The Fenian Cycle

The Pursuit of Diarmuid and Grainne

Part One- The Flight
In this the first part of the famous tale we learn much about the nature of the court of a celtic chief. We can follow Grainne for example from grassy area to the house of the women and into the court. We learn of wattle gates and of the arrangement of the hall. We also explore the central aspect of this tale- the relationship of loyalties- will one be loyal to the promises of love or the promises to one's chief and patron. We also take a look at feats of bravery- perhaps those practiced for entertainment and or training at court- Diarmuid leaping on the tips of his spears for example. As you read this story listen as it demonstrates and describes the nature of Celtic society.  This is the latest of the ancient cycles. It is a cumulative effort - a layer cake if you will, of all of the traditions which have crossed the island of Ireland from earliest times.
Can you pick out the layers? They are it seems all there at least in part as lenses which color the tale.

On a certain day when Finn mac Cumaill rose at early morn in Almu, in Leinster, and sat upon the grass-green plain, having neither servant nor attendant with him, there followed him two of his people; that is, Oisin the son of Minn, and Diorruing the son of Dobar O' Baoiscne. Oisin Spoke, and what he said was:

"What is the cause of this early rising of thine, O Finn?" said he.

"Not without cause have I made this early rising," said Finn'"for I am without a wife since Maignes the daughter of Garad Glundub Mac Moirne died; for he is not wont to have slumber nor sweet sleep who happens to be without a fitting wife, and that is the cause of my early rising O Oisin."

"What forceth thee to be thus?" said Oisin; "for there is not a wife nor a mate in the green-landed island of Erin upon whom thou mightest turn the light of thine eyes or of thy sight, whom we would not bring by fair means or by foul to thee."

And then spoke Diorruing, and what he said was: "I myself could discover for thee a wife and a mate befitting thee."

"Who is she?" said Finn.

"She is Grainne the daughter of Cormac the son of Art the son of Conn the Hundred-Fighter," said Diorruing, "that is, the woman that is fairest of feature and form and speech of the women of the world together."

"By my hand, O Diorruing," said Finn, "there has been strife and variance between Cormac and myself for a long time, and I think it not good nor seemly that he should give me a refusal of marriage; and I had rather that ye should both go to ask the marriage of his daughter for me of Cormac, for I could better endure a refusal of marriage to be given to you than to myself."

"We will go there," said Oisin, "though there be no profit for us there, and let no man know of our journey until we come back again."

After that, those two good warriors went their way, and they took farewell of Finn, and it is not told how they fared until they reached Tara. The king of Erin chanced to be holding a gathering and a muster before them upon the plain of Tara, and the chiefs and the great nobles of his people were with him. A friendly welcome was given to Oisin and Diorruing, and the gathering was then put off until another day, for the king was certain that it was upon some pressing matter that those two had come to him. Afterwards Oisin called the king of Erin to one side, and told him that it was to ask of him the marriage of his daughter for Finn Mac Cumaill that they themselves were then come. Cormac spoke, and what he said was:

"There is not a son of a king or of a great prince, a hero a battle-champion in Erin, to whom my daughter has not given refuse of marriage, and it is on me that all and every one lays the blame for that; so I will not give you any formal decision until ye betake yourselves before my daughter, for it is better that ye hear her own words than that ye be displeased with me."

After that they went their way to the dwelling of the women, and Cormac sat him upon the side of the couch and of the high bed by Grainne; and he said:"Here, O Grainne," said he, "are two of the people of Finn mac Cumaill coming to ask thee as wife and mate for him, and what answer wouldst thou give them?"

(editor's note: Notice that the dwelling of the women is mentioned- it is noted that in many tribal societies and in particular those of North America there are set aside special places for women to live during special times of the month- could this be a reference to a celtic version of the "menstrual hut"? In any case the setting apart of a special woman's house is significant)

Grainne answered, and what she said was: "If he be a fitting son-in-law for thee, why should he not be a fitting husband and mate for me?"

Then they were satisfied; and after that a feast and banquet was made for them in the bower with Grainne and the women, so that they became exhilarated and mirthful; and Cormac made a tryst with them and with Finn a fortnight from that night at Tara.

