Gods and Fighting Men
Tadg in Manannan's Islands
And another that went to the Land of the Ever-Living Ones, but that came back
again, was Tadg, son of Cian, son of Olioll; and this is the way that happened.
It was one time Tadg was going his next heir's round, into the west of
Munster, and his two brothers, Airnelach and Eoghan, along with him. And
Cathmann, son of Tabarn, that was king of the beautiful country of Fresen that
lay to the south-east of the Great Plain, was searching the sea for what he
could find just at that time, and nine of his ships with him. And they landed at
Beire do Bhunadas, to the west of Munster, and the country had no stir in it,
and so they slipped ashore, and no one took notice of them till all were
surrounded, both men and cattle. And Tadg's wife Liban, daughter of Conchubar
Abratrudh of the Red Brows, and his two brothers, and a great many of the people
of Munster, were taken by the foreigners and brought away to the coasts of
Fresen. And Cathmann took Liban to be his own wife, and he put hardship on
Tadg's two brothers; Eoghan he put to work a common ferry across a channel of
the coast, and Airnelach to cut firing and to keep up fires for all people; and
all the food they got was barley seed and muddy water.
And as to Tadg himself, it was only by his courage and the use of his sword
he made his escape, but there was great grief and discouragement on him,
his wife and his brothers to have been brought away. But he had forty of his
fighting men left that had each killed a man of the foreigners, and they brought
one in alive. And this man told them news of the country he came from. And when
Tadg heard that, he made a plan in his own head, and he gave orders for a
curragh to be built that would be fit for a long voyage. Very strong it was, and
forty ox-hides on it of hard red leather, that was after being soaked in bark.
And it was well fitted with masts, and oars, and pitch, and everything that was
wanting. And they put every sort of meat, and drink, and of clothes in it, that
would last them through the length of a year.
When all was ready, and the curragh out in the tide, Tadg said to his
people: "Let us set out now on the high sea, looking for our own people that are
away from us this long time."
They set out then over the stormy, heavy flood, till at last they saw no land
before them or behind them, but only hillsides of the great sea. And farther on
again they heard the singing of a great flock of unknown birds; and pleasant
white-bellied salmon were leaping about the curragh on every side, and seals,
very big and dark, were coming after them, breaking through the shining wash of
the oars; and great whales after them again, so that the young men liked to be
looking at them, for they were not used to see the like before.
They went on rowing through twenty days and twenty nights, and at the end of
that time they got sight of a high land, having a smooth coast. And when they
reached it they all landed, and they pulled up the curragh and lit their fires,
and food was given out to them, and they were not long making an end of it. They
made beds for themselves then on the beautiful green grass, and enjoyed their
sleep till the rising of the sun on the morrow.
Tadg rose up then and put on his arms, and went out, and thirty of his men
along with him, to search the whole island.
They went all through it, but they found no living thing on it, man or beast,
but only flocks of sheep. And the size of the sheep was past all telling, as big
as horses they were, and the whole island was filled with their wool. And there
was one great flock beyond all the others, all of very big rams, and one of them
was biggest of all, nine horns he had, and he charged on Tadg's chief men,
attacking them and butting at them.
There was vexation on them then, and they attacked him again, and there was a
struggle between them. And at the first the ram broke through five of their
shields. But Tadg took his spear that there was no escape from, and made a lucky
cast at the ram and killed him. And they brought the ram to the curragh and made
it ready for the young men to eat, and they stopped three nights on the island,
and every night it was a sheep they had for their food. And they gathered a good
share of the wool and put it in the curragh because of the wonder and the beauty
of it. And they found the bones of very big men on the island, but whether they
died of sickness or were killed by the rams they did not know.
They left that island then and went forward till they found two strange
islands where there were great flocks of wonderful birds, like blackbirds, and
some of them the size of eagles or of cranes, and they red with green heads on
them, and the eggs they had were blue and pure crimson. And some of the men
began eating the eggs, and on the moment feathers began to grow out on them. But
they went bathing after that, and the feathers dropped off them again as quick
as they came.
It was the foreigner they had with them gave them the course up to this time,
for he had been on the same track before. But now they went on through the
length of six weeks and never saw land, and he said then, "We are astray on the
great ocean that has no boundaries." Then the wind with its sharp voice began to
rise, and there was a noise like the tramping of feet in the sea, and it rose up
into great mountains hard to climb, and there was great fear on Tadg's people,
for they had never seen the like. But he began to stir them up and to rouse
them, and he bade them to meet the sea like men. "Do bravely," he said, "young
men of Munster, and fight for your lives against the waves that are rising up
and coming at the sides of the curragh." Tadg took one side of the curragh then
and his men took the other side, and he was able to pull it round against the
whole twenty-nine of them, and to bale it out and keep it dry along with that.
