The Fenian Cycle

The Pursuit of Diarmuid and Grainne

Part 3 The Three royal chiefs of the Sea of Wight

After Angus had left them giving his warning....

Diarmuid and Grainne journeyed with the Shannon on their right hand westward until they reached Garb Alba of the Fian, which is now called Leaman; and Diarmuid killed a salmon on the bank of the Leaman, and put it on a spit to broil. Then he himself and Grainne went over across the stream to eat it, as Angus had told them; and they went thence westward to sleep. Diarmuid and Grainne rose early on the morrow, and journeyed straight westward until they reached the marshy moor of Finnliath, and they met a youth upon the moor, and the feature and form of that youth were good, but he had not fitting arms nor armor. Then Diarmuid greeted that youth, and asked tidings of him. "I am a young warrior seeking a lord," said he, "and Muadan is my name."

"What wilt thou do for me, O youth?" said Diarmuid.

"I will do thee service by day, and I will watch thee by night," said Muadan.

"I tell thee to retain that youth." Said Grainne, "for thou canst not always remain without followers." Then they made bonds of compact and agreement one with the other, and journeyed forth westward until they reached the Carrthach; and when they had reached the stream, Muadan asked Diarmuid and Graine to go upon his back so that he might bear them across over the stream. "That were a great burden for thee," said Grainne. Then he nevertheless took Diarmuid and Grainne upon his back and bore them over across the stream. They journeyed forth westward until they reached the Beith, and when they had reached the stream Muadan did likewise with them, and they went into a cave of the earth at the side of Currach Cinn Admuid, over Tonn Toime; and Muadan dressed a bed of soft rushes and of birch-tops for Diarmuid and Grainne in the further part of that cave. He himself went into the next wood to him and plucked in it a straight long rod of a quicken tree; and he put a hair and a hook upon the rod, and put a holly berry upon the hook and wen and stood over the stream, and caught a fish that cast. He put on a second berry, and caught a second fish; and he put up a third berry, and caught a third fish. He then put the hook and the hair under his girdle, and the rod into the earth, and took his three fish with him to where Diarmuid and Grainne were, and put the fish upon spits. When they were broiled Muadan said: "I give the dividing of these fish to thee, Diarmuid."

"I had rather that thou shouldst divide them thyself," said Diarmuid.

"Then." Said Muadan, "I give the dividing of these fish to thee, O Grainne."

"It suffices me that thou divide them." Said Grainne.

"Now hadst thou divided the fish, O Diarmuid," said Muadan, "thou wouldst have given the largest share to Grainne; and had it been Grainne that divided them, it is to thee she would have given the largest share; and since it is I that am dividing it, have thou the largest fish, O Diarmuid, and let Grainne have the second largest fish, and let me have the smallest fish." Know o reader that Diarmuid kept himself from Grainne, and that he left a spit of flesh uncooked in Doire Da Both as a token to Finn and to the Fian that he had not sinned with Grainne, and know also that he left the second times seven salmon uncooked upon the bank of the Leaman, wherefore it was that Finn hastened eagerly after him. They ate their meal that night, and Diarmuid and Graine went to sleep in the further part of the cave, and Muadan kept watch and ward for them until the day arose with its full light on the morrow.

Diarmuid arose early, and made Grainne sit up; and told her to keep watch for Muadan, and that he himself would go to walk the country. Diarmuid went his way and went upon the top of the nearest hill to him ,and he stood gazing upon the four quarters around him; that is, eastward and westward, southward and northward. He had not been a long time there before he saw a great swift fleet, and a fearful company of ships,coming towards the land straight from the west; and the course of that the people of the fleet took in coming to land was to the foot of the hill upon which was Diarmuid. Nine times nine of the chieftains of that fleet came ashore, and Diarmuid went to ask tidings of them; and he greeted them and inquired of them news, of what land or what country they were.

