The Laughter of Peterkin

The Tale of the Four White Swans, cont'd

Year after year passed for the four swans that were the children of Lir. On that bleak and lonely sea of the Moyle they saw none of their own kind from year's end to year's end: only the sea-mew and the cormorant, the gannet and the tern, the slow droves of the pollack, the travelling schools of mackerel and herring, the swift seals migrating from isle to isle. With each Spring they saw the great solanders and wild swans flying northward towards the polar seas: thence, at the first days of winter, they saw them again flying southward, athirst for the thin blue wine of unfrozen seas.

There was no change save the changefulness of the seasons; the grey-black wave of winter lapsed into the grey-blue wave of spring, and out of the dark-blue wave of summer grew the grey-green wave of autumn.

Cold and hunger and weariness: these only did not vary.

But at last the long weary exile on the Sea of Moyle came to an end. One day Fionula told her brothers that on the morrow they would have to fly far westward, for the three hundred years on the sea-stream of the Moyle were over, and now they had to begin their long and mayhap still more bitter, bleak, and mournful exile on the wild western ocean beyond Erin.

"We must fly straight to the bleak headland of Irros Domnann," she said, "and then must remain on the wild and desolate seas off the isle of Glora, the island that is farthest away from the mainland of our beloved Erin."

Thither, accordingly, the four swans flew on the morrow. It was with joy that they left the sea of the Moyle, where they had known so much privation and misery; but little cause had they for joy, for not less bleak were the skies, not less desolate the coasts, not less wild the storm-lashed, rain-swept seas, off the lifeless, barren isle of Glora. The great waves of the shoreless western ocean beat upon it for ever, and their thunder often filled the darkness for countless leagues with a sound most dreadful to hear.

But after many years it chanced that a young man, named Ebric, the son of a Dedannan lord, came to farm a tract of land lying along the shore of Irros Domnann. This youth, who was a poet, and loved all beautiful things, soon cared more for the sweet, wonderful singing of the four swans, which often he heard, and to see their white bodies glistening in the sun, than to till his land.

One day Fionula and her brothers descried him. Flying to the shore, they called, and great was his wonder to hear the dead familiar Gaelic speech in the mouths of wild swans.

From that time he walked daily down to the extreme rocks on the shore, that he might converse with the children of Lir, and hear all they had to tell of their sad story; though he, on his part, could relate little to them of what had happened, or was happening further inland in Erin, though they heard from him with sorrow that the Milesians were now mightier than the Dedannans, and that the Fairy Host was no longer able to withstand the might of these enemies who long since had come out of the south.

"For," he said, "it is the way of what is beautiful and wonderful; that the wonder passes and beauty fades."

That night he heard Fionula singing, and knew that the burden of her song was no other than the saying he had uttered:

Dim face of Beauty haunting all the world,
Fair face of Beauty all too fair to see,
Where the lost stars adown the heavens are hurled,
     There, there alone for thee
     May white peace be.

For here where all the dreams of men are whirled
Like sere torn leaves of autumn to and fro,
There is no place for thee in all the world,
     Who driftest as a star,
     Beyond, afar.

Beauty, sad face of Beauty, Mystery, Wonder,
What are these dreams to foolish babbling men
Who cry with little noises 'neath the thunder
     Of ages ground to sand,
     To a little sand.

Ebric moved homeward through the moon-light wondering much at that song of Fionula. But because he was a poet, he understood.

From him the people of the hills, and the valleys round about Irros Domnann, heard the story of the speaking swans; and soon the wonder of it, and the whole sorrowful tale of the Children of Lir, became as well known in that region as, long, long ago, to the Dedannans and Milesians on the shores of Lough Darvra, when they encamped by its shores because of the slow, sweet, fairy music of the four swans.

Then once again it chanced that the four children of Lir unwittingly transgressed their doom, and so had to leave the shores where they could converse with the people who loved them. But Ebric, to whom they had told everything, was a poet, and wrought of their story a tale so sweet and marvellous that it has lasted all these ages, and is heard to this day on the lips of peasants in the west of Erin.