And after a while they got a fair wind and put up their sail, the way less water
came into the curragh, and then the sea went down and lay flat and calm, and
there were strange birds of many shapes singing around them in every part. They
saw land before them then, with a good coast, and with that courage and gladness
came on them.
And when they came nearer to the land they found a beautiful inver, a river's
mouth, with green hills about it, and the bottom of it sandy and as bright as
silver, and red-speckled salmon in it, and pleasant woods with purple tree-tops
edging the stream. "It is a beautiful country this is," said Tadg, "and it would
be happy for him that would be always in it; and let you pull up the ship now,"
he said, "and dry it out."
A score of them went forward then into the country, and a score stopped to
mind the curragh. And for all the cold and discouragement and bad weather they
had gone through, they felt no wish at all for food or for fire, but the sweet
smell of the crimson branches in the place they were come to satisfied them.
They went on through the wood, and after a while they came to an apple garden
having red apples in it, and leafy oak-trees, and hazels yellow with nuts. "It
is a wonder to me," said Tadg, "to find summer here, and it winter time in our
It was a delightful place they were in, but they went on into another wood,
very sweet smelling, and round purple berries in it, every one of them bigger
than a man's head, and beautiful shining birds eating the berries, strange birds
they were, having white bodies and purple heads and golden beaks. And while they
were eating the berries they were singing sweet music, that would have put sick
men and wounded men into their sleep.
Tadg and his men went farther on again till they came to a great smooth
flowery plain with a dew of honey over it, and three steep hills on the plain,
having a very strong dun on every one of them. And when they got to the nearest
bill they found a white-bodied woman, the best of the women of the whole world,
and it is what she said: "Your coming is welcome, Tadg, son of Cian, and there
will be food and provision for you as you want it."
'I am glad of that welcome," said Tadg; "and tell me now, woman of sweet
words," he said, "what is that royal dun on the hill, having walls of white
marble around it?" "That is the dun of the royal hue of the kings of Ireland,
from Heremon, son of Miled, to Conn of the Hundred Battles, that was the last to
go into it." What is the name of this country?" Tadg said then. "It is
Inislocha, the Lake Island," she said, "and there are two kings over it, Rudrach
and Dergcroche, sons of Bodb." And then she told Tadg the whole story of
Ireland, to the time of the coming of the Sons of the Gad. "That is well," said
Tadg then, "and you have good knowledge and learning. And tell me now," he said,
"who is living in that middle dun that has the colour of gold?" "It is not
myself will tell you that," she said, "but go on to it yourself and you will get
knowledge of it." And with that she went from them into the dun of white marble.
Tadg and his men went on then till they came to the middle dun, and there
they found a queen of beautiful shape, and she wearing a golden dress. "Health
to you, Tadg," she said. "I thank you for that," said Tadg. "It is a long time
your coming on this journey was foretold," she said. "What is your name?" he
asked then. "I am Cesair," she said, "the first that ever reached Ireland. But
since I and the men that were with me came out of that dark, unquiet land, we
are living for ever in this country."
"Tell me, woman," said Tadg, "who is it lives in the dun having a wall of
gold about it?" "It is not hard to tell that," she said, "every king, and every
chief man, and every noble person that was in a high place of all those that had
power in Ireland, it is in that dun beyond they are; Parthalon and Nemed,
Firbolgs and Tuatha de Danaan." "It is good knowledge and learning you have,"
said Tadg. "Indeed I have good knowledge of the history of the world," she said,
"and this island," she said, "is the fourth paradise of the world; and as to the
others, they are Inis Daleb to the south, and Inis Ercandra to the north, and
Adam's Paradise in the east of the world." "Who is there living in that dun with
the silver walls?" said Tadg then. "I will not tell you that, although I have
knowledge of it," said the woman; "but go to that beautiful hill where it is,
and you will get knowledge of it."
They went on then to the third hill, and on the top of the hill was a very
beautiful resting-place, and two sweethearts there, a boy and a girl, comely and
gentle. Smooth hair they had, shining like gold, and beautiful green clothes of
the one sort, and any one would think them to have had the same father and
mother. Gold chains they had around their necks, and bands of gold above those
again. And Tadg spoke to them: "O bright, comely children," he said, "it is a
pleasant place you have here." And they answered him back, and they were
praising his courage and his strength and his wisdom, and they gave him their
And it is how the young man was, he had a sweet-smelling apple, having the
colour of gold, in his hand, and he would eat a third part of it, and with all
he would eat, it would never be less. And that was the food that nourished the
two of them, and neither age or sorrow could touch them when once they had
"Who are you yourself?" Tadg asked him then. "I am son to Conn of the Hundred
Battles," he said. "Is it Connia you are?" said Tadg. "I am indeed," said the
young man, "and it is this girl of many shapes that brought me here." And the
girl said: "I have given him my love and my affection, and it is because of that
I brought him to this place, the way we might be looking at one another for
ever, and beyond that we have never gone."
