hearted member of their tribe. He will always end up with his foot in his mouth, however, and when his protests at his own greatness go too far, he is often brought down to earth by one of the others. He can be misunderstood by people who don’t know him that well.

Liath Luachra

Liath Luachra was a great warrior woman with a fierce spirit and the steadfast heart of a warrior. She lived in the mountains with Bodhmall, a druidess. Liath was not the marrying kind, preferring Bodhmall’s company, but she took in Bodhmall’s nephew Demne to raise from infancy.

Story of Liath Luachra
When Liath heard that Bodhmall was planning a journey to help her sister Muirne, She decided to accompany her, to ensure that everything was safe. On discovering that Muirne feared for the life of her newly born son Demne, Liath and Bodhmall resolved to take the child and rear him in the wilderness, away from his enemies.

While Bodhmall softly cherished her sister’s child, and taught him wisdom, Liath set about teaching him all the tricks of survival and all the martial skills she possessed. By night she slept with one eye open, keeping guard on her two precious charges. By day she would take Demne and teach him how to learn from his surroundings. Each week she would tell him to study a different animal and not to stop watching until he had learned something important from them. From the ant he learned to have an indomitable spirit. From the fox cubs he learned to be playful, but also to give as good as he got. From the salmon he learned the valuable art of being still, and from this lesson he came home with his arms filled with a large salmon for them to eat.

She would encourage him to race with the deer in the forest. She taught him to seek playmates in the animals of the forest, and to imitate all they did, thus allowing him to pick up the great arts of hunting naturally. She taught him how to cut and peel a birch bark to create an arrow that shot straight and true. She taught him to respect animals, but didn’t foster sentimentality. Demne knew well that to kill was a necessity for survival for them.

In this way Liath encouraged Demne’s independence, yet at the same time ensured that he was taught all he needed to know. When he was older she put a switch in his and, and held one in her own. She ran around a tree after him, hitting him with the switch when she caught up. He learned to run swiftly from this, and his desire to hit her back gave him the impetus to train as hard as he could. She demonstrated the great salmon leap and other great martial feats of the warrior, so that he could aspire to perfect them also. Eventually, when he hit her as many times as she hit him, Liath declared that he was fit to go his own way. So at the age of seven, Demne bid farewell to his foster mothers, and set out with a passing band of travelling bards. He was later to become the great hero Fionn Mac Cumhaill

Finding herself entrusted with the upbringing of a child, she dealt with it as she saw best, by teaching him the tools he would need in life. She put a lot of effort and focus into everything she did in life, from perfecting her own great skills to developing the warrior heart in a young boy. As a warrior she values competency, and the high expectations she had for Demne likely played a great part in making him the great man he was to become.

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