Gods and Fighting Men

The Arguments

   And S. Patrick took in hand to convert Oisin, and to bring him to baptism; but it was no easy work he had to do, and everything he would say, Oisin would have an answer for it. And it is the way they used to be talking and arguing with one another, as it was put down afterwards by the poets of Ireland:--
   PATRICK: "Oisin, it is long your sleep is. Rise up and listen to the Psalm. Your strength and your readiness are gone from you, though you used to be going into rough fights and battles."
   OISIN: "My readiness and my strength are gone from me since Finn has no armies living; I have no liking for clerks, their music is not sweet to me after his."
   PATRICK: "You never heard music so good from the beginning of the world to this day; it is well you would serve an army on a hill, you that are old and silly and grey."
   OISIN: "I used to serve an army on a hill, Patrick of the closed-up mind; it is a pity you to be faulting me; there was never shame put on me till now.
   "I have heard music was sweeter than your music, however much you are praising your clerks: the song of the blackbird in Leiter Laoi, and the sound of the Dord Fiann; the very sweet thrush of the Valley of the Shadow, or the sound of the boats striking the strand. The cry of the hounds was better to me than the noise of your schools, PATRICK:
   "Little Nut, little Nut of my heart, the little dwarf that was with Finn, when he would make tunes and songs he would put us all into deep sleep.
   "The twelve hounds that belonged to Finn, the time they would be let loose facing out from the Siuir, their cry was sweeter than harps and than pipes.
   "I have a little story about Finn; we were but fifteen men; we took the King of the Saxons of the feats, and we won a battle against the King of Greece.
   "We fought nine battles in Spain, and nine times twenty battles in Ireland: from Lochlann and from the eastern world there was a share of gold coming to Finn.
   "My grief! I to be stopping after him, and without delight in games or in music; to be withering away after my comrades; my grief it is to be living. I and the clerks of the Mass books are two that can never agree.
   "If Finn and the Fianna were living, I would leave the clerks and the bells; I would follow the deer through the valleys, I would like to be close on his track.
   "Ask Heaven of God, Patrick, for Finn of the Fianna and his race; make prayers for the great man; you never heard of his like."
   PATRICK: "I will not ask Heaven for Finn, man of good wit that my anger is rising against, since his delight was to be living in valleys with the noise of hunts."
   OISIN: "If you had been in company with the Fianna, Patrick of the joyless clerks and of the bells, you would not be attending on schools or giving heed to God."
   PATRICK: "I would not part from the Son of God for all that have lived east or west; O Oisin, O shaking poet there will harm come on you in satisfaction for the priests."
   OISIN: "It was a delight to Finn the cry of his hounds on the mountains, the wild dogs leaving their harbours, the pride of his armies, those were his delights."
   PATRICK: "There was many a thing Finn took delight in, and there is not much heed given to it after him; Finn and his hounds are not living now, and you yourself will not always be living, OISIN:
   OISIN: "There is a greater story of Finn than of us, or of any that have lived in our time; all that are gone and all that are living, Finn was better to give out gold than themselves."
   PATRICK: "All the gold you and Finn used to be giving out, it is little it does for you now; he is in Hell in bonds because he did treachery and oppression."
   OISIN: "It is little I believe of your truth, man from Rome with the white books, Finn the open-handed head of the Fianna to be in the hands of devils or demons."
   PATRICK: "Finn is in bonds in Hell, the pleasant man that gave out gold; in satisfaction for his disrespect to God, he is under grief in the house of pain."
   OISIN: "If the sons of Morna were within it, or the strong men of the sons of Baiscne, they would take Finn out of it, or they would have the house for themselves."
   PATRICK: "If the five provinces of Ireland were within it, or the strong seven battalions of the Fianna, they would not be able to bring Finn out of it, however great their strength might be."
   OISIN: "If Faolan and Goll were living, and brown-haired Diarmuid and brave Osgar, Finn of the Fianna could not be held in any house that was made by God or devils."
   PATRICK: "If Faolan and Goll were living, and all the Fianna that ever were, they could not bring out Finn from the house where he is in pain."