From that time onward the sufferings of Fionula and her brothers were no less than they had been on the sea of the Moyle. Yet even the worst they had there known was surpassed midway in the heart of a terrible winter, a winter when cattle died in covered sheds, and men and women in their houses, and the wild creatures of the forest under their branches, and the storm-inured seabirds in the hollows of their ocean-fronting cliffs.

On that day the whole surface of the sea from Irros Domnann to Achill was frozen into one solid mass of ice. Across this a polar wind drove sheets of hail and sleet. By nightfall, Aed and Fiachra and Conn were so far spent that they despaired of any morrow; and at the last Fionula herself, who had striven to comfort them, was herself in so pitiful a misery that she could only lament with them that death was so long in coming.

But in the full horror of midnight, while they clung nigh-frozen to the rock of Glora, Fionula had a vision. It was of that God, that new faith, that great wonder and beauty which was even then coming towards Erin, though St. Patrick had not yet set foot upon its shores.

"Brothers," she cried, "take heart. I have had a vision. Of a truth our ancient gods are but the children of a greater than they. Aed, dear Aed and Fiachra and Conn, believe now in this great and loving God, the most splendid God of the living truth: for it is He who has made all things, the pleasant, fruitful land and the wild barren sea; and it has been revealed to me that if we put our trust in Him, He will comfort us and send us help."

"That we now do, O Fionula!" cried Aed and Fiachra and Conn.

Thereupon they fell into a deep slumber. When they awoke the sun was shining; the fierce wind no longer blew; the waves danced joyously, tossing little sheets of spray from one to another. The bitter cold was gone, and they rejoiced exceedingly.

"It is Spring!" Aed cried, with joy.

"It is the answer of God," said Fionula gravely.

From that hour they had peace. Thenceforth they suffered no more from cold or hunger. When the savage frosts of winter, or the wild rains of autumn, came over the western sea, the four swans alighted on Innis Glora, and sang their wild, sweet, beautiful music, and then fell asleep, nestling side by side, till they awoke to warmth and joy.

So was it till the end of the three hundred years. Three hundred years on the lough of Darvra; three hundred on the sea-stream of the Moyle; three hundred on the sea of Glora, to the west of Erin. All these ages had they endured, and now their exile was at an end.

"On the morrow, dear brothers," Fionula sang rejoicingly, "on the morrow we shall wing our way inland; for our hearts ache to see again our own country and our kindred, and the faces of Lir our father, and Bove Derg the king, and all whom we love. Great shall be the joy at Shee Finnaha when they behold us once more; but not more joyous shall their delight be than it will be for us to see the smoke rising from the fires of our people, and to see the greatness and beauty of Shee Finnaha.

They could not sleep that night for eagerness. At dawn they rose on white wings, circling through the wide blue spaces of the air. When the yellow stream of the sun poured westward out of the mountain-ridges of Achill, they chanted a farewell song, and then stretched their wide pinions and flew homeward with beating hearts.

Sweet it was to see below them the green grass instead of the cold, running wave; and the hollows of the meadows, how much dearer were they than the troughs of the drowning billows!

When they came to the great hill above Shee Finnaha, their wings were seized with so great a trembling that scarcely could they reach into view of Lir's high shining house.

Descending, therefore, they alit on a rock and rested awhile. A deep sadness oppressed Fionula. There was so great a silence on every rock, on every tree. Moreover, she had seen a stag stand staring inland with idle eyes, and had seen the hill-fox and the wolf prowling in the glen where as a child she had often played.

"What is the fear that is in your eyes, Fionula? " asked one of her brothers with sudden dread.

"Alas! Aed, if Lir and the Dedannans were still here, would a stag stand staring inland, where Shee Finnaha is, with heedless eyes and no hoof lifted, and nostrils idly sniffing the unfrequented wind?

