Gods and Fighting Men

Manannan at Play

   And it was he went playing tricks through Ireland a long time after that again, the time he got the name of O'Donnell's Kern. And it is the way it happened, Aodh Dubh O'Donnell was holding a feast one time in Bel-atha Senaig, and his people were boasting of the goodness of his house and of his musicians.
   And while they were talking, they saw a clown coming towards them, old striped clothes he had, and puddle water splashing in his shoes, and his sword sticking out naked behind him, and his ears through the old cloak that was over his head, and in his hand he had three spears of hollywood scorched and blackened.
   He wished O'Donnell good heath, and O'Donnell did the same to him, and asked where did he come from. "It is where I am," he said, "I slept last night at Dun Monaidhe, of the King of Alban; I am a day in Ile, a day in Cionn-tire, a day in Rachlainn, a day in the Watchman's Seat in Slieve Fuad; a pleasant rambling wandering man I am, and it is with yourself I am now, O'Donnell," he said. "Let the gate-keeper be brought to me," said O'Donnell. And when the gate-keeper came, he asked was it he let in this man, and the gate-keeper said he did not, and that he never saw him before. "Let him off, O'Donnell" said the stranger, "for it was as easy for me to come in, as it will be to me to go out again." There was wonder on them all then, any man to have come into the house without passing the gate.
   The musicians began playing their music then, and all the best musicians of the country were there at the time, and they played very sweet tunes on their harps. But the strange man called out: "By my word, O'Donnell, there was never a noise of hammers beating on iron in any bad place was so bad to listen to as this noise your people are making."
   With that he took a harp, and he made music that would put women in their pains and wounded men after a battle into a sweet sleep, and it is what O'Donnell said: "Since I first heard talk of the music of the Sidhe that is played in the hills and under the earth below us, I never heard better music than your own. And it is a very sweet player you are," he said. "One day I am sweet, another day I am sour," said the clown.
   Then O'Donnell bade his people to bring him up to sit near himself. "I have no mind to do that," he said; "I would sooner be as I am, an ugly clown, making sport for high-up people." Then O'Donnell sent him down clothes, a hat and. a striped shirt and a coat, but he would not have them. "I have no mind," he said, "to let high-up people be making a boast of giving them to me."
   They were afraid then he might go from them, and they put twenty aimed horsemen and twenty men on foot to hold him back from leaving the house, and as many more outside at the gate, for they knew him not to be a man of this world. "What are these men for?" said he. "They are to keep you here," said O'Donnell "By my word, it is not with you I will be eating my supper to-morrow," he said, "but at Cnoc Aine, where Seaghan, Son of the Earl is, in Desmumain." "If I find you giving one stir out of yourself, between this and morning, I will knock you into a round lump there on the ground," said O'Donnell.
   But at that the stranger took up the harp again, and he made the same sweet music as before. And when they were all listening to him, he called out to the men outside: "Here I am coming, and watch me well now or you will lose me." When the men that were watching the gate heard that, they lifted up their axes to strike him, but in their haste it was at one another they struck, till they were lying stretched in blood. Then the clown said to the gate-keeper: "Let us ask twenty cows and a hundred of free land of O'Donnell as a fee for bringing his people back to life. And take this herb," he said, "and rub it in the mouth of each man of them, and he will rise up whole and well again." So the gate-keeper did that, and he got the cows and the land from O'Donnell, and he brought all the people to life again.
   Now at that time Seaghan, Son of the Earl, was holding a gathering on the green in front of his dun, and he saw the same man coming towards him, and dressed in the same way, and the water splashing in his shoes. But when he asked who was he, he gave himself the name of a very learned man, Duartane O'Duartane, and he said it was by Ess Ruadh he was come, and by Ceiscorainn and from that to Corrslieve, and to Magh Lorg of the Dagda, and into the district of Hy'Conaill Gabhra, "till I came to yourself," he said, "by Cruachan of Magh Ai." So they brought him into the house, and gave him wine for drinking and water for washing his feet, and he slept till the rising of the sun on the morrow. And at that time Seaghan, Son of the Earl, came to visit him, and he said: "It is a long sleep you had, and there is no wonder in that, and your journey so long yesterday. But I often heard of your learning in books and of your skill on the harp, and I would like to hear you this morning," he said. "I am good in those arts indeed," said the stranger. So they brought him a book, but he could not read a word of it, and then they brought him a harp, and he could not play any tune. "It is likely your reading and your music are gone from you," said Seaghan; and he made a little rann on him, saying it was a strange thing Duartane O'Duartane that had such a great name not to be able to read a line of a book, or even to remember one. But when the stranger heard how he was being mocked at, he took up the book, and read from the top to the bottom of the page very well and in a sweet-sounding voice. And after that be took the harp and played and sang the same way he did at O'Donnell's house the day before. "It is a very sweet man of learning you are," said Seaghan. "One day l am sweet, another day I am sour," said the stranger.