   OISIN: 'What did Finn do against God but to be attending on schools and on armies? Giving gold through a great part of his time, and for another while trying his hounds."
   PATRICK: "In payment for thinking of his hounds and for serving the schools of the poets, and because he gave no heed to God, Finn of the Fianna is held down."
   OISIN: "You say, Patrick of the Psalms, that the Fianna could not take out Finn, or the five provinces of Ireland along with them.
   "I have a little story about Finn. We were but fifteen men when we took the King of Britain of the feasts by the strength of our spears and our own strength.
   "We took Magnus the great, the son of the King of Lochlann of the speckled ships; we came back no way sorry or tired, we put our rent on far places.
   "O Patrick, the story is pitiful, the King of the Fianna to be under locks; a heart without envy, without hatred, a heart bard in earning victory.
   "It is an injustice, God to be unwilling to give food and riches; Finn never refused strong or poor, although cold Hell is now his dwelling-place.
   "It is what Finn had a mind for, to be listening to the sound of Druim Dearg; to sleep at the stream of Ess Ruadh, to be hunting the deer of Gallimh of the bays.
   "The cries of the blackbird of Leiter Laoi, the wave of Rud-raighe beating the strand, the bellowing of the ox of Magh Maoin, the lowing of the calf of Gleann da Mhail.
   "The noise of the hunt on Slieve Crot, the sound of the fawns round Slieve Cua, the scream of the sea-gulls there beyond on Iorrus, the screech of the crows over the battle.
   "The waves vexing the breasts of the boats, the howling of the hounds at Druim Lis; the voice of Bran on Cnoc-an-Air, the outcry of the streams about Slieve Mis.
   "The call of Osgar going to the hunt; the voice of the hounds on the road of the Fianna, to be listening to them and to the poets, that was always his desire.
   "A desire of the desires of Osgar was to listen to the striking of shields; to be hacking at bones in a battle, it is what he had a mind for always.
   "We went westward one time to hunt at Formaid of the Fianna to see the first running of our hounds.
   "It was Finn was holding Bran, and it is with myself Sceolan was; Diarmuid of the Women had Fearan, and Osgar had lucky Adhnuall.
   "Conan the Bald had Searc; Caoilte, son of Ronan, had DaoI; Lugaidh's Son and Goll were holding Fuaim and Fothran.
   "That was the first day we loosed out a share of our hounds to a hunting; and Och! Patrick, of all that were in it, there is not one left living but myself.
   "O Patrick, it is a pity the way I am now, a spent old man without sway, without quickness, without strength, going to Mass at the altar.
   "Without the great deer of Slieve Luchra; without the hares of Slieve Cuilinn; without going into fights with Finn; without listening to the poets.
   "Without battles, without taking of spoils; without playing at nimble feats; without going courting or hunting, two trades that were my delight."
   PATRICK: "Leave off, old man, leave your foolishness; let what you have done be enough for you from this out. Think on the pains that are before you; the Fianna are gone, and you yourself will be going."
   OISIN: "If I go, may yourself not be left after me, Patrick of the hindering heart; if Conan, the least of the Fianna, were living, your buzzing would not be left long to you.
   "Or if this was the day I gave ten hundred cows to the headless woman that came to the Valley of the Two Oxen; the birds of the air brought away the ring I gave her, I never knew where she went herself from me."
   PATRICK: "That is little to trouble you, Oisin; it was but for a while she was with you; it is better for you to be as you are than to be among them again."
   OISIN: "O Son of Calphurn of the friendly talk, it is a pity for him that gives respect to clerks and bells; I and Caoilte my friend, we were not poor when we were together.
   "The music that put Finn to his sleep was the cackling of the ducks from the lake of the Three Narrows; the scolding talk of the blackbird of Doire an Cairn, the bellowing of the ox from the Valley of the Berries.
   "The whistle of the eagle from the Valley of Victories, or from the rough branches of the ridge by the stream; the grouse of the heather of Cruachan; the call of the otter of Druim-re-Coir.
   "The song of the blackbird of Doire an Cairn indeed I never heard sweeter music, if I could be under its nest.
