Lugh's Knot, Celtic Knotwork



YOUNG Lugh, Deliverer of the Danaan Race,
For three times seven years remained away
In Tir-na-n'og with Mananan MacLir,
And happy was his stay. He raced the waves
Along the level strand in boyish glee;
He plucked enchanted apples, nectar-sweet
From trees with scarlet blossoms. Wondrous birds
With vari-colored breasts and golden wings
Flew round about him. Gentle, milk-white deer
From out the woods, and black-maned lions came
To play with him, and strange beasts that none else
Had ever seen — all gamboled with the youth,
So that the days passed swiftly. He forgot
His home in Erin, and his people there,
The Danaan Race, now prone beneath the heel
Of the misshapen Fomor and their king
Balor of the Evil Eye. At length one day
When Lugh had grown to manhood, Mananan
Bespoke him thus: — " 'Tis now thrice seven years
Since first I brought you here to Tir-na-n'og;
No gift in all that time have you received,
But now I bring you gifts. And then he gave
The Sword of Light to Lugh, who when he took
The Sword in hand, remembered how he had
Long, long ago cried to the Irish hills: —
"Farewell, but some bright day I shall return."
Then turning unto Mananan he spoke: —
"I must go back to Erin." Mananan
Grew sad at this and muttered painfully:
"O Lugh, and will you leave this fairy land
Where sorrow never comes, nor age, nor death,
And go to Erin where you will not find
Or joy or feasting — for the Fomor there
Have shorn the Danaan of their olden power,
Ogma their Champion they have made a slave,
And Angus is an outcast. Nuadha,
The king of all the Danaan, once so great,
Now boasts one lonely dun in which his folk
Hold secret meeting where they once were lords
Of land and sea. Will you forsake me here
And go to strangers?" Then made answer Lugh:
"The mountains and the rivers and the woods
Of Erin I remember, and if all
My blood and kin were dead, and the high seas
Had covered all but the bare mountain tops
I would go there." Then Mananan replied: —
"You have the hardiness that triumph wins,
And now I'll set you on my magic steed
Leading a troop as valiant as yourself;
My helmet I will place upon your head,
And you shall wear my breast-plate. Soon indeed
Like chaff before the winds ye shall expel
The Fomor from fair Erin."
                                             Now when Lugh
Put on the helmet, a great brightness shot
Into the sky, as if another sun
Had risen. When the breast-plate covered him
There swelled thro' all the land of Tir-na-n'og
A mighty wave of music. When he leaped
Upon the steed of Mananan, there rushed
A great wind by him, and a gallant troop,
Rode by his side. Their horses were like snow,
And gladness that the years could not erase
Beamed from their faces. Then they rode away
Across the sea, and soon the Three Great Waves
Of Erin welcomed them with thundrous voice: —
The Wave of Rury, and The Wave of Tuagh,
And the long, foaming creast of Cliodhna's Wave.

No man of Erin saw the enchanted troop
Coming to land; for where they went ashore
A deep, dark wood of pine trees fringed the sea.
Silent they rode between the tall straight trees
Till in the forest's heart Lugh gave command: —
"Rest here till morning, I must go alone
Unto the Dun of Nuadha the King
For news of all my kinsfolk. He put off
His shining armor, and put on a cloak
Sombre and black. He then set out on foot
And came at evening to the royal dun.
Three times he struck the brazen door, whose guard
Spake from within: "No man can enter here
But one who is the master of some craft;
What can you do?"  "I am a carpenter."
And answer made the guardian of the door: —
"We have a carpenter already here,
Luchtar the son of Luachaid." Then said Lugh:
"I have the craft of smith."  "We have within
Colum, a smith, and master of his trade."
"I have the craft of Champion," pleaded Lugh.
"We have here Ogma, Champion of the World."
Then Lugh: — "I am a harper of renown."
"We have here Abhean, son of Bicelmos,
In far-off Toomoon of the Fairy Hills
Chosen by all the men of the three gods."
Lugh spoke again: — "I have the noble craft
Of poet and historian."  "We have here
Ere son of Ethaman, a poet true."
Said Lugh: — "I am a wizard and physician."
"We have the great physician Dian Cecht,
And wizards and magicians by the score."
"I have the craft of cupbearer," said Lugh.
"Nine cupbearers we have within the dun."
"I am a brazier working brass and gold."
"We have the famous brazier, Credne Cerd."
Then Lugh cried out: — "Go, ask your Danaan king
If he has ONE man who knows all these trades.
If so I will not enter." Then went off
The Keeper of the Door to Nuadha; —
"There is a wondrous youth who stands outside;
As the Ildanach, Master of All Crafts,
He seeks admittance."  "Open then to him,"
Said Nuadha, "I wish to see this youth."

