The Fenian Cycle

The Pursuit Of Diarmuid and Grainne

Part 5 The Quicken Tree

Touching Diarmuid and Grainne, a further tale is told. They went their way eastward to Sliab Luchra, and through the territory of Ui Conaill Gabra, and thence with their left hand to he Shannon eastward to Ros Da Soileach, which is called Limerick now, and Diarmuid killed for them that night a wild deer; then they ate and drank their fill of flesh and pure water, and slept till the morn on the morrow. Muadan rose early and spoke to Diarmuid, and said that he would now depart. "Thou shouldst not do so," said Diarmuid, "for all that I promised thee has been fulfilled without dispute." Muadan did not suffer Diarmuid to hinder him, and took leave and farewell of them, and left them on the spot, and gloomy and grieved were Diarmuid and Grainne after Muadan.

After that they journeyed on straight northward towards Sliab Echtge, and thence to the district of Ui Faichrach, and as they passed through that district Grainne wearied; and when she considered that she had no man to carry her but Diarmuid, seeing that Muadan had departed, she took heart and began to walk by Diarmuid's side boldly.. When they were come into the forest Diarmuid made a hunting booth in the very midst of the forest, and slew a wild deer that night; so that he and Grainne ate and drank their fill of flesh and pure water. Diarmuid rose early and went to the Searban Lochlannach, and made bonds of covenant and compact with him, and got from him license to hunt and to chase provided that he would never meddle with his berries.

As for Finn and the fian, having reached Almu, they were not long there before they saw fifty warriors coming toward them, and two that were tall, heroic, valiant, and that exceeded the others for the bulk and beauty in the very front of that company and troop; and Finn inquired of the fian whether they knew them.

"We know them not," they said, "and canst thou tell who they are,O Finn?"

"I cannot," said Finn; "but I think they are enemies to me."

That company of warriors came before Finn during this discourse, and they greeted him. Finn answered them and asked tidings of them, from what land or region they were. They told him that the were in deed enemies to him, that their fathers had been at the slaying of Cumall the soon of Trenmor O'Baoiscne at the battle of Cnucha, "and our fathers themselves died for that deed; and it is to ask peace of thee we are now come."

"Where were ye yourselves when your fathers were slain?"

said Finn.

"In our mother's wombs," says they, "and our mothers were two women of the Tuatha De Danann, and we think it time to get our father's place and station among the fian."

"I will grant you that," said Finn, "but ye must give me a recompense for thy father."

"Methinks," said Finn, "were one to kill me that it would be an easy matter to satisfy thee in my recompense, O Oisin; and none shall come among the fian but he that shall give me a fine for my father."

"What fine askest thou?" said Angus the son of Art Oc mac Morna.

"I ask but the head of a warrior, or a fistful of the berries of the quicken tree of Dubros."

"I will give you good counsel. O children of Morna," said Oisin:

"return to where ye were reared, and do not ask peace of Finn as long as ye shall live. It is no light matter for you to bring to Finn anything he asks of you, for know ye what head that is which Finn asks you to bring him as a fine?"

"We know not," said they.

"The head of Diarmuid O'Duibne is the head that Finn asks of you, and were ye as many in number as twenty hundred men of full strength, Diarmuid O' Duibne would not let that head go with you, that is, his own head."

"What berries are they that Finn asks of us?" said they.

"Nothing is more difficult for you to get than that," said Oisin, "as I will tell you now. There arose a dispute between two women of the Tuatha De Danann, that is, Aife the daughter of Manannan, and Aine the other daughter of Manannan the son of Lir. Aife had become enamored of the son of Lugaid, hat is, sister's son to Finn mac Cumaill, and Aine had become enamored of Lin of the fairy mound of Finnchad, so that each woman of them said that her own man was a better hurler than the other; and the fruit of that dispute was that a great goaling match was arranged between the Tuatha De Danann and the fian of Erin, and the place where that goal was played was upon a fair plain by loch Lein of the rough pools.

