Gods and Fighting Men

Cael and Credhe

   Now as to Finn, when it was shown to him that the enemies of Ireland were coming, he called together the seven battalions of the Fianna. And the place where they gathered was on the hill that was called Fionntulach, the White Hill, in Munster. They often stopped on that bill for a while, and spear-shafts with spells on them were brought to them there, and they had every sort of thing for food, beautiful blackberries, haws of the hawthorn, nuts of the hazels of Cenntire, tender twigs of the bramble bush, sprigs of wholesome gentian, watercress at the beginning of summer. And there would be brought to their cooking-pots birds out of the oak-woods, and squirrels from Berramain, and speckled eggs from the cliffs, and salmon out of Luimnech, and eels of the Sionnan, and the woodcocks of Fidhrinne, and otters from the hidden places of the Doile, and fish from the coasts of Buie and Beare, and dulse from the bays of Cleire.
   And as they were going to set out southwards, they saw one of their young men, Cael, grandson of Nemhnain, coming towards them. "Where are you come from, Cael?" Finn asked him. "From Brugh na Boinne," said he. "What were you asking there?" said Finn. "I was asking to speak with Muirenn, daughter of Derg, that was my own nurse," said he. "For what cause?" said Finn. "It was about a high marriage and a woman of the Sidhe that was showed to me in a dream; Credhe it was I saw, daughter of the King of Ciarraighe Luachra." "Do you know this, Cael," said Finn, "that she is the greatest deceiver of all the women of Ireland; and there is hardly a precious thing in Ireland but she has coaxed it away to her own great dun." "Do you know what she asks of every man that comes asking for her?" said Cael. "I know it," said Finn; "she will let no one come unless he is able to make a poem setting out the report of her bowls and her horns and her cups, her grand vessels and all her palaces." "I have all that ready," said Cael; "it was given to me by my nurse, Muirenn, daughter of Derg."
   They gave up the battle then for that time, and they went on over every hill place and every stony place till they came to Loch Cuire in the west; and they came to the door of the hill of the Sidhe and knocked at it with the shafts of their long gold-socketed spears. And there came young girls having yellow hair to the windows of the sunny houses; and Credhe herself, having three times fifty women with her, came out to speak with them. "It is to ask you in marriage we are come," said Finn. "Who is it is asking for me?" said she. "It is Cael, the hundred-killer, grandson of Nemhnain, son of the King of Leinster in the east." "I have heard talk of him, but I have never seen him," said Credhe. "And has he any poem for me?" she said. "I have that," said Cael, and he rose up then and sang his poem:
   'A journey I have to make, and it is no easy journey, to the house of Credhe against the breast of the mountain, at the Paps of Dana; it is there I must be going through hardships for the length of seven days. It is pleasant her house is, with men and boys and women, with Druids and musicians, with cup-bearer and doorkeeper, with horse-boy that does not leave his work, with distributer to share food; and Credhe of the Fair Hair having command over them all.
   "It would be delightful to me in her dun, with coverings and with down, if she has but a mind to listen to me.
   "A bowl she has with juice of berries in it to make her eyebrows black; crystal vats of fermenting grain; beautiful cups and vessels. Her house is of the colour of lime; there are rushes for beds, and many silken coverings and blue cloaks; red gold is there, and bright drinking-horns. Her sunny house is beside Loch Cuire, made of silver and yellow gold; its ridge is thatched without any fault, with the crimson wings of birds. The doorposts are green, the lintel is of silver taken in battle. Credhe's chair on the left is the delight of delights, covered with gold of Elga; at the foot of the pleasant bed it is, the bed that was made of precious stones by Tulle in the east. Another bed there is on the right, of gold and silver, it is made without any fault, curtains it has of the colour of the foxglove, hanging on rods of copper.
   "The people of her house, it is they have delight, their cloaks are not faded white, they are not worn smooth; their hair is fair and curling. Wounded men in their blood would sleep hearing the birds of the Sidhe singing in the eaves of the sunny house.
   "If I have any thanks to give to Credhe, for whom the cuckoo calls, she will get better praise than this; if this love-service I have done is pleasing to her, let her not delay, let her say, 'Your coming is welcome to me.'
   "A hundred feet there are in her house, from one corner to another; twenty feet fully measured is the width of her great door; her roof has its thatch of the wings of blue and yellow birds, the border of her well is of crystals and carbuncles.
   "There is a vat there of royal bronze; the juice of pleasant malt is running from it; over the vat is an apple-tree with its heavy fruit; when Credhe's horn is filled from the vat, four apples fall into it together.
   "She that owns all these things both at low water and at flood, Credhe from the Hill of the Three Peaks, she is beyond all the women of Ireland by the length of a spear-cast.
   "Here is this song for her, it is no sudden bride-gift it is, no hurried asking; I bring it to Credhe of the beautiful shape, that my coming may be very bright to her."
   Then Credhe took him for her husband, and the wedding-feast was made, and the whole of the Fianna stopped there through seven days, at drinking and pleasure, and having every good thing.


Deidre of the Sorrows, by John Duncan