The Fenian Cycle

The Pursuit of Diarmuid and Grainne

Part 4 Deirdru of Dub Silab -And the Hounds

Diarmuid had finished telling of the defeat of the kings and of the dogs and the three prepared to move on....

After this, Diarmuid and Grainne and Muadan came forth out of the cave, and went their way westward until they reached the moor of Finnlaith. Grainne began to weary then, and Muadan took her upon his back until they reached the great Silab Luchra. Then Diarmuid sat him down on the brink of the stream which wound through the heart of the mountain; and Grainne washing her hands, and she asked Diarmuid for his dagger to cut her nails.

As for the strangers, as many of them were alive, they came upon the hill where the three chiefs were bound and thought to loose them speedily, but those bonds were such that they only drew the tighter upon them.

They had not been long thus before they saw the woman messenger of Finn mac Cumaill coming with the speed of a swallow, or weasel, or like a blast of a sharp pure-swift wind , over the top of every high hill and bare mountain towards them; and she inquired of them who it was that had made that great,fearful, destroying slaughter of them.

"Who art thou that askest?" said they.

"I am the female messenger of Finn mac Cumaill," said she; "and Deirdru of Dub Silab (Black Mountain) is my name, and it is to look for you that Finn has sent me."

(editor's note- this hag like female invokes another ancient dimension of the Irish tradition she is related to the other female multi powered "deities" closely associated with places and aspects of the environment- woods, and battles. Could this dimension reflect back to a time before the warriors to a time when control over dimensions of the environment - of sounds and qualities was more important than control over men?)

"Well then, we know not who he was," said they, "but we will inform thee of his appearance; that is, he was a warrior having curling dusky-black hair, and two red ruddy cheeks, and he it is that hath made this great slaughter of us; and we are yet more sorely grieved that our three chiefs are bound, and that we cannot loose them; he was likewise three days one after the other fighting with us."

"Which way went that man from you?" said Deirdru.

"He parted from us late last night," said they; "therefore we cannot tell."

"I swear," said Deirdru, "that it was Diarmuid O'Duibne himself that was there, and do ye bring your hounds with you and loose them on his track, and I will send Finn and the fian of Erin to you."

Then they brought their hounds with them out of their ship, and loosed them upon the track of Diarmuid; but they left a druid attending upon the three chiefs that were bound. As for them they followed the hounds upon the track of Diarmuid until they reached the door of the cave, and they went into the hinder part of the cave, and found the bed of Diarmuid and Grainne there. Afterwards they went their way towards the west till they reached Carrthach, and thence to the moor of Finnliath, and to Garb Alba of the Fian, which is called Leaman now, and to the fair plain of Concon, and to the vast and high Sliab Luachra.

(editor's note: note how here again a great attention is placed upon geographic detail- the tales served in an oral society as maps and ways to remember placenames. The author also wishes to impress us that these stories are real. They do not have to be set far far away in a foreign land. The function of the tales is to address and inform the real world of its political and social order its precidents of history and its values.)

Howbeit, Diarmuid did not perceive them coming after him in that pursuit until he beheld the banners of soft silk, and the threatening standards, and three mighty warriors in the foreground of the hosts, full fierce, and bold, and dauntless, having their three hounds by three chains in their hands. When Diarmuid saw them coming towards him in that manner, he became filled with hatred and great abhorrence of them. An there was a green well-dyed mantle upon him that was in the forefront of the company, and he was out far beyond the others: then Grainne reached the dagger to Diarmuid, and Diarmuid thrust it upon his thigh, and said:"I suspect thou bearest the youth of the green mantle no love, Grainne."

(editor's note: a word here on numerology- we have already seen how the number 7- an important number in the celtic world has been used in the number of hut doors here again we see the use of the number three another important number in the celtic world. Numbers used in tales adds emphasis upon the descriptions. The practice focuses the listener upon the scene-dropping the names of numbers would attract attention.)

'Truly I do not," quoth Grainne, "and I would I never to this day had borne love to any." Diarmuid drew his dagger and thrust it into its sheath and went his way after that, and then Muadan put Grainne upon his back and carried her a mile up the length of the mountain.

