BESIDES all the men Finn
had in his household, there were some that would come and join him from one
place or another.
One time a young man wearing a dress of skins came to
Finnís house at Almhuin, and his wife along with him, and he asked to take
service with Finn.
And in the morning, as they were going to their hunting,
the Lad of the Skins said to Finn: "Let me have no one with me but
myself, and let me go into one part of the country by myself, and you yourself
with all your men go to another part."
"Is it on the dry ridges you will go,"
said Finn, "or is it in the deep bogs and marshes, where there is danger
"I will go in the deep boggy places,"
So they all went out from Almhuin, Finn and the Fianna
to one part, and the Lad of the Skins to another part, and they hunted through
the day. And when they came back at evening, the Lad of the Skins had killed
more than Finn and all his men together.
When Finn saw that, he was glad to have so good a
servant. But Conan said to him: "The Lad of the Skins will destroy
ourselves and the whole of the Fianna of Ireland unless you will find some way
to rid yourself of him."
"I never had a good man with me yet, Conan,"
said Finn, "but you wanted me to put him away; and how could I put away a
man like that?" he said. "The way to put him away," said Conan,
"is to send him to the King of the Floods to take from him the great
cauldron that is never without meat, but that has always enough in it to feed
the whole world. And let him bring that cauldron back here with him to
Almhuin," he said.
So Finn called to the Lad of the Skins, and he said:
"Go from me now to the King of the Floods and get the great cauldron that
is never empty from him, and bring it here to me."
"So long as I am in your service I must do your
work," said the Lad of the Skins. With that he set out, leaping over the
hills and valleys till he came to the shore of the sea.
And then he took up two sticks and put one of them across
the other, and a great ship rose out of the two sticks. The Lad of the Skins
went into the ship then, and put up the sails and set out over the sea, and he
heard nothing but the whistling of eels in the sea and the calling of gulls in
the air till he came to the house of the King of the Floods.
And at that time there were hundreds of ships
waiting near the shore; and he left his ship outside them all, and then he
stepped from ship to ship till he stood on land.
There was a great feast going on at that time in the
kingís house, and the Lad of the Skins went up to the door, but he could get
no farther because of the crowd. So he stood outside the door for a while, and
no one looked at him, and he called out at last: "This is a hospitable
house indeed, and these are mannerly ways, not to ask a stranger if there is
hunger on him or thirst."
"That is true," said the king; "and give
the cauldron of plenty now to this stranger," he said, "till he eats
So his people did that, and no sooner did the Lad of the
Skins get a hold of the cauldron than he made away to the ship and put it safe
into it. But when he had done that he said: "There is no use in taking
the pot by my swiftness, if I do not take it by my strength."
And with that he turned and went to land again. And
the whole of the men of the army of the King of the Floods were ready to
fight; but if they were, so was the Lad of the Skins, and he went through them
and over them all till the whole place was quiet.
He went back to his ship then and raised the sails and
set out again for Ireland, and the ship went rushing back to the place where
he made it. And when he came there, he gave a touch of his hand to the ship,
and there was nothing left of it but the two sticks he made it from, and they
lying on the strand before him, and the cauldron of plenty with them.
And he took up the cauldron on his back, and brought it
to Finn, son of Cumhal, at Almhuin. And Finn gave him his thanks for the work
he had done.
One day, now, Finn was washing himself at the well, and a
voice spoke out of the water, and it said: "You must give back the
cauldron, Finn, to the King of the Floods, or you must give him battle in
place of it."
Finn told that to the Lad of the Skins, but the answer he
got from him was that his time was up, and that he could not serve on time
that was past.
"But if you want me to go with you," he said,
"let you watch my wife, that is Manannanís
daughter, through the night; and in the middle of the night, when she will be
combing her hair, any request you make to her, she cannot refuse it. And the
request you will make is that she will let me go with you to the King of the
Floods, to bring the cauldron to his house and to bring it back again."
So Finn watched Manannanís daughter through the night,
and when he saw her combing her hair, he made his request of her. "I have
no power to refuse you," she said; "but you must promise me one
thing, to bring my husband back to me, alive or dead. And if he is
alive," she said, "put up a grey-green flag on the ship coming back;
but if he is dead, put up a red flag."
So Finn promised to do that, and he himself and the Lad
of the Skins set out together for the dun
of the King of the Floods, bringing the cauldron with them.
No sooner did the king see them than he gave word to all
his armies to make ready. But the Lad of the Skins made for them and overthrew
them, and he went into the kingís dun, and Finn with him, and they overcame
him and brought away again the cauldron that was never empty.
But as they were going back to Ireland, they saw a great
ship coming towards them. And when the Lad of the Skins looked at the ship, he
said: "I think it is an old enemy of my own is in that ship, that is
trying to bring me to my death, because of my wife that refused him her
And when the ship came alongside, the man that was in it
called out: "I know you well, and it is not by your dress I know you, son
of the King of the Hills." And with that he made a leap on to the ship,
and the two fought a great battle together, and they took every shape; they
began young like two little boys, and fought till they were two old men; they
fought from being two young pups until they were two old dogs; from being two
young horses till they were two old horses.
And then they began to fight in the shape of birds, and
it is in that shape they killed one another at the last. And Finn threw the
one bird into the water, but the other, that was the Lad of the Skins, he
brought with him in the ship. And when he came in sight of Ireland, he raised
a red flag as he had promised the woman.
And when he came to the strand, she was there before him,
and when she saw Finn, she said: "It is dead you have brought him back to
me." And Finn gave her the bird, and she asked was that what she was to
get in the place of her husband. And she was crying over the bird, and she
brought it into a little boat with her, and she bade Finn to push out the boat
And he pushed it out, and it was driven by wind and waves
till at last she saw two birds flying, having a dead one between them. And the
two living birds let down the dead one on an island; and it was not long till
it rose up living, and the three went away together.
And when Manannanís daughter saw that, she said:
"There might be some cure for my man on the island, the way there was for
that dead bird."
And the sea brought the boat to the island, and she went
searching around, but all she could find was a tree having green leaves.
"It might be in these leaves the cure is," she said; and she took
some of the leaves and brought them to where the Lad of the Skins was, and put
them about him. And on that moment he stood up as well and as sound as ever he
They went back then to Ireland, and they came to Almhuin
at midnight, and the Lad of the Skins knocked at the door, and he said:
"Put me out my wages."
"There is no man, living or dead, has wages on me
but the Lad of the Skins," said Finn; "and I would sooner see him
here to-night," he said, "than the wages of three men."
"If that is so, rise up and you will see him," said he.
So Finn rose up and saw him, and gave him a great
welcome, and paid him his wages.
And after that he went away and his wife with him to
wherever his own country was; but there were some said he was gone to the
country of his wifeís father, Manannan, Son of the Sea.
Source: Lady Gregory - Gods
and Fighting Men, first published 1904
republished by Colin Smythe Ltd. 1970