There was a blacksmith in Dun Kinealy beyond Killybegs, and he had two young men serving him whose names were Césa MacRi na Tulach and Lun Dubh MacSmola.
When their time was up the young men settled with the blacksmith and took their pay of him. After they had eaten breakfast in the morning they went away together.
When they had gone some distance from the house they changed their gait, so that when they took one step forward they took two backwards; and when evening came they were not five perches away from the house where they had eaten breakfast in the morning.
Then one said to the other: "I suppose what is on one of us is on the other."
"What's that?" asked the first.
"We are both in love with Scéhide ni Wánanan."
"That is true," said the other, "we are both in love with the blacksmith's maid."
When this was said they turned and went back to the house. The blacksmith welcomed them, and was glad.
"You need not welcome us," said they; "we have not come back to you to seek hire; but we are both in love with Scéhide ni Wánanan, and you'll have to settle the matter for us."
"Well," said the blacksmith, "I can do that. We'll open the two doors of the forge, and let you and the maiden go in and stand in the middle of the place. Then do you two go out, one at each door, and the man she'll follow will have her."
The three came in,—one man went out at each door of the forge; Scéhide followed Lun Dubh.
When he saw this Césa spoke up, and said: "I'm willing to leave her with you; but turn back a moment here to me, for the word that'll be between us."
Lun Dubh turned back into the forge, and Césa said: "Put your finger on this anvil."
Lun Dubh put his finger on the anvil. Césa, catching up a good spike, which the old blacksmith had made, and a hammer drove the spike through the finger of Lun Dubh, fastening him to the anvil.
"Now," said Lun Dubh to Césa; "let me go free, and do you take Scéhide; but I must have the first blow on you in battle or war, or wherever else I meet you in the world."
"I will give you that," said Césa. So he freed his comrade from the anvil. The young men parted from each other,—Lun Dubh went one way alone, and Césa another with Scéhide ni Wánanan.
As Césa went along he bought a skin at every house where he could find one, until he had enough to make clothes in which to disguise himself; for he was in dread of Lun Dubh, on account of the first blow which he had the right to strike when they met.
He put on the skin clothes, and changed his name to Gilla na Grakin (the fellow of the skins).
Gilla and his wife held on their way till they came to the castle of Fin MacCumhail; and the time they came there was no one in the place but women.
"Where is Fin MacCumhail with his men to-day?" asked Gilla na Grakin.
"They are all out hunting," said the women.
Now Gilla saw that the castle stood with open door facing the wind, and turning again to the women he asked: "Why do you have the door of the castle to the wind?"
"When Fin and his men are at home and the wind comes in at the door, they all go out, take hold of the castle and turn it around till the door is on the sheltered side."
When Gilla na Grakin heard this he went out, put his hands to the castle, and turned it around till the door was on the sheltered side.
In the evening when Fin and the Fenians of Erin were coming from the hunt, they saw the castle turned around, and Fin said to the men: "I'm afraid we haven't half enough of game for the supper of the strangers who have come to visit us to-day, there are so many of them that they have turned the castle around."
When they came home they saw there was no man there but Gilla na Grakin, and they wondered at the work he had done.
Gilla stood before Fin, and said: "Do you want a serving man?"
"I do indeed," said Fin.
"What wages will you give me for a year and a day?" asked Gilla.
"What yourself will ask," replied Fin.
"I won't ask much," said Gilla; "five pounds for myself, and a room in the castle for my wife."
"You shall have both," said Fin.
"I'm your man now," said Gilla. The whole company spent the first part of that night in ease, the second in sport, and the third in a short sleep.
The next morning all the Fenians of Erin were going to hunt, as the day before, and Fin said to Gilla na Grakin: "Will you take any man to help you?"
"I'll take no man with me but myself; and do you let me go in one part of the country alone, and go yourself with all your men in another part."
"Well," said Fin, "will you find dry glens of ridges, or go in deep boggy places where there is danger of drowning?"
"I will go in deep boggy places."
All left the castle to hunt. Fin and the Fenians of Erin went in one direction, and Gilla na Grakin in another, and hunted all day.
When they came home in the evening Gilla na Grakin had a thousand times more game than Fin and all his men together.
