This particular legend was found in the Book of Leinster surviving from the 15th century and maybe familar to theWelsh ‘How Culhwch won Olwen’. It is also the primary source of information that is behind WB Yeats ‘ The Dream of Wandering Aengus’. I am not going to reproduce the original prose as you can look it up for yourselves and enjoy it better but I will give a shortened version.
Oengus was asleep one night and saw a young girl at the head of his bed. She was the most beautiful woman in all of Eiru. He extended his hand to bring her under the covers with him as he greeted he but she vanished. This troubled him all night and during the day he ate nothing. The following night, she visited him again with a musical instrument and played for him. Again when he extended his hand, she vanished. This went on for a year where Oengus ate little to nothing by day yearning for the mystery woman gradually falling in love. As his health waned and fell to sickness, many physicans were called upon but none could diagnose the source of his ailment. Finally, the wise Fergne of Cond, arrived and made his diagnosis.
F “No meeting this, but love in absence”
O “You have divined my illness”
F “ You have grown sick at heart and not dared tell anyone”
O “ It is true. The most beautiful woman has come to me each night playing such sweet music”
F “ No matter, for love for her has seized you. We will send for Boand, your mother, so she may come and speak with you “
Boand came and tended to her son. Fergne explained everything to her. She also searched the entire island for the form in her sons dream. Nothing became of this quest so Fergne was called upon again. He asked for Oengus’ father, the Dagda to be at his side.
D “Why have I been summoned”
B “To advise your son. It is right that you help him for his death would be a great pity. Love in absence has overcome him, and no help for it has been found.”
D “Why tell me. My knowledge is no greater than yours.”
F “ Indeed it is, for you are the king of the Shidhe of Eiru. Send messengers to Bodb, for he is the king of the Shidhe of Mumu (modern day Munster), and his knowledge spreads throughout Eiru.”
Messengers were sent to Bodb and he honoured the Dagda’s request. After another year, news was brought to Oengus’ sick bed. Her likeness was found at Lough Bel Dracon at Cruitt Cliach. Oengus was sent via chariot accompanied by Bobd to see if he recognised her. The chariot arrived at Sid ar Femuin where a feast was prepared in honour of Oengus that lasted 3 days and 3 nights (the people knew how to party). After Bodb explained to Oengus that they should go to the lake and search for the girl. He also explained that he had no power to hand the girl, if found, over to Oengus. After seeing a multitude of the women that resided by the lake, Oengus recognised the one he sought.
B “ Do you recognise that girl”
O “ Indeed I do”
B “ Then I can do no more for you, then”
O “ No matter, for she is the girl I saw. I cannot take her now. Who is she?”
B “ I know her of course: Caer Ibormeith daughter of Ethal Anbuail from Sid Uamuin from the province of Connachta”(Caer is also the Goddess of Dreams)
After Oengus and Bodb returned to the Dagda and Boand with news at Broic ind Maicc Oic. The Dagda decided that they should all visit Ailill and Medb, rulers of the Shidhe of Connachta. They arrived with an army of 3 score chariots(60) and were welcomed at once with a feast that lasted a week. The Dagda explained Oengus’ plight to Ailill who also responded that it was not in his power or his right to hand over the daughter of Ethal Anbuail. Aillill’s sent his steward to Ethal who replied that he would not come before the Dagda nor give up his daughter. Ailill in conversation to the Dagda “ No matter, for he will come and the heads of his warriors with him.” After this, Ailill and the Dagda formed an alliance and rode to Sid Uamuin where they collected “3 score heads” and confined Ethal at Cruachu.
A “ Give your daughter to the son of the Dagda”
E “ I cannot for her power is greater than mine”
A “ What great power does she have?”
E “ Being in the form of a bird each day for one year and being in human form for each day of the following year”
A “ Which year will she be in the shape of a bird?”
E “ It is not for me to reveal this to you”
A “ Then your head off, unless you tell us”
E “I will conceal it no longer, then, since you are so obstinate. Next Samhain she will be in the form of a bird; She will be at Lough Bel Dracon and beautiful birds will be with her, 3 fifties of swans about her, and I will make ready for them”
D “ No matter that since I know of the nature you have brought upon her”
An accord of peace was brought between Ailill, Ethal and the Dadga. The Dagda brought this news to his son back at Broic ind Macc Oic. “ Go to Lough Bel Dracon next Samhain and call her to you there”. The Macc Oic travelled to the lake and came across 150 swans with silver chains around their necks and plumes of golden feathers. Oengus in human form went to the edge of the lake.
O “ Come and speak with me, Caer”
C “ Who is calling to me”
O “ Oengus is calling”
C “ I will come if you will promise me that I may return to the water”
O “ I promise you that”
She went to him and he put his arms around her and in turn changed to the form of a swan where they slept together. They circled the lake 3 times and flew to Broic in Macc Oic.Here they sang until the people fell asleep for 3 days and 3 nights. Caer remained by Oengus side hence in both forms and this cemented the aliance beteen the Shidhe Macc Oic and the Shidhe Connachta.
Like all legends, this one serves as a teaching tool to us. How we see it is up to us as we all have different perceptions. If you desire to reach a goal, it will not fall into your hands just like that. You have to work for it. You have to fashion your tools to suit your goal and use your strength of will/magick. But if you force too hard then breakage occurs and the goal is lost. Another lesson we can learn here is empathy. Walking a mile in another’s shoes serves us the knowledge of what it is like from a different perspective. Seeing both black and white but understanding the grey between.
Go raibh maith agat as do chuid ama ag léamh seo agus tá súil agam go bhfónfaidh sé mar fhoinse inspioráide cosúil le gach finscéalta aosta.
Seán Ó Tuama.