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The Harp of Dagda Mor

By Alice Furlong

Of old there were wars and conflicts between the Fomorians or "Men-from-under-Sea,' and the Tuatha De Danaan, or Fairy-folk, who were of the gods of Dana, as it is said.

It was at the Battle of Moytuire that the Harp was taken. This was the manner of it.

The dark, wicked, vengeful Fomorians were upon the one side; the Fairy-folk of the gods of Dana upon the other. There was ill-will and bad blood between them, on account of taxes and tributes.

The kingship of the island was with the Fomorians when the Fairy-folk came there. An enchanted wind carried them - the 'Red Wind of the Hills' it is called, and it blows unto this day, a Sluashee, or fairy-blast. The Fomorians had no knowledge of their coming until they saw them approaching Tara in bands and companies. Like the rising of the sun on a morn in May was the coming of the Tuatha De Danaan.

"It is better that we should share our great Duns with them than that they should be putting us down in the little Duns with the stone roofs upon them," said the wise men of the Fomorians. The little Duns were the cairns where the dead lay in their sleeping. "That is a good saying," made answer the King o the Fomorians. He did not want to be taking treasure from his treasure-store to reward smiths and artificers for the turning and casting of long sharp shining spears such as the Tuatha De Danaan bore in their kingly white hero-hands.

So the wide people of the Fomorians parleyed with the Fairy-folk of the Gods of Dana. It was agreed upon that they were to live together in Erinn like brothers in the one house.

But Bress, the King of the Fomorians, was a niggard. He took tributes of the people, both native and stranger, and he never gave them the shelter of his shield nor made for them a wounding with his spear. He called his poet and law-maker to him one day and he said, "Make me a law that will fill my keeves with an abundance and no stint of the best of milk, O Druid!"

The Druid made the law. The law was proclaimed to the people of Erinn. It commanded that the milk of every hairless dun cow was to be made over to Bress, the King of Tara. The people did not disturb themselves over that. The merry folk raised a laugh and the loudest laugh of all came from Munster, for there were many dun cows, and plentiful milkers, in that province, but none of them hairless.

The work of their scorn was brought to Bress. He sent for his File, or poet. "What's this that you have done me, O File!" said he to him. "You have given me a bad return for the food and drink and keeping you have had of me."

"Not so," said the Druid. "Give me a swift horse that does not whinny, a charioteer that is not talkative, and a chariot with greased wheels, and let me go through the province of Munster."

He got what he asked for, and he went through the province of Munster; with speed he passed over it in the silence and the darkness of the night. But in every pasture and every place where herds were gathered, he made a fire of ferns, and he drove through the same all the dun cows he found with the herd. Between the waxing and the waning of the moon, he went out from Tara, and returned to it.

The Munster people raised a great ululu when they saw what had been done. But their sorrow was joy and gladness to Bress, the King. He sent his tax-gatherers round about to every chief and every strong man of the province. The hairless dun cows were driven to Tara, and the keeves of Bress filled with an abundance and no stint of the best of milk.

That was not enough. Corpe Mac Etaine, the yellow-haired poet of the Tuatha De Danaan, came to the court of Tara. He was vestured for a king's company. Snow-white was the tunic upon him; his mantle glistened and shone with embroideries of gold and silver; in his slender hand he carried the poet's stave, made of the lasting red yew, and graven with the signs and symbols that were devised by the wisdom of Ogma. It was Corpe, the File, that could interpret the signs of Ogma on flags and staves, and read the stars, and command the minds of men in faintings and trances.

He was led to a chamber, small and dark. No pleasant fire smoked up to the roof-tree, no couch nor curtain was by the wall. There was neither music nor good company in that chamber.

"I seek the hospitality of the King," said the File, Corpe Mac Etaine. "It has ever been my custom to grease my knife at the table of a king, and to drink bountifully of good heady ale from his royal vat. I have never yet sat to meat without the music of minstrels and the companionship of noble men and women."

"Not such is the hospitality of this Court," made answer the door-keeper.