   "My grief that I ever took baptism; it is little credit I got by it, being without food, without drink, doing fasting and praying."
   PATRICK: "In my opinion it did not harm you, old man; you will get nine score cakes of bread, wine and meat to put a taste on it; it is bad talk you are giving."
   OISIN: "This mouth that is talking with you, may it never confess to a priest, if I would not sooner have the leavings of Finn's house than a share of your own meals."
   PATRICK: "He got but what he gathered from the banks, or whatever be could kill on the rough hills; he got hell at the last because of his unbelief."
   OISIN: "That was not the way with us at all, but our fill of wine and of meat; justice and a right beginning at the feasts, sweet drinks and every one drinking them.
   "It is fretting after Diarmuid and Goll I am, and after Fergus of the True Lips, the time you will not let me be speaking of them, O new Patrick from Rome."
   PATRICK: "We would give you leave to be speaking of them, but first you should give heed to God. Since you are now at the end of your days, leave your foolishness, weak old man."
   OISIN: "O Patrick, tell me as a secret, since it is you have the best knowledge, will my dog or my hound be let in with me to the court of the King of Grace?"
   PATRICK: "Old man in your foolishness that I cannot put any bounds to, your dog or your hound will not be let in with you to the court of the King of Power."
   OISIN: "If I had acquaintance with God, and my hound to be at hand, I would make whoever gave food to myself give a share to my hound as well.
   "One strong champion that was with the Fianna of Ireland would be better than the Lord of Piety, and than you yourself, PATRICK:"
   PATRICK: "O Oisin of the sharp blades, it is mad words you are saying. God is better for one day than the whole of the Fianna of Ireland."
   OISIN: "Though I am now without sway and my life is spent to the end, do not put abuse, Patrick, on the great men of the sons of Baiscne.
   "If I had Conan with me, the man that used to be running down the Fianna, it is he would break your head within among your clerks and your priests."
   PATRICK: "It is a silly thing, old man, to be talking always of the Fianna; remember your end is come, and take the Son of God to help you."
   OISIN: "I used to sleep out on the mountain under the grey dew; I was never used to go to bed without food, while there was a deer on the hill beyond."
   PATRICK: "You are astray at the end of your life between the straight way and the crooked. Keep out from the crooked path of pains, and the angels of God will come beneath your head."
   OISIN: "If myself and open-handed Fergus and Diarmuid were together now on this spot, we would go in every path we ever went in, and ask no leave of the priests."
   PATRICK: "Leave off, Oisin; do not be speaking against the priests that are telling the word of God in every place. Unless you leave off your daring talk, it is great pain you will have in the end."
   OISIN: "When myself and the leader of the Fianna were looking for a boar in a valley, it was worse to me not to see it than all your clerks to be without their heads."
   PATRICK: "It is pitiful seeing you without sense; that is worse to you than your blindness; if you were to get sight within you, it is great your desire would be for Heaven."
   OISIN: "It is little good it would be to me to be sitting in that city, without Caoilte, without Osgar, without my father being with me.
   "The leap of the buck would be better to me, or the sight of badgers between two valleys, than all your mouth is promising me, and all the delights I could get in Heaven."
   PATRICK: "Your thoughts are foolish, they will come to nothing; your pleasure and your mirth are gone. Unless you will take my advice to-night, you will not get leave on this side or that"
   OISIN: "If myself and the Fianna were on the top of a bill to-day drawing our spear-heads, we would have our choice of being here or there in spite of books and priests and bells."
   PATRICK: "You were like the smoke of a wisp, or like a stream in a valley, or like a whirling wind on the topof a bill, every tribe of you that ever lived."
   OISIN: "If I was in company with the people of strong arms, the way l was at Bearna da Coill, I would sooner be looking at them than at this troop of the crooked croziers.
   "If I had Scolb Sceine with me, or Osgar, that was smart in battles, I would not be without meat to-night at the sound of the bell of the seven tolls."
   PATRICK: "Oisin, since your wits are gone from you be glad at what I say; it is certain to me you will leave the Fianna and that you will receive the God of the stars."
   OISIN: "There is wonder on me at your hasty talk, priest that has travelled in every part, to say that I would part from the Fianna, a generous people, never niggardly."