"Of a surety no, Fionula."

"Yet that have I seen, Aed. And if in Shee Finnaha still dwelled our Dedannan folk, would the hill-fox and the wolf prowl in the Glen of the White Water, there where we were wont to play and bathe, we and all the little children?"

"Of a surety no, Fionula."

"Yet that have I seen, O Aed and Fiachra and Conn. Come! we are rested now. Let us hasten homeward to Shee Finnaha, that we have longed for all these years, and to our father Lir, who awaiteth us."

Onward they flew.

But just as they soared over the shoulder of Knoc-na-Shee, Fionula uttered a piercing cry.

There indeed was the valley where Lir long, long ago had made his home. But now there was not a single wreath of smoke rising to the sky, not a single cow lowed in the pastures, neither man nor woman nor child moved to and fro. Nay, there were not even any houses. All had gone. Amid the desolate place rose the gaunt, dishevelled ruins of Lir's great dun; its halls empty and roofless, or tenanted only by the rank grass and tall companies of nettles.

"Alas !" cried Aed, "for the omen of the stag staring idly on Shee Finnaha, and for that of the hill-fox and the wolf prowling in the Glen of the White Water."

But Fionula could speak no word, for her heart was breaking.

For long they crouched silent amid the desolation of that ruined place. Thrice three hundred years had passed since they had played in front of the house of Lir: beneath yonder ruined wooden arch they had set forth with Aeifa on that ill-fated journey.

The dusk came. Still the four children of Lir crouched silent amid the ruined desolation which was all that remained of lordly Shee Finnaha.

The wolf prowled near, but turned away the flame of his yellow eyes, for he feared those who crouched there and had the voices of the human kind. The bats and owls alone paid no heed.

When the stars glistened in the sky, and the moon rose, and on the night wind there was not the lowing of a cow or the barking of a dog, or any sound whatsoever, save from the rustling forest and the murmuring stream, Fionula and Aed and Fiachra and Con fell into a bitter sobbing and a long, mournful keen, that rose into the hills with plaintive echoes.

When the day broke, each told the other that they could no longer stay in Shee Finnaha. That desolation was now to them more bitter than the wilderness of the bleak seas of the Moyle. While they were still speaking thus sorrowfully, Conn descried an old man---so old and worn that his hair hung about his wrinkled face like thistledown, so white and bleached was it. He carried a small harp but in his eyes was the look of one who saw only far into the mind and never from the mind outward.

"Who art thou, O stranger?" Conn asked.

The man looked at the swan that spoke to him in human speech, and in the sweet, familiar tongue of the Gael.

"I have heard strange things," he muttered, and in my madness have come to learn of the beasts. Have not the hawks and eagles of Shee Finnaha told me bitter tidings, and has not the hill-fox barked to me of the graves of dead hopes, and has not the she-wolf whined to me in the dusk of the sorrows that flit through the woods--the old ancient sorrows of the wise and the beautiful and the brave that are now no more? Why then should not a wild swan speak? Have I forgotten that, ages ago, the children of Lir were changed into swans, and that they spoke with the human tongue, and sang songs so passing sweet that life and death became as the selfsame dream? Ah! that dream of dreams: fragrant it was as the breath of Moy Mell, the honey-sweet plain of Heaven; restful as the sound of the waves beating on the shores of Tir-fa-Tonn, where the dead dwell in youth and joy; strange and wild as the noise of invisible wings over the blessed isle that is Hy BrAsil in the west."

Conn spake again:

"Art thou a Dedannan, old man?"

"A Dedannan I am, O Swan, that speakest with the tongue of man; yea, a Dedannan I am, if a sere and fallen leaf can be called a child of the green tree. Say, rather, a Dedannan I was."

"Dost thou know aught of Bove Derg, the King of the Dedannans, or of Lir, the lord of Shee Finnaha?"

The stranger sighed, and by the veiling of his eyes Conn knew that the old harper was with the past.

