Fintan Mac Bochra and the Hawk of Achill

Fintan Mac Bochra, the first man to set foot on Ireland, following his wife, Ceasair, lived a long life; over five thousand years. He changed into all the different animals of Ireland, and witnessed all the changes, all the new peoples who came to Ireland down through the centuries. He saw the defeat of the magical Tuatha de Danann at the hands of the Sons of Mil, and witnessed the great deeds of the Red Branch and the Fianna.

One day, Fintan met a hawk flying out from Achill Island. It was grey and old, and weak, and the two of them got to talking. The hawk of Achill commented on how withered and aged Fintan was looking. “It’s no wonder,” Fintan said, “in all my long life, I’ve had many children, but my best-beloved son was called Illan, and he died at Ros Greda the other day. My heart is so badly broken, I wonder that I’m still alive at all. I was only fifteen when I left my homeland, but I’ve lived five thousand years in Ireland.”

“I know,” said the Hawk of Achill, “I’ve lived exactly as long as you, but I kept to my beloved Achill Island, where game is plenty, and my own strength was always enough to keep me well fed. But tell me, since you are a great sage, all the wonders and evils you’ve seen in your lifetime.”

So Fintan told the Hawk his greatest griefs: the death of his son, Illan, and of his first wife, Cesaire of the white hands. Before that, the loss of his father-in-law, sweet-voiced Bith, the first death in Ireland, and of his brother-in-law, Ladra the pilot. He told the hawk how lonely he had been, at times, in the form of one animal or another, far removed from human warmth and company. “It seemed like the gods had given me a gift, to turn me into a salmon after Ceasair died,” Fintan said, “it was nothing I asked for, and for many years I swam the waterways of Ireland, and came to know them so well. But a terrible thing happened to me at the estuary of the river Earne; the cold that winter was the worst I’ve ever felt, and the waterfall froze solid, like shards of glass. I couldn’t stay under the water, salmon that I was, and I tried in vain to make the leap above the waterfall. And then a hawk swooped down at me out of the sky and plucked out one of my eyes, and that was one more grief on top of all that I’d suffered already.”

“That was me,” the Hawk said, ruffling its feathers, “I am the grey hawk of time, alone in the middle of Achill.”

“Well, if it was you who left me one-eyed, you should pay me compensation for its loss, as law and custom demand!” said Fintan.

“You won’t get anything from me,” the Hawk replied, “I’d eat the other eye out of your withered head, only it wouldn’t make more than a mouthful.”

“Well, you’re a harsh one,” Fintan said, “And I’ll prove that I’m the gentler one, so I’ll sit and talk with you another while.”

He told the Hawk how he’d lived as a salmon, an eagle, and a blue-eyed falcon before Lugh put him back into his own shape. Then, as a man again, he saw the king of Ireland, Slainge of the Fir Bolg, invent festivals. Fintan sided with the Fir Bolg and their king Eochaid at the First Battle of Moytura, where they fought the Tuatha de Danann for dominion of Ireland.

“Oh, I was there!” the Hawk interrupted, “I saw your twelve sons die. Out of respect to you, I took a hand, a foot, or an eye from each one of them. Oh, but I got a wonderful arm that day, too. I saw it beside me in the carnage, all dressed in silk, with red-gold rings on all the fingers, and beautiful nails. I almost felt sorry for the man who’d lost it, such a wonderful arm. It was huge, too, so that I could hardly carry it, but I managed to get it back to Achill Island to feed my family. It lasted us seven years! That arm belonged to Nuada, the king of the Tuatha de Danann, you know.”

“I know all about Nuada, and the trouble the Tuatha de Dannan had with his replacement, but did you ever hear of Trefuilngidh?” Fintan asked, “He was a traveller from the East, and he had a branch with fruits on it that could satisfy all the needs of humanity. If you ate from it looking North, you’d grow young again; south and you’d be cured of any painful disease. It had nuts, apples and sloes growing on it, all at once, and he gave me the seeds of it to plant all over Ireland. And that’s my story for you, O Hawk, in return for your visit.”

