Articles Tagged with: Fenian Cycle

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.


It is said that the name Caílte means slender and fierce, which renders it a very suitable name for this character. He was a member of the Fianna who was as known for his athleticism as his willingness to help. He was a great personal friend of Fionn Mac Cumhaill, and most of the tales of the deeds of the Fianna involve Fionn and Caílte along with a few of the other more prominent members. Like Fionn, he was descended from the Baoiscne clan, a clan known for its generosity of spirit. There is nothing that he wouldn’t do for his brothers in the Fianna, and certainly nothing he wouldn’t do for Fionn. It is often his interventions that get the Fianna out of trouble. His feats usually involve great speed, as he was particularly known for his lightness of foot.

Stories of Caílte:
While out hunting, the Fianna were accosted by a hag. She refused to let them pass, and demanded that they race her. If they lost she would kill them and eat them. Caílte raced her, overtook her, turned around and cut off her head.

When Fionn wooed Gráinne, she demanded of him the gift of the male and female of every animal in Ireland in one single drove. Caílte ran the length and breadth of Ireland, collecting each animal, and managing to keep them all in one group, and drove them to Gráinne before the sun had set that very day.

He brought a herd of hares to Tara and placed them in a house with nine open doors. By racing around the house all night he was able to keep all the hares in until morning.

The king of Ireland wished to have a fistful of sand delivered to him every morning from each of the four shores of Ireland, as he could tell by the smell of the sand whether any enemies had landed during the night. Three men offered their services. The first man said that he could do the task as quickly as a leaf fall from a tree. The second man told him that he could do it as quickly as a cat slinks between two houses. The third man (Caílte) said that he could finish this task as fast as a woman changes her mind. The king, impressed by this, tasked him with the job. “I have just returned,” Caílte replied, holding out the bags of sand.

Faithful comrade, good friend, and proactive member of the Fianna. You never get the sense that he ever expects to be owed any gratitude or service in return for his feats. He is delighted to possess such athletic skill as it renders him useful, but he does not let pride swell his head. For him, he is but one member of a tribe, and he never begrudges anyone else their place.

Objects in Irish Mythology

Each Hero in Irish Mythology had his favourite sword, and some of these achieved legendary status.

One of the most legendary objects in Irish Mythology was the Gae Bolga, granted to Cuchulainn by Scathach. This was a spear, which separated into many barbs on entering the body. It was impossible to remove, and its wound was fatal. Only one of these existed, and it was the preserve of Cuchulainn, thus further underlining his status as the champion of all Ireland.

Lugh of the Tuatha De Danann carried a sword named FreagarachAnswerer – which cut through anything.

Diarmuid had two swords depending on the type of fighting necessary; Moralltach – Great fury – and Beagalltach – Small Fury. It was with Moralltach that he slew the giant guarding the tree of the berries of youth, and it was because he left his sword at home on the day of his final hunt that he was unable to defend himself against the magical boar that attacked him.

The God Manannan owned a boat named the Wave Sweeper, which could grow to accommodate any number of passengers and did not require oars or sails in order to move.

Irish folktales are full of objects such as magic shoes for swift walking, magic cloaks of invisibility, magic keys to open any locks, and magic sticks that grew to form bridges or supports. Once these objects were used they generally disappeared and returned to the fairy world from which they usually came.

From the fairy world also came the Banshee – which literally means a woman of the fairies. It was said that the Banshee would only walk near the house of one who was about to die.

The Animals within Irish Myth

Many animals within Irish Mythology play important parts.

The Salmom of Knowledge is one such creature, and it has already been described how tasting the skin of this fish was enough to endow Fionn MacCumhal with great wisdom and foresight, making him the most respected of men among his contemporaries.

The Wild Boar is another popular animal in the cycle, and often plays a more sinister role. The most famous boar was the one responsible for the death of Diarmuid. It was in fact an enchanted human. When Diarmuid was a boy he was fostered in the house of Aengus Og, and was close friends with the steward of the household’s son. Diarmuid’s father, Donn, came to visit one day and was jealous of the attention bestowed on this other boy, feeling his more noble child was being slighted. When two hounds began to fight Donn seized his opportunity and broke the boy’s neck and threw the body into the midst of the fight, where it would look like the dogs had killed him. The steward was anguished and called for an inquiry where it was discovered that no mark from a dog was found on the child’s body. It was found that Donn had killed the boy, and in anger the steward struck his son’s corpse with a druidical wand and changed him into a boar. He then promised that one day Diarmuid would meet this boar again, and that then he would be killed. Thus it was when Diarmuid went hunting many years later with the still vengeful Finn, that he was gored by this same boar, Finn having deliberately placed him in danger, and so met his death. This boar, and other boars in Irish mythology have come to represent the wild, mysterious and untamed aspects of ancient Irish life, and are therefore animals to be feared.

