| Our Little Celtic Cousin of Long Ago|
|by Evaleen Stein|
|The story of Ferdiad, a boy of Ireland, in the time of High King Brian Boru, when the Danes were pillaging the Irish countryside. How his foster-father Angus becomes poet to the High King and how Ferdiad himself recovers a lost treasure. Gives a glimpse into the customs and social life of the Celts, with special emphasis on their artistic achievements, including the Book of Kells and the stories of Cuculain. Ages 8-10 |
THE BOOK OF KELLS
 IT was the day after the battle of Clontarf, and the
Celtic camp was already broken up and the soldiers
scattering back to their homes. The body of the dead
high king, Brian Boru, was to be borne in a cart drawn
by white oxen and covered with a purple pall to the
church of Armagh, a very sacred place in the kingdom of
Ulster. There, with solemn ceremonies, the Celtic
monarch would be buried, standing with his face to the
east, wrapped in his royal mantle, his shield and spear
Now it happened that Kells was one of the stopping
places on the way to Armagh; and when Ferdiad heard
this, he begged his
foster-  father that he and Conn might go that far along with
the pages who attended the different kings and flaiths.
"We can ride in the cart for the pages, and stay at
Kells and you can stop for us when you come back from
Armagh!" said Ferdiad eagerly. "I want to hunt for
Saint Columkille's book and Conn will help me." For
Ferdiad had told his foster-father about what the Dane
prisoner had said.
Angus had no hope that the beautiful book might be
found, but Ferdiad begged so hard that he agreed and
Ferdiad ran off happily to tell Conn.
So it came about that the two boys went along when the
funeral procession set off, the white oxen and royal
cart leading the way while close behind rode poet Angus
chanting sorrowful songs in honor of the dead king.
After him came as many of the Celtic kings and flaith
as could arrange to go to Armagh, and last of all
 followed the host of attendants for these, the boys
At Kells the funeral train was received with every
honor, and after a brief rest moved on to the north;
but Ferdiad and Conn stayed behind. The boys were
warmly greeted by the monks, who knew Ferdiad well and
were fond of the lad; and they were especially glad to
see him as they had not heard from him since the day of
He soon told them what he had found out about the
beautiful book, and Brother Patrick said, "Yes, lad, I
remember finding the body of no doubt the very man the
Dane prisoner told you he had fought with over the gold
case, and we gave the wicked heathen Christian burial
where we found him. If the book was thrown away soon
after the fight, it must be somewhere not far from that
"Oh, please show us the place and let's begin looking
right away!" cried Ferdiad.
 "I can show you the grave," said Brother Patrick with a
sigh, "but unless the blessed Saint Columkille has
worked a miracle, the beautiful book is surely ruined
by this time!"
The spot to which he led the way was in a woodland
skirting the monastery fields, and just beyond was a
bog where the monks had once cut the peat they burned
in winter, though it had now become quite dry. Several
of them who had heard Ferdiad's story came along, and
all began to search. But most of them were no longer
young, and it seemed to them a hopeless task; though
they constantly mourned the loss of the most beautiful
book in Ireland.
As the Kells school was over for the summer, there were
no young students to help search, for they had all gone
away for a time; so at last Ferdiad and Conn found
themselves the ones who must find the book if any one
 Up and down through the trees they went, peering and
poking under every swirl of fallen leaves or dead
boughs where they glimpsed anything that looked in the
least like the brown carved leather that covered the
lost book. Ferdiad led the way southeastward from
where the two Danes had fought, "For," he said, "that
is the direction Brother Patrick says the raiders went
after they left Kells, and even yet you can see the
broken branches where they drove the cows through the
woods on their way toward the sea."
The boys got down on their hands and knees and looked
under every thicket of bushes, and Conn even poked
under the tufts of violets and cowslips.
"Why, Conn," laughed Ferdiad, "it's too big to hide
under those! Saint Columkille's book is at least a
foot wide and more than that long, and thick through!"