(editor's note: Note the celtic practice of joining divergent tribes and lineages with arranged marriages. It was very important for isolated groups to link up with one another not only for safety and prevention of warfare but also for common assistance. Fosterage and hostage taking also helped in the sharing of technology and training. These social arrangements were lifelines linking delicate cultural outposts across the uninhabited lands)

Thereafter Oisin and Diorruing arrived again at Almu, where they found Finn and the Fian, and they told them their news from beginning to end. Now as every thing wears away, so also did that space of time; and then Finn collected and assembled the seven battalions of the standing Fian, from every quarter where they were, and they came where Finn was, in Almu the great and broad of Leinster; and on the last day of that period of time they went forth in great bands, in troops, and in impetuous fierce impenetrable companies, and we are not told how they fared until they reached Tara. Cormac was before them upon the plain with the chiefs and the great nobles of the men of Erin about him, and they made a gentle welcome for Finn and all the Fian, and after that they went to the king's mirthful house called Midcuart. The king of Erin sat down to enjoy drinking and pleasure, with his wife at his left shoulder, that is, Eitche, the daughter of Atan of Corcaig, and Grainne at her shoulder, and Finn mac Cumall at the king's right hand' and Cairbre Liffecair the son of Cormac sat at one side of the same royal house, and Oisin the son of Finn at the other side, and each one of them sat according to his rank and to his patrimony from that down.

(editor's note: Note how social status is defined spatially by arrangement of seating. The story has as one of its functions the preservation of the history of lineage  and relationship- infact the entertainment value is  perhaps simply coloring for what would be a dull and boring recitation of these important facts. The same is true of place names. The stories are very careful to name places and landmarks. Another important function is the preservation of
maps. For an  oral society with no written maps that we know of the  common reference would the tale which would link places, names and geography  together. Today many of  these place names are still attached to the land.)

There sat there a druid and a skillful man of knowledge of the people of Finn before Grainne the daughter of Cormac; that is, Daire Duanach Mac Morna; and it was not long before there arose gentle talking and mutual discourse between himself and Grainne. Then Daire Duanach mac Morna arose and stood before Grainne, and sang her the songs and the verses and the sweet poems of her fathers and of her ancestors;and then Grainne spoke and asked the druid,

"What is the reason where fore Finn is come to this place tonight?"

"If thou knowest not that," said the druid, "it is no wonder that I know it not."

"I desire to learn it of thee," said Grainne.

"Well then," said the druid, " it is to ask thee as wife and as mate that Finn is come to this place to-night."

"It is a great marvel to me," said Grainne, "that it is not for Oisin that Finn asks me, for it were fitter to give me such as he, than a man that is older than my father."

"Say not that," said the druid, "for were Finn to hear thee he himself would not have thee, neither would Oisin dare to take thee."

"Tell me know," said Grainne, "who is that warrior at the right shoulder of Oisin the son of Finn?"

"Yonder," said the druid, "is Goll mac Morna, the active, the warlike."

"Who is that warrior at the shoulder of Goll?" said Graine.

"Oscar the son of Oisin," said the druid.

"Who is that graceful-legged man at the shoulder of Oscar?" said Grainne.

"Cailte mac Ronain," said the druid.

"What haughty impetuous warrior is that yonder at the shoulder of Cailte?" said Brainne.

"The son of Lugaid of the mighty hand, and that man is sister's son to Finn mac Cumaill," said the druid.

"Who is that freckled sweet-worded man upon whom is the curling dusky-black hair and the two red ruddy cheeks, upon the left hand of Oisin the son of Finn?"

"That man is Diarmuid the grandson of Dubne, the white-toothed, of the light-some countenance; that is, the best lover of women and of maidens that is in the whole world."

"Who is that at the shoulder of Diarmuid?" said Grainne.

"Diorruing the son of Dobar Damad O'Baoiscne, and that man is a druid and a skillful man of science," said Daire Duanach.