Diarmuid and Gráinne

Long ago in Ireland, in the time of the Fianna, one of the greatest and most famous warriors under Finn mac Cumhaill’s leadership was named Diarmuid O’Duibhne.

Diarmuid was the son of a man named Donn, and he was raised with his half-brother, the son of a man named Roc. One day, the son of Roc was frightened by an animal, and he ran between the legs of Diarmuid’s father Donn to hide. Donn squeezed the child between his thighs until he died. When the child’s father, Roc, found his son’s broken body, he wept and raged. Then he performed a magical ceremony, and brought his son back to life in the body of a wild boar. He put a geasa on it to kill Donn’s son Diarmuid, and sent the boar off into the wilds, because he knew that Diarmuid had a geasa on him never to pierce the skin of a pig, and would not be able to defend himself.

Besides the wild boar’s enmity, Diarmuid grew up to be a great warrior, and passed the rigorous tests to become one of the Fianna. The love and loyalty he had for Finn Mac Cumhaill was very strong, but Diarmuid was known for more than his fighting skills. He was a great favourite among women, being very beautiful, and he was born with the Bol Sherca in the middle of his forehead. This was a magical spot that made anyone who saw it fall in love with him. Diarmuid knew that this could cause all sorts of trouble, so he grew his hair down over his forehead to cover it, and tried to keep it out of sight.

Finn Mac Cumhaill was getting on in years, but was still the greatest warrior in all Ireland. He held onto his place as the head of the Fianna, but he was aware that someday, the years would start to tell, even on him. Every year on his birthday, he undertook to leap across a great chasm, because he would rather die as soon as his strength began to fail him, than to live on and slowly decline.

Finn loved all the finest things in life; feasting, storytelling, hunting and good company; and he decided that he had been too long without a wife. So he called his men together and asked for their advice on the matter. They all agreed that the only woman in Ireland fit to be the wife of the great Finn Mac Cumhaill was the daughter of the High King Cormac Mac Airt, called Gráinne. Now, Finn was aware that he was a good deal older than Gráinne, and he was shy of asking for her hand himself, so he sent two ambassadors to speak to Gráinne on his behalf.

GrainneGráinne was the most beautiful woman in Ireland at that time. When she was twelve years old, she had seen a boy playing hurling, and the wind had blown his hair back from his face, and she had fallen in love with him, completely and irrevocably. And as the years passed, she had refused every man who had ever asked for her hand, for love of the boy on the hurling field. But when she heard that the great Finn Mac Cumhaill was asking for her hand, she was flattered. She decided that she had spent long enough waiting for this boy, and she did not know his name or where to find him, so she might as well marry Finn.

When her answer was given, a great feast was held to celebrate the upcoming wedding. Gráinne hid behind a curtain, to spy out and catch a glimpse of her husband-to-be. She Finn’s son Oisin sitting beside him, and was struck by the contrast between them: how much younger and more beautiful Oisin looked than his father. She wondered why Finn had asked for her for himself, and not for his son, and she began to regret her decision. And then Finn moved out of the way, and she saw the man seated on the other side of him: Diarmuid O’Duibhne. The boy from the hurling field who she had loved since she was twelve.

At that moment, Gráinne resolved that she was not going to marry Finn Mac Cumhaill.

She sat down to the feast, saying nothing, and passed around a cup of wine, into which she’d put a sleeping posset. She gave it to Finn, and to all of the Fianna, apart from the leaders of the Fianna. Then, one by one, she asked each of the leaders of the Fianna if they would run away with her. They all refused, such was their loyalty to Finn. Then Gráinne turned to Diarmuid and put him under a geasa to run away with her.