(editor's note- Muadan represents perhaps another layer of the celtic legacy derived from earier times. Unlike Angus Angus who clearly has warrior god characteristics Muadan possesses many special powers but is simply a bit more skillful and stronger than the average person. He is a kind helper. It has been proposed that such super individuals represent protectors of tribal groups multi-valent individuals who do many things to help out. It may be proposed that such individuals  are derived from a time when rather than defense against people or against the environment group identity was for the people of primary importance.
They could rely upon their own multi-valent diety to perform a multitude of skills to help out the group)

It was not long before one of the three deadly hounds was loosed after Diarmuid, and Muadan told Diarmuid to follow Grainne, saying that he would ward off the hound from him. Then Muadan went back and took a hound's welp from beneath his girdle, and set him upon his palm. When the whelp saw the hound rushing towards him, having his jaws and throat open, he rose from Murdan's palm and sprang into the gullet of the hound, so that he reached the heart and rent it out through his side; and then he sprang back again upon Muadan's palm, leaving the hound dead after him.

(editor's note: here we have the typical celtic way of dog killing! One always reaches down the throat of the animal and either turns them inside out or does something else as here, to kill them. In any case quite the mess!)

Muadan departed after Diarmuid and Grainne, and took up Grainne again, and bore her another mile up the mountain. Then was loosed the second hound after them, and Diarmuid spoke to Muadan, and what he said was:" I indeed hear that there can no spells be laid upon weapons that wound by magic, nor upon the throat of any beast whatever, and will ye stand until I put the Gae Derg through the body, the chest, and the heart of yonder hound?" and Muadan and Grainne stood to see that cast. Then Diarmuid aimed a cast at the hound, and put the javelin through his navel, so that he let out his bowels, and having drawn out the javelin he followed his own companions.

They had not been long after that before the third hound was loosed upon them; Grainne spoke, and what she said was:"That is the fiercest of them all, and I greatly fear him, and keep thyself well against him, O Diarmuid." It was not long before the hound reached them, and the place where he overtook them was Lic Dubain on Sliab Luchra. He rose with an airy light bond over Diarmuid, and would fain have siezed Grainne, but Diarmuid caught his two hind legs, and struck a blow of his carcass against the nearest rock, so that he let out his brains through the openings of his head and of his ears. Thereupon Diarmuid took his arms and armor, and put his tapering finger into the silken string of the Gae Derg, and aimed a triumphant cast at the youth of the green mantle that was in the forefront of the host, so that he slew him with that cast; he made also a second cast at the second man, and slew him; and the third man he slew likewise. Then since it is not usual for defense to be made after the fall of lords, when the strangers saw that their chiefs and their lords were fallen they suffered defeat, and betook themselves to utter flight; and Diarmuid pursued them, violently scattering them and slaughtering them, so that unless some one fled over the tops of the forests or under the green earth, or under the water, there escaped not even a messenger nor a man to tell tidings. The gloom of death and instant destruction was executed upon every one of them except Deirdriu of Dub Sliab, that is , the woman messenger of Finn mac Cumaill, who went wheeling and hovering around whilst Diarmuid was making slaughter of the strangers. As for Finn, when he heard the tidings of the foreigners being bound by Diarmuid, he loudly summoned the fian of Erin ; and they went forth by the shortest ways and by the straightest paths until they reached the hill where the three chiefs were bound, and that was torment of heart to Finn when he saw them. Then Finn spoke and what he said was: "O Oisin, loose the three chiefs for me."

"I will not," said Oisin, "for Diarmuid bound me not to loose any warrior whom he should bind."

"O Oscar loose them" said Finn.

"Nay," said Oscar, "I vow that I would fain put more bonds upon them." Then Lugaid and Conan refused likewise to loose them. Howbeit, they had not been long at this discourse before the three chiefs died of the hard bonds that were on them. Then Finn caused to be dug three wide-sodded graves for them; and a tombstone was put over their graves, and their names were written in ogam, and their burial ceremony was performed, and weary and heavy in heart was Finn after that.

(editor's note: Ogham while not the most ancient language was to be seen throughout the country side and was infact used to mark the sites of important events. It is a language made up of a series of horizontal lines marked on one side or other of a vertical line. It was well suited for the edges of large stones.)

At that very time and hour Finn saw coming towards him Deirdriu of Dub Sliab, with her legs failing, and her tongue raving, and her eyes dropping in her head; and when Finn saw her come towards him in that plight he asked tidings of her. "I have great and evil tidings to tell thee, and methinks I am one without a lord"; and she told him the tale from first to last of all the slaughter that Diarmuid O' Duibne had made, and how the three deadly hounds had fallen by him; " and hardly I have escaped myself," said she. "Whither went Diarmuid O'Duibne?" said Finn. "That I know not," said she. And then Finn and the fian of Erin departed, and no tidings are told of them until they reached Almu in Leinster.
To continue with part 5.....To Searban Lochlannach and the quicken tree!


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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