Fingen's Night-Watch

Airne Fingen,
MS. Stowe D.4.2, R.I.A

Trans. T. P. Cross & A. C. L. Brown

1. Once upon a time, when Fingen mac Luchta was in night-watch on Hallowe'en in Druim Finghin, there came a fairy woman a-visiting Fingen every Hallowe'en continually, so that she used to tell him whatever there was of marvels and of glories in Erin from one Hallowe'en to another. Rothniamh (Wheel-splendor) the daughter of Umall Urscothach (Fresh-flowery) from the sid of Cliu was (the name of) that woman. « How many wonders, O woman, » said Fingen, « are there to-night which we do not know in Erin ? » « Fifty wonders, » said the woman. « Tell them to us, » said Fingen. « There is a great wonder, » said the woman : « to wit, a son is born to-night in Tara to Feidlimed, son of Tuathal Techtmar, king of Erin. And that son will obtain Erin in one lot, and there shall spring from him three fifties of kings of all those who shall take the throne of Erin until (the time of) Orainech (The Golden-faced-one) of Usnech, and they shall all be kings, though they shall not have the same duration of life. »

Then Fingen sang this quatrain :

Though this be a long night-watch
in which there might be length of seven winter nights,
The men of Erin would not be sorrowful,
and would not sleep, during it.

2. « And what other wonder, O woman ? » said Fingen. « Not hard (to tell), » said the woman. « To-night there bursts forth a splendid stream over the eastern plain of Erin on the track of the woman-warrior, the wife of the son of Nechtan; that is, from the place where Sidh Nechtain is (located) north-east to the billows (lit. 'mane') of the sea. A well, » said she, « which is deeply hidden with the three cupbearers of Nechtan; to wit, Rod and Lazy and Pilot. The Woman-warrior she is who went from them after violating its (the well's) geasa, so that the well made a beautiful river and so that numerous are its many glories: both oak-woods, and plains, and bogs, and fords, and marshes, and river-mouths, and streams. It shall be a bountiful road and it shall be a rod of white-bronze across a plain of refined gold, for its name is the Boyne."

And Fingen uttered another quatrain :

Although my aspect be not brilliant,
and although the night-watch is long,
Even though it last for me to the end of a winter night,
it will not bring me into despondence.

3. « And what other wonder, O woman ? » said he. « Not hard (to tell), » said the woman. « A tree indeed, » said she, « which has been hidden in Erin from the time of the Flood, and it sheds three showers of fruit through the mist, so that the plain on which it stands is full of mast thrice yearly; and when the last acorn falls from it, then comes the blossom of the next acorns. And the waves of the flood saved it without destroying it, and the eye of man has not seen it until to-night. The Yew of Ross is the name of that tree, » said she, « that is to say, (it is) a scion of the tree which is in Paradise. It is to-night,moreover, that it has been revealed to the men of Erin that it may be an eternal glory from beginning to end. »

Then Fingen spoke this quatrain :

Not sorrowful is the watch
waiting for the tree which has been hidden since the flood;
Lasting will be its glory over Bray
to the tribes over whom it will spread.

4 « And what other wonder, O woman ? » said Fingen. « Not hard (to tell), » said the woman. « God, the High King, granted to Findtan mac Bochrai that he should be a chief judge of wisdom in this world, and he has been mute from the hour that he heard the wave-roar of the flood against the side of Mt. Olivet, he himself being upon the brow of the wave in the south-west part of Erin Moreover, he was asleep as long as the flood was upon the world, and he has been in silence from that time onward, and to-night the power of speech has been unlocked for him, to tell the history of Erin; for that history has been in obscurity and in darkness until to-night. For he is the one just man that the flood left in Erin. Therefore to-night a glorious spirit of prophecy has been sent in the shape of a gentle youth and has alighted on his lips from a ray of the sun, until it has extended through the trench of his back (the lower part of the back of his head) so that there are seven good speeches of poetry that are upon his tongue to tell the histories and the synchronisms of Erin. »

Thereupon he said :

Though it be a long night to me
from nine o'clock till morning,
It does not disturb me,
because of any one of these fair wonderful deeds.

