The Fenian Cycle

Diarmuid and Grainne

Part 6 the Game of Chess

After sending away the children of Morna Finn sets out himself to go to the quicken tree.

After that he caused the seven battalions of the standing fian to assemble in one place, and he went his way to Dubros of Ui Fiachbrach; and followed Diarmuid's track to the food to the quicken tree, and found the berries without any watch upon them, so that they all ate their fill of them. The great heat of the noon day then overtook them, and Finn said that he would stay at the foot of the quicken tree till that heat should be past:" for I know that Diarmuid is in the top of the tree."

"It is a great sign of envy in thee, O Finn, to suppose that Diarmuid would abide in the top of the quicken tree, and he knowing that thou art intent on slaying him," said Oisin.

After this Finn asked for a chessboard to play, and he said to Oisin, "I would play a game with thee upon this chessboard." They sat down at either side of the board; namely Oisin and Oscar and the son of Lugaid and Diorruing the son of Dobar O'Baoiscene on one side, and Finn upon the other side.

Thus they were playing that game of chess with skill and exceeding cunning, and Finn so played the game against Oisin that he had but one move alone to make, and Finn said:"One move there is to win thee the game, O Oisin, but I am not there to teach thee that move."

"It is worse for thee that thou art thyself," said Grainne, "in the bed of the Searban Lochlannach, in the top of the quicken tree, with the seven battalions of the standing fian round about thee intent upon thy destruction, than that Oisin should lack that move." Then Diarmuid plucked one of the berries, and aimed at the man that should be moved; and Oisin moved that man and thus turned the game against Finn. They began to play again and Oisin was again worsted. When Diarmuid beheld that, he cast a second berry upon the man that should be moved; and Oisin moved that man and turned the game against Finn as before. Finn was about to win the game against Oisin the third time, Diarmuid struck a third berry upon the man that would give Oisin the game, and the fian raised a mighty shout at that game. Finn spoke, and what he said was: "I marvel not at thy winning that game, O Oisin, seeing that Oscar is doing is best for thee, and that thou hast with thee the zeal of Diorruing, the skilled knowledge of the son of Luagid, and the prompting of Diarmuid."

"It shows great envy in thee, O Finn," said Oscar, "to think that Diarmuid O' Duibne would stay in the top of this tree with thee in wait for him."

"With which of us is the truth, O O'Duibne, " said Finn, "with me or with Oscar?"

"Thou didst never err in thy good judgment, O Finn," said Diarmuid, " and I indeed and Grainne are here in the bed of the Searban Lochlannach." Then Diarmuid caught ?Grainne, and gave her three kisses in the presence of Finn and the fian.

"It grieves me more that the seven battalions of the standing fian and all the men of Erin should have witnessed thee the night thou didst take Grainne from Tara, seeing that thou wast my guard that night, than that these that are here should witness thee; and thou shalt give thy head for those kisses," said Finn.

Thereupon Finn arose with the four hundred hirelings that he had on wages and on stipend, with intent to kill Diarmuid; and Finn put their hands into each other's hands round about that quicken tree, and warned them on pain of losing their heads, and as they would preserver their life, not to let Diarmuid pass out by them. Moreover, he promised them that to whatever man of the fian of Erin should go up and bring him the head of Diarmuid, he would give his arms and armor, with his father's and his grandfather's rank among the fian freely. Garb of sliab Cua answered, and what he said was, that it was Diarmuid's father Doonn O' Donnucda, who had slain his father; and to requite hat he would go to avenge him upon Diarmuid, and he went his way up. Now it was shown to Angus of the Brug, Diarmuid's foster father, what a straight Dairmuid was in , and he came to succor him without knowledge of the fian; and when Garb of Silib Cua had got up into the top of the quicken tree, Diarmuid gave him a strike of his foot and flung him down into the midst of the fian, so that Finn's hirelings took off his head, for Angus had put the form of Diarmuid upon him. After he was slain his own shape came upon him again, and Finn and the fian of Erin knew him and they said that it was Garb that was fallen.

Then said Garb of Sliab Crot that he would go to avenge his father also upon Diarmuid, and he went up, and Angus gave him a kick, so that he flung him down in the midst of the fian with the form of Diarmuid upon him, and Finn's people took off his head; and Finn said that that was not Diarmuid but Garb, for Garb assumed his own form again.

