FIONNTUIN MAC BOCHNA

From Legendary Fictions of the Irish Celts by Patrick Kennedy

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We shall not occupy our reader's time with such trifling legends of lake lore as that of Fion stamping on a mountain, and thus producing a cavity filled with excellent liquor, for the purpose of slaking the thirst of O'Sullivan Mhor, after a severe day's hunting.[1] Neither shall we relate all the particulars of Donal Gealach's dealings with his favourite shepherd, and how he enabled him to convert the waters of a certain mountain lough near Killarney into special strong beer, by merely dipping a bunch of heath into it. He and his family might have enjoyed their jug of beer for many a day, but the poor man's conscience troubled him from receiving any benefits at the hands of the "good people " He revealed his scruples the next time he went to confession, and was obliged to resign his privilege.

If our ancient chroniclers did not, in every instance, succeed in establishing the truth of their records, they certainly deserved more credit than some of them have received, so great was the interest they took in their favourite studies, and so firmly did they seek to establish the foundation of the literary structure they were employed in raising. One of them has even left on record, or invented, some particulars of the primal historian who witnessed some of the evil doings before the Flood.

FIONNTUIN MAC BOCHNA [2]

In the days of Noah, and while the ark was being built, there dwelt in the forests by the banks of the Tigris, Bith, with his wife Birren, of the race of Cain. Near them lived their daughter, Kesára, whose husband, Finntan, was of the blood of Seth. Farther off was the wood-built habitation of their son Lara, and his wife, Blama. None of these paid adoration to the Creator but Finntan, and to him was revealed the approaching destruction of mankind by a universal deluge. He constructed a rudely-built vessel, and not until it was finished could he induce his relatives to escape with him from the impending danger. His unbelieving consort tenderly loved him, and though fearless of the coming danger, she determined to share his fate. The others joined them at the last hour; the bark went down the river, and in one year from that day they were entering a bay on the west coast of the then uninhabited woody island, afterwards called Erinn.

They lived by hunting and fishing, and moved inland till they reached that mountain in the centre of the island, which has since borne the name of Lara's wife, Blama. They were all in the prime of their age when they left the far-off eastern land, varying in age from four to five hundred years each. But now a couple of centuries seemed to have passed over their heads in one revolution of the year. Hardly had they reached the hill when Bith and Birren expired on the same day. Their sorrowing children had scarcely interred them, raised their pile, and sung their lamentation, when Lara and Blama followed them to the lone house. Now were Finntan and Kesára the only dwellers on the island; and as they sat in woe by the side of the neighbouring loch, and looked on the cromlechs laid over their relatives, Kesára burst into a wild passion of grief and reproaches against her gods and against the God worshipped by her husband. He spoke to her of a future state of rest and happiness for those who were submissive to the decree of the All-Wise and All-Good; but her fury only gathered strength. Just then a volume of white vapour arose from the dark loch. It went round and round, and at last wheeled out between the living pair; then in rapid whirls it sunk again on the lake, and Kesára was left desolate on the brink. She cried out wildly on her husband not to abandon her; but seeing nothing but the wild hill round her, the grey sky over her, and the dark water beneath, she flung herself wildly below its quiet surface to find her partner or perish with him. To the bright land of Tirna-n-oge was Finntan conveyed, and there was he conscious of the great flood that submerged the island, of its loneliness for three hundred years, of the landing of the parricide Partholan, and the speedy destruction of his colony by a plague at Ben Edair. Then in succession came the clans of Nemidh, the Fomorian pirates, the Firbolgs, the learned Danaans, the warlike Milesians; and after a thousand years of their sway, worshipping the Host of Heaven, and the spirits of the seas, the lakes, the forests, and the hills, it was told at the Court of Laeré that a strange Druid, in flowered garments, with a two-pointed ornamented birredh on his head, and bearing in one hand a book inscribed with characters different from the Oghuim, and in the other a double cross, was approaching from the country of Gallian (Wicklow, Wexford, &c).

