How Oisin Convinced Patrick the Cleric

Ethna Carbery
Chapter VII

DAY after day Oisin kept grumbling at the fare set forth upon the monastery table until the holy men well-nigh lost the patience that was a habit with them. Patrick alone had wisdom to deal gently with the old Pagan whom he had baptised and housed, for with the clearer insight of his pity he saw the woe of loneliness that racked the heart of Fionn's son, and the dread of a future life in which the Christian's God might turn his converted soul aside from the happy land through which the Fianna hunted and revelled beyond the grave. Therefore Patrick spake softly to him as Oisin held out a shaky massive hand, and pointed scornfully at the large meskin of butter and bannock of bread and quarter of beef that were his daily rations.

"And is it this little portion you offer me, O Cleric; me that am son of Fionn Mac Cumhaill and Bard and Warrior of the Fianna? Why, in my father's house he would have given a larger share to the beggar at his door."

"I have given more than we can spare, old man," said Patrick, "Eat and be thankful that it is not less."

"My grief," said Oisin, "that the days of my father are over, for then an ivy leaf was larger than your bannock of bread, O Patrick, and a rowan berry, than your meskin of butter, and a quarter of a blackbird than your quarter of beef. A man could eat his fill nor fear that more should not be forthcoming."

"Now it is not truth you would be saying, Oisin, my soul," exclaimed Patrick, "to tell me these things. Never have I heard of such ivy leaves, or such rowan berries, or such great monstrous blackbirds, even in the wonder times of the Fianna."

"Yet it was so, and I know where they can be found to this day. Let me go, O Patrick, with my dog, Bran's pup, and a boy to guide me since my sight is dim, and I shall return to your cell with all three of these marvels you deny."

"Then go," said Patrick, "go, Oisin; and oh! grumbling old man, it is empty-handed you will be coming back to me."

Patrick gave him the boy-guide and brought to him his dog, of which Bran, the hound of Fionn, had been the mother. Now these dogs possessed a sagacity truly marvellous and an affectionateness that almost rivalled human feeling. The Fianna believed that Bran had not always been a four-footed animal, but in earlier times was a man, handsome, supple, and strong, the son of Fair Fergus, the King of Ulster. He had fallen under enchantment, and became the swift, keen-sighted hound, body-guard and faithful companion of Fionn.

So it was accompanied by the pup of this noble hound and a little boy, that Oisin, half-blind and slow of step, with the weight of ages bowing him down, set forth upon his journey. They wandered southwards until they reached the hill called Cnocan-an-Ein-fionn, and climbed its slope to the place where is the cave. It was barred by an enormous boulder.

"Roll away the stone that is there, little boy," said Oisin, "so that I may enter."

The boy laughed. "Ten men could not do it, old man, for it is a great heavy stone and firm in the ground."

"Lead me close to it." The boy took the groping hand of Oisin and led him to the stone. Then the old warrior made an easy thrust at it, and the huge block rolled aside, leaving the entrance to the cave open.

"Go into the cave, little boy, and tell me what you see there," Oisin commanded.

The boy passed through timorously, holding his breath for fear of the shadows. He gazed round in awe.

"I see a great silver horn hanging on the wall, old man," he cried.

"Bring it to me, little boy."

"Three men could not lift it, old man, and it will not even move at my touch."

"Come out and lead me to it."

Then Oisin took the huge horn down from the wall and held it lovingly. It was the Dord Fianna—the hunting horn of the Fianna.

"Alas," he moaned, "many a time have I sounded the hunting-call on thee, O horn of many memories. Oft did my father Fionn waken the echoes with thy music from Loch Lein of the beauty places to Tory of the Kings. My grief that Oisin should live to sound thee and not one of the Fianna left in Eirinn to hear."

Standing on the hill-top, from whence the sound travelled far and wide, he blew upon it a strong clear note.

From the west a flock of birds came sweeping like a cloud. The boy cried out—

"It is a great flock of blackbirds that are flying towards us, old man. They will be on the hill-top ere long."

"Do you see a fine bird among them, little boy?"

"No, old man, not to say a fine bird."

Oisin raised the Dord Fianna to his lips and blew a second time.

A larger crowd of birds came winging in response.

"Is there a fine bird among these, little boy?" Oisin demanded.

"No," said the boy, "not to say a fine bird."

A third time the music of the Dord Fianna pealed from the hill crest over the woods and beyond the shining rivers that threaded the glens and meadows far below.

"What do you see now, little boy?" The boy shrieked in terror. "I see a huge bird larger than a cow making for us. Let us hide, old man, he is coming swiftly."

"Loose the pup," said Oisin.

The lad did so with trembling hands, and the dog leaped forward at the monstrous bird. For hours they fought there on the summit, clawing, biting, rending each other. At last the bird lay dead with claws upturned to the sky.

"Lead me to the bird, little boy," said Oisin.

But suddenly the dog gave a deep howl of rage, and, mad from the fearful fight he had undergone, rushed towards Oisin with his mouth wide open. From his head a thick cloud of steam arose, and his eyes were like moving balls of red fire in their sockets.

"The pup is coming towards us, old man," shouted the boy in a panic of fear. "The madness is on him and the foam falling from his lips. Oh, let us hide. Run, old man, run."

"Nay, little boy," said Oisin, "I will not run. But the dog will kill us unless we kill him first. Take this ball of lead and hurl it into his mouth."

"O, I cannot," cried the boy. "I am afraid."

"Then place me in his path, little boy."

So, placed in the dog's path, Oisin met his rush, and hurling the leaden ball with accurate aim it flew into his open mouth and throat. The dog gave a gasp and fell dead.

Then going up to the huge blackbird, Oisin and the boy disjointed him, taking a quarter of him as a proof to Patrick the Cleric. They found the rowan berry and the ivy leaf in the woods of Ballyvalley down by the Shannon River.

Patrick looked long at the three proofs of Oisin's bringing.

"Now I shall ever believe, Oisin my soul, in the truth of the Fianna, though their God was not my God nor their ways my ways. Come, old weary man, to the table. Henceforth your share shall be three times greater than before."

"Three-quarters of beef, three bannocks of bread, and three meskins of butter?" queried Oisin.

"Even so, old man," said Patrick.