When Fin saw this he was glad to have such a good man, and was pleased beyond measure with Gilla na Grakin. The whole company spent that night as they had the night before,—in ease and sport and sleep.
Next day Conan Maol was outside with Fin, and he said: "Gilla na Grakin will destroy the Fenians of Erin and put you and all of us to death, unless you banish him in some way from this castle."
"Well;" said Fin to Conan Maol, "I've never had a good man but you wanted me to put him away. And how could I banish such a man as this if I tried?"
"The way to banish him," said Conan Maol, "is to send him to the king of Lochlin to take from him the pot of plenty that's never without meat, but has always enough in it to feed the whole world, and bring that pot to this castle."
Fin called Gilla na Grakin, and said: "You'll have to go for me now to the king of Lochlin, and get from him the pot of plenty that is never without meat, and bring it here to me."
"Well," said Gilla, "as long as I'm in your service I can't refuse to do your work."
So away went Gilla. He took a glen at a step and a hill at a leap till he came to the shore of the sea, where he caught up two sticks, put one across the other, then gave them a tip of the hand, and a fine vessel rose out of the two pieces of wood.
Gilla na Grakin went on board the vessel, hoisted the sails, and off he went in a straight line. The music he heard on his way was the whistling of eels in the sea and the calling of gulls in the air, till he came under the king's castle in Lochlin. When he came, there were hundreds of ships standing near the shore, and he had to anchor outside them all; then he stepped from ship to ship till he stood on land.
What should there be at the time he landed but a great feast in the castle of the king. So Gilla went to the front of the castle and stood outside at the door; but he could go no further for the crowd, and no one looked at him. At last he shouted: "This is a very hospitable feast, and you are a people of fine manners not to ask a stranger is he hungry or thirsty."
"You are right," said the king, who turned to the people and said: "Give the pot of plenty to the stranger till he eats his fill."
The people obeyed the king, and when Gilla na Grakin got hold of the pot he made for the ship, and never stopped till he was on board. He put the pot in a safe place below. Then standing on deck he said to himself: "It is no use to take the pot by my swiftness unless I take it by my strength."
So he turned and went to land again. All the heroes and champions of the king of Lochlin and his whole army were ready to fight, but if they were so was Gilla na Grakin.
When he came up to the army he began and went through it as a hawk goes through a flock of swallows, till he made one heap of their heads and another heap of their weapons. Then he went to the castle, caught the king in one hand and the queen in the other, and putting them under his two arms brought them out in front of the castle and killed each with the other.
All was quiet and still at the castle. There wasn't a man alive to stand up against Gilla na Grakin, who went to his ship, raised the sails, and started for Erin. All he heard was the spouting of whales, the whistling of eels, the calling of gulls, and the roar of the wind, as the ship rushed back to the place where he had made it in Erin. When he reached that place he gave the ship a tip of his hand, and there before him was the pot of plenty, and with it the two sticks which he had found on the shore of the sea when he was going to the castle of the king of Lochlin.
He left the sticks where he found them, put the pot on his back, and hurried away to the castle of Fin MacCumhail.
Fin and all the Fenians of Erin were glad to see Gilla na Grakin, and Fin thanked him for the work he had done.
The first part of that night they spent in ease, the second in sport, the third in a hurried sleep.
Next morning they rose and had breakfast from the pot. From that day out they hunted for pleasure alone. They had enough and to spare from the pot of plenty.
Another day Conan Maol was outside the castle with Fin, and he said: "Gilla na Grakin will destroy you and me and all of us unless we find some way of putting him to death."
"What do you want him to do now?" asked Fin.
"Let him go," said Conan Maol, to the king of the Flood, "and bring back the cup that is never drained."
Fin went to the castle and called up Gilla na Grakin. "I want you to go now," said he, "to the king of the Flood, and bring me his cup that is never dry."
When he heard Fin's words, Gilla went off without delay; he took a glen at a step, and a hill at a leap, till he came to the sea. There he took up two sticks of wood, threw one across the other, and they became a fine large ship.
Away he sailed in a straight line, listening as he went to the spouting of whales, the whistling of eels and the calling of gulls, and never stopped till he anchored outside the castle of the king of the Flood. There was many a ship at land before him, so he stopped outside them all, and stepped from ship to ship till he reached the shore.