(editor's note: The Tuatha de Dannan (tribe of the goddess Dannu) were powerful godlike individuals closely associated with the arts and crafts and medicine. Although they do play roles in warfare they are not warriors. They are also not exactly like the generalized multivalent gods - they are a bit more specialized. One should perhaps associate them with
the protection of the crafts- they gave the arts and crafts to the men of Ireland- perhaps they come from a dimension of celtic reality relating to what might be considered craft guilds)

"The fian of Erin and the Tuatha De Danann came to that tryst, and these are the noblest and proudest of the Tuatha De Danann that came there; namely, the three Garbs of Sliab Mis, and the three Mases of Sliab Luchra, and the three yellow-haired Murcads, and the three Eochaids of Aine, and the three heroic Loegaires, and the three Conalls of Collanman, and the three Finns of Finnmur, and the three Sgals of Brug, and the three Ronans of Ath na Rig, and the three Eogans from Es Ruad mac Badairn, and the Cathbuilleach, and the three Ferguses, and the Glas of Mag Breg, and the Suirgeach Suaire from Lionan, and the Meidir from Benn Liath, and Donn from the fairy-mound of Breg, and the man of Sweet Speech from the Boyne, and Colla Crincosach from Bernan Eile, and Donn Dumach, and Donn of Leinenoe, and Bruitha Abac, and Dolb the Bright-Toothed, and the five sons of Finn of the fairy-mound of Cairn Cain, and the Ilbreac son of Manannan, and Neamanach the son of Angus, and Bodb Derg the son of the Dagda, and Manannan the son of Lir, and Abortach the son of Ildathach, and Figmuin of Finnmur, and many others who are not enumerated here.

(editor's note: In the celtic world the recording of names and other things in long lists is a very important function of the tale. From any one of the trios of names listed here at least three other stories could be perhaps, remembered and all are linked together. For scholars these lists including those of stories are of great importance as they provide references to the disappeared literature lost to the vikings and other destruction's over time. (in the 19th century mention is made of the careless treatment of ancient manuscripts by the peasantry where it was found that children were playing with pages from ancient works in the farmyard)

"We, the fian of Erin, and they were for the space of three days an three nights playing hurly from Garbaba of the fian, which is called Leaman, to Cromglen of the fian, which is called Glenn Fleisce now; and neither of us won a goal. Now the whole of the Tuatha De Danann were all at that time without our knowledge on either side of Loch Lein, and they understood that if we, the fian, were united, all the men of Erin could not win from us. And the counsel which the Tuatha De Danann took, was to depart back again and not to play out that goal with us. The provisions that the Tuatha De Danann had brought with them from Tir Tairngire (fairy land) were these: crimson nuts, catkin apples, and fragrant berries; and as they passed through the district of Ui Fiacrach by the Muaid; one of the berries fell from them, and a quicken tree grew out of that berry, and that quicken tree and its berries have many virtues; for no disease or sickness seizes any one that eats three berries of them, and they who eat feel the exhilaration of wine and the satisfying of old mead; and were it at the age of a century, he that tasted them would return again to be thirty years old.

"When the Tuatha De Danann heard that those virtues belonged to the quicken tree, they sent from them a guard over it that is, the Searban Lochlannach, a youth of their own people, that is a thick-boned, large nosed, crooked-tusked, red-eyed swart-bodied giant of the children of wicked Cam the son of Noa; whom neither weapons wounds, nor fire burns, nor water drowns, so great is his magic. He has but one eye only in the fair middle of his black forehead, and there is a thick collar of iron round that giant's body, and he is fated not to die until there be struck upon him three strokes of the iron club that he has. He sleeps in the top of that quicken tree by night, and he remains at its foot by day to watch it; and those, O children of Morna, are the berries which Finn asks of you," said Oisin. "Howbeit, it is not easy for you to meddle with them by any means; for that Searban Lochlannach has made a wilderness of the districts around him, so that Finn and the fian dare not chase or hunt there for the dread of that terrible one."

