Illustration of Fionn, Miluchra, and Aina


FOR three days Fionn had held a big feast at the Hill of Allen, but now the last of his guests had departed; and on this hot June night, as he lay on the cool grass under the wide-spreading chestnut tree, he thought how good and sweet the earth was after the heat and gaiety of the day. In quiet contentment he stretched his arms out over the grass, and turned his face upwards, so that he could see, through the trembling leaves above him, occasional glimpses of a brilliant moon circling through the heavens; and could feel, as the little breezes swept through the trees, the fading chestnut blooms fall softly on his face.
      His famous hound, Bran, lay by his side, but suddenly she lifted her head slightly from her paws, and growled. Fionn lazily raised himself on one elbow, and looked round; but seeing nothing, resumed his former position. After a minute Bran growled again, a low, vicious growl, which caused Fionn to sit upright, for he knew she would not growl in such a manner unless some one or something strange was near. Then, where the moonbeams made a pathway on the grass, Fionn saw coming towards him two fair young girls, their dresses shimmering like rainbow mist in the silver moonlight, and as they came nearer he rose to receive and welcome them. They were strange to him, and he thought they had either wandered from their road, or were looking for some of his people.
      "Are you seeking some one, fair maidens?" he inquired, after greeting them. "If it is any of the women of my household, I will have them roused; for, the hour being late, they have retired."
      "It is not your women we seek, but you, Fionn," said one of them, a fair-haired, blue-eyed girl, who appeared to be the elder of the two, "and we have travelled a long way to find you."
      "In what way can I serve you?" asked Fionn. "Is there any injustice you wish me to set right, or have you a wrong to be avenged?"
      "For neither of these things have we sought you," answered the girl who had spoken before. "In our distant home we heard that in everything you were the best of all men in Ireland, and leaving our kinsfolk we have come to offer you our love." Then, turning to the girl at her side, who had brown hair, and eyes, Fionn thought, like the gentle and faithful eyes of Bran, she continued: "This is my sister Aina, and I am Miluchra, both of us daughters to Cuillean of Cooalney, who is a prince of the Tuatha de Danann. Choose now whether you will accept the love of myself or my sister."
      Fionn was naturally embarrassed. He did not particularly want a wife just then; but if he had to choose he preferred Aina, the brown-haired, quiet girl who had not yet spoken to him. Miluchra, he thought, had a tongue which moved a trifle too readily, and he did not care for women who were always talking. He hesitated, wondering how he could frame his refusal in words least dis- courteous. At length he said:
      "It is not customary for we of the Fianna to take women of the Tuatha de Danann for wives, nor do I think you would be happy separated from your kinsfolk. When I wed it must be among my own people."
      "Think again, Fionn, before you reject our love," said Miluchra; "and remember it is better for you to have the friendship of the Sidhe than their enmity. I can offer you, too, unbounded wealth and power."
      "Power I have already, and riches enough for my needs," Fionn answered.
      Then for the first time Aina spoke to him:
      "I will give you strong sons to bear your name, and as long as I am with you grey old age shall never touch you," she promised, not knowing the wicked depths of her sister's mind.
      Fionn's determination not to marry one of the faery race wavered as he looked in Aina's soft brown eyes, and, though he felt that by choosing Aina he would probably rouse her sister's enmity, he said:
      "For your sake I will break through old customs, and I choose you, Aina, to be my wife."
      When Miluchra heard his decision her blue eyes grew hard and steel-like with jealous rage, and she went away, vowing vengeance on Fionn for his refusal of her love. For a long time she meditated on the form her revenge should take, then one day she called her kinsfolk together, and asked them to make her a magic lake on the mountain called Slieve Gullion—a lake that would take youth and strength from whoever entered its water.
      The weeks passed by, and one autumn day it happened that Fionn was alone on the plain of Allen. Suddenly a fawn darted out from the wood a short distance away, and Fionn, calling Bran and Sgeolan to him, started in pursuit. Northwards the fawn fled, but all through the long chase Fionn and his dogs kept it in sight. At length they came to Slieve Gullion, and the fawn, with its pursuers close on it now, steadily mounted the hillside; but, as they were passing through a dense thicket of tall-growing bracken, the fawn disappeared, nor could the dogs pick up its trail or scent it in any direction.
      While his hounds nosed round, Fionn walked to the top of the mountain, and came to a lovely little lake, on the brink of which sat a young girl who wept and looked sorrowfully into the water.
      "What ails you, maiden," asked Fionn, "that you weep and are sorrowful?"
      "A most beautiful ring I had," she answered, "a ring with shining purple stones in it, and as I bathed in the lake it slipped from my finger. I put you under geasa, O Fian-chief—for I know well you are Fionn—to recover it for me."
      "If it is only a ring you sorrow for," said Fionn, "I will give you several to make up for its loss." He did not like being put under geasa for such a trivial thing as this seemed to him; for being under "geasa" meant that he could not refuse this request without his fame and honour suffering.
      "If you gave me the hundred best rings in the world they would not be dear to me as my own ring is," the girl answered; "and if you refuse my request I will proclaim throughout Ireland that the Fian-chief has neither honour nor chivalry."
      Without saying another word, Fionn placed his weapons carefully on the shore, and slipping out of his clothes dived into the lake and searched until he discovered the ring lying on some sand. He held it out to the girl who, laughing maliciously, snatched it from him, and springing into the lake disappeared without even giving Fionn a word of thanks.
