Connla of the Golden Hair and the Fairy Maiden

From Old Celtic Romances by Patrick Weston Joyce [1]

Taken from The Cabinet of Irish Literature, Volume 4, edited by T. P. O'Connor

Connla of the Golden Hair was the son of Conn the Hundred-fighter.[2] One day as he stood with his father on the royal Hill of Usna,[3] he saw a lady a little way off, very beautiful, and dressed in strange attire. She approached the spot where he stood; and when she was near, he spoke to her, and asked who she was, and from what place she had come.

The lady replied, "I have come from the Land of the Living [4]—a land where there is neither death nor old age, nor any breach of law. The inhabitants of earth call us Aes-shee,[5] for we have our dwellings within large, pleasant, green hills. We pass our time very pleasantly in feasting and harmless amusements, never growing old; and we have no quarrels or contentions."

The king and his company marvelled very much; for though they heard this conversation, no one saw the lady except Connla alone.

"Who is this thou art talking to, my son?" said the king.

And anon she answered for the youth, "Connla is speaking with a lovely, noble-born young lady, who will never die, and who will never grow old. I love Connla of the Golden Hair, and I have come to bring him with me to Moy-mell, the plain of never-ending pleasure. On the day that he comes with me he shall be made king, and he shall reign for ever in Fairyland, without weeping and without sorrow. Come with me, O gentle Connla of the ruddy cheek, the fair, freckled neck, and the golden hair! Come with me, beloved Connla, and thou shalt retain the comeliness and dignity of thy form, free from the wrinkles of old age, till the awful day of judgment."

Thy flowing golden hair, thy comely face,
Thy tall majestic form of peerless grace,
That show thee sprung from Conn's exalted race.

King Conn the Hundred-fighter being much troubled, called then on his druid [6] Coran, to put forth his power against the witchery of the banshee:—"O Coran of the mystic arts and of the mighty incantations, here is a contest such as I have never been engaged in since I was made king at Tara—a contest with an invisible lady, who is beguiling my son to Fairyland by her baleful charms. Her cunning is beyond my skill, and I am not able to withstand her power; and if thou, Coran, help not, my son will be taken away from me by the wiles and witchery of a woman from the fairy hills."

Coran the druid then came forward, and began to chant against the voice of the lady. And his power was greater than hers for that time, so that she was forced to retire.

As she was going away she threw an apple to Connla, who straightway lost sight of her; and the king and his people no longer heard her voice.

The king and the prince returned with their company to the palace; and Connla remained for a whole month without tasting food or drink except the apple. And though he ate of it each day, it was never lessened, but was as whole and perfect in the end as at the beginning. Moreover, when they offered him aught else to eat or drink he refused it; for while he had his apple he did not deem any other food worthy to be tasted. And he began to be very moody and sorrowful, thinking of the lovely fairy maiden.

At the end of the month, as Connla stood by his father's side among the nobles, on the Plain of Arcomin, he saw the lady approaching him from the west. And when she had come near, she addressed him in this manner:—

"A glorious seat, indeed, has Connla among wretched, short-lived mortals, awaiting the dreadful stroke of death! But now, the ever-youthful people of Moy-mell, who never feel age, and who fear not death, seeing thee day by day among thy friends, in the assemblies of thy fatherland, love thee with a strange love, and they will make thee king over them if thou wilt come with me."

When the king heard the words of the lady, he commanded his people to call the druid again to him, saying,—" Bring my druid Coran to me; for I see that the fairy lady has this day regained the power of her voice."

At this the lady said, "Valiant Conn, fighter of a hundred, the faith of the druids has come to little honour among the upright, mighty, numberless people of this land. When the righteous law shall be restored, it will seal up the lips of the false black demon; and his druids shall no longer have power to work their guileful spells."

Now the king observed, and marvelled greatly, that whenever the lady was present his son never spoke one word to any one, even though they addressed him many times. And when the lady had ceased to speak, the king said, "Connla, my son, has thy mind been moved by the words of the lady?"

Connla spake then, and replied, "Father, I am very unhappy; for though I love my people beyond all, I am filled with sadness on account of this lady!"

When Connla had said this, the maiden again addressed him, and chanted these words in a very sweet voice:—

A land of youth, a land of rest,
A land from sorrow free;
It lies far off in the golden west,
On the verge of the azure sea.
A swift canoe of crystal bright,
That never met mortal view—
We shall reach the land ere fall of night,
In that strong and swift canoe;
We shall reach the strand
Of that sunny land,
From druids and demons free;
The land of rest
In the golden west,
On the verge of the azure sea!