The son of Etaine, yellow-haired Corpe, was left to himself for a long time, sitting on a block of wood in that dark chamber with neither fire nor light to comfort him. After that, the King's servant set before him three dry wheat-cakes, without honey or butter, or as much as a dish under them. Corpe rose up and he spoke a satire against the King of the Fomorians. This is what he said:

No meat of swine; not flesh of deer;

No ale; no wine; no milk of steer;

No stories fine; no roof, night near;

The song of mine; for Bress, the cheer.

When he had made an end of his speaking, he went out of the place. He travelled the plains of the Five Provinces, and he recited his rann in the hearing of the Fairy-folk of the gods of Dana. That was the first satire made in Erinn, and it is said that better was never made before nor after. They that had been living as brothers at peace in one house, then became like unto brothers in one house when there is contention for the mastery thereof.

But the folk of the gods of Dana were much skilled in magic. They laid a spell of fear upon Bress, the King, so that he rose and fled out of Tara. They put their own King, Naud, in the royal Dun; and he exercised hospitality, and bounty, and no man went hungry from his doors. But Bress betook himself to his father, Elatha. He got from him a company of warriors: dark, large, mighty men they were. Balor Balcheimnech was the head and chief of them, the glance of one of his eyes gave death. He began to build the fortifications of Bress, in the north-west part of the island; he built them on the verge of the high, green, glassy billows of the sea. They are called "The Giant's Causeway" to this day.

But the Tuatha De Danaan made their preparations in Tara. Giobniu, the smith, and Creidne, the artificer, and Lunchtine, the carpenter, fashioned for them spears, sharp and shining; javelins, grey and green; shields, round and well-turned, rimmed with red gold, and bossed with crimson and blue. When all was ready, the Druids raised a vast white mist about the whole army (so that in all Erinn no man saw the sun for the space of three days.) In the cover of that fairy fog, the wise folk marched to the plain of the north, which is named Moytuire. They were within a league of the Fomorian camp when the mist dispersed and discovered them to the watchmen of Bress. These gave the word to the great, powerful, large men. The Fomorians came together on the borders of the camp. "I see a warrior coming towards us, driving over dark bogs and heaths," said Indech, one of them. "This is the appearance upon him; a star, bright and keen-pointed, shining between the day and the night; and many a lesser star is along with him."

"That man will be Ogma, a champion of the Tuatha De Danaan," answer Bress, the King of the Fomorians. Indech turned himself about to the right, and he said, "I behold another warrior approaching, he comes by the margins of woods and dim branchy forests. Like to the full moon standing in the middle of the heavens, I behold him, and it is only the greater ones of his company I can espy for his light is very brilliant and glorious.

"That will be Lugh-lam-fada, the master of the manifold crafts," made answer Bress. "No small help will that man render to the side upon which he places himself; and it would better become him to be with us in this camp than in the following of Ogma, for his mother was of the Fomorians. By the oath my people swear, I wish he were upon my right hand in this battle!"

Indech turned himself about to the left, and he said, "There is yet another warrior coming with speed over the mountains and hills. The glory of morning and evening are gathered together into one brightness to make the light that is round about him in clouds and radiant vapours! Such is the splendour of his appearance, that he is like the sun with the whole heaven to himself in the noonday!"

When he had listened to this word, there was shame and sorrow upon Bress. "We will taste the bitterness of death before night!" said he, and he lifted his shield up against his face. "That man will incline the beam of battle against us, and bring destruction upon us, for he is the Dagda Mor, the prime wizard and sorcerer of the Tuatha De Danaan!"

That was a true saying. The fight began on the Feast of Samhain; for the space of four days there were men crying out their souls on the black plain of Moytuire. There was clashing of spear upon shield, and the noise of the whizzing of strung javelins, and tumult and clamour. The birds flew away out of the trees, and the kine would not drink of the well-waters nor the river-waters, for they were running red with the blood of men. Dark ravens and the spectres of the air screamed overhead, exulting in the flow of crimson blood from the fair white flesh of the warrior and heroes.