The king of the Flood was giving a great feast that day. Gilla na Grakin went to the castle, but could not enter, so great was the throng. He stood at the door a while, and then called out, "You are an ill-mannered people, not to ask a stranger is he hungry or dry!"
The king heard these words, and said, "You are right;" and turning to his people said, "Give this stranger the cup till he drinks his fill."
As soon as ever Gilla got the cup in his hands, he made for the ship and never stopped till he put the cup in the hold of the vessel. Then he came on deck, and thought, "It's no use to take the cup with my swiftness, unless I take it with my strength."
So back he turned to the castle, and when he reached land, the whole army and all the champions of the king of the Flood stood ready to oppose him. When he came up, he went through them as a hawk through a flock of swallows. He made a heap of their heads in one place, and a heap of their weapons in another, and then went back to the ship without thinking of the king and the queen of the Flood—forgot them.
He raised his sails and went away, listening to music on the sea till he touched land in Erin. Then he took the cup in one hand, struck the ship with the other, turned it into the two sticks which he had found on the shore, and travelled on till he came to the castle of Fin MacCumhail and gave up the cup.
"You're the best man I have ever had," said Fin; "and I give you my thanks and praise for the work you have done."
In the castle they spent the first part of that night in ease, the second in sport, and the third in a hurried sleep.
Next morning said Fin to the Fenians of Erin, "We needn't leave the house now unless we like. We have the best of eating from the pot, and the best of drinking from the cup. The one is never empty, and the other is never dry, and we'll go hunting in future only to pass the time for ourselves."
One day Conan Maol was out with Fin a third time, and said he: "If we don't find some way to kill Gilla na Grakin, he'll destroy you and me, and all the Fenians of Erin."
"Well," asked Fin, "where do you want to send him this time?"
"I want him to go to the eastern world, and find out what was it that left the Gruagach with but the one hair on his head."
Fin went to the castle, called up Gilla na Grakin, and said:
"You must go for me now to the eastern world, to know what was it that left the Gruagach with the one hair on his head."
"Well," said Gilla, "I never knew that you wanted to put me to death till this minute; I know it now. But still so long as I'm in your service I can't refuse to do your work."
Then Gilla na Grakin stepped out of the castle door, and away he went to the eastern world. He took a glen at a step, a hill at a leap, and lochs and seas at a bound till he entered the Gruagach's house in the eastern world.
"What is your errand to me," asked the Gruagach, "and why have you come to my house?"
"I have come," said Gilla, "to know what was it that left you with the one hair on your head."
"Sit down here and rest yourself to-night, and if you are a good man, I'll tell you to-morrow," said the Gruagach.
When bedtime came the Gruagach said: "There is an iron harrow there beyond, with teeth on both sides of it; go now and stretch yourself on that harrow, and sleep till morning."
When daylight came, the Gruagach was on his feet, and asked Gilla was he up.
"I am," said he. After they had eaten breakfast, the Gruagach went to another room and brought out two iron loops. One of these he put on Gilla's neck, and the other on his own, and then they began to jerk the loops and pull one another and they fought till late in the afternoon; neither had the upper hand, but if one man was weaker than the other, that man was Gilla na Grakin.
"And now," thought he to himself, "the Gruagach will take my life, and my wife will never know what became of me." The thought gave him strength and power, so up he sprang, and with the first pull he gave he put the Gruagach to his knees in the ground, with the second he put him to his waist, with the third to his shoulders.
"Indeed," said Gilla, "it would be easier for me to strike the head off you now, than to let you go; but if I took your head I shouldn't have my master's work done."
"If you let me go," said the Gruagach, "I'll tell you what happened to me, and why I have but the one hair on my head."
Gilla set him free, then the two sat down together, and the Gruagach began:—
"I was living here, without trouble or annoyance from any man, till one day a hare ran in, made an unseemly noise under that table there, and insulted us. I was here myself at the time with my wife and my son and my daughter; and we had a hound, a beagle, and a black horse.
"The hare ran out from under the table, and I made after the hare, and my wife and son and daughter, with the horse and the two dogs, followed me.
"When the hare was on the top of a hill, I had almost hold of his hind legs, but I never caught him.
"When night was near, the hare came to the walls of a great castle, and as he was jumping over, I hit him a blow on the hind leg with a stick, but in he went to the castle.