      Fionn was astonished at this proceeding, but he thought to himself, "Well, there's no accounting for the ways of women," and waded to the shore. He began to walk towards his clothes, but suddenly felt so weak and weary and old that he had to sit down. When he tried to rise he found he could not, for crooked old age had come swiftly upon him; so on his hands and knees he crawled to his clothes, and wrapping his cloak round him lay down on the grass, wondering what evil thing had befallen him.
      Bran and Sgeolan ran up then, panting and thirsty, and after drinking from the lake sniffed round Fionn, but, not recognizing either him or his voice, ran off again.
      Some time afterwards Caeilté mac Ronan, with a number of Fians, arrived at the lake-side. On hearing that Fionn had started out by himself, they followed and had tracked him as far as the lake. There all trace of him ceased, but seeing the feeble old man lying there, Caeilté questioned him.
      "Have you seen a fawn pass along here," he asked, "followed by a hunter of very noble and warlike appearance, and two swift hounds?"
      "I saw them, O warrior, and it is but a short time since the hounds drank at the water there and ran down the hillside," answered the old man in a quavering voice.
      On hearing this, Caeilté with his companions departed, and Fionn sorrowed exceedingly as the sound of their voices died away. It was as inconceivable to him that his dearest friends did not know him, nor did he like to reveal to them that he was Fionn, the foremost champion of Ireland.
      The dark hours of the night passed on, and Fionn shivered as the chill autumnal dews dropped on his weak and helpless limbs. He thought how the poor and the old must suffer, without warmth or comfort, and welcomed the dawn and sunrise more eagerly than he ever had before; then on his ears fell the sound of men's voices shouting and calling, and the barking of many dogs. Nearer and nearer the sound came; a minute or two later his son Oisin, and Oscur the son of Oisin, with Caeilté and Conan mac Morna and a great band of the Fianna Eireann, came over the hill-top to him.
      "Old man," said Caeilté, "has the warrior that I questioned you about yesterday passed by here since?"
      "That is my father's cloak you are wrapped in," cried Oisin hastily, before the old man could speak. "How did you get it? And tell us the truth about it, or death will soon be your portion."
      "Alas ! "exclaimed Fionn, "that my own son should not know me."
      They all stared at the old man in amazement, and Fionn then began to relate the story of his adventures to the Fians. When he had ended they cried three loud cries of woe, and at the sound the fox hurried back to his earth, the badger to his hole, and the affrighted birds flew to their nests, and to this day the lake is called the Lake of Sorrow.
      Fat, bald Conan mac Morna, when he saw Fionn lying there helpless, thought that now he would take vengeance on Fionn for all the gibes and sneers the Fians had treated him to. So stepping up to Fionn he began to abuse him.
      "All the time I have been with the Fianna you never praised me or my brave deeds," he said, "and much it pleases me to see you lying there, for now I can cut off your head. The only grief I have is that all your Fians are not in the same state you are; if they were, my sword should run red in their blood."
      In great indignation Oscur turned on Conan.
      "Long have I known that there is neither sense nor shame in that bald head of yours," he said; "but not till now did I believe that one of the Clan Morna possessed the cowardice and meanness you have shown. For your threats to our chief I will deal with you so hardly that from now till the day of your death you shall speak no more evil words," and clenching his fists tightly he rushed at Conan.
      But Conan, hearing Oscur speak in such a furious manner, sheltered himself at the back of the Fians, crying:
      "Oh, save me from that terrible man, for he has a woeful temper and a very strong arm!" So, because his high-sounding speeches and queer deeds provided them with a good deal of amusement, they laughingly protected him from Oscur's wrath; for they knew that Conan had no power to ever injure Fionn.
      Oisin now asked his father what they could do to free him from this dreadful enchantment of old age which had come upon him.
      "Take me," said Fionn, "to the hill of Cuillean of Cooalney. It was his daughter Miluchra, sister to my own wife, who put this spell on me, and only Cuillean can remove it."
      The Fians made a litter of pine branches and soft leaves, and carried Fionn gently to the hill of the Sidhe, where Cuillean lived; but though they waited there some time no one came out to welcome them. Then, from all parts of Ireland, Oisin summoned seven battalions of the Fianna to him, and for three days and nights they laboured unceasingly at the hill, digging it away and tunnelling to the very heart of it. Then Cuillean, fearing lest they would level his hill-palace straight to the ground, came out to them, bearing in his hand a cup of gold, and going up to Fionn he asked him to drink of its contents. Fionn obeyed, and immediately his own shape returned to him, and his strength was greater than it had ever been before; the only thing which remained unchanged was his hair, which shone like white silver.
      There were some of the Fianna who would have liked to drink from the cup also, for Cuillean said that whoever drank from it would have knowledge of the future. But as Fionn was passing the cup to one of them it slipped from his hand and sank deep into the earth, and was never found again; only where it sank a many-branched tree sprang up, and it is said that whoever gazed on that tree in the morning, before breaking his fast, would most surely know all that would happen to him from that time until nightfall.
      As for Miluchra, who because of her jealous hatred tried to wreak such great evil on Fionn, neither he nor Aina ever saw her again; but the Lake of Sorrow still remains, and even to-day people say that its waters have power to change one's hair to silver-grey.

Text Source:
Russell, Violet. Heroes of the Dawn.
New York: The Macmillan Co., 1914. 72-84.

Background courtesy of Windhaven Web Art.

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