Stories, Myths & Legends

The Hawk of Achill

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Relate now, O Bird of Achill,

Tell us the substance of thy adventures;

I am well able 

To converse with you in bird-language.

The Hawk

Though there are no signs of youth upon thee

It is long since thy body became shrunken

In Dun Telera washed by the sea,

O Fintan, O wise man.


The greater the wonder that I am alive.

The sorrow of Ros Greda is distracting me;

Darkness came over my heart,

The death of Illan has grieved me sore.


O Bird of Achill of the Fian,

Thou that I have ever been fain to see,

Now that I do see thee, tell me

The cause of thy cleaving to Achill.

The Hawk

Lightsome its air, gentle are its havens,

Warm are its thickets, they are not cold;

Fruitful its chase, noble its streams,

Lonesome its estuaries.


O Fintan, never was there

A single night west in Achill

When I got not my fill by my vigour

Of fish and wild game and venison.


My life before the black flood

Was fifteen years of years;

After the flood the gods gave me

Five thousand five hundred years.


Over and above that, O Bird,

(Good reason have I to be aged);

I was like that for a thousand years:

That is the cause of the increase in my age.


O Hawk, out of cold Achill,

Blessing and success attend thee!

From the time thou wast hatched from the egg

Tell the number of thy years.

The Hawk

Equal is my life to thine

O Fintan, son of mild Bochra:

Exactly equal the period

The same full age after the Deluge.


O Fintan, son of fair Bochra,

Since thou art a poet and a prophet,

Tell us now without delay,

The evils and wonders that befell you.


The loss of Illann, the death of my sons,

The death of white-handed Cessair;

My nights at seal haunted Assaroe,

Tormented me even more from that out.


On the loss of Ladra and sweet voiced Bith,

At the black out-pouring of the flood,

The gods put me, to my misery,

Into the shape of a salmon at every spring.


Short, methought, was my stay on the Boyne,

After my coming over the ocean,

In the Bush, the Bann, The brown Bru,

On the Suck, the Suir, and the Shannon.


At the Slaney, and at the Liffey in the East,

The Maigue, and crystal Ethne,

The Moy,  the Mourne and the Muir,

At the Solan, the Lee and the Laune.


At the Shannon, the Dael and the Dubh,

In the Sligo and the river Monad,

Until I came without trouble hither,

To the waterfall of the estuary of the Erne.


I passed a night in the Northern wave,

And I at Assaroe of the seals,

Never felt I a night like that

From the beginning of the world to its end.


I could not stay under the waterfall,

I took a leap, but it did not help me,

The ice came like clear blue glass

Between me and the fall of Mac Modorn.


A hawk came out of cold Achill,

Above the river-mouth of Assaroe;

I will not hide the fact, mysterious as it was,

He carried away with him one of my eyes.


From that night 'The Blind One of Assaroe'

I was named; it was a cruel act,

From that out I am without my eye:

Small  wonder for me to be aged.

The Hawk

It was I who swallowed thy eye,

O Fintan of the fresh heart;

I am the grey hawk of time

Alone in the middle of Achill.


If it was thou, though it seems strange,

Who left me in gloom, one-eyed,

Pay me compensation for my eye,

As law and obedience demand.

The Hawk

Small would be the compensation I would give you,

O Fintan,  son of gentle Bochra,

That single eye in thy withered head

I would gulp  down quickly in one bite.


Harsh is thy chant, O great wild bird, 

Sweeter than all to wait a while,

Since it is I who am the gentler,

I will talk with thee about my contemporaries.


For five hundred years I have been blind

As a long-sided heavy salmon,

On lochs, on diverse rivers,

On every rich clear-flowing sea.


For fifty years I was an eagle,

Few were the birds that would fill my place;

A hundred years happily

I was a stately blue-eyed falcon.


Till the King of the Sun thought it time

To put me in my own shape.

Where would I get anything worthier?

And yet I am aged today.


Fintan goes on to tell of Slainge the king of Ireland who invented festivals and he says again it  was the death of his son Illann that made him grow old.  He tells of how he helped king Eochaid at the first battle of Moytura with his twelve sons.  The hawk interrupts him then to give his side of the story.

The Hawk

There fell thy twelve sons;

On seeing them, dreadful the deed,

I plucked from each scion,

A hand, a foot, or an eye.


As I was in the midst of the carnage

I saw beside me an arm,

On each several finger of the fingers

A ring of red gold like blood.


Its heroic proportions, its vast size,

Alas! for him from whom that limb was severed

Its beauty, its length and its span,

Ruddy and beautiful were the nails.


A sleeve of glossy silk,

And a golden tunic sleeve,

Was around its whole length

Up to the corselet.


I lift it up,  it  was no small effort,

The hand, both flesh and blood;

I bear it  with me, terrible  was the distance,

To Druim Ibar of the estuaries.


The hand of Nuada that I found there,

The High King of the Tuatha De Danann,

It was seven years in my bird's abode:

There, O Fintan, is my story for you!

Then Fintan tells the story of Trefuilngidh a traveller from the east who brings with him a magical branch which had growing on it nuts, apples and sloes at the one time.  The branch he is holding satisfies all the needs of humanity, cold and hunger and thirst.