"We are the three royal chiefs of the Sea of Wight," said they, "and Finn mac Cumaill hath sent for us because of a forest marauder and a rebellious enemy and his that he has outlawed, who is called Diarmuid O' Duibne; and to curb him are we now come. Also we have three savage hounds, and we will loose them upon his track, and it will be but a short time before we get tidings of him; fire burns them not, water drowns them not, and weapons do not wound them; and we ourselves number twenty hundreds of stout stalwart men, and each man of us is a man commanding a hundred. Moreover, tell us who thou thyself art, or hast thou any word of the tidings of O'Duibne?"

"saw him yesterday." Said Diarmuid, "and I myself am but a warrior who am walking the world by the strength of my hand and the temper of my sword; and I vow that ye will have to deal with no ordinary man if Fiarmuid meets you."

"Well no one has been found yet," said they.

"What are ye called yourselves?" said Diarmuid.

"Dub-cosach, Finn-cosach, and Tren-cosach are our names," said they.

"Is there wine in your ships?" asked Diarmuid.

"There is," they said.
(editors note: The following feats also add a theatrical note to the presentation and suggest a dramatic performance. It is believed that the feats represent examples of games and feats performed at court for entertainment or perhaps for the testing of heroes)

"If ye were pleased to bring out a tun of wine," said Diarmuid, "I would perform a feat for you." Certain men were sent to seek the tun, and when it was come Diarmuid raised It between his two arms and drank a draught out of it, and the others drank the rest of it. After that Diarmuid lifted the tun and took it to the top of the hill, and he himself mounted upon it, and rolled it down the steep of the hill until it reached the lower part of it. And he rolled the tun up the hill again, and he did that fat three times in the presence of the strangers, and reminded himself upon the tun as it both came and went. The said that he was one that seen a good feat, seeing that he called that a feat; and with that one of them got upon the tun. Diarmuid gave the tun a kick, and the stranger fell to the ground before even the tun began to roll; and the tun rolled over that young warrior, so that it caused his bowels and his entrails to come out about his feet. Thereupon Diarmuid followed the tun and brought it up again , and a second man mounted upon it. When Diarmuid saw that, he gave it a kick, and the first man had not been more speedily slain than was the second. Diarmuid urged the tun up again and the third man mounted upon it; and he too was slain like the others. Thus were slain fifty of their people by Diarmuid's trick that day, and as many as were not slain of them went to their ships that night. Diarmuid went to his own people, and Muadan put his hair and his hook upon his rod, and caught three salmon. He stuck the rod into the ground and the hair under his girdle, and took the fish to Diarmuid and Grainne, and they ate their meal that night; and Muadan dressed a bed under Diarmuid and under Grainne in the further part of the cave, and he went himself to the door of the cave to keep watch and ward for them until the clear bright day arose on the morrow.

Diarmuid arose at early day and beaming dawn on the morrow, and roused Grainne, and told her to watch while Murdan slept. He went himself to the top of the same hill, and he had not been there long before the three chiefs came towards him, and he inquired of them whether they would like to perform any more feats. They said that they had rather find tidings of Diarmuid O'Duibne. "I have seen a man who saw him to-day," said Diarmuid; and thereupon Diarmuid put from him his weapons and his armor upon the hill, every thing but the shirt that was next his skin, and he stuck his javelin, the Crann Buide of Manannan mac Lir, upright with its point uppermost. Then Diarmuid rose with a light, bird-like bound, so that he descended from above upon the javelin, and came down fairly and cunningly off it, having neither wound nor cut upon him.

A young warrior of the people of the foreigners said, "Thou art one that never hast seen a good feat since thou wouldst call that a feat"; and with that he put his weapons and his armor from him, and he rose in like manner lightly over the javelin, and descended upon it full heavily and helplessly, so that the point of the javelin went up through his heart and he fell down dead to the earth. Dairmuid drew the javelin out and placed it standing the second time; and the second man of them arose to do the feat, and he too was slain like the other. Likewise ,fifty of the people of the foreigners fell by Diarmuid's feat on that day; and they bade him take away the javelin, saying that he should slay no more of their people with that feat. And they went to their ships.

