Gods and Fighting Men

Cats Heads and Dog Heads

   Nine of the Fianna set out one time, looking for a pup they wanted, and they searched through many places before they found it. All through Magh Leine they searched, and through the Valley of the Swords, and through the storm of Drum Cleibh, and it is pleasant the Plain of the Life looked after it; but not a pup could they find. Then they went searching through Durlass of the generous men, and great Teamhair and Dun Dobhran and Ceanntsaile, men and dogs searching the whole of Ireland, but not a pup could they find.
   And while they were going from place to place, and their people with them, they saw the three armies of the sons of the King of Ruadleath coming towards them. Cat-headed one army was, and the one alongside of it was Dog-headed, and the men of the third army were White-backed.
   And when the Fianna saw them coming, Finn held up his shining spear, and light-hearted Caoilte gave out a great shout that was heard in Almhuin and in Magh Leine, and in Teamhair, and in Dun Reithlein. And that shout was answered by Goll, son of Morna, and by Faolan, Finn's son that was with him, and by the Stutterers from Burren, and by the two sons of Maith Breac, and by Iolunn of the Sharp Edge, and by Cael of the Sharp Sword, that never gave his ear to tale-bearers.
   It is pleasant the sound was then of the spears and the armies and of the silken banners that were raised up in the gusty wind of the morning. And as to the banners, Finn's banner, the Dealb-Greine, the Sun-Shape, had the likeness of the sun on it; and Goll's banner was the Fulang Duaraidh, that was the first and last to move in a battle; and Faolan's banner was the Coinneal Catha, the Candle of Battle; and Oisin's banner was the Donn Nimhe, the Dark Deadly One; and Caoilte's was the Lamh Dearg, the Red Hand; and Osgar's was the Sguab Gabhaidh that had a Broom of rowan branches on it, and the only thing asked when the fight was at the hottest was where that Broom was; and merry Diarmuid's banner was the Liath Loinneach, the Shining Grey; and the Craobh Fuileach, the Bloody Branch, was the banner of Lugaidh's Son. And as to Conan, it is a briar he had on his banner, because he was always for quarrels and for trouble. And it used to be said of him be never saw a man frown without striking him, or a door left open without going in through it.
   And when the Fianna had raised their banners they attacked the three armies; and first of all they killed the whole of the Cat-Heads, and then they took the Dog-Heads in hand and made an end of them, and of the White-Backs along with them.
   And after that they went to a little hill to the south, having a double dun on it, and it is there they found a hound they were able to get a pup from.
   And by that time they had searched through the whole of Ireland, and they did not find in the whole of it a hundred men that could match their nine.
   And as well as their banners, some of the Fianna had swords that had names to them, Mac an Luin, Son of the Waves, that belonged to Finn; and Ceard-nan Gallan, the Smith of the Branches, that was Oisin's; and Caoilte's Cruadh-Chosgarach, the Hard Destroying One; and Diarmuid's Liomhadoir, the Burnisher; and Osgar's Cosgarach Mhor, the Great Triumphant One.
   And it is the way they got those swords: there came one time to where Finn and Caoilte and some others of the Fianna were, a young man, very big and ugly, having but one foot and one eye; a cloak of black skins he had over his shoulders, and in his hand a blunt ploughshare that was turning to red. And he told them he was Lon, son of Liobhan, one of the three smiths of the Kings of Lochlann. And whether he thought to go away from the Fianna, or to bring them to his smithy, he started running, and they followed after him all through Ireland, to Slieve-na-Righ, and to Luimnech, and to Ath Luain, and by the right side of the Cruachan of Connacht, and to Ess Ruadh and to Beinn Edair, and so to the sea.
   And wherever it was they found the smithy, they went into it, and there they found four smiths working, and every one of them having seven hands. And Finn and Caoilte and the rest stopped there watching them till the swords were made, and they brought them away with them then, and it is good use they made of them afterwards.
   And besides his sword, Mac an Luin, Finn had a shield was called Sgiath Gailbhinn, the Storm Shield; and when it called out it could be heard all through Ireland.
   And whether or not it was the Storm Shield, Finn had a wonderful shield that he did great deeds with, and the story of it is this:
   At the time of the battle of the Great Battle of Magh Tuireadh, Lugh, after he had struck the head off Balor of the Evil Eye, hung it in the fork of a hazel-tree. And the tree split, and the leaves fell from it with the dint of the poison that dropped from the head. And through the length of fifty years that tree was a dwelling-place of crows and ravens. And at the end of that lime Manannnn, son of Lir, was passing by, and he took notice of the tree that it was split and withered, and he bade his men to dig it up. And when they began to dig, a mist of poison rose up from the roots, and nine of the men got their death from it, and another nine after them, and the third nine were blinded. And Luchtaine the Carpenter made a shield of the wood of that hazel for Manannan. And after a while Manannan gave it, and a set of chessmen along with it, to Tadg, son of Nuada; and from him it came to his grandson, Finn son of Muirne and of Cumhal.


Deidre of the Sorrows, by John Duncan