   They walked out together then on Cnoc Aine, but while they were talking there, the stranger was gone all of a minute, and Seaghan, Son of the Earl, could not see where he went.
   And after that he went on, and he reached Sligach just at the time O'Conchubar was setting out with the men of Connacht to avenge the Connacht hag's basket on the hag of Munster. And this time he gave himself the name of Gilla Decair, the Bad Servant. And he joined with the men of Connacht, and they went over the Sionnan westward into Munster, and there they hunted and drove every creature that could be made travel, cattle and horses and flocks, into one place, till they got the hornless bull of the Munster hag and her two speckled cows, and O'Conchubar brought them away to give to the Connacht hag in satisfaction for her basket.
   But the men of Munster made an attack on them as they were going back; and the Gilla Decair asked O'Conchubar would he sooner have the cows driven, or have the Munster men checked, and he said he would sooner have the Munster men checked. So the Gilla Decair turned on them, and with his bow and twenty-four arrows he kept them back till O'Conchubar and his people were safe out of their reach in Connacht.
   But he took some offence then, on account of O'Conchubar taking the first drink himself when they came to his house, and not giving it to him, that had done so much, and he took his leave and went from them on the moment.
   After that he went to where Tadg O'Cealaigh was, and having his old striped clothes and his old shoes as before. And when they asked him what art he had, he said: "I am good at tricks. And if you will give me five marks I will show you a trick," he said. "I will give that," said Tadg.
   With that the stranger put three rushes on the palm of his hand. "I will blow away the middle rush now," be said, "and the other two will stop as they are," So they told him to do that, and he put the tops of two of his fingers on the two outside rushes, and blew the middle one away. "There is a trick now for you, Tadg O'Cealaigh," he said then. "By my word, that is not a bad trick," said O'Cealaigh. But one of his men said: "That there may be no good luck with him that did it. And give me half of that money now, Tadg," he said, "and I will do the same trick for you myself." "I will give you the half of what I got if you will do it," said the stranger. So the other put the rushes on his band, but if he did, when he tried to do the trick, his two finger-tips went through the palm of his hand. "Ob-Ob-Ob!" said the stranger, "that is not the way I did the trick. But as you have lost the money," he said, "I will heal you again?"
   "I could do another trick for you," he said; "I could wag the ear on one side of my head and the ear on the other side would stay still." "Dolt then," said O'Cealaigh. So the man of tricks took hold of one of his ears and wagged it up and down. "That is a good trick indeed," said O'Cealaigh. "I will show you another one now," he said.
   With that he took from his bag a thread of silk, and gave a cast of it up into the air, that it was made fast to a cloud. And then he took a hare out of the same bag, and it ran up the thread; and then took out a little dog and laid it on after the hare, and it followed yelping on its track; and after that again he brought out a little serving-boy and bade him to follow dog and hare up the thread. Then out of another bag he had with him he brought out a beautiful, well-dressed young woman, and bade her to follow after the hound and the boy, and to take care and not to let the hare be torn by the dog. She went up then quickly after them, and it was a delight to Tadg O'Cealaigh to be looking at them and to be listening to the sound of the hunt going on in the air.
   All was quiet then for a long time, and then the man of tricks said: "I am afraid there is some bad work going on up there." "What is that" said O'Cealaigh. "I am thinking," said he, "the hound might be eating the hare, and the serving-boy courting the girl" "It is likely enough they are," said O'Cealaigh. With that the stranger drew in the thread, and it is what he found, the boy making love to the girl and the hound chewing the bones of the hare. There was great anger on the man of tricks when he saw that, and be took his sword and struck the head off the boy. "I do not like a thing of that sort to be done in my presence," said Tadg O'Cealaigh. "If it did not please you, I can set all right again", said the stranger. And with that he took up the head and made a cast of it at the body, and it joined to it, and the young man stood up, but if he did his face was turned backwards. "It would be better for him to be dead than to be living like that," said O'Cealaigh. When the man of tricks heard that, he took hold of the boy and twisted his head straight, and he was as well as before.
   And with that the man of tricks vanished, and no one saw where was he gone.
   That is the way Manannan used to be going round Ireland, doing tricks and wonders. And no one could keep him in any place, and if he was put on a gallows itself, he would be found safe in the house after, and some other man on the gallows in his place. But he did no harm, and those that would be put to death by him, he would bring them to life again with a herb out of his bag.
   And all the food he would use would be a vessel of sour milk and a few crab-apples. And there never was any music sweeter than the music he used to be playing.


Deidre of the Sorrows, by John Duncan