And Diarmuid went to Muadan and Grainne and Muadan brought them the fish of that night, and Diarmuid and Grainne slept by each other that night, and Muadan kept watch and ward for them until morning.

Diarmuid rose on the morrow, and took with him to the aforesaid hill two forked poles out of the next wood, and placed them upright; and the Moralltach, that is the sword of Angus of the Brug, between the two forked poles upon its edge. Then he himself rose exceedingly lightly over it, and thrice measured the sword by paces from the hilt to its point, and he came down and asked if there was a man of them who could perform that feat.

"That is a bad question", said a man of them, "for there never was done in Erin any feat which some one of us would not do." He then rose and went over the sword, and as he was descending from above it happened to him one of his legs slipped down on either side of the sword, so that there was made of him two halves to the crown of his head. Then a second man rose, and as he descended from above he chanced to fall crossways upon the sword, so that there were two portions made of him. In like manner, there had not fallen more of the people of the foreigners of the Sea of Wight on the two days before that, than there fell upon that day. Then they told him to take away his sword, saying that already too many of their people had fallen by him; and they asked him whether he had gotten any word of the tidings of Diarmuid O'Duibne. "I have seen them that saw him today," said Diarmuid, "and I will go to seek tidings to-night"

Diarmuid went where were Grainne and Muadan, and Muadan caught three fish for them that night; so they ate their meal, and Diarmuid and Grainne went to sleep in the hinder part of the cave, and Muadan kept watch and ward for them.

Diiarmuid rose at early dawn of the morning, and girt about him his suit of battle and of conflict; under which , through which, or over which, it was not possible to wound him; and he took the Moralltach, that is, the sword of Angus of the Brug, at his left side; which sword left no stroke nor blow unfinished at the first trial.

(editor's note: in the Celtic world and perhaps earlier weapons were thought of as having a soul and a being- they were wonders- and infact swords and arms were things derived from the highest technologies of the time. Swords had special character and could accomplish specific feats- weapons talked and communicated and as we shall see some weapons must be used for certain tasks or all will be in vain)

He took likewise his tow thick-shafted javelins of battle, that is, the Gae Buide ("Yellow Javelin"), and the Gae Derg ("Red javelin"), from which none recovered, or man or woman, that had ever been wounded by them After that Diarmuid roused Grainne, and bade her keep watch and ward for Muadan, saying that he himself would go to view the four quarters around him. When Grainne beheld Diarmuid, brave and daring, clothed in his suit of anger and of battle, fear and great dread seized her, for she knew that it was for a combat and an encounter that he was so equipped; and she asked of him what he intended to do. "Thou seest me thus for fear lest my foes should beet me." That soothed Grainne, and then Diarmuid went in that array to meet the foreigners.

They came to land forthwith ,and inquired of him tidings of O'Duibne.

"I saw him not long ago," said Diarmuid.

"Then show us where he is," said they, " that we may take his head before Finn mac Cumaill."

"I should be keeping him but ill," said Diarmuid, "if I did as ye say; for the body and life of Diarmuid are under the protection of my prowess and of my valor, and therefore I will do him no treachery."

"Is that true?" said they.

"It is true, indeed," said Diarmuid.

"Then shat thou thyself not quit his spot," said they, "and we will take thy head before Finn, since thou art a foe to him."