5. « And what other wonder, O woman ? » said Fingen. « Not hard (to tell), » said the woman. « There have been completed to-night the three chief fabrics of Erin: to wit, the helmet of Brion's from the sids of Cruachu which Breo son of Smeathru, the smith of Aenghus son of Umhor made; that is, the battle-helmet of purple-crystal of the land of India (with) an apple of gold on top of it of the size of a man's head, and a hundred threads of variegated carbuncles and a hundred tresses ( ?) of very shining red gold and a hundred chains of white bronze adorning it. For a series of years it has been hidden from the Morrigu in the well of the sid of Cruachu. It has, moreover, been hidden until to-night. And the chess-board of Crimthan Nia Nair, which he brought from the gathering of Find, on Crimthan's adventure (into fairyland) when he went one day north-eastward of everybody (i. e., of the rest of the world) from the sid of Bodb upon an adventure, so that it has been in Usnech until to-night. And the diadem of Laegaire mac Luchta White-hand, which Leand Linfiaclach son of Bainblodha of the Bann made. The three daughters of Fandle mac Durath, from the sid of Fairfield found it to-night after its being hidden for a long time; to-wit, from the birth of Conchobar Red-eyebrow."

Then Fingen spoke this quatrain :

'Tis a long watch if it were not for you
a-talking to me so that it was wonderful.
I was a hero. I was a king. At it ( ?)
by the side of the full long stone.

6. « And what other wonder, O woman ? » said Fingen. « Not hard (to tell), » said the woman. « The five chief roads of Erin, » said she. « They were not found until to-night, and neither horses nor chariots have travelled them. They are the Track of Midhluachar which Midhluachar mac Damairne, the son of the king of SrubBrain, found in reaching Tara for the meeting of the Feast of Tara to-night;and the Track of Cualu which Fear Fi (Man of Poison) macEoghabail (Yew Fork) found on reaching Tara to-night before the phantom hosts of fairy ; and the Track of Asal which Asal mac Doir Domblais (Bad-Tasting) found on reaching Tara before the reavers of Meath; and the Track of Dal which Setna Sithderg (Ever Red) mac Dornbuidhe (Yellow Fist) found before the bandit host of Ormond as he was seeking the Feast of Tara this night to-night ; and the Great Track (i. e., the Eskers of Riada to the dark ...(?)....) which Noar mac Aenghusa Umaild found before the heroes of bravery of Irrais Domnand in strife. So that they are the first who have reached Tara to-night, and these five roads did not appear in Erin until to-night."

And Fingen began a quatrain :

Although I am in long rest,
no long sadness seizes me;
No dislike of the black night seizes me
before the feast of the great host in Tara.

7. « And what other wonder, O woman? » said Fingen. « Not hard (to tell), » said the woman. « Two complete sepulchres of Sliab Mis. There were buried in them two sons of Mil of Spain; to-wit, Eber and Erimon on the occasion of dividing Erin between them; one of them at the end of the mountain to the eastward and the other at the end of the mountain to the westward. And the Sons of Mil said that those two sepulchres would not meet in any manner until the kingship of Erin should reach one grip (i. e., be united under one head). It is they, moreover, who buried them; to-wit, his two druids, Uar and Eithiar their names. To-night those two graves have met so that they were (of) equal length side by side in the midst of the mountain, and in Tara shall be the single-grip of Erin till judgment. »

And Fingen sang this quatrain :

Glory to those of noble clans with splendor,
(is) whatever of good you prophesy;
There has not been heard in Erin till now
(so much of) special glories in one night.