(editor's note: It is a convention of celtic tales  to at some point generally early in the tale to in effect go around the room making introductions of a wide range of personalities. This is often very theatrical and gives a hint at some form of production where the characters are presented. Again here is an opportunity for the author to include the all important social information of lineage and the history and deeds of the characters. From these descriptions it is possible to learn of the professions represented at court- druids, of science)

"That is a goodly company," said Grainne; and she called her attendant handmaid to her, and told her to bring to her the jeweled golden-chased goblet which was in the bower behind her. The handmaid brought the goblet, and Grainne filled the goblet forthwith, and it contained the drink of nine times nine men. Grainne said,

"Take the goblet to Finn first, and bid him drink a draught out of it, and disclose to him that it is I that sent it to him."

The handmaid took the goblet to Finn, and told him everything that Grainne had bidden her say to him. Finn took the goblet, and no sooner had he drunk a draught out of it than there fell upon him a stupor of sleep and of deep slumber. Cormac took the draught and the same sleep fell upon him, and Eitche, the wife of Cormac, took the goblet and drank a draught out of it, and the same sleep fell upon her as upon all the others. Then Grainne called the attendant handmaid to her, and said to her:

"Take this goblet to Cairbre Liffecair and tell him to drink a draught out of it, and give the goblet to those sons of king by him"

The handmaid took the goblet to Cairbre, and he was not well able to give it to him that was next to him, before a stupor of sleep and of deep slumber fell upon him too, and each one that took the goblet, one after another, fell into a stupor of sleep and of deep slumber.

When Grainne saw that they were in a state of drunkenness and of trance, she rose fairly and softly from the seat on which she was, and spoke to Oisin, and what she said was:

"I marvel at Finn mac Cumaill that he should seek such a wife as I , for it were fitter for him to give me my own equal to marry than a man older than my father."

"Say not that, O Grainne," said Osisin, "for if Finn were to hear thee he would not have thee, neither would I dare to take thee."

"Wilt thou receive courtship from me, O Oisin?" said Grainne.

"I will not," said Oisin. "For whatsoever woman is betrothed to Finn, I would not meddle with her."

Then Grainne turned her face to Diarmuid O' Duibne, and what she said to him was:" Wilt thou receive courtship from me, O O'Duibne, since Oisin received it not from me?"

"I will not," said Diarmuid," for whatever woman is betrothed to Oisin I may not take her, even were she not betrothed to Finn."

"Then, " said Grainne, "I put thee under taboos of danger and destruction, O Diarmuid, that is, under the

taboos of mighty druidism, if thou take me not with thee out of this household to-night, ere Finn and the king of Erin arise out of that sleep."

(editor's note: Celtic society regarded spoken curses and taboos highly. In an oral society where there were no written facts that which was said about you was infact the highest fact. Therefore it is not surprising that taboo and satire were of such great importance- again these stories helped the Fili classes remember - without being too boring and statistical about it - who was placed under what ban or taboo or satire by whom when. This was important as often such pronouncements lasted throughout the generations and needed to be remembered within the oral tradition)

"Evil bonds are those under which thou hast laid me, O woman," said Diarmuid; "and wherefore hast thou laid those taboos upon me before all the sons of kings and of high princes in the king's mirthful house called Midcuart this night, seeing that there is not of all those one less worthy to be loved by a woman than myself?"

"By thy hand, O O'Duibne, it is not without cause that I have laid those taboos on thee, as I will tell thee now.

"One day when the king of Erin was presiding over a gathering and muster on the plain of Tara, Finn and the seven battalions of the standing Fian chanced to be there that day; and there arose a great goaling match between Cairbre Liffecair the son of Cormac, and the son of Lugaid, and the men of Mag Breg, and of Cerna, and the stout champions of Tara arose on the side of Cairbre, and the Fian of Erin on the other side of the son of Lugaid; and there were none sitting in the gathering that day but the king, and Finn, and thyself, O Diarmuid. It happened that the game was going against the son of Lugaid, and thou didst rise and stand, and tookest his hurly-stick from the next man to thee, and didst throw him to the ground and to the earth, and thou wentest into the game, and didst with the goal three times upon Caribre and upon the warriors of Tara. I was at that time in my bower of the clear view, of the blue windows of glass, gazing upon thee; and I turned the light of mine eyes and of my sight upon thee that day , and I never gave that love to any other man from that time to this, and will not for ever."
(editor's note: Observe here the reference to the ancient celtic game of hurling. This game comes up frequently in ancient Irish tales and is still played today. Players use a hurling stick almost like a hockey stick to hit a hard wooden ball across a field and into a hole under the far goal. It is a very fast and rough game-the  game was associated with boys training to be warriors and was instrumental in the settling of disputes)

