The following is the story of Oisin the warrior poet, and his fateful journey to the land of Tir na nOg. It's always been one of my favorites, because of the range of topics it covers, the Fianna, the Sidhe, and Chrisitanity coming to Pagan Ireland.
There are quite a few versions of this story that have been written through the years, I've written this one based on the texts I've read. I hope you like it.
*Invites you to have a seat by the fire so she can spin her tale....*
There was once in Ireland a band of brave heroes called the Fianna, and it is known that the leader of the Fianna, Finn MacCumail, had a son named Oisin who was also a member of the Fianna. The Fianna were fierce in battle and sweet tongued, warrior poets in every sense of the word, and Oisin was no different. He was also very handsome as well, with curly blonde hair, and he never lacked for the company of women.
One day the men of the Fianna were out hunting by the ocean when Finn spotted something moving rapidly across the waves. The men of the Fianna thought it was an invader and began to ready themselves for a fight. As the object drew closer, however, the Fianna could only stand by in awe for what they saw was a beautiful woman riding a white horse that was galloping over the waves.
The horse leapt ashore with the maiden, and the men knew her to be one of the Sidhe. She introduced
herself as Niamh of the Golden Hair, daughter of Manannan Mac Lir, god of the sea. Finn inquired as to whether or not she was married, for he and the other members of the Fianna were entranced by her beauty.
No, she said, fixing her eyes on Oisin, she did not have a husband at Tir na nOg. Finn asked no more, for he saw that his son had already fallen in love with the fairy woman. And so Niamh of the Golden Hair offered her hand to Oisin, who took it willingly, and pulled him up into the saddle behind her.
The Fianna watched as the couple rode over the water, toward the West, and the and of eternal youth and beauty. And it was in Tir na nOg that Niamh took Oisin for her husband, and they had three children together, two boys and a girl. And so they spent three years together in a land that knew neither pain nor sorrow.
But gradually Oisin began to grow restless. He missed his father and the other members of the Fianna, and he asked Niamh to send him back for a time, only for a short visit. Niamh knew Oisin's will to be strong, and so she sadly agreed, and called to her the selfsame white horse that had carried them away from the world of men.
When Oisin was seated she told him he mst be very careful, and no matter what happened he was never to set foot on the earth. Oisin promised her he would not, and assured her that he would be at her side again soon, before galloping off towards the east. As Niamh watched him go, she wept bitterly, fearing she would never see her beloved husband again.
When Oisin reached Ireland, he went directly to Dun Aileann where the Fianna camped when they weren't fighting or hunting. But the path he knew was grown over with weeds, and when he reached the Dun itself the roof had fallen in and the walls were crumbling.
Puzzled, Oisin turned his horse toward Glenasmole, a favored hunting ground of the Fianna. On his way there, he met three men trying to move a large rock. They were small and frail looking, not giant men such as the Fianna.
Oisin pulled his horse alongside the men and asked them had they heard any news of Finn and the Fianna? The men exchanged glances, looking at the massive stranger on the beautiful horse, and finally one of the men stepped forward. He remembered hearing children's stories about a band of monsters called the Fianna who stole children away from their beds at night.
These stories were just that - stories - told to frighten children. Everyone knew that there was never a man alive called Finn, never a group called the
Fianna. Oisin was shocked, and reproached the men for speaking such lies. He was Oisin, son of Finn, leader of the Fianna - who were men, not monsters - and as for the rock any one of the Fianna, himself included,
could heft it with one hand and throw it into the next glen from where they stood.
The men laughed at Oisin, and told him to try his luck
and show them if he really was one of the Fianna. Oisin, very angry at this point, leaned down from the saddle and lifted the rock up high to throw it,
but as he did so, the saddle broke and he fell to the ground. The moment his flesh touched the earth he became an ancient, blind old man.
Though he spent only three years at Tir na nOg, for every year that passed there, one hundred had passed in the world of men. Oisin was rapidly showing his
full age, and the white horse that had carried him turned away, almost sadly, knowing that Oisin could never again set foot in the land of eternal youth.