Aod the son of Audala mac Morna spoke, and what he said was, that he had rather perish in seeking those berries than go back again to his mother's country; and he bade Oisin keep his people until they returned again; and should he and his brother fall in that adventure, to restore his people to Tir Tairngire. And the two good warriors took leave and farewell of Oisin and of the chiefs of the fian, and went their way; nor is it told how they fared until they reached Ros Da Soileach, which is called Luimneach now, and it is not told how they were entertained that night. They rose early on the morrow, nor halted until they reached Dubros of Ui Fiacrach, and as they went towards the forest they found the track of Diarmuid and Grainne there, and they followed the track to the door of the hunting booth in which were Diarmuid and Grainne. Diarmuid heard them coming to the hunting booth, and stretched an active warrior hand over his broad weapons, and asked who they were that were at the door. "We are of the Clan Morna," said they.

"Which of the Clan Morna are ye?" said Diarmuid.

"Aod the son of Andala mac Morna, and Angus the son of Art Oc mac Morna," said they.

"Wherefore are ye come to this forest?" said Diarmuid.

"Finn mac Cumaill has sent us to seek thy head, if thou be Diarmuid O' Duibne."

"I am he, indeed," said Diarmuid.

"Well then," said they, "Finn will not choose but get thy head, or the full of his fist of the berries of the quicken of Dubros from us as a fine for his father."

"It is no easy matter for you to get either of those things," said Diarmuid," and woe to him that may fall under the power of that man. I also know that he it was that slew your fathers, and surely that should suffice him as recompense from you."


"What berries are those that Finn requires," asked Grainne, "that they cannot be got for him?"

"They are these," said Diarmuid:"the Tuatha De Danann left a quicken tree in the district of Ui Fiachrach, and in all berries that grow upon that tree there are many virtues, that is, there is in every berry of them the exhilaration of wine and the satisfying of old mead; and whoever should eat three berries of that tree, had he completed a hundred years he would return to the age of thirty years. Nevertheless there is a giant hideous and foul to behold, keeping that quicken tree; every day he is at the foot of it, and every night he sleeps at the top. Moreover, he has made a desert of the district round about him ,and he cannot be slain until three terrible strokes be struck upon him with an iron club that he has, and that club is thus; it has a thick ring of iron through its end, and the ring around the giant's body; he has moreover forced an agreement with Finn and with the fian of Erin not to hunt in that district, and when Finn outlawed me and became my enemy, I got of him leave to hunt, provided that I should never meddle with the berries. And, O children of Morna," said Diarmuid, "choose ye between combat with me for my head, and going to seek the berries from the giant."

"I swear by the rank of my tribe among the fian, " said each of the children of Morna, "that I would rather do battle with thee."

Thereupon those good warriors, that is, the children of Morna and Diarmuid, harnessed their comely bodies in their array of weapons of valor and battle, and the combat that they resolved upon was to fight by the strength of their hands.

The outcome of the contest was that Diarmuid vanquished and bound them both upon that spot." Thou hast fought that strive well," said Grainne, "and I vow that even if the children of Morna go not to seek those berries, I will never lie in thy bed unless I get a portion of them, although that is not fit thing for a woman to do being pregnant; and I indeed am now heavy and pregnant, and I shall not life if I taste not those berries."

"Force me not to break peace with the Searban Lochlannach," said Diarmuid, "for he would not the more readily let me take them."

"Loose these bonds from us," said the children of Morna, "and we will go with thee, and we will give ourselves for thy sake."

"Ye shall not come with me," said Diarmuid,"for were ye to see one glimpse of the giant, ye would more likely die than live after it."

"Then do us the grace," said they, "to slacken the bonds on us and let us go with thee privately that we may see thy battle with the giant before thou hew the heads from our bodies"; and Diarmuid did so.