Diarmuid was torn. He had never betrayed Finn, and never wanted to, but he could not go against a geasa put on him by a woman. She told him that she was going to ready herself, and went to her chambers, and while she was gone, Diarmuid consulted with the other leaders of the Fianna. They all agreed: he had no choice. Even though it meant tearing his heart in two, and leaving one half of it with Finn Mac Cumhaill, he could not break a geasa.

Very unhappily, Diarmuid went away with Gráinne. Unused to hard travelling, Gráinne grew weary after a while and asked Diarmuid to carry her, but he refused, hoping she would give up and go back to Finn. Instead, she put him under a geasa to go and find horses for them, and he had no choice but to do as she asked.

They met with Aengus Óg, the god of love, who thoroughly approved of their match, and decided to help them. He told them that they were never going to be able to sleep in a cave with one opening, or a house with one door, or a tree with one branch, and that they would never be able to eat where they cooked, or sleep where they ate. They would have to keep moving if they were to stay ahead of Finn and the Fianna.

When Finn Mac Cumhaill awoke the next day from the sleeping potion, and realized what had happened, his heart broke. It was not Gráinne’s desertion that hurt him, but the fact that Diarmuid had betrayed him. He set out with a grimness and a set in his jaw to catch them up and get his revenge.

For a long time he chased them, and they were always one step ahead. Every time he came across their traces, he grew more and more furious, but every time he found one of the nests that Diarmuid had made for Gráinne, he found that Diarmuid had left a piece of raw meat or fish as a message to Finn that he had not touched Gráinne. Then one day, as Diarmuid and Gráinne were crossing a ford, a splash of water wet her thigh. She said to Diarmuid that whatever courage he might have in battle, that splash of water had more courage than he. And Diarmuid was shamed into making her his wife, and after that he left no messages of purity for Finn.

One night, they slept in a house with seven doors, and Finn and the Fianna caught up with them. A member of the Fianna stood at each door to make sure they couldn’t escape. Aengus Óg came down, and told them that he would spirit them away to safety, but Diarmuid refused. He sent Gráinne away with the god, and stayed behind. Diarmuid went to each door in turn, and at each door, the man who guarded it offered to let him go, till he came to the seventh door, guarded by Finn Mac Cumhaill. Roaring in anger, Finn told him he would kill him if he came out that door. Diarmuid opened the door to face him, and took to the fight. When the Fianna surrounded him, he leaped up with the leap of a salmon, jumped over their heads, and ran away to join Gráinne.

Later that year, Diarmuid got permission from a giant to hunt on his land, provided he did not eat any of the magical rowan berries that grew on the tree where the giant lived. But Gráinne, who was pregnant, longed for the berries, and so Diarmuid killed the giant for her. The berries high up in the tree were sweeter than those below, so the two climbed up into the tree to the giant’s bed, and ate berries and rested a while.

The Mac Morna clan, enemies of Finn Mac Cumhaill, came to make peace with him. Finn said that he would agree to a truce if they brought him either the head of Diarmuid O’Duibhne, or the magical berries of the rowan tree. They decided the berries would be easier to get, so they set out, but of course, they found the giant slain and many of the berries missing.

Finn knew that only Diarmuid could have killed that giant, since it wasn’t one of his men, and he and the Fianna spent that night camping under the tree. Finn had a good idea that Diarmuid was still up there. He challenged Oisin to a game of chess, and as Oisin began to make a move that would lead to Finn beating him, a berry dropped onto the square that he should move to. He made the move, and continued to follow the guidance of the rowan berries. Eventually, Oisin beat his father at chess for the very first time. Finn Mac Cumhaill sprang up, saying “There’s only one man in Ireland who could have beaten me at chess, and that’s Diarmuid O’Duibhne.” And there was Diarmuid, looking down on them from up in the tree. Diarmuid leaped to safety, while Aengus Óg spirited Gráinne away.

After years and years on the run, and all the time Diarmuid and Gráinne had spent living together as man and wife, raising their four sons and their daughter, and never able to stop or rest, they decided to try and make peace with Finn Mac Cumhaill. Finn agreed to put his anger aside, and welcomed them back with a great feast. They were finally able to settle down with their family and live in peace, and Diarmuid and Finn rebuilt their great friendship.