Both afraid and mystified, the men brought Oisin to the home of St. Patrick and told the saint that Oisin said he was Oisin, son of Finn MacCumail, and what they had observed when he lifted the rock.
Patrick welcomed Oisin inside his home, and heard the old man muttering the name of Tir na nOg over and over again. Patrick told Oisin that Tir na nOg had vanished along with all else that belonged to the sidhe, for Christianity had come to Ireland.
Further, he told Oisin that Finn and the rest of the Fianna would be in hell now for they were not Christian men. Oisin asked what hell was like, and said there was no demon that could keep the men of the Fianna down, and heaven sounded boring to him.
Many arguments took plce between himself and St. Patrick. Oisin always countering Patrick's arguments, and Patrick always making up new ones. Though Oisin never converted to Christainity. Patrick was still intrigued by Oisin and begged him to recount his tales of the Fianna and his stay at Tir na nOg, this
Oisin did, and Patrick wrote it all down, though it was hard for him to believe that this blind old man was one of the Fianna.
Because Oisin was still stronger than a full grown man in his prime, Patrick put him to work in his fields. But Oisin grew discontent and complained to Patrick that he wasn't being fed enough each day and he would certainly starve to death. Patrick scoffed at this and told Oisin that he ate a full quarter of beef each day, a churn of butter, and a griddle of bread.
Oisin frowned and said he had seen a quarter of a
blackbird bigger than the beef, a rowan berry bigger than the churn of butter and an ivy leaf bigger than the griddle of bread. Patrick laughed at the old man and said he should like to see that for himself.
Oisin was outraged at being called a liar, for one of the things the Fianna prided themselves on was the truth. So, Oisin took a serving boy aside and told him to bring him a piece of cowhide and the litter of pups that had just been born.
When the boy brought him these things he instructed him to hang the cowhide on the wall, and to throw the
pups against it, and to keep whichever of them held onto the hide. This done Oisin told the boy to rear the dog in a dark room, and let it taste neither meat nor blood for a full year.
At the end of the year, Oisin told the same boy to fetch the dog and leash it. Together they set out
towards the hunting ground of the Fianna, Glenasmole. When they reached a certain large rock, Oisin lifted it and asked the boy what was beneath it.
The boy reported a trumpet, a rusty sword, and an iron ball. Oisin told the boy to take up the trumpet and blow it. The boy tried several times, but could only make feeble sounds with the instrument.
Finally Oisin took the trumpet to his own lips and let out a mighty blast. Then, he instructed the boy to watch, and let the dog go on his command. A flock of blackbirds was seen coming over the treetops, but Oisin
let them pass by, several minutes later an even larger flock went by, but again Oisin did nothing. The third time a flock of giant blackbirds came over the trees, Oisin told the boy to let the dog go.
The animal lunged up and snatched one of the giant birds from the air and then it turned its eyes on Oisin and the boy. Oisin told the boy to pick up
the iron ball and cast it at the dog, but the boy couldn't lift it.
So, Oisin hefted it up and had the boy point him in the direction of the dog, then he sent the ball hurtling toward the dog so fast that it went straight down his throat, killing him.
Oisin and the boy approached the fallen blackbird, and Oisin told the boy to take the sword and cut a quarter from it, then he told the boy to cut open the bird's stomach and remove what he found. The boy was amazed to find a rowan berry bigger than a churn of butter and an ivy leaf biger than a griddle of bread.
They then took these to St. Patrick, who had to admit that Oisin spoke the truth and was truly one of the Fianna - and he fed Oisin all he wanted after that.
Oisin lived for several years in the house of Patrick, tending herds and caring for the fields, but he missed the Fianna and his wife Niamh sorely.
Often he thought he could see Tir na nOg in the distance, just over the horizen, but for Oisin, Tir na nOg would always be just over the horizen. Finally the poet Oisin died, and went to join the rest of the
Fianna, gone so long before him.
Such is the story of Oisin, warrior poet, and the land of Tir na nOg.