"Ay," he muttered at last, "but who can note the passage of the years when one is old and broken and sick unto death? A hundred years have trodden the red leaves again, or it may be thrice a hundred, since I chanted the death-song of Bove Derg, the King of the Dedannans; since I looked on the white face of Lir, as he lay grey and ashy among the ashy-grey thistles."

Conn uttered a cry of sorrow, and a bitter keen of lament came from his two brothers and from Fionula.

"Then these also speak," muttered the old harper: "almost can I persuade myself that I look on the wild swans that are the four children of Lir--Fionula and Aed and Fiachra and Conn. Ages ago I thought they had lapsed in death. All are gone now, save only Aeifa, who is a demon of the air, and wails among the hills and in desolate places."

All this time Fionula had been looking earnestly at the old man. Now she spoke.

"Tell me, art thou not Irbir the Harper?"

"It is Irbir the Harper I am, the chief harper of Bove Derg, that was King of the Dedannans before the Fairy Host faded away from the meadows and pastures of Erin. And if indeed ye be the children of Lir, know I am that Irbir who sang the birth-song at the birthing of ye, Fionula and Aed, and at the birthing of ye, Fiachra and Conn."

Thereupon the old harper embraced the four swans, tears running down his face the while. While he was yet embracing them, his wildered mind began to wander, and he talked idly of vain things.

Nevertheless, they learned from him that more than a hundred years back, and maybe thrice a hundred, the Tuatha-De-Danann had fought a last great battle with the Milesians and had been utterly defeated. They were now a dispersed and hidden people, some deathless, others living to the thousand and one years of the old-world folk, and some with a new and terrible mortality upon them. As for Bove Derg and all the Fairy Host, the wild thistle waved over their nameless graves. Lir lay beneath the grass outside his great dun of Shee Finnaha. His last words had been "I hear the beating of wings, O wild swans, I hear the beating of your wings."

Thereafter Irbir the Harper moved aimless away, and with him passed the shadow of the greatness that was gone.

The children of Lir now spoke wearily among themselves of what they should do. At the last they decided to go back to the Isle of Glora, and there await the fulfilment of their doom.

One more night they spent at Shee Finnaha, mourning over the grey sorrow of Lir and over the desolation of that noble place, and over the ruin of the Dedannan folk. So wild and mournful was their singing that night that the beasts of the forest congregated round the ruined dun, and from the crags of the hills thronged the cliff-hawks and the eagles. In the heart of the woods Irbir, the old harper, died, dreaming that he was in Tir-nan-0g, the Land of Youth, and was listening again to the voices of Love.

On the morrow the children of Lir flew sorrowfully away from Shee Finnaha and returned to Innis Glora. They alit at a small lake in the heart of that isle, and there began once more to sing their slow, sweet, fairy music.

So wonderful was their singing, with all its added pain and the mystery of years, that the birds of all the regions round were wont to collect daily, and gather in flocks round about the singing swans. Thus it was that the little lake came to be called the Lake of the Bird Flocks.

At sunrise these innumerable birds would disperse far and wide; some seaward, some inland, some northward to Achill, some as far south as the three rocks known as Donn's Sea-Rest, some to Inniskea---to this day called the Isle of the Lonely Crane, for there dwells, and has dwelled since the beginning of the world, and shall dwell till the day of flame, a solitary brooding crane. But at night every bird returned to Innis Glora, to hear the slow, sweet, fairy music of the children of Lir.

In this way the years went past.

On a day of the days Fionula called her brothers to listen to her, because of a dream that she had dreamed.

"The Taillkenn¹ has come at last," she said. "I saw a strange light in the East at midnight. A star rose out of it, and travelled through the gulfs of the sky, and rested over Erin, and sank slowly over this our dear land. Then I heard a smoke of voices rising to the stars, and thence, too, came a chiming sweeter than any chants we have sung in all these thrice three hundred years."

¹ St. Patrick. (Druidic name.)

