Stories, Myths&Legends

The Enchanted Fawn/Carn Mail

The Scribe is about to tell of the deed from which the place name Carn Mail originated:

 

PLEASANT is the theme that falls to my care, 

The lore not of one spot only, 

While my spirit sheds light eastward 

On the secret places of the world. 

How is it that none of you demands, 

If he seek to weave the web of knowledge

When came at any time the name 

Of Carn Mail in the eastern Plain of Ulaid?

 

Finally, after many quatrains, the scribe brings in Daire, a handsome and

great warrior who had seven sons. This chieftain Daire possessed an enchanted fawn. One day four of Daire’s sons loosed their hounds after the fawn. They sped from Tara to the northwest: 

 

Swift fled the fawn before them 

As far as the stream by Sinann: 

The fawn fell a prey 

To the four noble striplings. 

 

The sons of Daire from Dun na n-Eicess 

Cast lots gleefully, 

That each might know his share 

Of the enchanted fawn, without quarrel. 

 

To Lugaid Corb, rough though he was, 

There fell the carving of the fawn; 

So from him is named the clan 

Dal Mess Corb in the region of Cualu. 

Three quatrains are omitted; they tell of the various tribes which the sons of Daire fathered. And now the princes have eaten of the fawn and are drowsing 

 

When the men were in the house 

Sitting over by the fireside, 

There entered a hag, a loathly offence; 

She was hideous, unsightly. 

Taller was she than a mast upright, 

Bigger than a sleeping-hut her ear, 

Blacker than any visage her form, 

A weight on every heart was the hag.

 

Broader her row of teeth – what portends it? – 

Than a board set with draughtsmen:

Her nose stood out far before her, 

It was longer than a ploughshare. 

 

Bigger than a basket full of sheaves 

Was each fist of the mis-natured woman:

 Bigger than rough-hewn stone in rampart 

Each of her black bony knees. 

A paunchy belly she bore, I trow, 

Without rib to the armpits: 

A scabby black crown with a crop of wens, 

Like a furzy hillside, upon her. 

 

She set upon them in the strong house 

Where sat the King of Erin’s sons; 

Dire the dazzlement she cast upon them 

From her eyes – alas the deed!

 

A change fell on the nature of the tender youths 

Before that obese lustful horror: 

Sooner than look upon her 

They had chosen to be buried under earth alive. 

 

 

Their spirit and senses turned, 

With a throb sorer than stark combat: 

The sons of Daire gave themselves 

Over to a death of shame. 

 

 

She addressed them with an evil saying: 

”One of you must sleep with me to-night, 

Or I will devour you all, unaided, 

Hound and strong man alike.” 

When he saw the danger plain, 

Lugaid Laigde spoke: 

”I will sleep with her – unwelcome task: 

Enough for you to lose me only.”

 

As the firelight fell dim, 

She changed to another wondrous shape: 

She took on a radiant form, beyond praise: 

Rosy she grew, round-bosomed. 

Such were her eyes 

(They were no tricks of cheating craft) – 

Three shafts of sunlight in each of them: 

Where her glance fell all was bright. 

Down slid the crimson mantle fair 

From her breasts untouched by age, 

Till the flesh-worm might be crushed in the room 

By the light of her lovely body.

 

Then the young man asked her, 

"Fair maiden, whence comest thou?

 Name thy race, tell it now, 

Speak to me, bide it not from me! "

 

I will tell thee, gentle youth; 

With me sleep the High Kings: 

I, the tall slender maiden, 

Am the Kingship of Alba and Erin. 

”To thee have I revealed myself this night, 

Yet nothing more shall come of our meeting; 

The son thou shalt have, he it is 

That I shall sleep with – happier fate.”... 

Translated by Edward Gwynn (Metrical Dindsenchas)

The poem ends with the woman foretelling the son’s name and deeds. Perhaps her appearance as a character in this episode is a manifestation of the Old Woman of Beare?

* Alba = Scotland.

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