“Do you know,” said the Hawk, stretching its wings wearily, “That when fair Conor Mac Neasa was king in Ulster, my renown and my beauty were great. I was the king of the birds of Ireland. I remember seeing the hero Cuchulainn, and when he killed Cu Roi, I drank my fill of his blood. I got great meals from Cuchulainn and the warriors of the Red Branch, I used to eat whole bodies that fell to Conall Cearnach, and Fergus Mac Roigh gave me plenty of meat – the rivers would run red with blood, those were the days! Especially that cattle-raid, it left the plain of Muirthemhne full of bodies. And when they came for the hound of Ulster, Cuchulainn, I saw him dying against the pillar-stone, and I went to eat his eyes. But there was life in him yet, and when he felt my wings on his face, he put his javelin into my breast. I barely made it home alive, and though I drew out the shaft, the barb of the spear lodged inside me, and I’ve never been right since.”

The Hawk told Fintan all the heroic battles of its youth, and how it had faced down and killed the greatest heroes of the birds: the Crane of Moy Leana, the Eagle of Druim Brice, the two full-fat birds of Leithin, and the Blackfoot of Slieve Fuaid.

It reminisced about the days of the Tuatha de Danann, when it carried home the bodies of champions in its talons to feed its nestlings, and the age of Conn Cead Cathach, when it could lift a fawn, and the time of Cormac Mac Art, when it could carry a piglet. But by the time Niall of the Nine Hostages was king, the Hawk was maddened with its own weakness, and these days, it could barely lift a blackbird.

“And that’s why I’ve come to see you, Fintan,” the Hawk said, “To ask you to get God’s pardon for me, for tomorrow my long life will end, and I’m afraid what comes next won’t be nice for me.”

“Don’t be afraid,” Fintan told the Hawk, “You’ll be in the heaven of the clouds tomorrow. I’ll go to meet Death with you, little Hawk, and make sure you go to the heaven of the clouds, and not to any bad place.”

They talked long into the night, Fintan and the Hawk, and they told each other all the stories they could remember, good times and bad. And the next day, they died together.

Book of Invasions – 1: Ceasair (Pagan version)

Long ago in Northern Africa, a woman named Ceasair had a prophetic dream. She dreamed that a great flood would come and wipe out all her people. She consulted with her grandfather, a priest of Egypt, and he advised her to build an ark and sail west, till she came to a land that had never been inhabited by man, which would not be touched by the flood.

Ceasair built her ark, and started to gather followers. Three times fifty women, with all sorts of skills and knowledge, all that they’d need to make their way in the new land., came to her. So many, that Cesaire had to build three arks to carry them all. The only men to come with her were her father, Bith, her brother, Ladra the pilot, and a young man named Fintan Mac Bochra, who became Cesaire’s husband.

Ceasair and her followers set sail. They sailed for seven years, crossing all over the known world, from the Nile all the way to Asia Minor and the Caspian Sea, across the Mediterranean. They sailed up rivers as far as the Alps, and lost two of their three ships along the way. At last, from a tower in northern Spain, Ceasair saw the coast of Ireland in the distance and knew their journey was nearly at an end. They landed in Ireland, in the harbour of Corca Dhuibhne in Kerry. Ceasair jumped onto the land first, because she was the leader, and so she became the first person ever to set foot on Ireland. Fintan Mac Bochra was the first man. All the others landed safely, except Ladra the pilot who took a wound from an oar to his thigh.

Now that they’d arrived they realized that they were going to have to populate the island, but they only had three men among fifty women! So they decided to divide into three groups, with one man to each group. Noah’s son Bith got 16 women because he was getting on in years and wasn’t as virile as he used to be, and the other two men got 17 women each.

They lived happily together for a while, but unfortunately Bith son of Noah was unable to cope with the task he’d been given and he died – the first death in Ireland – so his 16 women were divided between the other two men. Now Ladra had never quite recovered from the wound he’d taken when they landed, and he quickly succumbed. Now all the women looked to Fintan to populate Ireland.

Poor Fintan, being just one man among fifty women, was completely overwhelmed by this task and ran away and hid in the mountains. Ceasair, deeply in love with him, died of a broken heart. Fintan hid himself away in a cave, where he became a shaman, shapeshifting to take on the forms of all the different animals in Ireland, and living in this way for five thousand years.

One by one, Cesaire’s followers died, of disease, or old age, or other hardships, and over time the numbers dwindled. Only one woman survived, a great warrior woman called Banba, who sometimes had liaisons with Fintan Mac Bochra through the years, when he was in human form.

