The Colloquy between Fintan and the Hawk of Achill

Egerton 1782

Trans. Eleanor Hull


1. Relate now, O Bird of Achill,
Tell us the substance of thy adventures;
I am well able
To converse with you in bird-language.

The Hawk

2. Though there are no signs of youth upon thee
It is long since thy body became shrunken
In Dun Telera washed by the sea,
O Fintan, O wise man.


3. The greater the wonder that I am alive.
The sorrow of Ros Greda is distracting me;
Darkness came over my heart,
The death of Illan has grieved me sore.

4. O Bird of Achill of the Fian,
Thou that I have ever been fain to see,
Now that I do see thee, tell me
The cause of thy cleaving to Achill.

The Hawk

5. Lightsome its air, gentle are its havens,
Warm are its thickets, they are not cold;
Fruitful its chase, noble its streams,
Lonesome its estuaries.

6. O Fintan, never was there
A single night west in Achill
When I got not my fill by my vigour
Of fish and wild game and venison.

*** [7]


8. My life before the black flood
Was fifteen years of years;
After the flood the gods gave me
Five thousand five hundred years.

9. Over and above that, O Bird,
(Good reason have I to be aged);
I was like that for a thousand years:
That is the cause of the increase in my age.

10. O Hawk, out of cold Achill,
Blessing and success attend thee!
From the time thou wast hatched from the egg
Tell the number of thy years.

The Hawk

11. Equal is my life to thine
O Fintan, son of mild Bochra:
Exactly equal the period
The same full age after the Deluge.

12. O Fintan, son of fair Bochra,
Since thou art a poet and a prophet,
Tell us now without delay,
The evils and wonders that befell you.


13. The loss of Illann, the death of my sons,
The death of white-handed Cessair;
My nights at seal haunted Assaroe,
Tormented me even more from that out.

14. On the loss of Ladra and sweet voiced Bith,
At the black out-pouring of the flood,
The gods put me, to my misery,
Into the shape of a salmon at every spring.

15. Short, methought, was my stay on the Boyne,
After my coming over the ocean,
In the Bush, the Bann, The brown Bru,
On the Suck, the Suir, and the Shannon.

16. At the Slaney, and at the Liffey in the East,
The Maigue, and crystal Ethne,
The Moy, the Mourne and the Muir,
At the Solan, the Lee and the Laune.

17. At the Shannon, the Dael and the Dubh,
In the Sligo and the river Monad,
Until I came without trouble hither,
To the waterfall of the estuary of the Erne.

18. I passed a night in the Northern wave,
And I at Assaroe of the seals,
Never felt I a night like that
From the beginning of the world to its end.

19. I could not stay under the waterfall,
I took a leap, but it did not help me,
The ice came like clear blue glass
Between me and the fall of Mac Modorn.

20. A hawk came out of cold Achill,
Above the river-mouth of Assaroe;
I will not hide the fact, mysterious as it was,
He carried away with him one of my eyes.

21. From that night 'The Blind One of Assaroe'
I was named; it was a cruel act,
From that out I am without my eye:
Small wonder for me to be aged.

The Hawk

22. It was I who swallowed thy eye,
O Fintan of the fresh heart;
I am the grey hawk of time
Alone in the middle of Achill.


23. If it was thou, though it seems strange,
Who left me in gloom, one-eyed,
Pay me compensation for my eye,
As law and obedience demand.

The Hawk

24. Small would be the compensation I would give you,
O Fintan, son of gentle Bochra,
That single eye in thy withered head
I would gulp down quickly in one bite.


25. Harsh is thy chant, O great wild bird,
Sweeter than all to wait a while,
Since it is I who am the gentler,
I will talk with thee about my contemporaries.

26. For five hundred years I have been blind
As a long-sided heavy salmon,
On lochs, on diverse rivers,
On every rich clear-flowing sea.

27. For fifty years I was an eagle,
Few were the birds that would fill my place;
A hundred years happily
I was a stately blue-eyed falcon.

28. Till the King of the Sun thought it time
To put me in my own shape.
Where would I get anything worthier?
And yet I am aged today.

*** [29-36]

The Hawk

37. There fell thy twelve sons;
On seeing them, dreadful the deed,
I plucked from each scion,
A hand, a foot, or an eye.

*** [38-40]

41. As I was in the midst of the carnage
I saw beside me an arm,
On each several finger of the fingers
A ring of red gold like blood.

42. Its heroic proportions, its vast size,
Alas! for him from whom that limb was severed
Its beauty, its length and its span,
Ruddy and beautiful were the nails.

43. A sleeve of glossy silk,
And a golden tunic sleeve,
Was around its whole length
Up to the corselet.

44. I lift it up, it was no small effort,
The hand, both flesh and blood;
I bear it with me, terrible was the distance,
To Druim Ibar of the estuaries.

45. The hand of Nuada that I found there,
The High King of the Tuatha De Danann,
It was seven years in my bird's abode:
There, O Fintan, is my story for you!

*** [46-78]


79. If thou should eat it facing Northward,
The fruit of the tree of virtues,
The old man who partakes of it
Straightaway becomes a youth again.