8. « And what other wonder, O woman? » said Fingen. « Not hard (to tell). » said she. « Three wonderful lakes have appeared in Erin to-night before the birth of. Conn of the Hundred Battles, to wit: Loch nEchach; a four-branched holly tree which has been placed at the head of it for seven years has turned to stone in so far as it was in the earth, and the portion of it that was in the water has turned to iron, and that portion of it that was above the water has turned to wood. Moreover, Loch Riach, » said the woman; « it is in it that Caoer Abarbaeth (Silly Berry) from the sid of Feadal Ambaid washed the mantle of Mac in Og with a multitude of colors unknown (to the world), so that it is variously colored and so that it showed a variety of color upon it every hour, although the men of Erin should be looking at it at one time. Loch Lein, too, » said she; « there poured a rain upon it to-night of the hail of the Land of Promise, so that there have sprung many wonderful treasures from it, to wit: the jewels of Loch Lein. Although they (the lakes) were in Erin, they were not manifested until to-night throughout Erin. »

Thereupon he said :

Though it be long until thou didst come, O woman,
there was found with thee something that made it short;
It is much that thou sayest of wonders
in Erin before the birth of Conn.

9. « And what other wonder, O woman? » said Fingen. « Not hard (to tell), » said she. « Four men who escaped from the Tuatha Dé Danaan in the battle of Moy Tura so that they were in hiding in Erin a-destroying the corn, the milk, the great fruit, and the mast : one man of them in the plains of Moy Itha, Redg his name; another man of them in the mountains of Breg, Brea his name; another man in the borders of Cruachu, Tinell his name; and another man in Slieve Finoil, Greand his name. To-night, » said she, « they have gone into exile from Erin after being driven out by the Morrigu, and by Bodb of the sid of Femen, and by Midir of Bri Léith, and by Mac in Oicc, so that there shall not be robbers from the Fomorians as long as Conn lives. »

And then Fingen sang this quatrain: :

That which has come from the meeting of glory
the birth of the descendant of Crimthann Niadh Nair;
Out of (all) the glorious things which thou prophesiest,
Erin shall be three times the better from this.

10. « And what other wonder, O woman? » said Fingen. « Not hard (to tell), » said she. « A fabric wonderful, perishable, which is here in thy vicinity, » said she, « to wit a palisade of white bronze upon Rath Aildinne; from the day when its making was undertaken, whatever the builders and smiths used to lift of it one day, that fell down in the morning, so that they did not accomplish the fitness of its making nor of its doors and so that they did not complete its beauty nor its smoothness till to-night. And besides, » said she, « three vixens out of the sid arose, escaping in flight before the rough attack of the Dagda, to wit Siur, and Eoir (the Nore), and Berba (the Barrow), until they have corne together into one place and have met together at one estuary in this night. »

Fingen began a quatrain :

Thou art blessed in speech, O woman
I am blessed in recounting;
There is no concealing in Erin
the expectation of Conn of the Hundred Battles.

11. « And what other wonder, O woman? » said Fingen. « Not hard (to tell), » said she. « Three times nine white birds in chains of red gold have corne to-night and have sung wonderful music on the walls of Tara, so that there shall not be either grief, distress or sorrow or longing or absence of entertainment in Erin during the time of Conn of the Hundred Battles. And there have come the three sons of Eon mac Ethideoin from the sid of Trum toward him (Conn), and they are the three royal mercenaries who have sat down about him ; to wit, Mael and Bluicne and Blocc. And at the sound of it, Tara. and the hosts which are in it and all the chief fortresses of Erin have uttered a cry. And the poet has uttered a royal lay to Conn, » said she, « when it was at his parturition. » « Dost thou remember that lay? » said Fingen. « I remember it indeed very well, » said the woman. « We have addressed you to-night for joy, » said the woman; « your sorrow will break out again if you hear the lay of the druid. » « Since I have heard the good, » said Fingen, « why should I not hear the bad ? »