A pleasant land of winding vales, bright streams, and verdurous plains,
Where summer all the live-long year in changeless splendour reigns;
A peaceful land of calm delight, of everlasting bloom;
Old age and death we never know, no sickness, care, or gloom;
The land of youth,
Of love and truth,
From pain and sorrow free,
The land of rest,
In the golden west,
On the verge of the azure sea!

There are strange delights for mortal men in that island of the west;
The sun comes down each evening in its lovely vales to rest;
And though far and dim
On the ocean's rim
It seems to mortal view,
We shall reach its halls
Ere the evening falls,
In my strong and swift canoe;
And evermore
That verdant shore
Our happy home shall be;
The land of rest,
In the golden west,
On the verge of the azure sea!

It will guard thee, gentle Connla of the flowing golden hair,
It will guard thee from the druids, from the demons of the air,
My crystal boat will guard thee, till we reach that western shore,
When thou and I in joy and love shall live for evermore:
From the druid's incantation,
From his black and deadly snare,
From the withering imprecation
Of the demon of the air,
It will guard thee, gentle Connla of the flowing golden hair;
My crystal boat shall guard thee, till we reach that silver strand
Where thou shalt reign in endless joy, the king of the Fairyland! [7]

When the maiden had ended her chant, Connla suddenly walked away from his father's side, and sprang into the curragh, the gleaming, straight-gliding, strong, crystal canoe. The king and his people saw them afar off, and dimly moving away over the bright sea towards the sunset. They gazed sadly after them, till they lost sight of the canoe over the utmost verge; and no one can tell whither they went, for Connla was never again seen in his native land.

NOTES:—

[1] This (Connla of the Golden Hair) is the shortest of the Old Celtic Romances by Dr. Joyce. It has been translated from the "Book of the Dun Cow," a manuscript which was transcribed A.D. 1100, now in the Royal Irish Academy, Dublin. The story is one of the most ancient illustrations to be found of the wide-spread Irish superstition that fairies sometimes take away mortals to their enchanted palaces.—ED.

[2] Conn Ced-cathach or Conn the Fighter of a Hundred (not Conn of the Hundred Battles, as the name is generally translated) was King of Ireland from A.D. 123 to 158.

[3] The Hill of Usna, in the parish of Conry, in Westmeath, one of the royal residences of Ireland.

[4] The ancient Irish had a sort of dim vague belief that there was a land where people were always youthful, and free from care and trouble, suffered no disease and lived for ever. This country they called by various names: —Tir-na-mbeo, the land of the ever-living; Tir-na-nóg, the land of the ever-youthful; Moy-mell, the plain of pleasure, &c. It had its own inhabitants—fairies, but mortals were sometimes brought there; and while they lived in it were gifted with the everlasting youth and beauty of the fairy people themselves, and partook of their pleasures. As to the exact place where Tirnanoge was situated, the references are shadowy and variable, but they often place it far out in the Atlantic Ocean, as far as the eye can reach from the high cliffs of the western coast.

[5] The fairies were also supposed to live in palaces in the interior of pleasant green hills, and they were hence called Aes-shee or Deena-shee, i.e., people of the shee or fairy hills; and hence also the word banshee, i e. a woman (bean) of the fairy hills. Tirnanoge was often regarded as identical with these bright subterranean palaces. In my boyhood days the peasantry believed that the great limestone cavern near Mitchelstown in the county Cork, was one of the entrances to Tirnanoge.

[6] The ancient Irish druids do not appear to have been priests in any sense of the word. They were, in popular estimation, men of knowledge and power—"men of science," as they were often designated; they knew the arts of healing and divination, and they were skilled above all in magic. In fact, the Irish druids were magicians, neither more nor less; and hence the Gaelic word for "druidical" is almost always applied where we should use the word "magical"—to spells, incantations, metamorphoses, &c.

[7] This is an expansion, rather than a translation, of the original, which is very short, and in some places very obscure.

Other articles on Fairies:—

Fairies
Fairies of the Irish Mythology
Belief in Fairies and Devils and the Tortures of Hell
Fairy Children (or Changelings) in Ireland
Irish Superstitions