Lia Fáil: The Screaming Stone of Tara

Dear Readers,

This is a day late, I know, and I apologize. However, I do have something really cool (and slightly terrifying) to share with you today. It’s come from the readings I have for this week on Tara, a site that is both historically and pseudo-historically royal/sacred.

One of the monuments on the site is called Lia Fáil. It’s a stone that has the capacity to cry or weep, and in one story (Baile in Scáil) a king, Conn, stands upon the stone.

And the stone cries out. But it cries out loud enough that it’s heard not just throughout Tara, but also throughout the plain on which Tara sits. And it screams once for every king that will reign in Conn’s line, and let me tell you, that’s a lot of times.

Neat, right?

But imagine you’re in that plain. You’re minding your own business, smithing or baking or weaving or farming or whatever it is you do, and out of nowhere, you hear screaming. It sounds like it’s coming from nearby, but you look and see no one, and the screaming doesn’t stop.

You see others, and they can hear it, too, but nobody knows what’s causing it. And it keeps going. And you stay in a group, looking around nervously, but the screaming starts to grate on your nerves.

Some people get angry. Some people cry. Others go out searching for the source, but they never find it. You cover your ears, hoping not to hear it, but it doesn’t help at all.

And suddenly, it stops. You theorize with others about what might have caused it and discuss the supernatural beings that might be at work. You hope something traveling by will be able to tell you the truth of what happened.

But you never run into the king or his druids, and you never learn what caused the screaming.

And from then on, whenever someone screams, you brace yourself in case it doesn’t stop.

Or….

Imagine you’re Conn. You’re walking along, minding your own business, and stop on a stone.

And from beneath your feet, screaming starts.

Lucky for you, there are druids with you that might be able to explain why the stone is screaming, but that doesn’t make you feel any better about the noise grating on your nerves. Or your inability to leave the stone until it’s done.

Okay, so I exaggerated and fictionalized much of that. I don’t have that much detail about the story. But I do stand by the fact that as interesting as a screaming stone is, it’s also very, very terrifying.

Your Bonnie Celtophile,

Dani

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Man VS Sheep: A Battle of Unnecessary Proportions

Dear Friends,

One of the delights of Medieval literature is that there are literary and cultural conventions and turns of phrase that seem downright ridiculous to modern readers. They are often fascinating, some are euphemistic, and all-in-all, they’re thoroughly entertaining.

Take, for instance, an episode from Compert Mongáin ocus Serc Duibe-Lacha do Mongán (The Conception of Mongán and Dub-Lacha’s Love for Mongán), translation from The Voyage of Bran Son of Febal to the Land of the Living Volume 1 from Kuno Meyer and Alfred Nutt that is from pages 71-72 (paragraphs were created by me to make this more reader-friendly, but know that this is all one paragraph in the original text):

Then Fiachna assembled the nobles of Ulster until he had ten equally large battalions, and went and announced battle to the men of Lochlann. And they were three days a-gathering unto the battle. And combat was made by the king of Lochlann on the men of Ireland. And three hundred warriors fell by Fiachna in the fight.

And venomous sheep were let out of the king of Lochlann’s tent against them, and on that day three hundred warriors fell by the sheep, and three hundred warriors fell on the second day, and three hundred on the third day.

That was grievous to Fiachna, and he said: ‘Sad is the journey on which we have come, for the purpose of having our people killed by sheep. For if they had fallen in battle or in combat by the host of Lochlann, we should not deem their fall a disgrace, for they would avenge themselves.

‘Give me,’ saith he, ‘my arms and my dress that I may myself go to fight against the sheep.’

‘Do not say that, O King,’ said they, ‘for it is not meet that thou shouldst go to fight against them.’

‘By my word,’ said Fiachna, ‘no more of the men of Ireland shall fall by them, till I myself go to fight against the sheep; and if I am destined to find death there, I shall find it, for it is impossible to avoid fate; and if not, the sheep will fall by me.’

That whole situation makes me laugh: venomous sheep, nine hundred men unable to kill them, the king deciding he must face them himself, his attendants’ concern about his honour if he would fight the sheep, and his stance that either the sheep must die or him.

It’s intense, but it also sounds more suited to venomous dogs or cats or even pigs rather than sheep. I get this image in my head of one heavily-clad man facing off against hundreds of sheep. I smile every time.

Like this, only with more blood and armor.
Like this, only with more blood and armor.

I thought I’d share this little bit because I think people have this idea of Medieval literature as boring, and I like to be able to share with people that it can be rather fun.

If you liked it, share it with friends or comment below. Also comment and email me at bonnieceltophile@gmail.com if there’s anything you want to know about. I’ll do my best to find an answer!

Thanks for reading, and I hope you have a lovely week.

Your Bonnie Celtophile,

Dani

Fionn mac Cumhnaill and his Merry Men

Image from Wikimedia Commons.

Dearest Readers,

I’m back in Scotland, done with my first weekend of getting a lot of in-depth dance training, and ready to start my classes tomorrow. I’ll be opening the semester with a class on Fenian literature.

I learned a bit about it last semester as part of other classes, but it’ll be nice to get a thorough look. In honour of that, I thought I’d put together a little something to share about Fionn mac Cumhaill and friends.

Have you ever heard of Fionn mac Cumhnaill? His name is often anglicized to something along the lines of Finn MacCoul (or MacCool). If you haven’t heard of him, you might be wondering why I think you have.

Well, the first reason is the Giant’s Causeway in Ireland is tied to him, and the Causeway is a well-known site.

The other reason is that he has survived in the popular imagination in modern culture. Don’t believe me? There are plenty of places in Ireland and Scotland named for him, and how about Finn McCool’s Irish Pub in Santa Monica and Finn McCool’s Fish House & Tavern in Virginia Beach?

Yeah, he’s running around our cultural imagination somewhere, even if he hasn’t hit you until now.

So who exactly is he?

That’s…complicated. It depends.

See, stories of Fionn mac Cumhnaill have been around a long time. Like, a millennium.

And in that time, given the adaptive nature of stories passed orally which have a whisper-down-the-alley effect, there are different versions of stories from the same places and versions from different places.

He has completed the same feat across Ireland and Scotland, depending which version you’re looking at. Why? Storytellers like to adapt tales to their landscape.

Luckily, there are some basic things we know about him. His name means ‘fair-haired’ or ‘blond’. He leads a band of young warriors called Fianna that roam the countryside, get into trouble, and protect people from various dangers. Think Robin Hood without the tights.

As a boy, he was the first to eat from the salmon of knowledge (sometimes the trout of knowledge) when he burned his thumb on it and put it in his mouth. From then on, he could access its knowledge by biting his thumb.

He’s also a giant in many accounts. And in some, he’s not truly dead, only sleeping surrounded by his men and waiting to be wakened by three sounds of the hunting horn of the Fianna. At that point, he will rise.

Fionn’s son, Oisin – you might recognize the term Ossianic, which comes from his name – narrates many of the tales. In Irish tradition, there are tales of him meeting St. Patrick, sharing feats of Fionn and the Fianna, and also debating between Christianity and paganism.

Oisin also has a son, Oscar, and there are tales about him and other members of the Fianna that are part of the Fenian Cycle of medieval Irish literature and considered part of Fenian literature today.

As you can see, Fionn mac Cumhnaill is a man with a long history and a lot of literary baggage, and that all means there’s definitely enough to spend at least a semester learning about him.

Your Bonnie Celtophile,

Dani