More CELTIC FAIRY TALES
How Cormac Mac Art went to Faery
Cormac, son of Art, son of Conn of the Hundred Battles, was high King of
Ireland, and held his Court at Tara. One day he saw a youth upon the green
having in his hand a glittering fairy branch with nine apples of red. And
whensoever the branch was shaken, wounded men and women enfeebled by illness
would be lulled to sleep by the sound of the very sweet fairy music which those
apples uttered, nor could any one upon earth bear in mind any want, woe, or
weariness of soul when that branch was shaken for him.
"Is that branch thy own?" said Cormac. It is indeed mine."
"Wouldst thou sell it? and what wouldst thou require for it?"
"Will you give me what I ask? " said the youth.
The king promised, and the youth then claimed his wife, his daughter, and his
son. Sorrowful of heart was the king, heaviness of heart filled his wife and
children when they learned that they must part from him. But Cormac shook the
branch amongst them, and when they heard the soft sweet music of the branch they
forgot all care and sorrow and went forth to meet the youth, and he and they
took their departure and were seen no more. Loud cries of weeping and mourning
were made throughout Erin when this was known but Cormac shook the branch so
that there was no longer any grief or heaviness of heart upon any one.
After a year Cormac said "It is a year
to day since my wife, my son,
and my daughter were taken from me. I will follow them by the same path that
Cormac went off, and a dark magical mist rose about him, and he chanced to
come upon a wonderful marvellous plain. Many horsemen were there, busy thatching
a house with the feathers of foreign birds; when one side was thatched they
would go and seek more, and when they returned not a feather was on the roof.
Cormac gazed at them for a while and then went forward.
Again, he saw a youth dragging up trees to make a fire but before he could
find a second tree the first one would be burnt, and it seemed to Cormac that
his labour would never end.
Cormac journeyed onwards until he saw three immense wells on the border of
the plain, and on each well was a head. From out the mouth of the first head
there flowed two streams, into it there flowed one; the second head had a stream
flowing out of and another stream into its mouth, whilst three streams were
flowing from the mouth of the third head. Great wonder seized Cormac, and he
said "I will stay and gaze upon these wells, for I should find no man to
tell me your story." With that he set onwards till he came to a house in
the middle of a field. He entered and greeted the inmates. There sat within a
tall couple clad in many-hued garments, and they greeted the king, and bade him
welcome for the night.
Then the wife bade her husband seek food, and he arose and returned with a
huge wild boar upon his hack and a log in his hand. He cast down the swine and
the log upon the floor, and said "There is meat; cook it for
"How can I do that?" said Cormac.
"I will teach you," said the youth. "Split this great log,
make four pieces of it, and make four quarters of the hog; put a log under each
quarter; tell a true story. and the meat will be cooked."
"Tell the first story yourself" said Cormac.
"Seven pigs I have of the same kind as the one I brought, and I could
feed the world with them. For if a pig is killed I have but to put its bones
into the stye again, and it will be found alive the next morning."
The story was true, and a quarter of the pig was cooked.
Then Cormac begged the woman of the house to tell a story.
"I have seven white cows, and they fill seven cauldrons with milk every
day, and I give my word that they yield as much milk as would satisfy the men of
the whole world if they were out on yonder plain drinking it."
That story was true, and a second quarter of the pig was cooked.
Cormac was bidden now to tell a story for his quarter, and he told how he was
upon a search for his wife, his son and his daughter that had been borne away
from him a year before by a youth with a fairy branch.
"If what thou sayest be true," said the man of the house,
"thou art indeed Cormac, son of Art, son of Conn of the Hundred
"Truly I am," quoth Cormac.
That story was true, and a quarter of the pig was cooked.
"Eat thy meal now," said the man of the house.
"I never ate before," said Cormac, "having only two people in
"Wouldst thou eat it with three others?"
"If they were dear to me, I would," said Cormac.
Then the door opened, and there entered the wife and children of Cormac:
great was his joy and his exultation.
Then Manannan mac Lir, lord of the fairy Cavalcade, appeared before him in
his own true form, and said thus:
"I it was, Cormac; who bore away these three from thee. I it was who
gave thee this branch, all that I might bring thee here. Eat now and
"I would do so," said Cormac, "could I learn the meaning of
the wonders I saw to-day."
"Thou shalt learn them," said Manannan. "The horsemen
thatching the roof with feathers are a likeness of people who go forth into the
world to seek riches and fortune when they return their houses are bare, and so
they go on for ever. The young man dragging up the trees to make a fire is a
likeness of those who labour for others much trouble they have, but they never
warm themselves at the fire. The three heads in the wells are three kinds of
men. Some there are who give freely when they get freely; some who give freely
though they get little; some who get much and give little, and they are the
worst of the three, Cormac," said Manannan.
After that Cormac and his wife and his children sat down, and a table-cloth
was spread before them.
"That is a very precious thing before thee," said Manannan,
"there is no food however delicate that shall be asked of it but it shall
be had without doubt."
"That is well," quoth Cormac.
After that Manannan thrust his hand into his girdle and brought out a goblet
and set it upon his palm. "This cup has this virtue, said he, "that
when a false story is told before it, it makes four pieces of it, and when a
true story is related it is made whole again."
"Those are very precious things you have, Manannan," said the king.
"They shall all be thine," said Manannan, "the goblet, the
branch and the tablecloth."
Then they ate their meal, and that meal was good, for they could not think of
any meat but they got it upon the tablecloth, nor of any drink but they got it
in the cup. Great thanks did they give to Manannan.
When they had eaten their meal a couch was prepared for them and they laid
down to slumber and sweet sleep.
Where they rose on the morrow morn was in Tara of the kings, and by their
side were tablecloth, cup, and branch.
Thus did Cormac fare at the Court of Manannan, and this is how he got the