"It is a wonder that though shouldest give me that love instead of Finn," said Diarmuid, "seeing that there is not in Erin a man that is fonder of a woman than he; and knowest thou, O Grainne, on the night that Finn is in Tara that he it is that has the keys of Tara, and that so we cannot leave the stronghold ?"

"There is a wicket-gate to my bower,' said Grainne, " and we will pass out through it."

"It is a prohibited thing for me to pass through any wicket gate whatsoever," said Diarmuid.

"Howbeit, I hear," said Grainne, "that every warrior and battle champion can pass by the shafts of his javelins and by the staves of his spears, in or out over the rampart of every fort and of every stronghold and I will pass out by the wicker gate, and do thou follow me so."

Grainne went her way out, and Diarmuid spoke to his people, and what he said was:"O Oisin, son of Finn, what shall I do with this taboo that has been laid on me?"

"Thou art not guilty of the taboo which has been laid upon thee," said Oisin, "and I tell thee to follow Grainne, and keep thyself well against the wiles of Finn."

"O Oscar, son of Oisin, what is good for me to do as to those bonds which have been laid upon me?"

"I tell thee to follow Grainne," said Oscar, " for he is a sorry wretch that fails to keep his taboos."

"What counsel dost thou give me, O Cailte?" said Diarmuid.

"I say said Cailte, "that I have a fitting wife, and yet I had rather than the wealth of the world that it had been to me that Grainne gave that love."

"What counsel givest thou me, O Diorruing?"

"I tell thee to follow Grainne, though thy death will come of it, and I grieve for it."

"Is that the counsel of you all to me?" said Diarmuid.

"It is," said Oisin, and said all the others together.

After that Diarmuid arose and stood, and stretched forth his active warrior hand over his broad weapons, and took leave and farewell of Oisin and of the chiefs of the Fian; and not bigger is a smooth-crimson whortleberry than was each tear that Diarmuid shed from his eyes at parting with his people. Diarmuid went to the top of the stronghold, and put the shafts of his two javelins under him, and rose with an airy, very light, exceeding high, birdlike leap, until he attained the breadth of his two soles of the beautiful grass-green earth on the plain without, and Grainne met him. Then Diarmuid spoke, and what he said was:" I believe, O Grainne, that this is an evil course upon which thou art come; for it were better for thee to have Finn mac Cumaill for a lover than myself, seeing that I know not what nook or corner, or remote part of Erin I can take thee to now, and return again home, without Fin's learning what thou hast done."

(editor's note: It is important to  notice the use of characteristics of nature to describe human attributes. It is suggested by scholars that along with the concepts of romantic love advanced in this cycle the use of these natural traits indicates the development of the literature from a dry officia mechanism for recording facts to the impressionistic creativity which we see here. Many believe that this is an effect of Irish monasticism which has provided written records which have liberated the authors to provide more color and human interest to their accounts which are no longer valued only for their informational content)

"It is certain that I will not go back," said Grainne, " and that I will not part from thee until death part me from thee."

"Then go forward, O Grainne," said Diarmuid.

Diarmuid and Grainne went their way after that, and they had not gone beyond a mile from Tara when Grainne said, "I indeed am wearying, O O' Duibne."

"It is a good time to weary, O Grainne," said Diarmuid, " and return now to thine old household again, for I plight the word of a true warrior that I will never carry thee, nor any other woman, to all eternity."

