Gods and Fighting Men

Cave of Ceiscoran

   Finn called for a great hunt one time on the plains of Magh Chonaill and in the forest parts of Cairbre of the Nuts. And he himself went up to the top of Ceiscoran, and his two dogs Bran and Sceolan with him.
   And the Fianna were shouting through the whole country where they were hunting, the way the deer were roused in their wild places and the badgers in their holes, and foxes in their wanderings, and birds on the wing.
   And Conaran, son of Imidd, of the Tuatha de Danaan, had the sway in Ceiscoran at that time, and when he heard the shouting and the cry of the hounds all around, he bade his three daughters that had a great share of enchantments, to do vengeance on Finn for his hunting.
   The three women went then to the opening of a cave that was in the hills, and there they sat down together, and they put three strong enchanted hanks of yarn on crooked holly-sticks, and began to reel them off outside the cave.
   They were not long there till Finn and Conan came towards them, and saw the three ugly old hags at their work, their coarse hair tossed, their eyes red and bleary, their teeth sharp and crooked, their arms very long, their nails like the tips of cows' horns, and the three spindles in their hands.
   Finn and Conan passed through the banks of yarn to get a better look at the hags. And no sooner had they done that, than a deadly trembling came on them and a weakness, and the bold hags took hold of them and put them in tight bonds.
   Two other men of the Fianna came up then, and the sons of Menhann along with them, and they went through the spindles to where Finn and Conan were, and their strength went from them in the same way, and the hags tied them fast and carried them into the cave.
   They were not long there till Caoilte and Lugaidh's Son came to the place, and along with them the best men of the sons of Baiscne. The Sons of Morna came as well, and no sooner did they see the hanks than their strength and their bravery went out of them the same as it went from the others.
   And in the end the whole number of them, gentle and simple, were put in bonds by the hags, and brought into the cave. And there began at the mouth of the cave a great outcry of hounds calling for their masters that had left them there. And there was lying on the hillside a great heap of deer, and wild pigs, and hares, and badgers, dead and torn, that were brought as far as that by the hunters that were tied up now in the cave.
   Then the three women came in, having swords in their hands, to the place where they were lying, to make an end of them. But first they looked out to see was there ever another man of the Fianna to bring in and to make an end of with the rest.
   And they saw coming towards them a very tall man that was Goll, son of Morna, the Flame of Battle. And when the three hags saw him they went to meet him, and they fought a hard battle with him. And great anger came on Goll, and he made great strokes at the witches, and at the last he raised up his sword, and with one blow he cut the two that were nearest him through and through.
   And then the oldest of the three women wound her arms about Goll, and he beheading the two others, and he turned to face her and they wrestled together, till at last Goll gave her a great twist and threw her on the ground. He tied her fast then with the straps of a shield, and took his sword to make an end of her. But the hag said: "O champion that was never worsted, strong man that never went back in battle, I put my body and my life under the protection of your bravery. And it is better for you," she said, "to get Finn and the Fianna safe and whole than to have my blood; and I swear by the gods my people swear by," she said, "I will give them back to you again."
   With that Goll set her free, and they went together into the hill where the Fianna were lying. And Goll said: "Loose off the fastenings first from Fergus of the True Lips and from the other learned men of the Fianna; and after that from Finn, and Oisin, and the twenty-nine sons of Moms, and from all the rest."
   She took off the fastenings then, and the Fianna made no delay, but rose up and went out and sat down on the side of the hill. And Fergus of the Sweet Lips looked at Goll, son of Morna, and made great praises of him, and of all that he had done.


Deidre of the Sorrows, by John Duncan