"That is a beautiful thing and a strange thing," said Tadg, "and a thing to
wonder at. And who is there in that grand dun with the silver walls?" he said.
"There is no one at all in it," said the girl. "What is the reason of that?"
said Tadg. "It is for the kings that are to rule Ireland yet," she said; "and
there will be a place in it for yourself, Tadg. And come now," she said, "till
you see it."
The lovers went on to the dun, and it is hardly the green grass was bent
under their white feet. And Tadg and his people went along with them.
They came then to the great wonderful house that was ready for the company of
the kings; it is a pleasant house that was, and any one would like to be in it.
Walls of white bronze it had, set with crystal and with carbuncles, that were
shining through the night as well as through the day.
Tadg looked out from the house then, and he saw to one side of him a great
sheltering apple-tree, and blossoms and ripe fruit on it. "What is that apple
tree beyond?" said Tadg. "It is the fruit of that tree is food for the host in
this house," said the woman. "And it was an apple of that apple-tree brought
Connla here to me; a good tree it is, with its white-blossomed branches, and its
golden apples that would satisfy the whole house."
And then Connla and the young girl left them, and they saw coming towards
them a troop of beautiful women. And there was one among them was most beautiful
of all, and when she was come to them she said: "A welcome to you, Tadg." "I
thank you for that welcome," said Tadg; "and tell me," he said, "who are you
yourself?" "I am Cliodna of the Fair Hair," she said, "daughter of Gebann, son
of Treon, of the Tuatha de Danaan, a sweetheart of Ciabhan of the Curling Hair,
and it is from me Cliodna's wave on the coast of Munster got its name; and I am
a long time now in this island, and it is the apples of that tree you saw that
we use for food." And Tadg was well pleased to be listening to her talk, but
after a while he said: "It is best for us to go on now to look for our people."
We will be well pleased if you stop longer with us," said the woman.
And while she was saying those words they saw three beautiful birds coming to
them, one of them blue and his head crimson, and one crimson and his head green,
and the third was speckled and his head the colour of gold, and they lit on the
great apple-tree, and every bird of them ate an apple, and they sang sweet music
then, that would put sick men into their sleep.
"Those birds will go with you," Cliodna said then; "they will give you
guidance on your way, and they will make music for you, and there will be
neither sorrow or sadness on you, by land or by sea, till you come to Ireland.
And bring away this beautiful green cup with you," she said, "for there is power
in it, and if you do but pour water into it, it will be turned to wine on the
moment. And do not let it out of your hand," she said, "but keep it with you;
for at whatever time it will escape from you, your death will not be far away.
And it is where you will meet your death, in the green valley at the side of the
Boinn; and it is a wandering wild deer will give you a wound, and after that, it
is strangers will put an end to you. And I myself will bury your body, and there
will be a hill over it, and the name it will get is Croidhe Essu."
They went out of the shining house then, and Cliodna of the Fair Hair went
with them to the place they had left their ship, and she bade their comrades a
kindly welcome; and she asked them bow long had they been in that country. "It
seems to us," they said, "we are not in it but one day only." "You are in it
through the whole length of a year," said she, "and through all that time you
used neither food nor drink. But however long you would stop here," she said,
"cold or hunger would never come on you." "It would be a good thing to live this
way always," said Tadg's people when they heard that. But he himself said: "It
is best for us to go on and to look for our people. And we must leave this
county, although it is displeasing to us to leave it."
Then Cliodna and Tadg bade farewell to one another, and she gave her blessing
to him and to his people. And they set out then over the ridges of the sea; and
they were downhearted after leaving that county until the birds began to sing
for them, and then their courage rose up, and they were glad and light-hearted.
And when they looked back they could not see the island they had come from,
because of a Druid mist that came on it and hid it from them.
Then by the leading of the birds they came to the county of Fresen, and they
were in a deep sleep through the whole voyage. And then they attacked the
foreigners and got the better of them, and Tadg killed Cathmann, the king, after
a hard fight; and Liban his wife made no delay, and came to meet her husband and
her sweetheart, and it is glad she was to see him.
And after they had rested a while they faced the sea again, and Tadg and his
wife Liban, and his two brothers, and a great many other treasures along with
them, and they came home to Ireland safely at the last.