Indeed, they got as interested as in a game
 of hide and seek; moreover, the monks offered as prize,
if the book was found, a handsome bow and arrows with a
quiver of red enameled leather, such as they gave to
their best student at the end of his year's school
For almost a week the boys searched and searched in
vain. At last Ferdiad said, "There's a fairy mound
somewhere in these woods, I think not far from here.
Let's go around it three times and say a charm and
maybe the fairies will help us!"
"All right!" agreed Conn, and soon finding the little
hill thay walked around it backward three times, each
saying softly under his breath a special charm rime;
for many such had been handed down among the people
from the days of the DeDanaans.
Now it was an odd thing, but that very morning while
Conn with a stick was poking under some hazel bushes,
Ferdiad, in looking behind a log at the edge of the
woodland, happened to
 start a young hare. Off scampered the little creature
out of the woods and over a corner of the peat bog.
Suddenly,—plump! down it tumbled head over
heels in a hole where, long before, the monastery
brothers had been cutting their peat.
Ferdiad, who was fond of hunting with his red and green
hounds, though he had none with him, instinctively ran
after the hare to see what had become of it. Though
the ground was spongy lower down, for some distance
from the top the bog was dry; and when Ferdiad came to
the hole, there was the frightened little hare huddled
up at the bottom and in his scrambles to get out his
hind legs were scattering the brown dry leaves that had
blown over from the forest the autumn before.
As Ferdiad bent over his eyes began to grow very round
as he stared, not at the little hare, but at something
lying at one side of the ragged hole where the hare had
been most active in
 scattering away the leaves. The corner of a brown flat
object was laid bare, and Ferdiad, springing down
hurriedly, cleared away the rest of the leaves and drew
out—but, of course, you have guessed what!
Yes, indeed, it truly was the angel book which by some
strange chance had fallen into the peat hole when the
Dane, hurrying to join the other raiders, had come out
of the woodland and cutting across a corner of the bog
had torn it from the case and flung it away. It had
dropped under a projecting edge of the peat, and this
and the drifting leaves had protected it from the
weather so that when Ferdiad lifted it out, though its
thick leather cover was marred and discolored in
places, yet when he opened it its marvelous painted
pages shone out as bright and beautiful and undimmed as
when it first came from the hand of the unknown artist
hundreds of years before!
THE DRIFTING LEAVES HAD PROTECTED IT FROM THE WEATHER.
Conn! Conn! shouted Ferdiad,
trem-  bling with excitement, Come here! I have found it!"
In a moment Conn came running, and when Ferdiad told
him how he had discovered it he stared in surprise.
"Do you suppose it could have been a DeDanaan fairy in
the form of a hare that helped you find it?" he cried.
"I was sure I saw some fairies flitting around there in
the woods after we came back from the mound."
"I don't know," said Ferdiad, "it might have been!"
And perhaps it was; and perhaps, too, as the monks
declared when Ferdiad bore back the book in triumph to
the monastery, the blessed Saint Columkille of the
angels who had guided the hand of the bygone artist had
indeed wrought a miracle and so saved those rare
painted pages from harm as they lay all the long months
hidden in the bog.
 In very truth, the angels must still guard the sacred
volume; for all these things I have told you happened
long and long ago. Long and long ago Ferdiad and Conn
and Eileen lived out their happy lives and long ago
poet Angus sang his last sweet song. The raths of the
Celtic people of old and the duns of their high kings
are now only ruined walls watched over by the hidden
fairies, and their beloved Ireland has passed through
many changes and has known much of sorrow. Yet through
all the passing centuries the Great Gospel of Saint
Columkille, or the Book of Kells, as it is more often
called to-day, still keeps its lovely pages untarnished
and unfading. In the city of Dublin, which once was but
the fortress at the Ford of the Hurdles, still it is
jealously cherished, and still it is ranked, as in the
days of Ferdiad, the most beautiful book in all the
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