Garb of Sliab Guaire said that he too would go, and that it was Donn O' Donncuda that had slain his father, and that therefore he would go to avenge him upon O'Duibne, and he climbed into the top of the quicken tree. Diarmuid gave him also a kick, so that he flung him down, and Angus put the form of Diarmuid upon him, so that the fian slew him.

Now the nine Garbs of the fian were thus slain under a false appearance by the people of Finn. As for Finn, after the fall of the nine Garbs of the fian, he was full of anguish and of faintheartedness and of grief.

Angus of the Brug then said that he would take Grainne with him. "Take her," said Diarmuid, "and if I be alive at evening I shall follow you; and if Finn kills me, whatever children Grainne may have rear or bring them up well, and send Grainne to her own father to Tara." Angus took leave and farewell of Diarmuid, and flung his magic mantle about Grainne and about himself, and they departed, without knowledge of the fian, and no tidings are told of them until they reached the Brug upon the Boyne.

Then Diarmuid spoke, and what he said was:"I will go down to thee, O Finn, and to the fian; and I will deal slaughter and discomfiture upon thee and upon thy people, seeing that I am certain thy wish is to allow me no deliverance, but to work my death in some place; and moreover, it is not mine to escape form this danger which is before me, since I have no friend nor companion in the far regions of the great world under whose safeguard or protection I may go, because full often have I wrought the warriors of the world death and desolation for love of thee. For there never came upon thee battle nor combat, strait nor extremity in my time, but I would adventure myself into it for thy sake and for the sake of the fian, and moreover I used to do battle before thee and after thee. And I swear, O Finn, that I will well avenge myself, and that thou shalt not get me for nothing."

"Therein Diarmuid speaks truth," said Oscar, " and give him mercy and forgiveness."

"I will not", said Finn, "to all eternity; and he shall not get peace nor rest for ever till he give me satisfaction for every slight that he has put upon me."

"It is a foul shame and sign of jealousy in thee to say that," said Oscar; "and I pledge the word of a true warrior," said he, "that unless the firmament fall down upon me, or the earth open beneath my feet, I will not suffer thee nor the fian of Erin to give him cut nor wound; and I take his body and his life under the protection of my bravery and my valor, vowing that I will save him in spite of the men of Erin. And, O Diarmuid, come down out of the tree, since Finn will not grant thee mercy; and I take thee, pledging my body and my life that no evil shall be done thee today."

Then Diarmuid rose and stood upon a high bough of the tree, and rose up with an airy bound, light,birdlike, by the shafts of his spears, so that he got the breadth of his two soles of the grass green earth, and he passed out far beyond Finn and the fian of Erin.


After that Oscar and Diarmuid proceeded onwards, neither one or other of them being cut nor wounded, and no tidings are told of them until they reached the Brug upon the Boyne, and Grainne and Angus met them with joy and good courage. Then Diarmuid told them his tidings from the first to last, and it lacked but little of Grainne's falling into the numb stupor of instant death through the fear and the horror of that story.

After the departure of Diarmuid and of Oscar, Finn found nine chieftains and ten hundred warriors in a mangled bloody mass and he sent every one that was curable where he might be healed, and caused to be dug a broad-sodded grave , and put into it every one that was dead. Heavy, weary, and mournful was Finn after that time, and he swore and vowed that he would take no rest until he should have avenged upon Diarmuid all that he had done to him. Then he told his trusty people to equip his ship, and to put a store of meat and drink into her. Thus did they and, the ship being ready, he himself and a thousand warriors of his people together with him went on board. They weighed her anchors forthwith, and urged the ship forward with exceedingly strong rowing, so that they launched her forth the space of nine waves into the blue-streamed ocean, and they caught the wind in the bosom of the sails of the mast, and it is not told how they fared until they took haven and harbor in the north of Alba.
To continue.....To the king of Alba


O' Grady,Standish,Hahyes,ed., trans.,Transactions of the Ossianic Society,(Dublin),III (1855/57),40-211.

Ni Sh`eaghda,Nessa,Ed., trans.,,T`oruigheacht Dhiarmada agus Ghr`ainne ,Irish Texts Society. XLVIII) (Dublin,1967).

Best, Richard I. Bibliography of Irish Philogy,I 102-103 (Dublin 1913).

Cross, Tom Peete, and Clark Harris Slover Ancient Irish Tales, Barnes and Noble, Inc.,1969 

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