On the eve of that day a man came forth from the mainland in a coracle. He came to Innis Glora, and alighted there, and kneeled in a strange fashion, and supplicated some god.

It was St. Kemoc.

After nightfall the wild swans were silent, for all were heavy with the strangeness of this man, who was not like unto any Dedannan or even a Milesian, and who prayed on his knees, and supplicated a god set beyond the stars.

In the grey dawn they awoke, trembling. Trembling still, they started and ran bewilderedly to and fro, for strange and dreadful to them was the sound that they heard. It was but a little sound, and faint and afar; but it was the chiming of a bell, and in all the thrice three hundred years and more they had lived they had heard nought like it. The bell was the matin-bell of St. Kemoc, but they knew it not, nor what it meant. Aed and Fiachra and Conn ran wildly and far, but at last when the bell ceased, they returned to Fionula.

"Do you know what this sound is, this faint, fearful sound that has terrified us, dear brothers?"

"No, we have heard the faint, fearful voice, but know not what it is. Is it the voice of the strange man who has come among us, and is he a god?"

"No," answered Fionula, with grave joy, "but it is the voice of the Christian's bell. Soon we shall be free of our spell; soon we shall have peace. It is the bell we have dreamed of for so many years."

All were glad at that. Kemoc had again begun to ring his matin-bell, and the four swans crouched low, listening to its strange music. When it ceased, Fionula spoke:

"Let us now sing our music."

Therewith they sang their slow, sweet, fairy music.

Kemoc rose in his place, amazed with great wonder. At first he thought it was the voices of the angels singing in Paradise. Then suddenly it was revealed to him that it was the slow, sweet, fairy music of the children of Lir, whereat he rejoiced exceedingly, for he had fared westward in the hope to find and save Fionula and Aed and Fiachra and Conn, of whom he had heard soon after he came to Erin with tidings of Christ and the Christian faith.

So when his prayers were done, and sunrise put a shine of gold upon the sea, Kemoc rose and went to the lake, and hailed the four white swans. And when they answered and told him who they were, he gave thanks to God.

"Come now to land," he added, "and sojourn with me, for it is in this place that ye are destined to be freed from your enchantment."

Filled with a great joy on hearing the words of the Christian saint, they came ashore, and went with him to where he had builded, his cell against the forefront of a cave.

Three days later a skilled craftsman for whom he had sent came to Innis Glora, and wrought two slender shining chains of silver. These St. Kemoc put upon Fionula and Aed and upon Fiachra and Conn, to show that they were now bondagers to Christ, for all that they were still swans and under the doom of the spell of Aeifa.

Thereafter the time passed with joy and peace. Kemoc taught them the holy faith, and came to love them with his whole heart. As for the children of Lir they were glad with so great a gladness that they remembered no more their long misery, and even loved better to hear the hymns and litanies of St. Kemoc than the lifesweet war-chants and love-songs they had heard in their childhood from Irbir and other bards and minstrels.

But at that time¹ there was a queen in Erin who above all other things desired the glory of having these marvellous, singing swans as her own. In the olden days men and women were wont to hold the decrees of the gods and of fate in reverence; and more thought was taken of the inner meanings of dreams, marvels, and the strange vicissitudes of life. Has not a wise poet declared that the smaller the soul the greater the tyranny? This queen was Decca, daughter of Finghin, king of Munster, and wife of Lairgnen, the king of Connaught.

¹ With the advent of St. Kemoc, the story comes within historical times. Lairgnen and Finghin were kings of Connaught and Munster, who flourished in the seventh century A.D.

It was of these two that Aeifa, long, long ago, had spoken prophetically, but none remembered this save only Fionula, in whose mind dreams, and memories floated as waterblooms on a mountain lake-the blooms that float and sink and rise as though a breath sustained or swayed them, the breath out of still, pellucid depths.