Book of Invasions – 1: Ceasair (Christian version)

Long ago in Egypt, the wise man Noah had a prophetic dream. The god Yahweh showed him that the world was full of wickedness, and instructed Noah, the only righteous man left, to build an ark and save all the animals. Yahweh would send a great flood to wash the earth clean, and Noah was to repopulate the land when the waters receded. Noah was going to bring all his family with him, but he found out that his son, Bith, and Bith’s son Ladra, had been part of a gang of thieves, along with another young man named Fintan. Noah told Bith he was not welcome aboard the ark!

Bith went to his daughter, Ceasair, who was busy building an ark of her own. Ceasair had her own god, and had decided that she was going to try and get around this flood by sailing west to an unpopulated land. She reasoned that maybe Yaweh wouldn’t send his flood to a land that hadn’t had any sin committed on it. Cesaire agreed to take Bith, Ladra and Fintan with her, as long as they agreed to forsake the god of Noah, and follow all of her commands.

Ceasair built her ark, and started to gather followers. Three times fifty women, with all sorts of skills and knowledge, all that they’d need to make their way in the new land. came to her. So many, that Ceasair had to build three arks to carry them all. Her brother Ladra was a pilot, and made himself useful to her. And Ceasair fell in love with Fintan Mac Bochra and married him.

Ceasair and her followers set sail. They sailed for seven years, crossing all over the known world, from the Nile all the way to Asia Minor and the Caspian Sea, across the Mediterranean. They sailed up rivers as far as the Alps, and lost two of their three ships along the way. At last, from a tower in northern Spain, Ceasair saw the coast of Ireland in the distance and knew their journey was nearly at an end. They landed in Ireland, in the harbour of Corca Dhuibhne in Kerry. Ceasair jumped onto the land first, because she was the leader, and so she became the first person ever to set foot on Ireland. Fintan Mac Bochra was the first man. All the others landed safely, except Ladra the pilot who took a wound from an oar to his thigh.

Now that they’d arrived they realized that they were going to have to populate the island, but they only had three men among fifty women! So they decided to divide into three groups, with one man to each group. Noah’s son Bith got 16 women because he was getting on in years and wasn’t as virile as he used to be, and the other two men got 17 women each.

They lived happily together for a while, but unfortunately Bith son of Noah was unable to cope with the task he’d been given and he died – the first death in Ireland – so his 16 women were divided between the other two men. Now Ladra had never quite recovered from the wound he’d taken when they landed, and he quickly succumbed. Now all the women looked to Fintan to populate Ireland.

Poor Fintan, being just one man among fifty women, was completely overwhelmed by this task and ran away and hid in the mountains. Cesaire, deeply in love with him, died of a broken heart. Fintan hid himself away in a cave.

Not long after this disaster, Yahweh’s flood caught up to them. All the remaining women were drowned, except for the warrior woman Banba, who ran up into the hills to survive. In his cave, Fintan had a strange dream: he dreamed that he was a salmon, and when he awoke he was a salmon, swimming through the floodwaters and surviving. With the wisdom he learned, and his trick of shapeshifting, Fintan was able to live for five thousand years in Ireland, as salmon, hawk, deer and boar, occasionally becoming a man to share his wisdom with new people who came to Ireland.

The Book of Invasions – Part 1: Ceasair – The World’s Mythologies

The first person to come to Ireland was called Ceasair. Her story begins back in the Fertile Crescent in the Middle East, where her grandfather, Noah, was building an ark, convinced that his god, Yaweh, had ordered him to do so because the world was soon to end in a flood.

Though Noah’s people worshipped Yaweh, they often worshipped other gods alongside him, borrowing from neighbouring civilizations like the Babylonians. Yaweh was different from these other gods, who ruled over nature and human passions; he was above nature and distinct from it. Yaweh stood outside the world and could intervene in it, and unlike many other gods, he did not need to be sustained by cyclical rituals. Where pagans saw the world as something to be revered and understood, the followers of Yaweh saw the world as a corrupt place that needed to be transformed by human action. The stories of this tribe were not of Yaweh’s deeds and actions, but of his tribe’s struggles in relating to him, obeying him, and sometimes, moving away from him.

Noah allowed three of his sons onto the Ark, but refused to give space to his son, Bith, because he thought Bith was a thief. Bith didn’t know what he was going to do, but his daughter was Cesaire, and she had a plan. Ceasair had built three arks for herself, and had taken an idol for a god. She said that she’d take Bith with her, if he agreed to forsake the god of Noah, and follow her as leader. She crewed each of her arks with fifty skilled women, but the only men she took, aside from her father, were her brother, Ladra the pilot, and her husband, Fintan Mac Bochra.