"Out came an old hag, and screamed, 'Who is it that worried the pet of this castle!'
"I said it was myself that did it. Then she faced me, and made at me and the fight began between us. We fought all that night, and the next day till near evening. Then she turned around and pulled a Druidic rod out of herself, ran from me and struck my wife and son and daughter and the two hounds and the horse with the Druidic rod and made stones of them.
"Then she turned on me again and there wasn't but the one hair left on my head from the desperate fighting, and she looked at me, and said:
"'I'll let you go this time but I'll give you a good payment before you leave.' She caught hold of me then in the grip of her one hand and with the other she took a sharp knife and stripped all the skin and flesh off my back, from my waist to my heels. Then, taking the skin of a rough shaggy goat, she clapped it on to me in place of my own skin and flesh, and told me to go my way.
"I left the old hag and the castle behind, but the skin grew to me and I wear it to this day." And here the Gruagach turned to Gilla na Grakin and showed him the goatskin growing on his body in place of his own skin and flesh.
"Well," said Gilla, when he saw the shaggy back of the Gruagach, "does that hare come here to insult you yet?"
"He does, indeed," said the Gruagach, "but I haven't taken a bite nor a sup off that table since his first visit." "Let us sit down there now," said Gilla na Grakin.
They sat down at the table, but they were not sitting long till the hare came, repeated the insult, and ran out.
Gilla na Grakin made after the hare, and the Gruagach after Gilla.
Gilla ran as fast as ever his legs could carry him, and he was often that near that he used to stretch his arm out after the hare, and almost catch him; but he never touched him till near night, when he was clearing the wall. Then Gilla caught him by the two hind legs, and, swinging him over his own shoulder, dashed him against the wall, tore the head from the body, and sent it bounding across the courtyard of the castle.
Out rushed an old hag that minute. She had but one tooth and that in her upper jaw, and she used this tooth for a crutch.
"Who has killed the pet of this castle!" shrieked she.
"It was I that killed him," said Gilla na Grakin. Then the two made at one another,—the hag and Gilla. They fought all that night and next day. With their fighting they made the hard rocks soft, and water to spring out through the middle of them. All the land of the eastern world was trembling as the evening drew near, and if one of the two was getting weak from the struggle and tired, that one was Gilla na Grakin. When he saw this he thought to himself, "Isn't it a pity if an old hag puts me to death, me, who has put to death many a strong hero."
At this thought he sprang up and seized the hag. With the first thrust which he gave her into the ground he put her to the knees, with the second to her waist, with the third to her shoulders.
"Now," said the old hag to Gilla, "don't kill me, and I'll give you the rod of druidism (enchantment), which I have between my skin and flesh."
"Oh, you wicked old wretch! I'll have that after your death, and no thanks to you," said Gilla. With that he swept the head off of her with a single blow.
Then the head jumped at the body, and tried to get its place again, but Gilla stood between them, and kept the head off till the body was cold. Then he took out the rod of enchantment from between the skin and the flesh, and threw the body and the head of the old hag aside.
The Gruagach came up, and Gilla said, "Show me now the stones which were once your wife and children, your dogs and your horse."
The Gruagach went with him to the stones. Gilla struck each with the rod, and the wife, the son, the daughter, the hounds and the horse of the Gruagach were alive again.
When this was done, Gilla turned to the Gruagach, struck the goatskin from his body, and gave him his own skin and flesh back again with the power of the rod.
When all were restored, they started for the Gruagach's house, and when there the Gruagach said to Gilla na Grakin,—
"Stay here with me till you get your rest. We won't leave this place for a year and a day, and then I'll go with you to the castle of Fin MacCumhail and give witness to Fin of all that has happened to me and all you have done."
"Oh," said Gilla na Grakin, "I can't stay to rest, I must go now!"
The Gruagach was so glad that he had got back all his family and his own flesh that he followed Gilla, and they set out for the castle of Fin MacCumhail in Erin.
They took a glen at a step, a hill at a leap, and the sea at a bound.
Conan Maol, who was outside the castle when they came in sight, ran in and said to Fin, "Gilla na Grakin and the Gruagach are coming, and they'll destroy all that's about the castle, and all that's inside as well!"
