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Stories, Myths & Legends 

Aengus and Caer Ibormeith

Aengus was asleep one night, when he saw what looked like a young girl coming to the head of his bed. She seemed to him to be the most beautiful woman in Ireland. He went to take her hand and take her to bed with him, but as soon as he welcomed her, she vanished, and Aengus had no idea who had taken her from him. 
He stayed in bed until morning, but was very worried. The silent apparition he had seen was making him ill. He ate no food that day. That night he saw her again, with the world's sweetest timpán in her hand. She played for him until he fell asleep. He stayed there all night, and the next day he ate nothing. 
A whole year went by, and every night the girl visited Óengus. He fell in love with her, but he didn't tell anyone, so when he fell sick, no-one knew what the matter was. All the physicians in Ireland gathered but couldn't find out what was wrong with him, so they sent for Fergne, Conn's physician. He could tell what was wrong with a man just from his face, and he could tell from the smoke rising from a house how many were sick inside. 

Fergne came, and took Aengus aside. 'The only thing that could be causing your illness,' he said, 'is unrequited love.' 
'You have diagnosed my illness,' said Aengus. 

'You have grown sick at heart, and haven't dared tell anyone,' said Fergne. 

'That's true,' said Aengus. 'A young girl appeared to me. She had the most loveliest figure I've ever seen, and her face was beautiful. She brought a timpán, and played for me every night.' 

'Don't worry,' said Fergne. 'Your love for her was fated. We'll send for
Bóann, your mother, so she can have a word with you.' 

So they called for Bóann, and she came. 'I was called to see this man,' explained Fergne, 'for a mysterious illness has overcome him.' He told Bóann everything that had happened. 'You're his mother - you should take care of him now. Search all of Ireland until you find the apparition your son saw.' 

They searched for a year, but no-one remotely like the girl could be found. Fergne was summoned again. 'We haven't been any help at all,' said Bóann. 

'Then send for the Dagda,' said Fergne, 'and let him speak to his son.' 

The Dagda was summoned and came. 'Why have I been summoned?' he

'Speak to your son,' said Bóann. 'It is right for you to help him, for his
death would be a pity. He has been struck down with unrequited love,
and we haven't been able to help him.'

'What good can I do?' said the Dagda. 'I have no more knowledge than you.' 

'Yes you do,' said Fergne, 'for you are the king of the Sídhe of Ireland.
Send messengers to Bodb, king of the Sídhe of Munster, for his knowledge
is renowned throughout Ireland.' 

So messengers were sent to Bodb, and they were made welcome. 

'Welcome, people of the Dagda,' said Bodb. 

'That is what we have come for,' they replied. 

'Have you news?' 

'Yes,' said the messengers. 'Aengus, son of the Dagda, has been in love for two years.' 

'Oh yes?' said Bodb. 

'He saw a young girl in his sleep, but we can't find her anywhere in Ireland. The Dagda requests that you search all Ireland for a girl of her figure and beauty.' 

'The search will be made,' said Bodb. 'Give me a year, so I can be sure of finding her.' 

At the end of the year, Bodb's people came to him and said, 'We have travelled all around Ireland, and we found the girl at Loch Bél Dracon in Cruitt Cliach.' Messengers were sent to the Dagda. 

'What news have you?' he asked. 

'Good news!' they replied. 'A girl matching the description has been found. Bodb says that Aengus should come with us to see if she really is the girl he saw.' 

So Aengus was taken in a chariot to Síd ar Femuin, and was welcomed there with a feast lasting three days and three nights. After that, Bodb said, 'Now let's go and see if you recognise the girl. I can show her to you, but it's not in my power to give her to you.' 

They went to a lake, and there they saw three fifties of young girls. Aengus's girl was among them, and stood head and shoulders above the rest of them. Each pair of them was linked by a silver chain, but she wore a silver necklace and a chain of burnished gold. 

'Do you recognise the girl?' said Bodb. 

'Indeed I do,' said Aengus. 

'Then I can do no more for you.' 

'No matter,' said Aengus. 'She is the girl I saw, even if I can't have her now. Who is she?' 

'I know who she is, of course,' said Bodb. 'She's Cáer Ibormeith (Yew Berry), daughter of Ethal Abuail, from Síd Úamuin in the province of Connacht.' 

After that, Aengus and his people went home to their own land, and Bodb went with them to speak to the Dagda and Bóann at Bruig ind Mac Óg. They revealed that they had found the girl Aengus had seen, and told them who she was and who her family were. 

'It's a shame we can't get her,' said the Dagda. 

'The thing to do,' said Bodb, 'would be to go to Ailill and Medb, for the girl is in their territory.' 

So the Dagda went to Connaught, accompanied by sixty chariots, and he was welcomed by the king and queen with a feast that lasted a week. Then Ailill asked, 'what brings you here?' 

'There is a girl in your territory,' said the Dagda, 'with whom my son has fallen in love. I've come to ask you to give her to him.' 

'Who is this girl?' said Ailill. 

'The daughter of Ethal Abúail,' said the Dagda. 

'It's not in our power to give her to you,' said Ailill. 

'Then the thing to do,' said the Dagda, 'would be to summon the king of the Sídhe here.' 

Ailill's steward went to Ethal Abúail, and said, 'Ailill and Medb request that you come and speak to them.' 

'I won't come,' said Ethal, 'and I wont give my daughter to the son of the Dagda!' 

The steward returned to Ailill, and said, 'He won't come, for he knows what we want.' 

'No matter,' said Ailill. 'He will come, and the heads of his warriors with him!' 

So Ailill's household and the Dagda's people rose against the Síd and sacked it. They took sixty heads, and took the king captive at Crúachan. 'Now give your daughter to the Dagda's son,' said Ailill. 

'I can't,' said Ethal. 'She's more powerful than me.' 

'What great power does she have?' said Ailill. 

'Not hard to tell. She takes the form of a bird every day of one year, and human form every day of the following year.' 

'When does she become a bird?' said Ailill. 

'I can't tell you.' 

'I'll have your head if you don't!' said Ailill. 

'All right, if you insist, I'll tell you,' said Ethal. 'Next Samhain she will become a bird. You will find her at Loch Bél Dracon, surrounded by three fifties of swans. I will make preparations for them.' 

'No matter,' said the Dagda, 'since I know the nature you have brought upon her.' 

Then Ailill, Ethal and the Dagda made peace and friendship together. The Dagda said goodbye, returned home, and told his son the news. 'Go to Loch Bél Dracon next Samhain,' he said, 'and call to her.' 

So the Mac Óg went to Loch Bél Dracon, and there he saw the three fifties of white birds, with silver chains, and golden hair around their heads. He went in human form to the edge of the lake, and called to the girl: 'Come and speak with me, Cáer!' 

'Who is calling me?' she said. 

'It's Aengus.' 

'I will come,' she said, 'if you promise I can return to the water.' 

'I promise,' said Aengus. So she came to him, and he put his arms around her, and they slept in the form of two swans. They went three times around the lake, so Aengus's promise wasn't broken. Then they flew away in the form of white birds to Bruig  Mac Óg (Newgrange), and they sang a song that put everyone there to sleep for three days and three nights. The girl stayed with Aengus from then on. 

That is how the friendship between Ailill and Medb and the Mac Óg came about, and why Aengus took three hundred men on the Cattle Raid of Cooley.


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