Cesaire had been told to go to Ireland. It was a new land, where no sin had been committed, so it was thought that Noah’s god might spare Ireland from the great flood when he sent it. They sailed for seven years, crossing all over the known world.
In the lands around the Nile, they heard the stories of the Egyptians, whose life and society was based on the idea of keeping divine order, called maat, through ritual, to prevent chaos from overrunning the world. They worshipped and told stories of deities with animal heads; the sun god, Ra; Osiris, his wife Isis, and his treacherous brother, Set. They believed their Pharaoh was part-god himself, and was able to be a bridge between the human and the divine.

From the Nile, they made their way to Asia Minor and the Caspian Sea, where the people were Babylonian and Assyrian, and worshipped Ea, who taught them how to build houses and canals and cultivate crops. Ea also taught the people that the gods needed their worship to survive. They worshipped the goddesses Ishtar and Ereshkigal, who between them ruled over love, sex and death. They told stories of their greatest hero, Gilgamesh, whose great quest to find the secret of immortality led him to meet a wise old man called Utnapishtim, who had saved his family from a terrible flood, sent by the god Ea to cleanse the world of evil-doers.

Ceasair and her followers next sailed the Mediterranean. The people who lived there, in Greece and in Rome, worshipped gods who ruled over natural phenomena and psychological states, and had a huge pantheon of gods, goddesses, heroes and supernatural beings. There were stories behind every flower, every echo, every stream. The gods of the Mediterranean peoples were very human in their behaviour, fighting and bickering amongst themselves, with humankind helpless in the face of their whims.

Ceasair led her people north into the Alps, where they lost two of their three ships along the way. The people of these lands worshipped many different gods, with little in common between different groups in belief and practice. They told stories of local gods and goddesses, nature spirits, and great heroes. Their stories placed great emphasis on honour, birth right, and the proximity of the Otherworld, where gods, spirits, and monsters could reach out to meddle in human affairs.

From Central Europe, Ceasair and her people came to Northern Spain, and were made guests there. The Basque people of that country told tales of strange and wonderful beasts, the wild men and women of the forest, called Basajuan and Basandere; the mischievous Iratxoak, the dragon Herensuge, the evil spirit Erge who takes men’s lives, and the bird-footed Lamiak. Their main goddess, Mari, lived on a cave in a high mountainside, and met every Friday with her consort, the giant serpent Sugaar, to conceive storms that brought fertility and destruction. She was served by a court of witches, and fed on falsehoods.

It was here that Ceasair at last saw the coast of Ireland in the distance, and knew that her journey was nearly at an end. They landed in Ireland, in the harbour of Corca Dhuibhne in Kerry. Cesaire jumped onto the land first, because she was the leader, and so she became the first person ever to set foot on Ireland. Fintan Mac Bochra was the first man. All the others landed safely, except Ladra the pilot who took a wound from an oar to his thigh.

Now that they’d arrived they realized that they were going to have to populate the island, but they only had three men among fifty women! So they decided to divide into three groups, with one man to each group. Noah’s son Bith got 16 women because he was getting on in years and wasn’t as virile as he used to be, and the other two men got 17 women each.

They lived happily together for a while, but unfortunately Bith son of Noah was unable to cope with the task he’d been given and he died – the first death in Ireland – so his 16 women were divided between the other two men. Now Ladra had never quite recovered from the wound he’d taken when they landed, and he quickly succumbed. Now all the women looked to Fintan to populate Ireland.

Poor Fintan, being just one man among fifty women, was completely overwhelmed by this task and ran away and hid in the mountains. Ceasair, deeply in love with him, died of a broken heart. Fintan hid himself away in a cave, and not long after that the flood came. All the women perished but for one, called Banba, a great warrior woman who ran into the hills to survive.

Now Fintan was deep in a cave where he’d hid, and with the floodwaters rising, you might not expect things to go so well for him. But Fintan fell asleep, and had a dream that he was a salmon. And when he woke up, he had changed into a salmon. He lived for as a salmon 300 years, swimming all the waterways of Ireland, until the floodwaters receded. Then he dreamed he was a hawk, and when he woke up he was a hawk. He travelled all over Ireland, looking down on it from above and seeing everything that was going on and learning all its secrets.
In this way, Fintan Mac Bochra became a great sage. He lived for over five thousand years and saw all the changes that came to Ireland through that time. He lived, by turns, as all the different animals of Ireland, and was a councillor to many of the men.

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