12. So it is then that the woman began this lay about Conn, and this is the one which the druid uttered at Tara :

Joyous the cry of the birth of Conn :
Conn over Erin, Erin under Conn. Conn as far as Fal (Ireland) ;
It shall be from him that the sovereignty of the hosts shall be stretched
over the ancient plain of Edair till Doomsday ;
There will come ( ?) cavalcades and chariots,
roads under them – a noise across the sea ;
His barks and his boats with crooked prows
will strike the waves across the sea ;
His hosts upon Meath, upon Munster,
he will be ...(?)... to the sea's wall ;
In his time men of Leinster shall be bold ;
his help is not backward ;
Upon the breasts of Luachar ;
he will fill with his fury the Old Plain of Sanb ;
To Eas Rudah, to Find, to Fanad,
and as far as Teach Duind, where the dead hold their tryst,
He shall mix spears in the blood of heroes
upon the slope of Ulster, – a broad track ;
His wrath shall proclaim each tribe
as far as the wave of the Sea of Wight ;
...(?)... split red spears,
swords in dark, bitter gore ;
From earth to the blue sky
fierce flames will fill the air.
He will go upon an adventure-into-fairie (eachtra) from Tara.
the true prince, gentle, prosperous.
He will prophesy to him – noble the series –
three times fifty princes from him ;
There will be born a grandson after that,
Cormac grandson of Conn his name ;
He will be a rock of justice at every hour
to the (?) top of fierce Judgment.
Conn's pride will shake Erin
both wilderness and mountain,
With his prosperity, with his law,
with his race behind him.
Certain (it is) in the eyes of the druids in Tara,
who sing something that is not false.
Perfection of rule as far as the three seas,
all has God granted to him.
Though we be, (I) and thou, O Fingen,
in a long watch here,
Whatever of wonders we talk of,
has been granted beyond everyone to Conn ;
There has been granted to him a long blessed time,
triumph over noble clans under his rule (lit., under ebb)
Kings through battles, hosts ...( ?)... sides,
before their cries raise the shout.

13. « That then, » said the woman, « is what Ceasard the druid has spoken in Tara on this night to-night when Conn was born. »

And Fingen uttered this quatrain

Whatever thou speakest of wonders,
will, it seems to me, come to me ;
It bodes me no good (?)
upon hearing the lay of the druid.

Then great dejection took hold of Fingen, and he went forth escaping from his own land, so that he did not come at once; i. e., that he might not be in his own patrimony waiting for the might of Conn and his children after him. So Fingen was making a circuit throughout Erin, and Conn assumed the kingship of Erin thereafter.

14. (Conn) one day went upon Usnech in Meath so that he beheld all Erin on every side. He asked his druid: « Is there in Erin, » said Conn, « one who does not serve me ? » « There is but one man, » said the druid. « Who is that man ? » said Conn. « Fingen mac Luchta, » said the druid, « and since the time that you were born and since you took the kingdom, he has been avoiding your power. » « In what place is he ? » said Conn. « Between two deserts : Sliab Mis and Luachar, » said the druid. « I shall not leave that callow bladelet of grass in Erin without law upon him, » said Conn. « That will not be very easy for thee, » said the druid. « Why not ? » said Conn. « Not hard (to tell), » said the druid; « there is a woman of the sid who instructs him, » said the druid. « But there is, » said Conn, « a covenant made by Bodb Derg (the Red) with me that no encroachment (lit. 'gap') shall be made in my sovereignty by him. » « What guarantees hast thou (lit. 'what is at thy hand') ? » said the druid. « There is a guarantee with me, » said Conn, « to wit : Fear Fi mac Eoghabail ; that is, the son of the daughter of Crimthan Niad Nair, and her father is from the sid of Bodb. » « Pursue him, » said the druid.

And so it was that Fingen went to Conn, and he was for fifty years in his company, so that he won seventeen battles, until in the last battle he perished by the hand of Forannan Foda (the Tall) and the latter by him at Gull and Irguld.

Sources : T. P. Cross & A. C. L. Brown The Romanic Review IX, 1918