It was the Eve of the Sun's Fire (Beltiné), and the learned and the noble from every part of the island were assembled at Teamor, in the Midchuarta. In rows they took their seats, and five fileas in succession recited the deeds of dead heroes, the genealogies of the lines of Heber, Heremon, and Ith, and the different invasions of the island since the landing of Nemidh. The last orator had ceased, and a storm of applause burst over him from the assembled nobles. When silence fell on the benches, he again took up the theme. "More praise than we merit you have given to my brothers and myself. Alas! we have only preserved some of the inscribed staves on which the full chronicle of our country is engraved. There is only one to whom the whole story is known, Fionntuin, son of Bochna, son of Eathoir, son of Annadha, who, from the days of the great flood to this, has been preserved in life in the land of youth. Whenever a filea, endowed with untiring zeal and all the knowledge that can be obtained, appeared among now dead poets, he has at some period of his career been favoured with a visit from this being in the deep dark silence before the dawn, and missing staves of the past chronicles supplied.[3] From the revelations of some of these we learn that his life shall endure till a white Druid, whose writings are made on folded parchments, and not on the corners of staves, and who also bears a cross and wears a flowered garment, shall come to reveal to us a god whom we yet know not. This Druid of an unknown faith shall wash him from his earthly stains, and his freed spirit is then to depart [4] to some place, as much excelling the Land of Youth as that happy country surpasses this."

He was yet speaking, when every one in the vast hall was on a sudden seized with awe, united to a certain feeling of pleasure, as they observed a venerable figure in long robes, and with long white hair falling on each side of his agreeable and majestic countenance, gliding from the entrance to the centre where the fileas were seated. He needed not to announce his name. Every one felt that he was in the presence of Fionntuin, son of Bochna, son of Eathoir.

"Kings, chiefs, and men of learning," said the vision, "great is my joy to see this happy day, and behold so many of my kind on whose souls divine light will soon dawn, and not only on them, but on all who rule within our seas. This light wall come from one who is at hand, and to whom I leave the glorious task of instructing you in the heavenly scheme, which I only know in part, and which I am unfit to reveal. What I am permitted, I shall speak."

Then he proceeded in flowing words, while his hearers with their hearts flooded with pleasure, sat entranced, to announce that, before man was sent on earth, spirits created for happiness rebelled against the Master of sea, land, sun, moon, and stars; and that they were since that moment suffering pains not to be conceived. He then went on to describe the creation of man and woman, their pristine happiness, their fall through the wiles of the chief of the evil spirits, the after-wickedness of mankind, and the destruction (one family excepted) of the human race. The remainder of the oration chiefly related to the fortunes of the ancestors of those before him. He told of the preservation of letters after Babel; of the wanderings of the early Scots, and of their relations with Moses, when he was conducting the people of God from their thraldom. From the remainder of the discourse the fileas afterwards completed the full tale of their inscribed staves, soon to be changed for the characters and the rolls of vellum introduced by Patrick, and hence the perfect state of the annals of the Scots of Ireland compared with those of all nations that see the sun rise and set.

That evening, no fire or lamp was found burning through the length and breadth of the land, and all were watching in silence from the summits of the hills, in the direction of Teamor for a tongue of flame from the next hill that lay between. Laeré, preparing to kindle the sacred fire in the great bawn of Teamor, whose flaming up was to set all the fires on all the hills in Erinn ablaze, was dismayed on beholding, a small distance to the east, a lamp suddenly enkindled, and a man of a most attractive and venerable countenance gazing by its light on the leaves of an open book.

This was the humble, the gentle, the fervent Apostle Patrick, who, being summoned to the royal presence, preached the Word of Life. Small was his difficulty to turn the hearts of his hearers (the king excepted) from the practice of idolatry. The ground had been prepared by Finntan, and the seed sown by Patrick at once struck root, and soon the land was white with the Christian harvest.

End of this Story

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NOTES

[1] This was the origin of the "Devil's Punch-bowl," Killarney. The Donal Gealach mentioned above was the king of the Killarney fairies.

[2] Fair Wave, Son of Ocean.

[3] The Oghuim writing of the Pagan Celts was commonly cut on thin staves.

[4] Soar would be more poetical than depart; but the filea knew his audience. The cold upper air, with its fogs, snows, and harsh winds, was the Celtic Tartarus.



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