Some years later, Finn asked Diarmuid to go hunting with him. They came across a terrible beast: the wild boar of Ben Bulben. They tracked it through the wilds, and when they cornered it at last, the boar ran straight for Diarmuid. It was the son of Roc, who had been killed so many years before, and it had to fulfil the geasa to kill the son of Donn.

Finn saw the beast charging at him, and reminded Diarmuid of his geasa, to never pierce the skin of a pig. The boar gored Diarmuid, and Diarmuid hit it on the head with the hilt of his sword, killing it. But it was too late, and Diarmuid lay dying. He asked Finn Mac Cumhaill to give him a drink of water from his hands. Anyone who drank water from the hands of Finn Mac Cumhaill would be restored to health, because of his magical thumb. So Finn went to the river, and carried water back to Diarmuid, but at the last moment, he remembered with bitterness, how Diarmuid had run away with Gráinne, and he let the water trickle out between his fingers. But he saw Diarmuid didn’t have long, and the great friendship between them moved his heart, so he went back for water, only to let it trickle through his fingers a second time. The third time he went back for water, and there was no bitterness left in him. He poured the water in between Diarmuid’s lips, but it was too late. Diarmuid O’Duibhne was already dead.


Diarmuid was a young lieutenant of Finn, the now aging hero and leader of the Fianna. At a banquet Grainne, who was at the time betrothed to Finn, fell in love with the young hero Diarmuid. She placed him under a geis, a bond that compelled him to take her from the palace at Tara. Therefore Diarmuid fled Tara with his leader’s fiancée.

Tales of Grainne & Diarmuid
Diarmuid faced the double-edged sword of betraying the geis or betraying his leader. He took Grainne into exile and they fled the Fianna who pursued them to win her back for the king. She had initially tricked Diarmuid into this situation and her powers of manipulation were strong. The couple were chased all over Ireland, but they were assisted by the god of love, Oenghus. They entered the forest of Duvnos which contained the tree of Immortality. In the forest a giant, Sharavan the Surly, guarded the tree of Immortality, and Diarmuid made an agreement with him that Sharavan would leave the lovers in peace if Grainne and Diarmuid did not take any of the berries from the tree. But Grainne soon persuaded her lover to pick berries and Diarmuid killed Sharavan in the process. Soon Finn and his men caught up with the pair, and they entered the forest. Finn knew that they were hiding in the tree of Immortality but decided to try to draw Diarmuid out. He and Oisín played chess beneath the branches and Diarmuid couldn’t resist dropping a berry onto the board to signify to Oisín which move to make. Having been assured that Diarmuid was indeed amongst the branches, Finn sent Garva up to kill him. But Diarmuid won and threw the body down. But Oenghus changed his appearance so that Finn believed the body thrown to the ground was in fact Diarmuid.

Grainne manages to pull Diarmuid away from his allegiance to the king and using the geis draws him into an unbreakable bond to her. From this the love between the two appears to be strong, and Grainne plays a masterful role in the relationship

Fionn Mac Cumhaill

Finn (Fionn) was the hero of the Fenian cycle and was the greatest leader of the Fianna. He was born after the death of his father, and so reared by a wise woman who taught him well, and encouraged a strong affinity to nature.

Tales of Finn
His first major act was to kill his father’s murderer, Goll. Having completed this revenge he ventured to Finnegas. Finnegas was a bard who taught Finn the art of poetry and also the gift of prophecy along with general wisdom. Finnegas caught the salmon of knowledge and gave it to his young pupil to cook. As he did this Finn burnt his finger and so placed his thumb his mouth. From this he gained supernatural knowledge.

Finn was made the leader of the Fianna by saving Tara. Each year Tara was burnt to the ground at the feast of Samhain by a goblin called Aillen. Aillen would enchant the palace and send everyone to sleep, then burn down the palace. Finn kept himself awake during Aillen’s visit by resting his cheek against a spear made by Len, sword maker of the Gods, and so was able to kill the goblin.
Finn was a strong leader of the Fianna. He hunted a boar who tried to lead him and his men to the Otherworld.

Finn’s death was foretold as occurring when he drank from a horn. In his later years he attempted to jump across the River Boyne, but as he had by now drunk from a horn, he fell into the river and was drowned. Finn was a clever hero who led his band of men through many adventures and challenges, and armed with his strength and knowledge became the greatest leader of the Fianna.

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