   PATRICK: "If you saw the people of God, the way they are settled at feasts, every good thing is more plentiful with them than with Finn's people, however great their name was.
   "Finn and the Fianna are lying now very sorrowful on the flag-stone of pain; take the Son of God in their place; make your repentance and do not lose Heaven."
   OISIN: "I do not believe your talk now, O Patrick of the crooked staves, Finn and the Fianna to be there within, unless they find pleasure being in it."
   PATRICK: "Make right repentance now, before you know when your end is coming; God is better for one hour than the whole of the Fianna of Ireland."
   OISIN: "That is a daring answer to make to me, Patrick of the crooked crozier; your crozier would be in little bits if I had Osgar with me now.
   "If my son Osgar and God were hand to hand on the Hill of the Fianna, if I saw my son put down, I would say that God was a strong man.
   "How could it be that God or his priests could be better men than Finn, the King of the Fianna, a generous man without crookedness.
   "If there was a place above or below better than the Heaven of God, it is there Finn would go, and all that are with him of his people.
   "You say that a generous man never goes to the hell of pain; there was not one among the Fianna that was not generous to all.
   "Ask of God, Patrick, does He remember when the Fianna were alive, or has He seen east or west any man better than themselves in their fighting.
   "The Fianna used not to be saying treachery; we never had the name of telling lies. By truth and the strength of our hands we came safe out of every battle.
   "There never sat a priest in a church, though you think it sweet to be singing psalms, was better to his word than the Fianna, or more generous than Finn himself.
   "If my comrades were living to-night, I would take no pleasure in your crooning in the church; as they are not living now, the rough voice of the bells has deafened me.
   "Och! in the place of battles and heavy fights, where I used to have my place and to take my pleasure, the crozier of Patrick being carried; and his clerks at their quarrelling.
   "Och! slothful, cheerless Conan, it is great abuse I used to be giving you; why do you not come to see me now? you would get leave for making fun and reviling through the whole of the niggardly clerks.
   'Och! where are the strong men gone that they do not come together to help me! O Osgar of the sharp sword of victory, come and free your father from his bonds!
   "Where is the strong son of Lugaidh? Och! Diarmuid of all the women! Och! Caoilte, son of Ronan, think of our love, and travel to me!"
   PATRICK: "Stop your talk, you withered, witless old man; it is my King that made the Heavens, it is He that gives blossom to the trees, it is He made the moon and the sun, the fields and the grass."
   OISIN: "It was not in shaping fields and grass that my king took his delight, but in overthrowing fighting men, and defending countries, and bringing his name into every part.
   "In courting, in playing, in hunting, in baring his banner at the first of a fight; in playing at chess, at swimming, in looking around him at the drinking-hall.
   "O Patrick, where was your God when the two came over the sea that brought away the queen of Lochlann of the Ships? Where was He when Dearg came, the son of the King of Lochlann of the golden shields? Why did not the King of Heaven protect them from the blows of the big man?
   "Or when Tailc, son of Treon, came, the man that did great slaughter on the Fianna; it was not by God that champion fell, but by Osgar, in the sight of all.
   "Many a battle and many a victory was gained by the Fianna of Ireland; I never heard any great deed was done by the King of Saints, or that He ever reddened His hand.
   "It would be a great shame for God not to take the locks of pain off Finn; if God Himself were in bonds, my king would fight for His sake.
   "Finn left no one in pain or in danger without freeing him by silver or gold, or by fighting till he got the victory.
   "For the strength of your love, Patrick, do not forsake the great men; bring in the Fianna unknown to the King of Heaven.
   "It is a good claim I have on your God, to be among his clerks the way I am; without food, without clothing, without music, without giving rewards to poets.
   "Without the cry of the hounds or the horns, without guarding coasts, without courting generous women; for all that I have suffered by the want of food, I forgive the King of Heaven in my will"
   OISIN said: "My story is sorrowful. The sound of your voice is not pleasant to me. I will cry my fill, but not for God, but because Finn and the Fianna are not living."

Deidre of the Sorrows, by John Duncan