"If they do," said Fin, "it's your own fault, and you have no one to blame but yourself."
"Well," said Conan Maol, "I'll lie down here in the cradle, and put a steel cap on my head."
Conan lay down in the cradle. Gilla and the Gruagach came into the castle. The Gruagach sat down near the cradle. Then he said to Fin, "I came here with Gilla na Grakin to bear witness to you of all that has happened to me, and of all he has done."
Then he told Fin the whole story of what they had gone through and what they had done.
With that the Gruagach put his hand behind him and asked: "How old is this child lying here in the cradle?"
"Only three years," said Fin's wife.
Then the Gruagach took the steel cap between his thumb and fingers, thinking it was the head of the child, and squeezed till the steel cracked with a loud snap, but the child didn't cry.
"Oh, there's the making of a man in him. If he gets age he'll be a champion," said the Gruagach.
Next day the Gruagach left Fin's castle and went to his own place and family.
Gilla na Grakin's time was now up, for he had served a year and a day.
Fin went out to wash himself in a spring near the castle, and when he looked into the spring a spirit spoke up out of the water to him and said:
"You must give back his cup to the king of the Flood, or you must give him battle in its place."
Fin went back to the castle, lamenting the state he was in.
Conan Maol said, "You look like a sorrowful man."
"Why shouldn't I be?" said Fin. "A spirit spoke to me from the spring outside, and told me I must give back the cup to the king of the Flood, or give him battle in place of it. Now Gilla's time is up, and I don't know what to do."
"Well," said Conan Maol, "do you go now and speak to him, and maybe he'll do you a good turn."
Fin went to Gilla na Grakin, and told him what happened at the spring.
"My time is up, as you know," said Gilla, "and I cannot serve on time that is past; but if you want me to go, you must watch my wife Scéhide ni Wánanan on Friday night; and in the middle of the night, when she is combing her hair, any request you'll make of her she can't refuse. The request you'll make is that she'll let me go with you to the king of the Flood, to take the cup to his castle and bring it back again."
Fin watched the time closely, and when the middle of Friday night came, he looked through a hole in the door and saw Scéhide combing her hair. Then he asked his request of her.
"Well," answered she, "I can't refuse, but you must promise me to bring back Gilla, dead or alive."
Fin promised her that.
Next morning Fin MacCumhail and Gilla na Grakin set out for the castle of the king of the Flood, taking the cup with them.
They walked over Erin till they came to the shore of the sea. There Gilla caught up two pieces of wood, and putting one across the other, struck them a tip of his fingers, and out of them rose a fine ship. He and Fin went on board, sailed away, and never stopped till they cast anchor outside all the ships, under the castle of the king of the Flood. The two walked on from deck to deck till they stood on shore.
They went a short distance from the castle of the king and pitched a tent.
Said Gilla to Fin, "Now we are hungry, and I must find food for you and myself."
So Gilla na Grakin went to the castle and asked food of the king of the Flood.
"You'll get nothing to eat from me. I have no food in this place to give you or the like of you; but there is a wild bull in the wood outside. Find him: if you kill him, you'll have something to eat; if not you'll go fasting," said the king of the Flood to Gilla na Grakin.
Gilla went out to the wood, and when the wild bull saw a man coming towards him he drove his horns into the ground, and put an acre of land over his own back. Then he threw up an oak-tree, roots and all, till it nearly reached the sky, and made at Gilla na Grakin. But if he did, Gilla was ready for him and faced him, and when the bull came up, he caught him by the horns and threw him to the ground; then putting a foot on one horn, he took the other in his two hands, split the bull from muzzle to tail, and made two halves of him.
Gilla carried the carcass to the tent, and when he had taken off the skin he said to Fin, "We have no pot to boil the meat in. Well, I'll go to the king again."
So off he went and knocked at the castle door.
"What do you want now?" asked the king.
"I want a pot," said Gilla, "to boil the wild bull."
"Well," said the king, "I have no pot for you but that big pot back in the yard, in which we boil stuff for the pigs. I'll give you the loan of that if you are able to carry it."
"It's good to get that itself from a bad person," said Gilla na Grakin, and away he went to look for the pot behind the castle.
At last he found it, and when he put it down at the tent he said to Fin, "We have nothing now to boil the pot with, nothing to make a fire."
