Sunday, October 12, 2014

Autumn poems from the 'Old Irish'

Slieve Gua

Slieve Gua, craggy and black wolf-den;
In its cleft the wind howls,
In its denes the wolves wail.

Autumn on Slieve Gua; and the angry
Brown deer bells, and herons
Croak across Slieve Gua's crags

from the old, according to Geoffrey Grigson

Deep in book reading this morning trying to trace the word 'belling'.  I know it is the mating call of the stag, and therefore a word that can be used for Autumn, somehow I have strayed onto Irish Celtic stories and links on the internet.  Finn for one and his poem, another favourite.......

The Words of Finn

My words for you;
Stag ruts and bells,
Winter pours down,
Summer has gone.
Wind's high and cold,
Low is the sun,
Briefer its run.
Runs the sea strong.
Turns red the fern,
Broken its form.
Habit is hearing
The wild goose's song.
Season of ice,
Wings of the birds
Caught by the cold.
These are my words.

I shall have to get to grips with Finn, for there is a story that belongs to him....

Then Derg Corra went into exile and took up his abode in a wood and used to go about on shanks of deer (si uerum est) for his lightness. One day when Finn was in the woods seeking him he saw a man in the top of a tree, a blackbird on his right shoulder and in his left hand a white vessel of bronze, filled with water in which there was a skittish trout, and a stag at the foot of the tree. And this was the practice of the man, cracking nuts; and he would give half the kernel of a nut to the blackbird that was on his right shoulder while he would himself eat the other half; and he would take an apple out of the bronze vessel that was in his left hand, divide it in two, throw one half to the stag that was at the foot of the tree, and then eat the other half himself. And on it he would drink a sip of the bronze vessel that was in his hand, so that he and the trout and the stag and the blackbird drank together. Then his followers asked Finn who he in the tree was, for they did not recognize him on account of the hood of disguise which he wore.


  1. Fionn_mac_Cumhaill allegedly born twixt Co. Kildare & Co.Carlow, adopted by two Druid women and raised on Slieve Bladhma,(Blooms)
    In later life known to have frequented Ulster, Tara and later made his home on The Hill of Allen, Kildare. Associated with many of the heroes such as Diarmud,Grainne.
    I think Grigson was wrong, for it was Slieve Gullion that Fionn is associated with - h'm Slieve Gua is in Co. Waterford.

    1. Thank you for that information, I had been looking for some books on Irish mythology, then remembered Celtic Mythology by Proinsias MacCana, which I have just ordered. Grigson lived in Wiltshire, so I am sure he got quite a lot wrong ;)

  2. An interesting post. Try also Celtic Mythology by Geddes Grosset.

  3. Thanks Jennie, will look him up.

  4. My favorite is John Rhys, "Lectures on the Origin and Growth of Religion as Illustrated by Celtic Heathendom" 1892:

    It is also available at at a reasonable price.

  5. Just been to look, luckily one can read it online. My 'Pagan Celtic Britain', has fallen to pieces, a new secondhand should come tomorrow. Actually blame you for sparking my interest in all things celtic, spelt with a small 'c' as the actual word does stir the ire of some people ;)

    1. Sounds like my copies of Caesar's Gallic Wars -- two copies have now fallen apart and I bought both of them new.

      I'm always pleased to hear that I have sparked an interest in the Celts!

      I always quote Lucian (his piece on Herakles) who was talking to a local bard in Massalia in the second century AD. The bard said "we Celts..". This was no sloppy translation the original Greek had "keltoi".