But when it was the evening of the fourth day, the Sword of Tethra, one of the kings of the Fomorians, fell into the hands of the Dagda Mor. The beam of battle then inclined against the Fomorians and they fled away into glens and coverts and dark places, and their countenances were pale with fear, and their knees tottered and knocked together. They left Balc-beimnech a dead man upon the field, with the sling-stone of Lugh-lam-fada in his Evil Eye.

Then the Morrigan, the ancient Grey Raven of Battle, proclaimed and cried aloud to the fords and river-mouths and chief waters of Erinn, and made a vaunt of the victory of the Fairy-folk of the gods of Dana.

After that, those yellow-haired champions and heroes gathered in the banquet-hall to a feasting. And Ogma unsheathed the Sword, and made it relate to the company all its deeds and exploits: it spoke with a voice, for there was a demon hidden in the Sword. And when they had made an end of that, there was a call for music from the Harp of the Dagda Mor. But when they sought it in its own place, behold, it was not there!

"An evil thing has come to pass," said the Dagda Mor. "For the Fomorians have laid hands upon my sweet-tongued Harp; but it shall be a silent mouth with them, until I find it."

Then Ogma and Lugh-lam-fada rose from their silken couches, and they said, "If it were to be over hills of glass and lakes of smothering fire, we will fare forth with thee on that seeking." They took spear and shield, and they went hot-foot after the Fomorians. They were going from a night-fall to a night-fall; and they crossed nine high hills and nine dark valleys and nine broad, perilous ford-mouths before they found the Fomorians. It was eating and drinking they were, but that was a sorrowful banquet. There was neither music nor story-telling, but the heaviness of death was upon them all, both men and women.

And in the midst of them was hung the Harp of the Dagda: a silent mouth, for not even the most skilful of the Fomorian minstrels could draw music from it on account of the spells and enchantments it was under. Of a sudden the three bright-faced heroes of the Tuatha De Danaan stood in the banqueting-hall. The Dagda Mor opened wide his slender willow arms. His eyes became like to sparks of lightening.

He spoke to the Harp, and he said, "Come, Murmur of the Apple Tree! Come, Hive of Melody! Come, Summer, come Winter, from the mouths of harps and hollows and pipes!"

The Harp sprang to him. Nine foemen rose up in its path; it gave death to the first and last of them. It leaped to the bosom of the Dagda Mor, and it was like a son running to his father, or a maid to her sweetheart. He drew his hand over the strings of the Harp, and he played the Goltrai, the plaintive tear-song. It was then that the dark vengeful Fomorians, both men and women, forgot their hatred and their battle-fury. The warriors drew their mantles over their countenances to hide their weeping; and the women wept three showers of tears, so heart-rending were the strains of the magic Harp.

"Give them another kind of music!" said Ogma, the champion.

"I can do that," made answer the Dagda Mor.

Then he drew his hand over the strings, and he played the Gentrai, the mirthful music, until the young men and the women shouted and laughed for the delight and the joy of it. Such was its power that if every man and woman in Erinn had a father and mother lying dead before them, they would have to laugh with gladness for that melody.

"Give them the Suantrai, and let us be going away with ourselves!" said Lugh-lam-fada, the master of the manifold sciences. "I can do that; none better than myself to do it," made answer the Dagda.

Then he swept his hand over the strings of the Harp, and it answered him with the music of sleep. Creeping, crooning, soothing strains of murmurous music it played for him, until the heads of the Fomorian warriors fell down upon their breasts, and the women sank into deep and heavy slumber.

The Dagda Mor carried his Harp forth into the darkness, and returned with his companions to his own people. That was the last time there was a battle between the Fomorians and the Fairy-folk of the god of Dana.

And the kingship and sovereignty of the island remained with those last, until the son of Miledh came over-seas, and drove them into the Raths and Shee-mounds where they live to this day, an invisible, enchanted people.