Then he went a third time to the castle, knocked at the door, and out came the king. "What do you want now?" asked he.
"Fire to boil the bull."
"Go to the wood and get firewood for yourself, or do without it. You'll get no firewood from me," said the king of the Flood.
Gilla went out, got plenty of wood and boiled the whole bull.
"We are well off now," said he to Fin; "we have plenty to eat."
Next morning Gilla na Grakin went to the castle and knocked.
"Who is that?" asked the king, without opening the door.
"I want no chat nor questions from you," said Gilla, "but get me a breakfast." "I have no breakfast now," said the king; "but wait a minute and you'll get a hot breakfast from me."
That moment the signal was sounded for the armies of the king of the Flood to take Gilla na Grakin and his master.
When the armies stood ready Gilla began and went through them as a hawk through sparrows. He made one heap of their heads and another of their weapons,—didn't leave a man living. Then he went into the castle and taking the king of the Flood in one hand and the queen in the other, he killed each of them against the other.
Now all was quiet at the castle. Gilla na Grakin struck the tent and went to the ship with Fin MacCumhail, who had the cup that was never dry.
They raised the sails and went over the sea toward Erin, till they saw a large ship on one side of them.
"If it's going to help us that ship is," said Fin, "'tis all the better for us, but if 'tis going against us she is, that's the bad part of it."
As the ship came near, Gilla na Grakin looked at her sharply, and said to Fin, "I think it's Lun Dubh that's on that ship."
"Well," said Fin, "maybe he'll not know you in a strange dress."
When Lun Dubh came alongside, he called out: "I know you well, and it's not by your dress that I know you, Césa MacRi na Tulach." Then Lun Dubh sprang on deck, raised his hand, struck Gilla, and stretched him dead.
Fin sailed away with the body of Gilla na Grakin, and when he came in sight of the shore of Erin he raised a black flag; for he had promised Gilla's wife to raise a white flag if her husband was well, but a black one if he was dead.
When he came to the shore, Scéhide ni Wánanan was there before him, and she had a large, roomy box. When she saw Fin she said, "You have him dead with you?"
"I have," said Fin.
"What will you do with him now?" asked she.
"I will bury him decently," said Fin.
"You will not," said she; "you will put him in this box."
Then Fin put him in the box. She went aside and got some fresh shamrock and went into the box with Gilla. Then she told Fin to push the box out to sea, and putting down the cover fastened it inside.
Fin pushed the box out into the sea, and away it went driven by wind and waves, till one day Scéhide looked out through a hole and saw two sparrows flying and a dead one between them. The two living sparrows let the dead one down on an island. Soon they rose up again, and the dead one was living.
Said Scéhide to herself, "There might be something on that island that would cure my husband as it cured the dead bird."
Now the sea put the box in on the island. Scéhide unfastened the cover, came out, and walked around the island. Nothing could she find but a small spring of water in a rock. "It's in this the cure may be," thought she, as she looked at the water. Then taking off one of her shoes she put it full of the water, took it to the box, and poured it on Gilla na Grakin. That moment he stood up alive and well. Gilla walked along the shore till he found two pieces of wood. He threw one across the other, gave them a tip of his hand, a fine large ship stood there at the shore, and in it he sailed with Scéhide back to Erin.
When they landed he turned the vessel into two sticks again with a tip of the hand, and set out with his wife for the castle of Fin MacCumhail in TirConal.
They came to the castle of Fin at midnight. Gilla knocked and said, "Put my wages out to me."
"Well," said Fin inside, "there is no man, alive or dead, that has wages on me but Gilla na Grakin, and I would rather see that fellow here than the wages of three men."
"Well, rise up now and you'll see him," said Gilla.
Fin rose up, saw his man, gave him his wages with thanks and Gilla departed.
At the break of day they saw a great house before them. A man walked out with a kerchief bound on his head.
When Gilla na Grakin came up, he knew the man, and raising his hand, struck him dead with a blow.
"I have satisfaction on Lun Dubh, now," said Gilla to the wife. The two went into the house and stayed there, and may be there yet for anything we know. We are the luck and they are the winners.
Notes: Contains 20 Irish folktales.
Author: Jeremiah Curtin
Publisher: Sampson Low, Martson, Searle & Rivington, London