80. If thou dost consume it facing South,
The fruit of this fruiting tree,
Thou need have no fear of painful disease
So long as the blackthorn lasts.

81. He spent three days in Tara of the flocks
Pleasantly conversing;
Till the fair hued host of the western land
Gathered in one instant around him.

82. He bade farewell to the men of Fodla,
He went forward on his mighty course,
He left the branch in our fair land,
A nut, a sloe and an apple.

83. It was I picked up the fruits
and put them in my girdle;
Until I had finished planting them
None was able to do me harm.

84. I planted the three fruits
That came to us for our use:
Eo Rossa, the Branch of Mughna Mor,
The old tree of Tortan of heavy hosts.

85. Here now for thee, O gentle hawk,
A little story in return for thy visit,
About the bright, smooth, round-topped,
Beautiful old fort of Tara.

*** [86]

The Hawk

87. In the time of fair Conchobar
Great was my renown and beauty,
Wandering over hills and glens;
I was king over the bird flocks of Eire.

88. My watch and my attention chanced to fall
On the 'Slinger' of Traigh Baile:
The man who was searching all havens,
Cuchulain, of the Red Branch.

89. At the time when, by his treachery,
Curoi, king of Clann Degad fell,
I ate my fill of blood of his blood
After his fall in the encounter.

90. At the time that Garbh, son of Starn, fell
By the 'Hound' who fed scald-crows;
Two eyes of the handsome Greek
I ate at the beginning of the good day.

91. Often I got flesh and spoils
From Naisi who was venomous of weapon;
I did not taste his flesh or blood
Because of his excellence in fighting.

92. The head of Cet fell to me
After his wounding and his struggle;
It was for me a desperate mouthful,
His eyes were like to choke me.

93. I ate, enormous was his size,
The body of Monodhar mac Cecht;
I found many bodies back to back,
From the victorious hand of Conall.

94. From the strife he did not flinch
So long as he was alive;
The rivers used to run blood
From the Culgas (spear) of Conall the Victorious.

95. The spirited Fergus mac Roich:
There was a warrior! great of stature!
A man to fight a hundred, stubborn of valour,
From whom I used to get gory flesh.

96. There was occasion of battle and peril
In the wake of the hosts on the Táin,
The Rout of the Plain of Muirthemne
Was fierce and decisive enough!

97. After all that Cu of the Feats had slain
He ceased not until his body was mangled;
His face was drenched with blood,
With his back against the pillar-stone of the Commor.

98. I came above the warrior
When his face was grown dark [or livid],
To eat his eyes, not with intent of slaughter:
I stooped my head at his outcry.

99. He felt me on his face,
He lifted up his weakening hand,
He put his little hero’s dart
Through my flesh at the first jab

100. I take a difficult flight
To Inis Geidh over the furrowed sea,’
I draw out of me, painful the effort,
The hard tough shaft of the javelin.

101. The barb remained in my body,
It tortured my heart distressingly,
I have never been sound since then,
And I do not conceal it, since I am old.

102. It is I who killed, great is the story,
The solitary crane of Magh Leana,
And the eagle of Druim Brice
That fell by me in the famous ford.

103. It is I who killed, pleasant the banquet,
The solitary crane of grey Inis Geidh,
It was I who chewed under my crop
The two full-fat birds of Leithin.

104. It is I who slew The slender
Blackfoot of Slieve Fuaid;
The ousel of Druim Seghsa of the streams
Died in the claws of my daughters.

105. In the time of Lugh, happy warrior,
I often bore back to the home of my nestlings
In my talons, without effort,
The bodies of champions and fighting-heroes.

106. In the time of victorious
Iughaine I had firm, powerful claws;
Across pastures and dales
I used to carry off a year-old boar.

107. In the time of fair Conn the Hundred-battler
Great was my fame and my comeliness;
I would bear with me afar
A fleet fawn of six months’ growth.

108. In the period of Cormac mac Airt,
It was a feat of strength ***,
I would lift up a pig or a pigling
Aloft in the air without more ado

109. I searched many-hued
Meath Before Dathi went to the east,
On every side of Tara eastwards,
Pursuing the wild fawn.

110. When I had grown old after that
I found peril and strife;
I was maddened *** In the time of Niall Nine-Hostager.

111. In the time of Diarmuid Donn
Son of Fergus mac Cearbhall,
I would get weary carrying a blackbird
Three or four times.

112. After all my doings in many a garth,
And after all the strife and ill I met with,
I have come hither from the west
For thine anointing, Fintan.

113. Behold me, then, departing from thee,
O Fintan, to cold Achill,
Seek thou pardon from the Gods for me,
Tomorrow my span of life will end.


114. Let no terror seize thee, O Bird,
Tomorrow will thy vigour be restored;
Thy soul will be in the heaven of clouds
With the chanting of angels for thy tale.

115. I myself will go to meet death
On the very self-same day;
I am generous Fintan, who here am
Aged after the Fianna.

*** [116]

Sources : Eleanor Hull, Folklore XLIII