At last the desire of Decca overmastered her. She begged Lairgnen to fare westward to Kemoc, and obtain the swans from the saint and bring them to her. But this the king feared to do, nor held it a kingly act. Then Decca gave way to her anger, and left the great house of the king and vowed that she would not sleep there another night till Lairgnen brought her the singing swans.

So the woman fled southward into Munster, her father's realm.

Lairgnen the Connaught king loved his wife to weakness. He was the slave of her dark eyes and her smiling lips and her selfish heart and her poor will: so he came to evil then, and later. For according as a man's love is, and as he loved to strength, so shall his life be abased or uplifted.

So Lairgnen sent messengers after Decca, and sought her in the south. Thus was the prophecy fulfilled.

The woman returned, but put a bond upon the king. He was weak, and she made a sport of him as women do who are loved to weakness and not to strength: as with men also, when women love them ignobly, and not as high mate with high mate.

Thus it came about that Lairgnen gave the word to St. Kemoc that he desired the four swans to be sent to him at his royal house in Connaught. Kemoc, however, refused. He served the King of kings, not the king of Connaught.

Full of wrath, Lairgnen set out for the western coast, and at last reached Innis Glora. When he asked Kemoc if he had indeed refused to give up the swans at his command, and was told that this was so, he swore the old pagan oath by the sun and the moon and the wind, and vowed that he would not leave that place without them.

"Doom must be fulfilled, O king," said Kemoc, "but woe unto that man by whom the evil of a day of the days is wrought."

Lairgnen laughed, and followed the saint into the little chapel where the four swans stood before the altar, singing a sweet wonderful song that was a hymn of peace and joy. Seizing the silver chain of Fionula and Aed in one hand, and that of Fiachra and Conn in the other, he forced them to follow him.

"Do not do this thing, Lairgnen, son of Colman," said St. Kemoc.

"And for why not?" asked the king, smiling grimly, as he neared the door of the wattlechurch. "Am I not the king, and can I not do as I will in mine own lands?"

"There is another King. If thou doest a wrong against Him, thou shalt have neither the desire of thine heart nor yet go free of the penalty of lifelong sorrow and a bitter end."

For a moment Lairgnen quailed. The angry voice of a cleric was a perilous omen in those days. Then he strode forward, dragging after him the four swans.

Suddenly a wild, strange cry resounded over the church. All stood silent, appalled. To Fionula only was it revealed that it was neither the screaming of the wind, nor the thin shrewd wail of the sea, nor the savage cry of a sea-mew---but that it was the voice of Aeifa, that lost forlorn demon of the air for whom there might be no rest now till the day of the flame of which St. Kemoc spoke.

"Come!" said Lairgnen, with a great effort.

But when he strove with the chains, lo! a strange thing happened. These fell apart, and at the same moment the great wings of the swans contracted, and the white feathers that were the beauty of their bodies shrivelled. A mist of blown feathers was about them:and when Lairgnen and Kemoc looked through this as it settled upon the ground like dust, they beheld a wonderful and a terrible thing.

For as the feathers fell away from the children of Lir, Fionula and her brothers once more regained their human shape. But now they were no longer fair and sweet and young, as they were when Aeifa put her enchantment upon them. They stood there, worn with intolerable age. Grey and ashy were their bodies, and long and sere and white their thin, blanched hair: and they were tremulous as reeds, and their wan hands were as the shaking wan leaves of the poplar when autumn is dead.

The children of Lir looked one upon the other with dim, forlorn eyes. It was a bitter thing to live so many ages only to find that their own kith and kin were as dust, and that their habitation was a wilderness, and that their very race had passed away: to see each other in human form again, but Fionula an aged ancient woman, grey as old hanging moss and wrinkled as the wave-rippled sand, and tall Aed and swift Fiachra and laughing Conn as three feeble old men, wavering as their own shadows.

When Lairgnen saw this he was overcome with dread. He uttered a strange cry, and, averting his face, fled from the little chapel, nor looked back once upon Innis Glora; and feared the following flight of his own shadow till once more he reached his great house in Connaught, over which he heard a demon of the air wailing and laughing, and knew that it was Aeifa, and that the terror of this banshee would be with him and his for ever.

