Gods and Fighting Men
The Hunt of Slieve Cuilinn
Finn was one time out on the green of Almhuin, and he saw what had the
appearance of a grey fawn running across the plain. He called and whistled to
his hounds then, but neither hound nor man heard him or came to him, but only
Bran and Sceolan. He set them after the fawn, and near as they kept to her, he
himself kept nearer to them, till at last they reached Slieve Cuilinn, in the
province of Ulster.
But they were no sooner at the hill than the fawn vanished from them, and
they did not know where she was gone, and Finn went looking for her eastward,
and the two hounds went towards the west.
It was not long till Finn came to a lake, and there was sitting on the brink
of it a young girl, the most beautiful he had ever seen, having hair of the
colour of gold, and a skin as white as lime, and eyes like the stars in time of
frost; but she seemed to be some way sorrowful and downhearted. Finn asked her
did she see his hounds pass that way. "I did not see them," she said; "and it is
little I am thinking of your hounds or your hunting, but the cause of my own
trouble." "What is it ails you, woman of the white hands?" said Finn; "and is
there any help I can give you?" he said. "It is what I am fretting after," she
said, "a ring of red gold I lost off my finger in the lake. And I put you under
bonds, Finn of the Fianna," she said, "to bring it back to me out of the lake."
With that Finn stripped off his clothes and went into the lake at the bidding
of the woman, and he went three times round the whole lake and did not leave any
part of it without searching, till he brought back the ring. He handed it up to
her then out of the water, and no sooner had he done that then she gave a leap
into the water and vanished.
And when Finn came up on the bank of the lake, he could not so much as reach
to where his clothes were; for on the moment he, the head and leader of the
Fianna of Ireland, was but a grey old man, weak and withered.
Bran and Sceolan came up to him then, but they did not know him, and they
went on round the lake, searching after their master.
In Almhuin, now, when he was missed, Caolite began asking after him. "Where
is Finn," he said, "of the gentle rule and of the spears?" But no one knew where
he had gone, and there was grief on the Fianna when they could not find him. But
it is what Conan said: "I never heard music pleased me better than to hear the
son of Cumhal is missing. And that may be so through the whole year," he said,
"and I myself will be king over you all." And downhearted as they were, it is
hardly they could keep from laughing when they heard Conan saying that.
Caoilte and the rest of the chief men of the Fianna set out then looking for
Finn, and they got word of him; and at last they came to Slieve Cuilinn, and
there they saw a withered old man sitting beside the lake, and they thought him
to be a fisherman. "Tell us, old man," said Caolite, "did you see a fawn go by,
and two hounds after her, and a tall fair-faced man along with them?" "I did
see them," he said, "and it is not long since they left me." "Tell us where are
they now?" said Caoilte. But Finn made no answer, for he had not the courage to
say to them that he himself was Finn their leader, being as he was an ailing
downhearted old man, without leaping, without running, without walk, grey and
Caoilte took out his sword from the sheath then, and he said: "It is short
till you will have the knowledge of death unless you will tell us what happened
Then Finn told them the whole story; and when the seven battalions of the
Fianna heard him, and knew it was Finn that was in it, they gave three loud
sorrowful cries. And to the lake they gave the name of Loch Doghra, the Lake of
But Conan of the sharp tongue began abusing Finn and all the Fianna by turns.
"You never give me right praise for my deeds, Finn, son of Cumhal," he said,
"and you were always the enemy of the sons of Morna; but we are living in spite
of you," he said, "and I have but the one fault to find with your shape, and
that is, that it was not put on the whole of the Fianna the same as on
yourself." Caoilte made at him then; "Bald, senseless Conan," he said, "I will
break your mouth to the bone." But Conan ran in then among the rest of the
Fianna and asked protection from them, and peace was made again.
And as to Finn, they asked him was there any cure to be found for him. "There
is," he said; "for I know well the enchantment was put on me by a woman of the
Sidhe, Miluchradh, daughter of Cuilinn, through jealously of her sister Aine.
And bring me to the hill that belongs to Cuilinn of Cuailgne," he said, "for he
is the only one can give me my shape again."
They came around him then, and raised him up gently on their shields, and
brought him on their shoulders to the hill of the Sidhe in Cualigne, but no one
came to meet them. Then the seven battalions began digging and rooting up the
whole hill, and they went on digging through the length of three nights and
three days. And at the end of that time Cuilinn of Cuailigne, that some say was
Manannan, son of Lir, came out of the hill holding in his hand a vessel of red
gold, and he gave the vessel into Finn's hand. And no sooner did Finn drink what
was in the vessel than his own shape and his appearance came back to him. But
only his hair, that used to be so fair and so beautiful, like the hair of a
woman, never got its own colour again, for the lake that Cuilinn's daughter had
made for Finn would have turned all the men of the whole world grey if they had
gone into it.
And when Finn had drunk all that was in the vessel it slipped from his hand
into the earth, that was loosened with the digging, and he saw it no more. But
in the place where it went into the earth, a tree grew up, and any one that
would look at the branches of the tree in the morning, fasting, would have
knowledge of all that was to happen on that day.
That, now, is the way Finn came by his grey hair, through the jealously of
Miluchradh of the Sidhe, because he had not given his love to her, but to her