"So needst thou not do," said Grainne, "for my father's horses are in a fenced meadow by themselves, and they have chariots; and return thou to them ,and yoke two horses of them to a chariot, and I will wait for thee on this spot till thou overtake me again." Diarmuid returned to the horses, and he yoked two horses of them to a chariot. It is not told how Diarmuid and Grainne fared until they reached Beul Atha Luain.

And Diarmuid spoke to Grainne, and said: " it is all the easier for Finn to follow our track, O Grainne, that we have the horses." " Then," said Grainne, "leave the horses upon this spot, and I will journey on foot by thee henceforth." Diarmuid got down at the edge of the ford, and took a horse with him over across the ford, and thus left one of them upon each side of the stream, and he and Grainne went a mile with the stream westward, and reached land at the side of the province of Connacht. It is not told how they fared until they arrived at Doire Da Both, in the midst of Clan Ricard; and Diarmuid cut down the grove around him, and made to it seven doors of wattles, and he settled a bed of soft rushes and of the tops of the birch under Grainne in the very midst of that wood.
(editor's note: The seven door structure is a primary image in the ancient tales. Note the wattle construction technique and the use of rushes- one can also see here a description which would serve as instruction for stage setting. The scene is described so as to almost refer to a stage-it is very set graphic- having doors open and characters appear is very visually dramatic)

As for Finn mac Cumaill, I will tell his tidings clearly . All that were in Tara rose at early morn on the morrow, and they found Diarmuid and Grainne wanting from among them and a burning jealousy and rage seized upon Finn. He found his trackers before him on the plain, that is the Clan Neamuin, and he bade them follow Diarmuid and Grainne. Then they carried the track as far as Beul Atha Luain, and Finn and the Fian of Erin followed them; but they could not follow the track over across the ford so that Finn pledged his word that if they followed not the track out speedily, he would hang them on either side of the ford.

Then the Clan Neamuin went up to the stream, and found a horse on either side of the stream; and they went a mile with the stream westward, and found the track by the side of the province of Connacht, and Finn and the Fian of Erin followed them. Then spoke Finn, and what he said was. "Well I know where Diarmuid and Grainne shall be found now, that is in Doire Da Both." Oisin, and Oscar, and Cailte, and Diorruing son of Dobar Damad O' Baoiscene, were listening to Finn speaking these words, and Oisin spoke, and what he said was:"We are in danger lest Diarmuid and Grainne be yonder, and we must needs send him some warning. And look where Bran is, that is, the hound of Finn mac Cumail, that we may send him to him, for Finn himself is not dearer to him than Diarmuid is; and O Oscar, tell Bran to go with a warning to Diarmuid, who is in Doire Da Both" and Oscar told that to Bran. Bran understood that without knowledge and wisdom, and went back to the hinder part of the host where Finn might not see him, and followed Diarmuid and Grainne by their track until he reached Doire Da Both, and thrust his head into Diarmuid's bosom, and he asleep.

Then Diarmuid sprang out of his sleep, and awoke Grainne also and said to her: "There is Bran, the hound of Finn mac Cumall, coming with a warning to us before Finn himself"

"Take that warning, " said Grainne, " and fly."

"I will not take it," said Diarmuid, "for I would not that Finn caught me at any other time rather than now, since I cannot escape from him." When Grainne heard this, dread and great fear seized her; and Bran departed from them.

Then Oisin the son of Finn spoke and said: "We are in danger lest Bran have not gotten opportunity to go to Diarmuid, and we must needs give him some other warning; and look for Feargoir the henchman of Cailte."

" He is with me, " said Cailte. Now Feargoir was so, that every shout he gave used to be heard in the three nearest districts to him. Then they made him give three shouts, in order that Diarmuid might hear him. Diarmuid heard Feargoir, and awoke Grainne out of her sleep, and what he said was: "I hear the henchman of Cailte mac Ronain, and it is with Cailte he is, and it is with Finn that Cailte is, and this is a warning they are sending me."

"Take that warning,"said Grainne.

"I will not," said Diarmuid, "for we shall not leave this wood until Finn and the Fian of Erin overtake us";

and fear and great dread seized Grainne when she heard that..........
To continue with the Pursuit....Continue!



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 Philology, I 102-103 (Dublin 1913).

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

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