"I should doubtless be bound," said Diarmuid, "should I let my head go with you"; and as he thus spoke, he drew the sword Moralltach from its sheath, and dealt a furious stroke of destruction at the head of him that was next to him, so that he made two halves of it. Then he drew near to the host of the foreigners, and began to slaughter and to attack them heroically and with swift valor. He rushed under them, through them, and over them as a hawk would go through small birds, or a wolf through a large flock of small sheep; even thus it was that Diarmuid hewed crossways the glittering very beautiful mail of his opponents, so that there went not form them that spot a man to tell tidings or to boast of great deeds, without having the grievousness of death and the final end of life executed upon him, except the three chiefs and a small number of their people that fled to their ship.

Diarmuid returned back having no cut nor wound, and went his way till he reached Muadan and Grainne. They gave him welcome, and Graine asked him whether he had received any word of the tidings of Finn mac Cumaill and of the Fian of Erin. He said that he had not, and they ate their food and their meat that night.

Diarmuid rose at early day and beaming down on the morrow, and halted not until he had reached the aforesaid hill, and having gotten there he struck his shield mightily and soundingly, so that he caused the shore to tremble with the noise around him. Then said he foreign chief Dub-cosach that he would himself go to fight with Diarmuid, and straightway went ashore. Then he and Diarmuid rushed upon one another like wrestlers, making mighty and ferocious efforts, straining their arms and their swollen sinews, as it were two savage oxen, or two frenzied bulls, or two raging lions, or two fearless hawks on the edge of a cliff. And this is the form and fashion of the hot, sore, fearful strife that took place betwixt them.

They both threw their weapons out of their hands, and ran to encounter each other, and locked their knotty hands across one anther's graceful backs. Then each gave the other a violent mighty twist; but Diarmuid hove Dub-cosach upon his shoulder, and hurled his body to the earth, and bound him firm and fast upon the spot. Afterwards came Finn-cosach and Tren-cosach to combat with him, one after the other; and he bound them with the same binding, and said that he would take their heads from them, were it not that he had rather leave them in those bonds to increase their torments: "for none can loosen you," said he; and he left them there weary and in heavy grief.

As for Diarmuid, he went to look for Muadan and for Grainne; and they ate their meal and their meat that night, and Diarmuid and Grainne went to sleep, and Muadan kept watch and ward for them until morning.

Diarmuid rose and told Grainne that their enemies were near them; and he told her the tale of the strangers from beginning to end, how three fifties of their people had fallen three days one after the other by his feats, and how fifteen hundred of their host had fallen on the fourth day by the fury of his hand, and how he had bound the three chiefs on the fifth day. "And they have three deadly hounds by a chain to do me evil," said he," and no weapon can wound them."

"Hast thou taken their heads from those three chiefs?" said Grainne.
(editor's notes- the taking of the heads of enemies was an important practice in the world of the Celts- heads held special powers and were the only aspect of the human being not abstracted in art. It was thought that by keeping heads or brains of enemies you could derive knowledge from them- in one tale we learn of how brains were mixed with lime and allowed to harden and then were passed around by the cheif/king and advisors so that they might obtain knowledge...)

"I have not" said Diarmuid. "For I had rather give them long torment than short; for it is not in the power of any warrior nor hero in Erin to loose the binding with which they are bound, but only four; that is, Oisin the son of Finn, and Oscar the son of Oisin, and Lugaid of the Mighty Hand, and Conan mac Morna; and I know that none of those four will loose them. Nevertheless Finn will shortly get tidings of them, and that will sting his heart in his bosom; and we must depart out of this cave lest Finn and the deadly hounds overtake us."
To go on to the next part: To Part 4!


O' Grady,Standish,Hahyes,ed., trans.,Transactions of the Ossianic Society,(Dublin),III (1855/57),40-211.

Ni Sh`eaghda,Nessa,Ed., trans.,,T`oruigheacht Dhiarmada agus Ghr`ainne ,Irish Texts Society. XLVIII) (Dublin,1967).

Best, Richard I. Bibliography of Irish Philogy,I 102-103 (Dublin 1913).

Cross, Tom Peete, and Clark Harris Slover Ancient Irish Tales, Barnes and Noble, Inc.,1969 


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