As he fled, he heard the bitter execrations of St. Kemoc, but these he heeded less than the thin, inarticulate murmur of the voices of the children of Lir, like the hum of gnats in a well.

Nevertheless Kemoc himself was able to hear the whisper of Fionula. So one may hear the faint rustle of leaves in the heart of a forest where there is no wind.

"Be swift, holy one, and give us baptism, here before the altar. We have but a brief while wherein to draw breath. Great is thy sorrow at this parting, but not more great than is ours. Nevertheless the end is always in the beginning, and we are but the dry thistledown of the young sprays of green. For thee, too, O Kemoc, the vial of silence shall be broken, but not until thy hair is like the flame of the sea, and thine eyes dim as the light beneath a wave."

Thereupon St. Kemoc led them slowly towards the altar, and bade farewell to each, for he saw that the shadow of death had covered them from the soles of the feet to the chin of the head, and was rising to the eyes.

Once more Fionula spoke.

"Farewell, dear brothers," she said. " We are so old that we have forgotten age. Very weary should we be were it not for sweet death. We go far hence, and it may well be that we visit Hy Brįsil before we see the shining of the gates of Paradise. There we shall greet our father Lir, and he shall come with us. And if he come not, we shall abide with him, for love is stronger than death."

"Even so," whispered Aed and Fiacha and Conn.

"And to thee, Kemoc, thou holy one," she murmured, "I have this thing for the saying. We are of our people, and would fain be in the darkness as our ancient forgotten dead before us. It is not fitting that we lie in the earth who are of the old race, and have the blood of kings, and have lived in no dishonour, and die as we have lived."

"Speak, Fionula."

"When we fail utterly and perish, as we shall do within this hour that is upon us, O Kemoc, remember that as in life I so often sheltered my brothers against my breast and sides when we were swans, we must not be apart in death. Therefore bury us on this spot and in one grave.¹ And in that grave let Conn stand near me at my right side, and Fiachra at my left, and let Aed my twin brother be before my face."

With that she sighed. So sighs a wan, drifting leaf wind-slidden over sere grass.

Then Kemoc baptized Fionula and Aed and Fiachra and Conn: and when he had given them eternity and the company of saints, they died. They did not fall, but wavered as dry reeds and were suddenly at one with their own shadows, and were no more.

¹ It was the wont among the early Celtic peoples to bury their dead erect, Particularly in the case of kings, and great warriors, and sons and daughters of king,.

When the saint rose from his knees, he put the tears from his face and stared into the deeps of heaven. Then he had the joy of a glad vision. Overhead he beheld four children with light silver-shining wings, their faces radiant: yet knew not whether they were little ones or were youthful with new life, for the glory dazzled him. A moment, as the foambells on a falling wave, they were there: then they vanished, and passed westward, and were in Hy BrAsil with Lir and their own people even while Kemoc bent lamenting over the frail ancient bodies that had been the children of Lir.

So in that place a grave was digged, and Fionula was placed standing therein: and by her right side, Conn; and by her left, Fiachra and before her face, Aed. Over this grave Kemoc raised a mound, and put a great stone upon it. Then he made a lament over the dead.

When all the people were gone, there remained only Kemoc, and a young poet and cleric named Ebric the son of Ebric, the son of Ebric of Irros Domnann. And when St. Kemoc went to his cell, and knew the dark hour, because of his sorrow, Ebric stood by the great stone at the mound and graved in Ogham the names of Fionula and Aed and Fiachra and Conn.

The salt grasses wave out of the dust, the dust of the powder of that stone which Ebric graved with cunning hand: but out of the hearts of men who shall take the sorrowful tale of the Children of Lir, or against it shall prevail what frost of age, what breath of time?

The stone perisheth, but the winged word on the breath of the lips endureth for ever.

CONTENTS