Lugh passed into the dun, while Ogma gazed
With eager looks upon him, for he thought
To test the youth in feats. And so he stooped
And lifting a great stone he cast it far
Out thro' the open door, and past the fosse —
The effort of a giant. Then went Lugh
And cast the mighty stone back to its place,
Not through the door, but through the dun's strong wall!
And Ogma said: — "Your cast has beaten mine;
Sit in the champion's seat, before the king,
And let the chess be brought." They played, and Lugh
Won every game. Then Nuadha, the king: —
"Truly you are Ildanach, I would fain
Hear music of your making, but we have
No harp to offer you."  "I see one here,"
Said Lugh, "a harp full worthy of my skill."
And answer made the king: — "That is the harp
Played by the Dagda, and no hand but his
Can play upon it, for its magic spell
Makes all the seasons blossom and decay."
But Lugh said: — "I will play upon this harp."
So it was given to him.
                                      And first he played
Music of life and joy, whereat, outside,
The birds began to sing a morning song
As though the sun were rising, and the dew
Lay light upon the grass. And from the sward
Sprang crimson flowers, waving in the breeze,
Touching each other with a faery sound,
Like silver bells. Then those inside the dun
Felt laughter in their hearts and subtle joy
And gladness they had never felt before,
So that they wished the sound would never cease,
And they might die a-listening! Then he played
The music of the sorrow of the world,
And grief and tears possessed the souls of all.
They leaned their heads upon their hands, and wept,
And all the weight and burden of their lives
Fell on them till they prayed for death's surcease.
Outside, they heard a lonesome wind make moan
And where the grass and twinkling flow'rs had been
They saw a dark and leaden sea whose waves
Made woesome sound, like mourners clapping hands
While all the stars grew dim.
                                                The harper paused
And then he played the music of sweet peace,
And o'er the earth there fell what seemed like snow
That settled flake by flake, and on the grass
Turned into crystal dews. Thus flake by flake
The quiet of the Land of Silver Fleece
Settled upon the minds of all men there,
And sorrow they forgot; they closed their eyes
And each slept in his seat. Then Lugh laid by
The magic harp and stole from out the dun
With noiseless feet. The magic snow still dropt
And on his shoulders shone like silver scales;
And on the thick bronze curlings of his hair
It flashed like jeweled fire and filled the air
With gracious radiance.
                                       So Lugh went back
Unto his young companions in the wood,
And drowsy night enshadowed Usna's Hill.

The sun had risen in the morning sky
When the De Danaan woke within the dun;
Joyous and glad they were, and what had passed
They deemed to be a strange and wondrous dream.
And Nuadha the king spoke cheerfully: —
"The Fomor have not quenched God's blessed sun.
Let us go out and make on Usna's height
A valiant stand. "They took their weapons then
And marched to Usna's Hill; nor were they long
Upon its summit ere the Fomor came
And jeered at them, and bade them all descend
And bow before their masters. But the king
Cried out, "We will not bow before you hence,
For ye are vile and ugly, nor are ye
Our lords, or lords of Erin from this day."

Then with hoarse shouts the fierce Fomorians
Attacked the hill, and Nuadha withstood
With dauntless front that first terrific charge.
But as their weapons clashed a blinding light
Appeared on the horizon, and the sound
Of screaming battle trumpets cleft the air.
No man could gaze upon that radiance
As crimson streamers shot into the skies.
Then cried the Fomor: — " 'Tis a second sun
Rising to blind us; but the Danaan said: —
"Young Lugh is coming — The Deliverer."
And out of that great light the fairy troop
From Tir-na-n'og came riding,  At their head
Rode Lugh, with flaming helmet and cuirass,
And Mananan's white charger he bestrode,
Bare in his hand the awful Sword of Light
Burned as he swoopt upon the Fomor lines.

As falls the swift sea-eagle on his prey,
Or as the jagged lightning strikes a tree
And burns and blasts it; as the stubble dry
In droughty autumns is consumed by fire,
So did the warriors from Tir-na-n'og
Destroy the Fomor until only nine
Were left alive. Then Lugh said to the nine: —
"Bow down and show obeisance to the king,
And to the Danaan Race, for they are lords
Of ye and of all Erin. Then go hence
To Tir-Fo-Tonn the Land of Under Wave
And say to Balor of The Evil Eye,
Your Fomor monarch, that the Danaan Race
Have taken back their own, and will wage war
Against the Fomor till not one is left
Of his misshapen brood to darken earth
With their foul shadows."
                                          Then Lugh lifted up
The Sword of Light, and chanted a wild rann,
While lightnings crackled on his weapon's edge
And all the air was filled with singing birds,
Red blossoms covered all the naked trees,
And flowers strewed the fields. The Danaan folk
Shouted rejoicing till the forests shook,
And all the seas of Erin heard that shout,
And all the stars flung back the name of Lugh!

Text Source:
Dollard, James B. Irish Lyrics and Ballads.
New York: P. J. Kenedy & Sons, 1917. 111-119.

Background courtesy of Windhaven Web Art.

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