If thou should eat it facing Northward,

The fruit of the tree of virtues,

The old man who partakes of it 

Straightaway becomes a youth again.


If thou dost consume it facing South,

The fruit of this fruiting tree,

Thou need have no fear of painful disease

So long as the blackthorn lasts.


He spent three days in Tara of the flocks

Pleasantly conversing;

Till the fair hued  host of the western land

Gathered in one instant around him.


He bade farewell to the men of Fodla,

He went forward on his mighty course,

He left the branch in our fair land,

A nut, a sloe and an apple.


It was I picked up the fruits

and put them in my girdle;

Until I had finished planting them

None was able to do me harm.


I planted the three fruits

That came to us for our use:

Eo Rossa, the Branch of Mughna Mor,

The old tree of Tortan of heavy hosts.


Here now for thee, O gentle hawk,

A little story in return for thy visit,

About the bright, smooth, round-topped,

Beautiful old fort of Tara.

The Hawk

In the time of fair Conchobar

Great was my renown and beauty,

Wandering over hills and glens;

I was king over the bird flocks of Eire.


My watch and my attention chanced to fall 

On the 'Slinger' of Traigh Baile:

The man who was searching all havens,

Cuchulain, of the Red Branch.


At the time when, by his treachery,

Cúroi, king of Clann Degad fell,

I ate my fill of blood of his blood

After his fall in the encounter.


At the time that Garbh, son of Starn, fell

By the 'Hound' who fed scald-crows;

Two eyes of the handsome Greek

I ate at the beginning of the good day.


Often I got flesh and spoils

From Naisi who was venomous of weapon;

I did not taste his flesh or blood

Because of his excellence in fighting.


The head of Cet fell to me

After his wounding and his struggle;

It was for me a desperate mouthful,

His eyes were like to choke me.


I ate, enormous was his size,

The body of Monodhar mac Cecht;

I found many bodies back to back,

From the victorious hand of Conall.


 From the strife he did not flinch 

So long as he was alive; 

The rivers used to run blood 

From the Culgas (spear) of Conall the Victorious.


The spirited Fergus mac Roich:

There was a warrior! great of stature! 

A man to fight a hundred, stubborn of valour, 

From whom I used to get gory flesh.


There was occasion of battle and peril 

In the wake of the hosts on the Táin,

The Rout of the Plain of Muirthemne 

Was fierce and decisive enough!


After all that Cu of the Feats had slain 

He ceased not until his body was mangled; 

His face was drenched with blood, 

With his back against the pillar-stone of the Commor.


I came above the warrior 

When his face was grown dark [or livid], 

To eat his eyes, not with intent of slaughter: 

I stooped my head at his outcry. 


He felt me on his face, 

He lifted up his weakening hand, 

He put his little hero’s dart 

Through my flesh at the first jab


I take a difficult flight 

To Inis Geidh over the furrowed sea,’ 

I draw out of me, painful the effort, 

The hard tough shaft of the javelin. 


The barb remained in my body, 

It tortured my heart distressingly, 

I have never been sound since then, 

And I do not conceal it, since I am old. 


 It is I who killed, great is the story, 

The solitary crane of Magh Leana, 

And the eagle of Druim Brice

That fell by me in the famous ford.


It is I who killed, pleasant the banquet, 

The solitary crane of grey Inis Geidh,

It was I who chewed under my crop 

The two full-fat birds of Leithin. 


It is I who slew The slender 

Blackfoot of Slieve Fuaid; 

The ousel of Druim Seghsa of the streams 

Died in the claws of my daughters. 


In the time of Lugh, happy warrior, 

I often bore back to the home of my nestlings 

In my talons, without effort, 

The bodies of champions and fighting-heroes. 


In the time of victorious 

Iughaine I had firm, powerful claws; 

Across pastures and dales

 I used to carry off a year-old boar.


 In the time of fair Conn the Hundred-battler 

Great was my fame and my comeliness; 

I would bear with me afar 

A fleet fawn of six months’ growth. 


In the period of Cormac mac Airt

It was a feat of strength..., 

I would lift up a pig or a pigling 

Aloft in the air without more ado


 I searched many-hued 

Meath Before Dathi went to the east, 

On every side of Tara eastwards, 

Pursuing the wild fawn. 


 When I had grown old after that I found peril and strife; 

I was maddened... 

In the time of Niall Nine-Hostager. 


In the time of Diarmuid Donn 

Son of Fergus mac Cearbhall,

 I would get weary carrying a blackbird 

Three or four times. 


After all my doings in many a garth, 

And after all the strife and ill I met with, 

I have come hither from the west 

For thine anointing, Fintan. 


Behold me, then, departing from thee, 

O Fintan, to cold Achill, 

Seek thou pardon from the Gods for me, 

Tomorrow my span of life will end. 



 Let no terror seize thee, O Bird, 

Tomorrow will thy vigour be restored; 

Thy soul will be in the heaven of clouds 

With the chanting of angels for thy tale. 


I myself will go to meet death 

On the very self-same day; 

I am generous Fintan, who here am 

Aged after the Fianna.

Source: Matthews J. & C., The Encyclopaedia of Celtic Wisdom, Element Books, Dorset, Great Britain. first published 1994.


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