Then Diarmuid went his way to the Searban Lochlannach, and the giant chanced to be asleep before him. He dealt him a stroke of his foot, so that the giant raised his head and gazed up at Diarmuid, and what he said was," Dost thou wish to break peace O O'Duibne?"

"It is not that," said Diarmuid, "but that Grainne the daughter of Cormac is heavy and pregnant, and she has conceived a desire for those berries which thou hast, and it is to ask the full of a fist of those berries from thee that I am now come."

"I swear," said the giant, " were it even that thou shouldst have no children except that birth now in her womb, and were there but Grainne of the race of Cormac the son of Art, and were I sure hat she should perish in bearing that child, that she should never taste one berry of those berries."

"I may not deceive the," said Diarmuid; "therefore I now tell thee it is to seek them by fair means or foul that I am come."

The giant having heard that, rose up and stood, and put his club over his shoulder, and dealt Diarmuid three mighty strokes so that the wrought him some little hurt in spite of the shelter of his shield. And when Diarmuid marked the giant off his guard he cast his weapons upon the ground, and made an eager exceedingly strong spring upon the giant, so that he was able with his two hands to grasp the club. Then he hove the giant from the earth and hurled him round him, and the iron ring that was about the giant's body and through the end of the club stretched, and when the club reached Diarmuid he struck three mighty strokes upon the giant, so that he dashed his brains out through the opening of his head and of his ears, and left him dead without life; and those two of the Clan Morna were looking at Diarmuid as he fought that strife.

When they saw the giant fall they too came forth, and Diarmuid sat him down weary and spent after that combat, and bade the children of Morna bury the giant under the brushwood of the forest so that Grainne might not see him, " and after that go ye to seek her also, and bring her." The children of Morna drew the giant forth into the wood, and put him underground, and went after Grainne and brought her to Diarmuid. "There, O Grainne," said Diarmuid, "are the berries thou didst ask for, and do thou thyself pluck of them whatever pleases thee."

"I swear," said Grainne, "that I will not taste a single berry of them but the berry that thy hand shall pluck, O Diarmuid." Thereupon Diarmuid rose and stood, and plucked the berries for Grainne and for the children of Morna, so that they ate their fill of them..

When they were filled Diarmuid spoke, and said:"O children of Morna, take as many as ye can of these berries and tell Finn that it was ye yourselves that slew the Searban Lochlannach."

"We swear," said they, "that we grudge what we shall take to Finn of them"; and Diarmuid plucked them a load of the berries. Then the children of Morna spoke their gratitude and thanks to Diarmuid after the gifts they had received from him, and went their way to where Finn and the fian of Erin were. Now Diarmuid and Grainne went into the top of the quicken tree, and laid them in the bed of the Searban Lochlannach, and the berries below were but bitter berries compared to the berries that were upon the top of the tree.

The children of Morna reached Finn, and Finn asked their news of them from first to last. "We have slain the Searban Lochlannach," said they, "and have brought the berries of Dubros as a fine for thy father's death, if perchance we may get peace for them."

Then they gave the berries into the hand of Finn, and he knew the berries, and put them under his nose, and said to the children of Morna, "I swear," said Finn, "that it was Diarmuid o"Duibine that gathered these berries, for I know the smell of O' Duibne's skin on them, and full sure I am that he it was that slew the Searban Lochlannach; and I will go to learn whether he is alive at the quicken tree. But it shall profit you nothing to have brought the berries to me, and ye shall not get your father's place among the fian until ye give me the recompense for my father."
(editor's note: the smelling of the berries by Finn attests to his being neither man nor beast but living in between worlds. This is a strong relationship perhaps to a most ancient dimension of the celtic world- that of the gifted insightful huntsman who protected his people in hunter gatherer days by mastering not the elements and crops, nor the crafts, nor other men but by mastering the ways of the animals- learning perhaps of the seasonal migration patterns and the fish runs and being able to direct his people to seasonal hunts. Finn's own family members were said to be wild animals.)

To go on to the next part.....To the Game of Chess!


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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