son of Conn
of the Hundred Battles, was high King of Ireland, and held his Court at
Tara. One day he saw a youth upon the green having in his hand a
glittering fairy branch with nine apples of red. And whensoever the branch
was shaken, wounded men and women enfeebled by illness would be lulled to
sleep by the sound of the very sweet fairy music which those apples
uttered, nor could any one upon earth bear in mind any want, woe, or
weariness of soul when that branch was shaken for him.
"Is that branch thy own?"
"It is indeed mine."
"Wouldst thou sell it? and what
wouldst thou require for it?"
"Will you give me what I
ask?" said the youth.
The king promised, and the youth then
claimed his wife, his daughter, and his son. Sorrowful of heart was the
king, heaviness of heart filled his wife and children when they learned
that they must part from him. But Cormac shook the branch amongst them,
and when they heard the soft sweet music of the branch they forgot all
care and sorrow and went forth to meet the youth, and he and they took
their departure and were seen no more. Loud cries of weeping and mourning
were made throughout Erin when this was known: but Cormac shook the branch
so that there was no longer any grief or heaviness of heart
After a year Cormac said It is a year
to-day since my wife, my son, and my daughter were taken from me. I will
follow them by the same path that they took."
Cormac went off, and a dark magical
mist rose about him, and he chanced to come upon a wonderful marvellous
plain. Many horsemen were there, busy thatching a house with the feathers
of foreign birds; when one side was thatched they would go and seek more,
and when they returned not a feather was on the roof. Cormac gazed at them
for a while and then went forward.
Again, he saw a youth dragging up
trees to make a fire but before he could find a second tree the first one
would be burnt, and it seemed to Cormac that his labour would never end.
Cormac journeyed onwards until he saw
three immense wells on the border of the plain, and on each well was a
head. From out the mouth of the first head there flowed two streams, into
it there flowed one; the second head had a stream flowing out of and
another stream into its mouth, whilst three streams were flowing from the
mouth of the third head. Great wonder seized Cormac, and he said, "I
will stay and gaze upon these wells, for I should find no man to tell me
With that he set onwards till
he came to a house in the middle of a field. He entered
and greeted the inmates. There sat within a tall couple clad in many-hued
garments, and they greeted the king, and bade him welcome for the night.
Then the wife bade her husband seek
food, and he arose and returned with a huge wild boar upon his back and a
log in his hand. He cast down the swine and the log upon the floor, and
said: "There is meat; cook it for yourselves."
"How can I do that?" said
"I will teach you," said the
youth. "Split this great log, make four pieces of it, and make four
quarters of the hog; put a log under each quarter; tell a true story, and
the meat will be cooked."
"Tell the first story
yourself," said Cormac.
"Seven pigs I have of the same
kind as the one I brought, and I could feed the world with them. For if a
pig is killed I have but to put its bones into the stye again, and it will
be found alive the next morning."
The story was true, and a quarter of
the pig was cooked.
Then Cormac begged the woman of the
house to tell a story.
"I have seven white cows, and
they fill seven cauldrons with milk every day, and I give my word that
they yield as much milk as would satisfy the men of the whole world if
they were out on yonder plain drinking it."
That story was true, and a second
quarter of the pig was cooked.
Cormac was bidden now to tell a story
for his quarter, and he told how he was upon a search for his wife, his
son and his daughter that had been borne away from him a year before by a
youth with a fairy branch.
"If what thou sayest be
true," said the man of the house, thou art indeed Cormac, son of Art,
son of Conn of the Hundred Battles."
"Truly I am," quoth Cormac.
That story was true, and a quarter of
the pig was cooked.
"Eat thy meal now," said the
man of the house.
"I never ate before," said
Cormac, "having only two people in my company."
"Wouldst thou eat it with three
If they were dear to me, I
would," said Cormac.
Then the door opened, and there
entered the wife and children of Cormac; great was his joy and his
lord of the fairy Cavalcade, appeared before him in his own true form, and
said thus: "I it was, Cormac, who bore away these three from thee. I
it was who gave thee this branch, all that I might bring thee here. Eat
now and drink."
"I would do so," said
Cormac, "could I learn the meaning of the wonders I saw to-day."
"Thou shalt learn them,"
said Manannan. "The horsemen thatching the roof with feathers are a
likeness of people who go forth into the world to seek riches and fortune;
when they return their houses are bare, and so they go on for ever. The
young man dragging up the trees to make a fire is a likeness of those who
labour for others: much trouble they have, but they never warm themselves
at the fire. The three heads in the wells are three kinds of men. Some
there are who give freely when they get freely; some who give freely
though they get little; some who get much and give little, and they are
the worst of the three, Cormac," said Manannan.
After that Cormac and his wife and his
children sat down, and a table-cloth was spread before them.
"That is a very precious thing
before thee," said Manannan, there is no food however delicate that
shall be asked of it but it shall be had without doubt."
"That is well," quoth
After that Manannan thrust his hand
into his girdle and brought out a goblet and set it upon his palm.
"This cup has this virtue," said he, "that when a false
story is told before it, it makes four pieces of it, and when a true story
is related it is made whole again."
"Those are very precious things
you have, Manannan," said the king.
"They shall all be thine,"
said Manannan "the goblet, the branch and the tablecloth."
Then they ate their meal, and that
meal was good, for they could not think of any meat but they got it upon
the tablecloth, nor of any drink but they got it in the cup. Great thanks
did they give to Manannan.
When they had eaten their meal a couch
was prepared for them and they laid down to slumber and sweet sleep.
Where they rose on the morrow morn was
in Tara of the kings, and by their side were tablecloth, cup, and branch.
Thus did Cormac fare at the Court of
Manannan, and this is how he got the fairy branch.
Jacobs - More Celtic Fairy Tales